Venture beyond the major cities with this 10-day adventure through Japan’s most stunning natural and cultural wonders. Starting in glittering Tokyo, you’ll visit ancient shrines, climb mountain peaks, and enter lush bamboo forests before ending your journey in historic Kyoto.

Highlights

  • Travel back in time to 15th-century Edo-era Japan
  • Ride cable cars through snow-capped peaks the Japanese Alps
  • Wander through lush bamboo groves in Arashiyama
  • Explore the country’s most beautiful shrines, temples, and castles

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Welcome to Tokyo! Tokyo
Day 2 Travel to Nikko Tokyo
Days 3-4 Matsumoto Matsumoto
Day 5 Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route Kanazawa
Day 6 The almost-capital of Kanazawa Kanazawa
Day 7 Memoirs of a Geisha in Kyoto Kyoto
Day 8 Day trip to Nara Kyoto
Day 9 Arashiyama Kyoto
Day 10 Farewell!  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Welcome to Tokyo

View across the Sensoji Temple, Tokyo
View across the Sensoji Temple, Tokyo

After settling into your accommodation, get oriented in the city with a visit to the world’s tallest tower. At 2,080 feet (634 m), the Tokyo Skytree offers spectacular views as far as Mount Fuji from its 360-degree observation deck. If heights aren’t your thing, take a walk through the grounds of Sensoji,  the city's oldest and most historically significant temple. Legends say it was founded when two brothers fished a statue of the goddess Kannon out of the Sumida River. The neighboring Asakusa Shrine also highlights the stark differences between Shinto and Buddhist belief systems. 

As night falls, head to the Shibuya district for your pick of restaurants, and finish off the evening with a trip to a Japanese izakaya (bar) to sample the different varieties of shochu, sake, and umeshu on offer.  

Day 2: Travel to Nikko

Ryuzu Falls, Nikko
Ryuzu Falls, Nikko

Today you’ll head north to Nikko, home of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Toshogu Shrine. Mausoleum to Japan’s last shogun, the ornate shrine is one of the most beautiful in Japan, and a marked contrast to traditional Shinto structures.  

A short walk south will take you to Rinnoji, Nikko's most famous temple. Explore the grounds at your leisure, visiting a treasure house displaying fascinating exhibits, a small yet charming Japanese garden, and a shrine that’s said to house Nikko's three mountain gods.

Finish your day with some lighthearted fun at Edo Wonderland, a cultural theme park where you’ll step back in time to the 15th century. Sit back and experience a traditional magic show, or get hands-on with Hariko doll painting, makeup artistry, and samurai sword fighting classes. When you’re ready to return to the 21st century, you’ll head back to your accommodation in Tokyo for the evening.

Days 3-4: Matsumoto

Matsumoto Castle
Matsumoto Castle

Days three and four take you north to the mountains, where you’ll spend two nights in the charming city of Matsumoto. Set in a lush valley surrounded by the snow-capped peaks of the Japanese Alps, Matsumoto is most famous for its historic castle. Enjoy a leisurely tour around the 17th-century architectural wonder and make sure to grab a photo on its iconic bridge. 

Food lovers should explore Matsumoto’s surrounding farmland, where you can arrange to see how wasabi is made, go blueberry picking, or learn to make soba noodles from scratch. For a tasting of local cuisine, finish the evening with dinner in the city’s vibrant Nakamichi district.

For nature lovers, nearby Kamikochi makes a perfect day trip from Matsumoto. Set in the heart of the Japanese Alps, the resort sits within the Chubu Sangaku National Park, surrounded by breathtaking scenery. Expect soaring mountains, crystal clear rivers, and diverse wildlife. Hiking trails for every ability wind through the forests, ranging from hour-long strolls to adventurous day-long hikes.

Day 5: Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route

Hot springs below Jigokudani
Hot springs below Jigokudani

Day four is all about taking in the beauty of the Japanese Alps, with a trip along the spectacular Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route. You’ll travel from Shinano Omachi to Toyama via a succession of cable cars, trolleys, and trains, climbing high into the dense forests and breathtaking peaks known as the ‘Roof of Japan.’  Along the way, you’ll see the Kurobe Dam, Mikurigaike Pond, and the hot springs of Jigokudani Onsen, before finishing your journey in Kanazawa for the night.

Day 6: The almost-capital of Kanazawa

Cherry blossoms below Kanazawa Castle
Cherry blossoms below Kanazawa Castle

Today begins in the well-preserved historic city of Kanazawa. Start with a walk through the Nagamachi, the 'Samurai district,' which takes you back in time to the 15th century Edo period, then duck into  Myouryuji, a maze-like ninja temple. Kanazawa’s crowning glory is its Kenrokuen landscape garden, considered the most beautiful in the country. Its vast grounds offer a peaceful backdrop as you wander past flowering orchards, serene ponds, and hidden teahouses. 

To learn more about the culture of the city, spend an afternoon in Kanazawa’s 'Geisha district' of Higashi Chaya. Here you’ll savor tea and sweets in the traditional teahouses or browse souvenirs from wooden stalls.

Day 7: Memoirs of a Geisha in Kyoto

A 'Maiko' walking the streets of Kyoto
A 'Maiko' walking the streets of Kyoto


Japan's former capital, Kyoto, is bursting with history and offers a more traditional, laid-back pace compared to Tokyo. Your first stop will be the famous Fushimi Inari Shrine. Featured in the movie Memoirs of a Geisha, this shrine has over 10,000 picturesque red torii gates donated by people and various businesses from all over Japan.

Your next activity is a traditional Japanese arts show. As well as offering a chance to see a performance by a Maiko (trainee Geisha), the theatrical experience also introduces you to other various skilled artists such as ikebana flower arrangers, puppeteers, Japanese harp players, and court musicians.

In the evening, take a walk through the bustling streets of Pontocho, an area along the Kamogawa River that’s packed with restaurants and bars.

Day 8: Day trip to Nara

Deer among ancient stone lanterns, Nara
Deer among ancient stone lanterns, Nara

Day seven takes you to the compact city of Nara, famous for its traditional sites and resident herds of tame deer. With scenic gardens, parks, temples, and shrines, you’ll spend the day exploring at your own pace. The Todaiji Temple, home to the giant Daibutsu Buddha statue, is a must-see before you head back to Kyoto for the evening.

Day 9: Arashiyama

Arashiyama bamboo grove
Arashiyama bamboo grove

Just outside Kyoto is the tranquil area of Arashiyama, where you'll start your day with a ride on an open-air train, surrounded by incredible views of the river and surrounding forest. Then, travel down the Hozugawa River on a traditional Japanese boat. Depending on the season, you could be floating past banks lined with white and pink cherry blossoms in March, the deep green leaves of a warm summer in July, or the brilliant and fiery colors of autumn trees in November.

The district’s centerpiece is the sprawling Tenryuji Temple, a World Heritage Site that includes picturesque and ancient landscape gardens. Its gorgeous and otherworldly bamboo grove is the star attraction of Arashiyama, and it's easy to devote hours to exploring the meandering trails. Also in the area, you'll find Nonomiya Shrine and the Iwatayama Monkey Park, where macaques roam freely.

If you're up for a walk, head to Otagi Nenbutsu-ji , a unique temple housing hundreds of statues, all carved by different people. If you look closely, you'll find some of these Buddhist statues sporting glasses and carrying cellphones.

Day 10: Farewell!

Saying goodbye
Saying goodbye

Today you will bid farewell to Japan and reflect on all the fantastic memories you've made during your trip!

Map

Map of Natural Wonders of Japan: Tokyo, Kyoto, & Kanazawa - 10 Days
Map of Natural Wonders of Japan: Tokyo, Kyoto, & Kanazawa - 10 Days