Just as fascinating as Japan's ultra-modern urban culture is its spectacular natural scenery. On this 10-day adventure, you'll venture beyond the glittering cities to explore Japan's stunning natural wonders and learn about the country's ancient cultural traditions. Visit ancient shrines, climb mountain peaks, wander through lush bamboo forests, learn about geisha culture and fine arts customs, and marvel at the country's most prized landscape garden. You'll end the journey in quiet Kyoto, enjoying a boat cruise on the Hozugawa River past vibrant cherry blossoms.

Highlights

  • Travel back in time to 15th-century Edo-era Japan
  • Ride cable cars through snow-capped peaks in 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 Visit Shrines & Temples in Nikko Tokyo
Days 3 Tour Matsumoto Castle Matsumoto
Day 4  Hike in Chubu Sangaku National Park Matsumoto
Day 5 Discover the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route Kanazawa
Day 6 Marvel at Picturesque Landscapes in Kanazawa Kanazawa
Day 7 Explore Geisha Culture in Kyoto Kyoto
Day 8 Day-trip to Nara Kyoto
Day 9 Enjoy Bamboo Groves & Temples in Arashiyama Kyoto
Day 10 Farewell Japan - End of Trip  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Welcome to Tokyo!

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

Welcome to Japan! Get oriented in Tokyo with a visit to the world’s tallest tower. At 2,080 feet (634 meters), the Tokyo Skytree offers spectacular views as far as Mount Fuji from its 360-degree observation deck. Afterward, 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, make your way to Shibuya, home to the vibrant Shibuya Crossing. The area is packed with restaurants, bars, and nightclubs, perfect for a night out on the town.

Day 2: Visit Shrines & Temples in Nikko

Ryuzu Falls, Nikko
Ryuzu Falls in Nikko

Today you’ll head north to Nikko, home of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Toshogu Shrine. The ornate shrine, which contains the mausoleum to Japan’s last shogun, is one of the most beautiful in Japan. A short walk south will take you to Rinnoji, Nikko's most famous temple. Explore the grounds at your leisure, visiting a 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 try your hand at Hariko doll painting or makeup artistry. You'll also have the chance to take a samurai sword-fighting class. When you’re ready to return to the 21st century, you’ll head back to your accommodation in Tokyo for the evening.

Day 3: Tour Matsumoto Castle

Matsumoto Castle
The reflection of 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.

Day 4: Hike in Chubu Sangaku National Park

Hiking in Chubu Sangaku National Park

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. You'll return to Matsumoto for dinner and relaxing in the evening.

Day 5: Discover the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route

Hot springs below Jigokudani
Hot springs below Jigokudani

Day five is all about taking in the beauty of the Japanese Alps. One of the best ways to enjoy them is 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, where you'll spend the night.

Day 6: Marvel at Picturesque Landscapes in Kanazawa

Cherry blossoms below Kanazawa Castle
Cherry blossoms below Kanazawa Castle

Today's adventure begins in the well-preserved historic city of Kanazawa. Start with a walk through the Nagamachi, also known as 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 the landscape garden in Kenrokuen, considered one of 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 savoring tea and sweets in traditional teahouses and browsing through souvenirs at wooden stalls.

Day 7: Explore Geisha Culture in Kyoto

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

Transfer today to Kyoto, the former capital of Japan. Overflowing with history and a lot more traditional than its Tokyo counterpart, things here move at a slower pace and the people tend to be more laid-back. While here, a visit to what is arguably the most famous shrine in Japan – Fushimi Inari – is an absolute must. Featured in the movie Memoirs of a Geisha, this shrine has more than 10,000 picturesque red torii gates. They were all donated by Japanese individuals and businesses as a sign of appreciation to the god Inari for blessings received. 

Your visit to Inari perfectly sets the tone for your next stop: a traditional Japanese arts show. As well as offering a chance to see a performance by a maiko (geisha in training), this hourlong theatrical experience also introduces you to various skilled artists, including ikebana (flower arrangers), puppeteers, koto (Japanese harp players), and court musicians. In the evening, talk a walk through the bustling streets of Pontocho. Right next to the Kamogawa River, this area is home to a wide range of restaurants and bars. If you prefer, you can also request a private dinner or tea ceremony with a geisha.

Day 8: Day-trip to Nara

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

Today you'll side-trip to the city of Nara, famous for its traditional landmarks and resident herds of peaceful deer. With scenic gardens, parks, temples, and shrines, it's a quiet place that you'll enjoy exploring at your own pace. Nara also has some stunning walking trails, one of which will take you through the Mount Kasuga Primeval Forest. 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: Enjoy Bamboo Groves & Temples in Arashiyama

Arashiyama bamboo grove
A bamboo grove in Arashiyama

Just outside Kyoto is the tranquil area of Arashiyama. You will start your day with a ride on an open-air train that offers amazing views of the river and the surrounding forest. (Note: This train does not operate in the winter months.) You’ll then travel down the Hozugawa River on a traditional Japanese boat. This activity is often the highlight of the trip, and depending on the season, you’ll be floating past 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).

Then you will embark on a tour of some of the area's well-known sites. Tenryuji Temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and houses one of the most picturesque and ancient landscape gardens in the entire country. Behind it, you will find its world-famous bamboo grove, which transports visitors into another realm — or at least appears to. Also in the area, you will find the Nonomiya shrine and the Iwatayama Monkey Park where macaques roam freely. If you're up for a walk, there's a lovely temple that houses hundreds of statues. If you look closely, you'll find some of these Buddhist statues sporting glasses and carrying cellphones, a reflection of how modern life has also affected spiritual practices.

Day 10: Farewell Japan - End of Trip

Walking around a shrine in Nara

The trip comes to a close today. You'll head to the airport to catch your flight out. Safe travels!

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Map of Natural Wonders of Japan - 10 Days
Map of Natural Wonders of Japan - 10 Days