Slow down and savor the spiritual and traditional elements of Japan on this weeklong trip. You'll start by sampling regional street food in Osaka, nicknamed "the kitchen of Japan," followed by a day of sightseeing with a local guide. Then you'll move on to the holy temple complex of Koyasan, where you'll have the chance to observe monks during their early morning prayers. Continue to Kyoto, the ancient imperial capital of Japan, to learn about traditional fine arts, including tea ceremonies and flower arranging. Side-trip to the forest trails and UNESCO-honored temples of Nara before the trip comes to an end.

Highlights

  • Enjoy private tours of Osaka and Kyoto with local guides
  • Visit the sacred mountaintop temple complex of Koyasan
  • Visit a museum dedicated to instant ramen
  • Stroll along the quiet canals of Kyoto
  • Taste rice wine and whiskey at a Japanese distillery

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Osaka  Osaka
Day 2 Tour Osaka with a Local Guide Osaka
Day 3 Discover the Temples of Koyasan  Koyasan
Day 4 Walk Along the Canals in Kyoto Kyoto
Day 5 Sightsee in Kyoto Kyoto
Day 6 Day-trip to Nara Kyoto
Day 7 Depart Japan - End of Trip  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Osaka

 
Street food vendors in Osaka.
Street food vendors in Osaka

Welcome to Japan! Your trip begins in Osaka. The city gives Tokyo a run for its money when it comes to delicious cuisine. Today you'll experience its delights with a street food tour. Enjoy being tantalized with mouthwatering smells and tastes as you traverse the city streets, sampling the specialties of the Kansai area. Savor the best rice wine in the region at a nearby sake brewery, then tour and taste at the nearby whiskey distillery. Finish your adventure in the trendy Dotonbori district. Full of fantastic restaurants, clubs, and karaoke bars, it's the city's go-to area for a lively night out.

Day 2: Tour Osaka with a Local Guide

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The grand Osaka Castle

Today, explore the city with a local guide. The superb Osaka Castle is a must-see, along with Shitennoji Temple, a center of spiritual life for the people of Osaka. But the city's modern attractions are just as worthwhile, including bustling markets, the colorful district of Dotombori, the landmark Tsutenkaku Tower, the futuristic aquarium, and Abeno Harukas, currently the tallest building in Japan. Foodies won't want to miss a visit to the Cup Noodles Museum Osaka Ikeda, dedicated to the art of instant ramen. Go out for modern or traditional Japanese cuisine in the evening before resting at your hotel in Osaka.

Day 3: Discover the Temples of Koyasan 

Okunoin on Mt Koya (Koyasan)
Okunoin Cemetery in Koyasan

After breakfast, transfer to Koyasan. This holy temple complex is located on a mountaintop, surrounded by cedar trees and mountain peaks. It is the center of Shingon Buddhism and one of the most important spiritual centers in Japan, comprising over 100 temples. One of the highlights of visiting Koyasan is walking through the Okunoin Cemetery. This cemetery is located in the middle of a forest, and the roughly 200,000 graves contain some of the most famous figures in Japanese history. At night, the long path through the cemetery is lit by overhead lights and stone lanterns; it's a wonderful place for an evening stroll.

Day 4: Walk Along the Canals in Kyoto

Kyoto's Imperial Palace Gardens
Kyoto's Imperial Palace Gardens

Early in the morning, you will have the chance to watch local monks performing their morning prayers. Then you'll travel to Kyoto, Japan's ancient imperial capital. This is where many traditional Japanese fine arts flourish in the form of tea ceremonies, calligraphy, poetry, philosophy, and religion. Start with a self-guided walk along the city's canals. 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 5: Sightsee in Kyoto 

Kiyomizu Temple is a popular landmark in Kyoto
Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto

Today, a local guide will meet you in the lobby of your hotel to show you around some of Japan's most beautiful and historic temples and shrines. Though there isn't time to see and do it all in one day, so you'll likely want to focus on the district of Higashiyama — one of the eleven wards in the city — to see the UNESCO-listed Kiyomizudera. Observe colorful geisha girls wearing kimonos as they walk to their next appointment, then head north to Kinkakuji, a Zen temple in northern Kyoto with the top two floors completely covered in gold leaf.

Day 6: Day-trip to Nara

Nara's Great Buddha Hall of Todaiji Temple
Nara's Great Buddha Hall of Todaiji Temple

Today you'll side-trip to the city of Nara, famous for its traditional sites 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. Many of the temples built at the height of Nara's power, like Todaiji and Horyuji, are currently registered as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. 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 7: Depart Japan - End of Trip

Looking out over the glittering skyline of Tokyo

Today you'll bid farewell to Japan. After breakfast, you'll transfer to the airport to catch a flight out. Safe travels!

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