Essential Japan Tour: Kyoto, Mount Fuji, Tokyo

A 6 day trip to Japan 
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Even if you can only spend a few days in Japan, it is still possible to gain a deep appreciation for the country’s culture, history, people, and cuisine. In this 6-day tour, experience the essential Japan, with its extraordinary sights and sounds that make a lasting impression. Even before you return home, you will be planning your next visit.

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General Information

Photos
Detailed Itinerary

Places Visited 

Kyoto, Nara, Hakone, Hakone National Park, Lake Ashi, Tokyo 

Departure Dates 

Dates are flexible and customizable for private departures.

Detailed Itinerary 

Day 1: Kyoto – Yokoso to Japan!

Your afternoon flight to Japan arrives at Kansai International Airport, where your expert guide meets you outside of Immigration. Porters take your bags as you board a private shuttle to your Kyoto hotel, an hour’s ride.

After freshening up in your hotel, your guide escorts you to a welcome dinner in a Kyoto restaurant where you can sample a variety of Japanese cuisine.

What’s Included: airport transfer, dinner, accommodation

Day 2: Kyoto and Nara – Japan’s Ancient Past

In the morning, you are off by express train to Nara, Japan’s first national capital. Over 1,200 years ago, Nara was the center of cultural, political, and religious life in Japan. When you arrive, you will quickly discover the lengths to which Japan has gone to preserve its cultural heritage.

Just a few minutes walk from Nara Station is Nara Park, where deer roam freely. Deer are sacred in the Shinto religion, and are considered deities. Generations of mingling with humans have made Nara’s deer tame, so don’t be surprised if they come to you, especially if you have food.

Even in Nara Park is it possible to see the grand outline of Todai-ji, the city’s signature Buddhist Temple and the largest wooden structure in the world. Though the structure has been rebuilt many times since its construction in the 8th century, the Daibutsu, the 49-foot high bronze Buddha in the temple’s center, is original to a time when Japan first embraced Buddhism, a religion imported from China.

While at Todai-ji, your guide takes you on a personalized tour of the temple and the surrounding gardens. You avoid tourist crowds and soak in the peace and tranquility this temple was designed to inspire.

In 710 AD, the same year Nara became Japan’s capital, Kofukuji Temple was founded as the family temple for the Fujiwara clan, one of Japan’s most powerful families at the time. Though only a handful of the 150+ original buildings still survive, those that remain are a testament to both the power that Japan’s clans once held and the influence of Buddhism on Japanese life.

Two sights not to miss at Kofukuji are the National Treasure Museum and the two Octagonal Halls. The Museum has hundreds of artifacts on display from the Nara Period, along with fascinating and in-depth information recounting what life was like during this momentous time in Japanese history. The Octagonal Halls are stunning. If you plan your tour accordingly, you can step inside, on one of the few days each year when the doors are open to visitors.

As much as any shrine or temple, Nara’s cuisine keeps alive culinary traditions from an earlier era. Nara is famous for its nyumen, the first noodle dish imported to Japan from China. Best on a hot summer day, the cold noodles are dipped into a dashi broth before eating. Don’t forget to slurp to demonstrate to the chef how much you appreciate the dish!

After lunch, you take the train back to Kyoto. Just outside Kyoto Station, a private transfer picks you up for your afternoon sightseeing. Your first stop is Kyomizu Temple. From the temple’s grand terrace, take in the view of Kyoto and the surrounding mountains.

Since 1606, Kodai-ji temple has stood testament to the grand changes Japan has undergone in the past 500 years. The highlight of the temple is the large rock garden representing the endless ocean. The temple’s bamboo groves provide excellent photographic opportunities, along with a chance to sit and appreciate nature.

Dating back to the 7th-century, Yasaka Shrine is the centerpiece of July’s Gion Matsuri, a Kyoto festival that has been held every year for over a millennium. Beautiful no matter the season, the shrine truly comes to life in the spring, when the cherry trees spread throughout the temple groups go into full bloom.

Your last stop is the Gion District, a protected area of Kyoto where young women still learn the art of the geisha. This evening, you are the guest at a geisha performance followed by a traditional kaiseki ryori dinner. Kaiseki ryori is a Japanese cuisine perfected after hundreds of years. Each small dish is a new experience for the senses, as you are struck by the food’s beauty as well as its taste.  

What’s Included: breakfast, dinner, transfer, guided tour, accommodation

Day 3: Kyoto to Tokyo – From Ancient to Ultra-Modern

This morning, you check out of your Kyoto hotel and board the famous Shinkansen. In less than three hours, you arrive at Shinagawa Station in central Tokyo. Still in the station, you immediately become swept up in the city’s sights and sounds.

Your guide delivers you to your hotel to freshen up before going out for an afternoon and evening on the town. Your first stop is the Ginza, a district defined by high-class, high-tech, and haute cuisine. Your guide, if you wish, can recommend stores to make the best use of your shopping time. If you wish to buy something, your guide makes all the arrangements necessary to ensure that your purchases are delivered to your hotel, or shipped to your home.  

When Japan experienced an economic boom in the 1980s, it was rumored that the Imperial Palace grounds were worth more than the state of California. Though the Japanese real estate bubble has long since burst, you immediately recognize that the palace rests on some of the best lands in the city. Surrounded by moats and high walls, modern technology and police officers ensure that the emperor is kept safe at all times. Even so, visitors can freely wander through the outer palace grounds. While there, your guide takes you through the East gardens, an oasis in Tokyo’s hustle and bustle. There, view some of the most well-maintained gardens in all of Japan.

In the afternoon, visit Senso-ji and Nakamise Shopping Street. The shopping street is the main walking path to the shrine. In centuries past, these shops catered to weary travelers who had just arrived in the city. Today the shops sell all matter of souvenirs and trinkets. At the end of the path is the temple itself. Senso-ji has come a long way since two fishermen founded the shrine in the 7th-century, making it the oldest in the city. Home to the largest paper lantern in Tokyo, the complex’s size and design inspires awe at every angle.

Your evening is one of relaxation, a dinner cruise on the Sumida River. From your table, take in the views of Tokyo Harbor as the day’s last light fades from the sky. It is a truly magical way to end your day.

What’s Included: breakfast, dinner, transfer, guided tour, accommodation

Day 4: Mt. Fuji and Hakone – Japan’s Natural Beauty

Today you leave Tokyo for a day trip to Mt. Fuji and Hakone, some of the most beautiful spots in Japan. Your bus from central Tokyo leaves in the early morning for Mt. Fuji’s 5th Station, a two-hour journey. The time flies by, though, as the scenery begins to change just minutes after your bus departs. Tokyo’s concrete fades away, allowing tree lined valleys and rivers come into view.

After 90 minutes, the bus begins to climb Mt. Fuji. You soon arrive at the 5th Station, nearly 8,000 feet above sea level. Though home to plenty of dining options and small shops, the best activity is a brief nature walk along the mountain’s side. Just after a few minutes, the trees give away, presenting visitors stunning, panoramic views of the valley and the Five Lakes Region. The walk also reveals Mt. Fuji’s sheer size. As you look up the mountain, you may think you see the summit, but this is only an illusion.

A separate bus takes you down Mt. Fuji and to the resort town of Hakone, the best place to view Mt. Fuji from afar. As you ride the ropeway and take a lake cruise of Lake Ashi, you are treated to the some of Japan’s most breathtaking vistas, which have for centuries inspired artists and writers from Japan and around the world.

While in Hakone, you stop by Owakudani Boiling Valley. Though Mt. Hakone has not erupted in 3,000 years, the volcano is still active. No matter the time of day or season, volcanic gasses drift off the valley floor. The smell of sulfur is heavy in the air as you walk a path between the smoldering rocks and boiling pools. While there, be sure to eat a black egg, a hard-boiled egg colored by the sulfuric waters.

In the late afternoon, you take the bus back to Tokyo. This evening, expect a casual and filling dinner at a Tokyo izakaya, a type of Japanese gastropub that features a variety of small comfort food dishes paired with sake or beer.

What’s Included: breakfast, dinner, transfer, guided tour, accommodation

Day 5: Tokyo – The City at Your Fingertips

As you have already seen, Tokyo is a city of endless possibilities. Pack your day with unique activities, or explore the city on your own. It is completely up to you.

For early risers, there is no better way to spend your morning than a leisurely walk through Meiji Park. Free and open to the public, Meiji Park is home to Meiji Shine, a Shinto shrine constructed to pay homage to Japan’s first modern emperor. As you approach the shrine, you hear only the sounds of chirping birds and rustling leaves, a world away from the cityscape that surrounds you. At the shrine, learn about purification rituals and the proper way to pray to the millions of gods revered in the Shinto religion.

Afterward, take a short metro ride to the Tokyo Skytree. The second highest structure on Earth, the Skytree has spectacular views of the city. For an added experience, have a coffee or snack at the Skytree observation deck café. Although the cost of a cup of coffee may be a bit higher than at ground level, the view is priceless.

For travelers interested in Japanese cuisine, take a cooking class in a Tokyo home. During your two-hour class, learn what goes into making Japanese cuisine some of the best in the world. At the end of your lesson, enjoy the product of all your hard work by eating a stunning lunch that you created.

If drink, rather than food, is on your agenda, Tokyo is home to some of the nation’s best sake breweries. On a sake tour, see how this historic beverage is still made with traditional methods, even in the heart of Tokyo. As you walk between steaming vats and sake casks, your guide lets you in on the brewing secrets that help transform simple rice into sake, a complex, fragrant alcohol. The tour includes a tasting led by a master brewer.  

You may wish to take a day trip to Nikko, the burial place of Japan’s shoguns. Surrounded by a sea of fragrant cedar trees, Nikko’s temples and shrines are some of the most ornate in Japan. The temple complex’s calm paths and harmony with nature reflect in stark contrast to modern Tokyo.

Your last dinner in Japan is a special treat no matter your budget. Depending on your tastes, your guide arranges a reservation at one of Tokyo’s many Michelin star restaurants. As you savor each bite, use this time to reflect on the last few days, and everything you have seen and done.

What’s Included: breakfast, dinner, transfer, guided tour, accommodation

Day 6: Tokyo – The Story Is Not Over

In just under a week, you have seen awe-inspiring sights, learned about a new culture, and eaten some of the most scrumptious food of your life. Yet this is not the end of your story in Japan. You realize as you take an express train to Narita International Airport that one day you will return to see what this breathtaking country still has in store for you.

What’s Included: breakfast, airport transfer

Price

Starting Price 

$2,395
This trip is customizable for your private travel.

What's Included 

  • Accommodations
  • In-country transportation
  • Some or all guided tours and activities (dependent on season)
  • Expert trip planning
  • 24x7 support during your trip
The starting price is based on travel during the low season for a minimum of two travelers staying in shared 3-star accommodations. Please inquire for a custom trip quote based on your travel preferences and travel dates.