Tokyo, Narai, Tsumago, Takayama, Shirakawa-go, Kanazawa, Kyoto
Dates are flexible and customizable for private departures.
Complex history and fascinating tradition will emerge during your 14-day historic Japan tour that follows the Nakasendo Trail. Your specialist guides will lead you on private tours to fine snow monkeys in hot springs and traditional accommodations hidden in stunning nature. You will reflect at a Buddhist temple on a secluded summit and delight in delectable seafood while basking in the beauty and wonder of Japan.
Tokyo – Yokoso to Japan!
Your tour of Japan begins today as your plane touches down at either Narita International Airport. For your time in Tokyo, your luxury hotel is western-style. If you still have energy after your journey, consider exploring Tokyo this evening and enjoying the city’s exciting nightlife.
Tokyo – The City Is Your Oyster
Tokyo is a city of many faces. Walk only a half-mile in any direction and you may encounter ultra-modern skyscrapers, peaceful parks, or centuries-old shrines. From Tokyo’s highest observation deck at the Tokyo Skytree, you can see nearly 50 miles in every direction. The city seems to extend to infinity. If the weather is just right, you look to the west and discover the outline of the magnificent Mt. Fuji.
On the ground, Tokyo is a city that never stops. Every minute, thousands of commuters pass through the famous Scramble Crossing just outside Shibuya Station. At night, the city is soaked in neon coming from the innumerable number of advertisements hanging overhead.
As you tour the city, finding delicious food is easy. For sushi lovers, the kaiten, or conveyer belt, sushi restaurants just outside Ueno Station are a treat, especially when the chefs pile on fresh plates during the lunch rush. Or stop for a bowl of noodles at one of the city’s innumerable ramen, soba, or udon restaurants. Perfect for an on-the-go traveler such as yourself, these hearty meals provide sufficient calories so you can explore Tokyo to its fullest. For fine dining, Tokyo is home to more Michelin star restaurants than any other city on Earth.
Yudanaka Hot Spring – Friendly Monkeys and Warm Baths
Today you leave Tokyo behind, traveling by express train to Yudanaka Hot Spring. For hundreds of years, this resort city has provided the Japanese respite from the country’s cold winters and hot summers.
Upon your arrival in the early afternoon, you drop your bags off at your hotel before venturing out to see some of the most famous wildlife in Japan. Throughout Japan’s recorded history, nearby hot springs have attracted red-face macaque monkeys. In the winter months, they congregate to soak in the warm waters. They are an amazing sight to behold.
Your accommodations this evening is a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn featuring tatami mat floors and futons for sleeping. Before dinner is served in your room or the communal dining room, take a relaxing soak in one of the ryokan’s many onsen baths.
Narai – Life Behind Castle Walls
After a traditional Japanese breakfast at your ryokan, you depart by train to Matsumoto. In Matsumoto, you tour Matsumoto Castle, one of the finest example of Edo Period (1603-1868) architecture in Japan. If traveling during the hanami, or cherry blossom viewing season in mid-spring, the castle grounds are some of the best places to view the blooming cherry blossoms.
After lunch, you board a bus for Narai. During the Edo Period, Narai was one of the many post towns on the Nakasendo Trail. Travelers walking between Kyoto and Edo (now Tokyo) rested at post towns during their journey. As Narai was the halfway point between Kyoto and Edo, it was one of the wealthiest villages in Japan. As you walk the preserved streets, the mountains that make up Japan’s backbone tower in the distance.
Your hotel this evening is a treat, a renovated Edo Period home. Besides containing all modern amenities, everything in your room is unique to the time period. This evening dinner is served in your room and features meat and vegetables from the surrounding Kiso Valley. As you fall asleep underneath your futon, you join the grand tradition of travelers making their way through Narai.
Tsumago – Small Town Life
This morning, you have time to explore Narai in the early dawn light. The city is enchanting, especially its small shops which sell a variety of hand-made goods. In the late morning, you leave by train, and after a short journey, arrive in Tsumago.
In many ways, Tsumago is akin Colonial Williamsburg in the United States. Within their homes, the residents of Tsumago have all the conveniences of modern life. Yet outside, the homes and other buildings look straight from the 19th century. This emphasis on preservation has made Tsumago one of the most popular small towns in Japan.
Tsumago is known throughout Japan for its gohei-mochi, sticky balls of pounded rice. This delectable treat is then flavored with a variety of seeds and other ingredients. As you walk the streets, you can hear the confectioners pound the rice with wooden mallets. They are happy to let visitors take part. It is something not to miss in Tsumago.
The Tsumago Folk Museum is an excellent way to get to know not only the city but also the history of the Nakasendo Trail. From observing the models of the city and Edo Period artifacts, you leave with a deep appreciation of the town’s history and people.
This evening, your hotel is another renovated Edo Period home in the center of Tsumago. Dinner is included.
Takayama – Delicious Cuisine
Today you say goodbye to the Nakasendo Trail and the Kiso Valley. You then take a train to Takayama, a city that was for centuries isolated from the rest of Japan. You soon realize why this was the case, as your train winds its way through a series of impossibly steep hills and valleys.
When it was opened to the rest of Japan during the Edo Period, Takayama became home to some of the finest artisans in the country. From sake to furniture, you find many treasures as you tour the streets of Takayama’s old city. Many of these stores invite guests to see how their products are made, so make sure to take advantage of their hospitality.
Your accommodation for your two nights in Takayama is a ryokan featuring many indoor and outdoor onsen baths. On your first night, a kaiseki dinner is provided. This meal is extra special, as it includes Hida beef, known worldwide for its fine marbling and texture.
Takayama – A City Trapped in Time
There is no better way to begin a day in Takayama than visiting the morning market. For decades, farmers and merchants have gathered here to sell their wares, ranging from fresh rice to handmade pottery. It is a wonderful place to explore and pick up a unique souvenir or ingredient for a meal you make back home.
Takayama is famous for its matsuri festivals in April and October. Yet if you come to Takayama in any other month, it is still possible to appreciate this amazing tradition. In the Takayama Festival Floats Exhibition Hall, the city’s collection of floats is always on display for visitors. Each float is hundreds of years old. They are a testament to how ancient traditions and practices still have a place in modern Japan.
Shirakawa-go – Continuing Ancient Traditions
This morning is an excellent time to visit Takayama-jinya. Though at first glance Takayama-jinya appears to be a palatial estate, it was actually the city’s government office during the Edo Period. Within, you discover dozens of immaculate rooms where the shogun’s officials would receive guests and conduct business. Also inside is the old jail, where criminals or enemies of the shogun would meet their fate.
After lunch, you take an hour bus ride to Shirakawa-go. Since 1995, Shirakawa-go has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its gassho-zukuri houses. Some of the most unique architecture in Japan, gassho-zukuri refers to the thick thatched roofs that crown each house.
Many of the village’s structures are open to visitors, including Wada house, home to a preserved silk factory. For hundreds of years, silkworm farming was an important part of Shirakawa-go’s local economy. In the museum, see the tools of the trade and learn how residents harvested the precious silk.
This evening your hotel is a minshuku, a family run guesthouse, in Shirakawa-go. Dinner is provided this evening and features a variety of local produce harvested by Shirakawa-go’s farmers.
Kanazawa – A Sushi Lover’s Paradise
From Shirakawa-go, Kanazawa is a three-hour journey by train. Located on the Sea of Japan, Kanazawa is home to some of the finest sushi in not only Japan, but the world. When you arrive, the city’s bus system makes getting around the city an easy task.
There are a variety of interesting stops in Kanazawa. At the 21st Century Museum, for example, see unique modern art on display in Japan. Leandro Erlich’s “Swimming Pool” creates the illusion of swimming under water without the threat of getting wet. The building itself is a work of art, as well, featuring pieces by Japanese and international artists.
Kenroukuen Garden is rated as one of the three most beautiful gardens in Japan. Since 1871, Japanese and foreign visitors have basked in the beauty of its plum and cherry tree orchards, ponds, and authentic teahouse.
No matter how you choose to spend your day in Nakazawa, be sure to end it with a sushi feast. A variety of delicious options are at your fingertips.
This evening, your hotel in Kanazawa is western-style.
Mount Koya – Meeting Monks
Today you travel south by train, back into the Japanese Alps. You emerge from the mountains as you enter the Kansai plain, home to some of the largest cities in Japan. But they are not your destination today. Your train continues on into a new set of mountains which reveal greater natural wonders. Your destination, Mount Koya, is considered to be one of the holiest sites in Japan.
1,200 years ago, the Buddhist monk Kukai chose Mount Koya as the site for his monastery. To Kukai, the location was perfect, as the mountain’s eight peaks resemble the shape of a blooming lotus flower. Throughout the centuries, over 100 temples were founded on the mountain slopes. Each follows Shingon Buddhism, a Buddhist sect imported from Tibet.
For hundreds of years, these temples have offered to lodge pilgrims and travelers alike. Tonight, you become part of this tradition as you arrive at your accommodation, a functioning Buddhist temple. Expect your room to be modest, but comfortable.
Before dinner, get to know your surroundings by taking a walk on one of the many stone paths that link the temples together. At sunset, monks light the stone lanterns that line the path. The flickering lights turn your walk into a mystical experience. For dinner, dine on shojin-ryori, a vegetarian cuisine that respects the monks’ abstention from meat.
Kyoto – Home of the Geisha
This morning, you say goodbye to Mount Koya as you board a train for Kyoto. You arrive before lunch, and check into your hotel. In Kyoto, you have a choice of Japanese ryokan or western-style hotel. Both offer breakfasts and all modern amenities to ensure that you have a comfortable and enjoyable time.
After settling in, use the late afternoon to get to know Japan’s old capital. There is no better spot than the Gion District. A historically protected neighborhood, the Gion is known worldwide for Kyoto’s geisha, known locally as geiko. You may witness elaborately-dressed geiko walking between appointments. One thing not to miss is the Sanjo-ohashi Bridge, once regarded as the end of the Nakasendo Trail.
The Gion District has many fine restaurants where you can sample traditional Japanese cuisine in its most refined form.
Kyoto – A Tour Just for You
Many days before your journey to Japan, we give you a variety of options for a guided tour of Kyoto. Kyoto is home to many treasures, and we want to ensure that your time in this amazing city is tailored to your tastes. Some of the personalized experiences we offer include an authentic Japanese tea ceremony or a class in Zen meditation led by Buddhist monks. All tour options include stops at a variety of temples and shrines, and are crafted to avoid crowds of other travelers.
When the day begins, your guide meets you at your hotel. During your tour, you have the option to travel by subway, taxi, or bus. The tour is all day and wraps up around 5 pm. The tour can end either back at your hotel, or a site in Kyoto if you wish to explore on your own.
Kyoto – The Birthplace of Japanese Culture
Today you take a day trip to Nara, Japan’s first capital. Though it held this designation for only 84 years in the 8th century, the Nara Period was one of the most influential in Japanese history. It was during this time at the imperial court embraced Buddhism, a religion imported from China.
You arrive at Nara after an hour’s journey by local train. At first glance, Nara seems like any other modern Japanese city. Yet just after a few minute’s walk, you discover Nara Park. From its edge, you can see Todai-ji, the largest Buddhist temple in Japan and one of the largest wooden buildings in the world. Before venturing there, though, you meet Nara’s wild deer. Considered sacred, they have been allowed to live without fear of hunters. Therefore, they are quite tame and are known to bow to visitors to receive a treat.
Even before you enter Todai-ji, you are taken aback by its sheer size. Inside is a greater wonder, the Daibutsu. This 49-foot tall bronze Buddha dates back to 752 when the original temple was founded. Though fire and earthquakes throughout the centuries have caused much of the temple to need restoration, the Daibutsu has withstood the test of time. It is a sight to behold and is as breathtaking today as it was when it was first unveiled over 1,200 years ago.
In the early evening, you return to Kyoto by train.
Kyoto – Sayonara for Now
There are many ways to extend your tour in Japan. Yet for most travelers, you head home today. In the morning, you transfer by train to Kansai International Airport, where your flight home awaits.
As your plane takes off, you reflect on your time in Japan. You have seen so much, eaten a plethora of delicious food, and made a lifetime of priceless memories.
- Traverse segments of the Nakasendo Trail, an enthralling hike filled with stunning nature and captivating history
- Spend a night at the Buddhist temple at Mt. Koya, allowing for a reflective experience
- See the famous Japanese snow monkeys relaxing in the natural outdoor hot springs
- Experience ryokans, traditional Japanese inns that feature tatami mats and onsens, thermal hot springs
- Visit Kanazawa, crowned the Seafood Jewel of the Sea of Japan and indulge in remarkably fresh and delectable seafood cuisines
- Enjoy a day trip to Nara, and delight in local wild deer that will bow for treats
Not only is Tokyo Japan’s capital, but it is the largest metropolis in the world. Begin your tour in this enthralling capital, where the city is your playground as you travel between secluded parks and skyscrapers. You find yourself wonderfully captivated as you zoom between destinations on the efficient metro system. At night, the streets are illuminated with bright neon. At your fingertips are a variety of delectable Japanese and international cuisine.
You then head to Yudanaka Hot Spring. Located in the heart of central Japan, Yudanaka is home to the famous snow monkey, that, no matter the season, take refuge in the naturally occurring hot springs. This evening, enjoy warm onsen baths at your ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn.
Matsumoto contains one of the most stunning castles in Japan. As you tour the inside, it is easy to imagine yourself transported back to the 18th-century, when samurai roamed these same hallways. The gardens surrounding the castle are another treasure, where in the spring and fall you can find some of Japan’s finest natural beauty.
Narai and Tsumago are two post towns on what was once the Nakasendo Trail. Restored to their full glory, you spend nights in both. During your time there, you have the chance to see what daily life was like hundreds of years ago. Both places are wonderful for picking up a souvenir. You are amazed by how the local artisans continue the world-class craftsmanship that has been handed down through the generations.
For centuries, Takayama was secluded from the rest of Japan. Surrounded by the Japanese Alps, it is a picturesque city. For a day-and-a-half, you explore the old town, which features a variety of sake breweries and workshops. While there, don’t forget to try Hida beef, one of the finest cuts of meat in the world.
Just beyond Takayama is Shirakawa-go, a village where little has changed in the last 300 years. Here, you discover some of the most unique architecture in all of Japan. Touring the village, you gain a deep appreciation for small-town life, and the work performed by residents to keep old traditions alive. You spend the night in Shirakawa-go, and sample locally farmed produce and meat.
You continue on to Kanazawa, a seafood jewel found in the Sea of Japan. Besides some of the finest sushi in the world, the city offers a variety of delights. Spend an afternoon in the contemporary art museum, or relax in the shade of the Kenroukuen Garden, one of the country’s most beautiful. For a unique experience, there is even a ‘Ninja Temple’ that maintains traditions steeped in the past.
Mt. Koya is considered to be one of the holiest places in Japan. Over 100 Buddhist temples line the mountain peaks, demonstrating the great devotion the Japanese have to Buddhism. At Mt. Koya, you are no mere visitor. You are part a grand tradition of pilgrims taking lodging at a Buddhist temple. At the temple, meet the monks and dine on their vegetarian cuisine.
Your final stop is Kyoto, Japan’s ancient capital and home to over 2,000 temples and shrines. During your specially curated guided tour, see the best of what Kyoto has to offer the modern traveler. While there, take a day trip to Nara, home to Todai-ji. There you can examine many splendid artifacts from Japan’s ancient past.
This 14-day tour is perfect for couples, friends, and families. This tour is best taken in spring or fall when Japan’s weather is ideal for outdoor activity.
$5,595 per person (excluding international flights)
Your Zicasso trip is fully customizable, and this sample itinerary is a starting place for your travel plans. Actual costs are dynamic, and your selection of accommodations and activities, your season of travel, and other such variables will bring this budget guideline up or down. Throughout your planning experience with your Zicasso specialist, your itinerary is designed around your budget. You can book your trip when you are satisfied with every detail. Planning your trip with a Zicasso travel specialist is a free service.
- In-country transportation
- Some or all activities and tours
- Expert trip planning
- 24x7 support during your trip
Your final trip cost will vary based on your selected accommodations, activities, meals, and other trip elements that you opt to include.
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