Day 1 - Tokyo
Welcome to Tokyo! I didn't want to bombard you guys with a ton of activities on your first day, so instead we have a few relaxed activities that we've planned to show you guys how massive Tokyo is. The main activities for this day are:
- Tokyo SkyTree - The SkyTree has replaced Tokyo Tower as Tokyo's main skyline feature, and being at the top of it is a great way to see how massive Tokyo really is.
- Studio Ghibli Museum - This is the only place in the world that is actually operated by Miyazaki's anime studio.
- Sumo stable visit - This is the activity that we spoke about on the phone, where your son can dress as a sumo wrestler and 'wrestle' an actual sumo wrestler.
Day 2 - Tokyo
Today's activities will all be centered around visiting the man-made island in Tokyo Bay that houses all of Japan's concept technology. Odaiba doesn't feel like the rest of Tokyo, because it is so new. I really wanted to make this day feel as futuristic as possible. Even the train that you guys take to the island will be an unmanned automatic monorail train that will take you over the bay. The day will start, however, with a high tea experience. I love high tea, and have been to pretty much every place that offers it in the city. We suggest the high tea at Shangri-La, but can make suggestions if you want something more traditional, or if you want something more 'Japanese'. The activities are:
- Miraikan - The name literally translates to 'the building of the future'. Packed with fascinating exhibits that are both educational and interactive, this is one of the best places in Japan for fun learning.
- TeamLab Borderless (or Planets) - These two places are amazing, and a must-visit when coming to Tokyo. Borderless is filled with so many digital, interactive art spaces, and it's very hard to describe. Planets is similar, but is more tactile-based, and includes small pools, and other spaces that challenge you physically.
- Tokyo Bay cruise - To get back to the city, we wanted to take you on a different route than how you came. There are boats that take you on a short (less than an hour) cruise of Tokyo Bay to get you back to the city. This is spectacular at night.
Day 3 - Nikko
This will be your first day trip in the itinerary. Nikko is a very important place, as it is the resting spot for the shogun who unified all of Japan. The shrine that you visit is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and is the most beautiful shrine I've ever seen in the entire country. If yesterday was meant to take you to the future, today will celebrate Japan's illustrious history in an entertaining and fun way. Today will be guided. Activities will include:
- Private train cabin - This is a minor detail, but we would preferably like to arrange a small private cabin for the train ride from Tokyo to Nikko.
- Toshogu Shrine - The tour of the shrine grounds will be guided.
- Samurai Villa (time permitting) - In Nikko there is an open-air museum that is made from an Edo-era Samurai residence. It is a great addition to the Nikko itinerary, but it may eat into the Edo Wonderland time, so I've added it tentatively.
- Edo Wonderland - This theme park/recreated Edo-era town is so much fun. There are so many things to do here. You can learn to throw ninja stars, try your hand at creating Dharma dolls, learn how katana were made, and even watch a few impromptu samurai fights. For sure, a trip highlight.
Day 4 - Tokyo
Today is all about making your own short action film! Also, since there was a bit of traveling on Day 3, we didn't want to bombard you with back-to-back crammed days. Today has only one activity, and one restaurant suggestion, so that you can rest up a little, explore a little, and be ready for more activities the next day. This day's activities are:
- Creating your own action film - You can create a short action film with your son that will be directed by one of Japan's best stuntmen. I've sent examples to you in an email.
- Zauo - This is a restaurant where the tables are boats on water... inside of a building (the tables don't move, so you won't get motion sickness) and you get to catch your own fish out of the water and then someone will grill them for you. I thought this may be a fun way to eat dinner.
Day 5 - Tokyo --> Atami
Today will start in Tokyo, and end in Atami. Please keep in mind that we can have a courier service move your luggage to your traditional ryokan in Atami if you wish.
- Sensouji Temple / Asakusa food tour - Sensouji is an important temple in Tokyo as the shogun rulers were patrons of this temple. It also has a very fascinating history. The surrounding area is one of the few places that has some 'street foods' in Japan, and so we would like to plan a day of exploring the temple grounds along with visiting the neighborhood's food spots for snacks along the way.
- Cooking lesson - I would like to prepare a Japanese homestyle cooking lesson for this day as well. Something along the lines of ramen, and gyoza.
- Bullet train ride to Atami - The short trip (around an hour or so) to the coastal town of Atami will be done via the shinkansen bullet train.
Day 6 - Atami
Today will be all about taking in the cherry blossom views, relaxation and hopefully getting a good glimpse of Mt. Fuji.
- Atami Castle Hanami - The castle in Atami is great, but this stop is moreso for the cherry blossom trees that surround it. This will be the first cherry blossom site on your itinerary.
- Hatsushima (time permitting) - Hatsushima is a small island in the Izu peninsula that is a 30 minute boat ride away. It has lovely gardens, and ocean view onsen and even an outdoor activity area that has ziplines and canopy walks.
- Onsen hot springs bath - Atami is blessed with natural onsen, and so this is the perfect place in the itinerary to enjoy them.
Day 7 - Atami --> Kyoto
Today you will travel to Japan's old capital by bullet train. The activities for this day will be:
- Fushimi Inari - Arguably the most important shrine in the entire nation, which has over 10,000 picturesque red 'torii' gates. Fushimi Inari is the main shrine for the God Inari, often depicted as a fox.
- Meet and greet with a geisha (or geiko/maiko) - A chance to be entertained by a geisha and have tea with them. The experience may also include a short Q&A.
- Pontocho food alley - Pontocho has hundreds of restaurants all crammed into a beautiful narrow alley in the heart of Kyoto. A great place to have dinner, we can make reservations in advance for any place that you would like.
Day 8 - Kyoto
Just outside of Kyoto sits an area filled with natural beauty, historic temples and shrines, and a peace that you won't find in the city. After meeting your guide at your hotel, you will:
- Journey down the Hozugawa river on a traditional 3-manned Japanese boat, giving you amazing views of the river and surrounding cherry blossom trees.
- Arashiyama Monkey Park - This is a short hike, but after the boat ride down Hozugawa River there is a small park atop a hill that will give you an excellent view of Kyoto and is the home to many friendly (but wild) macaques.
- Walk through the famous bamboo grove behind Tenryuji; standing amidst these soaring stalks of bamboo is like being in another world.
- Head to Otagi Nenbutsu-ji, a unique temple that houses hundreds of statues, all carved by different people over several decades.
- Finish off the day with a visit to the city's biggest market, Nishiki.
Day 9 - Takayama
Today is all about the Takayama Matsuri! The festival is worth an entire day to truly appreciate, and it is also broken into two parts, the first taking place during the afternoon and the latter taking place in the evening. Both sections will have ornate omikoshi floats, but the evening portion will also include typical matsuri food stalls lining the streets! A UNESCO World Heritage Intangible asset, and one of Japan's national treasures, this event cannot be missed!
Day 10 - Nara
I originally wanted to include Hiroshima in your itinerary, but decided not to, so that we could keep the overall travel time as low as possible. Nara is the location I've added in its place. Miyajima was the main reason I wanted Hiroshima in the itinerary. On Miyajima there are really cute deer that just roam the island, and kids love it. So instead I've added a very famous temple outside of Kyoto where deer also roam the grounds freely, called Todaiji. Todaiji is also home to one of Japan's largest Buddha statues.
- Todaiji Temple - (see above)
- Taiko drumming lesson - Per our discussion over the phone, this would be a short taiko drum lesson done with a group. Your instructor will show you how to play the drums and you guys will all play together at the end of the lesson.
Day 11 - Himeiji
Himeiji Castle is the main attraction for today. I've chosen this castle, not only because it is by far my favorite in Japan, but also because the grounds full of cherry blossom trees (over a thousand actually). I also am not sure what you would think of this, but as an evening activity, I was thinking that it may be nice do karaoke on your last night. Kyoto has some very cool private karaoke booths, and the catalog has a lot of English songs.
- Himeiji Castle + Cherry Blossoms - (see above)
- Private Karaoke booth (tentative) - These booths also have a sort of 'room service' where you can order snacks and drinks (sodas, and juices are available) while singing. Hugely popular in Japan.
Day 12 - Kyoto --> Tokyo
This day will simply be the arrangements to get you back to the airport, if you are departing from a Tokyo airport. The trip from Kyoto to Tokyo by bullet train is around three and a half hours and so it will be the longest travel time of your trip.