Day 1 - Tokyo
Welcome to Tokyo, the nation's capital! Did you know that with over 9 million residents, Tokyo is classified as the largest city in the world? And that's not even counting the neighboring cities in the Greater Tokyo region, bringing the number to a whopping 36 million!
Your private car will collect you from the airport and take you to your accommodations. You will also meet one of our representatives who will orientate you to your trip and organize all of your passes and train tickets for the duration of your journey.
We will not schedule too much for your first day to allow you to rest after a long flight. However, if you end up arriving early on in the day, we'd be more than happy to arrange half a day of activities to start your trip off with a bang!
Day 2 - Tokyo
Your first full day will start with a guided walking tour of Tokyo. Your private guide will meet you at your hotel and not only introduce you to some of the city's most quintessential neighborhoods, historical sites and architecture, but also explain a number of important cultural customs that you will find useful on your trip.
Stops for today will include:
- The Imperial Palace Gardens right in the heart of the city.
- Meiji Jingu, one of Tokyo's most important shrines, and said to house the spirit of the Meiji Emperor.
- The trendy popculture centres of Harajuku and Shibuya, with their quirky cafes and famous crossing as seen in the movie 'Lost in Translation'.
- The alleys of Shimbashi, which are packed with local restaurants, for a city food tour.
Day 3 - Tokyo
Tsukiji fish market was constructed just after the devastating 1923 earthquake, and quickly became the biggest wholesaler dealer of fish in the country. Although this portion of the market has now been moved to Toyosu, the Outer Tsukiji Market still remains as lively as ever and is a must for anyone who loves sushi! Today you will experience:
- A guided tour of both Tsukiji and Toyosu fish markets, including the early morning tuna auction.
- A delicious sushi lunch (advised by your guide).
You'll then have some free time to relax after an early morning, or continue exploring Tokyo at your leisure. If you're fans of Japanese spirits (the drinkable kind!), we highly recommend a stop at Tokyo's sake tasting centre which has produce from all over the country.
Day 4 - Nikko
Today you'll travel to Nikko, home of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Toshogu Shrine. Mausoleum to Japan’s last shogun, this ornate shrine is one of the most beautiful in Japan, full of masterful wooden carvings, and a marked contrast to traditional Shinto structures. Set against a backdrop of soaring trees and expansive forest, it's a far cry from the busy streets of Tokyo.
A short walk south will take you to Rinnoji, Nikko's most famous temple. Explore the grounds at your leisure, visiting a treasure house displaying fascinating exhibits, a small yet charming Japanese garden, and a shrine that’s said to house Nikko's three mountain gods.
Before heading back to Tokyo and saying goodbye to your guide, treat yourself to a lunch of soba and yuba, two of Nikko's most distinctive dishes.
Day 5 - Kanazawa
Today, you will board your first bullet train for a leisurely journey to the city of Kanazawa, also known as the city of gold. After meeting your private guide and dropping your bags, it's time to explore. Stops for today will include:
- Kenroku-en, one of the three finest landscape gardens in Japan. This will include a visit to an ancient wooden villa (Seisonkaku) with a fascinating history.
- Kanazawa Castle, a short walk from Kenroku-en and for a long time a prime seat of power for the Maeda clan. The castle grounds are also known for their stunning cherry blossoms trees.
Day 6 - Kanazawa
After meeting your private guide at your hotel, you'll venture into some of Kanazawa's more historic districts including:
- The Nomura Clan Samurai Home, which belonged to a high-ranking samurai family who ultimately lost their fortune with the advent of the Meiji Era.
- The geisha 'chaya' district, complete with its streets lined with beautiful wooden teahouses, ryokan and geisha houses.
- The Omicho fresh food market which has been the city's biggest market since the Edo Period.
The afternoon is then yours to spend as you wish. Why not take the opportunity to visit the city's museum of contemporary art? This building and its works demonstrate a perfect partnership between old and new Japanese design and artwork.
Day 7 - Gokayama/Shirakawa-go
The slanted thatch-roof houses of Shirakawa-go have become one of Japan's most famous sites. Not many people know there is a similar town called Gokayama just 45 minutes away. The houses of these mountain villages have been standing for over 300 years! Together with a guide and private car, you will spend the day seeing a quieter and more rural side of Japanese life. Sites and activities include:
- Appreciating the architecture of the villages' gassho-style houses and temples and shrines.
- Learning about the village's industrial production of natural minerals, silk, and paper in the Edo era through a few small museum visits.
- Getting a taste of the bountiful fresh food available sourced from local mountain vegetables, homemade tofu, and fish caught from nearby streams.
Day 8 - Kyoto
Today you will bid farewell to Kanazawa and hop on the bullet train to Kyoto. This former capital of Japan is absolutely bursting with history and culture. After meeting your private guide for the day, you'll see some of the best that Kyoto has to offer, including stops at:
- A tea house to experience a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. This is not only an art, but a spiritual discipline.
- Fushimi Inari, arguably the most important shrine in the entire nation, which has over 10 000 picturesque red 'torii' gates donated by people and various businesses from all over Japan. You'll visit it later in the day once the crowds have died down.
As evening draws, take a walk along the Kamogawa river and choose from the abundance of local restaurants in the area.
Day 9 - Kurama/Kibune
Today, watch the city fade into forest and thatch-roofed houses on a train journey to the small villages of Kurama and Kibune. There are many stories and legends surrounding the tengu, mystical creatures with untold powers, who lived in the area centuries ago. The nearby Yuki shrine is home to an 800-year-old Japanese cedar which is said to be able to grant any wish! Together with your private guide you will enjoy the following:
- A short hike up to Kurama Temple, through its forest lined with towering cedar trees and inhabited by friendly deer, on to the small town of Kibune.
- An obanzai course lunch overlooking the Kibune river. You can also try out a few Japanese spirits beside its flowing waters as you relax after your forest hike.
Day 10 - Kyoto/Kansai
You will have an entire day today to relax after just over a week of travel, or explore the wider Kansai region at your own pace. There are so many things to do, but here are a few suggestions:
- Visit the Arashiyama district for a boat ride down a cherry blossom lined river and visit its famous bamboo grove, zen temples and gardens.
- Spend the day in Kobe which is home to the world's longest suspension bridge and the birthplace of Kobe A5-quality wagyu beef. You can try this at a number of establishments.
- Visit Himeji Castle which is one of the few castles in Japan that hasn't been destroyed by a natural disaster.
- Attend the seasonal Miyako Odori festival which gives visitors the rare opportunity to see geisha perform in public!
Day 11 - Takamatsu
Move on today to another one of Japan's large islands, Shikoku, and the location of your home for the next few days, Takamatsu. This port city was for a long time the main entry point to Shikoku and sits in Japan's smallest prefecture. Before you leave you'll have plenty of time to take in one last experience in Kyoto. Perhaps breakfast at the bustling Nishiki Market before departing?
After checking in to your hotel, spend the afternoon getting settled and taking in the surrounding sites at a relaxed pace. There are a few museums showcasing Japanese art and architecture, as well as a landscape garden to enjoy in this seaside city.
Day 12 - Naoshima
The small island of Naoshima is an art lover’s paradise and is particularly famous for its Setouchi Triennale which takes place 3 times a year. These exhibitions introduce dozens of new artworks to the island on a regular basis, making sure there's always something new for you to see!
Your day will start with a ferry ride from Takamatsu Port. Upon arrival, get ready to spend a few hours appreciating the dozens of installations exhibited at the island's numerous modern art museums, stunning sculptures and masterful architectural displays. Even the buildings form part of the island's attraction as many of them have been designed by two of Japan's most famous architects. A walk around the island itself will reveal additional works of art. Set against a backdrop of breathtaking natural surroundings, this aspect seems to add even more to their appeal.
Day 13 - Shimanto
Move outside of the city today as you journey by train to Shimanto. Away from all of the urban hustle and bustle, this area is home to the most pristine and unspoiled river in Japan, and also the longest on the island of Shikoku. You'll spend the next 2 nights in a quaint castle town on the coast.
One of the best ways to take in Shimanto's natural beauty is by senba sail boat. These boats have a long history of carrying both goods and passengers up and down the Shimanto River. Keep an eye out for fishermen at work and wild animals which call the area home.
It's then on to your ryokan which comes equipped with its own hotspring baths for an evening of relaxation.
Day 14 - Shimanto
One thing that Japan does well is knives, and today you're in for a treat. Forget about modern techniques because today you'll make your own kitchen knives from Japanese steel, using fire and ancient methods used by locals for hundreds of years.
Set in a small village along the Shimanto River and guided by an expert local blacksmith, learn all about this fascinating traditional craft as you also take in the beautiful natural scenery and abundant animal life surrounding you. An engraving on your creations at the end is also an amazing way to commemorate your trip.
*Note that you can ship your knives back home, or store them in your checked luggage as long as they are safely packed.
Day 15 - Fukuoka
You're in for a bit of travel today as you make your way to the city of Fukuoka in Kyushu. It's here you'll board the overnight ferry to the Goto Islands. Before boarding and settling into your private cabin, we recommend taking the opportunity to enjoy some Hakata ramen (one of the city's most delicious dishes) and perhaps take a dip in a nearby bathhouse.
Then, watch the city lights fade away and let the ocean waves lull you to sleep as you begin the next phase of your journey.
Day 16 - Goto Islands
Wake up in an island-dotted sea and catch sunrise from the deck before docking at Goto's main island of Fukue. Upon disembarking you'll meet your guide at the port.
The Goto Islands used to be the area where dozens of Christians fled to take refuge in an attempt to worship freely and without persecution. One of the best places to learn a bit about this history is Dozaki Church. Your guide will also introduce you to a few other beauties that the island has to offer. This will include visits to the pristine Takahama beach and Mt Onidake, where you can enjoy a relaxing onsen experience should you desire it. This mountain is also an amazing place for star gazing.
Day 17 - Goto Islands
You'll spend the day in the company of one of our favorite locals, a monk named Yamashita san. Your guide from yesterday will also accompany you as you take the short ferry to Oushima island. Bustling during the whaling boom, this island is now home to fewer than 40 people. The cat population actually outnumbers the human one! A walk around the island will reveal abandoned houses, schools and a special shrine housed in a cave. It’s a real insight into the reality of Japan’s ‘dying countryside’ as the young leave for jobs in the cities, leaving these villages bare. You'll also spend a few hours fishing its pristine waters.
In the evening you can look forward to a delicious meal cooked at an amazing homestyle Japanese restaurant. The sashimi here is some of the best we’ve tasted in the entire country, with the menu dependent on what the chef has caught that day.
Day 18 - Nagasaki
Board the morning jetfoil to Nagasaki as you say goodbye to Goto. Nagasaki has a somewhat somber history as the location for the WW2 nuclear attack which you can learn about at its Peace Park and Atomic Bomb Museum.
However, the city is also evidence of a mish-mash of cultures (with influences from the Koreans, Chinese, Portuguese and Dutch) as it was one of the first ports to open up to foreigners in the 1600s. Its cuisine is particularly reflective of this and the city remains one of our favorite locations to enjoy some really interesting and tasty dishes. A good place to start is Shinchi Chinatown, but we'll leave the ultimate choice up to you. If you're feeling up to some night adventure, the Mt Inasa Ropeway also offers one of the best night views in the entire country.
Day 19 - Osaka
Travel back east today by bullet train as you wind down your time in Japan. Osaka is the perfect place for your final overnight stay as it is central to the Kansai region - making it easy for last-minute exploration and shopping. Additionally, should you book your return flight from Kansai International, it makes for an easy trip to the airport.
Alternatively, take an early morning bullet train back to Tokyo tomorrow morning to fly out from there later in the day.
Osaka is famous for its castle and delicious streetfood, the latter of which you'll enjoy with a guided tour. As you wander its alleys with various mouthwatering smells, be sure to give the takoyaki and okonomiyaki a try!
Day 20 - Osaka/Tokyo
Today your time in Japan comes to an end. We hope you've had an amazing couple of weeks exploring the country and sayonara, until next time!