It’s a fascinating land of delicate art and bustling commerce, of rich traditions and dizzying modernity – all revealed on this well-crafted 13-day small group tour, limited to 24 travelers. See Tokyo and Kyoto’s highlights, engage in local life, and head off the beaten path to the lovely historic cities of Takayama and Kanazawa. The journey begins with three nights in amazing Tokyo, where, along with time to explore independently, touring includes a preeminent calligrapher’s gallery, the imposing Imperial Palace, tranquil Meiji Shrine, the famed Ginza district, and the impressive Tokyo National Museum. Japan’s pastoral side is on tap next in stunning Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park with majestic Mt. Fuji and a scenic cruise on Ashi Lake. After overnighting at a traditional ryokan inn, board an express train to Takayama in the Japanese Alps to explore this ancient town during a two-night sojourn. A traditional tea ceremony and a cooking class offer opportunities to experience Japanese culture firsthand. Visit historic Shirakawago Village, a UNESCO site. Reaching culturally rich Kanazawa for a two-night stay, tour famed Kenrokuen Garden, visit a gold leaf museum, and see the Higashi Chayagai teahouse area. The journey ends with three nights in Kyoto, Japan’s cultural center. Among many highlights here: the beloved Golden Pavilion temple, Ryoan-ji temple with its acclaimed Zen garden, and the extravagant 17th-century Nijo-jo Castle. Visit the otherworldly Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, the important Fushimi Inari shrine, and Nishiki Market, “Kyoto’s Kitchen.” Discover cosmopolitan Hiroshima, reborn from its atomic destruction, with an optional 3-day/2-night post-tour extension.
Depart U.S. for Tokyo, Japan
Upon arrival in Japan’s financial, commercial, and political capital, we transfer to our hotel. As guests’ arrival times may vary, we have no scheduled activities or meals planned.
After a briefing about the journey ahead, we set out to discover a small part of this amazing city that covers a staggering 840 miles. Our sightseeing features the Meiji Shrine, a peaceful enclave of Shinto temples and gardens. We also visit the gallery of preeminent calligrapher Koshun Masunaga, where we learn about this ancient art of artistic writing and browse the collection. Our tour ends in Ginza, Tokyo’s famed shopping, dining, and entertainment district, where we can stay to explore as we wish or return to our hotel for an afternoon at leisure. Tonight, we gather for a welcome dinner at a local restaurant. B,D
Our tour of Tokyo continues this morning at the Imperial Palace, surrounded by moats and ramparts and home of the Imperial Family. Here we visit the East Gardens, part of the innermost circle of defense of the historic Edo Castle that once stood here. We continue on to the Buddhist Asakusa Kannon, Tokyo’s oldest temple (c. 645 CE), and the adjacent Nakamise shopping arcade, dating to the 17th century. Last, we visit the Tokyo National Museum, housing an extensive collection of art and antiquities from Japan and other Asian countries. This afternoon is free for independent exploration; lunch and dinner are on our own in this city with endless dining options. B
Tokyo/Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park/Hakone
Japan’s pastoral side is on tap as we leave Tokyo for Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. Here sits imposing Mt. Fuji, a dormant volcano (it last erupted in 1707) with a perfectly symmetrical cone that rises to 12,388 feet. The mountain’s majesty is breathtaking, as artists and writers have attested for centuries. We take a coach ride where, weather permitting, we’ll enjoy breathtaking panoramic views; then we descend for a relaxing cruise on scenic Ashi Lake. Leaving the park, we travel to the town of Hakone where we spend the night at a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn where we take off our shoes upon entering, enjoy a Japanese-style Kaiseki dinner, and sleep on a futon. B,D
Today we travel first by bullet train then by Wide View Hida express train to lovely Takayama in the Japanese Alps, considered one of the country’s most attractive towns with its 16th-century castle and old-style buildings. Our explorations center on three narrow streets in the San-machi-suji district where, in feudal times, merchants lived amidst the authentically preserved small inns, teahouses, and sake breweries. This afternoon we attend a traditional Japanese tea ceremony here, an historic ritual of form, grace, and spirituality. B,D
We pay an early visit to the riverside Miyagawa Morning Market, a blaze of dazzling colors and foodstuffs. Here we meet a local chef to gather ingredients for the lunch we will prepare together at a nearby site. After enjoying the fruits of our labors, we embark on a walking tour, visiting Takayama Jinya, an historic government house; the local sake brewery; and Takayama’s old town, whose well-preserved buildings and homes date to the Edo Period (1600–1868). B,L
We leave Takayama this morning for the UNESCO World Heritage site of Shirakawago Gassho-zukuri Village. Comprising buildings relocated from authentic villages nearby that were razed for a dam, the village is also a vibrant community whose residents work together to preserve the unique traditional architecture here known as Gassho style. Late this afternoon we reach the castle town of Kanazawa, an alluring coastal city that survived the ravages of World War II. B,L
Today’s tour of this culturally rich city features renowned Kenrokuen Garden, a national landmark whose origins date to 1676. We also see Ishikawa Gate, the only remaining section of the town’s original castle; Hakukokan, a museum celebrating the art and craft of gold leaf technology; and the Higashi Chayagai teahouse and geisha area. Our last stop is the Nagamachi Samurai district, where the ruling family’s samurai warriors lived. B,D
We depart this morning by train for Kyoto, formerly Japan’s Imperial Capital and now the country’s cultural and artistic center, with more than 1,600 temples, hundreds of shrines, artful gardens, and historic architecture. Upon arrival, we visit Kinkaku-ji, the beloved lakeside Temple of the Golden Pavilion set on pillars suspended over the water. Next: Ryoanji, a Zen Buddhist temple whose acclaimed dry garden epitomizes the simplicity of Zen meditation. Our last stop is Unrakugama, a workshop specializing in prized Kiyomizu pottery. B,D
Today we travel to Nara, Japan’s 8th-century capital renowned for its shrines and temples. We first visit Todaiji (c. 752 CE), one of the country’s most important temples, whose main hall (c. 1692) is the world’s largest wooden building. We also visit historic Kasugataisha, the Shinto shrine and UNESCO site surrounded by parkland where deer roam free. B
This morning’s tour reveals more of this city that was spared destruction during World War II. Highlights include Nijo-jo Castle (c. 1603), the extravagant residence and fortifications of the shoguns who ruled Japan for more than 250 years; and Sanjyusangendo Hall (c. 1266), an important Buddhist temple housing 1,000 statues of the Thousand-Armed Kannon deity. From here we venture to the Gion district, where the geishas gather. Then the remainder of the afternoon is at leisure. Tonight, we toast our adventure at a farewell dinner at a local restaurant. B,D
Depart Kyoto for U.S.
This morning we travel by motor coach to Osaka, where we board our return flight to the United States. B
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