From world-beating cities and bullet train jaunts to stays in traditional inns and thousand year old temples, you’ll discover the highlights of this multi-faceted country. Starting in the capital, a private guide service will introduce you to everything from Shinjuku’s neon to the green of the Imperial Palace before you make use of your unlimited rail pass to head out into its surrounds. You'll then experience Japan at its traditional best with a stay in a luxury ryokan in Hakone, where hot spring oaks and kaiseki meals end days spent exploring forested lakes and pretty villages. Then, in Kyoto and Nara’s Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, historic palaces and traditional gardens, you’ll see how Japan’s ancient beauty lives on today. And, after witnessing Hiroshima’s rebirth, you’ll pass that famous torii gate on your way to Miyajima, ending your trip with Osaka’s grand castles. Along the way, you’ll also be introduced to Japanese culture in Geisha district tours and cooking classes.
Day 1: Depart UK
An overnight flight, arriving on day two, will bring you Tokyo’s Narita Airport.
Day 2: Tokyo
A private driver will meet you at the airport to bring you to your city centre accommodation. Take a moment to relax or head out to explore your surroundings. In the superior option you’ll have Tokyo’s oldest temple – Sensoji – on your doorstep while the deluxe option overlooks the Imperial Palace grounds. In both, you’ll be greeted by that quintessentially Japanese architectural style that favours bold reds and graceful arcs. It’s one that has lasted from 7th century Nara temples to 18th century Edo period residences. Perhaps make use of your preloaded transport card to head further afield and experience Tokyo’s famed nightlife and restaurant scene in Shinjuku.
Day 3: Tokyo
Today, using the city’s famed public transport once more, a local guide will arrange a private tour of the Japanese capital, visiting the sights that appeal to you. You might want to wake up early to experience the commotion that is Tsukiji Fish Market where the world’s best sashimi grade fish are busily bartered over. Then, after sampling some at a local sushi restaurant, picked out by your guide, perhaps discover the more historic side of this ultra-modern city. In Yoyogi Park you’ll find Meiji era shrines tucked away among surprisingly large forests while your guide will also be able to shed new light on the Imperial Palace’s moated gardens. We’ve also included tickets to the Tokyo Skytree, which, at 634m high, is the tallest tower in the world. Unsurprisingly it offers unrivalled city views.
Day 4: Optional Day Trip out of Tokyo
On your last day in Tokyo, explore further or make use of your unlimited rail pass to head beyond the city limits. Perhaps make your way to Kamakura; just an hour’s west of Tokyo this former capital is home to a stunning collection of shrines and temples. The most impressive of which is Kotokuin where a giant bronze Buddha looks out over pretty traditional gardens. For a green alternative to Tokyo’s bright lights, Mt. Takao’s national park trails make for pretty hikes past temples and statues to reach summit views back to Tokyo. A little further afield, Nikko’s park lakes and waterfalls are speckled with Shinto shrines, including the impressive Toshogu. Intricately carved and picked out in bright colours, it’s one of Japan’s most important pilgrim sites.
Days 5-6: Hakone
Your first Shinkansen journey will bring you to Odawara Station, the gateway to Hakone National Park. Here, a private driver will bring you to your traditional ryokan accommodation. Each option is a historic, timber inn complete with tatami mats, private hot spring baths and kaiseki multicourse banquets. Over the next two days, you’ll then take full advantage of your Freepass to explore Hakone. Make use of ropeway cable cars to reach picturesque hill walks, climb aboard a mountain railway to visit remote hamlets or take to the waters on a boat cruise past lakeside shrines, a fitting foreground to Mt. Fuji’s imperious gaze.
Stay: Motoyu Kansuiro (Superior) Yamanochaya (Deluxe)
Day 7: Kyoto
Retrace your steps with a private car ride back to Odawara Station where you’ll catch your next bullet train down to Kyoto, tracing Japan’s eastern seaboard as you travel at speeds of up to 200 mph. While its grid system features all the trappings of a modern city, look between the lines to find one of the world’s most culturally rich cities. In the early evening, a private tour with a professional English-speaking guide will introduce you to the sights and culture of Gion, Kyoto’s famed geisha district. Making your way through narrow lanes and hidden alleys, your guide will keep you informed on the age-old traditions that keep this secretive side-world alive. You’ll be sure to spot geishas and their apprentice maiko hurrying between appointments.
Stay: Granvia Kyoto (Superior)
Day 8: Kyoto
Once again, a private guided tour will be tailor-made to your interests. If you want to continue in your introduction to geisha culture, perhaps take part in a tea ceremony or head to the Imperial Palace for a walk through its palatial gardens. And, what with over 2,000 religious sites, there’s plenty to keep you occupied between beautifully ornate Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, complemented by perfectly formed Zen gardens. Don’t miss out on a walk through the Arashiyama Bamboo Groves where bright green shoots all but block out the sun.
Stay: Granvia Kyoto (Superior)
Days 9-10: Kyoto/Nara
Making full use of your train pass on the short 40-minute journey out to Nara. Like its Kyoto neighbour, Nara was once the Japanese capital, a position that has gifted it with a wealth of heritage. As such, you’ll find grand Buddhist monasteries and temples set against a backdrop of low-lying mountains. Prime among them is Todaiji; as the world’s largest wooden building, it features a giant bronze Buddha and looks out over Nara Park where deer roam free. The next day, a private transfer will bring you to a home cooking cour...
This trip has no fixed departures but restrictions may apply - check operator website
Sign up to our weekly Trip Finder email and get a selection of the best trips to feed your Wanderlust