Get a taste of both old and new Japan with this seven-day tour.
Experience the many contrasts of Japan, from the modern metropolis of Tokyo to enchanting Kyoto with its stunning temples and colourful Geisha district. Home to sumo wrestling, geishas, karaoke and onsens, the cultural exports of this enigmatic land have long-fascinated travellers. Take in the neon-tinged nightlife of Tokyo, head to the charming coastal town of Kamakura and discover thousands of years of culture and history in Kyoto.
This morning, venture out with your tour leader on the Tokyo metro to the buzzing Shibuya area and explore the well known and secret gems of Tokyo. Stop at Shibuya station where we look down on one of the busiest intersections in the world and visit the statue of Hachikō the famous loyal dog. Next, we head into a depachika for a mouth-watering array of tempting Japanese treats. Depachika are dazzling food halls that lurk beneath major department stores, where vendors sell everything from bento boxes for lunch to formal gifts and everyday groceries. Grab a picnic lunch (optional) as we are heading to Yoyogi Park, home to many events from the first Japan Olympics.
Afterwards, we visit Meiji Shrine. Enter via a massive Torii (gate) and the sights and sounds of the busy city are replaced by a tranquil forest. Approximately 100,000 trees were planted during the shrine’s construction and were donated from regions across the entire country. Meiji is a popular location for weddings and the traditional Shinto service can often be observed there.
Then we finish our journey with a visit to Harajuku, the home of quirky youth pop culture.
In your free time afterwards, you can maybe take in the historic Asakusa area. This is one of the older and more traditional parts of Tokyo and is often called the temple district. Here you can stop by Senso-ji, the city’s oldest temple – founded almost 1,400 years ago when Tokyo was nothing more than a fishing village.
If you’re pressed for choice or feeling a little lost in this enormous new city, consider doing an Urban Adventures tour, such as ‘Tokyo After 5’. Speak to your leader for more information. In the evening, there’s an incredible array of options for dinner – a hearty bowl of ramen, crispy tonkatsu (breaded, deep-fried cutlet), or snacks and beer at an izakaya – the list goes on!
In the morning, jump on a train and make the one-hour journey from Tokyo to coastal Kamakura. Kamakura once served as the political centre for Japan from the 12th to the 14th century. Now it’s a great destination offering a variety of experiences – munch street food, take a hike in the mountains, or simply enjoy a walk on the beach. Get acquainted with the area with a ride the Enoden Train Line, which features heavily in Japan’s wildly-popular cultural exports of Manga and Anime and shuttles commuters from Kamakura and Fujisawa. You can catch it every 12 minutes between 5 am and midnight, and the round trip takes about an hour. Even if you’re not into animation, the electric rail line travels along the coast at a gentle pace, making it a great way to see some sights. Then, stretch your legs on the Daibutso Trail (approx. 3 hrs), which takes walkers over a partially paved track through lovely green gardens, past the Zeniarai Benten Shrine and finishes at the famous Buddha statue.
In your free time, maybe get your shopping on at Komachi Dori Street, a 360-metre-long stretch of food, souvenirs, clothes and drinks.
Get up whenever you want, because today is all yours! Maybe explore different stops on the Enoden line, finding out the cute cafes by the rail, dine at the hidden Michelin Star restaurant cooking with the freshest ingredients from the area or soak in an onsen with the view of Mount Fuji. Or head to the beach for a super relaxing soak in the sea. Yuigahama and Zaimokuza are the most popular beaches in town and during July and August you’ll find beach huts and pop-up shops selling food and drink along with their shores. Enoshima is also one of the most popular destinations for the locals and an epic sunset with Fuji Mountain as the backdrop on the southern coast of the island is not to be missed.
Jump on board a train and make the three-hour journey to Kyoto. One of the city’s original names was Heian-Kyo, which literally translates to ‘tranquillity and peace capital’, and the thousands of temples, shrines and gardens make it a great place to unwind. In the afternoon, head to the Noshiki Market and stroll through ‘Kyoto’s Kitchen’. It’s the perfect introduction to Kyoto’s regional specialties – from pickled vegetables hidden beneath layers of fermented rice to delicious and ornate Kyo-wagashi (Kyoto sweets), and other local produce. As the sun goes down, continue to Gion, the city’s cultural centre and most famous geisha district. You may catch a glimpse of an elegantly-attired geisha or maiko moving between teahouses here, though much of this high-class world of entertainment is still off-limits to outsiders.
Today, let’s head to one of the most photogenic spots in Kyoto, Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine. Famous for the thousands of vermillion-coloured torii (gates) which straddle the paths and trails in the area this shrine is dedicated to Inari the Shinto God of rice. Foxes are the messengers of Inari and so the shrine has many fox statues which line the path. If you have the energy the number of visitors thins out the higher up the hill you walk and the view from the top over Kyoto is well worth the climb.
The rest of the day is free for you to explore. With its many cultural landmarks and historical sites, and the abundance of traditional arts and literature, Kyoto is regarded as the cultural heart of Japan. Kyoto is also a city that lends itself to walking, and there are a number of paths available. Recommended is a gentle stroll through the nearby eastern hills along the ‘Path of Philosophy’ that links Ginkaku-ji, the Temple of the Silver Pavilion, with Nanzen-ji Temple. This walk can be extended south through well-preserved ‘old town’ areas to Kiyamizu-dera (Temple of Clear Water) from where there is a justifiably famous view across a wooded gorge toward Kyoto. Also recommended, for those visiting in spring, is a visit to the theatre for a presentation of Miyako Odori (the Cherry Blossom Dance) performed by elaborately dressed maiko (apprentice geisha), or a visit to the extravagantly decorated Kinkakuji temple, immortalised in Yukio Mishima’s novel “The Golden Pavilion”. Another great stop is the architecturally impressive Higashi Honganji temple and the almost surreal Sanjusangendo, home to 1,001 statues of Kannon.
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