Intrepid
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Ultimate Japan
Tokyo to Osaka
24 days
Tour code: CJSTC

Highlights

  • Japan is a year round destination with something in store for every season: cherry blossoms in spring, stunning leaves in autumn and snow and ice in winter.
  • This trip is a great balance of included activities in each destination and plenty of free time for other optional fun, all backed by a helpful leader to steer you in the right direction of the best experiences.
  • The town of Hakone is one of our favourite destinations. Not only are there glimpses of Mt Fuji from here on a clear day and picture perfect hiking trails, this is also one of the best places to experience an outdoor onsen – hot springs bath.
  • There’s no better way to get around Japan than the country’s famous railway system. Be impressed by the efficiency and ultra modernity as you zip from place to place with your included Japan Rail Pass. Here is why you don't want to miss train travel in Japan: https://www.intrepidtravel.com/adventures/japan-trains/
  • Stay in a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) and sample simple home-cooked fare in Edo-era Takayama, explore local markets, the Hida Folk Village and perhaps stop by a sake brewery.
  • A visit to the Hiroshima Peace Park is a sobering but important experience for understanding the tragedies of Japan’s not so distant past.
  • You'll have abundant time to explore Kyoto without a rush, the country’s “cultural capital” and home to a stunning selection of temples, tea houses and frozen-in-time zen gardens.
  • Explore the unique island of Naoshima, transformed from a sleepy fishing community into a world class art destination, with sleek and stylish museums and artworks that sit in harmony with the landscape
  • Join locals hiking along trails to hidden temples, being awed at some of the country's impressive castles or in one of Japan's oldest hot spring baths - Dogo Onsen.
  • Feel like Indiana Jones as you cross the kazurabashi (vine bridges) of the hidden Iya Valley, a remote retreat of deep gorges and lush mountains on Shikoku island.
  • Uncover the different characters of the cities of Nagasaki and Osaka, from the former’s thought-provoking Peace Park and Museum to the latter’s busy streets where the motto is ‘eat until you drop’
  • Venture into the thick and mysterious cedar forests on Yakushima, relax at the seaside onsen or see giant turtles lay eggs in the night in the summer months

Ever-welcoming and always fascinating, Japan is a land of ancient cultures, austere traditions and groundbreaking technology. Join us on this ultimate journey that takes you from the futuristic neon lit Tokyo to the dense forests of the southern island of Yakushima, cleanse your mind and soul in the sacred temples in Nikko, Kyoto and Kotohira, feast on local delights at a Takayama market, be wowed at the creativity of modern art at Naoshima Island, make a sobering visit to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, try for an Indiana Jones stunt crossing the vine bridge at Iya Valley or trek through the dense forests in Yakushima over which princess Princess Mononoke watches. Discover ancient castles, lush countryside and fascinating feudal history on this authentic travel adventure. If you pack a good sense of humour and leave all inhibitions behind, it rarely disappoints

What's included?

Meals

2 breakfasts, 3 dinners

Transport

Boat , Public Bus , Private Bus , Cable Car , Ferry , Metro , Bullet Train , Train

Accommodation

Ryokan/Hotel (23 nts)

Included activities

  • Nikko - Toshogu Shrine
  • Hakone - Cable car
  • Hakone - Lake Ashino-Ko boat trip
  • Takayama - Hida Folk Village
  • Takayama - Market visit
  • Takayama - Sake brewery tasting
  • Hiroshima - Peace Park & A - Bomb Dome
  • Hiroshima - Peace Museum
  • Hiroshima - Miyajima Island
  • Himeji - Himeji Castle
  • Kyoto - Temple/Shrine entrance (2)
  • Kyoto - Gion District walk
  • Takamatsu - Ritsurin Garden & Sanuki Folkcraft Museum
  • Takamatsu - Naoshima Island day trip (ferry, local bus & bicycle)
  • Kotohira - Kompira-san Shrine
  • Iya Valley - Iya Valley day tour (including Buke Yashiki samurai house and ‘scarecrow village’)
  • Matsuyama - Matsuyama Castle
  • Nagasaki - tram day pass
  • Nagasaki - Peace Park & Atomic Bomb Museum
  • Yakushima - Yakusugi Land National Park trekking

Itinerary

Day 1
Tokyo
Konnichiwa! Welcome to Japan. Bursting with contemporary urban culture, there are many sides of Tokyo to explore, from fascinating museums and world-class shopping, to neighbourhood backstreets lined with restaurants and karaoke bars. Your adventure begins with a Welcome Meeting at 6pm tonight. You can arrive at any time during the day, as there are no activities planned until this important meeting. Please check with hotel reception or look on the reception noticeboard for where and when the meeting will take place. Have your insurance and next of kin details on hand as we'll be collecting them at this meeting. Afterwards, you’ll have some free time to atmospheric Asakusa with its distinctly old-Tokyo feel and join your new travel companions for an optional dinner at a local restaurant.

Optional activities:

  • Tokyo - Hamarikyu Garden ($300)
  • Tokyo - Edo Tokyo Museum ($600)
  • Tokyo - Sumida Hokusai Museum ($1200)
  • Tokyo - Tokyo National Museum ($600)
  • Tokyo - Ueno Park - Free
Day 2
Tokyo/Nikko
Enjoy a couple of free hours this morning. Perhaps further explore 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. Next, catch an express train (approximately 1 hour) and then a local train (approximately 1 hour) out of Tokyo towards Nikko. You’ll enjoy a pleasant ride, with beautiful views of the countryside. Japanese trains usually have trolley carts with snacks such as bento boxes (Japanese lunch boxes), green tea and beer. Once you arrive in Nikko you’ll have free time to spend as you wish.
Day 3
Nikko
Nikko has been a sacred city since the middle of the 8th century, and is overflowing with beautiful shrines and temples. You'll visit Toshugu Shrine, a resting place of a Tokugawa shogun who was one of the most powerful rulers of the country. The shrine contrasts with the traditional minimalist style commonly used throughout Japan. Instead, every corner of this monument is covered in intricate gold leaf, lacquer work, paintings and patterns. Here you can also visit the Museum of Art at the back of the temple complex. This 1920s mansion has one of the country’s most beautiful collections of sliding doors and screens decorated by the best Japanese painters of the day. In your free time, you can pay a visit to the red-lacquered Shin-kyō bridge, one of the town’s most famous landmarks, and the Buddhist temple of Rinnō-ji, home to fearsome statues and an elegant garden. Or you may prefer time exploring Nikko’s beautiful natural setting with a visit to Chuzenji Lake and Kegon Falls. Kanmangafuchi Abyss is another highly recommended spot in Nikko to visit where you'll see about 70 Jizo Buddhas looking out to the river.

Included activities: Nikko - Toshogu Shrine

Optional activities:

  • Nikko - Bus to Chuzenji Lake (return) ($2200)
  • Nikko - Imperial Villa ($510)
Day 4
Hakone
Leaving Nikko, you’ll board a local train followed by two shikansen bullet trains and finally a bus on your way to Hakone, a scenic hot-springs resort in the foothills of Mt Fuji. Total travel time can vary depending on the connections, but we will usually arrive by mid afternoon. You’ll be staying at a family run guesthouse with tatami-mat rooms and shared facilities and a lovely outdoor hot-spring onsen. Men and women always enter separate baths and no clothing or swimming costumes are allowed.
Day 5
Hakone
This morning we hop on a boat across Ashinoko Lake and then take a cable car ride to the top of the surrounding mountains. The area around the lake offers plenty of stunning views, and you may even catch a glimpse of Mt Fuji in the distance if weather conditions are clear. The afternoon is free to further explore Hakone’s spectacular mountain scenery and volcanic sites. Perhaps visit the boiling sulphur springs of Owakudani, or Hakone Jinja Shrine with its red torii gate rising from the shore of Ashinoko Lake. Or go for a walk through the hills of the famed grassland ecosystem of Sengokuhara, with its rare grasses and pampas. There’s also athe great collection of art at the Hakone Open-Air Museum and the Pola Museum of Art, an eclectic mix that includes work by the likes of Renoir, Monet, Picasso, Van Gogh, Cézanne and Gallé.

Included activities:

  • Hakone - Cable car
  • Hakone - Lake Ashino-Ko boat trip

Optional activities:

  • Hakone - Open-Air Museum ($1600)
  • Hakone - Checkpoint Museum ($500)
  • Hakone - Onsen (public hot spring bath) ($1200)
Day 6
Takayama
Travel by a local train first then shikansen towards Takayama in alpine Gifu Prefecture. You’ll reach speeds of 270 kilometres per hour and it will take around 4 hours to get there. Takayama is a charming Edo period town located in the Japan alps, famous for its traditional inns, sake breweries and the museum of Hida Folk Village. The latter is your first stop, an outdoor museum where the traditional thatched-roof architecture unique to the area has been relocated in a delightful mountain setting in an effort to preserve traditional Japanese culture. Discover the techniques used to build farmhouses that could withstand fierce winters and long periods of isolation due to snow-closed roads. The thick thatching kept in warmth and the roofs were angled so as to minimise snow build-up. Each house is like its own self-contained museum, with displays of personal items and traditional tools. We stay in a delightful ryokan inn where you can experience traditional Japanese hospitality, sleeping on futon in tatami-mat rooms. Dinner tonight will include one of Takayama’s famous signature dishes.

Included activities: Takayama - Hida Folk Village

Meals: dinner

Day 7
Takayama
Gifu prefecture is known to produce many fine high-altitude vegetables, and today you’ll visit morning markets that date back over 600 years. Browse the stalls of seasonal vegetables brought in from the surrounding countryside, set up by local farm women from 6am every morning. While browsing the food markets look out for the unique local style of pickles, the bags of miso wrapped in leaves, Genkotsu ame (soy bean candy), preserved fish, spices, and the delicious marshmallow treat of owara tamaten. The alpine climate and crystal clear mountain waters are perfect for creating sake, so you'll visit a local brewery for a taste of the region's prized signature drop. The rest of the day is free for you to explore.There are many art galleries and museums, or you can simply wander the streets of this delightful little town.Takayama is also very famous for Hida beef. Don't miss the opportunity to try some of the country’s best while you're in town.

Included activities:

  • Takayama - Market visit
  • Takayama - Sake brewery tasting

Optional activities:

  • Takayama - Festival Float Museum ($1000)
  • Takayama - Merchant House ($700)
  • Takayama - Bike hire (per day) ($800)
  • Takayama - Showa Museum ($800)
  • Takayama - Takayama Jinya Building ($430)

Meals: breakfastdinner

Day 8
Hiroshima
Travel by express train and shinkansen for approximately 5 hours to Hiroshima. Depending on arrival times, we will visit Hiroshima’s Peace Park this afternoon or tomorrow morning.The Genbaku (A-Bomb) Dome and Peace Memorial Museum in the park emotionally stand testament to the fateful day in August 1945 when Hiroshima was chosen as target for the first ever wartime use of the atomic bomb. The dome was just metres from where the bomb detonated so it was able to retain its shape; the fact that it looks almost exactly as it did after the bombing means it serves as a reminder and symbol of peace. The memorial park serves the same purpose, and has museums, memorials and monuments dedicated to the memory of victims, education on what led to the bomb’s use, as well as advocating world peace. In the evening, maybe try one of the city’s signature dishes for dinner – okonomiyaki, a kind of savoury pancake of egg, cabbage, soba noodles, and meat or seafood.

Included activities:

  • Hiroshima - Peace Park & A - Bomb Dome
  • Hiroshima - Peace Museum

Meals: breakfast

Day 9
Hiroshima
Today you'll make your way to the nearby island of Miyajima with its famous 'floating' torii Gate. You might like to further explore the island by climbing to the top of Miyajima (or hopping on the cable car instead) for 360-degree views of the Inland Sea. Keep your eyes out for inquisitive and hungry deer that roam the streets. Back in Hiroshima, you have the rest of the day free to enjoy some of the other sites in this very welcoming and pleasant city. You could stop by the magnificent five-storied Hiroshima Castle, which originally dates from the 1590s. It was destroyed by the bomb but reconstructed in all its glory in the 1950s, and now holds an informative museum. The wonderful Shukkeien Garden, with its graceful teahouses and waterfalls, is also a perfect place to decompress on a break from sightseeing. For something a bit louder, there’s the local baseball and soccer teams (if the day is right), or endless shopping choices. Ask your leader for other tips and suggestions or directions.

Included activities: Hiroshima - Miyajima Island

Day 10
Kyoto
Leave Hiroshima today and head to Japan’s most impressive samurai castle at Himeji by shinkansen (approximately 1 hour). The building, which has survived earthquakes and war since the mid-16th century, was restored to its full glory in 2015. The moats, baileys, towers and walled alleyways were ingeniously designed to trick attackers – perhaps so intimidatingly that they were never in fact tested. Explore the castle that was once home to over 10,000 samurai families and look out over the castle grounds and the city below from the seventh floor. Hop back on the shinkansen for the 1 hour train trip to Kyoto. Originally founded as Heian-kyo (literally “tranquillity and peace capital”) by Emperor Kammu in 794, Kyoto had its golden age during the imperial court's heyday from 794 to 1185. Kyoto was the capital of Japan for over 1,000 years (the name means “Capital City”) but the emperor and government are now located in Tokyo. With over 2,000 temples, shrines and gardens, Kyoto is a great place to get lost in. Your leader will take you on an orientation walk on arrival and you may like to spend some further time getting acquainted with Kyoto and wandering through its historical streets lined with traditional machiya houses.

Included activities: Himeji - Himeji Castle

Days 11-12
Kyoto
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 a city that lends itself to walking, and there are a number of walks available. Your tour leader will take you to visit two of the best temples depending on the season this morning. Afterwards, it's your free time to explore this charming ancient capital. You will have almost one and half free days here to explore, which is a decent amount of time for Kyoto as there is a lot to see and experience here. Your tour leader will be able to help you with making the most out of your time here. Fushimi Inari is definitely one of the most photographed shrines in Japan. For the more active, hiking up the mountain following the red torri gates is a great way to enjoy the expansive forest on the shrine’s grounds and views of the city below. Otherwise, maybe head off to Arashiyama to enjoy a wander through the Sagano bamboo forest, or cycle along the Kamo River. A gentle stroll through Kyoto's eastern hills along the ‘Path of Philosophy’ that links Ginkaku-ji, the Temple of the Silver Pavilion, with Nanzen-ji Temple is also recommended. This walk can be extended south through the well-preserved ‘old town’ areas to Kiyamizu-dera (Temple of Clear Water) with its famous viewing platform. Also recommended, for those visiting in spring, is a visit to the theatre for a presentation of Miyako Odori (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, or the Nishiki food market. On one of the evenings, your leader will take you on a stroll through Gion, Kyoto's famous Geisha district. Even today you can observe the age-old tradition of geisha as they head out to perform dances and song for members of the wealthy elite. This unfolds in small teahouses tucked away in tiny back streets. You can also check out if any of our Kyoto Urban Adventures tours would interest you.

Included activities:

  • Kyoto - Temple/Shrine entrance (2)
  • Kyoto - Gion District walk

Optional activities:

  • Kyoto - Bike hire (per day) ($800)
  • Kyoto - Sanjusangendo Temple ($600)
  • Kyoto - Obanzai cooking class ($6500)
  • Kyoto - Kiyomizu Temple ($500)
  • Kyoto - Tea Ceremony with Maiko ($4000)
  • Kyoto - Kinkakuji Temple ($500)
Day 13
Osaka
Today you will travel to Osaka for the second part of this combination trip. Please note that your tour leader and group composition may change today. Enjoy some free time in this unofficial culinary capital before the briefing at 6pm today.
Day 14
Takamatsu
Depart Osaka in the morning and begin the journey west. Take the train across the bridge spanning the stunning Inland Sea and onto Takamatsu. This may be the largest city on the island of Shikoku (the smallest of Japan’s four main islands), but it's a beautifully unpretentious town full of history, top-notch food and interesting local art. Here you'll visit Ritsurin Garden, one of the most beautiful gardens in the country. Dating back to the Edo period, it comprises several ponds and arched bridges designed around strolling paths, tea pavilions and historic trees, with a western garden an addition to the Japanese one. The garden also houses the Sanuki Folkcraft Museum which displays a variety of ceramics and basket-work dating from the time of the Tokugawa shoguns.

Included activities: Takamatsu - Ritsurin Garden & Sanuki Folkcraft Museum

Day 15
Takamastsu/Naoshima Island
In the morning, take a ferry for a day-trip to the island of Naoshima, located in the Inland Sea between Takamatsu and the mainland, which is famous worldwide for its modern art galleries, museums, avante-garde architecture and lovely natural setting. Explore the island, using a public bus or bicycle, to take you between the different galleries and installations. This is a totally unique and tranquil experience, in which you slip off your shoes to enter dreamlike exhibits. Wander between artworks, hear the sound of waves lapping at quiet coves, and stumble unexpectedly upon outdoor sculptures.

Included activities: Takamatsu - Naoshima Island day trip (ferry, local bus & bicycle)

Optional activities:

  • Naoshima Island - Art House Project (combination ticket) ($1030)
  • Naoshima Island - Chichu Art Museum ($2060)
  • Naoshima Island - Benesse House Museum ($1030)
Day 16
Kotohira
It's back on the train this morning and off to the small town of Kotohira, which is famous for Kompira-san, Shikoku's most celebrated shrine. Popular with pilgrims, Kompira-san is dedicated to seafaring, and although the approach to the shrine is not particularly straightforward, it's well worth the effort. Passing some historical landmarks on the way, climb the 785 steps to the main hall and take in views overlooking Kotohira Town and the Inland Sea far below and check out a real submarine on display. For those interested, just to the east of the entrance to Kompira-san you can also find Kanamaru-za, said to be one of the oldest kabuki theatres in Japan. You can go backstage and see how they ingeniously worked the revolving stage and trapdoor hundreds of years ago.

Included activities: Kotohira - Kompira-san Shrine

Optional activities:

  • Kotohira - Kinryo-no-Sato Sake Museum - Free
  • Kotohira - Kanamaru-za Kabuki Theatre ($500)
Day 17
Iya Valley/Matsuyama
Before heading west by train along the Inland Sea coast to the attractive castle-town of Matsuyama, we make a day trip to the secluded Iya Valley by local train and private coach. Explore its winding passes and head to the atmospheric Kazura-bashi (which translates as ‘vine bridge’) located in a remote part of Oku-Iya (known as ‘deep Iya’). When the Heike clan fled here some 800 years ago, they built these bridges as the only way to span the gorges and Iya River; if they were attacked then they could cut the vines at a moment’s notice. Only three of these bridges remain, and they look like something out of Indiana Jones. You'll also visit the Nagoro ‘scarecrow village’, where a local artist 'repopulated' the dwindlling village by positioning life size scarecrows through the village, and Buke Yashiki, a restored thatched-roof samurai house which lies at the top of a steep valley slope and towering cedar trees. This was once the home of village leaders, and now offers displays of samurai armour and superb views over the valley.

Included activities: Iya Valley - Iya Valley day tour (including Buke Yashiki samurai house and ‘scarecrow village’)

Day 18
Matsuyama
This morning, visit hill-top Matsuyama Castle, one of Japan's finest surviving castles and located right in the middle of this lovely provincial capital with its old trams and refined feel. Unlike most castles in Japan, this one has an interesting collection of artefacts inside, so take the chance to check them out and learn a little more about Matsuyama's feudal history. With free time in the afternoon, maybe relax and unwind at the beautiful Dogo Onsen, one of the oldest bath houses in Japan, or visit Ishiteji Temple which is the 51st of the 88 temples that make up Shikoku’s ‘88 Sacred Temples’ circuit, Japan’s most famous pilgrimage route.

Included activities: Matsuyama - Matsuyama Castle

Optional activities:

  • Matsuyama - Ishiteji Temple - Free
  • Matsuyama - Dogo Onsen (basic entry) ($410)
Day 19
Nagasaki
We have a long day of travel ahead of us today as we leave Shikoku, cross the beautiful Inland Sea once more and head further west to Kyushu, the third largest of Japan’s four main islands. We arrive in Nagasaki in the afternoon and have an orientation walk with our leader to stretch our legs after our journey. Though its name has strong connotations of bombs and war – and the military history sites are important to visit – Nagasaki is a delight to explore, with its hills and harbour, shrines and temples, churches and other remnants from its long involvement with Asian and European traders.
Day 20
Nagasaki
This morning, visit the Peace Park and Atomic Bomb Museum for a sobering reminder on what happened on that dreadful day of 9 August 1945. If you wish to reflect and explore further, there are other interesting museums nearby worth visiting. With a tram pass at your disposal, take the time to explore other parts of Nagasaki in the afternoon. Consider heading over to Dejima. This fascinating artificial island, once a Dutch trading post in the 17-19th centuries (and the sole foreign presence in the whole country at one point) is well worth exploring. The 26 Martyrs Memorial, Oura Catholic Church, Glover Garden and Dutch Slopes also give you a glimpse into the life of the early Christians and European traders in Japan. Then in the evening, perhaps slurp on some Champon noodles – ramen Nagasaki-style!

Included activities:

  • Nagasaki - tram day pass
  • Nagasaki - Peace Park & Atomic Bomb Museum

Optional activities:

  • Nagasaki - Oura Catholic Church ($300)
  • Nagasaki - 26 Martyrs Memorial - Free
  • Nagasaki - Glover Garden ($610)
  • Nagasaki - Nagasaki Museum of History & Culture ($600)
  • Nagasaki - Dejima Historical District - Free
Day 21
Yakushima
From Nagasaki we take a limited express and shinkansen bullet train through Kyushu’s attractive hinterland to its southern-most point. Here jump on a hydrofoil to travel a few hours to the island of Yakushima, arriving in the afternoon. A remote island even by Japanese standards, the journey is well worth the effort. Much of Yakushima’s adundant natural resources have been preserved without exploitation, making it particularly picturesque. It was justifiably added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list in 1993. The forests of Yakushima are said to have inspired the forest setting in Hayao Miyazaki's film ‘Princess Mononoke’, and it's easy to see why. Its ancient cedar trees and shady green splendour are a delight to behold, and at times give the feeling of walking through another world. Your stay in Yakushima will most certainly be one full of magic. Tonight we enjoy a dinner of local Yakushima cuisine.

Meals: dinner

Day 22
Yakushima
Set off on a trek today through the lush green forests of Yakusugi Land (approximately 2.5 hours). Yakusugi Land is a beautiful national park home to the ‘yakusugi’ – the island’s magnificent ancient cedar trees which are over 1000 years old (some are as old as 3000 years!). If you’re lucky along the way you might encounter a Yakushika deer or Yakuzaru monkey. After your hike, kick back and relax. You may want to spend some free time soaking in the natural onsen baths by Yakushima’s shoreline. In the summer season (May-July), the lovely Nagata Inaka-hama Beach is the place to be. Here, when it's the season, giant turtles lay their eggs in the sand at night.

Included activities: Yakushima - Yakusugi Land National Park trekking

Day 23
Osaka
Say goodbye to the magical forests of Yakushima and jump back on the hydrofoil and head back by shinkansen through Kyushu to Osaka. Tonight you have the option to join your leader and travel companions for a final celebration of your time in Japan.
Day 24
Osaka
The trip comes to an end this morning. There are no planned activities today.

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