If you take an overnight flight to Tokyo you’ll enjoy more time to explore this fascinating city and its wealth of districts and subcultures.
Upon arrival in Tokyo, your A&K representative will be waiting to assist you as you transfer to your hotel. There, you’ll be given an orientation session and a half-day guided city tour which ends with a visit to local sightseeing spots. The guide will show you how to use the PASMO card and other transportation passes, and they will also be on hand to provide recommendations for the following self-guided days.
Today can be spent exploring Tokyo at your leisure, until this evening’s food tour when you’ll be guided on a Japanese food crawl. Veer off into the maze of laneways that fill the capital, sampling barbecued meats and sweet desserts, before you enter an izakaya for a distinctly Japanese experience. These small pubs are popular gathering places for an after-work beer, and traditional izakaya favourites like chicken wings and cold edamame are served as tapas.
Visit the electronics district of Akihabara or discover Tokyo’s world-class art galleries. Alternatively, use the included Japan Rail Pass for a day trip outside Tokyo to Kamakura or Nikko. One of Japan’s former capitals, Kamakura is a seaside home to ancient shrines, temples, and the Daibutsu, a bronze Buddha that stands at 13-meter tall. Nikko lies in a northern mountainous region, and you can visit the Toshogu Shrine complex and the Tamozawa Imperial Villa.
In the 17th century, Kanazawa used to be Japan's wealthiest area and a thriving centre for the arts. After checking into the hotel, enjoy the afternoon at your leisure. You could start with Kenroku-en Garden, one of Japan’s top three gardens. Kanazawa Castle is accessed through the Ishikawa-mon Gate. Then, why not try lunch at Omicho Market, known throughout Japan for its fresh seafood and fine sushi? Finally, there’s Nomura House, a restored residence of a samurai family.
This morning, catch the bus to Shirakawago, a UNESCO World Heritage Site famous for its gassho-zukuri farmhouses. Gassho-zukuri means "constructed like hands in prayer," referring to the farmhouses' steep thatched roofs. This traditional architectural style allows the roofs, which can withstand heavy snow, to be constructed without nails. Wada House is open to the public – a legacy left behind by the Wada Family who used to be the richest family in Ogimachi.
Journey to Takayama, a small town situated in the Hida Alpine region of Gifu Prefecture. Wander through Takayama’s shitamachi to see the century-old merchants’ homes and sake breweries. Stop at one of the breweries for a taste of the local drop and try the famous Hida beef sushi. Then check into a traditional Japanese ryokan (inn) furnished with low furniture, sliding shoji doors, and tatami flooring.
Explore Takayama with your guide, learning about the town’s history and familiarising your taste buds with local delicacies. The walking tour includes visits to a tofu seller and a rakugan (traditional candies) shop. Hida Furukawa, a quiet farm village, is a 15-minute cycle away. It’s well-known for its machiya houses as well as the view of the surrounding Japanese Alps. Spend an afternoon passing rice paddies and old houses, taking a closer look at the lifestyle in this rural region.
Today’s destination is Kyoto, the reigning cultural capital of Japan, home to 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and 2,000 shrines and temples. In the afternoon, enjoy an authentic tea ceremony in a machiya, a beautiful restored wooden townhouse typical of Kyoto. After getting dressed in your kimono by your host, the tea master will teach you the dos and don’ts during the ceremony as well as the proper way of drinking the tea.
Start your day with a bike tour through Gion, Kyoto’s entertainment district. Pedal along Miyagawa-cho, a narrow lane lined with machiya houses, stopping for photos of these well-preserved dwellings. Continue along Shirakawa Canal, passing okiya and ochaya where Geishas and Maikos live and work. Turn onto Hanami-koji “flower-viewing street” and cycle to Imperial Palace Park, where the Imperial Family’s residence used to stand. Then drop the bikes at the depot and spend the afternoon at your favourite spot.
Koyasan has been the centre of Shingon Buddhism for over 1,200 years and is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. The journey there is one of the highlights of the visit, with the final ascent by a cable car up to the mountains. You can visit Kongobu-ji, the head temple of Shingon Buddhism, and continue to Okuno-in, Japan’s largest cemetery that holds the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi. The guide will then escort you to the shukubo 'temple lodge' where Buddhist cuisine is served.
In Kyoto, the rest of the day is at your leisure. Watch the maiko in their colourful kimono, dancing in an elegant show. The guide will then take you out to explore one of the city’s hanamachi “flower town” where geisha live and work. The local restaurants serve the ever-inviting kaiseki ryori (traditional Japanese multicourse meal). The guide can then take you back to the hotel or you can choose to spend the rest of the evening unescorted.
Start the journey through Nakasendo Way in Kiso Valley. Upon arriving in Magome, small bags can be delivered to any accommodation in Tsumago through the tourist information centre. Tsumago is an historic town full of ancient reminders of the Edo period in which it thrived. In 1970, this small town was classified as a National Designated Architectural Preservation Site thanks to the collective effort of its locals to preserve most of the remaining historical buildings.
Get back to Tokyo by train today. After checking into your accommodation, you’re free to explore in more depth the surroundings you discovered on your first day. Check out the Tokyo Science Museum or book tickets to see a day of a sumo tournament. You may want to revisit your favourite establishments from the food tour or else spend a little more time in the izakaya, reflecting on your memories and new knowledge.
The rest of the day is free to be spent at your leisure until the included transfer, either by train or shared shuttle, back to Tokyo Airport. You’ll know the city fairly well by now and will have your favourite spots where you want to spend your last moments in Japan. Don’t forget gifts to show you’ve thought about friends and family, and perhaps a gift to yourself so you never forget the time you spent discovering this colourful country steeped in history.