Welcome to Japan: when you arrive at the airport, we’ll meet you and assist you to your hotel. Today is your opportunity to explore the extraordinary metropolis of Tokyo. Head to where the neon lights seem brightest and you’ll find some of the things that make Tokyo a truly world city.
Tsukiji Fish Market will tantalise your palate with the a refreshing sushi breakfast. Hamarikyu Tien, once a duck-hunting ground for an Edo lord, is now a leafy park. Cruise down the waters of the Sumida Gawa River to reach Asakusa, the city’s oldest Geisha district. In the botanical gardens of Shinjuku Gyoen perfect cherry blossoms delicately framed the formal brilliance of the displays.
Japan’s high-speed trains will have you in the mountains of Nikko National Park in no time. This is home to the Toshogu Shrine complex, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Your guide will show you the grace and beauty of the temples and give you a valuable insight into the history and culture of Japanese Buddhism. Suitably serene you’ll head back to Tokyo to get a little crazy on your final night in the big city.
Hakone feels like a different world to Tokyo. It lies hidden in the mountains just two hours away. The lake is overshadowed by Mount Fuji, with hot springs dotted amid the surrounding hills. Take a cable car to visit the springs, shrines, steaming rivers and sulphurous pools, then sleep in a traditional ryokan (inn), complete with comfy futons and mesmerising views.
A ride on the Shinkansen bullet train ends in Kanazawa, or Little Kyoto, as it’s known. This was Japan’s centre of wealth in the 17th-century and remains a beautifully preserved castle town. The Museum of Contemporary Art here forsakes the charms of history for cutting-edge architecture and design.
Kanazawa's 17th-century Kenroku-en gardens are one of Japan’s three ‘great gardens’. In a country renowned for its love of gardening this is no mean feat. Drink in the scents and scenery, then head to the imposing Kanazawa Castle, former residence of the powerful Maeda clan. Omi-cho market has arguably the best sushi in the country, and Higashi Chaya-gai old town is ideal for picking up a souvenir before battling your way to the old Samurai district.
It’s no distance at all to UNESCO-listed Shirakawa-go, a historic silk-farming village where thatched Gassho-style houses offer a real glimpse back in time. Head to Takayama, where the Old Town offers more old-world charm in its cluster of narrow streets lined with Edo-era merchant houses. Your overnight stay will be suitably traditional: a stylish ryokan inn where you can end the evening relaxing in an onsen.
After breakfast, take a leisurely walk through Takayama's alleys to Miyagawa Morning Market, where the colours of Japan’s fresh produce, pickles and crafts paint a pretty scene. Many of the heritage houses are open to the public so take a chance to peek inside. Then it’s time for a final train journey to Kyoto, Japan’s cultural capital, for your final three nights.
Your private guide will show you the pick of Kyoto’s 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Nijo Castle is the starting point, built by the founder of the Edo Shogunate, and surrounded by stunning gardens. The Golden Pavilion of Kinkakuji glints enticingly and the Daitoku-ji Zen temple complex is home to the country's best Zen rock garden. The views of Kyoto from the Kiyomizu (Pure Water) Temple place all the historic sites in their context.
Today is free for relaxing or exploring. You can make the short journey to Nara. In the former capital Todaiji Temple awaits, the world's largest wooden building and home to Japan's largest Buddha. A rickshaw tour of the atmospheric Arashiyama bamboo forest is perfect in spring or autumn.
Savour your final moments in Kyoto. You may have time to find some geisha hair accessories in the Gion district. Or, just wander the atmospheric back streets. Then it’s time to bid sayonara to Japan as you head to the airport for your flight home.