Day 1 – USA to Tokyo
Today you will begin your Swain Destinations customized itinerary. Please note, international air has not been included in this package price.
Day 2 – Welcome to Tokyo, Japan
Upon arrival, you will clear customs and immigration before being transferred to your hotel.
One of the world's main economic centers – as well as its most populous metropolitan agglomeration - Tokyo is a city that presents a different view of itself at every turn. Starkly modern, it becomes a jewel box at night with a glittering display of neon and fluorescent lights. But you can retreat to quiet residential back streets and sculpted gardens and still find the harmony, scale and simplicity the Japanese have prized for centuries. Look down one street and you'll see nothing but neon and concrete, but around the corner, you may find yourself in the bonsai-lined courtyard of a traditional inn.
Several times in history, Tokyo has been almost totally destroyed - by fires, earthquakes, floods or war-but it has always rebuilt itself. That might explain why it retains only vestiges of Old Japan. You'll find an amazing hodgepodge of old and modern architecture, often side by side, and a maze of streets where even taxi drivers have to consult their maps. You can get utterly lost just a few moments' walk from your hotel. Tokyo is a safe place, however, and there are few better cities to be lost in, thanks to the kobans (police boxes) throughout the metropolis, a world-class public transit system, and shy but friendly people who almost always help if you ask.
Because of the expense and the language barrier, the majority of visitors to Tokyo are there on business, but there is plenty for leisure travelers to see. And despite its reputation as being fearsomely expensive, it doesn't have to be. With some planning, it's possible to visit Tokyo on a reasonable budget.Starting Accommodation:
Day 3 – Tokyo City Touring
Your first stop today is the observation deck of the Tokyo Tower where you can get sweeping 360° across the city and on a clear morning even Mount Fuji. Tokyo Tower is 1,091 ft / 333 m tall, making it the tallest man-made structure in Japan.
Heading to the center of the city now you will drive past the National Diet Building. Next, stop at the large plaza in front of the Imperial Palace, where you can view the Nijubashi (two bridges that form an entrance to the inner palace grounds). The palace buildings and inner gardens are not open to the public.
Visit the Asaukusa Kannon Temple - or Senso-ji - is a few minutes walk away. It is Tokyo's oldest temple, and one of its most significant.. Adjacent to the temple is a Shinto shrine, the Asakusa Jinja and entrance to the temple is through the Nakamise shopping arcade, one of the oldest arcades in Japan dating back to the 17th century, selling toys, sweets, snacks and souvenirs. Return to the central Tokyo again with a drive through the famous Ueno district, home to many of the famous museums. Walking Tokyo Foodie Tour
Feel the spirit and history of Edo in Kagurazaka. Kagurazaka a fashionable shopping and dining district along a sloping street in Tokyo near Iidabashi Station. During the Edo Period, Kagurazaka was located just outside the outer moat of Edo Castle and gained prominence as an entertainment district with numerous geisha houses and restaurants. Some of the geisha houses survive in the district's narrow alleys to this date. Explore the busy shopping areas on Omote-dori street, and past the many refined restaurants tucked away in the alleys, as well as the stone-paved geisha quarter. Enjoy a delicious local Kagurazaka delicacy along the way. Please make your own way back to your hotel.Starting Accommodation:
Keio Plaza (B)
Day 4 – Nikko World Heritage Tour
Nikko is a town located in the mountains of Tochigi Prefecture, about 87 miles to the north of Tokyo. This morning travel by coach to Nikko and visit the shrines and temples there, which together with their natural surroundings, have for centuries been a sacred site known for its architectural and decorative masterpieces. They are closely associated with the history of the Tokugawa Shoguns. The mountains west of the city are part of Nikko National Park and contain some of the country's most spectacular waterfalls and scenic trails. The shrines and temples of Nikko were inscribed in 1999 as World Heritage listed Cultural Sites.
Visit the Toshogu Shrine, the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder of the Tokugawa shogunate, which ruled Japan for over 250 years until 1868. Leaving the Toshogu Shrine, you will see the Shinkyo, the Sacred Bridge, built in 1636 for the exclusive use, for over three hundred years, of the Shogun and his emissaries to cross the Daiyagawa River. Stop for a Japanese-style lunch nearby and then visit Tamozawa Imperial Villa and Kirifuri falls.
View refined architecture that spans the three different periods of Edo, Meiji, and Taisho at the Tamozawa Imperial Villa. Former Emperors and royal family have used this villa as their residence, which is now the only remaining Imperial residence of the Meiji era. Kirifuri Falls - Climb an observatory deck located directly in front of one of Nikko's three famous waterfalls, from which the entire 75 m (264 ft) can be viewed at a glance.Starting Accommodation:
Keio Plaza (B)
Day 5 – Tokyo to Hakone (Via Mt. Fuji)
Mt. Fuji stands at 12,388 feet high and is surrounded by five lakes: Lake Kawaguchi, Lake Yamanaka, Lake Sai, Lake Motosu and Lake Shoji. They, and nearby Lake Ashi, provide excellent views of the mountain. Part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park it is also an active strato volcano. The mountains exceptionally symmetrical cone is a well-known symbol of Japan and is frequently depicted in art and photographs, as well as visited by sightseers and climbers alike.
Depart Tokyo by motor coach to Mount Fuji's 5th Station which at 7,562 feet is the highest point on the mountain reachable by road, but not accessible year round. Along the way there will be a brief stop at the Fuji Visitor Centre. Returning down the mountain and continuing on to Hakone, lunch is Japanese-style and served in a local restaurant.
Arrive at Lake Ashi and for a scenic lake cruise with a Mount Fuji again as your backdrop. Later this afternoon you will be taken on a aerial cableway ride up Mount Komagatake and the view at the top overlooking the national park and with Lake Ashi below.
After the tour you will be transferred to your accommodation.Starting Accommodation:
Hakone Yunohana Prince Hotel (B)
Day 6 – Bullet Train to Kyoto
The Shinkansen is a network of high-speed railway lines in Japan operated by Japan Railways. Since the initial Tokaido Shinkansen opened in 1964 running at 130 mph, the network of 1528 miles has expanded to link most major cities on the islands of Honshi and Kyushu with running speeds of up to 186 mph.
Travel westbound from Odawara 267 miles to Kyoto on the Tokaido or Sanyo Shinkansen line. The Kodama service covers the distance in approximately 3 hours 10 minutes.Nara Tour
Nara was the capital of Japan from 710 to 784. During this period the framework of national government was consolidated and Nara enjoyed great prosperity, emerging as the fountainhead of Japanese culture. The city's historic monuments - Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines and the excavated remains of the great Imperial Palace - provide a vivid picture of life in the Japanese capital in the 8th century, a period of profound political and cultural change. The historic monuments of ancient Nara were inscribed in 1998 as World Heritage listed Cultural Sites.
Your first stop today will be Todaiji Temple, constructed in the 8th century, is one of Japan's most famous and historically significant temples. In it's huge precincts are various national treasures of Japan. The Daibutsuden (Great Buddha Hall) is one of the world's largest wooden buildings. Once of Japan's best-known temples, it enshrines a gigantic bronze statue of Buddha.
In between the temples, over 1,000 tame deer roam freely in the verdant 1,250 acres peaceful park. If you wish to feed the deer, they will gladly eat from your hand. Special food is sold in the park grounds.
Conclude your afternoon with a visit to Kasuga Shine which was established in 768 A.D. and rebuilt several times over the centuries. The interior is famous for its many bronze lanterns, as well as the many stone lanterns that lead up the shrine.Starting Accommodation:
Day 7 – Kyoto City Tour
This morning's first stop is Nijo Castle, the Kyoto Residence of the Tokugawa Shogun built in 1603, the castle is noted for the contrast of its solemn exterior and gorgeous interiors. Closed Tuesday's in January, July, August and December and substituted with Ryoanji Temple and Zen garden. Next, visit Kinkakuji Temple, Kyoto's most popular temple is the home of perhaps the world's most authentic and exquisite Japanese Garden, as well as the celebrated Golden Pavilion.
Your third stop is to Kyoto Imperial Palace, the residence of the Imperial family until the capital was relocated to Tokyo in 1868. Closed on Saturdays, Sundays, national holidays so a visit to Kitano Tenmangu will be arranged instead. A buffet-style lunch will be served at Kyoto Handicraft Center, where demonstrations of Japanese traditional arts and crafts take place.
This afternoon's first stop is Heian Shrine, brightly colored with its vermilion pillars and green roof, and its enchanting inner gardens and ponds, reflects the elegance of life in the ancient Japanese court. From there visit Sanjusangendo, a renowned long wooden hall housing all of 1,001 statues of Kannon or Bodhisattva (Goddess of Mercy), that date back to the 13th century.
Continue on to Kiyomizu-dera, a grouping of several Buddhist temples in Eastern Kyoto, and one of the best known sights of the city with its main pavilion commanding an exalted spot on a steep hill with a sweeping view over Kyoto. The pathway leading to the shrine is lined with pottery and souvenir shops.
Drop-off service is available returning you to major city hotels between 5:30 - 6:30 pm.Starting Accommodation:
Day 8 – Walking in Sagano-Arashiyama
Travel from Kyoto by train to Saga-Arishiyama Station. Arashiyama is an exclusive district on the western outskirts of Kyoto and also the name of the mountain across the Oi River, which forms a backdrop to this district. Start with a stroll through Sagano Bamboo Grove, located between Tenryuki Temple and Okochi Sanso, and an idyllic setting to a scene in Memoirs of a Geisha.
Walk on to Jojakuko-ji Temple located halfway up a hill and graced with a 12-meter-high pagoda surrounded by Japanese maple trees. Jojakuko-ji was the final home of Empress Dowager Kenrei-mon-in, a principal character in the 'Tale of the Heike' one of the most important works of classical Japanese literature.
Continue walking to Tenryuji Temple, held in high esteem and ranked as the most important (Rinzai) Zen temples of Kyoto. Famous also for its exquisitely landscape garden, which unlike the temple buildings has survived in its original form.
Finally walk along the Togetsukyo Bridge (or Crossing Moon Bridge), famous for its views of spring cherry blossoms and autumn colors from the slopes of Mt Arashiyama. The present bridge was rebuilt in 1934 using steel but faithfully copying the structure of the original bridge.Starting Accommodation:
Day 9 – Kyoto to Takayama
Travel 50 minutes eastbound from Kyoto a distance of 92 miles to Nagoya on the Tokaido or Sanyo Shinkansen line. On arrival at JR Nagoya Station you will change to a limited express bound for Takayama, two hours northbound on the Hida Line.
Takayama is located in the Hida Mountains (part of the Japan Alps National Park). Surrounded by 10,000-ft. peaks, the train ride from Nagoya is breathtaking. The town, situated along a river on a wide plateau with a population of 67,600, was founded back in the 16th century by Lord Kanamori, who selected the site because of the impregnable position afforded by the surrounding mountains.
Modeled after Kyoto but also with strong ties to Edo (Tokyo), Takayama borrowed from both cultural centers in developing its own architecture, food, and crafts, all well preserved today thanks to centuries of isolation. With a rich supply of timber provided by surrounding forests, its carpenters were legendary, creating not only beautifully crafted traditional merchants' homes in Takayama but also the Imperial Palace and temples in Kyoto.
On arrival in Takayama between 2:00 - 2:30 pm, on foot visit Yatai Kaikan Hall, where colorfully decorated traditional festival floats are displayed, Kusakabe Folkcraft Museum, formerly the residence of powerful merchants under government patronage, and Kami Sannomachi Street, with its preserved traditional Japanese wooden houses. Transfer to your hotel in Takayama. At the conclusion of today's touring you will arrive and check in to your hotel between 5:30 - 6:30 pm.Starting Accommodation:
Hida Hotel Plaza Takayama (B)
Day 10 – Takayama to Kanazawa via Shirakawago
Depart your hotel this morning to visit the morning market of Takayama. Every morning, from 7:00 am to noon, farmers' wives from nearby villages bring fresh produce – vegetables and flowers – to these markets. The varieties of produce mark the changing seasons in the mountains around the town.
A scenic drive by Lake Miboro and along Shokawa River takes you to Shirakawago, designated as a World Heritage site. Its highlights are the unique structures called Gassho-Zukuri, or 'joined-hands' farmhouses.
Located in a mountainous region that was cut off from the rest of the world for a long period of time, these villages with their Gassho-style houses subsisted on the cultivation of mulberry trees and the rearing of silkworms. The large houses with their steeply pitched thatched roofs are the only examples of their kind in Japan. Despite economic upheavals, these villages are outstanding examples of a traditional way of life perfectly adapted to the environment and people's social and economic circumstances.
Visit Gokayama, another World Heritage inscribed village, where you can experience making traditional Japanese paper. Arrive in Kanazawa between 5:30 - 6:30 pm and transfer to your hotel.
On the northwest coast of Honshu on the Sea of Japan, Kanazawa is the gateway to the rugged, sea-swept Noto Peninsula. It was the second-largest city (after Kyoto) to escape bombing during World War II, and some of the old city has been left intact, including a district of former samurai mansions, old geisha quarters, Edo-Era canals, and tiny narrow streets that run crookedly without rhyme or reason (apparently to confuse any enemies foolish enough to attack). Kanazawa is most famous for its Kenrokuen Garden, one of the most celebrated gardens in all of Japan. It's the main reason people come here, though several fine museums nearby are worth a visit, too. Kanazawa is also renowned for its crafts.Starting Accommodation:
Day 11 – Kanazawa to Osaka
This morning enjoy sightseeing in Kanazawa with your first destination being Kenrokuen Garden, one of Japan's three most beautiful gardens, created and maintained since the 1620's from its city center location. Then visit the Kutaniyaki Pottery Kiln which creates white glaze style pottery unique to this part of the country. Enjoy the houses decked in Indian red latticework as you take an atmospheric stroll through Higashi-chaya district, one of Kanazawa's oldest and best preserved night spots.
From Kanazawa board a JR limited express train approximately 2 hours southwest to Kyoto and on arrival transfer services will be available to drop off at all major Kyoto and Osaka hotels between 4:30 - 5:30 pm.Starting Accommodation:
New Otani Hotel, Osaka (B)
Day 12 – Osaka to USA
Transfer from Osaka to the airport for your departure flight to the USA. (B)