Japan, A Cultural Odyssey
This Japanese odyssey includes the icons that make the country's cultural heart beat. The odyssey begins in Tokyo, a city of the future with roots that stretch back four hundred years. The next day is dedicated to the Nikko World Heritage Experience that will have you exploring the mountain town's shrines and temples, all of which were designated as World Heritage Cultural Sites in 1999. The trip moves to the picturesque town of Hakone--home of Mt. Fuji. Standing 12,388 feet tall, Fuji is surrounded by five lakes and provides for breathtaking scenery. Next on to Kyoto where you will experience firsthand the elegance that defines Japanese culture. Take part in a traditional tea ceremony and then tour the spiritual side of Kyoto with visits to Nijo Castle, Nanzenji Temple, and more. The trip's final two days are spent in Osaka, where you will see the best that the city has to offer on the Osaka City Highlights Tour before capping the trip with the Koyasan Full Day Experience, a tour that will take you to most sacred of sites in the secluded mountain temple town of Mount Koya.
Trip Type: Adventure, Cultural, Food & Wine
Day By Day
Day 1 – Arrive in Tokyo, Japan
Upon arrival, a driver will meet you at baggage claim to transfer you to your Tokyo accommodation. Hotel Gajoen Tokyo
Hotel Gajoen Tokyo a luxury hotel that offers peace and quite while staying in the heart of Tokyo. First opened in 1928, Hotel Gajoen Tokyo promised cuisine, hospitality and surroundings so otherworldly that it became known as the ‘Palace of the Dragon God’. It fast became a hot spot for luxury society weddings and social events. Today, the original retreat has been carefully transformed into a boutique hotel, immersed in omotenashi hospitality that continues to welcome global travelers to Tokyo. Inside, past and present, classic and contemporary meet in perfect balance. The polished entrance hall contains the original Invitation Gate of Meguro Gajoen, enticing you in to explore. Look out for antique features such as ornately carved wooden panels and Japanese lacquer-work. Or settle into your suite while enjoying views across the city. The hotel is an ideal spot to explore the hip neighborhood of Meguro which is filled with local shops and cafes, with a canal lined with cherry trees.Starting Accommodation:
Hotel Gajoen Tokyo
Day 2 – Tokyo City Exploration
Begin your tour with a panoramic view of Tokyo from the main observation platform of Tokyo Tower where you can get sweeping 360° views across the city and on a clear morning even Mount Fuji. Tokyo Tower is 1,091 feet tall, making it the second tallest man-made structure in Japan. Continue to the center of the city now you will stop at the Imperial Palace. The current Imperial Palace is located on the former site of Edo Castle, a large park area surrounded by moats and massive stone walls in the center of Tokyo and is the residence of Japan's Imperial family. Enjoy a pleasant walk in the East Garden where you will see museum Sannomaru Shozokan and Nimomaru garden. When the Palace gardens are closed, you will visit the Palace Plaza.
Next stop is Asaukusa Kannon Temple - or Senso-ji This 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. Your final stop is Meiji Shrine which is dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and his consort, Empress Shoken. Located just beside busy Harajuku Station, Meiji Shrine and the adjacent Yoyogi Park make up a large forested area within the densely built-up city. The spacious shrine grounds offer walking paths that are great for a relaxing stroll. Meals:
Day 3 – Nikko World Heritage Experience
This morning meet your guide in the hotel lobby at 8:30 am. Nikko is a town located in the mountains of Tochigi Prefecture, about 87 miles to the north of Tokyo. This morning travel to Nikko and visit the shrines and temples of Nikko, 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 and 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 drive along Iroha-zaka which comprises of 48 hairpin curves, making it one of the most famous roads in Japan which starts at Umagaeshi and leads up the Mt. Nantai and to the eastern shore of Lake Chuzunji. Lake Chuzenji's deepest point is at 530 feet and is cool and sheltered year-round. Visit Kegon waterfall, one of the Japan's largest measuring 316 feet in height. It falls down a precipice of quartz rock and lava. The precipice was formed by the eruption of Mt. Nantai which in turn created oval Lake Chuzenji, a natural dam and crater lake at the mountain base.Starting Accommodation:
Hotel Gajoen Tokyo Meals:
Day 4 – Tokyo to Mt. Fuji and Hakone
Depart Tokyo by private vehicle for 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 stratovolcano. 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. Along the way enjoy a brief stop at the Fuji Visitor Center before continuing to Mount Fuji's 5th Station which at 7,562 feet and is the highest point on the mountain reachable by road, but not accessible year-round. Returning down the mountain, continue to Hakone where you will enjoy a lunch at a local restaurant.
After lunch visit Kubota Itchiku Art Museum. Kubota Itchiku, the artist who revived the lost art of Tsujigahana silk dyeing, used to decorate elaborate kimono during the Muromachi Period (1333-1573). An intriguing museum devoted to Kubota Itchiku stands in the wooded hills along the northern coast of Lake Kawaguchiko. Exhibited are several of the artist's kimono creations, depicting themes of nature, the cosmos and the seasons. Also on display are parts of his unfinished masterpiece ‘Symphony of Light’, a huge work comprised of 80 kimono that together form of a picture of Mount Fuji. The museum's buildings and gardens are also fascinating. The buildings are made of Okinawan coral and limestone, while the main gallery is a massive timber frame construction. A waterfall and outdoor stage are located besides the museum's reception building where events are occasionally held. A unique tea room is located in the back of the gallery. The extensive gardens, which were designed by Kubota Itchiku himself and stretch from the entrance gate far into the wooded slopes behind the museum buildings, are also worth a stroll. Artworks from various places in Asia and Africa are placed around the museum grounds.
Your final stop is a ride on the aerial cable-way up Mount Komagatake and the view at the top overlooking the national park and with Lake Ashi below.Starting Accommodation:
Kinnotake Tonosawa Meals:
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 5 – Hakone to Kyoto
Travel westbound from Odawara 267 miles to Kyoto on the Tokaido or Sanyo Shinkansen line. The Shinkansen is a network of high-speed railway lines in Japan operated by Japan Railways.Cultural Kyoto
Enjoy a tea ceremony to experience first-hand Japanese culture at its most elegant with an authentic tea ceremony. The Japanese tea ceremony, called Chanoyu, Sado or simply Ocha in Japanese, is a choreographic ritual of preparing and serving Japanese green tea, called Matcha, together with traditional Japanese sweets to balance with the bitter taste of the tea. Next visit the Gion District. Gion is Kyoto's most famous geisha district, located around Shijo Avenue between Yasaka Shrine in the east and the Kamo River in the west. It is filled with shops, restaurants and ochaya (teahouses), where geiko (Kyoto dialect for geisha) and maiko (geiko apprentices) entertain.Starting Accommodation:
The Thousand Kyoto Meals:
Day 6 – Spiritual Kyoto
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. Next take part in a centuries-old tradition of Zen at a local Buddhist temple. Japanese meditation is known the world over for its spiritual, physical and mental health benefits. Its roots trace back to the origins of Zen Buddhism, a religion that offers a path to enlightenment through meditation. After this spiritual experience walk the Philosophers Path. Called Tetsugaku no Michi in Japanese, Philosopher's Path was named for Kyoto University philosophy professor Nishida Kitaro, who walked this route as a daily meditation. A meandering path in a rural neighborhood overlooking a canal, it's the perfect place for a contemplative afternoon stroll. The path begins about 100 meters north of Eikando in northern Higashiyama and stretches north, finishing at Ginkakuji Temple.
Continue to Nanzenji Temple. This temple has spacious grounds located at the base of Kyoto's forested Higashiyama mountains. One of the most important Zen temples in all of Japan, it is the head temple of one of the schools within the Rinzai sect of Japanese Zen Buddhism and includes multiple sub-temples, that make the already large complex of temple buildings even larger. The history of Nanzenji dates back to the mid-13th century, when the Emperor Kameyama built his retirement villa at the temple's present location and later converted it into a Zen temple. After its founding, Nanzenji grew steadily, but its buildings were all destroyed during the civil wars of the late Muromachi Period (1333-1573). The oldest of the current buildings was built after that period.
This afternoons final stop is 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. Meals:
Day 7 – Kyoto, Arashiyama and Fushimi
This morning's first stop is 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. Continue to Arashiyama, 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 39 feet 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.
This afternoon you will visit Fushimi-inari-taisha Shrine, one of the most famous Shinto shrines. The numerous red Torii gates on the hill behind the shrine were donated by faithful followers. Finally enjoy a sake tasting with the option to visit Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum. Fushimi has been blessed since olden days with high quality underground water and still retaining its traditional appearance. In a corner of this town, precious sake making tools are preserved and the history of Japanese sake will be explained in an easy-to-understand way.Starting Accommodation:
The Thousand Kyoto Meals:
Day 8 – Kyoto to Osaka
A driver will meet you in the lobby to transfer you to your Osaka accommodation. Osaka City Highlights
Your first stop is Osaka Castle with its high location provides an excellent view of the city. First built in the 1580's on the order of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Osaka Castle was the largest castle in Japan, a magnificent structure used by Toyotomi as a military stronghold from which to wage war against rebellious feudal lords in far flung provinces. By the time he died in 1598, Toyotomi had accomplished what no man had done before: crushed his enemies and unified all of Japan under his command. Osaka Castle is noted for its magnificence and the immense stones used in its construction. Inside you will find an exhibition of relics of Toyotomi Hideyoshi and historical Osaka.
Continue to the Aerial Garden Observatory (Umeda Sky Building). Here you will get a unique view from the viewing platform that is suspended between two skyscrapers 558 feet off the ground. The observation deck offers magnificent full panorama views of the city of Osaka.
Next visit Shitennoji Temple, one of Japan's oldest temples and the first ever to be built by the state. It was founded in 593 by Prince Shotoku, who supported the introduction of Buddhism into Japan. Although the temple's buildings burned down several times throughout the centuries, they were always carefully reconstructed to reflect the original 6th century design.
Finally visit Dotonbori, one of the most popular tourist destinations, a street which runs parallel to the Dotonbori canal. It is a popular entertainment district and is also known as a food destination. At night it is lit by hundreds of neon lights and mechanized signs, including the famous Glico Running Man sign and Kani Doraku crab sign.Starting Accommodation:
Ritz-Carlton Osaka Meals:
Day 9 – Koyasan Full Day Experience
Today you will visit Mount Koya which is the center of Shingon Buddhism, an important Buddhist sect which was introduced to Japan in 805 by Kobo Daishi. Accompanied with your guide travel on the Nankai Limited Express train to Gokurakubashi Station. Once you arrive into the station take the cable car to Koyasan Station and continue by local bus to the Ichinohashi Tourist Center.
Mount Koya is a small, secluded temple town which has developed around the sect’s headquarters that Kobo Daishi built on Koyasan’s wooded mountain top. It is also the site of Kobo Daish’s mausoleum and the start and end point of the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage. Mt. Koya is registered on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list as ‘Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range.’ Buddha statues and mandalas greet visitors to these sacred grounds, which look down on the surrounding area from a height of approximately 2,953 feet, and are home to many impressive halls, pagodas, and other historic buildings. The guide will provide insights and explanations as you explore Mt. Koya and its treasures.
After a vegetarian lunch, visit Okuno-in Temple, the highlight of Koyasan. Walk along the path to the temple with a mystical atmosphere lined with hundreds of thousands of small stone pagodas. Okunoni is the most sacred site for Daishi-worshipers. It houses the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi, and the pure stream of the famous River Tamagawa cleanses the souls of worshipers.
Continue to Danjo Garan Complex, a sacred place representing the concept of Shingon Mikkyo Buddhism established by Kobo Daishi (Saint Kobo). Board the local bus from Danjo Garan and return to Koyasan Station. Continue to Gokurakubashi Station by cable car where you will board the train back to Nankai Namba Station.Starting Accommodation:
Ritz-Carlton Osaka Meals:
Day 10 – Depart Osaka
Transfer to the airport for your departure flight. Meals:
Package Level: Deluxe
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