Insider’s Japan

Trip Highlights

Tour Tokyo, including the Imperial Palace District and Meiji Shrine. Take in the stunning scenery of Mt. Fuji and Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. Enjoy an overnight stay in traditional ryokan. Explore historic Takayama’s ancient streets and houses and culturally rich Kanazawa, including the famed Kenrokuen Garden. Visit Kyoto, Japan’s cultural capital and one of its largest cities. We will take a full-day tour of the city.

Dates

October 08 to October 20, 2018

Region

Asia/Pacific

Tour Operator

Odysseys Unlimited

Physical Activity Level

Active

Duration

12 Days

Price

$ 5,991.00

Type

Land

Make a Reservation

Call Alumni Travel at 855.764.0064

Itinerary

DAY 1:  Depart the U.S. for Tokyo, Japan
Today you’ll depart for Tokyo, Japan.

DAY 2: Arrive Tokyo
After arriving in Japan’s financial, commercial, and political capital this evening, we transfer to our hotel where we meet with our Odysseys Unlimited Tour Director.  As guests will arrive in Tokyo at various times throughout the day, today is at leisure and dinner this evening is on our own.

Accommodations:  Park Hotel Tokyo

DAY 3:  Tokyo
We begin our day by meeting with our fellow travelers and tour director for a welcome briefing on the journey ahead, followed by a city tour.  Tokyo is a vast metropolis compromising 23 wards and 26 cities with a population of over 13 million residents, and 844 square miles.  It is also the center of the Greater Tokyo Area, which is, with a population of more than 35 million, the most populous metropolitan area in the world.  Amazingly, it has endured earthquakes, fires, and the U.S. air raids of World War II to emerge as one of the world’s leading cities.  Tokyo has managed to successfully merge the old and the new to become a fascinating and cosmopolitan place.  Our half-day excursion in Ancient Tokyo includes a visit to the famed Meiji Jingu Shrine, a peaceful enclave of temples and gardens dedicated to late 19th-century Emperor Meiji and his wife.  Built in traditional Shinto style with low wooden buildings surrounded by square courtyards, the shrine is one of Tokyo’s most popular attractions.  Also on today’s itinerary is the Asakusa Kannon Temple, which contains a golden image of the Buddhist Kannon, goddess of mercy.  According to legend, two fishermen dragged the statue from the sea in 628 … but visitors cannot see it since it is hidden from the public.  However, guests can make their way to the front of the temple to bathe in smoke from the incense cauldron; it is said that the smoke brings good health.  Then we have time to explore the Nakamise Shopping arcade outside the temple, filled with stalls selling local dishes, Buddhist trinkets, and popular souvenirs.  We return to our hotel mid-day; the afternoon is at leisure for independent exploration – and options certainly abound.  Our tour director will be happy to offer suggestions.  Tonight we enjoy a welcome dinner at a local restaurant.

Accommodations:  Park Hotel Tokyo
Meals:  Breakfast, Dinner

 DAY 4:  Tokyo
Today we visit the Imperial Palace District, surrounded by moats and ramparts and home of the Imperial Family.  Called Kokyo, the huge complex dates to the 15th century, when territorial disputes required massive fortifications and complex societal norms demanded elaborate palaces to reflect the high positions of the feudal lords.  When completed, the Imperial Palace was the largest district in the world.  From the lovely East and Outer gardens, we’ll see the ruins of the massive moat and walls that remain.  Next, we enter the gallery of one of Japan’s preeminent calligraphers, Koshun Masunaga, where we learn about this ancient art and browse the collection.  Then we take a motorcoach tour of Ginza, Tokyo’s famed shopping, dining, and entertainment district boasting the most expensive real estate in all of Japan.  After lunch on our own, the remainder of the day is at leisure to visit some of Ginza’s department stores, boutiques, or galleries; or to set off in a new direction.  Tokyo boasts a myriad of attractions and activities to suit every taste:  world-class museums, temples, shrines, kabuki theatre, shopping, dining.  Nature lovers will enjoy visiting Ueno Park in the heart of the city, renowned for its April cherry blossoms and November foliage.  Others may wish to visit the Ueno Zoo, the first of its kind in Japan, to see the playful pandas; or admire the world’s largest collection of Japanese art in the Tokyo National Museum.  For a glimpse of modern-day Japan, visit Shinjuku, Tokyo’s bustling commercial center with enormous skyscrapers, department stores, discount shopping arcades, and stand-up-and-eat noodle stands.  Dinner today is on our own.

Accommodations:  Park Hotel Tokyo
Meals:  Breakfast

 DAY 5:  Tokyo/Mt. Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park/Hakone
We travel by motorcoach today to Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, home to one of the most photographed sights in Japan, if not the world:  almost perfectly symmetrical Mt. Fuji, standing regally at 12,388 feet high in the park’s midst.  We embark on a leisurely boat ride on Ashi Lake, where we can take in scenes of the whole park, and with luck, see Mt. Fuji.  For a different perspective, we then take a motorcoach ride to the “fifth station” of Mount Fuji, which is the embarkation point for those climbers brave enough to attempt the summit – and for us, weather permitting, it’s our perch for striking panoramic views.  A dormant volcano, Fuji-san, as it is known to the Japanese, last erupted in 1707 and the resulting ash reached all the way to Tokyo where it actually covered buildings.  The mountain’s majesty is breathtaking, as writers and artists have attested for centuries.  Leaving the park we continue on to the town of Hakone and our traditional ryokan lodgings for the night – and a special night it will be indeed.  Upon arrival at our intimate inn, we’ll be shown to our Japanese-style rooms where we’ll remove our shoes before entering.  Then we will savor a traditional tea, followed by a dinner featuring dishes using fresh local ingredients.  Tonight we sleep peacefully on a futon in a room of serene, minimalist Japanese design.

Please note:  In addition to your one piece of checked luggage, you also will need to bring along a smaller, overnight carry-on bag for your overnight stay at the ryokan.  This bag should have wheels as you will embark and disembark the train with it and take it through the stations.  You will meet your original luggage upon arrival at the hotel in Takayama.

Accommodations:  Aura Tachibana (ryokan)
Meals:  Breakfast, Dinner

DAY 6: Hakone/Takayama
Our journey continues as we travel via bullet train and Wide View Hida express to the Hida Mountain town of Takayama, considered one of Japan’s most attractive settings with its 16th-century castle, a beautifully preserved Old Town, and historic buildings dating to the Edo period of 1600 to 1868.  Before we leave, guests will have the option to buy a bento box lunch, a food box packed with Japanese specialties which will entice both the eyes and taste buds.  During our tour we experience a tea ceremony where we learn this 12th century style of prepping tea.  We dine tonight at our hotel.

Accommodations:  Hida Hotel Plaza Takayama
Meals:  Breakfast, Dinner

DAY 7:  Takayama
Today we enjoy a full day tour of Takayama.  We pay an early morning visit to Takayama’s centuries-old Miyagawa Morning Market, where stalls selling everything from fresh fruit, vegetables, and flowers to pickles, crafts, and fish line the streets leading to the river.  While here we gather fresh ingredients to take with us to our next activity – a hands-on cooking class.  For lunch we enjoy the fruits of our labor.  Then we visit the Takayama Jinya, a former government outpost, and discover its long list of past uses.   After leaving Takayama Jinya, we visit a sake (a local rice wine liquor) brewery where we taste the variations of this warm national beverage and learn about the unique traditional brewing methods.  From here we head to the Old Takayama District comprised of three narrow streets in the San-machi-suji district, where in feudal times, wealthy merchants lived amidst the authentically preserved small inns, teahouses, peaceful temples, and sake breweries that we see here (some of which have operated for centuries).  We have time to explore the sweet shops and stores selling traditional crafts.    We arrive to the hotel in Takayama in the late afternoon.  Dinner today is on our own.

Accommodations:  Hida Hotel Plaza Takayama
Meals:  Breakfast, Lunch

Day 8: Takayama/Shirakawa-Go/Kanazawa
This morning we depart for Shirakawago Gassho-zukuri Village, a UNESCO World Heritage site comprising traditional thatched-roof homes.  In addition to its status as a World Heritage site, the village also is a vibrant community whose residents work together to preserve the Gassho-style architectural style unique to this region:  wooden houses with steep thatched roofs made to withstand heavy snow.  We will tour one of the residences that also presents this style of architecture and the Ogimachi District – a cluster of 59 houses preserved to show how its inhabitants lived long ago.  For lunch we enjoy a Japanese-style lunch at a local restaurant.  Early afternoon we depart to Kanazawa, an alluring city that survived the ravages of World War II because of its out-of-the-way location between the mountains and the Sea of Japan.  Though somewhat off the beaten tourist path, Kanazawa is prized among Japanese as the country’s best-preserved Edo-period city (along with Takayama).  Here we visit the Higashi Chaya District and we view the historical row of teahouses, beautiful lattice homes and journey through the maze of continuous alleys.   We arrive to the hotel in Kanazawa in the late afternoon.  Dinner is on our own tonight.

Accommodations:  Hotel Nikko Kanazawa
Meals:  Breakfast, Lunch

DAY 9: Kanazawa
Our full day of touring this culture-rich city includes the Hakukokan Gold Leaf Center, a museum that celebrates the art and craft of gold leaf technology and a collection dating to the late 16th century.  A center of gold leaf craft, Kanazawa produced the gold leaf covering Kyoto’s Golden Pavilion that we’ll see on Day 11.    We also visit the renowned Kenrokuen Garden, a national landmark whose origins date to 1676.  One of Japan’s three finest traditional gardens, Kenrokuen (Garden of Six Attributes) represents the six qualities required for the perfect garden:  extensiveness, factitiousness (manmade), antiquity, water, wide prospect, and quiet seclusion.  Its trees, ponds, waterfalls, and flowers stretch over grounds of 25 acres.  Our last stop is the Nomura Family Residence.  The Nomura family successively held executive posts from generation to generation under rule of the Maeda family.  The house has a coffered ceiling made completely of Japanese cypress and fusuma-e (paintings on sliding door panels).  The garden inside the home has a Japanese bayberry more than 400 years old and a meandering stream surrounded by ancient rocks.  We dine tonight at a local restaurant.

 Accommodations:  Hotel Nikko Kanazawa
Meals:  Breakfast, Dinner

 DAY 10:  Kanazawa/Kyoto
This morning we board the train for the two-hour journey south to Kyoto, Japan’s Imperial Capital for a millennium and now the country’s cultural and artistic capital.  Please note: Large pieces of luggage will not be taken on the train, but will be sent ahead to the hotel in Kyoto.  A true gem with more than 1,600 temples, hundreds of shrines, three imperial palaces, artful gardens, and well-preserved wooden architecture, Kyoto embodies Japan’s rich culture and complex history.  Japanese gardens, traditional cuisine, and superb crafts thrive here, attracting legions of visitors and Japanese alike.  Upon arrival, we visit two centers of culture.  First, we see Kyoto National Museum, which comprises three exhibition halls displaying ancient Asian art, sutras (texts), and scrolls. Then we visit Unrakugama Pottery, a family-owned pottery house producing fine handmade ceramics and earthenware.  We dine tonight at our hotel.

Accommodations:  ANA Crowne Plaza Kyoto Hotel
Meals:  Breakfast, Dinner

DAY 11:  Kyoto
Today’s full-day tour reveals the highlights of Kyoto and Nara.  The two cities are both capitals of their prefectures, which border each other, and Nara was Japan’s capital from 710 to 794.  We begin our Nara touring at the Todai-ji Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Buddhist temple complex that was once one of the powerful Seven Great Temples.  It also houses the world’s largest bronze statue of the Buddha Vairocana and serves as the Japanese headquarters of the Kegon school of Buddhism.  We then visit the Kasuga Taisha Shrine, established in 768 AD and another UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The shrine’s interior is famous for its many bronze lanterns.  Our next stop in Kyoto is the Kinkakuji Temple (also known as The Golden Pavilion), a Zen Buddhist temple and one of the most famous buildings in Japan. The lakeside Temple of the Golden Pavilion was originally constructed in the 14th century as a retirement villa and later converted to a temple.  Burned to the ground by a fanatic in 1950, the temple has been entirely reconstructed following the original design including the three distinct styles of architecture – the shiden, samurai and zen – and is covered in gold leaf from Kanazawa all the way up to the upper floors.  Its setting on pillars suspended over the water makes it one of Kyoto’s most inspired – and inspiring – sights.   We return to our hotel early afternoon and the rest of the afternoon is at our leisure. Dinner tonight is on our own.

Accommodations:  ANA Crowne Plaza Kyoto Hotel
Meals:  Breakfast

DAY 12:  Kyoto
The entire day is at our leisure, with many options to choose from in this exciting city.  Guests may choose to go their own way, and our tour director will be happy to assist or organize an activity for the day.

For a slightly different perspective, guests can opt to see the sights on a cycling tour through Kyoto.  This optional excursion visits the Heian Jingu Shrine, a shrine with a Chinese-inspired bridge and beautiful Japanese gardens built to commemorate the 1,100th anniversary of Kyoto.  From here, the tour encounters the city’s traditional culture as we stroll through lively Nishiki Market, where shop owners sell a colorful variety of local dishes, fish, fruits, vegetables, crafts, and other wares.  Then we visit Gion, the most famous of Kyoto’s several geisha districts with its traditional tall wooden merchants’ homes (as in Kanazawa, property owners historically were taxed on street frontage, so they built tall rather than wide).

If you opt to skip the bicycle tour, options abound in this ancient city of grace and beauty.  There’s time to shop for exquisite Japanese crafts; the city is widely known for its goods of exceptional artistry including Kyo pottery, hand-painted silks, lacquer ware, display dolls, woodblock prints, fans, umbrellas, Noh masks, lanterns, and more.  Or guests may wish to visit any number of temples, gardens, or shrines – such as Heian Shrine, built in 1895 and dedicated to the first and last emperors of Kyoto.  Though the buildings here are replicas of the 9th-century originals, they still evoke the reverence and dignity of the imperial court.  Tonight we toast our Japan adventure over a farewell dinner at a local restaurant.

Accommodations:  ANA Crowne Plaza Kyoto Hotel
Meals:  Breakfast, Dinner

DAY 13:  Kyoto/Departure from Japan
We say sayonara to Japan as we transfer to the Kansai Airport and depart for the United States.

Meals:  Breakfast


 

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