9-Day Japan Highlights Tour

A Stimulating Fusion of East and West

This 9-day Japan highlights itinerary is an ideal tour for first-time visitors, covering Tokyo, Kyoto, Hakone, and Nara.

Days

9

Price

from US$3,669 p/p

Best For

First-Timers

Best Time

Mar. to Oct.

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Tour Highlights

Learn about Meiji Shrine: A popular place for Japanese traditional wedding
Learn about Meiji Shrine: A popular place for Japanese traditional wedding
Enjoy a cup of Japanese matcha tea in Hamarikyu Gardens.
Enjoy a cup of Japanese matcha tea in Hamarikyu Gardens.
Experience iaido and shodo to improve your attention to daily life.
Experience iaido and shodo to improve your attention to daily life.
Understand the locals' real lives at Nishiki Market
Understand the locals' real lives at Nishiki Market
Get close to tame deer in Nara Park.
Get close to tame deer in Nara Park.

Itinerary Details

The itinerary is flexible and this is a sample to inspire you. We can tailor-make a trip based on your interests and requirements.

Day 1
Arrival in Tokyo

Welcome to Japan's capital, Tokyo! Greater Tokyo is the world's most populous metropolitan city and is the center of Japanese culture, finance, and government. It is also a major transportation hub. If you want to fully understand Japan, it is worth staying there for a few days.

You will be transferred to your accommodation from the arrivals hall at Narita International Airport in a shared van. The rest of the day is free for you to spend as you wish — you can spend some time adjusting to your jet lag at the hotel if you want to.

In the evening, when the neon lights of Shinjuku start to light up, you can wander around the stunning and bustling streets. There are many luxury stores, fascinating restaurants, and music bars nearby. Immerse yourself into Tokyo's liveliness.

Hotels in Tokyo

We can arrange different kinds of hotels to meet your needs based on your requirements and budget. Please let us know what you prefer and your travel advisor can give you more suggestions so that you can choose the one you like.

You can consider staying in Shinjuku as there are many business hotels so it is convenient for you to go everywhere you want to, especially if the hotel is near Shinjuku Station, which is one of the main and most important train and subway hubs in Tokyo.

Day 2
Tokyo: Full Day of Highlights | Meiji Shrine, Omotesando, and Asakusa

After breakfast, visit Meiji Shrine with your private local guide. This is the most worshiped shrine in Tokyo. You can take part in typical Shinto activities there, such as making offerings in the main hall, buying charms and amulets, or writing your wish on an ema. It is also a popular place for traditional Japanese weddings. You might see a traditional wedding procession (or two) through the courtyard.

Walk along Omotesando shopping street (one of the streets that lead to Meiji Shrine). There are many luxury flagship stores, restaurants, and art galleries there, and it is recognized nowadays as a powerhouse in the world of fashion. If you are a shopaholic, you can spend the whole day shopping there.

Afterward, you will be transferred to the center of Tokyo's shitamachi (meaning "lower city"), Asakusa, which is Tokyo's old town. Tokyo's oldest and largest temple, Sensoji, is located there. Sensoji is a public amusement place with an Edo style. Its buildings will make you feel as though you've been transported back into 645 AD.

Then, one of the oldest streets in Japan, Nakamise, will come into view. It is extremely busy all year round, displaying hundreds of shops on both sides, which sell all kinds of local specialties, traditional Japanese snacks, and local souvenirs.

Before returning to your hotel, the final attraction for the day is Hamarikyu Gardens, which features a classic Japanese garden from the Edo period. The gardens are surrounded by Shiodome's futuristic skyscrapers. You can relax on a small island in the park's lake and enjoy a cup of matcha tea with Japanese sweets. Slow your pace and enjoy the tranquility.

You will go back to your accommodation from there using your Hakone Free Pass and train tickets.

Day 3
Tokyo: Full Day of Culture | Iaido, Japanese Calligraphy, and Samurai Museum

Have you heard about the famous Japanese iaido? The term iaido, abbreviated to iai, means "the way of the sword" and is a modern Japanese martial art. Iaido is associated with the smooth, controlled movements of drawing a sword from its scabbard or saya and then striking or cutting. You will have the chance to take a lesson in iaido with a local teacher, using real iaido swords to experience the cutting techniques on bamboo or straw blocks.

It requires a unification between the person and the sword when wielding one. Therefore, you need to pay attention as to how to control it, which will also help improve your concentration in daily life.

After putting down the sword, you will spend some time learning shodo, which is Japanese calligraphy. You will get a step-by-step lesson from a local teacher on how to write kanji (Japanese pictographs). The teacher will teach you how to hold the pen correctly, which stroke should be stronger, how to learn the particular way each word must begin and end, and how to understand the correct order and path for each word.

Before returning to your accommodation, you will visit Shinjuku's Samurai Museum. It has a history of about 700 years and the building has a traditional Japanese style. It feels totally different from the neon surroundings in Shinjuku. The museum displays many incredible collections of armor, swords, and objects that belonged to samurai warriors throughout the ages.

Day 4
Tokyo to Hakone

In the morning, get your Hakone Free Pass together with your Romancecar ticket and travel to Hakone-Yumoto Station from Shinjuku Station. The train journey takes about 90 minutes.

When you arrive at Hakone-Yumoto Station, you can use your Hakone Free Pass to board the local train to Gora Station, then you can take a shuttle bus to your hotel from there. The rest of the day is free for you to spend as you wish.

You may be interested in visiting Hakone Gora Park, which is located on the steep slope above Gora Station. Find a cozy restaurant or coffee shop there, taste some Japanese fried rice and a salad, drink some coffee, and enjoy the views of Hakone. Just leave some time to relax.

Traditional Accommodation in Hakone

We highly recommend Japanese ryokans when you are in Hakone. You will have Japanese and Western-style rooms and can enjoy the tranquility and harmony of Japan.

We have selected several different types of accommodation to cater to different budgets and requirements, from spacious rooms with marble baths, to balconies overlooking Hakone's natural beauty. There are also simple, affordable, and conveniently located traditional inns.

Day 5
Hakone: Free Day

You will have a free day to explore Hakone by yourself using your local pass.

You can use this pass to explore Hakone for the whole day. It covers eight forms of transportation, including trains, buses, the cableway, cable cars, and boats. You can use it to board and disembark freely in specified areas. You can also get discounts for various attractions. It is convenient for visitors and lets you feel like a native. Of course, you can also stay at your hotel to enjoy a hot spring or massage if you prefer.

Sample Itinerary

You can take the world's second-longest cable car up to Owakudani, which is a volcanic valley with active sulfur vents and hot springs in Hakone. It is a popular tourist site because of its scenic views and volcanic activity but especially the kuro-tamago ("black egg", which is an egg that has been hard-boiled in the sulfuric hot spring). If you eat this egg, it is said you can add 7 years to your life.

Many visitors don't want to miss taking a trip in a majestic replica pirate ship across Lake Ashinoko, which was formed 3,000 years ago by a volcanic eruption. The return train, Hakone Tozan, goes through the mountains so you can enjoy the fantastic views of the surrounding valleys.

Day 6
Hakone to Kyoto

You can use your Hakone Free Pass to go to Odawara Station in the morning and use your train ticket to get on the Shinkansen to Kyoto.

When you arrive at Kyoto Station, make your own way to your hotel. The rest of the day is free to do as you please. You can stay in your hotel to relax or have a massage.

Hotels in Kyoto

You can choose different hotels to suit your style and budget. Let us know your requirements and we will help you choose a reasonable one.

It is recommended to stay in a hotel that's located near Kyoto Station (a main hub in Kyoto where the bullet trains stop) as this would be convenient for you to get to all of the city attractions as well as Nara and Osaka.

If you want to experience the traditional Kyoto lifestyle, you can choose a boutique hotel that is located in the center of the Gion district. It is convenient for you to immerse in Kyoto's cultural atmosphere and you can easily visit the famous geisha quarter.

You can also consider the hotels near a subway station or the Kawaramachi area, which would be convenient if you want to travel to the city by public transport or just quickly visit some famous scenic spots.

Day 7
Kyoto: Full Day of Highlights | Kinkakuji Temple, Nijo Castle, and Nishiki Market

If you just want to visit one city in Japan, it should be Kyoto. With its 2,000 Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines as well as palaces, gardens, and intact architecture, Kyoto is one of the best-preserved cities in Japan. You will have the chance to experience Kyoto's comprehensive bus system to fully explore Kyoto with your guide.

Kinkakuji Temple (Golden Pavilion) will be your first stop. It is the most famous temple in Kyoto. The shogun (military dictator) took over the site during the Muromachi period and built his villa there. After Yoshimitsu's death, the villa was turned into a temple.

Then, visit Nijo Castle, which will take you back to 1603. It is an ornamental castle surrounded by stunning gardens and it records Japan's war history from another side.

It is not an exaggeration to call Nishiki Market the kitchen of Kyoto. The bustling market is 400 meters long and each block sells all kinds of traditional snacks in Kyoto, such as fresh seafood, sweets, and sushi, as well as knives and cookware. It is worth lingering there for 2 hours.

You will visit Kiyomizu-dera Temple, which means Pure Water Temple, in the afternoon. It was founded by a Buddhist sect in 798 and was rebuilt in 1633 after a fire. The main hall has a large veranda supported by tall pillars, which juts out over the hillside and offers impressive views of the city. It is one of the famous and most enjoyable landmarks in Kyoto.

To end the day, the last stop is Sanjusangendo Temple. It is famous for its 1,001 statues of Kannon, the goddess of mercy.

The huge Avalokiteshvara Buddha with 1,000 arms and thousands of eyes in the middle is particularly gorgeous. The huge promenade is used as the venue for the annual archery competition.

Day 8
Nara and Fushimi: Full Day Excursion from Kyoto

Japan's former capital, Nara, is an ancient cultural city, which is called the "spiritual hometown" by Japanese people. Many temples and shrines that were built at that time are still there. You will take a 45-minute train ride from your hotel to this city together with your guide.

In the morning, you will visit Japan's largest Buddha at Todaiji Temple, which is the most famous and historically significant temple in Japan and a landmark in Nara.

Your next stop will be to visit Nara's most celebrated shrine, Kasuga Taisha, which was established at the same time as the capital and is dedicated to the deity responsible for the city's protection.

Then, have a walk in Nara Park. The local people call it Deer Park.

In the Japanese Shinto culture, deer are considered to be sacred as they are messengers from gods and are highly protected. The park is home to hundreds of freely roaming deer and is now a symbol of the city.

You can see many new couples taking their wedding photos with the deer.

Another highlight of the day is to taste the famous Japanese sake in a brewery (a traditional Japanese-style building). You will have the chance to taste different kinds of sake and to see which one you prefer.

Have you watched the movie Memoirs of a Geisha? You will finish your day by visiting Fushimi Inari Shrine. You may recognize its elegant layout from the movie. The walking lane lined with red-painted toriis (memorial arches) is a good spot for photos.

Day 9
Departure from Kyoto

You will have a shared transfer from your accommodation to Kansai International Airport to catch your flight home at the appointed time.

Price Includes

Price from: $3,669 (Tour code: gh-ah-31)

One-to-one consultancy
One-to-one consultancy
Knowledgeable local guides
Knowledgeable local guides
Private drivers/driver guides and vehicles as listed
Private drivers/driver guides and vehicles as listed
Hand-picked hotels
Hand-picked hotels
Breakfasts and meals as listed
Breakfasts and meals as listed
Entry to all attractions on the itinerary
Entry to all attractions on the itinerary
Transportation as listed
Transportation as listed
A 24/7 helpline while traveling
A 24/7 helpline while traveling

Trip Notes

Seasonal information

Japan can be visited year-round, though there are benefits and drawbacks of every season. There are also some events such as the blooming of the cherry blossoms that can be only experienced during certain times of year.

Spring is one of the most popular times to visit Japan because of the beautiful, comfortable weather and the arrival of the cherry blossoms. The blooming of cherry blossoms or sakura has been a major part of Japanese culture for over 1,000 years and can only be experienced in the spring.

Because of the opportunity to witness sakura and the beautiful weather throughout the country, spring is high season in Japan, the time of year with most crowds and highest cost. If traveling to Japan in spring, it will be important to book flights and hotels well in advance.

Summer is the festival season in Japan, offering visitors an opportunity to experience multiple holidays and firework-shows in another country. Crowds are smaller in Japan in the summer, which means that standard prices for accommodation and flights are often lower.

Although not as busy as spring, fall is the second most popular time to travel to Japan. In the fall, the weather cools down and the lower humidity allows for more comfortable traveling outdoors.

Many people choose to visit Japan in the fall due to the changing colors of the leaves, turning brilliant orange and red, in the countryside near Kyoto and Tokyo.

During winter, especially at the north of the Japanese islands, there are icy winds from Siberia often accompanied by heavy snows. This makes for great opportunities to participate in winter sports, such as skiing, in some of the many famous resorts and mountains.

Accommodation

Japan offers a wide range of accommodation in both Japanese and western styles. Ryokans are traditional Japanese inns that offer a glimpse into a more traditional way of life. A ryokan room usually has tatami (traditionally rice-straw, today sometimes polystyrene foam or compressed wood chip) mat flooring, a futon (mattress), tables and chairs. Guests sleep on a futon laid out on the tatami.

While ryokans are the perfect places to stay in Hakone and other scenic and rural areas of Japan, when staying in the larger cities such as Tokyo or Kyoto, it's often best to choose hotels according to comfort, combined with location and convenience.

Business hotels, catering to budget-conscious business travelers, are generally located in city centers near train stations. They are very convenient, especially for tourists with a half-independent, half-guided itinerary. Most hotels provide two room categories — standard twin and standard double. Rooms are western-style, small (usually 16-22 square meters) and clean.

Let us know your style preferences, and our travel consultant will find the most suitable hotel room for you.

Meals

Meals are not included. During a full day tour, your guide will take you to a budget or mid-range restaurant for a quick lunch. These restaurants are often near the train stations, or in malls. You will need to pay on the spot in cash when finished with your meal.

Japan's cuisine is based on combining staple foods, typically rice or noodles, with a soup and okazu — dishes made from fish, meat or vegetables, to add flavor to the staple food. These are typically flavored with dashi, miso and soy sauce.

The most famous Japanese food is sushi. This is cooked vinegared rice (shari) combined with other ingredients (neta).

Other prominent foods are: sashimi, fresh raw meat, most commonly fish, sliced into thin pieces; tempura, seafood or vegetables covered in batter and deep fried; and sukiyaki, a popular dish of thinly sliced beef, served with vegetables, tofu and vermicelli, and usually cooked on a sizzling iron skillet at the table.

If you have special dietary requirements, simply tell your travel agent at the time of booking. Come with an open mind and open mouth, and you won't be disappointed.

Traveling Around by Train

Public transport services in Japan are admirable. Most major cities are connected by shinkansen bullet trains, which speed along at an incredible 300 km/hour. Many famous sightseeing areas lie on or near the bullet train lines between Tokyo, Osaka and Fukuoka, making it convenient to visit places such as Kyoto, Himeji Castle and Hiroshima.

Flying is probably best when travelling from the country's main hubs to some of the more far-flung destinations, such as Okinawa and Hokkaido. Ferries are surprisingly uncommon, as all the major islands are linked by bridges and tunnels.

The Japan Rail Pass offers overseas visitors unlimited travel on a vast network of trains. You can choose a 7-day, 14-day or 21-day pass, first or standard class. It must be purchased before a trip.

Traveling Within Cities by Public Transportation

Local transport systems in major cities are efficient, safe and clean. For example, Tokyo has an extensive metro and over ground rail system, and it is best to use a pre-loaded transport card, such as Suica, to get around. Hold your card against the barriers at the station entrance to access the platform.

Kyoto's bus system is quite convenient for getting around the city and is the best way to reach many of the main attractions. The ICOCA electronic card or a 1-day pass are valid on most forms of city transport.

Taxis can be useful over short distances but they are very expensive during peak travel hours. Not only is public transport typically very convenient in Japan, it is also much cheaper than the average $1,000 a day needed to rent a private car with driver.

Private cars can be arranged, only at a higher price. We recommend using private car services for travelers in family groups, or groups of about 5 people, seeking a more intimate experience.

Pack Light

We recommend packing light and smart for your trip, as you will be required to carry your own luggage between train stations and hotels. This will involve climbing stairs and slopes. Light luggage is also better for bullet trains, which often provide little space for luggage larger than a carry-on suitcase.

For travelers with heavy baggage, it can be difficult to find a particular train or exit during rush hour. But again, Japan's travel infrastructure is among the most advanced in the world, and railway staff and local people generally try to be helpful to foreigners.

Book Early

We always advise booking as early as possible when making travel arrangements in Japan, especially when travelling during the peak periods of March-May or October-November.

Closure of tourist sites can occur at short notice on public holidays. Please be advised that many long-distance trains, ferries, and airlines will be fully booked, as well as hotels and guest houses, during the following peak periods:

New Year holiday season (December 29 to January 3, plus adjacent weekends); "Golden Week" holiday season (April 29 to May 5, and adjacent weekends); "Bon" Festival season (one week around August 15).

Your 1:1 travel consultant will reply within 1 working day.

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