Discovery of Japan - Half Guided

14 Days, from AU $3,407

Historic Village of Shirakawago

Torii Gate, Miyajima 

Park in Nara

Spring in Kyoto

Takayama

Tsumago

Charry Blossoms, Kanazawa Castle

Experience the cultural and edifying traditions, spectacular architecture and sublime natural landscapes that create the unfailing allure of stunning Japan. Traverse the villages and valleys, temples and towns as you embark on an immersive 14 day tour that begins in Tokyo, Japan's eclectic and diverse capital. Visit the major landmarks and learn about its people from the Geisha to fashion clad youth that tread the streets of Harajuku.
 
From Tokyo it's off to Nikko for a day trip to visit the lavishly decorated Toshugu-shrine complex, situated amid a beautiful forest setting and declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Then we head into the Japanese Alps in the Nagano Prefecture to the stunning Kiso Valley Region. After following in the footsteps of samurais and lords as you hike the old Nakasendo to Magome, we make our way to the beautifully preserved old town of Takayama. Visit traditional morning markets and learn about the production of local handicrafts including wood carving, weaving and lacquering.
 
Take in the sights and sounds of Kanazawa Castle before boarding a train to Hiroshima. Famous for being the target of the first atomic bomb, it is now a thriving and mesmerizing city. Hiroshima is one of Japan's most laid back and welcoming destinations with an endearing and friendly community of people.
 
We also encompass Kyoto, the former imperial capital known as Japan's cultural center, and Nara, a former capital in the 8th century. Nara still has many of the temples and shrines built at that time and we would always recommend visiting Todaiji Temple, the world's largest wooden building and home to Japan's largest Buddha, and Kasuga Taisha, Nara's most celebrated shrine.

Our Half-Guided itineraries are perfect for independent travellers who want to explore the destination by themselves but do not want to miss professional support and some guided excursions. All itineraries include accommodations, transportation tickets and assistance on departure and arrivals as well as a detailed outlay of optional day activities. Discuss itinerary options and extensions with our Asia Travel Experts.

Suggested Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Tokyo

Upon your arrival at Tokyo Airport, one of our representatives will meet you and assist you with boarding the right train or shared shuttle bus to your hotel.

The rest of the day is at leisure.

Day 2: Tokyo

This morning your guide will meet you at your hotel to take you to a full day of sightseeing in Tokyo, utilizing the city’s efficient train system.

The day will begin with a stroll through Hama-Rikyu Teien, the former private garden of an Edo Period lord. Take a break in the tea house known as Nakajima no Chaya which stands elegantly in the park’s lake. Here, you will have the chance to get a taste of matcha, or Japanese green tea.

You will then have the opportunity to see Tokyo from a different angle as you take the boat cruise along the Sumida River.

Next stop will be Asakusa, a part of Tokyo’s shitamachi, or old town. Asakusa is the city’s oldest Geisha district and also the home to Senso-ji Temple, Tokyo’s oldest Buddhist temple. The streets around Senso-ji feature many traditional shops that sell Japanese crafts and souvenirs and are a delight to wander through.

In the afternoon, head across Tokyo to Omotesando, commonly referred to as Tokyo’s Champs-Elysee. This broad, tree-lined avenue boasts a multitude of fashion flagship stores designed by internationally renowned architects.

Before the tour ends, take time to explore Meiji Shrine, which is Tokyo’s most famous shrine, dedicated to the spirit of the late Emperor Meiji.

Day 3: Tokyo, Optional Day Trip to Nikko

Take the journey into the mountains of Nikko, another prefecture that holds a couple of UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Your guide will meet you at JR Nikko Station, and from there, you will be escorted to some of the famous places in Nikko that includes the following:

Toshogu Shrine Complex:

The shrine which was built as a mausoleum for Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate who ruled Japan for over 250 years. This lavishly decorated shrine complex consists of more than a dozen Shinto and Buddhist buildings located in a beautiful forest setting.

Tamozawa Imperial Villa:

This lovely villa once served as the summer house of the Imperial Family before WWII. You will see the intricate interior design of the house, with some parts transferred all the way from Tokyo. You will also have a chance to walk through the gardens and see the house from the outside. The beauty of the garden does not disappoint, for it remains breathtaking no matter the season.

Afterwards, your guide will escort you to the station, where you will catch the train back to Tokyo.

Day 4: Tokyo – Kiso Valley

Today is a self-guided day.

It’s time to leave the big city behind and start your journey to Kiso Valley. The first leg of your trip will be via the world-famous shinkansen (bullet train), which can reach speeds of up to 270kph. The second one will be via the limited express train ‘Wide View’, which offers one of the most scenic train journeys in Japan.

Kiso Valley is the place famous for trekkers and hikers for its amazing views of the surrounding Japan Alps, flowing Kiso River, and well-preserved Edo village. The most visited area in the valley is the Magome-Tsumago portion of Nakasendo Road, the famous trade route that runs from Tokyo all the way to Kyoto.

Suggested Self-Guide Itinerary:

Upon arriving at Nakatsugawa Station, you can catch the bus departing for Magome (pay on spot), one of the starting points for and post towns along the Nakasendo Road. The distance from Magome to Tsumago is approximately 8km long and can be covered at a leisurely pace in about 3 hours. This well-maintained section of the trail leads through the countryside and passes right alongside the houses and fields of local residents.

Tonight you will experience staying in a minshuku, a traditional Japanese-style family house. Your room is furnished with tatami mat flooring and shoji rice paper sliding doors.

For dinner, you will have a kaiseki multi-course meal consisting of some local produce. Before lying in your futon, we suggest taking a warm bath in the ofuro.

Luggage Delivery Service:

For a more convenient travel in Kiso Valley, you can choose to send your luggage to your accommodation in Tsumago through Magome Tourist Office. Alternatively, you can prepare a small overnight bag and send the rest of your luggage to Takayama (at own expense).

Day 5: Kiso Valley – Takayama

Today is a self-guided day.

This morning, after a healthy Japanese-style breakfast, get ready for your journey to Takayama, a small town nestled high in the Hida Alpine region of Gifu Prefecture.

Suggested Self-Guided Itinerary:

We recommend strolling in Takayama’s shitamachi (old town), where the streets are lined with sake breweries, old merchants’ homes, and local stores. Visit one of the breweries and have a taste of the local drop, go to the famous restaurant that sells Hida beef sushi, or stop by one of the cafés for some afternoon tea.

Alternatively, you can go to Takayama Festival Floats Museum instead, which displays the colorful floats that parade during the famous Takayama Festivals in spring and in autumn.

While in Takayama, you will be staying in a ryokan, a traditional Japanese-style accommodation furnished with zaisu (no-leg chairs), a low table, shoji (sliding doors), and tatami flooring.

For dinner, you will have a traditional kaiseki ryori (multi-course) meal that features the local produce that includes fresh vegetables, seafood, and the Hida beef, which comes next to the Kobe beef in terms of taste and quality.

A soak in the onsen (hot spring) is recommended before you turn in as it will help you relax after having a long day of traveling and sightseeing.

Distance and journey time:

Tsumago bus stop to Nagiso bus stop (4 km): approx. 10 min

JR Nagiso Station to JR Takayama Station: approx. 4 hr 15 min

Day 6: Takayama – Shirakawago

Today is a self-guided day.

Suggested Self-Guide Itinerary:

This morning after breakfast, make your way to the Miyagawa Morning Market where locals sell their handmade crafts and local produce (depending on the season, the markets open as early as 6:00 a.m.). This is also the perfect place to purchase some souvenirs such as chopsticks, Ichii Itto-bori (wood carvings), and the iconic Sarubobo.

Around noon, catch the bus for Shirakawago, the region in Toyama Prefecture famous for its UNESCO World Heritage gassho-zukuri farmhouses. Gassho-zukuri means "constructed like hands in prayer," and the farmhouses' steep thatched roofs resemble the praying hands of Buddhist monks. The architectural style developed over many generations and some of the houses are even more than 250 years old. The roofs, which were constructed without any nails, are intricately designed to withstand the large amounts of heavy snow in winter and the large attic was used to cultivate silkworms.

Suggested Self-Guide Itinerary:

Stroll around the main area in Shirakawago and visit a couple of farmhouses like the Wada House, a legacy left behind by the Wada Family, who was one of the richest families and village leaders in Ogimachi. Their status in the community was well represented by the size of their house as it was and still is the largest gassho-zukuri farmhouse in the village. What’s trivial about this house is that no nails were used but just ropes that hold everything together. Inside you will find a number of antiques such as silk worm installations, looms, and irori, the traditional sunken hearth used for heating and for cooking.

In Shirakawago you will experience staying in a minshuku, a traditional Japanese-style family house. This is also an opportunity to see and examine the architectural design of a gasshho-zukuri building.

You will be dining around an irori and your dinner is going to be another Japanese-style multi-course meal.

Overnight in Shirakawago.

Distance and journey time:

Takayama bus terminal to Shirakawago bus stop (47 km): approx. 50 min

Day 7: Shirakawago – Kanazawa

Today is a self-guided day.

Rise up early and continue on with your journey by bus heading all the way down to Kanazawa. In the 17th century, this beautifully preserved castle town used to be Japan's wealthiest area. Nowadays, it’s a thriving centre for culture and the arts.

Suggest Self-Guide Itinerary:

Start with the pristine Kenroku Garden, which is ranked as one of Japan’s top three gardens. Aside from the ponds and the trees, you will also find here the oldest functioning water fountain in the country, a couple of teahouses, and a large villa that used to be the retirement home of one of the richest clans in Kanazawa.

Located adjacent to Kenroku Garden is Kanazawa Castle, which can be conveniently accessed through the Ishikawa-mon Gate, a designated Important National Cultural Asset.

From the castle grounds, you can go to Higashi Chaya District, one of the three, well-preserved chaya districts in Kanazawa. A cha-ya, which means ‘teahouse’ in Japanese, was where a Geisha used to entertain her guests with a song or a dance. Here you will find Hakuza, the shop that sells one of Kanazawa’s specialties – gold leaf products. The tearoom inside the shop is totally covered in gold!

Day 8: Kanazawa – Hiroshima

Today is a self-guided day.

Before starting your journey to the historical city of Hiroshima, you may want to visit a couple more places in Kanazawa, discovering both the traditional and the modern sides of the city.

Suggested Self-Guide Itinerary:

You can go to the samurai village of Nagamachi and visit Nomura House, a restored samurai house that showcases the artefacts during the golden era of the Japanese warriors. You can also stop by the teahouse to have some fresh green tea and traditional Japanese confectionery.

On your way back to the center of the town, a sudden change in the atmosphere will take place as you visit the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, which is known for its progressive architecture and ever-changing exhibits. One of the permanent artworks in the museum is Leandro Erlich’s “Swimming Pool,” a pool wherein people can enter and appear as if they are underwater.

Overnight in Hiroshima.

Distance and journey time:

JR Kanazawa Station to JR Hiroshima Station: approx. 4.5 hr

Day 9: Hiroshima and Miyajima

Today is a self-guided day.

Suggested Self-Guide Itinerary:

From mainland Hiroshima, you can take the train to Miyajima-guchi, where a short ferry ride will take you to Miyajima, a small sacred island located in the Seto Inland Sea. Outside the port, you will be surprised to see some deer walking around. You will have time to explore the island and a couple of its shrines and temples and even sample some local delicacies like oysters, anago (saltwater eel), and momiji manju (maple leaf-shaped cakes).

At noon, head back to Hiroshima to visit the Peace Memorial Park and Museum. There you will also find the heart-rending A-Bomb Dome and the Children’s Peace Monument.

Overnight in Hiroshima.

Distance and journey time:

JR Hiroshima Station to JR Miyajimaguchi Station: approx. 30 min

Miyajiimaguchi Station to Miyajimaguchi Port (400 m): approx. 10 min (on foot)

Miyajimaguchi Port to Miyajima Port (island): approx. 10 min (ferry)

Day 10: Hiroshima – Kotohira

Today is a self-guided day.

Venture by train to Shikoku Island. The smallest of Japan’s main islands and the least visited by tourists, Shikoku charms lie in its amazing scenery and hidden treasures.

Kotohira is a small town on Shikoku famous for Kompirasan, the island’s most popular shrine. Kompirasan is dedicated to seafaring and is said to have one of the most difficult shrine approaches in Japan.

Kompirasan is located on the wooded slope of Mt. Zozu in Kotohira, the approach to Kompirasan is an arduous series of 1,368 stone steps.

Over many centuries, Kompirasan had been revered as a mixture between Shinto shrine and Buddhist temple until it was officially declared a shrine in the beginning of the Meiji Period during government efforts to separate the two religions. Nevertheless, the former symbiosis is still visible in Kompirasan's architecture which displays both Shinto and Buddhist elements. Despite being one of the most difficult shrine approaches in Japan, Kompirasan is a highly popular site visited by pilgrims from across the country.

Most visitors only make it up to the main hall; however, for the adventurous, it is an additional 583 steps (an additional 45 minutes) along a paved, forested path to the inner shrine (Okusha) of the complex.

Tonight you will be staying in a ryokan with included dinner. Your ryokan has some of the most amazing baths in Japan, its outdoor baths offer views of Kompira.

Overnight in Kotohira

Distance and journey time:

JR Hiroshima Station to JR Kotohira Station: approx. 2 hr 15 min

Day 11: Kotohira – Kyoto

This morning, head out to Kansai region for Kyoto, the cultural capital of Japan and home to around 2,000 shrines and temples, 17 of which are UNESCO World Heritage sites.

In the afternoon, you will engage in a cultural experience after visiting a famous market in Kyoto.

Meet your local guide at the designated meeting spot in Nishiki Market from where you will embark on a tour that will delight your senses.

You will first have a guided tour in the mile-long Nishiki, passing by some interesting food stalls and learning about the local Japanese produce, while your guide assists you in buying the right ingredients that you will need in your cooking class. Your guide will then take you to the backstreets to visit a former sake brewery and have the chance to sample the local brew before heading to the cooking class venue. (Note: In case the brewery is closed, the admission ticket to the brewery is offered so that clients can visit on other days during their stay in Kyoto).

Your cooking class will take place in a machiya, a well-restored wooden house that is typical for Kyoto. This afternoon, you will learn how to make rolled sushi, miso soup and salad, with a seasonal fruit for dessert. After your class, you will have the chance to sit down and share the meal with your teacher.

The activity finishes at the venue, with the rest of the evening free at leisure.

Overnight in Kyoto

Distance and journey time:

JR Kotohira Station to JR Kyoto Station: 2 hr 30 min

Day 12: Kyoto

Today you will explore the former imperial capital with a guide, utilizing the city’s comprehensive bus and subway system.

You will start your day with a visit to Nijo Castle. This ornamental castle, surrounded by stunning gardens, was built by the founder of the Edo Shogunate as his Kyoto residence. The main building was completed in 1603 and is well-known for its Momoyama architecture, decorated sliding doors, and ‘chirping nightingale’ floors.

Continue on to Ryoan-ji Temple, the site of Japan's most famous rock garden. Originally served as an aristocrat's villa during the Heian Period, the site was later on converted into a Zen Buddhist temple in the year 1450.

In the afternoon, you will go to Kinkaku-ji Temple, or the Golden Pavilion, which was originally built as a retirement villa for the Shogun. After his death, it became a Buddhist Temple at his request and is now one of Kyoto’s most famous temples.

The final stop will be at Kiyomizu-dera, the temple situated on Mt. Otowa. The most impressive part of the temple is probably the veranda, which stands at 13 meters tall and was built without any nails. The view from the veranda is breath-taking, especially when the sakura (cherry blossoms) are in full bloom or when the leaves change color in fall.

Afterwards, descend from the temple and stroll through the atmospheric Higashiyama district, small lanes filled with quaint shops that sell souvenirs including Kiyomizu-yaki pottery, sweets, and pickles.

Day 13: Kyoto, Day Trip to Nara

Today is a self-guided day.

Suggested Self-Guide Itinerary:

This morning, you have the option to go out of town and travel to Nara with your Japan Rail Pass. For 74 years during the 8th century, Nara was Japan’s capital and many of the temples and shrines built at that time still remain.

Nara is just a small town, with most of its main tourist spots located around Nara Park, where you can encounter quite a great number of tamed deer. You can visit Todaiji Temple, the world’s largest wooden building and home to Japan’s largest Buddha, or Kasuga Taisha, Nara’s most celebrated shrine.

Distance and journey time:

JR Kyoto Station to JR Nara Station: approx. 45 min *via Rapid train

Day 14: Departure from Kyoto

The rest of the day is at leisure until your scheduled transfer via shared shuttle van to Kansai International Airport.

Travel Styles

All Get About Asia trips have been designed to make sure you have an unforgettable travel experience. We have developed several trip styles to cater for our diverse range of travellers. Read what your ideal Get About Asia experience might look like here.

Standard:from AU $3,407
Superior:from AU $4,323
Deluxe:from AU $6,407

All GetAboutAsia prices are based on twin share and depend on availability and season. All our itineraries can be customised including international flights and extra nights. For questions or further information, Enquire Now!

Important Information

Accommodation:

Accommodation each night of the itinerary (excluding your departure day). 

Inclusions:
  • Hotel accommodation in twin room with daily breakfast (for ryokan, minshuku, and other traditional accommodation, rooms are Japanese-style with futon and meals are half board).
  • Meet and greet at the airport and return transfers to the airport.
  • 14-Day Japan Rail Pass in ordinary class, activated on Day 1.
  • PASMO Transport Pass at a value of 1,500 JPY for Day 2.
  • One-way bus ticket from Takayama to Shirakawago for Day 6 (reserved seats).
  • One-way bus ticket from Shirakawago to Kanazawa for Day 7 (reserved seats).
  • 1-Day Hiroden Tram and Ferry Pass for Day 9.
  • 2-Day Kyoto Bus and Subway Pass from Day 11.
  • English-speaking guides in Tokyo (Day 2), Nikko (Day 3, half-day), and Kyoto (Day 12)
  • All entrance fees and public transportation fees as mentioned in the itinerary on Days 2, 3, and 12.
  • Nishiki Market Tour and Cooking Class on Day 11.
  • Information Pack.
Notes:
  • Nakajima no Chaya is closed during the Tokyo Grand Tea Ceremony (schedule is not set and may be held irregularly. Please check with your Travel Consultant).
  • Tamozawa Imperial Villa is closed on Tuesdays (if Tuesday is a national holiday, closed the following day) and during year-end holidays (usually between December 29 and January 3).
  • Some of the sake breweries in Takayama are closed on some days and the restaurant that sells Hida beef sushi is closed on Tuesdays.
  • Wada House and other gassho-zukuri farmhouses in Shirakawago are closed on some days.
  • Nijo Castle is closed on Tuesdays (if Tuesday is a national holiday, closed the following day).
  • The Nishiki Market tour and cooking class is a shared activity, so there may be other participants present.
  • For safety reasons, some public transport may stop operating in case of unfavorable weather conditions.
  • Please inform your travel agent of any special dietary requirements that you may have.
Price Dependent:

Availability and season.

Japan experiences dramatic pricing fluctuations based on Festivals, Domestic holidays and in some instances on weekends. Please consult with your Travel Consultant for exact pricing over a specific date. Reservations during weekends, peak season, and Japanese public holidays will be subject to supplementary charges.

Trip Information

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"I had a wonderful time first time to Japan with a great group of people. Loved the tea ceremony, geisha searching in Kyoto and quirkiness of Tokyo." — Ms Long, Maroochydore, May 2018

"We had a great time! Every day was a new adventure and we saw and did far more than we thought possible. Thank you so much for all your help in arranging! All the best for a wonderful Christmas and we'll certainly recommend GetAboutAsia to anyone we know who is looking for a trip/holiday in that region." — Mr and Mrs Keeble, Sydney, NSW, November 2015

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