Day 1 – Arrive in Tokyo, Japan. Welcome to Japan’s capital city. Hotel rooms are available for mid-afternoon check-in.
Day 2 – Tokyo. Meet your Tour Director and traveling companions prior to morning sightseeing in Tokyo, home to more than 8 million people. Your tour takes you to the MEIJI SHRINE, a magnificent 20th-century Shinto monument set in a man-made forest, followed by a drive to see the Imperial Palace Plaza. Next, visit an ARTIST’S STUDIO and enjoy demonstrations by a master calligrapher before trying it yourself. You will also have an opportunity to try on a traditional KIMONO and join a TEA CEREMONY. Last stop is the ASAKUSA KANNON TEMPLE and the NAKAMISE SHOPPING ARCADE. The balance of the afternoon is at leisure. Tonight, join your traveling companions at a welcome dinner hosted by your Tour Director. After dinner, take a WALKING TOUR with your Tour Director among the dazzling neon lights of Tokyo.
Day 3 – Tokyo – Kamakura – Mount Fuji Area. This morning, leave Tokyo and head south along the coast to Kamakura to see the 750-year-old Great Buddha. Continue on to the Mount Fuji area for a CRUISE on Lake Ashi, followed by a CABLE-CAR RIDE for panoramic views of spectacular Mount Fuji (weather permitting).
Day 4 – Mount Fuji Area – Matsumoto – Takayama. Journey to Matsumoto, gateway to the Japanese Alps. Visit famous MATSUMOTO CASTLE, dating back to 1593, and discover the history at the MATSUMOTO CITY MUSEUM. Later, travel through the ruggedly beautiful Japanese Alps to the quiet, isolated town of Takayama, where old traditions are untouched by the passage of time. Tonight, enjoy a wonderful Japanese-style dinner at your hotel.
Day 5 – Takayama. Today begins with a visit to the MORNING MARKET, where farmers display locally grown fruits, vegetables, and flowers. Then, visit TAKAYAMA JINYA, a former government office during the Edo Period from 1692-1868. This well-preserved building is a national historic site and the only remaining building of its kind in Japan. Continue on to the San-Machi Suji historic district”famous for lacquerware shops and sake breweries, and identified by the sugidama, balls made of cedar branches that hang over the entrances. Stop at one of the breweries for a SAKE TASTING. The balance of the day is at leisure, providing you time to explore the narrow streets where merchants buy and sell as they have for 300 years.
Day 6 – Takayama – Shirakawa – Kanazawa. This morning, enjoy a drive through the mountainous Shokawa Valley to Shirakawa. This remote region of Japan is home to several UNESCO World Heritage Sites due to the unique GASSHO-ZUKURI (joined hands)-style thatched houses that can be found only here. Continue to the scenic town of Kanazawa, situated between the mountains and the Sea of Japan and once the country’s richest region. Your Tour Director leads you on a tour of one of Japan’s greatest gardens, KENROKU-EN, the “Garden of Six Qualities,” dating from the 1670s. Afterward, partake in a GOLD LEAF CLASS, where you learn more about this ancient traditional craft and make your own bento box souvenir. Your included dinner tonight is at your choice of one of three restaurants at your hotel.
Day 7 – Kanazawa – Kyoto. This morning, travel along the Sea of Japan to Kyoto. Upon arrival, visit the FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE, renowned for the thousands of brightly colored Torii Gates. Next, stop at SANJUSANGENDO TEMPLE, famous for its 1,001 statues of Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy. Flanking the main statue are 1,000 more life-sized statues, covered in gold leaf, with 40 arms said to have the power to save 25 worlds. Continue on to the Higashiyama District to visit KIYOMIZU TEMPLE, the “Pure Water Temple,” with stunning views over Kyoto. Along the way, walk through the busy streets where shops and restaurants have been catering to pilgrims for centuries. Lastly, take a WALKING TOUR through Gion, Kyoto’s most famous geisha district, which is also known for its high concentration of machiya-style merchant houses. If luck is on your side, you may even see a geisha or a geisha-in-training, called a maiko. This evening you may choose to stay in a traditional Japanese ryokan.
Day 8 – Kyoto. This morning starts with a visit to stunning Kinkakuji, the TEMPLE OF THE GOLD PAVILION. Next, visit YUZEN HANDMADE CORNER to learn about the Yuzen dyeing technique used to decorate kimonos by painting dye directly on the cloth. You will be invited to participate in making your own souvenir using this traditional method. For lunch, participate in a special JAPANESE COOKING CLASS. Under the instruction of a local chef you will learn how to make miso soup, teriyaki chicken, and makizushi, more commonly known as a sushi roll. This afternoon, take an excursion to NARA, the oldest capital of Japan. Here, visit two separate UNESCO World Heritage Sites. First, at Nara Park, is TODAIJI TEMPLE, built in 752 AD and one of Japan’s most famous significant temples. Rebuilt after a fire in 1692, the temple is only two-thirds its original size, yet remains the world’s largest wooden building. The Daibutsu (Giant Buddha) inside the main hall is made of copper and bronze, and is the largest in all of Japan, weighing in at 250 tons and standing some 49 feet tall! Nearby is KASUGA SHRINE, known for its 3,000 stone and bronze lanterns. Return to Kyoto for the evening.
Day 9 – Kyoto. A full day at leisure to explore more of Kyoto’s temples, shrines, palaces, and pagodas. Tonight your Tour Director hosts a farewell dinner to celebrate your discovery of Japan.