In Japan, traveling through time is as easy as boarding a train. On this 14-day luxury Japan tour, not only are you a student of Japan’s history, culture, and religion, but an active participant as each day takes you further back into the past. Sample cuisine from chefs whose recipes have not changed in centuries, and witness religious rites that predate the European Middle Ages. Every experience serves as your teacher; one whose lessons last a lifetime.
Stay at traditional inns and a Buddhist monastery deep in the Japanese mountains
Learn first-hand the secrets of Japanese art and design from master artisans
Explore a 250-year-old sake brewery followed by an exquisite tasting
Ride the famous Shinkansen, the Japanese Bullet Train, which is one of the fastest trains on Earth
Visit the Todaiji Temple, the largest wooden structure in the world
Explore both the ancient customs of the secluded Takayama, as well as the futuristic attractions of Tokyo
Dine at the finest 3-Michelin star restaurants in Tokyo and Kyoto
Tour At A Glance
(Day 1): Tokyo – Arrival and Welcome Dinner
(Day 2): Tokyo – A Mix of Modern and Ancient
(Day 3): Obuse – Witness Traditional Art and Serene Nature
(Day 4): Narai – Your First Steps on the Nakasendo Trail
(Day 5): Magome – Travel the Trail
(Day 6): Takayama – Where the Present Is Still the Past
(Day 7): Takayama – Let Down Your Hair
(Day 8): Kyoto – Arrive at the Ancient Capital
(Day 9): Kyoto – Immerse Yourself in Japan’s Religious History
(Day 10): Kyoto – Take a Walk Through the Past
(Day 11): Nara – Get to Know Japan’s First Capital
(Day 12): Mount Koya – Experience Japan’s Religious Roots First Hand
(Day 13): Tokyo – Return to the Present Day
(Day 14): Tokyo – Sayonara!
Central Japan is a region known for its tall mountains, deep valleys, and rushing rivers. Many of the villages and towns in this region are untouched by the technological progress and fast-paced life in the big cities. Beginning in futuristic Tokyo, each stop on your journey sends you further into the past.
In feudal times, people traveling from Tokyo and Kyoto used the Nakasendo trail, an ancient highway running through the Japanese Alps. As you make your own journey from Tokyo to Kyoto by train, you become part of this historical tradition, visiting preserved villages and staying at local inns, some of which have been run by the same family for multiple generations.
In the Hida region, you visit the castle town of Takayama, a city isolated for centuries by the mountainous terrain. In the city center, take a private lesson from artisans who produce some of the finest lacquerware, pottery, furniture, and sake found in Japan. Just outside the city is Hida no Sato, the Hida Folk Village. In this open air museum, wander freely through Edo Period homes, and even participate in hand making the traditional crafts that defined the era.
From the mountains, travel by train to Kyoto, the seat of Japan’s government for over 1,000 years. Like the emperors of centuries past, in Kyoto, you dine on the best cuisine Japan has to offer. The cultural treasures once reserved only for Japan’s political and religious leaders are at your fingertips, as well.
Nara, Japan’s capital during the 8th-century, is a quick train ride from Kyoto.
Nara’s ancient temples and shrines are a testament to the glory and influence of Japanese Buddhism. The city’s main attraction is the Todaiji Temple, the largest wooden structure in the world. Within its massive walls is a 49-foot high bronze Buddha, an architectural triumph that leaves you speechless.
Your last night before heading back to Tokyo is spent in a Buddhist temple lodging on one of Mount Koya’s eight summits. In the evening, wander among the thousands of ancient tombs and memorials in the Okunoin cemetery, the final resting place of monks who have called Mount Koya home since the 9th-century.
Along with the beautiful mountain landscapes and wonderful hot springs, each stop offers freshly made local cuisine, such as hida beef, miso bean paste, fresh tofu, and sansai-ryori, mountain vegetables harvested from the wild. Ideal for couples, this two-week tour is best taken in the fall or spring. Private guides fluent in English and Japanese are provided for you in every city.
Our private tours typically range from $500 - $1000 per person/per night depending on chosen hotels and room categories, vehicles used, types of tours, flight cost, time of year and other factors. Make an inquiry for a customized trip quote.
Arrive at Narita International Airport in mid-afternoon and meet your guide just outside immigration. You ride an express train to the city center and check into your luxury hotel. After a chance to freshen up, you dine on a specially prepared welcome dinner at a family-run restaurant known for its succulent Kobe beef that melts in the mouth.
Arguably the capital of the world, Tokyo presents the first time visitor with a multitude of first impressions, many of them contradictory. Teenagers dressed in the wildest fashion trends ride the metro alongside the most formal businessmen. Just around the corner of any ultra-modern office building might be a centuries-old shrine or temple. Today, explore the present and the past at your own pace.
In the early morning, take a leisurely walk through Meiji Park, a peaceful oasis in the middle of Tokyo’s urban chaos. Deep inside the park, you hear only the gentle rustling of birds’ wings and the brooms of Shinto priests sweeping Meiji Shrine. There is no smell of exhaust, just a hint of incense floating on the air. Before entering the shrine, learn how to purify yourself and offer prayers to the gods, traditions that the Japanese have followed since the beginning of their recorded history.
Leaving Meiji Park, ride the Tokyo subway to your next destination, the Ginza District. As you climb up the subway steps to street level, you are greeted by the iconic Wako Department Store, one of the few large buildings in Tokyo to survive the Second World War. Ginza’s stores sell everything from robots at the Sony Showroom to the latest fashions at Hermes.
The options for lunch are limitless. If money is no issue, Tokyo’s fine dining restaurants have won more Michelin stars than Paris. If food on-the-go is more your style, try the Japanese take on fast food at Freshness Burger, or pack yourself between the throngs of loud salarymen at one of the many conveyor belt sushi restaurants outside Ueno Station.
In the afternoon, get a bird’s eye view of the city from the Tokyo Skytree. You can see fifty miles in any direction from the observation deck, including glimpses of the iconic Mount Fuji in the west. For risk takers, stand on the observation deck glass floor to catch the view 1,500 feet below you.
As afternoon turns into evening, your dinner is at Kaikaya, a cozy restaurant featuring a wide variety of sushi. No matter your particular sushi tastes, each bite carries the faintest hint of the ocean, a hallmark of the finest Japanese sushi.
After your meal, step out into the Shibuya nightlife and let the flashing neon, blaring advertisements, and endless crowds bombard your senses. Take part in Shibuya’s famous scramble crossing, where traffic stops in every direction to let thousands of people cross the street at once. While in Shibuya, don’t forget to say hello to Hachiko, a statue commemorating a loyal dog who waited for his deceased owner for years just outside the station’s entrance.
Day 3: Tokyo to Obuse – Witness Traditional Art and Serene Nature
The modern world melts away as you travel by train from Tokyo. From your seat, watch concrete and asphalt transform into tree-covered mountains, deep ravines, and rushing rivers.
Your destination is Obuse, a ‘small’ town of only 11,000 people were ancient traditions are still practiced. Your first stop in Obuse is the Hokusaikan Museum. Hokusai was the master of Ukiyo-e, traditional woodblock printing that has defined Japanese art for over two centuries. In this museum, once home to Hokusai, learn all about this traditional art and view some of Hokusai’s most famous pieces in an intimate setting.
Like Ukiyo-e, sake brewing is one of Japan’s oldest traditional arts. At the Masuichi-Ichimura Sake Brewery, the air is heavy with the strong smell of yeast as your guide instructs you on the brewing of Japan’s most famous beverage. At the end of the tour, sample a wide variety of sake during a private tasting. If you prefer to pair your sake with food, your guide can arrange a lunch reservation at the brewery’s award-winning restaurant.
After lunch in Obuse, take a scenic walk to the Yudanaka Onsen. Onsens, naturally occurring hot springs, are popular with both Japanese people and the country’s wildlife. At Yudanaka, view the famous snow monkeys enjoying the warm waters.
In the evening, check into a minshuku, a renovated travelers’ inn dating back to the 18th century. You room features straw mat floors know as tatami, along with sliding rice paper doors. Along with its historical charm, this and all inns on the tour offer all modern amenities you would expect in a western hotel.
In your room, don a yukata, a traditional Japanese robe designed for relaxation and comfort. A hotel attendant delivers dinner to your room: fresh meat and vegetables harvested from across the region.
Day 4: Obuse to Narai – Your First Steps on the Nakasendo Trail
During the Edo Period (1615-1868), thousands of travelers walked the Nakasendo trail between Tokyo and Kyoto. Like any modern freeway, towns sprung up to offer travelers rest and relaxation. Today you become one of these travelers as your travel from Obuse to Narai.
Upon arrival by train in Narai, you are taken aback at how the city’s main boulevard has not changed in centuries. Feel like a local as your tour some of the perfectly preserved homes open to the public. For lunch, you have your choice of one of Narai’s many restaurants offering a wide range of cuisine from the surrounding Kiso Valley.
In the evening, check into your hotel, a renovated Edo Period home run by a local family. Along with a tour of their home, the owners teach you about the house’s history, which as of tonight you become a part. Like in Obuse, dinner is served in your room.
Unlike travelers centuries ago, you travel the Nakasendo trail by rail and bus rather than on foot. In Tsumago, your guide takes you on a tour of the city folk museum.
After an introduction to the town, visit the Rurisan Kotoku-ji Temple. With the main structure dating back to 1500, the original floors produce the sound of chirping birds when walked upon. At the entrance, take shade under a cherry tree that dates back to the temple’s founding.
In the afternoon, you travel by bus to Magome, another famous stop on the Nakasendo trail. Besides everything you would expect in a traditional minshuku, your hotel this evening includes a sunken Japanese hearth and a bathtub made from hinoki, Japanese cypress. The faint smell of burning wood that drifts through your room takes you back to past centuries when countless travelers ended their day the same way.
Day 6: Magome-Takayama - Where the Present Is Still the Past
Today you leave the Kiso Valley and Nakasendo trail to travel to Takayama, the crown jewel of Japan’s preserved past. Surrounded by snow-capped mountains reminiscent of The Sound of Music, Takayama’s isolation has ensured that its buildings, culture, crafts, and cuisine have barely changed since the 17th-century.
After arriving by train, your first stop is Takayama’s San-machi district, the city’s old town. Indulge in a rickshaw ride as your guide points out the shops and business that the same families have run for generations. After lunch, visit Takayama Jinya, the city’s government office during the Edo Period. As you walk barefoot over tatami mat floors, see where officials of the Shogun performed their duties, and where prisoners met their untimely end.
Dinner this evening is at Suzuya, a sukiyaki restaurant located in the heart of the San-machi district. The meat sizzles right in front of you on a private stove as waiters bring out platters of fresh vegetables picked from the Takayama valley. If you’re feeling adventurous, try some Hida beef sushi; the texture and taste rival the best raw tuna. While at dinner, be sure to pair your meal with sake from one of the city’s many breweries.
There are many options available to fill up your day in Takayama. You might score a deal on some rice at the morning farmers’ market, where merchants from across the city come to sell their fresh produce.
Just outside of Takayama is Hida no Sato, the Hida Folk Village. This open air museum displays a collection of over thirty preserved homes and other structures from around the Hida region, some of which are over 500 years old. Each building is open for exploration, and some have burning fires to offer you the smells that greeted residents when they returned home each day. If you want to take home a unique souvenir, the village offers private classes that teach traditional Japanese sewing and quilting. If you are traveling during the winter, the village is one of the most photogenic spots in all of Japan, as heavy snow caps form on the homes’ thatched roofs.
If you are in the mood to sit back and relax, Takayama offers a variety of onsen baths. Great for couples, the hot mineral water in Takayama’s onsens is pumped directly from geothermal springs underneath the city.
For dinner this evening, your guide provides an array of dining opportunities from which to choose.
Day 8: Takayama-Kyoto – Arrive at the Ancient Capital
You leave the mountains today, traveling by train to Kyoto. For the next three days, Kyoto is your base of operations as you explore Japan’s history, religion, customs, and cuisine.
Arriving in Kyoto in the early afternoon, your first taste of the city is its famous Gion District. Gion, once a stop catering to travelers, is now the most well-known geisha district in Japan. Though much of Kyoto is modern, the city has ensured that Gion retains the look and feel of the past. There are many options for experiencing Gion’s timeless charm, including a tea ceremony at a geisha house.
Kyoto cuisine is defined by its kaiseki restaurants, where artistic presentation is just as important as taste. This evening you dine at Nakamura, a three-Michelin-star restaurant that has perfected the kaiseki experience. Each course has no more than a bite or two, as the meal is a feast for the senses. You may even find yourself taking more pictures of your dinner than anything else in Kyoto!
Day 9: Kyoto – Immerse Yourself in Japan’s Religious History
As it was Japan’s capital for over a thousand years, Kyoto is home to some of the country’s most famous temples and shrines. Just after dawn, watch the early morning light reflect off Kinkaku-ji’s gold leaf exterior. If the weather is calm and clear, witness a second Kinkaku-ji form in the still waters of the pond that surrounds the temple.
From Kinkaku-ji, you are off to Kiyomizu-dera, one of the most famous Buddhist temples in Japan. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the temple dates back to 778. From its main terrace, absorb the bird’s eye view of Kyoto and the surrounding mountains. The terrace is also one of the best places to view Kyoto’s fall foliage. And if you’re traveling with your spouse or significant other, make sure to walk between the ‘love stones’ to see if you’re a good match.
You arrive at Ryoanji Temple as midday turns to late afternoon. Constructed in 1499, the temple features the Hojo Garden, arguably Japan’s most famous rock garden. For over 500 years, the temple’s monks have maintained the garden’s design, raking the stones each morning to ensure that visitors can enjoy the garden’s depiction of nature. Here, take the time to mediate or simply relax. And with the temple tucked away in Kyoto’s northwest corner, lose yourself in the sounds of chirping birds and the gentle breeze.
In the evening, your guide provides a list of options for dinner.
In the early 20th century, Japanese philosopher Kitaro Nishida pondered the differences between Eastern and Western philosophy as he wandered an unassuming footpath among Kyoto’s canals and cherry trees. This morning, you follow in Nishida’s footsteps as you take the Philosopher’s Walk. Though the walk itself lasts only half an hour, you find yourself constantly pausing, as every corner seems to reveal a new shrine or different face of Kyoto’s natural beauty. If traveling in the spring, the Philosopher’s Walk offers the best hanami, or cherry blossom viewing, in all of Kyoto.
For lunch, take advantage of one of the many small restaurants visited by locals and tourists alike. Your guide is on hand to make recommendations based on your tastes, and can offer assistance in ordering food.
In the afternoon, your walking tour of Kyoto continues with a visit to Fushimi Inari-Taisha shrine. As you take the gentle path up the mountain, you walk under thousands of tightly packed torii gates. Torii marks the entrance to Japan’s Shinto shrines, and walking under one or more signifies your entrance into a sacred space. At the end of your journey, you arrive at the main temple with its many statues of kitsune, foxes, and excellent views of Kyoto. Take time to tour the temple’s many gardens before heading back down the mountain.
In the evening, there is time to rest in your hotel room before dinner at a local restaurant.
Today you travel by local train to Nara, Japan’s capital from 710 to 784. Your first stop is Todaiji Temple, the largest wooden building in the world. Though the building itself was rebuilt 1709 after an earthquake and fire, the 49-foot high bronze Buddha dates back to 752, when 10,000 monks participated in a grand ceremony to ‘open’ the Buddha’s eyes. Walk among the temple’s hundreds of cultural treasures, including galleries of artwork dating back over 1,000 years.
When Nara was Japan’s capital, its cuisine catered to both Japan’s ruling class and religious leaders. For lunch, choose to eat like an emperor (or monk) at a local restaurant. Be sure to try nyumen, one of the first noodle dishes imported from China to Japan. If Nara’s bold flavors should grab ahold of your palate, a variety of shops along Higashimuki Shopping Street sell everything you’ll need to bring the taste of Nara to friends and loved ones back home.
There are many options to spend a pleasant afternoon in Nara. Stroll through Nara Park and get to know the friendly deer. Or if history is your passion, spend time in the Nara National Museum, viewing Japanese scrolls dating back to the 12th-century.
During your trip back to Kyoto, your guide provides a list of options for dinner. Freshen up in your hotel room before your last night out on the town.
Day 12: Mount Koya – Experience Japan’s Religious Roots First Hand
Today offers a remarkably unique experience on your tour of Japan’s past. In the morning, say goodbye to Kyoto and board a local train heading south into some of Japan’s most mountainous terrain, where the dense canopy provides permanent shade on even the sunniest of days.
In the 9th-century, the monk Kobo Daishi chose Mount Koya for his temple after many years of wandering. For him, the location was ideal, as the mountain’s eight peaks resemble a blooming lotus flower. From this location, Shingon Buddhism was born. Today you step into the world where at over a hundred temples, monks continue the practices that Kobo Daishi started 1,200 years ago.
Your time on Mount Koya is much more than just observing local traditions. Your accommodations this evening are a Buddhist temple that has for centuries offered lodging to pilgrims and travelers. After settling into your room, a monk will take you on a private tour of the temple grounds.
As Buddhist monks abstain from meat, your dinner this evening is the same locally-harvested vegetarian cuisine that the monks prepare for themselves. After dinner, take in Mount Koya’s true beauty with a nighttime walk among flickering stone lanterns, temples, and cemeteries.
Day 13: Mount Koya-Tokyo – Return to the Present Day
Rise early with the monks to participate in morning meditation and ceremonies. After breakfast, there is time for a final walk through Japan’s natural beauty as the morning fog burns away.
In late morning, say goodbye to Mount Koya and Japan’s past as you take the futuristic N700 shinkansen from Kyoto to Tokyo. Though the shinkansen travels at nearly 200 miles per hour, the ride is so smooth that you can balance a 100-yen coin on its edge. If hunger should strike during the journey, take advantage of the trolley service. Though pre packaged, these meals’ freshness matches any of the food you’ve had so far in Japan. If you wish to rest during the trip, upgrading to a seat in the Green Car provides a more luxurious seat and personalized service.
After arriving in Tokyo, there is leisure time in the afternoon to see one last of the city’s many sites before a farewell dinner at Kanda. An intimate dining experience, watch a three-Michelin-star chef specially prepare for you an unforgettable meal that might forever change your perceptions of fine dining. After dinner, check into your luxury hotel located in the city center.
The last two weeks seem like a dream as you wake up on your last morning in Japan. After breakfast at the hotel, your guide sees you safely aboard an express train to Narita International Airport, where your flight home awaits you.