Essential Japan: Tokyo & Kyoto
Get it all in just a week on Honshu, Japan’s main island. Visit the temples and modern towers of Tokyo. Relish the sight of Mt. Fuji from the resort town of Hakone, and soak up the culture of Kyoto. It’s a nonstop ride of temples, volcanoes, geisha and more, just perfect for a weeklong excursion.
Day 1 Arrival Tokyo
Arrive today at Narita International Airport where our bus and guide await. Transfer from here about one hour into Japan’s capital, Tokyo. From 1603 Tokyo, has been the center of Japanese power. Formerly known as Edo, it received its current name in 1868 when the Imperial government was restored. Meaning, quite literally, East Capital, Tokyo is a powerhouse among cities and it’s got everything: history, culture, modern fads and fashions, shopping, and electronics to name a few.
Check in to the hotel this evening and have the rest of the night at leisure.
Overnight in Tokyo
Day 2 Tokyo
Today’s tour will run the gamut of Tokyo, experiencing a little piece of Japanese culture at a time. Begin with the Meiji Shrine. Dedicated to a former emperor who helped to modernize Japan and accelerate her into the 20th century, this shrine is a beautiful example of Japan’s deep connection with nature and history.
Afterward, take a turn for the modern at Takeshita street. This area hosts various shops for the fashion conscious Tokyo youth, and the latest fads are always on display. After a walk through here, take the next street, Omote Sando, Tokyo’s Champs-Elysees. This beautiful avenue is lined with all kinds of shops and cafes for a relaxing day out.
Transfer later to the Asakusa area to visit a Tokyo staple–Sensoji Temple. Also known as “Asakusa Kannon” temple, Sensoji has been in continuous existence for nearly 1,400 years. Dedicated to the Bodhisattva Kannon, this temple has been a popular site for worship since its inception. Nakamise, a line of shops near the temple, offers a great chance to sample various kinds of Japanese snacks.
Finally, transfer a few minutes to Tokyo Sky Tree, a broadcasting tower that stands 634 meters above sea level—the tallest structure in Japan. Take in the view from the middle deck, which offers some great views over Tokyo on a sunny day.
Transfer back to the hotel this evening.
Overnight in Tokyo
Day 3 Tokyo – Hakone
Mt. Fuji attracts thousands, if not millions of visitors every year. They flock to the mountain not only for its beauty but also for the many hot springs surrounding it. Hakone, hardly two hours away from Tokyo by rail, is a popular spot to visit as it affords excellent views of the mountain on clear days. Take the limited express train from Shinjuku Station. Then enjoy the Hakone area’s many great attractions, including the Hakone Ropeway and a pleasant cruise down Lake Ashi.
This evening enjoy onsen, Japanese style hot spring. Its’ a great way to soothe tired legs and rejuvenate after a long day exploring. A word of caution: bathing is done in nude (but separated by gender). And sorry, if you have a tattoo, you may not be permitted to enter the bath.
Overnight in Hakone
Day 4 Hakone – Kyoto
Check out from the hotel this morning and take the train to Odawara station. Switch to the Shinkansen from there, bound for Kyoto. Not only are these machines some of the fastest trains in the world, traveling at a maximum of 285km on some sections of track, but they are also some of the most frequent—in some cases leaving the station once every two minutes.
The former seat of the Japanese Imperial Court, Kyoto was the capital of Japan for over a thousand years. As the center of power in Japan, it was from here that many Japanese customs and traditions emerged. Though Kyoto has changed and adapted to modern times the old ways persist.
An English-speaking guide awaits at Kyoto station. First, eat lunch at the station, then transfer to Fushimi Inari shrine, only a few minutes away from the station.
Dedicated to the Shinto diety of agriculture and business, Fushimi Inari is famous for its “Senbontorii” the thousands of torii gates that line its mountain paths. Each gate is donated by a person, or sometimes a company. Indeed, many famous Japanese companies have their names written on a few of the gates. A hike through the gates takes about an hour and along the way there are many buildings of interest each with its own unique history.
Next head a bit further north to a lesser known but equally impressive temple. The Buddhist temple of Sanjusangendo holds one of Kyoto’s more spectacular displays. Though perhaps unassuming on the inside, within this temple’s main hall is a collection of 1,001 statues of Kannon, the goddess of Mercy.
After visiting the temple, turn for the hotel and check in. Enjoy dinner on your own tonight.
Overnight in Osaka
Day 5 Kyoto
Take a stroll through Kyoto’s most famous and popular district, Higashiyama. Here the old ways of Kyoto are still strong, and many of her most beautiful temples can be seen. Geiko and Maiko are sometimes seen roaming the streets of the Gion district, moving from one appointment to another as they have for hundreds of years. Meanwhile monks and priests still live and work among the many mountainside temples.
Our tour begins at Kyoto station and heads directly to Higashi-Honganji temple. This massive structure is part of a larger complex of temples (there is another on the west side) and head of the Jodo-shin sect of Japanese Buddhism. Finish here, then head to central Kyoto to visit the Nijo castle, a former residence of the Tokugawa Shoguns, who ruled Japan for nearly three hundred years.
Next is the Yasaka Shrine, located in Maruyama park, just north of Gion. Visit the park and shrine, then take lunch before walking south through avenues of preserved machiya at Ninenzaka and Sanenzaka. There’s plenty to see here with shops of every kind selling souvenirs and snacks. At the end of this district, find Kiyomizudera . Translated literally the name means, Temple of the Pure Water—so named for the Otawa spring, in its center. It is thought that water here can offer special benefits to those who imbibe, such as long life, success in love, or to do well in school.
Afterward transfer to the temple of Ginkaku-ji, otherwise known as the Silver Pavilion. This temple is widely known for its beautiful garden and relaxing atmosphere.
Overnight in Kyoto
Day 6 Departure
It’s time to bid farewell to the Land of the Rising Sun. Transfer from Kyoto to Kansai International Airport for your onward flight.