Day 1: Fly from UK - Tokyo
Your journey starts as you board a comfortable international flight from London Heathrow Airport, bound for Tokyo. We’ll select the most suitable airline based on your dates of travel and availability. Most services are overnight. Your meals will be served in the air.
Overnight: On board your flight Meals: On board
Day 2: Welcome to Tokyo
You’ll arrive late this morning and once you’re through customs and immigration, you’ll be be met at the terminal by our local English-speaking guide. They will drive you to your city hotel, the four-star four-star Akasaka Excel Hotel Tokyu (or another of similar quality).
After a chance to rest and acclimatise a little, you’ll be collected for a first foray into the city by public transport by your guide. Getting around using Tokyo’s famously clean and efficient Metro, you’ll head for the trendy shopping district of Shibuya, home to global brands, huge department stores and the famously unceasing Shibuya Crossing road intersection that’s perpetually illuminated by innumerable neon advertisements and giant video screens. Take a trip to the top of Shibuya Sky, an open-air platform 230m above street level, with stunning views of the whole city. Afterwards, return to the hotel for an evening at leisure.
Overnight: Akasaka Excel Hotel Tokyu Meals: –
Day 3: Guided exploration of Tokyo
Your guide will meet you at the hotel after breakfast, taking you on a full-day tour of the most historic parts of Tokyo via public transport. You’ll visit the nearby Imperial Palace, the official residence of the current emperor, taking in Nijubashi Bridge and the palace grounds, an oasis of lush greenery in this hectic city. You’ll then move east to see Senso-ji Temple and the Nakamise shopping arcade, a quaint parade of stalls and vendors that’s a perfect spot to pick up souvenirs, gifts and trinkets for friends and families.
After lunch on your own, we’ve arranged a cruise down the Sumida River – the best way to see more of this fabulous city. You’ll disembark near Tokyo Bay, giving you time to stroll the Hama Rikyu gardens near the waterfront – once a duck-hunting area reserved for the local lords and now rather more ornamental! Then it’s time to exchange the chaos of the big city for the serene hospitality of the Tea Ceremony at a local venue. This most traditional of Japanese rituals will re-centre you after your long flight and sudden immersion into hectic city life.
You’ll eat dinner at Ninja Akasaka, a theme restaurant local to your hotel. Styled like a medieval ninja lair, this is a dining experience like no other, complete with servers performing ninja tricks and an acrobatic show while you eat.
Overnight: Akasaka Excel Hotel Tokyu Meals: Breakfast, Dinner
Day 4: Free day in Tokyo
After a hotel breakfast, today is free for you to explore Tokyo at your own pace. From museums and art galleries, through boutique shopping districts and traditional food markets, to historic sites and religious centres, this incredible city has a wealth of activities to suit any taste. But whatever you prefer to see and do today – you won’t be short of choice. Lunch and dinner are left up to you today.
If you’d prefer a more structured day, we can arrange an optional full-day tour of Mt Fuji and Hakone (extra cost applies). This tour would take you all the way up to the fifth station to experience stunning views from more than halfway up the volcano, and includes a cruise on Lake Ashi, the caldera of another volcano extinct for 3,000 years, as well as a trip to Owakudani – which still steams and bubbles with vigorous geothermal activity. Lunch is included on this tour, but dinner will be up to you once more after you return to Tokyo.
Overnight: Akasaka Excel Hotel Tokyu Meals: –
Day 5: Tokyo to Kyoto
Travel from Tokyo to Kyoto today by Bullet Train at speeds of 200mph or more. Your luggage will be shipped separately to your hotel, because you’ll be off out seeing the sites just as soon as you check in at your hotel.
Start with a drive to one of Kyoto’s most iconic locations: the Arashiyama bamboo forest, a lush green district on the outskirts of the city that’s home to numerous treasures. You’ll then see Kinkaku-ji Temple, known as the Golden Pavilion for reasons you’ll soon appreciate, before finding lunch on your own. Kiyomizu-dera Temple, built on long stilts down a precipitous hillside, is the next stop, before you head to Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka, two beautifully preserved medieval streets, and the historic Gion district, which is still home to many practising geisha.
You’ll be staying at the four-star Kyoto Century Hotel (or another similar hotel) located very centrally near the station. This evening’s dinner is up to you, though there are more than enough restaurants in the city to suit any palate. Why not try the local speciality, tofu prepared to ancient Buddhist vegetarian recipes?
Overnight: Kyoto Century Hotel Meals: Breakfast
Day 6: The White Palace, Kyoto
It’s another historical excursion out of Kyoto today, as you make the journey to Himeji Castle after breakfast. You’ll board the Bullet Train heading due west to see the most celebrated castle in the whole country. Known as the White Heron Castle for its bright white exterior, this fortress was the seat of many of the most powerful warring clans during the long Sengoku period of bloody civil war. The current structure dates back to the very end of this era, and it’s never looked better after a recent restoration. You’ll also see Koko-en, a pristine landscape garden in the castle grounds, before tucking into lunch at a nearby restaurant.
That afternoon, you’ll make your way to the picture-perfect Engyo-ji Temple in the hills via bus and ropeway. This religious centre is so authentically Japanese that parts of it were used in the Tom Cruise blockbuster The Last Samurai. Set in some incredible scenery, it’s great for hikers and those who just want to get as far off the beaten track as they can. You’ll return to Kyoto the way you came, by Bullet Train.
This evening is your own to explore at leisure; feel free to head into the many side streets and back alleys, looking for one of the many hidden-gem eateries that fill this magnificent city.
Overnight: Kyoto Century Hotel Meals: Breakfast, Lunch
Day 7: Kyoto
A day at leisure to explore Kyoto on your own. You’ve already seen some of the city’s most iconic temples but there is plenty more to discover in this city of great contrasts. If you’re looking for some keepsakes or souvenirs, you could spend the day at Nishiki Market, which is full of handmade traditional crafts, ceramics, textiles and a huge selection of food stalls selling dumplings, pickles, fishcakes and yakitori. Ideal for rainy days too, as the market is covered. If you’re feeling active, why not take the train to Arashiyama and hike up to Monkey Park Iwatayama, a park on a hillside which as its name suggests, is absolutely full of mischevious monkeys. There are eye-popping views oer Kyoto from the top, and you can buy peanuts and apples to feed the macaques if you wish. A more serene and scenic option is to walk the Philosopher’s Path (also in Arashiyama), a peaceful trail following along a pictutresque canal, with a few small temples and shrines along the way (and a few cafes where you can stop for food and a cuppa). And if you’re not sure what to do, you can always revisit Gion, Kyoto’s entertainment district and the hub for artists, theatres, and geishas. It’s easy to spend a whole day just strolling the Hanami-koji (the main street), perhaps catch a kabuki show at the Mimamiza Theatre, or soak up the atmosphere as the world goes by from one of the many cafes and benches in the area.
Overnight: Kyoto Century Hotel Meals: Breakfast
Day 8: Kyoto to Osaka
After a breakfast, check out of your hotel and meet your driver in the lobby. Today you’ll be driven from Kyoto to Osaka, but before you leave Kyoto you’ll attend the Fushimi Inari Shrine, which has hundreds upon hundreds of vermillion torii gates winding their way up the hillside. This serene spot is one of the holiest sites in Shinto, the native Japanese religion. It venerates the popular fox god Inari, who looks after rice, the harvest and all sorts of other good things.
Leaving Kyoto for Osaka, you’ll stop off at the beautiful city of Nara on the way. As an even older capital of Japan than Kyoto, Nara houses many of the nation’s most ancient and precious treasures, most of which are found in the sprawling environs of Nara Park. Here you’ll find dozens of temples and shrines, some dating back more than a millennium, as well as thousands of docile deer who are regarded by the locals as the messengers of the gods. They’re very friendly, and some have even learned to bow in order to earn one of the tasty deer crackers you can buy at concessions throughout the park. The two best sites are probably Todai-ji, a huge wooden temple that houses the largest bronze Buddha in the whole country, and Kasuga Grand Shrine, a bright-red Shinto complex that welcomes guests with hundreds of historic bronze lanterns. There’s plenty more to see and do in Nara however, including periodic exhibitions of many significant religious and historic artefacts – as well as plenty of places to find a good lunch (own expense).
Continue onwards to Osaka where you’ll check into your next hotel, the four-star Sheraton Miyako Hotel Osaka (or a similar hotel). There’s time in the late afternoon for a quick nose around Osaka – notably Dotonbori, its neon-lit central shopping district. Evening at leisure.
Overnight: Sheraton Miyako Hotel Osaka Meals: Breakfast
Day 9: Welcome to Hokkaido
After breakfast, check out and meet your driver for a transfer to the airport. You’ll catch a domestic flight from Osaka to Hakodate on Japan’s most northerly main island, Hokkaido.
Your English-speaking guide for the next week will meet you at Hakodate Airport and escort you into the city for a spot of sightseeing. They will be on hand to drive you around the island by private car until your departure.
Hakodate is a gorgeous, compact city on Hokkaido’s southern coast, dominated by the looming Mt Hakodate. As one of the first ports reopened to the rest of the world after the nation’s long period of isolation in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, Hakodate is unusually cosmopolitan. As it flourished with the wealth of international trade, it developed a unique architectural style which can be seen today in the Motomachi district, which boasts fine, western-style buildings including many historic churches.
You’ll have a short initial exploration with your guide, after which you’ll take afternoon tea at Tea Salon Hishii, a refined tea house famous for its rtoasted green tea (“hojicha” parfait – an ice cream sundae with distinct Japanese flavours.
You’ll then check in at your hotel for the next two nights, the four star Bourou Noguchi Hakodate, where you’ll be served and exquisite welcome dinner of kaiseki – Japanese haute cuisine in the traditional style, featuring Hakodate’s seafood specialities.
Overnight: Bourou Noguchi Hakodate Meals: Breakfast, Afternoon Tea, Dinner
Day 10: Hakodate exploration
Enjoy breakfast at your hotel, where your guide will meet you this morning. You’ll be touring more of the city today – and your first stop is the Goryokaku Tower, which at 107m tall offers unparalleled views of the whole city, including the spectacular star fort from which it takes its name.
Goryokaku Park was once the grounds of the fortress built to protect the port, but it’s now one of the most celebrated sakura spots in all Japan, with 1,600 blossom trees planted on the banks of the moat during sakura (cherry blossom) season. You’ll have plenty of time to explore.
You’ll then visit Hakodate Magistrate’s Office. Built in the 1860s to regulate the new system of foreign trade, it was soon occupied by traditionalist forces rebelling against Japan’s rapid modernisation. It’s now a museum, with a fascinating tour of a site that has been so integral to the nation’s recent history.
Lunch has been arranged at the famous Hakodate Shio Ramen Ajisai, which serves exquisite local varieties of ramen noodles. Eat up, because this afternoon is all about the sakura – the cherry blossom trees that paint the whole city pink each spring. Sakuragaoka Dori is a well-kept local secret, a splendid sakura-lined street you’ll never forget.
You’ll then head to the Sumiyoshi Shinto Shrine at the foot of Mt Hakkodate that bursts with yet more vivid blossom trees – before driving to Hakodate’s pictiresque bay for an evening stroll. After a short rest at the hotel, tonight’s meal is at Sazan Shokudo for delicious miso crab. Once twilight falls, you’ll take the ropeway up the mountain for an unforgettable night-time panorama of the whole city – a spot that earned three stars in the Michelin Green Guide.
Overnight: Bourou Noguchi Hakodate Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 11: Hakodate to Niseko
You’ll want to keep your breakfast light this morning before you hit the Hakodate Morning Market, a bustling food market that specialises in fresh-caught seafood – after all, you may not be able to help yourself sampling all the tasty morsels for sale!
Today you’ll make for Onuma Quasi-National Park, a lake-strewn beauty spot much beloved by local nature-lovers, hikers and bird-watchers. Lunch will be at Table de Rivage, which puts an umami twist on European classics.
You’ll then drive further north to Niseko, a mountain village best known in the winter months as Japan’s premier ski resort. It’s too late in the year now to try out the fabled Niseko powder, but the area is gorgeous in the spring, best seen while rambling in Kyogoku Fukidashi Park, with its pure, naturally occurring springs and their sakura-lined banks.
Tonight, you’ll stay at the four-star Hilton Niseko Village and tuck into a buffet for your evening meal.
Overnight: Hilton Niseko Village Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 12: Geothermal Hokkaido
Your guide will meet you after breakfast, ready for a trip to the Silo Observatory at the Shikotsu-Toya National Park. This is the perfect spot to gaze out at the placid blue waters of Lake Toya, punctuated by tree-lined mountains.
You’ll stop off at the Toyako Visitor Centre – home to the Volcano Science Museum. Japan is highly volcanically active throughout, and the local Mt Usu last erupted as recently as the year 2000. But don’t worry, it’s now perfectly safe – as you’ll discover on your next stop, a cable car that takes you right up to the summit!
After exploring the area, including several actively steaming craters and some eerie buildings abandoned at the last eruption, you’ll eat at Wakasaimo Honpo Toyako, a restaurant with astonishing views out onto Lake Toya and the surrounding area. It’s sukiyaki on the menu – that’s thin-sliced beef simmered at the table and served with vegetables and noodles. After lunch you’ll continue to Kitakogane Shell Mound, the first UNESCO World Heritage Site you’ll see on your tour of Hokkaido – a truly ancient site once inhabited by the Jomon culture, the first islanders who immigrated to Japan up to 15,000 years ago.
This evening you’ll be staying at the four-star Bourou Noguchi Noboribetsu Hotel in Noboribetsu, Hokkaido’s premier hot-spring resort. Hot springs – known here as “onsen” – are a Japanese national obsession, and one of the best by products of all that geothermal activity. This little town has many incredible natural onsen, just perfect for melting away the weariness of the road. You’ll also get to see Noboribetsu Jigokudani – a.k.a. “Hell Valley” – where sulphurous steam pushes its way out of pores in the ground, and a place said to be inhabited by Oni, ogres from Japanese folklore.
You’ll eat your evening meal at the hotel tonight.
Overnight: Bourou Noguchi Noboribetsu Hotel Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 13: Bright Lights, Big City
After breakfast, you’ll drive with your guide to the Upopoy, which hosts the first national museum dedicated to the Ainu, the indigenous people of Hokkaido. A distinct ethnic group, the Ainu have their own unique arts, religion, language and culture.
Lunch will be at Farm Uemura Beyond, where you’ll dine on shiraoi beef – the local variety of wagyu. The Japanese take the welfare and preparation of their beef cattle very seriously, and high-quality wagyu has a flavour and consistency all of its own. You can even order steak sushi!
You’ll then pop over to Sapporo, the largest city on Hokkaido. During winter, the extreme cold forces life underground into a specially constructed subterranean city, but you’ll be seeing Sapporo at its springtime best, visiting Odori Park, the Sapporo Clock Tower and the continental-style Hokkaido University. You’ll even have the chance to see more sakura at Moerenuma Park.
Your hotel tonight is the four-star JR Tower Nikko Sapporo, the tallest building on the whole island with incredible views of the city twinkling below your feet. You’ll eat at Genghis Khan Hige No Ushi, a Mongolian-style restaurant that specialises in a special local twist on aromatic lamb. And if you wish, we can arrange a night-time excursion to the nearby Mt Moiwa as an optional extra, for further incredible views of Sapporo.
Overnight: JR Tower Nikko Sapporo Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 14: Sapporo to London
Today is your last day on Hokkaido, and in Japan. After breakfast, your guide will drive you to Otaru, a historic canal city to the north of Sapporo. As with so many of the other towns on the island, Otaru flourished during the Meiji Restoration as Japan looked outward for the first time in more than two centuries. Its pretty period architecture is quite European in style.
You’ll stroll well-preserved streets and visit the Kitaichi glassware emporium, before setting off on a canal-boat cruise. It’s a treat for lunch today: Ise Sushi, the proud recipient of a Michelin Star.
There’s just time for a tasting tour at the Nikka Whisky Distillery in nearby Yoichi before you leave. Nikka is a renowned Japanese distillery, whose founder studied the art of whisky-making in Scotland just over a century ago. Suitably refreshed, you’ll make your way to Saporro’s New Chitose Airport, say good- bye to your guide and catch an evening flight to Tokyo with connecting service to London oovernight.
Overnight: On Board flight Meals: Breakfast, Lunch
Day 15: Land in London
You’ll land back into London today, after a wonderful adventure, with unforgettable memories of Japan.