Japan: Temples, Traditions & Tea

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Day 1

    

Tokyo

Day notes

WELCOME TO JAPAN!

On arrival, you will be met and transferred to your luxury hotel to settle in and have the evening to relax after your international travel. 

Scheduled Flight from Los Angeles International Airport [LAX] to Tokyo International Airport [HND]

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Mode

Scheduled Flight

Departure

Los Angeles International Airport [LAX]

Arrival

Tokyo International Airport [HND]

Scheduled Flight

Transfer from Tokyo International Airport [HND] to Palace Hotel Tokyo

Details  
Mode

Transfer

Pick up

Tokyo International Airport [HND]

Drop off

Palace Hotel Tokyo

Transfer

Check-in to Palace Hotel Tokyo

Excluded:

Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner

Day 2

    

Tokyo

Day notes

Together with your guide, you will visit Asakusa, a part of Tokyo’s shitamachi, or old town. Asakusa is the city’s oldest Geisha district and home to a number of shrines and temples.

Pass through the iconic Kaminarimon, the first of the two large gates to Senso-ji Temple. The street between the gate and the temple is filled with shops that sell sweets, figurines, and even kimonos! Continue with your stroll, passing by Senso-ji Temple before heading to Asakusa Shrine, one of the few structures that survived the 1945 air raid.

Next, visit Meiji Shrine, Tokyo’s most famous shrine that is dedicated to the spirit of the late Emperor Meiji. The park that surrounds the shrine is a forest of some 120,000 trees of 365 different species, making you forget that you are in the world’s largest city.

Outside of Meiji Shrine, you will find Harajuku, the shopping haven for all fashionistas and the popular meeting place for teenagers who are usually in eccentric clothing. The landmark of Harajuku is Takeshita Street, a 400-meter-long alley filled with boutiques, shops, and cafes.

Neighboring Harajuku is Shibuya, one of the main shopping, dining, and entertainment districts in Tokyo. It is famous for its intersection called ‘The Scramble’, one of the world’s busiest pedestrian lanes, and the statue of Hachiko, the most popular dog in Japan.

From Shibuya, take the metro to Ginza, one of Tokyo’s most famous upscale shopping, dining, and entertainment districts. It’s said that 1 sqm of land in Ginza is worth over 10 million yen ($ 95,000)!

Included:

Breakfast and Lunch

Excluded:

Dinner

Day 3

    

Tokyo

Day notes

Set off early this morning for the Tsukiji Fish Market, one of the world’s largest fish markets. Explore the stalls, learning about the various marine products on sale and observing the deft skills of the fish mongers as they clean the seafood.

Just like its neighboring Harajuku and Shibuya, Shinjuku also holds a handful of high end to low end shopping malls, boutiques, and specialty shops. One of the many shops that is worth visiting is Isetan, which came from a century long of traditional Japanese commerce. The one in Shinjuku is the flagship store of the Isetan dynasty, with its building built in 1926 and is even considered as a historical building. While in Shinjuku, you will also get a chance to stop in the Takashimaya Department store to experience and explore their famed food court for lunch. Your options are endless! 

Take a closer look at one of Japan’s cultural legacies: the art of samurai sword fighting. Meet with some of Japan’s leading experts for an interactive workshop. Learn about the samurai fighters and their role in Japan’s military history. Then, the instructors will share their personal stories, how they became involved in samurai sword performance and how the art has evolved over the years.  Some of the instructors have helped to choreograph the fight scenes of big-budget Hollywood movies or have acted in famous films.

Watch a short demonstration, marveling at the fluidity of the process. Inspired by this incredible spectacle, grab a sword and learn some of the basic movements. The instructor will show the proper way to draw the sword from its sheath and how to pose in a traditional manner. Learn how to swing the sword, using a combination of movements to gracefully maneuver the blade. Armed with this basic set of skills, choose a partner for a short session of swordplay practice

After this unforgettable experience as a traditional samurai, bid farewell to the instructors and step back into the modern city of Tokyo.

Return to the hotel late this afternoon to relax and freshen up. 

Today’s dinner will be at Narisawa, a Michelin two-star Japanese restaurant with influences from French cuisine, owned and run by the internationally acclaimed chef, Yoshihiro Narisawa. His philosophy is all about “eco-conscious gastronomy” with local, seasonal produce as the main component of his signature dishes. His plating, which not only reflects but also celebrates nature, is so artistic and unique that it looks like a masterpiece on china.

Planned
Planned

Samurai Workshop

Included:

Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Day 4

    

Tokyo

Day notes

Today you have a choice between two activities. 

Cycle through the vibrant backstreets of Tokyo. Meet your guide, who is sometimes accompanied by his adorable dog, Jack-san, at Sasazuka Station and head together to the cycling studio for a bicycle and helmet fitting. On the way, listen to some fascinating insights and entertaining anecdotes about the local neighborhood, and get some useful explanations from your guide about Tokyo’s cycling etiquette and today’s itinerary.

When everything is ready, depart for today’s cycling tour. Leave Sasazuka with your guide and cycle to the first location, enjoying the best of Tokyo’s urban design and natural environment on the way. Depending on the season, enjoy the surrounding foliage, which is especially beautiful in the spring when the plum and cherry blossoms bloom, and in the autumn, when the trees are a blaze of color. There will be several cultural and architectural design stops along the way, where the guide will share interesting information and allow some time for photos.

Bike through Tokyo’s backstreets, local shotengai (small commercial streets), through hip neighborhoods such as Shimo-Kitazawa and some little-known parks, seeing the guide’s favorite areas and shops and stopping for a break at a charming café.

Head back to Sasazuka where your bicycles will be returned to the guide, and either freely keep exploring Tokyo independently or join your guide for a local meal such as gyoza (pan-fried dumplings).

                                                                                       - OR -

This morning, your guide will pick you up at your hotel for an excursion in Nikko by private car. You will first visit the Tamozawa Imperial Villa, which once served as the summer house of the Imperial Family before WWII. Here, you can see the intricate interior design of the house, with some parts transferred all the way from Tokyo, and 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 take you for a short lunch break. We recommend trying out one of Nikko’s local dishes, the yuba or bean curd.

In the afternoon, you will explore the grand Toshogu Shrine complex, 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.

After the tour, you will be transferred back to your hotel in Tokyo.

Planned
Planned

Included:

Breakfast

Excluded:

Lunch and Dinner

Day 5

    

Kyoto

Day notes

Get ready for the journey to Kyoto, home to around 2,000 shrines and temples, 17 of which are designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites. A private car will transfer you from the hotel to Tokyo Station, where the shinkansen (bullet train) can be caught to Kyoto.

You will be met on arrival and transferred to your hotel. 

Your day begins with a tour of Nijo Castle before setting out for Nara.  Nijo Castle was built in 1603 as the Kyoto residence of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the Edo Period (1603-1867). His grandson Iemitsu completed the castle's palace buildings 23 years later and further expanded the castle by adding a five story castle keep.  

After the Tokugawa Shogunate fell in 1867, Nijo Castle was used as an imperial palace for a while before being donated to the city and opened to the public as a historic site. Its palace buildings are arguably the best surviving examples of castle palace architecture of Japan's feudal era, and the castle was designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 1994. 

Continue your afternoon along Kyoto’s tranquil Tetsugaku-no-michi, also known as The Philosopher’s Path,  which is lined with sakura (cherry) trees on both sides and follows a  picturesque canal. A couple of cafés and local shops can be found along this 2-kilometre path, and some of Kyoto’s popular shrines and temples are also located nearby.

Before your tour ends, you will head to Gion for a walk in the city’s so-called “Geisha District.” This area is one of Kyoto’s hanamachi (flower town), the place where Geisha’s live and work and where you can find shops, restaurants, and ochaya (teahouses) inside well-preserved machiya (old houses). Don’t miss Hanami-koji, known to be the most popular street in Gion because of its lavish ochaya lining up the old street. 

Tonight, a special evening is planned as you will dine with a Maiko.

Start with an introduction, listening as the guide explains about Geiko, the local name for Kyoto’s geishas, and their Maiko, or apprentices. Then, explore the atmospheric streets, walking past local shops and restaurants on the way to the Yasaka Shrine. Stop for a performance in a local theater where Geisha and Maiko perform traditional dances.

After the walking tour, enter a local restaurant for a memorable dinner in the company of a Maiko. Dine on a traditional multi-course meal called kaiseki ryori. Interact with the Maiko, learning about her craft and the world of Geisha. During dinner, the Maiko will entertain by performing traditional dances and teaching popular Japanese drinking games. 

Pose for photos with the Maiko, capturing memories to share with friends and family back home, before bidding farewell to the hostess and returning to the hotel.

After dinner, you will be escorted back to your hotel.

Check-out from Palace Hotel Tokyo

Train from Palace Hotel Tokyo to Four Seasons Kyoto Hotel

Details  
Mode

Train

Embark

Palace Hotel Tokyo

Disembark

Four Seasons Kyoto Hotel

Train

Check-in to Four Seasons Kyoto Hotel

Planned
Planned

Included:

Breakfast and Dinner

Excluded:

Lunch

Day 6

    

Kyoto

Day notes

Delve deep into Japanese culture with an exclusive full day tour of Kyoto. The day begins with a visit to Kodai-ji, one of Kyoto’s most famous Zen Buddhist temples. Although the sub-temples of Kodai-ji are usually closed to the public, special access has been granted for today’s private tea ceremony.

Enter the stunning 400-year-old temple and stroll around its beautiful Zen garden. Then meet with a tea master who will explain about Japanese tea and the relationship between the ceremony and Zen Buddhism. Then, the ceremony begins, with the master explaining each movement and its meaning in detail.  

During the ceremony, join the teacher to make tea, following the motions as he demonstrates. Once ready, sample some traditional confectioneries before sipping the tea to counter its bitter flavors.

Following this interactive experience, take a walking tour around Kyoto’s Higashiyama District. Admire the picture-perfect streets, whose gently sloped stone stairways are lined with tea houses and artisan shops. Stop by Kiyomizu Temple for a short tour of this architectural masterpiece. Climb to its 13metre high balcony, which was built without the use of any kind of joiners and enjoy an impressive view of Kyoto. 

This afternoon, continue on to Ryoan-ji Zen, 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 temple in the year 1450. Now, it belongs to the Myoshinji School of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism and serves as a perfect spot for a Zazen meditation. 

Visit Kinkakuji, 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.

A dinner reservation will be made for you this evening at Shoraian. 

Included:

Breakfast

Excluded:

Lunch and Dinner

Day 7

    

Kyoto

Day notes

Today, we invite you to engage with the local community in a truly authentic way with an Evolved Experience. The Evolved Traveler believes travel is “evolving” into something more than we have previously experienced or knew it to be. There is a desire for it to be more meaningful, more impactful, more enriching, and certainly more engaging. We understand our guests wish to travel with a purpose and to truly engage with the cultures they visit, and that is why we have created the Evolved Experience.

Evolved Experiences are a core and unique component to all our journeys that provide you, our Evolved Traveler, with experiences that far exceed the par-for-the-course of luxury travel. Evolved Experiences allow our guests the opportunity to make a lasting impression on the communities they visit, extend their hand in a gesture of global community, and create memories that can be cherished for years to come, not only for themselves but for those they visit.

 

Journey into untouched Japan on this authentic half-day guided cycling tour along the shores of Lake Biwa. First, head by private car to Kyoto Station, meet up with your guide and travel to Shiga Station.

Upon arrival to the venue, hop on electric bikes and begin the journey through the peaceful, small streets along Lake Biwa, cruising through ancient villages.

Follow your guide through the countryside to terraced rice fields. Meet local farmers and help them with their seasonal farming activities, such as planting or harvesting rice, fruits or vegetables. Talk to the farmers and learn about life in the local farming communities of rural Japan.

Get back on your bike and follow your guide to a local family home to assist the hostess in cooking some authentic chicken sukiyaki. The dish is prepared using the local rice and home-grown vegetables. Try some of the region’s specialties such as pickled sour plums, that were prepared by the hostess herself. Interact with the hosts and experience life and the warm hospitality of a rural Japanese household.

After this truly unique lunch, cycle back to JR Shiga station. Enjoy the gentle breeze blowing from the lake and the varied landscape with the Hira mountain range in the background.

Once back at the station, return the bicycles and bid farewell to your guide. At the end of the day, reflect on the unique experience during a scenic train journey back to Kyoto.

You are met upon arrival at Kyoto Station and transferred to your hotel to enjoy the remainder of your day at leisure. 

Included:

Breakfast and Lunch

Excluded:

Dinner

Day 8

    

Kyoto

Day notes

This morning, get a different perspective of Kyoto with a memorable rickshaw ride through the heart of the Arashiyama district.

The Arashiyama rickshaw tour begins at Togetsukyo Bridge, one of Arashiyama’s most recognizable landmarks. Snap photos of the wooden bridge and the peaceful Katsura River. Then hop on a traditional Japanese rickshaw and enjoy an extensive tour of historic Arashiyama.

The expert driver will pull the rickshaw around the main highlights of the area as well as some hidden gems. The rickshaw is the perfect way to see Arashiyama, covering more ground than a walking tour but still slow enough to enjoy the sights and sounds of this charming town.

Weave in and out of local neighbourhoods, getting a closer look at the machiya, or traditional Japanese houses. Pass by Nonomiya Shrine which served as the setting of The Tale of Genji, a book commonly referred to as the world’s first novel.

After your rickshaw ride, meet your guide and take a stroll through the most famous spot in Arashiyama, the bamboo grove. High bamboo trees are lined up a as far as you can see and a convenient paved road that cuts right through the grove is perfect for a nice walk. 

In the afternoon, head by private car to Nara.  You will be charmed by the ancient capital as you hear tales of the city’s past while wandering by ancient shrines and traditional houses. Explore famous landmarks such as the 8th-century Todai-ji Temple and quiet back roads brimming with atmosphere for a glimpse of Japan’s incredible heritage on display in Nara, Japan’s prosperous 8th century capital.  

Start with a visit to Isui Garden, one of Nara’s most beautiful gardens. Stroll around the immaculate grounds, admiring views of Mt. Wakakusayama in the background while hearing about the city’s history. Relax and enjoy a cup of tea and some local sweets at a teahouse set amid the garden. 

Continue onwards to Todaiji Temple, Nara’s landmark. The guide will explain the history of this 8th century monument which was built to serve as the country’s head Buddhist temple. Walk through the temple compound to enter Daibutsu-den building, the largest wooden building in the world, and admire the 15-metre tall Buddha image found inside.  Next is Nara Park, where friendly deer casually graze, followed by a stroll through Nara’s backstreets. Pass local shops and traditional houses, gaining a better appreciation for the blend of old and new that defines so the charmed town. 

Lastly, arrive at Kasuga Taisha, Nara’s most sacred Shinto shrine. See the shrine’s famous bronze and stone lanterns that hang from the roof, donated to the shrine by its devotees. Although only lit during lantern festivals in February and August, they are still an impressive site. 

You will arrive back in Kyoto late this afternoon and the evening will be at leisure. 

Included:

Breakfast

Excluded:

Lunch and Dinner

Day 9

    

Miyajima Island

Day notes

Depart Kyoto this morning for Hiroshima on board the shinkansen (bullet train). Along the way, you might catch a glimpse of the magnificent Himeji Castle, also known as the ‘White Egret Castle,’ in the distance.

Upon arrival, transfer from Hiroshima to Miyajima port by private car. From mainland Hiroshima, a short ferry ride leads to Miyajima, a small sacred island located in the Seto Inland Sea.

Check into your ryokan and enjoy the remainder of your day at leisure to relax and take advantage of the ryokan's amenities.  

Check-out from Four Seasons Kyoto Hotel

Train from Four Seasons Kyoto Hotel to Iwaso

Details  
Mode

Train

Embark

Four Seasons Kyoto Hotel

Disembark

Iwaso

Train

Check-in to Iwaso

Included:

Breakfast

Excluded:

Lunch and Dinner

Day 10

    

Miyajima Island

Day notes

Explore the island with the local guide and sample some local delicacies like oysters, saltwater eel, and maple leaf-shaped cakes.

Start with Itsukushima Shrine, declared as one of Japan’s three most beautiful views. The shrine is designed in a pier-like structure and dates back to the 6th century. Its huge vermillion o-torii gate seems to be floating in the water during high tide.

Walk towards the mountain to visit Daisho-in, the most visited Buddhist temple on the island. Along the stairs is a row of spinning sutras that lead up to the main hall. It is believed that anyone who spins these sutras will be blessed.

Early in the afternoon head back to Hiroshima to visit Peace Memorial Park and Museum. There is also the heart-rending A-Bomb Dome and the Children’s Peace Monument.

Included:

Breakfast

Excluded:

Lunch and Dinner

Day 11

    

Osaka

Day notes

Today, head by private car to Hiroshima station and travel to Osaka, Japan’s culinary capital. Osaka’s flamboyance, fun-loving people, and amazing food make up for what it lacks in tourist attractions.

Upon the arrival at Shin-Osaka, transfer to your hotel by private car. 

There is no better place in the country to experience the flamboyant and colorful world of Japan’s street food and nightlife scene than in Osaka. The city’s motto is kuidaore, or eat-till-you-drop, and just one visit shows that it’s not very difficult to do this! Locals are particularly proud of their famous soul food offerings, such as okonomiyaki (savory cabbage pancake with pork), takoyaki (savory ball-shaped pancakes with octopus), and other local delicacies. Osaka also offers one of the most authentic experiences when it comes to spending a night out, thanks to the city’s warm-hearted and curious inhabitants. 

Meet a local food expert in Dotonbori and enjoy about four different venues during the tour. Start the experience by discovering Osaka’s best-loved dishes in one of the liveliest areas in town, with innumerable little shops, restaurants and tiny taverns and bars. Alongside a local English-speaking food expert, enjoy the bright neon lights of one of the main entertainment areas in town before diving into some narrow, hidden alleyways to discover all the local delicacies Osaka has to offer. 

With the help of the guide, taste some of the staples of Osaka’s soul food such as fresh okonomiyaki, prepared on the spot, and takoyaki, which have been featured in the Michelin Guide. Continue the gourmet journey with fresh sushi and a taste of the local brew, plus the opportunity to interact with the sushi chef. To conclude the tour, stroll through the neighborhood with its uncountable tiny bars, each with their very own distinctive style.

Check-out from Iwaso

Train from Iwaso to The St Regis Osaka

Details  
Mode

Train

Embark

Iwaso

Disembark

The St Regis Osaka

Train

Check-in to The St Regis Osaka

Included:

Breakfast and Dinner

Excluded:

Lunch

Day 12

    

End of Itinerary

Day notes

Your journey comes to an end today, but your memories will surely last a lifetime – or until you add to them on your next trip to Japan when your exploration takes you further into this magnificent country.

Your guide will meet you today to assist you to Kansai International Airport for your departing flight. 

Check-out from The St Regis Osaka

Transfer from The St Regis Osaka to Osaka International Airport [ITM]

Details  
Mode

Transfer

Pick up

The St Regis Osaka

Drop off

Osaka International Airport [ITM]

Transfer

Included:

Breakfast

Excluded:

Lunch and Dinner

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