Konnichiwa travel lovers! Today we explore a country that may not be on the top of your bucket list, but it’s time to clear a spot. This extraordinary country has so much to offer visitors. It boasts unique experiences you cannot have anywhere else on earth. We are talking, of course, about the beautiful island of Japan, located in Asia in the North Pacific Ocean to the east of China and north of the Philippines. This “Land of the Rising Sun” is begging for you to come explore! Whether it be the exciting city of Tokyo, the traditional experience at Kaga, historic Takayama or fascinating Kyoto, you will find astounding adventure every single day on your small groups escorted tour of Japan with Discovery Tours.
Tokyo, A Mesmerizing City with Ancient Traditions:
If any city embraces the mixture of modern and historic, of new wave and traditional, it has to be Tokyo. Tokyo is located on the east coast of the country and is the largest city and Japan’s capital since 1869. Tokyo is not only the most populous city in Japan but it is also consistently one of the most populous cities in the entire world with over 13 million people. Some numbers even boast that the number is much larger and around 36 million when considering its 3 surrounding prefectures.
In Tokyo, you will discover the lanes of the world-famous Tsukiji Fish Market, famous for fish and fresh seafood. After navigating this place, you will join a culinary demonstration led by a professional sushi chef and you will enjoy creating sushi for lunch and eating it afterwards. One cannot visit Tokyo without experiencing the Ginza district, a section celebrated for upscale shopping, dining and entertainment. Next, visit Akihabara, the technological district that includes electrical equipment shops, computer shops and animation studios that are attracting attention from all over the globe. Step into the pedestrian area of shops and cafes designed to replicate the cartoonish appearance of the anime world.
Visit the Imperial Palace East Garden and view the Nijubashi Bridge that stretches over the moat in the outer garden with its colorful displays of seasonal flowers. Later, travel to the Asakusa Kannon Temple (Sensoji) that contains a golden image of Kannon, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy. Walk along Nakamise, a centuries-old, shopping area with everything from souvenirs to genuine Edo-style crafts. This is an excellent place to buy souvenirs. The serene Meiji Shrine is nestled in a forest area and honors the first emperor of modern Japan and his beloved wife.
A highlight of your trip will be riding the famous Shinkansen, or bullet train. The train will take you from Tokyo to the south of the Noto Peninsula to Kaga. This train was built originally to connect distant regions with the capital of Tokyo to promote economic growth and development. The maximum speed of the train reaches up to 240-320 km/h (150-200 mph).
Hakone, Scenic National Park with Extraordinary Sights:
Hakone is full of breathtaking scenery and is the most famous national park in the country. A gondola will whisk you away to the Owakudani Valley’s volcanic zone while majestic Mt. Fuji looms in the background. Perhaps sample one of the black hard-boiled eggs boiled in the sulfuric water here. It is said to prolong your life by 7 years. Do not worry about the black color, only the outside of the shell is black, the actual edible part of the egg remains white. Enjoy a relaxing cruise around the placid Lake Ashi and take in the beautiful scenery around you. End your visit in Hakone by driving along Cedar Avenue, a historic site of Hakone that linked Tokyo and Kyoto during the Edo Period, 1603-1868.
Kaga, A Unique Cultural Experience:
Upon arrival in Kagaonsen you will enter your Ryokan (inn) where you will spend the night. The Ryokan is similar to a bed and breakfast but much more basic. It originated in the Edo period to serve traveling traders. Honor the tradition by dressing in a yukata (bathrobe) and making your way to the onsen (hot spring spa). Enjoy authentic Japanese lodgings with tatami mats and a futon bed. Feast on a full course Kaiseki Dinner that is accentuated by regional specialties before retiring to your traditional room for the night. This cultural experience will be one you will not soon forget.
Takayama, “Little Kyoto”:
Takayama is a quaint and enchanting little city that is sometimes referred to as “Little Kyoto”. A collection of museums, galleries and temples can be found here and you will see some of these on a walking tour in the Sanno-machi Historic District. Walk along the streets of Takayama and be immediately transported back in time on these streets of the old town with traditional merchant houses, restaurants, shops and more. Visit the Miyagawa Morning Market along the river where farmers and craftsmen sell everything from fresh food to intricate carvings.
Kyoto, Sacred City and Hot Spot of Culture:
Tokyo may be the political capital of the country, but Kyoto is the heart and soul. Founded in the 8th century, Kyoto has long enchanted visitors and residents alike. Kyoto was once the capital of the country and it still holds the key to much of the culture of the country.
You will begin your exploration with a tour of Nijo Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, that was built by Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1603. Next, familiarize yourself with Zen meditation, a calming practice deeply rooted in Japanese culture. Meditation here is equivalent to praying in western religion. While focusing on your breath, suspend all judgment and let your thoughts and ideas just pass through you without pondering or elaborating on them. Participate next in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, where you join in the ritualized art of preparing and serving tea. Japan has a long history intertwined with tea and it is very much a part of the culture.
Take a stroll through the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove and be sure to take lots of photos. This beautiful site is unique to Japan and the city of Kyoto. Take a thrilling ride on a traditional Japanese rickshaw through this area and take in the sights while zooming through the streets. The Kinkaku-ji temple, or Golden Pavilion, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the next stop on your visit. View this magnificent gold-leaf covered temple and discover why it is so coveted and celebrated.
Nara, Daibutsu and Deer Park:
Nara will become a true highlight of your trip to Japan with its incredible Daibutsu (Great Buddha) and Nara (deer) park. Begin your visit by visiting the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Southern Kyoto before taking a private bus ride to the Imperial City of Nara. Here you will enter the wooden Todai-Ji Temple, and view the incredible bronze statue of Buddha looming 50 feet high. Feel the spirituality of this place before continuing to the Nara Park where 1,200 tame deer roam free. You can buy feed for the deer here and they will bow to you before accepting the food. The deer here are not seen as pests but heaven-sent guardians that led the city’s original founder here. Lastly, visit the Kasuga Grand shrine via a pathway lined with 3,000 stone lanterns. The vast shrine complex enjoys a spectacular setting at the foot of the sacred hills of Kasugayama Primeval Forest, its woods untouched since the days when Nara was the capital, from 710 to 794. Inside the honden (sacred building), elegant bronze lanterns decorate the sanctuary.
Your time in Japan has come to an end, but this could be just the beginning of your adventure! Click here to book our 12 Day Japan, Then & Now tour with Discovery Tours and see all of these fascinating places for yourself. Feeding the deer in Nara, wearing a yukata in Kagaonsen and exploring the Ginza district of Tokyo are just a few of the unforgettable experiences you will have in Japan. Book your trip, show up to the airport and we will take you from place to place with convenience and ease that traveling rarely inspires. This is Japan the Discovery Tours way.
*Please note that itinerary may vary slightly from 2019 to 2020.