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Day by Day Itinerary

Travel Japan with OAT and discover the country you’ve always dreamed of, an Asian land both modern and ancient ... where a colorful Shinto festival winds its way past neon lights and Tokyo skyscrapers … a modern bullet train speeds past a farmer tending his rice paddy … a well-dressed businessman stops in a Buddhist temple to light incense ... majestic Mount Fuji provides a beautiful backdrop for Hakone, where locals and travelers alike relax in volcanic onsen.

Join us as we explore more than 2,000 years of Japanese history and culture, from ultra-modern Tokyo through the former imperial capital of Kyoto, and all the way back to Kanazawa’s unique samurai architecture. Along the way, we’ll stay in a Japanese-style ryokan inn, visit local markets and craft workshops, partake in a traditional tea ceremony, and travel by rail just as the Japanese do. Welcome to Japan—OAT style.

Tokyo Kyoto Expand All
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    Depart the U.S. today on your overnight flight to Tokyo, Japan.

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    Arrive at the Tokyo airport in the late afternoon or early evening today. An OAT representative will greet us at the airport and assist with the transfer to our hotel in Tokyo, where we'll meet our OAT Trip Leader and fellow travelers, including those who arrived early for the optional Tokyo pre-trip extension.

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    We have breakfast at our hotel, followed by a briefing about our upcoming days in Japan, then we set out to explore fascinating and frenetic Tokyo on a tour that takes us to some of its most famous sites. We'll enter the seventh-century Asakusa Kannon Temple, which—according to legend—was founded after two brothers fished the Kannon statue out of the Sumida River. They threw the statue back in the river over and over, but it always returned to them, so they built the temple to house it forever.

    We'll pass by the Imperial Palace—which still serves as the home to the emperor of Japan—on our way to the Ginza district, famous for its high-class shops and glitzy galleries. Following our explorations here, we’ll have time for lunch on our own before we return to our hotel mid-afternoon. The balance of the day is free for you to explore independently. Perhaps you’ll get an overview of Tokyo’s history at the massive Edo Tokyo Museum, or stroll the streets of Old Tokyo. We'll regroup this evening as we gather for a Welcome Dinner at a local restaurant.

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    We start our day with breakfast at the hotel, then board a motorcoach for the trip to Hakone, located about 50 miles west of Tokyo. As we drive, our Trip Leader will lead a discussion on language, giving us a lesson on practical Japanese that will help us in our explorations. We'll stop for lunch at a local restaurant, then ascend halfway up the slopes of Mount Fuji by bus (weather permitting), enjoying a scenic drive around this iconic, snowcapped mountain.

    Discover Japanese culture on a guided tour of Japan

    Afterward, we resume our journey to Hakone, arriving in late afternoon. After checking into our hotel, the rest of the day is at leisure. If you wish, you can try bathing in a Japanese onsen (hot spring) before we enjoy a Japanese banquet-style dinner at our hotel.

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    We start our day in Hakone with breakfast at our hotel, then embark on a tour of this scenic city. Blessed with a beautiful volcanic setting, Hakone is beloved by the Japanese for its hot-spring resorts, mountains, lakes, and historical sites. We begin with a drive around Hakone, and then drive to Mount Soun high above the surrounding hills. Here, we ride in an aerial gondola to the thermal springs in the Owakudani Valley (the Japanese consider eggs boiled in Owakudani’s bubbling lava pools a treat). Then, we cruise Lake Asahi from Kojiri to Hakone-machi and have lunch at a local restaurant. Here, weather permitting, you will have tremendous views of majestic Mount Fuji.

    See Mount Fuji on a guided tour of Japan

    After lunch, we set out on our return trip to our hotel. On the way we will visit the Hamamatsuya, a workshop specializing in wooden handcrafts. Here you can see the creation of the elaborate woodwork of Hakone Yosegi Zaiku, a special product of Hakone featuring complex inlaid designs. We arrive at our hotel in mid-afternoon for some free time, and enjoy dinner at our hotel this evening.

    Please note: Alternative activities may be substituted for some of the visits described above depending on weather conditions.

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    We have breakfast at our hotel and then transfer to the train station, where we board our first bullet train—the legendary high-speed train service pioneered by the Japanese.

    The Japanese call this train the shinkansen. It is one of the world's finest quick-transit trains, and still amongst the fastest trains in the world, traveling at speeds of more than 160 mph. For boarding, be prepared to stand at a precise location indicated by your coach and seat accommodations. The train stops exactly where indicated and sure enough, your coach is right in front of you. Our trip on the bullet train takes us from Odawara to Nagoya. Lunch is on your own today and we suggest doing as the Japanese do—buy a packed lunch (called eki-ben) in the station and enjoy it on the train. Eki-ben lunches are one of the attractions of train travel in Japan.

    We'll then board the Limited Express train for our ride to Kanazawa, enjoying a view of Japan's rolling countryside and modern cityscapes along our route. We arrive in the afternoon and check into our hotel. Dinner tonight is at a local restaurant.

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    We have breakfast at our hotel and then begin our exploration of Kanazawa with a guided tour of this historic city.

    Explore Japan and tour a sake brewery

    Between the 16th and 18th centuries, Kanazawa was a prosperous castle town in the domain of Kaga ruled by the Maeda Family, and it has been one of the cultural centers of Japan ever since. Located on the coast of the Japan Sea, Kanazawa was spared much of the destruction that World War II brought to the country. It is famous today for its unique architecture, its exquisite Kaga-style handcrafts—including silk-dyeing and lacquerware—its delicate regional cuisine, and the Kenrokuen Garden, one of the most beautiful in Japan. We start our tour with a morning visit to this garden, which was opened to the public in 1875 and is one of the most visited garden spots in all of Japan.

    After the garden, we’ll visit one of the many houses of Kanazawa where the samurai—Japan’s famed class of noble warriors—once lived. Several former samurai homes still stand on winding streets, and many are still in use as residences. We’ll enjoy a closer look at what constitutes samurai style when we explore the 18th-century Terashima House, home of a samurai who was also a painter. Later we tour the Higashi-Chaya district with its old wooden structures.

    Then, following lunch at a local restaurant, we visit the Omicho Market (closed Sundays and public holidays). This 300-year-old market, known locally as Kanazawa’s Kitchen, is a very busy gathering place, and brims with exceptionally fresh vegetables, fruit, and fish offered for sale to households and to private restaurants. By browsing the many stalls here, we can get a good idea of what the local diet is like and see the range of foods that create the local cuisine. We might see some of the traditional specialties of the region, such as fish pickled in rice bran, fresh crab, Kaga lotus root, seaweed, and a variety of sweet treats.

    After walking through the busy market, we'll uncover more local traditions by visiting a gold-leaf workshop. These thin sheets of gold have been produced in Kanazawa since the 16th century, and are used to decorate everything from handicrafts to Buddhist alters. In the workshop, we'll learn more about how gold leaf is made and what significance it still holds in Japanese culture before returning to our hotel. Dinner tonight is on your own.

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    Discover Japanese mountain villages on a guided tour

    Today you can spend a day at leisure in Kanazawa, making your own discoveries in this historic city.

    Or you can join us for an optional full-day excursion to Shirakawa-go and Gokayama, mountain villages—and UNESCO World Heritage Sites—in the forested countryside outside of Kanazawa. Because of their relative isolation, these areas developed independently of Japanese society, resulting in a unique culture and lifestyle. In addition to creating their own dances, festivals, and traditions, residents developed a distinctive architectural style known as gassho-zukuri. Characterized by steeply pitched thatched roofs that are both striking and elegant, these dwellings are considered to be some of the most efficient farmhouses in Japan—and we'll discover why as we explore the houses of Ainokura this morning. Then we'll visit a workshop to see how washi—a thick, fibrous paper made from mulberry bark—is created. Afterward, we'll head to Murakami House, which was built in 1578 and is the oldest ghasso-style house in the area. During our visit here, we'll learn more about the history and culture of Gokayama, enjoy a traditional dance performance, and savor a traditional lunch of soba (buckwheat noodles) at a local restaurant. This afternoon, we transfer to Shirakawa-go, where we'll learn the art of mochitsuki, or rice-cake making, with members of the local community before returning to our hotel.

    Dinner is on your own tonight.

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    After breakfast at your Kanazawa hotel, we set off to visit a local family for tea and to get a firsthand glimpse of Japanese life at home. This is a wonderful opportunity to talk with a family and experience a bit of their daily routine. After this unique opportunity, you'll have time for lunch on your own before we transfer to the train station and board a train bound for Kyoto.

    Encounter local Japanese culture at a Home Hosted Meal

    Kyoto was Japan’s imperial capital through the eighth to the 19th centuries. It remains an important cultural center—and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site—and we’ll have five full days to explore its many wonders. We arrive at our hotel in the late afternoon, take a short orientation walk around the neighborhood, and enjoy dinner at a local restaurant tonight.

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    Among Kyoto's many wonders are some of Japan’s most impressive Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, and we'll have a chance to discover one after breakfast, as we visit Kinkakuji Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The striking architecture of Kinkakuji, also known as the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, dates from 1397, when it was built by the third shogun (military commander) of the Ashikaga Shogunate. The reflection of the pavilion on the water of the adjacent pond produces a breathtakingly beautiful and world-famous view.  

    Next, we visit Nijo Castle, which was constructed between 1601 and 1603. The castle, shrines, and 17 temples here are designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Although meant to represent power, it appears more a royal estate than a military post fortified with weapons. It was built by Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder of the Tokugawa shogunate, and became a meeting place for the shoguns. The largest building on the grounds is Ninomaru Palace, intentionally built with squeaky floors so an intruder would be heard advancing through the room.

    After lunch at a local restaurant, we continue on to Sanjusangendo Hall, built in the twelfth century and containing an impressive 1,001 statues of the thousand-handed Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy. Finally, we explore Kiyomizu Temple, another UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its “leap of faith” veranda and wooden terraces once used for sacred dances. Resting at the foot of the Higashiyama Mountains, this temple—which dates back to 778—offers  a sweeping view of Kyoto and a spring whose waters are believed by some to have a curative quality.

    This evening, we return to our hotel and enjoy dinner on our own.

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    See two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Nara

    After breakfast, today is free for you to explore Kyoto on your own.

    Or you can choose to join us on an optional excursion to Nara and Fushimi. This excursion takes us to the distinctive city of Nara, which was the capital of Japan before Kyoto. We will visit two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Nara: Todaiji Temple and Kasuga Shinto Shrine. As we approach the Todaiji Temple, you will first be impressed by its massive size. It is said to be the largest wooden building in the world. It is also one of the major historic temples in Japan and contains valuable artifacts. Within this temple is the largest gilded bronze Buddha in existence. A charming feature of the park area is its free-roaming tame deer, which were traditionally regarded as the messengers of the Shinto god Kasuga. If you wish a close-up introduction to them, you can purchase biscuits to feed them, but be prepared to be very popular with these lovely creatures when you offer them food.

    We also visit the Kasuga Shinto Shrine, dating back to AD 768. It is situated in the fields of the Mount Mikasa’s foothills. These hills and the mountain are considered sacred because it is believed that a deity descended to the top of Mount Mikasa. After lunch at a local restaurant, we’ll continue to the lovely town of Fushimi, one of Japan’s most famous sake-brewing districts.

    This evening, you can seek out a local restaurant to have dinner on your own.

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    See two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Nara

    After breakfast at our hotel, we’ll depart for a Day in the Life of traditional Japan—a full day of activities that aim to give us a closer look into the lives of the Japanese people. First, we’ll take a boat to Senkoji Temple, which is supported in part by funds from Grand Circle Foundation. At this 400-year-old temple, we’ll have a chance to practice Zen meditation.

    Zen is a branch of Buddhist thought that believes divine wisdom resides in each person; meditation techniques are used to reveal this inner divine nature. Typically meditation consists of simple sitting and breathing practices that are meant to calm the mind and allow the practitioner’s focus to shift away from the mundane. We’ll be in expert hands for our session, under the guidance of a Buddhist monk.

    While at the temple, we’ll also explore another aspect of Zen influence by partaking in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, called sado. To create the actual beverage, a ceremonial powdered tea is put in a teacup, covered with hot water, and whipped with a bamboo whisk until it foams slightly. But the significance of the tea goes far beyond the tea preparation; the ceremony is a traditional art form that exhibits the Zen ideals of the beauty of simplicity and mindfulness of movement. An integral part of the ceremony is the appreciation of the aesthetics of the place where the tea is prepared and enjoyed. The ceremony is given special meaning by the deep sincerity with which the host prepares the tea.

    After our temple visit, we journey to Kameoka, a city in the countryside near Kyoto, where we’ll visit a farming community and meet the farmers who call it home. We’ll help pick some fresh vegetables from fields where organic farming is practiced and take them with us as we visit Heki-tei, a 300-year-old house where a famous samurai once lived. The house is now owned by the Heki family, whose ancestors were notable property owners in Kameoka. Here, we’ll use our fresh-picked produce to prepare and eat makizushi (rolled sushi) for lunch with the help of local women, who will give us insight into their daily lives as we eat.

    After a satisfying homemade lunch, we’ll return to Kyoto, where you’ll have the rest of the afternoon to relax independently and enjoy dinner on your own.

    Or round out today’s discoveries with an optional tour that celebrates traditional Japanese music and architecture. We’ll travel by taxi to a performer’s house to meet a musician couple who still practice on traditional instruments. Some of these, like the three-stringed shamisen, have histories dating back to the 16th century. We’ll learn about the history of this art form before being treated to a brief concert—perhaps you’ll try out an instrument yourself. Then we’ll depart by taxi for the Higashiyama district, in the heart of Kyoto's Gion Corner, where travelers can take an evening walk along charming cobblestone streets that evoke the romance of old Kyoto with their traditional wooden buildings. We’ll stroll past shops, merchants' houses, and ryokan (Japanese-style inns) before stopping for an included dinner at a local restaurant.

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    Today, continue exploring Kyoto on your own. This spiritual city is home to a tremendous number of religious sites—nearly 300 Shinto shrines and 1,700 Buddhist temples—for you to discover. Or, for a look at some of the artwork these ancient religions have inspired, you can view Shinto and Buddhist art at the Hosomi Art Museum. And if pottery is your interest, you can browse an enormous selection of bowls, vases, sake cups, and other items fired by local potters at the Kyoto Ceramics Center.

    Bamboo forest, Arashiyama district, Kyoto, Japan

    Or join our optional tour to Arashiyama. On this excursion, we'll take a walking tour of two of the most beautiful gardens in this region of Japan, renowned for its bamboo groves and Togetsukyo Bridge spanning the Oi River. We'll gather after breakfast for a walk down to the train station and arrive in the Arashiyama neighborhood, where our first stop is Tenryuji Temple. The primary temple of the Rinzai school of Zen, it was originally built in 1339 and has been destroyed by wars and fires and rebuilt many times. Most of the structures here now date from the late 19th century, but the exquisite Zen garden—which includes a large pond, elevated rock groupings, and delicate cherry trees—is many centuries old. Next we'll see Okochi-Sanso, a lovely garden located on top of a hill, providing a peaceful glimpse of the quiet Kyoto environs. Here you will be served Japanese tea and cake. We'll return to our hotel in the early afternoon.

    Tonight enjoy a Farewell Dinner at a local restaurant.

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    • Meals included:

    We transfer by shuttle to the airport in Osaka. From here, our flight home will leave in the afternoon or early evening.

    Or, if you're continuing on our optional post-trip extension to Hiroshima, you'll transfer to this coastal city by bullet train today.

Extensions

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Ratings based on percentage of travelers who rated these features "Excellent".

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Weather & Regional

Before you travel, we encourage you to learn about the region of the world you'll discover on this trip. From weather and currency information to details on population, geography, and local history, you'll find a comprehensive introduction to your destinations below.  Visit our “What to Know” page to find information about the level of activity to expect, vaccination information resources, and visa requirements specific to this vacation.

What to Know

For more detailed information about this trip, download our Travel Handbook below. This document covers a wide range of information on specific areas of your trip, from passport, visa, and medical requirements; to the currencies of the countries you’ll visit and the types of electrical outlets you’ll encounter. This handbook is written expressly for this itinerary. For your convenience, we've highlighted our travelers' most common areas of interest on this page.

Download the Travel Handbook

What to Expect

Pacing

  • 4 locations in 13 days with 3 train rides and one overland drive of 4.5 hours

Physical requirements

  • Not appropriate for travelers using wheelchairs, walkers, or other mobility aids
  • You must be able to walk 5-8 miles unassisted and participate in 6-7 hours of physical activities each day
  • No luggage porters are available at hotels or on trains—you must be able to carry your own bags

Climate

  • Daytime temperatures range from 50-60°F in early spring to 85-95°F in summer

Terrain

  • Walk over city streets, through Japanese gardens and outdoor markets, and within temples and shrines in which the ground may be uneven and stairways may lack handrails
  • Trip extensions in Tokyo and Hiroshima visit many sites that require climbing up and down stairs.

Transportation

  • Travel by 24-passenger air-conditioned minibus (no toilet on board), shinkansen (bullet train), subway, local train, and 250-passenger boat
  • Public transportation is used on trip extensions in Tokyo and Hiroshima, often at subway stations with no escalators or elevators

Accommodations & Facilities

  • Hotel rooms, particularly in Tokyo, are smaller than U.S. and offer simple amenities
  • 2 nights at a traditional Japanese inn with futon-style bedding on the floor
  • All accommodations feature private baths with hot water and Western-style toilet facilities

Travel Documents

Passport

Your passport should meet these requirements for this itinerary:

  • It should be valid for at least 6 months after your scheduled return to the U.S.
  • It should have the recommended number of blank pages (refer to the handbook for details).
  • The blank pages must be labeled “Visas” at the top. Pages labeled “Amendments and Endorsements” are not acceptable.

Visas

U.S. citizens do not need a visa for this trip.

If you are not a U.S. citizen, do not travel with a U.S. passport, or will be traveling independently before/after this trip, then you may need a visa. Please check with the appropriate embassy or a visa servicing company. To contact our recommended visa servicing company, PVS International, call toll-free at 1-800-556-9990.

Vaccinations Information

For a detailed and up-to-date list of vaccinations that are recommended for this trip, please visit the CDC’s “Traveler’s Health” website. You can also refer to the handbook for details.

Before Your Trip

Before you leave on your adventure, there are at least four health-related things you should do. Please check the handbook for specifics, but for now, here’s the short list:

Step 1: Check with the CDC for their recommendations for the countries you’ll be visiting.
Step 2: Have a medical checkup with your doctor.
Step 3: Pick up any necessary medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
Step 4: Have a dental and/or eye checkup. (Recommended, but less important than steps 1-3.)

What to Bring

In an effort to help you bring less, we have included checklists within the handbook, which have been compiled from suggestions by Trip Leaders and former travelers. The lists are only jumping-off points—they offer recommendations based on experience, but not requirements. You might also want to refer to the climate charts in the handbook or online weather forecasts before you pack. Refer to the handbook for details.

Insider Tips

Accommodations

Main Trip

  • Hotel Sardonyx

    Tokyo, Japan

    The recently remodeled Hotel Sardonyx is conveniently located in the Nihonbashi neighborhood of Tokyo, close to a number of attractions—including the Imperial Palace and the Tsukiji Fish Market—and the metro. The hotel features complimentary Internet access and an on-site restaurant, and each of its 135 air-conditioned rooms includes a TV, telephone, safe, refrigerator, coffee- and tea-making facilities, and private bath with hair dryer.

  • Gora Asahi Hotel

    Hakone, Japan

    Our home for two nights in Hakone is the Gora Asahi Hotel, where 28 Japanese-style rooms will help you get a feel for Japanese culture. Rooms here offer simple amenities and have private bath with hair dryer. We sleep on authentic futons that are rolled up during the day.

  • Kanazawa Sky Hotel

    Kanazawa, Japan

    The Kanazawa Sky Hotel is situated in the historic city center, in front of the bustling Ohmi-cho open-air market. All 100 rooms are air-conditioned and feature satellite TV, private bath, and hair dryer. You’ll enjoy Chinese, Japanese, and Western cuisine options in the hotel restaurant.

  • Hearton Hotel

    Kyoto, Japan

    Located near Kyoto’s major subway lines and within walking distance of the Hongan-ji temple complex, restaurants, and shopping, this hotel is ideally located for exploring the city. Its 294 rooms are simply but comfortably appointed—each includes a TV, refrigerator, tea-making facilities, and private bath with hair dryer. Hotel amenities include Western-style and Japanese restaurants, free Internet access, and laundry service.

Extensions

  • Hotel Sardonyx

    Tokyo, Japan

    The recently remodeled Hotel Sardonyx is conveniently located in the Nihonbashi neighborhood of Tokyo, close to a number of attractions—including the Imperial Palace and the Tsukiji Fish Market—and the metro. The hotel features complimentary Internet access and an on-site restaurant, and each of its 135 air-conditioned rooms includes a TV, telephone, safe, refrigerator, coffee- and tea-making facilities, and private bath with hair dryer.

  • Hotel Century 21

    Hiroshima, Japan

    The Hotel Century 21 is conveniently located near several shops and restaurants and is about a three-minute walk to the Hiroshima railway station. There is a traditional Japanese restaurant and Western-style café at the 76-room hotel. Each air-conditioned room features Internet access, satellite TV, fridge, and private bath with tub and hair dryer.

Flight Information

Flight Options to Personalize Your Trip

You can choose to stay longer before or after your trip on your own, or combine two adventures to maximize your value. Here are more ways to create the OAT adventure that’s right for you:

  • Extend your adventure and lower your per day cost with our optional pre- and post-trip extensions
  • Choose our standard air routing, or work with us to select the airline and routing you prefer
  • Make your own international flight arrangements directly with the airline, applying frequent flyer miles if available
  • International airport transfers to and from your hotel, including meet and greet service, are available for purchase
  • Stay overnight in a connecting city before or after your trip
  • Request to arrive a few days early to get a fresh start on your adventure
  • Choose to “break away” before or after your trip, spending additional days or weeks on your own
  • Combine your choice of OAT adventures to maximize your value
  • Upgrade to business or premium economy class
  • Extend your Land Tour-only Travel Protection Plan coverage and protect the air arrangements you make on your own—including your frequent traveler miles

The air options listed above will involve an additional fee of $100 per person for confirmed requests (as well as incremental airfare costs based on your specific choice).

Or, when you make your reservation, you can choose our standard air routing, for which approximate travel times are shown below.

Standard Air Routing

w/out standard air $3095
w/ standard air $4595

Partner since: 2014
Total donated: $4,250

Making a difference in Japan

Your visit to a local Buddhist temple is just one aspect of your Day in the Life experience, which is featured on most OAT itineraries. Each Day in the Life is specifically tailored to showcase daily life in your destination—in this case, traditional Japan. You'll get to known local people through conversation and hands-on activities, gaining an authentic glimpse of what life is really like here—and not just the typical tourist's version.

"I feel that I experienced Japan not as a tourist but as a traveler ... We were taken to a small farming village and talked with the local farmers and learned about their life. We visited the beautiful home of the descendants of a samurai and saw how an upper-class family lived ... I have many fond memories that I will cherish forever."

Joanna Lange, 9-time traveler
Columbia, South Carolina

A Day in the Life of Traditional Japan

Japanese culture has been developing for thousands of years, and today it is a complex system of traditions that cling to the both the modern and ancient. As you’ll discover on your Day in the Life experience, the best way to understand Japanese culture is by meeting the country’s people and glimpsing into their daily lives.

We’ll do just that when we take a boat to Senkoji Temple, a 400-year-old working temple supported in part by funds from Grand Circle Foundation. Here, we’ll explore Japan’s spiritual side by practicing Zen meditation and participating in a traditional tea ceremony with a local monk. While Senkoji was once a prayer temple for Emperor Go-Saga, the original structure was destroyed by a typhoon in 1959. Today, the temple is hoping to raise the funds to restore its main hall and preserve its historical and cultural significance, which may be possible in the future with Foundation support—and the support of travelers like you.

Next, we’ll delve into Japan’s agricultural culture with a visit to an organic farm in Kameoka. We’ll help local farmers pick fresh vegetables, and take them with us when we visit Heki-tei, a 300-year-old house where a famous samurai once lived. Here, we’ll use our fresh-picked produce to prepare and eat makizushi (rolled sushi) for lunch with the help of local women, who will give us insight into their daily lives as we eat.

By the time we return to our hotel in the evening, we hope you’ll have a richer sense of what life is like in Japan and an appreciation for the warmth of the people who call this country home.

Alan and Harriet Lewis founded Grand Circle Foundation in 1992 as a means of giving back to the world we travel. Because they donate an annually determined amount of revenue from our trips, we consider each one of our travelers as a partner in the Foundation’s work around the world. To date, the Foundation has pledged or donated more than $97 million in support of 300 different organizations—including 60 villages and nearly 100 schools that lie in the paths of our journeys.

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Solo Traveler Stories

Why Travel Solo on Japan's Cultural Treasures

We're proud to offer the best value for solo travelers in the industry, guaranteed, with FREE Single Supplements on your base trip and all extensions. Travel with the leader in solo-friendly travel on Japan's Cultural Treasuresand save up to $1500 per person versus the competition.

Our small group size and expert, resident Trip Leaders help solo travelers make personal connections and ensure peace of mind. Here are some thoughts from solo travelers about why this adventure was right for them.

"All in all, this was one of the best trips I’ve taken. We saw so much, including the important cultural temples, shrines, and national sights; we experienced the Japanese culture in so many ways—a variety of Japanese food, the wonderful home visit, the farm visit, a Japanese musical evening, the trains, the department stores, and the little family-run shops that have been passed down for thousands of years. Toshi was a wonderful Trip Leader. She emailed us before the trip, took pictures of us, and emailed the pictures to us on our return home."

Frankie Rodgers Hall, 8-time traveler
Williamsburg, Virginia

Japan: Exploring My Granddaughter’s Artistic Passions

Roberta Jacobson, 2-time traveler, Northbrook, Illinois

My husband and I have always loved to travel. We’ve explored the world both together and independently from one another. Occasionally, we like to take our entire family on special trips—and sometimes, we like to travel with our grandchildren. My husband takes our grandson on one-on-one trips, and I take my granddaughter, Haley, which was exactly what I decided to do during my recent journey to Japan.

Haley is a dedicated Japanese student, and hopes to live in the country one day. She loves everything about the language, culture, and especially, the art of manga (Japanese cartooning). I wanted to be able to experience the culture of Japan with her.

I chose to travel with OAT because my husband and I had taken a previous trip from Paris to Carcassonne—and OAT’s Japan’s Cultural Treasures adventure was the best value for the money over all of the other travel companies I researched. I also wanted to travel with a small group, but I didn’t want to have to do a lot of planning. It seemed OAT was the perfect choice for Haley and me—and they did an outstanding job from start to finish.

We truly lucked out with our fellow group members. I warned Haley that she would probably be the only teenager in our group. As it turned out, there was a family in our group with a son and daughter just a little older than Haley, and with similar interests. In fact, this family came from an area in Wisconsin that was very close to where Haley and her family live. Even the older group members were extremely active and never held our group back.

This trip far exceeded my expectations. Much of it was due to our amazing Trip Leader, Machiko Abe. She emailed me prior to our departure to ask if there was anything she could arrange to make this trip more enjoyable for Haley and I. I told her of Haley’s love for anime—and that there were a few museums I wanted to take her to. Machiko sent me information about these museums and I was even able to purchase tickets for one of the museums while I was still at home!

Once we were in Hakone, Haley and I decided to visit the Hakone Open Art Museum. Machiko took us—along with one other couple from our group and my friend who was also traveling with us—to the train station, showed us how to buy our tickets on the machine, waited while we explored the museum, and then took us back to the hotel.

Haley and I traveled to Italy, Spain, and France the summer before our trip to Japan, but I think Japan was the best trip we’ve ever had. She really loved being able to explore the Japanese culture: enjoying dinner and entertainment with a Maiko (geisha in training), visiting the Kyoto International Manga Museum, learning how to make sushi, and our home visit in Kyoto.

The best part about traveling with Haley is how easy she is to be with. She is always happy to go along with the group, and when we had some free time, she was happy to rest by herself while I explored with my friend. I loved being able to watch Japan come alive for Haley, and I look forward to many more travels with her.

Private Departures

Explore Japan in an Exclusive Group

Reserve a Private Departure of Japan's Cultural Treasures  for your exclusive group of as few as 8 travelers, and enjoy a truly special adventure for just you and your family or friends—for an additional $900 per person.

For more details—or to reserve your Private Departure—call your Group Sales Account Representative toll-free at 1-800-353-6262 and select Option #3.

Please note: Some restrictions apply. See our Private Departures page for details.

Save 10% when you reserve by 7/31/14

It’s simple with our Good Buy Plan: The earlier you reserve and pay in full by check or electronic funds transfer, the more you’ll save on your 2015 departure of Japan's Cultural Treasures—a value of up to $629 per person.

This example demonstrates how you can save, based on a 8/1/15 departure:

  ORIGINAL PRICE
per person
SAVE 10%
when you reserve
by 7/31/14
SAVE 6%
when you reserve
by 10/1/14
Land Tour only price: $3295 $2966 $3097
Add a Hiroshima extension: $1195 $1076 $1123
Add international airfare out of Los Angeles: $1800 $1620 $1692
Total price per person $6290 $5661 $5913

Use our Dates & Prices feature to begin planning your trip, determine your savings with our Good Buy Plan calculator, and Request A Call to speak with our expert Travel Counselors.

Captivated in Kyoto

Finding the essence of Japan in its former capital

by A.C. Doyle, for Overseas Adventure Travel

At the Gion Corner there are nightly performances by geishas.

There are a handful of destinations on Earth that make you feel blessed and privileged to have simply been there and seen them. You wish a parent had been alive to see it with you, or that you’d gone there sooner. You feel that delicious frisson of “I’m actually here, I’m actually seeing it!” Kyoto will do that to you.

Kyoto escaped the fate of a great many other Japanese cities. For much of the war, it was spared due to a principle in the Roosevelt Administration that mirrors the current UNESCO World Heritage Site designations—that is, that destruction merely for the sake of destruction is a wartime evil best avoided. Truman was, however, advised by some to consider Kyoto as a target for the first atomic bomb, since, as a cultural and intellectual center, it would serve as a crushing example of the folly in Japan’s continuing futile war efforts. Thankfully, for Japan, the world, and lucky visitors, Henry Stimson raised a violent protest against the choice, and Kyoto was spared.

Still, preservation alone does not the city make. Kyoto means, literally, Capital City, and for one thousand years it served as the Imperial home. Originally, in 794, Emperor Kammu settled there in order to remove his family and court from the growing influence of the Buddhist clergy. It was not until the Imperial Restoration of 1868 that the capital moved to Tokyo. Many Japanese still consider Kyoto their true capital. So for an entire millennium Kyoto was the heart of not only imperial power, but the art, architecture, culture, and scholarship that defines what we now think of as distinctively, classically, Japanese.

Explore the sights

I was once asked to name the most beautiful building I’ve ever encountered. After a few moments of speculation, the choice was clear: “The Kinkaku-ji!” The Golden Pagoda, or Kinkaku-ji, is a marvel for the ages. Its elegance lies in simplicity. It is entirely covered in gold leaf, and sits out on a rocky outcropping overlooking the lake of the Rukuon-ji temple compound. At sunset it is absolutely magnificent. A crazed monk burnt it to the ground in 1950, but the impeccable 1954 recreation is considered virtually indistinguishable from the 1397 original. It still serves as a shariden, housing ashes of the Buddha.

Another mandatory temple visit is to the Kiyomizu-dera, a stunning example of 17th-century Japanese architecture, perched atop a hillside overlooking the old town and affording magnificent views. The main floor is supported by massive wooden columns, and overhangs its base at a height of some 40 feet above the hillside. Tradition holds that anyone surviving the jump would have his wishes granted. Several hundred tried before the practice was forbidden, and five out of every six survived (about an 85% survival rate). It is also located at the confluence of three waterfalls, which spill into a fountain. The water is supposed to have healing powers, and visitors are still allowed to drink from it—they just can’t jump afterwards.

The Kyoto and Shento imperial palaces will undoubtedly reserve a prime seat in your Kyoto itinerary, and they are magnificent indeed. The Katsura Villa also served as a home for emperors and shoguns, and is located nearby. The architecture is quintessential, the sculptures lovely and fierce at once, the interiors stark yet regal, and you can envision the samurais guarding the shogun as the geishas shuffle past.

Witness the glamor of geishas

Kyoto was the geisha capital of Japan for centuries. At the Gion Corner, there are nightly performances by geishas. As you are most likely aware, the traditional geisha was not merely a high-priced courtesan, but rather a woman of education, culture, conversational skill, and extensive training in art, music, singing, and dancing.

The lion’s share of the geisha’s value was established with her clothes still on. Accordingly, you needn’t fear any unceremonious features to these traditional geisha ceremonies. Instead, you will see the geishas serve tea, arrange flowers, play traditional instruments, dance, and even perform bunraku (puppet theater, typically comedic).

Sample the spirits

As for beverages, there are five main types of sake, four of them known as Tokutei Meishoshu, or Special Designation, and distinguished by how much is pure rice wine versus the amount of distilled alcohol added. The fifth is a catch-all category. Because the brewing and fermentation processes determine the flavor, even the Japanese are often uncertain as to which type they are drinking—meaning, don’t trouble yourself with these categories at all. The best sake is often enjoyed cold, but I vastly prefer it as hot as possible. As for beer, all of the four major breweries (Kirin, Asahi, Sapporo, and Suntory) make excellent pilsner/lager styles of ale/beer.

Savor the spirit of Kyoto

If, after a day or so, you feel yourself strolling a bit more slowly, perhaps shopping for a parasol rather than slathering on SPF50, bowing to the locals instinctively rather than self-consciously, stopping to smell the abundant blossoms, and maybe even looking forward to some yudofu (blocks of tofu simmered in hot water along with veggies)… well, then you’ll more fully appreciate the opening paean of this article, feel the blessings of the Buddha’s jhana settling upon your soul, and feel the spirit of Kyoto. Sayonara, and gambatte (or “Good luck—Keep at it!”). I wish I were going with you.