Travel Japan with O.A.T. 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 hot springs.
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 visit local markets and craft workshops, partake in a traditional tea ceremony, and travel by rail just as the Japanese do. Welcome to Japan—O.A.T. style.
3 nights from only $795
Capital of Japan only since the 19th century, Tokyo has blossomed into the world's largest metropolis, yet maintains an astonishing blend of the ultra-modern with centuries-old temples and shrines. Join us and explore bustling local markets, visit serene gardens, see traditional homes of Tokyo's Yanaka district, and kick off your travel in Japan.View Extension Itinerary
Depart the U.S. today on your overnight flight to Tokyo, Japan.
Going Local: Tokyo
Let locals guide you through Tokyo—from its most popular shops to its most unusual restaurants.
Arrive at the Tokyo airport in the late afternoon or early evening today. An O.A.T. representative will greet us at the airport and assist with the transfer to our hotel in Tokyo, where we'll meet our O.A.T. Trip Leader and fellow travelers, including those who arrived early for the optional Tokyo pre-trip extension.
Today, we'll 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 visit Yasukuni Shrine, a memorial completed in 1869 to honor the 2.5 million Japanese people who have died in war. While its name literally translates to “Peace of the Country,” Yasukuni became one of Japan’s most controversial sites in 1979 when 14 class-A war criminals were enshrined here.
Later, we'll return to our hotel briefly before departing for a Welcome Dinner at a local restaurant.
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.
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.
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 by cruising Lake Ashi from Kojiri to Moto-Hakone, where, weather permitting, you will have tremendous views of majestic Mount Fuji. Then, on the shores of Lake Ashi, we’ll visit the Narukawa Art Museum, which displays countless examples of traditional Japanese paintings that owner Minoru Narukawa has collected in the past 20 years.
After lunch at a local restaurant, we’ll visit 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. Later, we’ll continue our discovery of Hakone’s artistic culture by visiting the Hakone Open-Air Museum, a collection of about 100 works strategically set in 70,000 square meters of green space.
We’ll return to our hotel for dinner this evening.
Please note: Alternative activities may be substituted for some of the visits described above depending on weather conditions.
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 up to 200 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.
We have breakfast at our hotel and then begin our exploration of Kanazawa with a guided tour of this historic city.
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'll tour the Higashi-Chaya district with its old wooden structures. We'll also visit Kaikaro, a 190-year-old ochaya—a teahouse where geishas perform. Here, we'll admire the teahouse's decor, which is a true fusion between modern and ancient Japan.
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 museum. These thin sheets of gold have been produced in Kanazawa since the 16th century, and are used to decorate everything from handcrafts to Buddhist alters. In the museum, 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.
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.
Following 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, we'll enjoy lunch together before we transfer to the train station and board a train bound for Kyoto.
Kyoto was Japan’s imperial capital through the eighth to 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.
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 AD 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.
After breakfast, today is free for you to explore Kyoto on your own.
Or you can choose to join us on an optional tour 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 Todaiji Temple's Daibutsu-den Hall, you will first be impressed by its massive size, as it is the largest wooden building in the world. It is also one of the major historic temples in Japan and contains valuable artifacts. Here, we'll admire the Daibutsu—an impressive 52-foot Buddha statue. As we continue to explore Todaiji, we'll likely notice another charming feature of its park area: its tame, free-roaming deer, which were traditionally regarded as the messengers of the Shinto god Kasuga. If you want a close-up introduction to them, you can purchase shika senbei (special biscuits) to feed them, but be prepared to be very popular with these lovely creatures when you offer them food.
We'll also visit the Kasuga Shinto Shrine, which dates back to AD 768. Here, we'll stroll along the shrine’s wooded paths, admiring its impressive collection of 3,000 stone lanterns. After lunch at a local restaurant in Nara, we'll continue to the lovely town of Fushimi, where we’ll visit one of the most popular shrines in Japan: Fushimi-Inari.
This evening, you can seek out a local restaurant to have dinner on your own.
After breakfast at our hotel, we'll depart for a 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 powdered tea called matcha 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.
This afternoon, we'll bid sayonara to Senkoji and journey to Kameoka, a city that was once the agricultural hub for the former imperial capital of Kyoto. Here, we'll dive into the country’s rich gastronomical traditions by learning how to make a traditional Japanese dish—perhaps sushi or onigiri—with the help of locals.
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.
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.
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.
Today, you will fly home from Osaka on an afternoon or early evening flight.
Or, if you're continuing on our optional post-trip extension to Hiroshima, you'll transfer to this coastal city by bullet train today.
3 nights from only $1195
Built on an island chain in the Ota River Delta, Hiroshima will always be remembered for the events of August 6, 1945. But in the years since, the city has rebuilt, grown, and created the Peace Memorial Park. Extend your Japanese adventure and get to know this lively international city.View Extension Itinerary