Japan culture tour, Shoguns & Samurai

“A two week, guided small group tour of Japan’s greatest and wonderfully eclectic highlights. An inspired itinerary. ”


Tokyo | Senso-ji Buddhist temple | Obuse | Yudanaka Onsen | Snow monkeys | Nakasendo Trail | Narai | Tsumago | Magome | Takayama | Kyoto | Nara | Mount Koya

Description of Japan culture tour, Shoguns & Samurai

A two week long, small group tour around Japan’s cultural highlights with our expert and highly experienced local guide. This unique country’s culture and history are so rich, that even a two week long Japan culture tour will still only feel like an introduction, but this itinerary will immerse you deeply and quickly. Every day is different, with the likes of Imperial Kyoto and Nara one day or the ancient Nakasendo Trail, where you can follow in the footsteps of feudal warlords through the mountains, on another. The Trail is 500km long, but we will take on the Kiso Valley section visiting the traditional ‘post towns’ of Magome and Tsumago further over the Magome Pass.

Hot springs and bathing are at the core of Japanese culture, and there are plenty of opportunities to soak on this tour, such as in the ancient city of Takayama in the Hida region, with the backdrop of mountains and ancient wooden houses. Even the monkeys bathe in Japan, as you will see from our visit to the famous snow monkeys of Yudanaka, which take to the hot springs here when mountain temperatures drop.

Kyoto holds the cultural crown of Japan with fourteen UNESCO World Heritage sites. So we spend three days here, allowing plenty of time to visit its ancient temples such as the Golden Pavilion of Kinkakuji, palaces, the historic district of Gion with its omnipresent teahouses and shrines. Also a contemporary metropolis, Kyoto is definitely cultural chic.

Starting and ending in Tokyo, visiting its iconic sites and highlights, one of the high points of this Japan culture tour is on our last night before returning to Tokyo, and something that is in total contrast to its big city lights: Staying overnight at the Buddhist Temple at Mount Koya, where the chanting, serenity and indeed cuisine of the place is unforgettable.

Other accommodation on this trip includes traditional ryokan or minshuku inns, and smaller hotels in the cities. Travelling in a group that is no bigger than thirteen people, you are able to savour each cultural experience, with the help of your English-speaking Japanese tour leader, in the best way possible.

Day-by-day itinerary

Day 1:The tour starts in Tokyo. Meet your guide and other group members at the tour hotel in central Tokyo. Start exploring the wonder that is Tokyo.
Day 2:On our second day in Tokyo, we visit Asakusa, famous for the magnificent Senso-ji Buddhist temple, as well as the old residential, or shitamachi, area of Yanaka, After all that walking, end the day on a Sumida River trip to the Hamarikyu gardens.
Day 3:Today we travel to Obuse to experience two contrasting aspects of Japanese culture: wood block printing, at the dedicated museum, and also a sake brewery at Masuichi-Ichimura. From here we visit one of Japan’s most quirky natural sites, the hot springs at Yudanaka Onsen, famous for the ‘snow monkeys’ that come down from the cool heights to bathe in the warm water. Tonight we stay in a, traditional inn known as a ryokan.
Day 4:The Nakasendo Trail is an ancient byway that was used by feudal lords to travel between Kyoto and Edo, which is today’s Tokyo. Along the way, there were traditional post towns where travellers stopped for rest and food. Today we visit Narai, one of the remaining post towns, and still retaining its traditional feel. The Trail is a famous walking trail now, and the accommodations along the way are traditional ryokan inns, or smaller minshuku inns, where we will spend the night.
Day 5:After enjoying some more time on the iconic Nakasendo Trail, including another couple of post towns - Tsumago which is home to a charming Japanese folk museum, and Magome, where we will spend the night in a traditional family run inn, or minshuku. The beautifully-preserved architecture of this village is utterly enchanting.
Day 6-7:Today we head to Takayama in the mountainous Hida region, famous for its beef production, which is a must on the menus during our stay here. With a beautifully conserved old town, known as San-machi, wandering around the ancient houses, artisans’ workshops and narrow streets really does take you back in time.
Day 8-10:Take the train to Kyoto with two days ahead to explore this cultural gem of a city, with imperial palaces, 14 UNESCO sites such as the Golden Pavilion of Kinkakuji. As well as the historic district of Gion with tea houses tucked into ancient wooden houses, and geishas still going about their duties, serenely and secretly.
Day 11:Today we head to the stunning, ancient city of Nara, which was the capital city in the 8th century and saw seven emperors rule from here. And so much of it preserved, with Japan’s highest number of buildings designated National Treasures in one city. Hardly surprising, as it was home to seven consecutive emperors, and also a religious transition from Shintoism to Buddhism. Consequently, religious sites here are a must, such as the Todai-ji temple, the Museum of Buddhist Art as well as the largest Buddha statue in Japan.
Day 12:From cultural highlights to natural ones, we take the superb scenic rail route up to Mount Koya, where no fewer than a hundred Buddhist temples are located. You won’t get to see them all, but you will get to stay in a Buddhist temple’s accommodation tonight, with superb food prepared by the monks. Indeed, Mount Koya is the burial place of Kobo Daishi, the founder of the Shingon Buddhist movement, so it is considered a very holy place.
Day 13:Take the bullet train back to Tokyo.
Day 14:Our tour finishes today. Do please ask our tour leader’s advice if you are extending your trip, or require information on travelling to the airport.

Hello. If you'd like to chat about this holiday or need help finding one we're very happy to help. Rosy & team.

01273 823 700


Check dates

2017: 25 Mar, 3 Apr, 8 May, 16 Jul, 15 Oct, 4 Nov

Responsible tourism

Responsible tourism: Japan culture tour, Shoguns & Samurai

This tour is part of a new trend in rural tourism in Japan, supporting small, family-run inns and guesthouses, in small towns and villages that often have few work opportunities. Going against the traditional form of tourism in Japan, large concrete resort hotels catering to large groups, our tours go to destinations off the main tourist trail for foreigners in Japan, encouraging local people to conserve older, traditionally-constructed buildings and take pride in their traditions. We use public transport throughout this trip to lessen the environmental impact.

The town of Obuse is a good example of an enlightened policy towards conservation and responsible tourism, where walking between the various restored buildings is encouraged and the local sake brewery is the first in Japan to reintroduce the traditional method of barrel-brewed sake.

The presence of a Japanese-speaking foreign tour leader makes a big difference in cultural interaction, and lessens the possibility of minor cultural gaffes by foreigners that might otherwise create some nervousness on the part of the locals about hosting foreign guests.

We also make a donation for each customer to the Nature Conservation Society of Japan and the Japan National Trust, organisations which help protect the nature and also architectural heritage of Japan.

Reviews of Japan culture tour, Shoguns & Samurai

You can trust Responsible Travel reviews because, unlike many other schemes, reviews can ONLY be written by people who we have verified have been on the holidays.

I am reborn! Simply the best holiday I have ever been on
Some great stories to tell the grandchildren. Would recommend to a friend
Very enjoyable
It was OK
A bit disappointing really

Reviewed on 11 Nov 2016 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

The whole thing was tremendous - felt we got a real insight into Japan today and in the past.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Lots to fit in so its a wonderfully fast paced busy holiday.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Yes - loved the use of the fantastic public transport systems.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

One of the best holidays we have been on - very well planned to give a varied taste of the Japanese culture.

Reviewed on 22 Nov 2010 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

We visited some great places on the Shoguns and Samurai tour but the most memorable part of the holiday was getting a bit of an insight into the people and culture of everyday Japan by travelling on local trains and buses and staying in local inns in rural areas rather than faceless hotels. Our small group of people from around the world were an interesting bunch and really added flavour to the overall experience.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

As you're travelling with just a rucksack quite a bit of the time, whilst your main luggage is sent on, it really does make sense to pack light. As with any country, learning a few basic words of the language helps and having an open mind to new experiences is important.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

Yes, by going local and staying in local inns, often family businesses, I think we certainly helped the local economies in the smaller towns we visited.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

A great trip - I'd recommend this to anyone who prefers a rather 'packaged' type of trip.

Reviewed on 08 May 2010 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

A walking trip across a mountain ridge between Tsumago and Magome.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Be prepared for freak weather situations in April!

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?


4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

It was a great trip, and Andy, our tour guide, was very knowledgeable and helpful. Got to know some nice people, and the destinations were carefully chosen.

Reviewed on 26 Aug 2009 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

I truly enjoyed each day and the new experiences we had, every place we visited was interesting. I loved travelling on the trains and buses, seeing the surrounding countryside with the crops of rice, tea and vegetables growing. This also gave us the chance to observe people on the trains and at stations going about their everyday life and being part of the hustle and bustle. I was amazed how green and lush everywhere was and the abundance of water gushing out of wells and down the sides of streets. There were many flowers and trees growing that we have in England, which I didn't expect and it was fascinating to see how different the gardens were with the clipped shrubs and neat borders.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

If you travel on your own, which I did for the first time on this trip, you can be assured that you will be well looked after. We had a fantastic guide and the organisation was second to none. Even when there was free time, our guide made sure that we knew where we were going and helped us with any questions. I felt quite safe walking about on my own in Japan and even though I can't speak the language people were very helpful in the street if I needed to ask directions, so long as I had a map to point to! Always carry the name and address of the accommodation you are staying at with you so that if needed you can get a taxi to take you back if you get lost. Carry the mobile phone number of your guide with you at all times. Even if you don't have a mobile phone that works in Japan, you could ask someone to ring the number for you.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

Yes, I did because we used public transport and stayed in many family run accommodations in rural areas.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

It was a fascinating experience and everything went to plan.

Reviewed on 05 Jun 2009 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

For me, it was the food - tastes, presentation, new ingredients - quite different to anything I have tasted at home. It has inspired me to learn more about Japanese food.
The scenery, temples and shrines came a close second and I loved the overnight stay at the monastery on Mount Koya (wanted to stay longer). Public transport was amazing! So clean everywhere. People very helpful and friendly. I could go on and on...

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

It does involve a lot of travelling, so need to be prepared for that. Pack a very light bag and then take out some stuff and re-pack! We took far too much although we had been warned (we thought it wasn't much, but wait till you have carried a backpack around for a few days).

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

Hope so! Liked the use of public transport and staying in local, family-run minshuku and ryokan.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Fantastic experience. We saw much more than if we had been on our own and it was great having a guide who could interpret and explain how things worked. The downside was the amount of travelling we did - some days were spent doing very little other than sitting on trains and buses. I would have liked to spend more time enjoying fewer places, I think. A bit more flexibility and choice over activities would also have been good. Tokyo was better than expected (and the hotel was excellent) but Kyoto was disappointing - I think the location and accommodation could have been better here; we were in a very busy, touristy area and I was expecting high culture!

Read the operator's response here:

Dear Daniela,
Thank you very much for your review. I agree the food is excellent, particularly the local cuisine in the rural areas. I understand your point about the amount of travelling, and we'll be looking again at ways to minimize this whilst still showing visitors all these wonderful places. The Kyoto hotel on this particular tour was not our regular, and I am sorry if it didn't match your expectations. All in all I am happy that you enjoyed the trip.

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