Japan small group holiday, Japan unmasked

“Our best value two week guided small group tour, with budget accommodation that includes traditional stays, such as temple lodgings and a ryokan inn.”


Tokyo | Nagano | Bullet train travel | Takayama in Japanese Alps | Matsumoto | Stay in traditional ryokan | Kenrokuen Gardens | Kurashiki canals | Kyoto | Hiroshima and Peace Museum.

Description of Japan small group holiday, Japan unmasked

Snow monkeys, a Buddhist temple stay, neon-spangled skyscrapers and rural mountain towns. Japan Unmasked offers fantastic value and a fascinating insight into Japan old and new. This flexible tour, led by an experienced tour leader, allows you to spend as much, or as little, as you want. Visit Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima and more!

Whether it's slurping on a bowl of noodles with suited salary men at a railway cafe, or splurging on a succulent Kobe beef steak at the finest restaurant in Kyoto, our itinerary is flexible enough to cater for any budget.

The tour begins in the high octane-city of Tokyo, the neon heart of this amazing country. The first of many rides on Japan's Shinkansen bullet train will then whisk us into the Japanese Alps, where a magical stay in Nagano's most important Buddhist temple awaits. A chance to see the mischievous snow monkeys as they soak in the natural hot spring pools of Yudanaka Onsen will be followed by a visit to one of Japan's original samurai castles in Matsumoto.

We delve deeper into the mountains to the traditional market town of Takayama, home to folk villages and sake breweries. In Kanazawa we will have the opportunity to follow the footsteps of geisha and samurai, visit the ninja Temple and witness the pinnacle of Japanese gardens, Kenrokuen.

Back on the Shinkansen, we speed further west to Hiroshima, a dynamic city offering great food and nightlife, world class art galleries, and the sobering Peace Memorial Park. An optional day trip takes us to the romantic, sacred island of Miyajima to see the iconic floating torii gate.

The canal city of Kurashiki brings us a dose of culture, with renowned art galleries, cafes and craft shops or if you are feeling energetic we can hire bikes for a ride past the paddy fields of the Kibi Plains.

We save the best Shinkansen journey to last as we pass Mount Fuji and end back in Tokyo for a great final night out.

Travel Team

If you'd like to chat about this holiday or need help finding one we're very happy to help. The Travel Team.

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29 Apr 2019
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13 May 2019
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27 May 2019
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10 Jun 2019
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01 Jul 2019
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22 Jul 2019
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19 Aug 2019
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02 Sep 2019
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20 Sep 2019
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30 Sep 2019
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14 Oct 2019
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28 Oct 2019
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11 Nov 2019
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25 Nov 2019
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Our top tip:
Don't be afraid of language barrier. The Japanese have an innate ability to welcome guests, and it brings great pleasure when you return the compliment.
Trip type:
Small group, max 14 people.
Solo travellers have single room with NO surcharge, except in traditional accommodation.
Modest hotels with ensuites. 3 nights in traditional lodgings with shared bathrooms.
Accomm., tour guide, transport passes, some activities.
All breakfasts, 1 dinner included. Budget £3 for street food, £8-10 for dinner in modest restaurant.
“One of my favourite places to take people for a drink in Kyoto is an old bar run by an old lady, who tallies up the bills on an abacus.”

Responsible tourism

Responsible tourism: Japan small group holiday, Japan unmasked


Travelling in Japan is a joy thanks to the fantastic public transport system. During this whistle stop two week tour, you’ll travel by Shinkansen bullet train, local trains, highway buses, subway and even ferry if you make an optional day trip to Miyajima Island.

We highly recommend hiring a bike when in Kurashiki to ride across the Kibi Plains with the tour leader. Here’s you’ll pass villages and rice paddies, tiny little Shinto shrines and Buddhist cemeteries. Getting out into the countryside like this broadens the visitor’s understanding of Japan’s natural resources and why they must be protected.

It’s not difficult to be green in Japan and the tour leader will make lots of suggestions to help you, such as pointing out recycling bins, suggesting your turn down the hotel room air conditioning and asking accommodation staff not to replace towels and bed linens, and providing reusable chopsticks for the duration of the tour.


The Japan Unmasked tour includes two highlight stays in traditional Japanese accommodation. In Nagano we’ll stay in a shukubo, simple lodgings that were built for pilgrim’s visiting Zenko-ji Temple. As part of our stay we will be taken on a tour around Zenko-ji with an English speaking local guide who will explain the temple’s history stretching back to the 7th Century. The shukubo is just a stone’s throw from the temple which makes it easy for us to join the hall for the monks’ morning prayer service featuring chanting and meditation. Breakfast is shojin ryori – austere Buddhist fare that is strictly vegetarian.

In Takayama we stay in a minshuku, another traditional inn where we will again sleep on futon bedding on tatami mat floors. The rooms are not en-suite, instead we’ll bathe Japanese style in the communal hot spring baths (men and women separately). Dinner is included on the first night: a seasonal, locally grown, homecooked feast!

These inns offer a real insight into Japanese life helping us to better understand the communities we are travelling through.

25 Reviews of Japan small group holiday, Japan unmasked

4.5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed on 09 May 2018 by

The beautiful Himeji Castle floating above you on the horizon when walking towards it from the station. Hiroshima was very moving. Read full review

Reviewed on 02 Jan 2018 by

There were many `most memorable´things such as the autumn colours, the gardens, the Japanese people, the food, the variety you offered on this tour, the numerous surprises Japan has in store by being so different, the group, the tour leader. Read full review

Reviewed on 28 Oct 2018 by

Most memorable: The beautiful Japanese gardens, the forested mountains, the beautiful temples, the courtesy and helpfulness of the Japanese people. The wonderful food. The efficiency of public transport. Everything was so clean... Read full review

Reviewed on 27 Aug 2018 by

On the whole very interesting but very fast paced but obviously if visiting a lot of places in a short time things have to be missed out. Read full review

Reviewed on 19 Mar 2018 by

The highlight was meeting the Japanese people - they were so friendly and provided a fabulous service, all of them doing there best to help out the 'non Japanese' speaking tourists. Also, the country was virtually 'spotlessly' clean with no litter, graffiti or the usual grime one associates with Europe. Read full review

Reviewed on 03 Dec 2017 by

This was incredible trip. My favourite places were the beautiful seaside town of Kamakura, it’s tranquil temples, great Buddha... Read full review

Reviewed on 03 Jul 2017 by

The loveliness of Nagano was a surprise (the zen temple ceremony really special) Takayama (the city as a whole and a wonderful restaurant we found Kyoya), Masamoto castle, and the okonomiyaki meal in Hiroshima. Read full review

Reviewed on 27 Jun 2017 by

All of it was fantastic. An amazing experience, made possible by an awesome tour leader. Read full review

Reviewed on 27 Jun 2017 by

The highlights for me personally were a visit to the D.T. Suzuki Museum in Kanazawa and the visit to the O Torii Gate on the island of Itsukushima, where deer roam freely. The whole two weeks were a whirlwind of amazing sights, sounds and experiences. Read full review

Reviewed on 29 May 2017 by

Every moment was fabulous. The contrast of the crowds in Tokyo to the quiet area in Nagano where we stayed in a priest's lodging. Read full review

Reviewed on 11 Apr 2017 by

The day with the snow monkeys sticks in my mind but the morning we spent at the Buddhist morning prayer was also incredible. Absolutely amazing! Hugh did an incredible job showing us around and had an excellent rappor with the locals. This has been my favourite holiday so far. Read full review

Reviewed on 30 Nov 2017 by

Our guide was the best guide I have ever had on a holiday. Read full review

Reviewed on 29 Jul 2017 by

I enjoyed the variety of locations we visited. Read full review

Reviewed on 06 Mar 2017 by

The art and Japanese craft museums blew me away and despite the cold temperatures, the temples, shrines and gardens still looked wonderful. Not living in a cold climate, I found the snow up north quite exciting. Terrific fun with a group brought together through skilful leadership... We saw and did things we hadn't expected to do and tried so many delicious food styles. Read full review

Reviewed on 18 Jul 2016 by

The breadth of experience, from the neon lighted frantic pace of Tokyo, to the 5am chanting of monks at a Nagano temple, all connected by the thrill of the Shinkansen. Read full review

Reviewed on 16 Oct 2016 by

Wonderful! Read full review

Reviewed on 15 Aug 2016 by

Very enjoyable. We were a family of 3 travelling with a 17 yr old son. We all had a very memorable holiday . It was full on though with little time to rest but we knew that before we set off and it delivered the anticipated full schedule. Read full review

Reviewed on 28 Apr 2016 by

The holiday fully lived up to expectations! Read full review

Reviewed on 19 Oct 2015 by

Amazing holiday would definitely recommend. Read full review

Reviewed on 12 Oct 2015 by

My holiday was wonderful, William our tour leader, with his unique style made our holiday really special! Read full review

Reviewed on 19 Jul 2015 by

I loved the variety of sights. There was always something a little different to see and do. Loved the variety of restaurants! Every night we tried a new type of Japanese food. Our guide, Alain, was terrific! Read full review

Reviewed on 27 Mar 2014 by

The most memorable part is hard to sum up, so much of the trip was truly great, but would have to pick the Maiko session...Fantastic. Still raving about it. Read full review

Reviewed on 10 Nov 2014 by

Japan is fascinating, the ultra modern against a background of traditional. I loved their simplistic art, Zen gardens, efficiency and positive attitudes. Read full review

Reviewed on 22 Oct 2013 by

I enjoyed everything that I did. The food and accommodation were as expected and mostly better as it was not an expensive tour. The Japanese people were delightful - very polite, helpful and thoughtful and were a highlight in themselves. Read full review

Reviewed on 23 Jul 2013 by

Excellent...The Japanese people are very nice and go out of their way to help you. The food is also fabulous! Read full review

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