Japan culture tour, Shoguns & Samurai

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

Highlights

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 experiences

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.

Travel Team

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Responsible tourism

Japan culture tour, Shoguns & Samurai

Carbon reduction

Your holiday will help support local people and conservation. We must also reduce CO2. Learn about the CO2 emissions of this holiday and how to reduce them.

Environment

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.

5 Reviews of Japan culture tour, Shoguns & Samurai

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Reviewed on 30 May 2019 by

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


Travelling on local trains and buses and the opportunity to do lots of walking in beautiful places. Having a small group.

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


Be prepared to eat lots of authentic Japanese food. Pack light although the luggage forwarding was great. Japanese accommodation can be challenging at times. - lots of slipper changing and clambering up from the floor futons. Get fit .

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


Locals benefited from the economic impact of our tourism. Travel does not reduce environmental impact. But we were very aware of managing our rubbish and maintain the pristine environment. Our activities did not aim to support conservation.

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



Reviewed on 19 Apr 2017 by

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


Experiencing such a different culture and all things Japanese

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


It helps if you can sit on the floor and walk easily!

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


yes

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


Excellent. Fumiko was a very helpful, informative and patient guide. We saw amazing temples, landscape etc.

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?


Yes

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.

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