Japanese Jewels is a fantastic trip that takes you to some of Japan’s most worth seeing places. The program is designed so that you can experience as much as possible of this multifaceted and contrast-rich country. The journey begins in Osaka, continues to Hiroshima, Kyoto, Kanazawa, Takayama, Matsumoto, Hakone and ends in Tokyo. During the trip you will see completely different parts of Japan, each with its own unique and local charm.
Japan is certainly a cultural melting pot that has nevertheless managed to preserve much of what we may perceive as “typically Japanese”. In Japan, old and new, East and West meet in a way that must be considered completely unique. But just as we are curious and interested in the different and exciting Japan, the reverse is true. It is not uncommon for Japanese people, usually schoolchildren or pensioners, to approach us cautiously with their questions. Where are you from? Where are you heading? Do you like Japanese food? Japan is still not a particularly common tourist destination among Westerners but has become increasingly popular as a travel destination – for understandable reasons. Everything has become much cheaper and it is clean, neat and safe. But above all – Japan is exotic, exciting, welcoming and fun! Some of the things you will see during the trip may make you a little confused. Why do so many dogs wear cute clothes and why do they sit in prams? Is the make-up girl in wig and kimono a real geisha or is it just someone who has dressed up for fun?
Japan is best experienced with all the senses. The taste of wasabi that bites just right for sushi, the sound of the Buddhist monk massing in the incense-scented temple, the aroma of a cup of sake or green tea of the highest quality, the feeling of still sinking into a traditional hot bath. . . During the trip, you will experience everything from magically beautiful Shinto shrines, Buddhist temples and samurai castles, to the cities’ neon-lit entertainment areas, futuristic skyscrapers and bustling shopping malls – among many other things. We travel, for example, through fabulous mountain areas that must be Japan’s most well-kept secret. Come along to the Kingdom of the Sunrise!
Day 1: Travel to Japan
Flight to Osaka. Meals are included on board the long-haul flight.
Day 2: Osaka
Arrival in Osaka. We visit Osaka Castle dating from the 16th century. The castle is the city’s most famous attraction and is especially beautiful when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom but is still worth a visit all year round. Then we take a walk along the pedestrian street Dotonbori in the lively district of Nanba where much of the city’s shopping and entertainment is concentrated. In the evening we gather for a welcome dinner. Overnight in Osaka. (Lunch and dinner)
Day 3: Osaka – Hiroshima
We leave Osaka and head west towards Hiroshima . On the way we visit Himejijo, one of Japan’s most beautiful castles. The castle, which is on the UNESCO World Heritage List, has been closed for restoration for a few years but is now open again. The dazzling white castle is built on top of a high mountain and is often called “the white heron” because the main building with its annexes is reminiscent of a white heron on the run. In Hiroshima we visit the Peace Museum , the monuments of the nearby Peace Park and the Genbaku Dome – the ruin of a trade and industrial exhibition hall located very close to the place over which the atomic bomb detonated. After the war, the authorities had the dome building preserved as a reminder of the destructive power of the atomic bomb. The ruin was basically all that remained after the bomb. Genbaku Dome is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Overnight in Hiroshima (Breakfast)
Day 4: Hiroshima – Miyajima – Kyoto
After breakfast we go to the holy island of Miyajima just outside Hiroshima. We visit the Shinto shrine Itsukushima Jinja which at high tide seems to float on the water. The island was considered so sacred that it was not allowed to be entered by ordinary people. The shrine was therefore built on stilts in a bay. Itsukujima Jinja is one of the most important shrines in the indigenous Shinto religion and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With a little luck, we can witness one of the many religious ceremonies performed daily at the main building. In the afternoon we take the world-famous express train Shinkansen to the old imperial city of Kyoto which was the capital of Japan for more than a millennium. Overnight in Kyoto. (Breakfast and lunch)
Day 5: Kyoto
Today we visit the Shinto shrine Fushimi Inari Taisha known for its red-lacquered torii portals. A torii symbolizes the boundary between this world and the divine. Next to the strange shrine, thousands of torii form a suggestive passage, almost like a red avenue, which winds its way up a sacred mountain. Fushimi Inari Taisha is dedicated to the god of rice, sake and merchandise and the torii portals are mostly donated by various Japanese companies and businessmen. Adjacent to the sanctuary are also numerous stone statues depicting foxes – the messenger of the rice god. We visit the place in the morning when it feels especially mysterious and magical. In the morning we also visit Sanjusangendo Temple with the world’s longest wooden building that houses 1001 statues of the Bodhisattva Kannon of Mercy. The gilded statues that were carved during the 13th century all differ slightly from each other and together they give a powerful but enigmatic impression in the large and dark building where they have been lined up for centuries. The temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is by far one of Japan’s most interesting and exciting temples. The sight of all the statues with their secretive and inward-looking facial expressions, the lit candles, the scent of incense and the sound of monk-blowing certainly contribute to a unique experience. We then visit the Kiyomizu Temple dating from the 700s. This temple, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is located on the slopes of Higashiyama in eastern Kyoto and is especially known for its huge wooden veranda where pilgrims used to gather. Kiyomizu means “the clear water” and alludes to the source adjacent to the temple. The spring water that many of the temple visitors stand in line to drink from is said to have miraculous properties. We then walk at a slow pace along the beautiful slopes of Higashiyama and follow the small alleys down to the Yasaka Shrine where the famous geisha district of Gion is located. The promenade is certainly one of the most beautiful in all of Japan and goes through cultural heritage sites with small boutiques and lanes with discreet tea houses. We arrive at Gion during the late afternoon when the geishas set out to entertain their guests at one of the more exclusive tea houses. With a little luck, it is possible that we may see some of them. In Gion we have the opportunity to explore the surroundings on our own before we meet to go back to the hotel. Overnight in Kyoto. (Breakfast)
Day 6: Kyoto
All day for your own adventure to discover Kyoto on your own. The tour guide is happy to give you tips on different sights. Overnight in Kyoto. (Breakfast)
Day 7: Kyoto – Kaga
Today we visit some more fascinating places on the UNESCO World Heritage List. We start the day by visiting the Ryoanji Zen Temple with its famous stone garden. The carefully composed stone arrangements lie like islands in a sea of raked gravel and are meant to be viewed during quiet contemplation. Therefore, we go there in the morning when it is still relatively empty. We then go to the nearby Kinkakuji Temple (the Golden Pavilion), probably Kyoto’s most famous temple. Most of Kinkakuji is covered in gold leaf and the three floors of the temple all have their own distinctive architectural style. Cloudless days, Kinkakuji is reflected crystal clear in the surrounding water and the associated promenade garden is created to blend harmoniously into the underlying landscape. Before leaving Kyoto, we also take the opportunity to visit Nijo Castle, built in the early 17th century to serve as the residence of the shogun (Japan’s military dictator) on the occasions he visited Kyoto. We admire the castle’s magnificent wooden gate with richly decorated and colorful details and visit the castle’s rock garden. As a precautionary measure, a “nightingale floor” was laid in the castle’s passages, the planks of which whistle when you step on it. The idea was that the sound would reveal nocturnal intruders with the task of assassinating the shogun. We hear how it whistles underfoot while we look at the castle’s reception halls and period screens. Bus trip to Kaga on the west coast of Japan. In the evening we stay at a so-called ryokan, a kind of Japanese hotel that usually offers traditional baths. Overnight in Kaga. (Breakfast and dinner)
Day 8: Kanazawa – Shirakawago – Takayama
In the morning we visit Kenrokuen , Japan’s most famous and probably most beautiful promenade garden. Kenrokuen is designed according to classical Chinese principles for how a harmonious garden should be designed and offers scenic experiences all year round. We continue towards Takayama and stop in the village of Shirakawago in the Shokawa Valley. The village is listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List and is located in one of Japan’s most isolated areas. During the winter, many of the mountain roads are closed due to the heavy snowfall that makes the valley very difficult to access. During the winter months, an average of 10 meters of snow falls in the area and the traditional houses in Shirakawago and the surrounding area have been adapted accordingly. The thatched roofs of the typical multi-family houses are very steep so that snow does not accumulate in excessive amounts. The houses are called in Japanese gassho-zukuri, which roughly means “palms brought together in prayer” because the shape of the houses is reminiscent of the handstand in Buddhist prayer. In the evening we arrive at the small town of Takayama with its fantastically well-preserved houses from the Edo period (1603-1867). The city is known for its delicious sake, its good beef and its fantastic festivals that fill the otherwise very peaceful city with feverish activity. Overnight in Takayama. (Breakfast and dinner)
Day 9: Takayama – Matsumoto
We start the day by visiting the local morning market next to the beautiful Miyagawa River that flows through the city. Takayama is surrounded by mountains and with its isolated location, the city has preserved many local customs and practices that can not be found anywhere else. Much of the city’s original street network and older buildings are preserved, and the older quarters that the city’s rich merchants once had built were built by the area’s recognized skilled craftsmen and carpenters. The wood used was of the highest quality and had been hidden away by the locals so that the authorities would not seize it. The merchants therefore made sure to paint their cedar and cypress wood houses with soot so that outsiders would not discover what the houses were made of. In the brown and black houses, there is now everything from local sake breweries, restaurants and cafes to craft shops, textile shops and souvenir shops. Matsumoto . The journey goes through an area called “Japan’s Alps” and the natural landscape outside the bus window is uniquely beautiful. In Matsumoto we visit the city’s attraction, a black castle which is popularly called the ” Crow Castle “. Those who want can climb all the way up to the top floors to get a nice view of the city. Overnight in Matsumoto. (Breakfast and dinner)
Day 10: Matsumoto – Hakone
In the morning we start our journey towards Japan’s legendary mountain Fuji. With its height of 3,776 meters, it is Japan’s highest mountain and something of a national symbol. Fuji is an active volcano, but the most recent eruption is quite far back in time (1708). It is perhaps not so surprising that this almost perfectly cone-shaped volcano has been considered sacred since time immemorial. Fuji attracts tourists from all corners of the world and in 2013 gained status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Weather permitting, our bus will reach the fifth station from where many pilgrims and tourists begin their climb to the top during the summer months when this is possible. In the afternoon we go on a short boat trip on the crater lake Ashinoko and then visit Owakudani- “the boiling valley”. When the weather is nice, you can usually get a very beautiful view of Mount Fuji from here. Owakudani is a sulfur-long crater area with boiling springs that have been more volcanically active than usual in recent times. In the evening we stay at a so-called ryokan, a kind of Japanese hotel that usually offers traditional baths. Overnight in Hakone. (Breakfast and dinner)
Day 11: Hakone – Kamakura – Yokohama – Tokyo
In the morning we visit the charming coastal town of Kamakura which from the late 12th century to the early 14th century was Japan’s political center of power. We visit two of the city’s main attractions which are within easy walking distance of each other. The over 13 meter high bronze statue Kamakura Daibutsu- “Kamakura’s Big Buddha” has been the city’s pride since it was cast in the 13th century. The Buddhist temple Hasedera is known for its statue of the Buddha of Mercy Kannon, which according to legend was carved as early as the 8th century. The statue is 9 meters high and one of the largest wooden statues in Japan. The temple area also contains a sacred cave dedicated to the Buddhist goddess Benzaiten. Anyone who wishes can enter the cave and follow a winding corridor, dimly lit by lit candles, to view numerous smaller statues in her honor. On the way to Tokyo we stop in Japan’s second most populous city Yokohama where we visit one of the world’s largest Chinatown . We arrive in Tokyo in the late afternoon. Then we pay a short visit to the Imperial Palace. As the palace is seldom open to visitors, we have to content ourselves with viewing it at a proper distance. Overnight in Tokyo. (Breakfast)
Day 12: Asakusa, Meiji jingu, Harajuku and Shibuya
During days 12 and 13 we walk and travel with Tokyo’s excellent public transport and get an insight into Tokyo everyday life
After breakfast we head to the Asakusa district and the Sensoji temple, Tokyo’s perhaps most famous Buddhist temple. In ancient Japan, marketplaces sprang up adjacent to major temples as visiting pilgrims wanted to sample local delicacies and buy something to take home to loved ones. Even today, many of the larger temples in Japan are home to a lively commerce. Those who want to spend a while at Nakamise dori, a promenade next to the temple buildings lined with small shops and stalls. Here you can buy typical Japanese souvenirs or maybe taste Japanese snacks and goodies. We then visit Meiji jingu, a shrine erected in memory of Emperor Meiji (1852 – 1912) and his consort Empress Shoken (1869-1912). In Japan, Emperor Meiji is associated with the modernization process that began in the latter half of the 19th century. From having previously been cut off from the outside world in almost total self-isolation, Japan developed during Emperor Meiji’s reign to become an Asian superpower. Meiji jingu is therefore a symbol of Japan’s transformation into a modern nation under the care of the Meiji emperor. The shrine is also a place where elements of the imperial cult that once surrounded the Japanese emperor are expressed. We then head to the nearby Harajuku districtwhich has become something of a center for youth culture and fashion and then travels a few stops with the Yamanote line to the Shibuya district , which is known for its huge pedestrian crossing in front of the station building. When it turns green, the pedestrian crossing is filled with streams of crossing crowds from all directions. Overnight in Tokyo. (Breakfast and lunch.)
Day 13: Akihabara, Ueno and Shinjuku
We head to the Akihabara Electronics District which offers a wide range of cheap electronics and tax-free goods. Akihabara has also become something of a heaven for so-called otaku. An otaku is a person who has an extreme interest in, for example, manga (Japanese comics), anime (animated film) or computer games. In Akihabara, there are plenty of cafes and different kinds of shops that focus on this rather special target group. We walk from here to the Ueno district along the market street Ameyoko dori which offers everything from clothes to dried fish. There are a large number of food stalls selling various Asian delicacies and on the many side streets there are small shops and boutiques. After lunch in Ueno, there is time to discover the district on your own. For example, if you want, you can go for a walk in the nearby Ueno Park, where many Tokyo residents seek refuge for a while. After meeting again, we take Tokyo’s Yamanote ring line to Shinjuku . Here we visit Tokyo City Hall(Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building). From the skyscraper you get a magnificent view of the megametropolis Tokyo. We go on a city walk in Shinjuku and pass one of the world’s busiest stations – Shinjuku station. Every day, more than 3.5 million people pass this traffic hub. During rush hour, you can see a never-ending stream of commuters on their way to or from work. Shinjuku with its tall buildings, huge TV screens and neon signs is an amazing sight! Overnight in Tokyo. (Breakfast and dinner.)
Day 14: Tokyo
All day for your own walks. Feel free to ask the tour guide for excursion or shopping tips. Overnight in Tokyo. (Breakfast) Day 15: Return from Tokyo Transfer to the airport and flight to the boarding place. Meals are included on board the long-haul flight. (Breakfast)