In Japan, tradition and modernity are celebrated side-by-side in ways that often appear contradictory. Immerse yourself in this intriguing culture, beginning in sprawling Tokyo, one of the world’s most innovative cities. Then head by rail into the countryside to visit traditional villages and tranquil shrines. Explore quaint geisha districts and inspiring gardens; savour the fresh flavours of Japanese cuisine; and get a glimpse of the ancient soul of this fascinating, futuristic country.

Trip highlights

Kembu Masters, Gain an understanding of kembu, an ancient martial art form that honours the culture of the samurai. Watch masters practice this delicate combination of dance and swordplay and learn Japanese sword techniques which were said to build a samurai’s courage and improve concentration.

Tsukiji Sushi Experience, Walk through Tokyo’s famous Tsukiji Fish Market (the largest in the world) alongside insiders that know its ins and outs. Take in a sushi-making class with recognized masters, learning how to select, prepare, and fillet ingredients. Finally, enjoy a taste of your own creation.

Zen Buddhist Meditation and Calligraphy, Visit a local temple to learn about the history and practice of Zen Buddhism in Japan. One of the monks there will instruct us in Zen meditation and Zen calligraphy, allowing us deeper insight into Japanese culture and beliefs, and ultimately helping us reduce stress in our daily lives.

Itinerary - 12 Days

Day 1 Tokyo

Arrive at any time. Arrival transfer is included.

Day 2 Tokyo

Spend the day exploring vibrant Tokyo—one of the world’s most populous cities—by public transit. Experience the traditional side of the Japanese capital on a visit to the Meiji Shrine, dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his wife; and take a stroll in Asakusa, the historic heart of Tokyo. We then get a glimpse of the city’s quirky, modern side on a walk through Harajuku, a centre of Japanese pop culture and a great place to sit back and people watch.

Day 3 Tokyo

This morning, we set out on a behind-the-scenes tour of the Toyosu Fish Market (formerly known as the Tsukiji Fish Market), the largest fish and seafood market in the world. Delve into the bustling maze of vendors with our expert local guides, learning about Japan’s massive fishing industry, and round off the tour with a sushi-making class. Learn how to identify the freshest fish, prepare, fillet, and present; then enjoy a taste of your tasty creations. The afternoon is free to explore Tokyo on your own.

Day 4 Tokyo/Tsumago

Depart Tokyo by train. Disembark at Nagiso and continue to a local minshuku, a traditional Japanese bed-and-breakfast, where we’ll spend the night. Enjoy a walk through the countryside, passing lush farms and rice paddies into Tsumago, a protected cultural area dating to the Edo period. Explore the charming town, where motorized vehicles are prohibited on the main street during the day and phone lines and power cables hidden from view to preserve its traditional feel. Back at our minshuku, feast on a kaiseki meal—a ritualistic multi-course dinner emphasizing artful presentation and fresh ingredients.

Day 5 Tsumago/Kanazawa

Continue by train to the historic city of Kanazawa, the seat of the powerful Maeda clan during the Edo period. Venture to Nagamachi, the city’s well-preserved samurai district located at the foot of Kanazawa Castle, and learn about the lifestyle of Japan’s ancient, elite warrior class. We’ll also visit the Nomura residence, the beautifully restored home of a wealthy samurai family, boasting a collection of antique heirlooms and a stunning garden.

Day 6 Kanazawa

Spend the day exploring Kanazawa. Visit the Myoryuji Temple—commonly known as the Ninja Temple—which doubled as a military outpost, and discover its many hidden defenses and escape routes. Take a walk through the Higashi Chaya geisha district and gain insights into geisha culture, viewing one of the district’s traditional wooden houses. Then visit a local craft studio, where we’ll learn about the city’s time-honoured crafts and learn to paint chopsticks with gold leaf.

Day 7 Kanazawa/Hiroshima

Travel by bullet train to Hiroshima. Here, we’ll pay a visit to the Peace Memorial Park and Museum, located in the heart of the city, which commemorates the tragic atomic bombings of 1945. Take your time to wander through the park, pausing at memorials dedicated to the victims of the attack, and visit the moving statue of Sadako Sasaki at the Children’s Peace Monument, a reminder of the thousands of young lives lost as a result of the bombings.

Day 8 Hiroshima

Catch a ferry to Itsukushima Island, popularly known as Miyajima. Here, you’ll find one of Japan’s most beautiful and sacred temples, the 12th-century Itsukushima Shinto shrine. This UNESCO World Heritage site is built over the water, with a red torii or wooden gateway that appears to float at high tide. Spend the afternoon at leisure, opting to ferry over to other islands and explore on your own.

Day 9 Hiroshima/Kyoto

This morning, visit the World Heritage-listed Himeji Castle, widely considered Japan’s most spectacular and best-preserved castle. The castle was completed in the early 17th century and features an elegant white facade with multiple wooden roofs. Later, we hop on a train to Kyoto, which served as Japan’s imperial capital for more than a thousand years. Explore the city’s stunning temples, shrines, and gardens at leisure. This afternoon, take a guided stroll through the lantern-lined streets of Gion, Kyoto’s renowned geisha district.

Day 10 Kyoto

Venture to the breathtaking Fushimi Inari shrine just outside of Kyoto, dedicated to the Shinto god of rice. Walk under the temple’s iconic red gates, where a scene from Memoirs of a Geisha was filmed. Spend the rest of the day discovering ancient Nara, the site of Japan’s earliest capital. Visit the impressive Todaiji temple—home to the largest bronze Buddha statue in the world—and wander the walkways of Kasuga Taisha, one of Japan’s most sacred Shinto shrines.

Day 11 Kyoto

This morning, we visit a local temple to learn about the history and practice of Zen Buddhism in Japan. Meet with a local monk for a lesson in Zen meditation and calligraphy; then head to the shimmering Kinkakuji, or “temple of the golden pavilion,” one of Kyoto’s most magnificent sites. Later, we’ll learn the basics of samurai etiquette and the practice of kembu, or traditional Japanese swordplay. Try your hand at this delicate art form, and witness a memorable performance by kembu masters.

Day 12 Kyoto

Depart at any time.

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