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From Japan’s Inland Sea to the Alps

Our Distinctive A+R Style

  • Come face-to-face with the real Japan as our expert native guide introduces you to residents eager to share insight into their lives. 
  • Experience Japan’s enduring ways when you dine with Geisha, sample fine sake, and visit the world-famous Tsukiji Fish Market. 
  • A skilled Tokyo chef teaches you how to prepare restaurant-quality sushi. 
  • Hear colorful stories of Kyoto’s Geisha and Kabuki traditions on a guided stroll through the historic Gion district. 
  • Learn about the ancient tenets of Japanese landscape design at Kenrokuen Garden. 
  • Journey to the alpine hamlet of Shirakawago, known for its unusual century-old farmhouses. 
  • With 10 nights deluxe hotel; 17 meals with wine at dinner; comprehensive sightseeing; all transfers; and all gratuities except Trip Leader. 
Visit 5 UNESCO World Heritage Sites  c

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Upon arrival at the Kansai International Airport, you’ll be met by our resident English-speaking staff and guided to the comfortable coach that will take you into the heart of Kyoto. Check in to the deluxe Granvia Hotel and take the rest of this day to relax and enjoy as you wish.


From Kurosawa’s many translated and subtitled films to James Clavell’s epic Shogun, the mystique that surrounds Japan’s ancient warrior rulers captivates the imagination of many travelers. Setting out this morning, your guided full-day tour will reveal some of the colorful stories surrounding the fabled Shogun. At Nijo Castle, you can try to walk in stealth across the Nightingale Floor, designed centuries ago to chirp in warning if would-be assassins penetrated the Shogun’s inner sanctum.
You’ll also visit Kinkaku-ji Temple, the oft-photographed Golden Pavilion, and sit down to lunch with a Maiko. Here in Kyoto, the Maiko are young women in training to become Geisha, studying under a master to refine their skills in traditional Geisha arts like dance, music and song. Then take a guided stroll through the historic Gion district, where Kabuki traditions began long ago. Our last stop of the day will be at Sanjusangendo Temple. Founded in the 12th century, this impressive wooden landmark is famed for its 1,001 statues of Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy. Back at our deluxe hotel, you’ll have time to refresh before gathering for dinner.  Meals B+L+D


Excursion to the Inland Sea… Miyajima Island + Hiroshima

Hotel Granvia - Kyoto, Japan

Traveling by rail from Kyoto and then by ferry, you’ll journey this morning across the island-dotted Inland Sea. Revel in the natural beauty of one of Japan’s most picturesque regions as you make your way to Miyajima Island to visit the incomparable Itsukushima Temple, established in the 6th century. Much of its present-day architecture dates to the 12th century, and it remains a spectacular sight. Built on piers over the bay, the shrine and its magnificent red Torii Gate* appear to float over the tranquil waters during high tide.
Ride the ferry back to the main island of Honshu and continue to Hiroshima. Founded in 1589, this historic town grew into a major city and port during the Meiji Period. In the 20th century, of course, it entered the annals of history as the first city to be hit with an atomic bomb, a cataclysmic event that shaped our generation. Nearly 70% of the city was completely destroyed, but one of the few surviving structures was a domed building close to the detonation site. Today, this architectural shell stands in Peace Memorial Park close to the Peace Memorial Museum and the Memorial Cenotaph for Atomic Bomb Victims. Visiting these sights with our compassionate Japanese guide is a sobering yet inspiring experience – a reminder of the devastation of war and the enduring spirit of humankind. After sightseeing, you’ll return to Kyoto by high-speed rail.  Meals B
* Please Note that ongoing restoration at Itsukushima Shrine is expected to continue through late 2021, and scaffolding will cover the Torii Gate for much of this time.


Excursion to Nara, Japan’s First Capital

Hotel Granvia - Kyoto, Japan

This morning you’ll enjoy a guided excursion to the ancient capital of Nara where Buddhism was first introduced to Japan nearly 1,500 years ago. Begin with a stroll through the lovely expanse of Nara Park, home to hundreds of freely roaming deer; in the ancient faith of Shinto, these gentle creatures are believed to be messengers of the Gods and the animals here have been designated as a natural treasure.
On the grounds of Nara Park, Todai-ji Temple is one of the largest wooden structures in the world. Inside, you will see an immense bronze statue of Buddha, towering nearly 50 feet high and flanked by two Bodhisattvas. You’ll also enjoy a guided stroll along peaceful lantern-lined paths to visit Kasuga Taisha, one of Japan’s most celebrated shrines, first established at the same time that the city of Nara was founded. Back in Kyoto, the rest of your afternoon and evening are yours to enjoy as you wish. Our in-the-know guide will be happy to assist with personal recommendations for dining, shopping and exploring at your own pace.  Meals B
We Recommend… This evening, if you wish, we can arrange for you to enjoy the hospitality of a traditional Japanese inn. Set in a landmark 18th-century structure in the heart of Kyoto’s Gion district (where Geisha and Kabuki traditions began long ago), the deluxe family-owned Yoshi-ima Ryokan offers an authentic Japanese experience. You’ll spend the night in a spacious tatami-matted room with a private en suite bath and enjoy a traditional Kaiseki dinner and Japanese breakfast. The Yoshi-ima’s Buddhist Alter Room, Teahouse and Courtyard Garden enrich your memorable overnight


Check out after breakfast and head to the rail station to board the express train to Kanazawa, where you’ll enjoy an extensive day of sightseeing. Tracing its roots to the 15th century, this historic city was the seat of the mighty Maeda Clan, the second most powerful family at the time. Not wishing to challenge the mightier Tokugawa Clan, the Maeda were careful not to show any signs of military ambition. Rather, they channeled their great wealth into the arts. You’ll discover the legacy of this cultural patronage when you see the skilled artisans at work in the Kutani Kosen Pottery Studio.
At the splendidly restored Nomura Samurai Residence, now filled with valuable artifacts, you’ll learn about daily life in the ancient days when the samurai ruled! The day’s sightseeing ends at Kenrokuen Garden, regarded as one of the three most beautiful gardens in all of Japan. Exploring with our engaging guide, you’ll learn firsthand about the six elements of traditional landscape design which have been incorporated so perfectly here: Spaciousness, majesty, extensive views, artistry, abundant water and seclusion. Then check in to the deluxe Nikko Hotel for a restful overnight.  Meals B


Shirakawago + Takayama

Associa Resort - Takayama, Japan

After breakfast, you’ll leave Kanazawa behind as you embark on a scenic journey into the Japan Alps. Your first stop will be the Shiroyama Viewpoint. Offering sweeping views of the mountain valley and the peaceful village of Ogimachi, this is the perfect place to begin your exploration of Shirakawago, one of Japan’s most scenic and historic alpine regions.
Then descend into the valley to explore the village. Here you’ll find traditional centuries-old farmhouses with thick, steeply-pitched roofs, a building style developed over generations and designed to withstand the heavy snows that blanket the region. Known as Gassho-zukuri, the name translates to “Joined Hands” – as the thatched roofs resemble the hands of Buddhist monks pressed together in prayer. Though many of these old farmhouses are now restaurants and guesthouses, your tour of a Gassho-zukuri will offer insight into long-ago daily life here in Japan’s scenic alpine region. Continue your overland journey to Takayama and check in to the deluxe Associa Takayama Resort for a 2-night stay.  Meals B+L+D


Full Day Sightseeing in Takayama

Associa Resort - Takayama, Japan

After breakfast, a guided stroll through one of Takayama’s two morning markets offers another chance to experience a slice of local life. Mingling with city residents, you’ll engage with friendly vendors selling a wide array of products including farm-fresh produce, homemade pickles, flowers, ready-to-eat snacks and even local crafts.
Strolling through the city’s handsome Old Town, you’ll discover one of Japan’s most architecturally important towns. During the Tokugawa Era, Takayama was renowned for the high quality of its mountain-grown timber and the great skill of its carpenters. It was a prosperous town and many fine homes and shops were built during the Edo Period; they’ve been wonderfully preserved with many homes, buildings and even entire streets creating a virtual living museum of a Japanese town in the 18th and 19th centuries. A guided tour through the Kusakabe Folk Museum offers a fascinating look inside one of Takayama’s oldest merchant homes – the former residence of the successful Kusakabe family who lived here in the early 1800’s.
Twice a year, Takayama is enlivened by Spring and Autumn Festivals with traditions that date back to the 17th century. The highlight of both events is the grand parade of enormous, colorful Yatai – or festival floats. Many of these floats are centuries old and some are decorated with sophisticated mechanical figures that move and dance. At the Festival Floats Exhibition Hall, you’ll have a chance to see some of these beautifully decorated floats and to learn about another example of Takayama’s legendary craftsmanship. The town is also heralded for its many fine sake breweries and you’ll end the day’s sightseeing with a sake tasting and a chance to learn about this ancient beverage.  Meals B+L

Check out after breakfast and transfer to the station for your scenic rail journey to Tokyo, via Nagoya. Upon arrival in the capital, you’ll check in to the deluxe Keio Plaza Hotel, ideally located in the vibrant Shinjuku district. After time to refresh in your spacious Premier Grand room on the new Club Floor, you’ll join your guide for a walking tour in this modern city-center neighborhood where you’re staying. The area is popular with Tokyo residents for shopping, dining and entertainment.  Meals B


Tsukiji Fish Market and Tokyo Sightseeing

Keio Plaza Hotel - Tokyo, Japan

Fish is a dietary staple of this island nation and is enjoyed by locals for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It can be served raw as sashimi, grilled, broiled and even made into fish cakes for soups and other dishes. After a leisurely breakfast, you’ll enjoy a special visit to the world-famous fish market in Tsukiji where ordinary citizens and the city’s best chefs come daily to procure the freshest seafood. Then you’ll join one such chef to learn the fine art of preparing restaurant-quality sushi. Enjoy the fruits of your labor for lunch before embarking on an afternoon sightseeing tour.
Your exploration of the bustling capital begins atop the Tokyo City View Observation Deck. Soaring more than 800 feet above the very heart of the metropolis, you’ll have breathtaking 360° views over all of Tokyo. On a clear day, you can even see Mt. Fuji in the distance! Next you’ll visit Asakusa Kannon Temple. Founded in the 7th century to honor Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy, this is the oldest temple in the city. The outer entrance to this Buddhist Temple is through the impressive 1,000-year-old Kaminari-mon, or Thunder Gate. Inside the gate, you’ll continue along the busy Nakamise Arcade toward the temple itself, a fascinating stroll that takes you past a bewildering number of shops and merchant stalls selling traditional sweets, savory snacks, colorful handicrafts, and souvenirs. The return drive to your hotel takes you through some of the city’s most vibrant districts and past the Tokyo Skytree; at just over 2,000 feet in height, this landmark is the one of the tallest structures in the world.  Meals B+L


Full Day Excursion to Mt. Fuji and Hakone

Keio Plaza Hotel - Tokyo, Japan

Leaving the hustle and bustle of the city behind, today’s excursion begins with a pleasant drive up to the 5th Station of Mt. Fuji. Situated at an altitude over 6,000 feet and nearly halfway to the summit, this is a popular starting place for those hardy adventurers looking to ascend Japan’s tallest mountain. It’s a also wonderful place to just take in the views of the surrounding countryside with its lakes and forested slopes.
Continue along scenic roads into the heart of Hakone National Park, a wonderful region beloved for its pine forests and lovely views of Mt. Fuji. A cruise across the placid waters of Lake Ashi promises a chance to relax and take in some of these enchanting views! Then ascend Mt. Komagatake for an entirely different, aerial view over the region’s forested mountains and pristine lakes. Return to Tokyo and enjoy your final evening in Japan.  Meals B+D


Depart Tokyo

After breakfast, you’ll step aboard the comfortable Narita Airport Limousine Coach for your trip to the airport.  Meals B

Private Tour Add-Ons

Hong Kong Insider

Enhance your travels through China and Asia with our signature Hong Kong Insider. We include your choice of deluxe or luxury hotel, chauffeured transfers when you come and go, and our exclusive Hong Kong Insider sightseeing tour.

Be a Beijing Insider

This Private Tour in Beijing includes your choice of deluxe or luxury hotel, both handpicked for their terrific city-center locations. Then join your expert personal guide for extensive sightseeing that will reveal the rich history and modern spirit of China’s vibrant capital.


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Stay in a Japanese inn...  

Enjoy dinner and a night at the Yoshi-ima Ryokan here in Kyoto’s Gion district on Day 4. Just $195 per person double, $200 single.

Takayama's Seasonal Festivals  

With colorful centuries-old traditions, Takayama’s Spring + Fall Festivals are highlighted by a spectacular parade of giant floats, many of them dating to the 17th century with remarkable, ingeniously-animated moving parts. Go in Spring and delight in the island’s famed Cherry Blossoms or join us in the fall for the brilliant autumn foliage – what the Japanese call Momiji.


More Personal Space
+ Our Extra Care

  • High-touch surfaces on coaches and private vehicles sanitized frequently throughout the day
  • Whisper Headsets when there are 5 or more guests
  • Dine at small, properly distanced tables, avoiding crowded large-capacity restaurants
  • Guides and staff will wear face masks when in close proximity to guests
  • Face coverings and sanitizer always available complimentary for our guests
>> Click Here to read all that we are doing so you can travel with More Space + Extra Care


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Family + Friends

Travel is one of  life's most rewarding experiences, perhaps even more so when it's shared with those you love! Take advantage of our Family & Friends offer and Save $100 per person anytime you book 4 or more people on the same A+R program.


Save $600 per couple + $300 solo on all of our Small Group, Small Ship and Private Journeys when you pay-in-full within 7 days of booking and prior to the final payment date listed in our published terms and conditions.

Learn More about Our Up-Close Cultural Discoveries

These videos, articles and podcasts will illuminate the unique experiences that await you on our Original Journey to Japan. Drawn from respected independent sources, we’ve carefully curated this multi-media collection to ignite your imagination. Inspiring as they are now on your screen, everything you see and everything you read will truly come to life when you travel with our engaging English-speaking Japanese guides.


Our A+R Library

About Your Journey

You have chosen a magical destination. Stretching nearly 1,500 miles through the Sea of Japan, the East China Sea and the Pacific Ocean, Japan is an extraordinary archipelago nation, with beautiful landscapes, rich and enduring traditions, fascinating culture, colorful history and beautiful temples, gardens, castles and monuments. 

Its cities are sophisticated and cosmopolitan, while rural villages retain the charms and traditions of the past. Neon-lit city skylines contrast with the serenity of centuries-old temples and gardens. Japan is truly a land of fascinating contrasts – a destination that will provide you with a wealth of wonderful vacation memories. 

Passports + Visas
American citizens will need to present a valid passport upon entry into Japan. Passports must be valid for six (6) months after the completion of your stay. It is the traveler’s responsibility to obtain required travel documents (passport, visas and vaccination certificates). No visas are required for American citizens unless you are staying longer than 90 days. Visitors from countries other than the United States should check on their specific entry requirements with the nearest Japanese consular office.

Now is a good time to assemble and check your travel documents, then keep them together in a safe, accessible area of your home. If you keep your passport in a bank safe deposit, retrieve it now to avoid a last-minute rush, and double-check the expiration date!

Your Health
Your personal physician knows your health history and is the best person to consult regarding inoculations, health precautions and other advice for your upcoming journey. Always check the World Health Organization (WHO) website and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) website before you travel internationally.

Medical supplies including CPAP machines for sleep apnea can be brought as an additional carry-on with most airlines.  If you are traveling with a CPAP machine, please let Alexander+ Roberts know in advance and consider bringing a backup battery in case of inconsistent electricity supply. Distilled water is available in most destinations. Make sure you have all appropriate adaptors, although newer machines have universal power supplies that can adapt to various voltages. Bring extra supplies (especially cushions) and replacement parts as repairing the machine while travelling may not be possible.

If You Face Physical Challenges
Ancient sites worldwide were constructed well before building codes or the existence of safety and accessibility standards. And in order to maintain the architectural and historical integrity that attracts visitors in the first place, many of the sites have been intentionally left in their natural state. As such, you will encounter uneven terrain, irregular steps, and a lack of handrails, barriers, ramps and cautionary warning signs where you might expect them back home. Therefore, it is extremely important for you to take great care and caution when exploring these sites. Pay attention to all instructions and do not wander away from your guide, especially off designated paths into unmarked terrain. When exploring on your own, heed all regulations, be extra mindful of your surroundings and note any conditions that could increase the risks (poor visibility, wet slippery surfaces, etc).

For travelers with mobility issues or physical challenges, be prepared for less accessibility than we enjoy in the United States. Hotels may be limited in the provisions made for such travelers and some do not have elevators. Airports are not always fully equipped with modern jetways, and ramps for wheelchairs are often absent.

We regret that we cannot provide individual assistance for guests who need mobility assistance.  Nor can we ensure that local vehicles will be wheelchair-equipped. For these reasons, a qualified companion must accompany guests who need such assistance.

If you have any mobility or medical issues of which we should be aware, please advise Alexander+Roberts well in advance of your departure.

Protecting Your Vacation
As you prepare and get excited for your upcoming journey, it’s no fun to think about what would happen if you had to cancel or interrupt your trip. The best way to eliminate that worry is with a good travel protection plan. The best ones will provide coverage for the money you’ve paid, travel delays, your belongings and, most importantly – you! There are many good plans out there, and we’re happy to offer a very comprehensive Travel Protection Plan - including “Cancel for Any Reason” benefits. You can find complete information online.

Your International Flights
If you have not already made your international flight arrangements, you should consider taking advantage of our excellent relationships with outstanding international carriers including Lufthansa, British Airways, United Airlines and Emirates. We can book your air in Economy, Premium Economy or Business Class with advice on seat availability - and even advance seat assignments on many carriers and routes. Booking your international air with A+R would allow us to directly assist you with any flight disruptions, delays or cancellations while on-tour.

Transportation in Japan
As you journey across Japan, you will have an opportunity to experience various modes of transportation including the world-famous Bullet Trains, local railway networks, motor coaches and even ferry boats. Some of these are exclusively for sightseers while others will have you traveling around like a local resident and experiencing the rhythms of daily life.

Many of these local forms of transport do not offer seat reservations, and they can sometimes be quite crowded. So, there may be occasions when our guests will have to join Japanese commuters and travelers to stand in the aisles.

Be assured that we use the most efficient forms of local transportation available and these journeys are relatively short. Also, you will be traveling only with your personal carry-on items. Your luggage will either be in your hotel room or traveling securely to your next destination via our baggage delivery service. So even during the busiest times, you’ll be able to travel comfortably and to enjoy this experience of local life.

Please note for arrival transfers that the MK shuttle service is only available until 10:45 PM at Kansai Airport.  All international arrival flights should arrive before this deadline. If you are delayed for any reason and arrive after 10:45 PM, taxi services are available in the arrivals hall.  *Please note that MK shuttle is shared transfer service, shuttle might drop by other hotels before your hotel.

A Word about Hotels
Your hotel accommodations will be comfortable and secure. Most hotels utilize two separate twin beds for both single and double occupancy. Queen- and king-bedded rooms may be requested but cannot be guaranteed prior to check-in. The same is true for requesting adjoining rooms. If you have been confirmed in a triple room; this will usually be a standard twin room with a roll-away bed. Therefore, the room may be smaller than you expect. Your rooms will feature private bath, telephone and TV, plus all the amenities and service expected in an international-class hotel.  Hotels offer a choice of restaurants featuring a variety of international cuisine, bars, club lounges and a shopping arcade.

As in other parts of the world, check-in time for most hotels is around 3:00PM and check-out time is typically 11:00AM. If your flight arrives early, and your room is not ready, you can usually store your luggage with the hotel. Then step out to explore a bit at your own pace or relax with a cup of tea or coffee in the lobby. 

If early check-in is absolutely required, advance arrangements can be confirmed, usually for the cost of an additional night.

Similarly, if you have a late departure flight, hotels will store your luggage after you’ve checked-out, leaving you unencumbered to explore and relax until it’s time to go to the airport. Depending on how busy they are, some hotels may allow you to occupy your room for another hour or two without charge; check with the Front Desk to determine if this is possible for your day of departure.

If a late check-out is absolutely required, advance arrangements can be confirmed for an extra cost that is usually an additional night’s charge.

Please notify your travel agent or Alexander+Roberts if you wish to confirm either early check-in or late check-out.

The much-traveled Golden Route from Tokyo to Kyoto on the main island of Honshu has four seasons comparable to the mid-Atlantic coast of the United States. The winter season is generally from December through mid-February. In mid-February the temperatures begin to rise all over the country with spring beginning in March. This is cherry-blossom time. May tends to be pleasantly warm. Summer begins at the end of May and is known to mark the beginning of the rainy season. In the middle of July, the rainy season ends and the temperature remains warm. July and August can be very hot and humid. Summer comes to an end in mid-September. The period between September and October is when typhoons are most likely to pass over Japan. However, most typhoons that pass through the Pacific do not directly affect Japan. Autumn begins in October with generally clear weather and occasional night frosts.

In the Japan Alps and in northern Honshu as well as on the far north island of Hokkaido, the winters can be severe, with heavy snows and much colder temperatures than elsewhere in the country. To the south on Kyushu, the winters are less harsh while Okinawa enjoys a sub-tropical climate.

Money Matters
The local currency is the Japanese Yen (¥, JPY). Exchange rates can vary widely but one US dollar roughly equals about ¥114. To obtain a rough estimate of an item’s price shown in local currency, simply divide by 100. For example, a lacquer box priced at ¥5,000 would be about US$50 (actually $44, but dividing by 100 is easier than dividing by 114!).

Foreign currency and traveler’s checks can be changed at the airport, banks, hotels and authorized money changers. Major credit cards are accepted at hotels, department stores and the larger restaurants and shops. We recommend that before you travel you inform both your bank and your credit card company which countries you will be visiting. It is also a good idea to inquire about fees for transactions abroad.

ATM machines are available in most major cities in Japan. In rural areas you will find ATM machines at the local Post Offices. However, do not depend on them, as sometimes they cannot connect to your local bank to complete the transaction. Even when machines are available, your touring schedule might not permit stopping to withdraw funds. If you do plan to use your ATM card, check with your bank to make sure that you will not encounter problems abroad.

It’s always a good idea to carry some cash in the local currency, especially small bills for tips.

For your on-tour convenience, we have included all gratuities except for your Trip Leaders or guides. This includes drivers, baggage porters and restaurant staff for all included meals; certainly, if any of these services are exceptional and go above-and-beyond, then feel free to tip additionally.

For your Trip Leaders or guides, many of our guests find it helpful to have some guidelines; in that spirit, we recommend tipping them $10 to $15 per person, per day.

Although not included in your Tour Fare, please remember that these gratuities are always at your discretion. They are appreciated as recognition for excellent service, but whether you tip, and how much, is entirely up to you.

When you’re out enjoying meals and activities in you free time that are not part of your A+R itinerary it’s important to note that tipping is not common practice in Japan. Hotels and major restaurants will add a 10% to 15% service charge to your bill, and no other tip is expected. Even if there is no service charge, a gratuity is not necessary, unless you have requested unusual services.

For any gratuities, we suggest you tip in the local currency. But if you only have US Dollars, they will be graciously accepted.

Shopping in Japan
A visit to a Japanese department store is quite an experience. In this consumer oriented society, retailing has been elevated to an art form. Extensive and beautiful displays feature consumer goods from Japan and all over the world. Prices are fixed, and imported goods are expensive. However, popular purchases include lacquer ware, fine ceramics, pottery, handmade paper, woodblock prints and fashion accessories.

By all means, enjoy your shopping! But we do recommend that you avoid objects that appear to be ancient artifacts. Many so-called artifacts are anything but old. In addition, the export of genuine ancient relics is strictly controlled so that cultural treasures do not leave the country. Animal skins, things made with tropical bird feathers, and similar items should also be avoided. Some could be made from endangered species and their export (and import into the US) are illegal. Buy only from reputable shops and if you have any doubts, don’t hesitate to ask your hotel concierge or our guide for advice. Should you purchase a larger item which the seller agrees to ship, we recommend that you take a picture of the item and make sure you have all the bills as well as the seller’s address and phone number – should the need arise for you to contact the shop upon your return home.

What is the Time Zone?
All of Japan is 14 hours ahead of New York. If it is 2:00PM in New York, it is 4:00AM the following day in Japan.

Electric current is 220V at 50 Hz AC (eastern Japan, including Tokyo) or 60 Hz AC (western Japan, including Kyoto and Osaka). Most outlets support two flat-pin plugs. An adapter plug and a converter may be necessary to charge your electronic devices, and are usually available from the front desk. For more information on plugs and sockets, review the information at:

Internet and Phone calls
If you plan to bring your cell phone when you travel, please check with your carrier to ensure that your plan covers international calls and/or mobile data from the countries you will visit on your trip and whether there may be money saving plans available from your carrier that can be arranged in advance. Alternatively, local prepaid SIM cards for your phone are usually available at the airport where you arrive and can be used to tap into local service providers. Wi-fi is available at many hotels either complimentary or for a fee; you can find Wi-Fi information on your itinerary and hotel list, or check with the front desk upon check in regarding access details.

If you need to place an international call from your hotel room, please check first with the Front Desk about their rates. Hotels often contract with outside vendors to provide direct-dial service for overseas calls – and the rates can be unexpectedly high!

The dialing code for Japan is +81; you’ll need to prefix the local number with this dialing code when calling from outside of Japan.

Meal Time!
Japan has more Michelin-starred restaurants than any other country in the world – with 230 in Tokyo alone! So, when it comes to fine dining, there is no shortage of places to have that once-in-a-lifetime culinary experience! But dining in Japan is also very much about variety and choice. Right inside our hotels, especially in major cities like Kyoto and Tokyo, you’ll find a surprising variety of restaurants offering both Continental and Asian cuisines – from traditional Japanese and regional Chinese to French and Italian.

Stepping out from your hotel onto the city streets, you’ll find tempting restaurants encompassing a broad range of culinary styles and prices – from familiar fast-food chains and small local eateries to elegant, white table cloth establishments. In addition, the top floors of department stores and office buildings will often be home to numerous restaurants, from inexpensive Japanese noodle shops to fine-dining establishments offering an internationally-inspired menu. These places are usually not visible from the street, so ask your guide or concierge to point you in the right direction. And don’t worry about not speaking the language. Most restaurants in Japan have display cases filled with amazingly realistic, plastic models of all their entrees, including the price. Even if the menu is not printed in English, just motion your waiter/waitress to accompany you outside and point to what you want. You will find everyone to be extremely good-natured when it comes to non-verbal communication.

For another very local experience, you might also check out the lower levels of department stores. Here, you’ll often find a large food section with prepared deli-style meals, sandwiches and sushi. It’s a chance to mingle with locals and have a casual, quality meal.

Is the Water Safe to Drink?
Tap water throughout Japan is considered safe to drink. However, if you prefer bottled water, you will find it readily available.

Know the Customs + Traditions
Japanese people will appreciate your consideration of local customs and culture. When visiting temples and other religious sites, shorts and bare shoulders are not proper. Also, you will be required to remove your shoes – so in cooler months be prepared with warm socks as many of these ancient temples are unheated with bare wooden or stone floors.

The Japanese are generally circumspect and avoid public confrontations and raised voices. Traveling and navigating through Japan is quite efficient and the residents are extremely polite. So it is most unlikely that you would encounter situations that might be frustrating to you; but should this rare instance arise, you will be much more effective communicating your wishes in a calm manner.

A Word About Photographing Ancient Sites
Some sites and museums restrict photography, in particular the use of flash. Always check with your tour guide or site officials when in doubt. It is common courtesy to ask permission before you photograph local residents.

Japan’s Famous Onsen (Hot Spring Baths)
If your travel itinerary includes sufficient time in Hakone, you may enjoy the traditional hot springs that are the prominent feature of Japan. The etiquette for taking a communal bath is not complicated but must be observed. The Japanese hot springs, called onsen, are separated by sex. Clothing (including swimming suits) is not allowed in most places. However, it is the custom to bring a small towel into the bathing area which can provide privacy while outside of the water. Once you enter the bath, keep the towel out of the water.

Overnight Bag
If your itinerary includes an overnight in Hakone, Kanazawa or Takayama, you will need an overnight bag for your stay. This can be your carry on piece. Just make sure that this bag will hold everything you need for an overnight stay and is one that you can comfortably carry yourself. The rest of your luggage will be transported by secure truck to your next hotel.  Kanazawa and Takayama tend to be cooler than the rest of the country due to higher elevation, please keep a warm layer with you in this overnight bag.

Packing Advice to Get You Started
Japan experiences four distinct seasons, so pack according to the season in which you are travelling: lightweight cotton in the summer; warm clothes in the winter.  A comfortable pair of walking shoes is essential, and you may want to include a pair of nicer shoes for dinner. But be prepared to remove your shoes when entering temples and some historic sites; be sure your socks are appropriate.  In the cooler months, wear warm socks as many of these buildings are not heated. The Japanese are stylish and if you dine in elegant restaurants, both in and outside your hotel, you may want to dress up as you would for a similar place at home. A lightweight jacket or sweater is always handy for cool evenings, and a windbreaker is helpful in the warm rainy months.

Consider an Easy-to-carry Traveling Bag
It’s good to have a small bag to carry your daytime needs with you while traveling; a backpack is used by many travelers for this purpose. A water bottle is always handy to have in your traveling pack.

The Essentials
Hotels will provide you with tissues and toilet paper; however small packets of facial tissues and a small bottle of hand-sanitizer can be handy. Your hotel will provide fine amenities, including soap and shampoo, but pack your own if you use particular brands. Please bring your own lotions, contact lens solutions, cosmetics and feminine hygiene products. Bring extra prescriptions (packed partially in your hand luggage) as well as cold medicine, aspirin and cures for intestinal troubles. You should also bring a good sunblock lotion with you since high temperatures can intensify the impact of the sun. We recommend 30+ SPF.

Seeing + Capturing Your Experiences
Make a complete check of your camera equipment before you leave and make sure you have replacement or rechargeable batteries and additional memory cards. It’s also a good idea to bring a pair of binoculars. A pocketknife (packed in your checked luggage) and a waterproof flashlight can also come in handy.

Camera drones are not allowed for use on our tours as they can detract from the experiences of your fellow travelers. If, however you plan to bring a drone for use in your free time, please pay close attention to the local aviation laws.  Most historic sites and national parks explicitly prohibit the use of personal drones, so it is your own responsibility to acquire any necessary permission and adhere to local laws should you plan on traveling with a drone. 

Reminders about Your Baggage
While baggage restrictions may vary by airline, most carriers limit international passengers to one checked bag weighing no more than 50 pounds with maximum linear dimensions (length + width + height) of 62 inches/158 cm. Depending on the airline there could be a surcharge for any additional checked baggage. For information about the baggage allowance and applicable fees for the first and second checked bag and carry-on, please visit your airline’s website before you begin to pack.

TSA Packing Tips
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) publishes a comprehensive list of items that are Permitted and Prohibited in carry-on and checked baggage. You can find the complete list online at

For vacation travelers, the important thing to remember is that only one small bag of liquids, aerosols, gels, creams and pastes can be in your carry-on bag when you pass through security. Each item is limited to 3.4 ounces (100ml) - and all containers must fit inside a clear, 1-quart sized, zip-top bag. If you have containers that are larger than 3.4 ounces, they must go inside your checked baggage.

Medications, baby formula/food and breast milk are allowed in reasonable quantities exceeding the 3.4-ounce limit, and they do not have to be in a zip-lock bag. You should declare these items at the checkpoint, and keep in mind that TSA Officers may need to inspect them.

Other Recommendations:
• Jewelry, cash, tablet devices and laptops should be in your carry-on baggage. Tape your business card to the bottom of your laptop for easy identification if it gets separated for inspection.
• Avoid accessories and jewelry that contain metal as they may set off the metal detector at the check point. This saves having to take them off and put them back on as you pass through security.
• Wear slip-on shoes that can be easily removed and placed on the conveyor built to be x-rayed at the security check-point.
• If you wish to place a lock on your checked luggage, it must be of a make and model approved by the TSA.
• Do not pack wrapped gifts and do not bring wrap gifts to the security check point.

Traveling with Minors
Many countries currently require documentary evidence of a relationship between minors traveling with an adult. Although Japan is not one of them, we strongly recommend that parents traveling alone with a minor carry a notarized letter from the absent parent authorizing the trip, regardless of whether the parent is married or divorced. Never-married parents, parents whose spouse has died, and parents who have been granted sole legal custody of children are encouraged to carry notarized proof of their status, including death certificate where appropriate. Grandparents traveling with grandchildren and adults traveling with children who are not their own should carry letters of authorization from both parents of the children. It is wise to also carry the child’s birth certificate with the original seal. Please visit the state department’s website ( if you plan to travel with a minor.

A Few Words about Safety + Security
Traveling abroad is no different than visiting a new city in the United States: use common sense precautions to safeguard your person and your possessions at all times. Remember to wash your hands frequently and use hand-sanitizer. Do not go out and about with your passport unless specifically instructed to do so by your local guides.
• Keep your extra cash and passport in the in-room safe of your hotel. In the few instances where they are not available, then store these items in the safety deposit box at the front desk.
• Always make a copy of your passport, credit cards and e-tickets and keep them separate from the originals so that they can be more readily replaced if lost or stolen. Leave extra copies with someone at home who you can reach while traveling. Or consider scanning these documents and emailing them to an address that you can access while abroad.
• If you don’t already own one, consider investing in a money belt that can be concealed under your clothing. This is a good place to keep the cash and credit cards that you need for personal expenses while sightseeing, shopping and touring. Do not display large amounts of cash in public. Carry your purse with the strap across your chest, not dangling from your shoulder or arm.

These measures will save you countless time and trouble should your credit cards, airline tickets or passport be lost or stolen. 

Out + About in Japan
The following section provide a broad overview of the country that refers to many destinations, including places that may not be on your program. But they could be! If anything here entices you to explore more of Japan, our travel experts can work with you and your travel agent to plan an extension to your program if your itinerary and schedule allow a longer stay.

About Tokyo
Japan’s capital is a vast and exciting city comprised of 23 different districts – each with its own distinctive character – creating a fascinating mosaic of neighborhoods to discover and explore. In feudal Japan, Tokyo, then known as Edo, was just a small castle town until the famous and powerful Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, selected the town as the center for his government while retaining Kyoto as the official capital. Within a few decades, Edo had grown into one of the world’s most populous cities, and the Tokugawa Shoguns continued to rule Japan another 250 years. In 1868, the Meiji Restoration returned power to the Emperor and he moved the nation’s capital from Kyoto to Edo – renaming it Tokyo, or Eastern Capital. Today, Tokyo is truly a world-class city: cosmopolitan, urban, international, richly textured and endlessly fascinating. 

On first impression, Tokyo is a modern 21st-century metropolis of towering skyscrapers, bustling sidewalks and crowded streets.  Dining is world-class, on par with New York or London. Department stores and boutiques offer international brands and the most contemporary designs from Europe, the US and Asia. Entertainment options seem endless, and clubs and lounges are open all night. But beneath the surface, ancient traditions are strong and Japanese culture imbues every element of daily life with a gentle and quiet spirit. Truly, Tokyo is unlike any other city in the world!

Imperial Palace Plaza – Built on the site of the former Edo Castle, the Imperial Palace is in the heart of Tokyo. Behind the massive stone walls and a wide moat, Japan’s Imperial Family resides in near absolute privacy. The palace buildings and inner garden are not open to the public, but a visit to Kokyo Gaien – the expansive plaza in front of the Imperial Palace – offers a glimpse into Imperial life and an opportunity to experience the picturesque landscaped grounds of the Palace and Plaza. 

Meiji Shrine – Meiji Jingu is a Shinto Shrine dedicated to the Emperor Meiji, the first emperor of modern Japan who ascended to the throne in 1868 when power reverted from the feudal Tokugawa Shoguns to the Imperial family. Emperor Meiji helped to usher Japan into the world community, modernizing the country from a feudal agrarian-based society into a more democratic state with compulsory education and increased industrialization. The emperor died in 1912, and this shrine was completed in 1920. Meiji Jingu was heavily damaged during WWII, but reconstructed in the 1950s.  Today, the beautiful, carefully tended, park-like grounds are graced with a lily-dotted pond, tea house and magnificent wooden shrine buildings of traditional architecture.

Asakusa Kannon Temple and Nakamise Arcade – This is Tokyo’s oldest temple, built in the 7th century to honor Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy. Today, it is a popular destination for tourists and residents, located in the dynamic Asakusa District along the banks of the Sumida River.  The outer entrance to this Buddhist Temple is via the enormous, thousand-year-old Kaminari-mon, or Thunder Gate.  The Nakamise Arcade leads from the Thunder Gate to Hozo-mon, the temple’s second gate. Strolling along the busy Nakamise Arcade toward the temple is a delightful experience in itself, as the street is lined with a number of shops and merchant stalls, selling traditional sweets, colorful handicrafts and souvenirs. The main temple building is quite spectacular, flanked by an elegant five-story pagoda and a shrine built in 1649 by Tokugawa Iemitsu. 

Nikko – Nikko is a small city in the scenic mountains north of Tokyo at the entrance to the spectacular Nikko National Park. The most famous sight here is the incredible Toshogu, the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate which ruled Japan for 250 years. The 17th-century Toshogu complex consists of numerous Shinto and Buddhist buildings set amidst the wooded splendor of the mountains. The elaborate Yomeimon Gate is a towering edifice, heavily carved and gilded – an appropriate welcome to the architectural treasures within, but quite a departure from traditional Japanese shrine architecture and its emphasis on simplicity. One of the most well-known carvings on the Toshogu grounds depicts the Three Wise Monkeys, who together illustrate the maxim to “hear no evil; speak no evil; see no evil.” Nikko National Park is also home to several magnificent scenic attractions, including the picturesque Lake Chuzenji and the beautiful Kegon Waterfalls. The Toshogu Shrine is open daily from 8:00AM to 5:00PM (until 4:00PM from November through March).

About Hakone
Hakone is one of Japan’s most popular hot-springs resorts, just 60 miles from Tokyo in the scenic Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, a picturesque region of forested mountains and rugged Pacific coastline dominated by the nearly perfect silhouette of Mt. Fuji.  Visitors, mostly Japanese, flock to this mountain resort area to enjoy the stress-reducing and purifying onsen, or hot-springs baths.  These mineral-rich geothermal waters occur naturally in the region, and most hotels and resorts have their own on-site onsen, ranging from beautiful cedar tubs to natural outdoor spring-fed pools with cascading falls. Please note that onsen bathing is au naturale (swim suits are not allowed). Lake Ashi is the beautiful symbol of Hakone, an expansive azure lake formed in the caldera of Mount Hakone after its last eruption three thousand years ago. The lake is cradled amidst mountains and fragrant pine forests, and – weather permitting – a cruise on Lake Ashi affords spectacular views of the region, with Mt. Fuji rising in the distance.

About Kyoto
Kyoto is an ancient imperial city and was the emperor’s residence for more than a thousand years, from 794 until the Meiji Restoration in 1868 when the capital was transferred to Tokyo.  With a population of more than 1 million, it is the country’s 7th largest city. Behind this contemporary façade, however, Kyoto retains many of its ancient temples, palaces and shrines. More than a fifth of Japan’s designated National Treasures are found in Kyoto, and the city is revered as the cultural and artistic heart of the country. Kyoto is nestled among scenic hills and forests and graced with beautiful gardens, many dating back centuries. This marvelous combination of natural beauty, treasured monuments and traditional architecture makes Kyoto an inviting city, worthy of more than just a quick visit.

Gion – The Gion is Kyoto’s ancient entertainment district.  Kabuki, a traditional form of Japanese drama, had its start in Gion and there have been tea houses, restaurants and Geisha here since the 16th century. Many of the narrow streets are lined with traditional centuries-old wooden buildings, and on a stroll through Gion you might just see a Maiko – an apprentice Geisha – on her way to music, dance or conversation lessons. Consider an overnight at a traditional Japanese inn – or ryokan – for a magical experience.

Kyoto Imperial Palace – Over the centuries, the emperor’s palace was destroyed several times by devastating fires – not unusual in a city of mostly wooden architecture. The present complex dates to 1855, a faithful reconstruction of earlier palaces.  The palace grounds, set in the spacious Kyoto Imperial Park, are enclosed by long walls punctuated by beautiful gates. The complex includes several grand halls – many in the Heian style with imposing vermilion-hued columns – and carefully tended Japanese gardens. The Kyoto Imperial Palace is normally closed to the public, but can be visited with special advance permission from the Imperial Household Agency.

Kinkaku-Ji Temple – The famed Golden Pavilion is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a much-photographed golden temple perfectly situated by a tranquil pond surrounded by beautiful gardens and forested hills. It originally dates to the 14th century, when it was constructed as a residence for the retired shogun, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. Upon his death in 1408, Kinkaku-ji was converted to a Zen temple. In 1950, the pavilion burned to the ground – a fire had been set by a fanatic monk – and the present reconstruction was completed in 1955. This magnificent 3-story structure is covered in gold leaf and houses sacred relics of Buddha. Open daily from 9:00AM to 5:00PM.

Heian Shrine – This magnificent complex was constructed in 1895 to commemorate the 1,100th anniversary of the establishment of Kyoto as the capital of Japan and is dedicated to the first and last emperors who reigned from Kyoto. The architecture of the buildings is based upon the Imperial Palace of the 8th century, and shows a strong Chinese influence. Many of the grand halls and pavilions have imposing wooden columns and carved details lacquered in vermilion and are roofed with beautiful, green-glazed ornamental tiles. This is one of Kyoto’s most unique shrines. The grounds include a peaceful garden which is quite spectacular in the springtime when the weeping cherry trees are in full bloom.

Sanjusangendo Temple – This famous Buddhist temple was founded in 1164, and the present construction dates to 1266. The main hall, a simple and graceful structure, is over three hundred feet long, the longest wooden building in Japan. The temple is revered for its 1,001 statues of Kannon, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, which are displayed here in the main hall. This amazing collection of statues dates to the 12th and 13th centuries.

Uji – This small city just south of Kyoto traces its roots to the 4th century, when the son of the emperor built a palace here on the scenic banks of the Uji River. Today the town is well-known for several important sites. Fushimi Inari Shrine, founded in the 8th century, is the most famous of several thousand Shinto shrines throughout Japan that are dedicated to Inari, the Shinto God of Rice. This beautifully landscaped, hilltop shrine complex is comprised of several structures, including the impressive Sakura-mon Gate. Beyond the gate, a pathway leads through the wooded grounds – a virtual tunnel composed of more than a thousand closely-spaced red Torii gates. Scattered throughout are many statues of foxes – the animal revered as the messenger of Inari.  The town of Uji is also home to Byodoin Temple, a registered UNESCO World Heritage Site that is one of Japan’s finest and last remaining examples of architecture from the Heian Era, 794 to 1185, when Kyoto was first established as the capital. Byodoin was originally constructed in the 10th century as a rural villa for Fujiwara Michinaga, a powerful regent who was the model for Genji in the Tale of Genji, the 11th-century Japanese classic written by a Heian Court Lady.  In 1052, Michinaga’s son converted the villa into a temple. The extraordinary Phoenix Hall, built in 1053, is symbolic of the legendary creature arising fro the ashes – an imposing central hall flanked by lower “winged” corridors on either side and a “tail” corridor extending beyond. 

Arashiyama – This charming town just west of Kyoto lies on the banks of the scenic Arashiyama River. The famed Togetsukyo Bridge, literally “Crossing Moon Bridge,” spans the river, with forested Mt. Arashiyama as a beautiful backdrop.  Nearby, Tenryu-ji Temple is considered one of the greatest Zen temples in the entire Kyoto region, and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the principal temple of the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism and, like other famous Rinzai temples, its splendid Zen gardens and simple white-washed architecture create an atmosphere of absolute tranquility. The temple was founded in 1339 but over the centuries at least eight fires have caused extensive damage, most recently in the mid 1800s. Each time, however, the original gardens survived. Although most of the present temple buildings date to the Meiji era, this 14th-century garden – designed by Muso Soseki, the temple’s founding abbot – is one of the oldest in Japan. Close to the Zen temple, Okochi Sanso is a picturesque villa estate built by a Japanese movie star of the 1930s and 1940s.  The estate buildings are closed to the public, but the surrounding bamboo groves and gorgeous garden provide for a unique and wonderful afternoon stroll. 

About Osaka
The thriving metropolis of Osaka is Japan’s third largest city, an economic powerhouse with sophisticated, charming and friendly residents. Behind the urban appeal, however, a rich history gives the city depth and character. Known in ancient times as Naniwa, the city is recognized as one of Japan’s first capital cities. Osakajo, or Osaka Castle, is an iconic landmark in the city. This imposing castle, surrounded by massive walls and a moat, was originally constructed in 1583. It was destroyed in 1615 by the troops of Tokugawa Ieyasu but rebuilt less than 10 years later – only to burn in 1665! The modern structure is a faithful reconstruction of the original and dates to 1931. Minami is a bustling city district, popular with residents and visitors who come to enjoy shopping, dining and entertainment. 

About Kurashiki
Kurashiki is a historic town in western Honshu. During the Tokugawa era, it was an important center for rice farming, and many of the town’s well-preserved buildings were originally granaries for the storage of rice. A delightful stroll along the ancient, willow-shaded canals is a wonderful opportunity to see these old warehouses: beautiful white-walled buildings with distinctive black-glazed ceramic tile roofs. In 1920, Keisaburo Ohara, a wealthy textile manufacturer, opened Kurashiki’s first museum. Today the Ohara Museum of Art’s outstanding European collection includes masterworks by Degas, Monet, Picasso, El Greco and Renoir. Mr. Ohara’s old textile factory buildings are now home to restaurants, shops and an open-air café. 

About Okayama
Okayama is the capital of the eponymous prefecture, and a gateway to Japan’s picturesque, island-dotted Inland Sea. The city is home to Korakuen Garden, considered to be one of Japan’s three finest landscaped gardens. Built in the 17th century by local feudal lords loyal to the Tokugawa Shogun, the garden has through the centuries retained much of its original layout and appearance, with an expansive, carefully tended lawn, waterfalls, groves of maples, teahouses, pavilions and ponds. The garden offers a fine view of Okayama Castle and its unusual black façade. This unique edifice was originally founded in 1597, but following destruction during WWII, it was reconstructed in the 1960s to its original form, but with a thoroughly modern interior – including an elevator!

About Hiroshima & Miyajima Island
Hiroshima is a large city of more than 1 million residents at the western tip of Japan’s main island of Honshu, situated on the Ota River Delta along Hiroshima Bay. Founded in 1589, this historic town grew into a major city and port during the Meiji Period. In the 20th century, of course, it is most well-known as the first city to be hit with an atomic bomb. Nearly 70% of the city was completely destroyed.  One of the remaining structures, partially damaged, was a domed building close to the site of detonation. Today, this architectural shell stands in Peace Memorial Park close to the Peace Memorial Museum and the Memorial Cenotaph for Atomic Bomb Victims – sobering reminders of the destruction wrought by the atomic bomb. Just one hour from Hiroshima by train and ferry is Miyajima Island, celebrated as one of the most scenic spots in all of Japan. Here you will find the incomparable Itsukushima Shrine, established in the 6th century and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Much of the extant architecture dates to the 12th century, and it remains a most spectacular sight. Built on piers over the bay, the shrine and its magnificent red Torii gate appear to float over the water during high tide. 

About Kanazawa
This charming and historic city, nestled between the Sea of Japan and the spectacular Japan Alps, traces its history to the 15th century.  By the mid 1600s it was one of the most important cities in Japan.  It was the seat of the Maeda Clan, the second most powerful clan after the Tokugawa in Edo. Not wishing to challenge the mighty Tokugawa, the Maeda were careful not to show any signs of military ambition. Rather, they channeled their great wealth into arts and culture, and many of these achievements are still renowned and revered today, especially the arts of Kaga Yuzen silk dyeing, Kanazawa Haku gold leafing and Kaga Zogan inlay work.  Kanazawa is also home to Kenroku-en Garden, one of the three most beautiful gardens in all of Japan and considered by many to be THE finest of them all. Roku is Japanese for “six,” and Kenroku-en translates to Garden of Six Sublime Elements, in reference to a Chinese gardening theory of the Song Dynasty which outlined the six critical elements of garden design: spaciousness, majesty, extensive views, artistry, abundant water and seclusion. Indeed, the 25 acres of Kenroku-en Garden magnificently incorporate these attributes with arching bridges, landscaped ponds, waterfalls, teahouses, stone lanterns, secluded maple-shaded paths and meticulously-tended trees, shrubs and flowers.

Travelers making the journey between Kyoto and Kanazawa often stop in Fukui Prefecture to visit Eiheiji Temple, the principal temple of the Soto Sect of Zen Buddhism. Founded in 1244, Eiheiji comprises more than seventy beautiful structures set in hillside forest of ancient towering cedars. It is an active monastery with around 150 practicing Zen monks, and one of the most splendid temple complexes in all of Japan.

About the Japan Alps
The magnificent Japan Alps run along the spine of the island of Honshu, with Tokyo and the Pacific Ocean on one side and Kanazawa and the Sea of Japan on the other. The northern Alps offer a wintertime wonderland of spectacular scenery and excellent alpine skiing. The route between Tokyo and Kanazawa passes through some of the most picturesque and charming towns in Japan. In Gifu Prefecture, Shirakawa-go is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here in this remote region you find quaint villages of traditional homes, designed to survive the heavy winter snowfalls.  Called Gassho-Zukuri, or Joined-Hands farmhouses, these picturesque homes have steeply pitched roofs that resemble two hands held together in prayer.

Not far away is the splendid town of Takayama. During the Tokugawa era, Takayama was renowned for its high-quality, mountain-grown timber and the great skill of its carpenters. It was a prosperous town, and many fine homes and shops were built during the Edo Period. Today, Takayama’s old town is wonderfully preserved with centuries-old wooden buildings and even entire streets of homes dating to the 18th and 19th centuries.

Twice a year, in April and October, Takayama is enlivened by Spring and Autumn Festivals – traditions that date back to the 17th century, and are considered today to be among the best of all Japanese festivals. The highlight of both events is the parade and display of enormous, colorful Yatai – or festival floats. Many of these grand floats are centuries old, and some are decorated with Karakuri Ningyo – sophisticated mechanical figures that move and dance. These festivals offer truly once-in-a-lifetime experiences, fun and excitement steeped in culture, tradition and history.  Throughout the year, several of these beautifully decorated floats – examples of Takayama’s legendary craftsmanship – can be seen at the Festival Floats Exhibition Hall.

Just west of Takayama, the town of Matsumoto is the site of Matsumoto-jo, one of the best preserved and most unique castles in Japan. It is a wonderful example of a Hirajiro – or a castle built on a plain rather than on a mountain or hilltop. Constructed in the early 1600s, the castle’s imposing black stone walls rise impressively from an expansive moat that surrounds most of the castle grounds.

About Kyushu
Kyushu is the southern and westernmost of Japan’s four main islands, a land of rugged mountains, volcanoes and a beautiful coast.  Beppu, on the northeast coast, is one of the country’s most famous and popular hot spring resorts. Its Jigoku, or “Nine Hells,” are unusual bubbling hot-spring pools, each with an aptly descriptive name.  Umi Jigoku (Sea Hell) is a mineral-hued pond of startling blue and Chinoike Jigoku (Blood Pond Hell) is a geothermal pond of steaming red water. Close to the center of Kyushu Island, Kumamoto is a historic city, graced with splendid gardens and beautiful natural scenery. Its most popular sight is Kumamoto Castle, originally constructed in 1607. In 1877, Japan’s last civil war was fought here when the army of Saigo Takamori, a former samurai, challenged the rule of the Imperial Meiji government. The castle suffered extensive damage, but has been faithfully reconstructed to its original grandeur. This imposing castle was ingeniously designed and considered impregnable. Its architectural defenses include an outer stone wall with a backward curve topped by a large wooden overhang designed to prevent foes from scaling the walls. Not far from the city, Mount Aso is the largest active volcano in Japan and one of the biggest in the world.  The volcanic cone is comprised of five peaks, the tallest towering more than five thousand feet. On the southwest coast of Kyushu, Nagasaki is a large and dynamic city. As one of Japan’s closest port cities to the Asian mainland, Nagasaki has played a significant role throughout the country’s history. Prior to the Meiji Restoration in 1868, the Tokugawa government resisted foreign contact and trade, but pressure in the mid 1800s forced the opening of a limited number of ports – and Nagasaki was one of the most important.  When the port opened to foreign traders in 1859, many European merchants built homes on a picturesque hillside close to the port.  This area, known as Glover Garden, is now an open air museum of these stately homes and mansions, some of the oldest surviving European-style buildings in Japan.

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