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From the bright lights of Tokyo to the tranquil temples of Kyoto, this fast-paced tour explores Japan's highlights. We take time to reflect at Hiroshima, site of the world's first atomic attack before visiting the holy island of Miyajima, dotted with beautiful temples and free roaming deer. In Osaka we try street food and in Kyoto we relax in perfectly manicured Zen gardens.
Explore Tour Leader
7 nights comfortable hotel
Trip maximum 16 Explore Average 11
Itineraries on some departure dates may differ, please select the itinerary that you wish to explore.
Arrive in Tokyo, the ultra-modern capital of Japan.
For those arriving on time our Leader plans to meet you in the hotel reception at 6.30pm for the welcome meeting. If some of the group are arriving on later flights then the main introductory briefing will be conducted on the morning of day 2 with everybody present. After this we have dinner included at a nearby local restaurant where you will have the chance to sample various types of 'izakaya' style Japanese cuisine. There are no other activities planned today, so you are free to arrive in Tokyo at any time. If you would like an airport transfer today, you'll need to arrive into Haneda Airport (HND) or Narita Airport (NRT). The city centre is around an hour away from Haneda Airport and an hour and a half from Narita. Should you miss the welcome meeting, your Leader will inform you of any essential information as soon as you catch up.
Kanzashi Tokyo Asakusa Hotel (or similar)
Over one-quarter of the Japanese population live within a 50 km radius of the centre of Tokyo, making it the most populous metropolitan area in the world. The result is a bustling and exciting city - the economic powerhouse of Asia. However, scratching its neon-clad surface reveals a city bursting with history and tradition. A morning stroll to Tokyo's oldest temple, Sensoji, will introduce us to Tokyo's unique culture. We then board a boat for a short journey along the Sumida River. Gaining a totally different perspective of the city, we drift past high rise apartments, secluded gardens and busy warehouses. Arriving in the heart of the city we visit Hamarikyu Gardens.
At a convenient time in the day we will get our Japan Rail Passes validated in a nearby station. Please note that for late bookings, and people who have not provided their passport copy in time as requested, it will not be possible to issue a Japan Rail Pass and you will be provided with individual train tickets for the included journeys instead. The rest of the day is left free and you may wish to board a train to visit the Meiji shrine and Shinjuku area, where the latest electronic gadgets dazzle from glowing shop-fronts.
No trip to Japan would be complete without a journey on a high speed train and this morning we leave Tokyo and board the Shinkansen. Our main bags will be forwarded to Osaka today and we make do with an overnight bag for tonight. The bullet trains are known for the extremely punctual service, comfortable carriages and the lack of noise as you travel at speeds of up to 300 kilometres per hour. Alighting at Nagano in the Japanese Alps, we make our way this morning by private coach to Jigokudani Onsen, home to Japan's famous snow monkeys. Here the indigenous macaques descend from the hills to bathe and play in the hot springs, a unique behaviour not found anywhere else in the world. Despite their wintry moniker, the monkeys can be observed in and around the pool throughout the year although sightings are more likely in colder months. Our walk to the spring takes 30 minutes along a pretty forest trail which is mostly flat. Once at the spring we spend around an hour observing the monkeys before returning along the same path.
Leaving Nagano behind we head for Kanazawa, until 150 years ago the 4th largest city in Japan. The city has shunned mass industrialisation and retains the charm of winding back streets, delicate tea shops and the beautiful autumn maples and spring cherry blossoms of Kenrokuen Gardens. Once ruled by the Maeda Clan, one of the most powerful Samurai families in Japan, the city has several traditional samurai districts and, along with Kyoto, is one of Japan's cultural capitals.
Hotel Torifito Kanazawa (or similar)
As the town was not targeted during World War II, much of Kanazawa consists of old buildings and gives a sense of what Japan was like in the 19th century. We'll spend some time wandering around the colourful stalls at the town's Omicho market, where fresh fish and crab are brought daily from the Sea of Japan along with vegetables from the surrounding countryside. A great dish to try here, particular to the region, is chirashi-zushi, which consists of scattered seasoned sushi rice topped with a variety of seafood, vegetables and raw fish. We also visit Kenrokoen Gardens which took nearly two centuries to complete and translating from their original Japanese as the 'Garden of the Six Sublimities'.
This afternoon, we travel by train (2hrs) once more to the city of Osaka. Japan's second city is famed for its modern architecture, buzzing nightlife and tasty street food. This evening your Leader will take you on a street food tour around the Namba area, one of Osaka's most vibrant and interesting districts where miles of covered arcades criss-crossed by canals and rivers open up to back streets filled with history and small shops. We'll get to try a few local delicacies such as Takoyaki - also known as Octopus balls, Okonomiyaki - a type of savoury cabbage-based pancake filled with pretty much whatever you like, Kushikatsu - skewered meat and vegetables that are deep fried, and ramen - pulled noodles served in a meat or fish-based broth, often flavoured with soy sauce or miso.
Shin-Osaka Washington Hotel Plaza (or similar)
Our main luggage is forwarded to Kyoto today and we use our overnight bag again. A couple of morning train journeys take us to Hiroshima, where we will spend the morning exploring this thought-provoking city. Completely destroyed on the 6th of August 1945 as the target of the first atomic bomb to be used in wartime, Hiroshima has literally risen from the ashes, and is now a thriving, friendly city. We will have time to visit the Peace Memorial Park and the well-presented museum on the site of the 1945 A-bomb hypocentre. Whilst serving as poignant reminders of the nuclear holocaust, their over-whelming message is of hope that such horrors will never reoccur. Travel around the city is easy, thanks to the provision of colourful street trams, brought in all over Japan after the war. Just off the coast of Hiroshima is the tiny island of Miyajima which we visit this afternoon. The relaxed feel of this island is enhanced by the deer that roam freely through the streets. As you arrive on the ferry you can take in the famous view of the floating torii gate. Considered to be one of the most beautiful sights in Japan, these red gates appear to float on the water with the hills of the island forming a spectacular backdrop. Take time to explore some of the islands many shrines before we take the ferry back to the mainland.
Daiwa Roynet Hiroshima (or similar)
After breakfast we make our way back to the train station for the journey to Kyoto, which takes around two hours. The imperial capital for more than 1000 years has more than 2000 temples and shrines, many set in perfectly manicured landscaped and tranquil gardens.
We will start exploring this fabulous city this afternoon with a visit to Nijo Castle. Built in 1603 as a Shogun palace, it is a great example of the sumptuous setting in which the Shogun would have held audiences with his samurai warriors. The extensive gardens and gates are impressive, but the real ingenuity of the castle are the nightingale floors, so called because they are designed to make a chirping noise when walked upon, thus making it impossible to sneak up on the castle's inhabitants. The rest of the afternoon is left free to explore.
Via Inn Prime Kyotoeki Hachijoguchi (or similar)
We spend today visiting some of the cities many temples.
We start with a a traditional tea ceremony and take time to explore Kyoto's charming streets, soaking up the unique atmosphere. Accompanied by a professional local guide we will head on to Ryoan-ji Temple with its beautiful Zen gardens and famous rock garden. The exact history of the gardens is unknown, but it is thought the temple was converted from an aristocrat's villa in 1450. Whilst in the gardens try testing out the theory that at least one of the rocks is hidden from every vantage point. We then explore the famous Golden Pavilion. The temple is a three-storey building with the top two tiers covered in gold leaf. Set in a lake the building appears to float on the water and the reflections, coupled with the background of forest make it worthy of its place on many Japanese postcards.
The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Kyoto.
There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Kyoto at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel, while you head out for some last minute shopping or sightseeing. If you would like an airport transfer today, you need to depart from Kansai International Airport (KIX), which is around one and a half to two hours away, or Osaka International Airport (ITM) which takes around an hour.
Japan's climate is mostly temperate, with five distinct seasons. Summer is from June to September with temperatures reaching 30°c, although it can vary from warm to very hot after mid-July with temperatures in the mid-30s. July and August can be very hot and humid. Spring and Autumn are mild throughout Japan. Winter, October to April, is cold with snowfall. The main rainy season is June. Japan can be prone to short, tropical cyclones in August to October. October / November although cooler is a great time to see the Autumn colours. For trips that visit the Snow Monkeys at Jigokudani Onsen, you're very likely to see them all year around, aside from in October/November when there is enough food in the forest to prevent them coming down to the baths. You may still see some at this time but not in the numbers found during the rest of the year.
2 Pin Flat
Buddhism, Christian and Shinto
Rain gear is essential all year. You will need warm clothing from October through until April when temperatures drop, especially at night. December until February are particularly cold so bring extra layers if you are travelling at this time.
Comfortable shoes, and sandals for relaxing. Comfortable shoes, and sandals for relaxing. Shoes that are easy to put on and take off are recommended for visiting temples and sites.
You should take one main piece of baggage and a daypack. There are a few days on the tour when you will not have your main luggage so will need to pack the day bag with your essentials. Your main luggage is forwarded on day 3 from Tokyo to Osaka and on day 5 from Osaka to the final destination at Kyoto. Your daypack should therefore have sufficient space for the overnight stays in Kanazawa and Hiroshima. The reason we include this luggage forwarding service is to avoid being encumbered on the train journeys.
Can you drink the water?
It is generally possible to drink the local tap water, therefore to reduce the need for single-use plastic bottles we recommend you bring a refillable water bottle with you. Your leader will advise you on refill points each day.
We strongly recommend that you check your government's travel advisory for up-to-date information and advice about your destination: safety and security, entry requirements, health, local laws and customs. For UK citizens, check the latest Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office advice.
Please refer to our COVID-19 entry requirements page for any country-specific conditions of entry. Whilst we strive to update this on a regular basis we recommend you also check the FCDO website for the latest advice on entry requirements in this fast-evolving situation. Information can change at any time.
Please note that some countries require proof of parental consent when travelling overseas with under 18s. Please check requirements with the relevant embassy or consular office well in advance of travel if this applies to your party.
Once your booking has been confirmed we guarantee the price will not increase, whatever the circumstances. However, please note that if you voluntarily make any changes to your booking including changing your trip or departure date, any additional costs or charges incurred will not be covered. Before booking please ensure you have read our important tour pricing information.Booking Conditions
\red5\green99\blue193; British passport holder do not require visa to enter Japan for tourism purposes. All visa related issues for other nationalities should be confirmed with the relevant Embassy prior to departure. Japan Rail Pass - A clear copy, either as a scanned photocopy or photo, of your main passport photo page is required. Please ensure that all the information is clearly visible with none of the edges missing. This is required by our local agent to issue your Japan Rail Pass and is required no later than 6 weeks prior to travel. Explore will request this from you approximately 8 weeks prior to departure. If your passport copy is not received on time this will mean we cannot issue you a Japan Rail Pass. Instead you will be issued individual rail tickets for the included journeys and you will not have the benefit of a Japan Rail Pass, which enables you to travel effectively for free on local trains and the Tokyo Monorail in your free time while the pass is valid. Similarly for late bookings it will not be possible to issue a Japan Rail Pass if the cut off date has already passed, and you will be issued single tickets instead. Although not required, by registering on the visit Japan Web website, travellers are able fill out the Disembarkation Form and Custom Declaration Form in advance. By filling out these forms online, two QR codes will be produced that can be shown during entry procedures into Japan. This may help you proceed through customs and control quicker. As this step is not required, travellers can instead fill out physical paper forms upon arrival as well. More information can be found here: \ul \ulnone
If you do require assistance in obtaining a visa then you may be able to apply through Explore's recommended visa service in the UK, Travcour. See www.travcour.com to download the relevant visa application for your trip, if applicable (UK citizens only), along with details of how to apply for your visa through Travcour. The Team at Travcour will be happy to answer specific questions relating to visa applications, please call them directly on 0208 5431846.
It is your responsibility to ensure that you are in possession of a full passport, with the correct validity for your chosen destination.
Before booking your Explore trip, please ensure that you read both our Essential Information and Booking Conditions.
Customers who have chosen to book on the ‘Land Only’ arrangements of our tour, please ensure that you have checked your tour specific ‘Joining Instructions’ prior to booking your own travel arrangements. Your joining instructions can be found below in the dates and prices information.
You may also be eligible for the Free Explore Transfer.
Customers booked on the ‘Land Only’ arrangements will receive a Free Transfer, provided you arrive and depart on the tour only itinerary start and end dates. The complimentary transfers will be arranged from the Explore designated airport or train station to your trips joining point, and then back from the ending point to the designated airport or train station. Generally the airport or station that Explore have selected will be the one that is closest to the town or city where the trip starts, or the one nearest to the joining point. It will be either an airport or train station but not both.
The exception to this rule is customers who are booked on a tour where the joining and ending point is at the designated airport or train station.
Free transfers are not available for Polar customers.
If you are not eligible for the Free Transfer then you will need to make your own way through to the joining and ending point. On a majority of our tours Explore will be able to provide a private transfer at an additional cost. Please ask for a quote at the time of booking.
For more information regarding the Explore Free Transfer click here
It is a condition of booking with Explore that you have adequate valid travel insurance. It is your responsibility to arrange appropriate travel insurance and ensure you have read and understood the full terms and conditions of your travel insurance policy to ensure that you are covered for all activities you intend to undertake whilst on the tour, including all optional activities. Your Insurance Policy must fully cover you for medical expenses and emergency repatriation to your home country. Please ensure your policy includes medical emergency helicopter evacuation in the event of illness or injury and covers the entire duration of your holiday. If you are trekking at altitude please ensure that there is no upper altitude limit which may limit or exclude cover for your trip. The cost of many of our Polar Voyages will exceed the capped amount covered by standard insurance premiums and you will be required to pay an additional premium to cover the full value of your trip. Please ensure that you are covered for the full amount of your holiday cost, as insufficient cover could invalidate a claim under the policy. Medical and repatriation insurance cover is not mandatory for UK residents who are travelling on trips within the United Kingdom.
Read more information about what travel insurance is required.
Explore offers a wide range of flexible flying options to make joining and leaving our trips easy. Read more about them here.
You are able to book this tour on a 'land only' basis or as a ‘flight inclusive’ package. Your flight inclusive package will be fully protected by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) ATOL protection scheme.
We have a good selection of flights not only from London but from many regional airports around the UK allowing us to compare fares between scheduled carriers as well as low cost and charter airlines. Our dedicated flights team will match the best flight options to your arrival and departure airport.
On our website we display a UK flight inclusive package guide price which is generally based on a London departure. To avoid paying supplements or to secure your preferred flight option, we recommend booking as early as possible, especially for peak travel dates.
Nothing compulsory. We recommend protection against typhoid, tetanus, infectious hepatitis and polio. The use or possession of Vicks inhalers and some other common prescription and over-the-counter medicines (e.g. for allergies and sinus problems or even certain mild painkillers, such as those containing certain levels of codeine) are banned under Japan's strictly enforced anti-stimulant drugs law. Customs officials may not be sympathetic if you claim ignorance about these medicines. If in any doubt about customs procedures for such items, you should check with the nearest Japanese Embassy before visiting Japan. Please check the latest requirements with your travel clinic or doctor prior to departure. The above is not an exhaustive list. Further information regarding vaccinations and travel health advice can be found by following the NHS and NaTHNaC links at Explore Travel Health and from your local healthcare provider. Visa and vaccination requirements are subject to change and should be confirmed by you before travelling.