Your browser does not support the HTML5 video element.
This exciting journey takes us to the far north of Japan where we make the most of the winter temperatures, taking an ice-breaker cruise in the Sea of Okhotsk before spending time admiring the incredible snow sculptures at the annual Sapporo Snow Festival. We also explore ultra-modern Tokyo and discover tranquil Zen gardens in ancient Kyoto.
Explore Tour Leader
10 nights comfortable hotel
10 - 16
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 and for those that wish, there is the chance to go out for dinner. 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. There are no activities planned today, so you are free to arrive in Tokyo at any time. Should you miss the welcome meeting, your Leader will inform you of any essential information as soon as you catch up.
If you would like to receive a complimentary 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. You will be met in the Arrivals Hall, and transferred to the start hotel by public shuttle bus or private vehicle. The shuttle bus may stop at other hotels, before dropping you at the joining hotel.
Kanzashi Tokyo Asakusa Hotel (or similar)
It is said that over one quarter of Japanese live within a 50 km radius of the centre of Tokyo. The result is a bustling and exciting city, an economic powerhouse of Asia. Our first introduction to this unique culture is when we take a walking tour of the city highlights, using public transport to travel between neighbourhoods. Starting in Asakusa district we discover Senso-ji Temple which deserves to be high on any explorer's list. The oldest temple in the city, it is entered through the imposing Thunder Gate, flanked on either side by massive fierce statues of the gods of wind and rain.
We then board a boat for a short journey along the Sumida-gawa river to the traditionally styled Hamarikyu gardens. The gardens are located in central Toyko and feature several seawater ponds which change levels as the tides rise and fall. This journey offers a totally different perspective of Tokyo, as we sail past high rise apartments, secluded gardens and busy warehouses.
Next we visit Meiji Jingu - an important Shinto shrine dedicated to the deified spirits of the first Emperor and Empress of modern Japan at the end of Japan's feudal era. Its forested grounds offer a peaceful haven in this densely built-up city. Our final stop is Shibuya, known for one of the busiest crossings in the world Shibuya is a hub of up and coming fashion, technology and design in Tokyo with a variety of shops, museum and galleries to explore. We have included entrance to the Shibuya Sky Building which you can explore at leisure. The rest of the afternoon is left free and it is easy to return to Asakusa by metro or continue to the skyscraper district of Shinjuku.
This morning we leave the capital and after a transfer to Haneda Airport we take a flight to Abashiri, located on the Okhotsk Coast of the island of Hokkaido. The Ainu are a people indigenous to the lands of northern Japan, with a cultural background that differs from the prevailing Yamato Japanese. After landing in Abashiri we plan to visit the Museum of Northern Peoples to learn more about culture and traditional everyday life of the Ainu and other people that inhabit the northern, subarctic regions of the world. We drive from here the short distance to our hotel for the night.
We include the luggage forwarding service today to ship our main bags to Sapporo, so you will need to pack your day bag for one night in Abashiri. Please refer to the Trip Information; Budgeting and packing; Luggage on tour section for more information.
Nonky Land Higashimokoto (or similar)
Abashiri is Japan's northernmost major city located at 44 degrees north latitude. From mid-January to late March the waters here are covered in drift ice and we will be taking a short cruise through the Sea of Okhotsk to get to the main drift ice areas. With luck, a variety of wild animals can be seen including seals and sea eagles resting on the ice. From the ship you can also sometimes spot fox and deer on the coast. The boat ride takes about one hour in total depending on ice conditions. We catch a local bus to the train station where we spend the afternoon travelling by train to Sapporo, a scenic route with views across the snow covered landscape, with one change of trains along the way and arriving in the early evening.
Granbell Hotel Susukino (or similar)
We spend the full day exploring the annual Snow and Ice festival. The festival first began in 1950 but gained worldwide recognition in 1972 when Sapporo hosted the winter Olympic Games. We will see all of the main venues that have snow statues and ice sculptures including Odori Park, Tsudome dome and the main street in Susukino, Sapporo's entertainment quarter. We will also take time to stop at one of the many ice bars that pop up during the festival. In the evening there is an option to visit the Sapporo Brewery for a tour.
This morning we have some free time to further enjoy Sapporo and its surroundings. A great option is to take a bus to the Hill of the Buddha, a striking shrine which features a 13.5 metre high Buddha statue surrounded by an artificial hill covered with Lavender plants. In the afternoon we take the train to Otaru, a small town set along the Otaru Canal. The town is best known for the Snow Light Path festival when the snow-covered streets are decorated with small snow statues adorned with lights, particularly alongside the canal. We arrive slightly too early for the festival in 2024 but a walk around the town is delightful at any time. The town is also famous for fish and seafood and local dish you may like to try is kaisendon - seafood rice bowl. For those interested we can visit one of Otaru's famous beer halls, returning to Sapporo by train in the late evening.
Leaving Sapporo we take the train (4 hours) to Hakodate, located on the south-west corner of Hokkaido Island. Hakodate was one of the first ports to open to foreign trade in 1854 and as such has a distinct blend of Japanese and Western architecture. This afternoon we wander through Motomachi district, a neighbourhood favoured by the new foreign residents located at the base of Mount Hakodate, which gives an insight in to how the traders lived and how the cultures merged. In the evening we take a trip to Mount Hakodate for spectacular views down across the city.
We include the luggage forwarding service today to ship our main bags to Kyoto, so you will need to pack your day bag for one night in Hakodate. Please refer to the Trip Information; Budgeting and packing; Luggage on tour section for more information.
Hotel Resol Hakodate (or similar)
Today is a day of travel as we make our way across Japan by train to Kyoto, the old Imperial capital. We will either depart at around 09.00 or 06.00 and the journey takes around 8 to 9 hours with a change of trains in Tokyo. It is a great opportunity to relax and take in the scenery and the high tech efficiency of Japan's wonderful rail system, complete with an undersea rail tunnel between Hokkaido and the main island. If time allows, you may choose to get up early to see traders in Hakodate's morning market selling fresh seafood that the island is famous for, such as crabs (kani) and sea urchins (uni).
Kyoto is the cradle of all things uniquely Japanese and the only large city to escape bombing in WWII. It was the Imperial capital for more than 1000 years and was at the heart of the events that shaped Japan's destiny. Signs of the past are visible throughout the city in its grand temples and palaces and also the many traditional shops selling wares that have been produced for centuries.
Via Inn Kyoto Hachijoguchi (or similar)
Kyoto is regarded as the place to see everything you expect to experience in Japan, with more than 2000 temples and shrines, many set in manicured landscaped gardens. But it is also a modern city. We spend a full day, making use of public transport, to explore the city including a visit to the temple of the Golden Pavillion and Ryonji temple with its beautiful zen gardens. To take a break from the sites, and the cold outdoors, we have planned a private tea ceremony today to learn all about the culture around this practice.
Today is a free day to explore Kyoto at your leisure. You may wish to take a trip to nearby Nara, home to the Todaiji Temple, Big Buddha and the Kasuga Shrine. Your Tour Leader will be on hand to give you tips on where to visit and make the best of your time in this beautiful city.
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 to receive a complimentary 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
Sapporo Brewery visit - 4000 Yen per person including dinner (main dish lamb) - generally very busy during the festival, so advance booking recommended. Day trip to Nara - 1500 Yen per person return train ticket, plus entrance fees.
Rain gear is essential. You will need warm clothing for this trip as both daytime and night time temperatures are cold. Expect it to be around -1 degrees centigrade during the day and sinking to minus 8 or beyond during the night. A warm jacket, hat, gloves and thick socks are a good idea to keep your extremities warm. Long johns, leggings or thermal under garments will help you keep the cold out.
Comfortable walking boots with good grip for walking around the ice festival. There will be plenty of snow so good waterproof footwear is a must since you will be walking on challenging surfaces, including ice and sludge.
You should take one main piece of baggage and a daypack. Your main luggage won't always accompany you, being forwarded on Day 3 from Tokyo to Sapporo and from Sapporo to Kyoto on day 7. Your daypack should therefore have sufficient space for 1 night in Abashiri and 1 night in Hakodate. The reason we include this luggage forwarding service is to avoid being encumbered on the train journeys where we also use public transport to get to and from the stations, where you will be responsible for your luggage, and this will involve train connections where you will need to change platforms in stations where there are no lifts or escalators and with a limited connection time. It is not obligatory; should you wish to keep your main bag with you throughout the trip please let the Tour Leader know upon arrival or at time of booking, and in this case we strongly recommend either a compact suitcase with wheels or a good quality rucksack, as well as packing relatively light so you can easily move your luggage from point to point and up and down stairs. Japan's rail network has a policy that requires passengers with oversized baggage to reserve a specific seat in an oversized baggage area. This relates to baggage with overall dimensions of over 160cm (taken by adding the height+width+depth measurements). These overall dimensions are around the same for which oversized baggage fees are charged on international airlines, so it's unlikely that you will be bringing a suitcase of this size. However, it is worth checking the dimensions and then repacking with a smaller case if necessary. Due to the complexities of booking these seats, if you arrive with an oversized bag and wish to travel with this throughout the trip, our team in Japan will be required to ship the luggage from one place to the next from the beginning to the end of the tour, at an additional cost that you will be required to pay on tour.
Bring a water bottle to save on purchase of plastic bottles and a small torch. A tote bag will help avoid having to use plastic bags when shopping. Hairdryers are provided at all the hotels.
Bus, Boat, Flight, Train
While clean and comfortable, hotel rooms and ensuite bathrooms in Japan are often much smaller than in other destinations. This is due to the pressure on space in high density urban areas coupled with Japanese expectations about size of living spaces. It is unlikely that you will be able to keep your main luggage open at all times especially when sharing the room. For this reason and the fact we use a lot of public transport, you may consider packing light. See Luggage information also.
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
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. A clear copy, either as a scanned photocopy or photo, of your main passport photo page is required by our local agent to finalise the train tickets. Please ensure all the information is clearly visible with none of the edges missing. This is required no later than 6 weeks prior to travel, and Explore will request this from you approximately 8 weeks prior to departure. If passport copies are not received this will delay the purchase of the train tickets and may cause an increased customer charge. 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.