Japan Unmasked - Japan
Japan Unmasked is a tour with modest accommodation and minimal inclusions, giving you the freedom to choose where you spend your time and money. Whether you see yourself slurping on a quick bowl of noodles or splurging on sushi, this tour gives you the scope to create your perfect holiday.
The tour begins in Tokyo: the beating, neon heart of Japan. The first of many rides on the Shinkansen bullet train then whisks you into mountainous central Japan, where you'll spend the night at a shukubo temple lodgings, try vegetarian Buddhist cuisine and search for the key to paradise in the pitch-dark tunnels underneath Zenko-ji - one of Japan's most important temples.
A chance for you to see the mischievous “snow monkeys” soaking in the natural hot spring pools of Yudanaka will be followed by a visit to the "Black Crow", Matsumoto's magnificent original samurai castle.
Delving deeper in the mountains you'll experience warm Japanese hospitality at a traditional ryokan inn in Takayama, where the old-town streets hide sake breweries, craft shops and morning markets loaded with fresh produce.
Kyoto and Kanazawa offer a glimpse of traditional Japan - one a magnificent former capital with an astounding 17 World Heritage Sites, the other a small but beautifully preserved city with lamp-lit streets and one of the best gardens in Japan. When walking around the Gion district in Kyoto, you might be lucky enough to spot a geisha in full regalia.
Further west you'll visit Hiroshima, where the Peace Memorial Park offers a sobering reminder of Japan's darkest hour. Though haunted by its past, Hiroshima today is a city teeming with life and optimism. Be sure to try the region's favourite savoury pancake: okonomiyaki.
Finally, you'll visit Kurashiki - a real gem of a town that often goes unseen by foreign visitors but whose beautiful merchant canal district, wealth of excellent museums and beautiful surrounding countryside - through which you'll have the chance to take a bike ride - make it well worth the trip.
Read below for an itinerary summary or come into our branch to discuss the tour in more detail.
DAY 1: TOKYO. Travel to your hotel before a welcome dinner with your tour leader and group.
The tour begins in Tokyo. Your airport transfer is swift and easy and can be made with your included travel card. Don’t worry, before you leave we will provide you with your very own Info-Pack, which contains detailed instructions on how to arrive at the starting hotel safely (along with plenty of other information)! Our hotel is centrally located near Tokyo’s famous Tokyo Tower. Close by, you will also find the atmospheric Zozo-ji Temple and street after street of restaurants, bars, cafés, and shops, all within walking distance of the hotel. There is certainly plenty to keep you occupied if you arrive early. We will have a group meeting in the evening, giving you the chance to meet your fellow group members and tour leader. After the meeting, if you feel like it you can head out with your tour leader and group to one of the excellent nearby restaurants for an introduction to Japan’s outstanding cuisine and dining etiquette.
DAY 2: TOKYO. Discover the many faces of Tokyo, one of the world's greatest cities.
Today your tour leader will take you on a walking tour for the day, which will include Meiji Jingu Shrine, Hamarikyu Gardens, a ride on Tokyo’s water bus and a visit to the traditional Asakusa area. Of course, there are so many fantastic things to do and see in this amazing city: museums, gardens, and shrines. You should feel free, if you want, to head out and do your own thing – your leader will be happy to assist with any plans. You will also have a Japan Rail Pass, should you wish to make a day trip out of the city.
DAY 3: NAGANO. Stay overnight at a Buddhist temple lodging at Zenko-ji, Japan's most important Zen temple.
Today you’ll leave the big city behind and make your way to the city of Nagano, located at the foot of the Japanese Alps. Nagano is famous as the host city of the 1998 Winter Olympics and as the location of Zenko-ji – one of Japan’s most important temples. This afternoon will be yours to explore the temple and the wider city. We also recommend joining your tour leader for a lunch of freshly made soba noodles (a local speciality) before relaxing at the local outdoor hot spring baths. Tonight you will be spending the night at one of Zenko-ji’s affiliated shukubo lodgings. Accommodation will be in simple, Japanese-style rooms with tatami mats, sliding screen doors and comfortable futon mattresses.
DAY 4: MATSUMOTO. Attend Buddhist morning prayers in Nagano, visit the snow monkeys of Yudanaka and scale Matsumoto's “Black Crow” castle.
On day four you will be rising early to attend optional morning prayers at Zenko-ji – a unique and spiritual experience. After the ceremony you will return to your lodgings for an elaborate breakfast of shojin ryori (traditional vegetarian Buddhist cuisine) before having the opportunity to make a visit to the famous hot spring-bathing snow monkeys of Yudanaka. After lunch you will make your way to Matsumoto, another alpine city famous for its impressive original samurai castle – the “Black Crow”. This afternoon we recommend paying a visit to the castle and its nearby museum, or heading out to the excellent ukiyo-e woodblock print museum in the city suburbs.
DAY 5: TAKAYAMA. Continue your journey through the picturesque Japanese Alps.
You will continue your journey through the Japanese Alps on day five as you make your way to Takayama, a town famed for the high quality of its traditional crafts. There are many options to keep you busy in the town today, among which you could opt to join your leader for a wander along the towns riverside then through the renowned historical merchants’ quarter, dipping into sake breweries, specialist woodcarvers’ shops and soy sauce makers. You can also easily head off on your own to a number of sights, including the festival float museum and the marvellous Showakan museum, for a hands-on, retro experience from the early 20th century. Tonight you’ll be staying at a simple, family-run minshuku inn with Japanese-style rooms, onsen baths and a lovely kaiseki dinner included.
DAY 6: TAKAYAMA. Explore the craft shops, sake breweries, morning markets and museums of Takayama, a lovely alpine town.
With another day to explore Takayama we recommend making the local morning market your first port of call. Your leader can also arrange a guided tour around the Jinya – the only Edo Period government house left in Japan. Later, you can join your tour leader on a visit to the Hida no Sato folk village, an open-air museum filled with traditional thatched-roof farmhouses, before heading back to the old town for a spot of sake-tasting at the local breweries to round off the day. Dinner is not included this evening so we highly recommend going out for a taste of the local delicacy, Hida beef, which is every bit as delicious as its Kobe cousin!
DAY 7: KANAZAWA. Enjoy the beautifully preserved traditional districts of Kanazawa, home to one of Japan's top three landscape gardens.
This morning you will have a little time for last minute craft shopping or a stroll along one of the town’s designated walking trails before a glorious train ride to the beautifully preserved traditional districts of Kanazawa, home to one of Japan’s top three landscape gardens. Located on the Japan Sea Coast, Kanazawa is one of Japan’s best-preserved traditional cities. Like Kyoto, its historical monuments were considered sufficiently important by Allied Forces to escape air raids. This has notably preserved the atmosphere of pre-war Japan in certain historic districts of the city. This afternoon we recommend strolling the Nagamachi samurai quarter, the Chaya geisha district, and getting some super-fresh sushi from the Omicho Fish Market. No visit to Kanazawa would be complete without a visit to the city’s star attraction: Kenrokuen. Ranked as one of Japan’s top three landscape gardens, Kenrokuen is truly stunning and well worth your time today.
DAY 8: HIROSHIMA. Visit Hiroshima's Peace Park and Museum.
With two days in Hiroshima you will have ample time to explore this exciting city and its beautiful neighbour – the island of Miyajima. Your leader will take you through the modern heart of the city to the beautiful Peace Park, with its many monuments dedicated to the A-Bomb victims. Hiroshima will forever be remembered for the tragic events of 1945 – and whilst you should certainly reserve some time to visit the museum there are plenty of additional options: with world-class art galleries, an excellent manga library, a beautifully restored castle and the lively Honmachi shopping arcade, you will be spoilt for choice as to how to spend the rest of the afternoon. Your tour leader will no doubt be keen to take you for an okonomiyaki dinner – the local savoury pancake meal that Hiroshima is famous for!
DAY 9: HIROSHIMA. Spend the day on the beautiful island of Miyajima.
On day two of your stay in Hiroshima you might like to join your tour leader for a ferry ride across the bay to Miyajima, a beautiful island on the Seto Inland Sea. Miyajima is home to a tiny, traditional community, a friendly resident population of deer, and Itsukushima Shrine – whose “floating” torii gate is one of the most iconic images of Japan. A cable car can whisk you up over the island’s primeval forest to outstanding viewpoints above the surrounding sea. For car lovers, you may prefer to stay in the city, where your tour leader can arrange a morning visit to the Mazda plant, its museum and assembly line. Whatever you decide, Hiroshima is sure to keep you entertained for a second day.
DAY 10: KURASHIKI. Admire the preserved canal district of Kurashiki and cycle through rice paddies and villages across the Kibi plains.
An early morning bullet train ride will take us onto Kurashiki. This wonderful town is a great place to admire a preserved Edo period commercial centre – in the city’s canal-lined Bikan district. Just out of town you can cycle through rice paddies and villages across the Kibi plain. Kurashiki is rarely included on first-time itineraries to Japan, which we think is a real shame, as it’s a truly lovely town with a fascinating history. The preserved canal district forms the centre of the town, with streets lined with traditional shops, cafés and superb museums housed in white walled, black-tiled storehouses from the Edo era. The Ohara Museum is the most impressive of all the local museums, housing the first permanent collection of Western art ever to be exhibited in Japan. Today you will also have the option to relax in this historical district, or join the cycling trip with your tour leader through one of the most beautiful and historical paved cycle paths in Japan, taking you past rice fields, burial mounds, local temples and Buddhist cemeteries.
DAY 11: KYOTO. Travel to Japan’s ancient capital and enjoy an evening tour around the Gion Geisha district.
An ancient imperial capital and home to 17 World Heritage Sites, Kyoto is Japan’s most important repository of culture and history. A highlight of any journey to Japan, Kyoto was Japan’s capital for over a millennium and is home to an incredible 17 World Heritage Sites, including temples, shrines and some beautiful gardens. Your tour leader will be sure to take you to one of these today – perhaps the incredible structure of Kiyomizu Temple with its commanding city views – before you enjoy a guided tour of the traditional Gion geisha district, where you might be fortunate enough to spot a geisha as dusk falls.
DAY 12: KYOTO. Explore the cultural hub of Kyoto and some of its 17 World Heritage Sites.
On your second day in Kyoto you’ll have the option of taking a tour of some of the city’s famous sites – as well as some lesser-known beauty spots that you might otherwise never have found. Alternatively you can opt to head out alone and discover them for yourself. Your tour leader will be happy to help you make plans if there is something specific you’d like to see. Popular options include the exquisite Golden Pavilion of Kinkaku-ji or the spiritual forest trail created by the ten thousand red gates of Fushimi Inari. Nishiki food market is a haven for foodies market or you may wish to further explore Gion’s traditional teahouse district – Kyoto has so much to offer that you’ll be spoilt for choice.
DAY 13: TOKYO. Return to Tokyo for some sightseeing, last-minute shopping and a fabulous final night in the capital.
Today you will speed back to Tokyo on the Shinkansen bullet train, perhaps catching a glimpse of Mount Fuji on your way past – if you’re lucky! This is your chance to do a bit of last-minute souvenir shopping, and to visit any of the sights you may have missed the first time around. Today would be a great time to see Tokyo from the top of the Skytree, the tallest tower in the world at 634 m (2,080 ft). You could catch some sublime greenery amongst the chaos of Shinjuku at Shinjuku Gyoen Park, arguably Tokyo’s finest, or even rent out a karaoke booth and sing your heart out with your new friends. Though dinner is not included tonight, we highly recommend joining your group for a farewell meal at one of your tour leader’s favourite restaurants in the city, as a great way to toast the end of a fantastic trip.
Day 14: Depart Japan or extend your stay with a self-guided add-on
It’s time to say goodbye and make your way to one of Tokyo’s two international airports. If you would prefer to extend your time in Japan we can arrange extra nights or self-guided add-ons.
If this sounds like the perfect introduction to Japan or a deeper look into the country on a return visit, come inside or give us a call to discuss this tour with our staff.
- Full-time services of your InsideJapan tour leader
- 13 nights' accommodation
- Breakfast every day and one evening meal
- All transport between destinations in Japan
- 14-day Japan Rail Pass
- IC transport card with 2,500 yen credit for city transport
- Highway Bus from Matsumoto to Takayama
- Transfer from Takayama to Kanazawa by private coach
- Entrance to Zenko-ji Temple in Nagano
- Entrance to Jigokudani Monkey Park in Yudanaka
- Geisha district walking tourReference : IJ
- 13 night Small Group Tour including many of Japan’s top locations
- Enjoy the diversity of cities and sights, from Matsumoto Castle to Hiroshima Peace Memorial park
- Explore the old canal district of lovely Kurashiki
- Stay in a Buddhist temple lodging at Nagano's Zenko-ji Temple
- Visit the traditional samurai & geisha districts of Kanazawa
- Observe the famous “snow monkeys” up close in Yudanaka
- Ride the famous Shinkansen bullet train Explore the traditional craft town of Takayama in the Japanese Alps
DATES: 15 departures throughout the year. Please ask in store for details