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CASTLES CUISINE & CUSTOMS OF JAPAN

  • Overview
  • Accommodation
  • Itinerary
  • Fares

A journey overview

  • Tokyo
  • Hakone
  • Matsumoto
  • Nagoya
  • Kyoto

9 Days Exploration
  • Departing:
  • 12 Oct 2023 New release

From Mt Fuji to Matsumoto, sake tastings to snow monkeys, bamboo groves to bullet trains. Japan is a nation replete with cultural and natural wonders, as alluring as they are distinct. Join us on this exclusive journey reserved for just 24 travellers, where we celebrate the contrast of ancient custom and innovation.

Map
Tokyo
Kyoto

Three Nights in Tokyo & Kyoto

Make the most of three nights in each of these world-renowned cities. Enjoy Tokyo’s refined cuisine, striking skylines and unending shopping opportunities. In Kyoto, we see a region revered for its countless shrines and temples, Zen gardens and geisha culture.

Mt Fuji
Mt Fuji

Fix your Gaze Upon Fuji

With clear weather on our side, we anticipate a viewing of Mt Fuji’s epic peak; a cruise of Lake Ashi offers us further opportunities. Nearby Owakudani’s scenic walking trails lead us along a route dotted with sulphur vents and hot springs.

Snow Monkeys
Snow Monkeys

Spellbound by Snow Monkeys

Linger awhile in Jigokudani Yaen Koen and watch the spectacle of the resident snow monkeys. These Japanese macaques bathe in the hot springs, drawing an audience of onlookers in the place dubbed ‘Hell’s Valley’.  

 

Kyoto's Geisha District
Gion

Tradition and Teahouses in Gion

Famed for being Kyoto’s geisha district, Gion also presents an opportunity to absorb old-world Japan. Stroll along its paved walkways, between the wooden facades of traditional teahouses and specialty stores. As day turns to dusk, we may just catch a glimpse of geisha.

 

Wagu
Wasabi

Culinary Encounters to Savour

Japan certainly holds its own in the international food stakes. From Tokyo’s time-honoured sushi restaurants and fresh food markets to the pursuit of perfection evidenced in the techniques of Nagano’s wasabi and sake artisans, our palates are satisfied at every turn.

Itinerary

Welcome to the Land of the Rising Sun. From Haneda Airport, we transfer to Tokyo’s Palace Hotel. Our accommodation is conveniently located near to the Imperial Palace East Gardens. Following lunch, we enjoy a guided walk across a section of the palace’s vast grounds. This evening, enjoy Japanese delicacies with a French twist at La Rochelle, owned by none other than Chef Sakai of Iron Chef fame.

After breakfast at our hotel, our guide shows us around the Tsukiji Outer Market, where a vast network of food vendors trade in a great range of delicacies. You may, of course, prefer to take your morning at leisure. We reconvene for lunch to enjoy authentically prepared Japanese sushi. Afterwards, we make our way to nearby Asakusa, one of Tokyo’s oldest neighbourhoods. Cast in the shadows of skyscrapers, and almost directly under one of the world’s busiest flight paths, Senso-ji Temple serves to illustrate Japan’s contrasts better than most. The temple bears daily witness to the urban Japanese citizen’s capacity for observing solemn rites in the midst of sensory stimulation. From here, it’s a short stroll to Nakamise Shopping Street, celebrated for its array of stalls and vibrant atmosphere. Across the Sumida River, the Tokyo Skytree stands proud. Japan’s tallest structure beckons us to its observation deck, where we cast our gaze across the city’s vast sprawl. We momentarily return to our hotel before reconvening at a local restaurant for dinner.

Our travels take us south to Hakone National Park. Depending upon the weather, our position here may bring us favourable views of Mount Fuji. We break to enjoy the offerings of a nearby restaurant, before boarding a ‘pirate ship’ for a cruise of Lake Ashi. An altogether different mode of transport grants us further perspectives of the surrounds, as we climb aboard a ropeway. The scent of sulphur permeates as we reach Owakudani; its walking trails leading to bubbling pools and steaming vents. The locals even sell eggs, boiled in the volcano’s natural hot springs, which are said to prolong one’s life by seven years. Upon our return to Tokyo, we dine in one of the city’s innumerable quality restaurants.

This morning, we depart Tokyo by rail, bound for Matsumoto. As we pull further away from the megalopolis of Tokyo, we see space gradually opening up within the urban landscape before we arrive in the city of Matsumoto. Following a hearty lunch, we wander the verdant grounds of one of Japan’s largest wasabi plantations. The plants’ cultivation is in part fostered by the fresh water running straight off the Japanese Alps, ensuring the farm’s crops are renowned throughout the land. 

Matsumoto is the second-largest city in Nagano Prefecture and is home to Matsumoto Castle, one of the country’s most splendid. The imposing castle boasts a secondary tower attached to its main keep, while its grandeur is enhanced further thanks to its brilliant black and white facade. This evening, we relax during the first of a two-night stay in the exquisite Tobira Onsen Myojinkan hotel. Enjoy a relaxing stay within your choice of traditional Japanese or Western-style room.

We make our way further north for a rendezvous with some locals. The intriguing snow monkeys, or Japanese macaques, never fail to capture the attention of onlookers, as they go about their daily lives in the forest clearing and steam baths of Jigokudani Yaen-Koen. These playful and cheeky monkeys groom, chase and playfight with one another, seemingly oblivious to their human audience. 

After lunch, you have the option of remaining in Jigokudani, where you’re able to relax and soak up free time in its soothing onsens. Alternatively, you may like to visit the nearby town of Obuse. Here, enjoy a visit to the museum dedicated to Katsushika Hokusai, the talented painter and illustrator, who lived and worked during Japan’s Edo period. The appreciation of local artistry continues during a stop at a nearby sake brewery. The option to take the afternoon on your own schedule in Obuse is also your choice. After returning briefly to Jigokudani to pick up our other guests, admire scenes of colourful autumn leaves during our drive back to Matsumoto. This evening’s dinner takes place at one of our hotel’s restaurants, which offer a choice of Japanese and French cuisine.

Board a train this morning for our southbound journey to Nagoya. On arrival, we change trains, boarding one of the country’s famed Shinkansens for the speedy trip to Kyoto. Enjoy lunch on board as we hurtle past an assortment of housing estates, rivers and sprawling rice fields. 

On arrival in Kyoto, we take some time to settle in at our hotel, before making our way into Gion, Kyoto’s celebrated geisha district. Our time here is spent wandering among rows of traditionally built, wooden merchant houses, restaurants and teahouses. Absorb the atmosphere of this immaculately preserved district, and keep a careful, but respectful, watch for local geisha and maiko, who often prove elusive while out in public. Gion also boasts a wealth of quality restaurants, and we adjourn to one for dinner this evening. At the end of another eventful day, we retire to our hotel, whose Deluxe rooms offer city views.

Today, we visit one of Japan’s most iconic sights, the bamboo groves of Arashiyama. Enjoy a rickshaw ride through the groves of towering green bamboo stalks as the wind causes them to gently sway. Our journey then takes us to one of Kyoto’s most revered Zen temples – Tenryu-ji. Wander along paths through beautifully landscaped gardens, then enter the distinctive temple, which has been rebuilt several times over the centuries, owing to fires and wars. 

We nourish ourselves with a special Buddhist meal before adjourning to another of the city’s most recognised temples – Kinkaku-ji, also aptly known as Golden Pavilion. Built as a retirement villa for the shogun, the distinguished structure became a Buddhist temple following his death. After taking time to admire its glittering edifice, we cross town for a visit to Nijo Castle. The onetime imperial palace comprises an ornate construction and was once the residence of the Edo period’s first shogun. Tonight, we choose from a selection of local restaurants.

Ginkaku-ji sits splendidly on the edge of a serene pond, surrounded by a small grove of pine trees and an exquisite garden of raked sand. Though the temple originally served as the shogun’s residence, its gardens were later redesigned in a style befitting its subsequent use as a Zen temple. From here, we follow a course along the Philosopher’s Path, taking in one of its most striking sections. The tree-lined path runs either side of a narrow canal and is enhanced by the sight of leaves bursting with the colours of autumn during our visit. 

Following our walk, we replenish ourselves with lunch at a local restaurant. You are then welcome to take the afternoon at leisure. Otherwise, join us as we proceed to nearby Nanzen-ji Temple, which sits at the foot of Kyoto’s Higashiyama mountains. The temple’s history dates to the mid-13th century, and it serves as one of the schools within the Rinzai sect of Japanese Zen Buddhism. Enter through the imposing Sanmon gate and explore the grounds, which, in addition to their striking gardens, feature a large brick aqueduct. The temple’s Hojo Garden was designated a Place of Scenic Beauty in 1951 and it features a perfectly manicured rock and sand garden. Our Farewell Dinner this evening sees us enjoying a private performance by a geisha or maiko, whose exquisite stagecraft is accompanied by a shamisen – a Japanese stringed instrument.

We farewell Kyoto this morning, boarding a Shinkansen for our swift return to Tokyo, where our journey concludes. Should you prefer, the option of a private car transfer from Kyoto to Osaka Airport, to connect with your onward flight, is also yours to take.

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