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HEART OF ANCIENT JAPAN

  • Overview
  • Accommodation
  • Itinerary
  • Fares

A journey overview

  • Tokyo
  • Hakone
  • Kanazawa
  • Takayama
  • Kyoto
  • Nara
  • Hiroshima
  • Miyajima
  • Kumamoto
  • Tokyo

16 Days Exploration
  • Departing:
  • 15 Oct 2024 New release
  • 1 Apr 2025 New release

Journey deep into Japan’s history, culture and the psyche of its people. Just 24 guests will travel the breadth of the country’s main island, Honshu, and discover a world of Shinto shrines, historic and perfectly preserved laneways, and tantalising cuisine. Our April departures travel during the height of cherry blossom season, while October’s guests will enjoy the arresting colours of the country’s maples.

Map

We set our sights on Shinto shrines and blushing blossoms in a land where religion and nature join one another in a beautiful and reverential dance. We check in to the Palace Hotel Tokyo (March) or Conrad Tokyo (October) in anticipation of tomorrow’s adventures. 

Gently waking amid Tokyo’s vast city skyline, you may decide to enjoy this morning on your own schedule. 

This afternoon, embark upon your first Your World experience:

— Visit Asakusa, Tokyo’s Old Town, and absorb the atmosphere of a more traditional Tokyo. While here, admire Senso-ji, Tokyo’s oldest temple, and browse the wares on offer along Nakamise-dori, the district’s famous shopping street. 
— Visit the Japanese Sword Museum, which boasts a collection of around 190 pieces, including swords, mountings and armour. The museum has a particular focus on masterpieces from the clans of the Heian and Kamakura periods.

While indulging in a tantalising Welcome Dinner, we become acquainted with our fellow travellers, as well as this futuristic city.

We begin our day at Hamarikyu Gardens, admiring their Edo-period design, juxtaposed with the more modern high-rise backdrop. From here, we head to the celebrated Tsukiji Outer Market. Here, a vast network of food vendors trade in a great range of delicacies. Having already worked up a considerable hunger, we pause for lunch at a nearby restaurant. The Imperial Palace East Gardens then invite us to stroll their historic grounds.

First climbed by an anonymous monk in 663, Mt Fuji is a deeply spiritual destination. Along paths strewn with Shinto shrines, over 200,000 locals and foreigners conquer the summit every year. For those who practice the Shinto religion, the mountain is a place of worship for the goddess Sengen-sama and a representation of the divine spirit of nature. 

Of course, we won’t ask you to strain yourself with the climb. Stunning from afar, absorb the true character of the site from a more reserved position. Drive to Hakone, where we will join a boat ride to Togendai. On the clearest of days, viewing the peak can be a sanctified experience. Enjoy the spectacle during a cable car ride to Owakudani. Returning to Tokyo, a choice of fine restaurants rounds out the evening.

Board a bullet train and shoot towards Kanazawa. Enjoy a bento box on board, sampling traditional Japanese lunch foods and watching as thatched rooftops whip past windows.

Meaning ‘Garden of Six Attributes’, Kenroku-en celebrates the theory that there are six essential elements required for the perfect garden. Later, explore the gated Nagamachi Samurai Houses, then discover the fine work of artisans past at a local museum. See the kitchen of Kanazawa at Omicho Market, whose 170 stores run the gamut of in-demand household items, from fresh fruit and vegetables, to seafood, sweets and clothing. Retreating south, we are guided to Takayama, where we make our home at Hotel Associa Takayama Resort. Drink in mountainous views and absorb the steaming waters of the open-air onsen.

We experience the Miyagawa morning markets in full swing, before walking along Sanmachi Street, where rows of ebony houses line the way. Admire the traditional skills of the local craftsmen at work in this town that proudly retains its traditions and charm. Later, we journey to a village preserved in time – World Heritage-listed Shirakawa-go. The distinctive thatched-roof farmhouses here are built to withstand heavy snowfalls, in a style known as ‘gassho-zukuri’, translating as ‘constructed like hands in prayer’. We visit Wada House, one of the village’s nationally designated Important Cultural Property.

Our southbound journey continues as we board a train to Nagoya. On arrival, we disembark, before making ourselves comfortable aboard one of Japan’s famed bullet trains, or Shinkansens. In the blink of an eye, we find ourselves in the former capital, Kyoto. Here, we delve into history and legend at a number of revered temples and other sacred sites. After lunch, we make our way to Nijo Castle, where we admire the ornate construction of this onetime imperial palace, which was once the residence of the Edo period’s first shogun. We finish our day savouring the sake of a local brewery during a tasting. For the next four nights, we reside at The Westin Miyako Kyoto. A popular local restaurant hosts us for this evening’s dinner.

Our day begins with a visit to the famous Fushimi Inari Shrine. Walk beneath a seemingly never-ending succession of vermilion torii gates that wind their way across the landscape. From here, we take the road south to the city of Nara. At Nara Park, we are befriended by the resident deer, who roam the park’s grounds in abundance. While here, we also join faithful devotees in standing beneath the watchful gaze of Todai-ji Temple’s giant Buddha statue. A short walk then brings us to Kasuga Taisha Shrine, where lanterns hang from crimson beams and stone pillars. Back aboard a comfortable coach, we make our return to Kyoto.

This morning, 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. Later, our journey 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. Dine at the temple’s restaurant, with views out to its tranquil gardens. Spend the afternoon discovering more of Kyoto at leisure, before we reconvene for dinner at a local restaurant.

The true riches of Kyoto are found within its deeply rooted connection to the country’s culture and history. Today, Your World is alight with artistic experiences:

— Visit Ginkaku-ji, a temple sitting splendidly on the edge of a serene pond, surrounded by pine trees and a garden of raked sand. Then follow the Philosopher’s Path, a picturesque route along a narrow canal. One of Japan’s most popular hanami sites, many cherry blossom trees line the edges of the canal. Then discover one of the city’s most recognised temples, Kinkaku-ji, aptly known as the Golden Pavilion.  

— Wander the aisles of Nishiki Market, absorbing the many sights, sounds and smells of Kyoto’s legendary open-air market. Sample a broad range of foods, from fresh fish to noodles and confectionary; appreciate the work of artisans and tailors; and find rarities unavailable elsewhere. 

— Take part in a sushi-making class. Under the tutelage of an expert chef, become familiar with the tools and techniques required to prepare this most recognised of Japanese dishes. 

We come together once more for lunch, before taking a guided walk through Gion, Kyoto’s celebrated geisha (or geiko, as geisha are known in Kyoto) district. This evening, we are treated to a geiko performance during dinner. Admire the graceful movements of the geiko, accompanied by the strains of a shamisen – a Japanese stringed instrument. At the conclusion of the performance, seize the opportunity to ask questions and also have your photo taken with the geiko.

We travel by bullet train to Hiroshima this morning. A mosaic of miniature paper cranes speckle Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. We pay our respects here, and also at the remains of Hiroshima’s former Industrial Promotion Hall, now known as the A-Bomb dome. Later this evening, we dine like locals. Hiroshima’s unofficial regional dish, okonomiyaki, is otherwise known as Japanese cabbage pancake. Streets and alleyways are sprinkled with hundreds of grills that showcase this unlikely cuisine. While here, we enjoy a two-night stay at the Hilton Hiroshima.

A quiet sanctuary, where a vermilion torii gate floats just out of reach. Miyajima, just a touch away from the rest of the world, is a gateway to ancient times. We travel to the island’s shores and admire the Itsukushima Shrine. A Shinto monument that dates back to the 12th century, its iconic torii gate is best viewed at high tide – and since we spend a full day on the island, we’re sure to sneak a glimpse of it floating eerily above the surface. Enjoy time to explore the island on your own schedule. Perhaps sample the local speciality, momiji manju (sweet maple leaf-shaped cakes) or take a stroll through the shrine’s fascinating prayer hall. 

Today, we venture to Kumamoto, on the island of Kyushu. At The Blossom Kumamoto, the revered Kumamoto Castle, as well as the mountain range beyond it, can be spied from our windows. We put our feet up this evening, drink in hand, and cherish the view.

Kagoshima rests in the shadow of Sakurajima Volcano. The town turns a blind eye to the mountain’s frequent winks of ash, grey and silver flakes dancing across the bay. Visit the traditional garden of Iso-Teien and continue to Shoko Shuseikan. Return to Kumamoto the same way we arrived – by bullet train of course. 

We explore Kumamoto today, visiting the Kumamoto Castle, whose graceful main tower has undergone restoration work following damage from an earthquake in 2016. We then touch on Suizenji Park and its elaborate garden, which features a miniature replica of Mt Fuji. Later, we are able to view the ranges surrounding Mt Aso, Japan’s largest active volcano. As it’s our last evening together, we celebrate with a Farewell Dinner. 

The morning is yours for personal reflection. Enjoy a private moment of peace, or squeeze in some last-minute sightseeing. This afternoon, we fly back to Tokyo, where our journey concludes. 

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