9 days 8 nights
Arabic, English, Francais
Home to sumo wrestling, sake, geishas, karaoke and onsens, Japan’s got a lot going for it. And on this nine-day Lonely Planet Experience to some of its most acclaimed cities, you’ll get to see the country at its best. Take in the neon nightlife of Tokyo, relax in the manicured gardens of Nikko and discover thousands of years of culture and history in Kyoto. And have you heard about the food? World-class sushi, ravishing ramen, delectable donburi – you certainly won’t be going hungry. With your local leader to point you in all the right direction and plenty of time to explore at your own pace, experience the culture and charm of the Land of the Rising Sun.
This is a Lonely Planet Experience powered by Intrepid, made for travellers who value their independence but also want the benefit of a local leader and a group of like-minded travellers. The itinerary has a mix of included activities and free time when your leader will offer suggestions. Please budget spending money for optional activities you want to partake in. Your leader will take you on orientation walks in each destination, giving you tips on things like supermarkets, places to eat, ATMs and recommendations of fun things to see and do. For more in-depth exploration you can head off on your own or with other members of your group, or if you are interested in an itinerary with more inclusions, please see Intrepid’s Land of the Rising Sun trip – search trip code CJST on the Intrepid website for more information. In some destinations you may be staying in a ryokan, which is a Japanese-style inn. It’s a great taste of tradition, however not everyone finds futon mattresses on the tatami mat floor, tiny bathrooms and proximity to other guests as comfortable as more western-style hotels and beds. Are you aged 18-29 and want to travel with people of a similar age? Check out the Real Japan adventure – search trip code CJYO on the Intrepid website to get the low-down.
Konnichiwa! Welcome to Japan. Bursting with contemporary urban culture, there are many sides of Tokyo to explore, from fascinating museums and world-class shopping to neighbourhood backstreets lined with restaurants and karaoke bars. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm tonight. Afterwards, why not head out for an optional dinner to try some local food and experience the nightlife in this amazing city. You might like to finish the night with a drink at a traditional Japanese izakaya – ask your leader for their favourites.
This morning, venture out with your small group on the metro to explore the buzzing Shibuya area. Check out one of the busiest intersections in the world before heading into a depachika (underground food hall) for a mouth-watering array of tempting Japanese treats. Next, visit Meiji Shrine – enter via a massive torii (gate) and notice the sights and sounds of the city fade away as you enter the tranquil forest. Afterwards, explore the Harajuku district, the home of quirky youth pop culture. In your free time this afternoon, perhaps take in the historic Asakusa area – one of the older and more traditional parts of Tokyo. Here you can stop by Senso-ji, the city’s oldest temple, which was founded almost 1400 years ago when Tokyo was nothing more than a fishing village. This evening, you've got endless options for dinner – how about a hearty bowl of ramen, crispy tonkatsu, or snacks and beer at (another) izakaya.
Enjoy a morning walk around the famous Tsukiji Outer Market, where fresh seafood from Tokyo’s wholesale fish market (recently relocated to a new site at Toyosu) is delivered daily. Wander through the narrow aisles to find all sorts of amazing food then perhaps pop in to one of the sushi restaurants for a fresh breakfast. Continue on to the famous Akihabara District – the centre of Japan's otaku culture. Shops and establishments devoted to anime and manga are scattered among the electronic stores in the district. This afternoon is free for you to explore, so why not spend some time in the city’s green spaces like Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden or create your own entertainment with some karaoke. If you’re stuck on things to do, open up your Lonely Planet app and get exploring with the top picks!
Say goodbye to Tokyo and take the train to Nikko (approximately 2 hours) where you’ll have a free day to explore. Nikko has been a sacred city since the middle of the eighth century and is full of shrines and temples. Perhaps visit the Toshu-gu Shrine, a resting place of a Tokugawa shogun who was one of the most powerful rulers of the country. Every corner of this monument is covered in intricate gold leaf, lacquerwork, paintings and patterns. Here you can also visit the Museum of Art at the back of the temple complex. This 1920s mansion has one of the country’s most beautiful collections of sliding doors and screens decorated by the best Japanese painters of the day. You could also head to Shin-kyo bridge – one of the town’s most famous landmarks – and the Buddhist temple of Rinno-ji, home to fearsome statues and an elegant garden.
For those feeling energetic, join your leader for a hike around the Nikko area. Depending on the time of the year, you can climb up to the Senjogahara Plateau, where the gods of Mt Nantai and Mt Akagi are said to have battled for possession of Chuzenji Lake. You can take a six-kilometre walk following the course of the plateau or explore the various hiking trails that spread off from the lake itself. The lake area is also home to the Kegon Waterfall, and you can get the Akechidaira Ropeway (cable car) over the falls and lake. A little further on is Lake Yunoko and Yumoto, where you can soak in the natural hot springs – a great place to experience one of Japan's well-loved public onsens. In the town itself you can explore the shops along Hippari Dako, maybe tasting yuba – the skin that forms on top when making tofu. Sounds strange, but it's a delicious treat!
Enjoy your last free morning in Nikko before making your way to Kyoto. Take the local train (around 2 hours) and then jump on board the shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto for approximately 3 hours. Originally founded as Heian-kyo ('tranquillity and peace capital') by Emperor Kammu in AD794, Kyoto was the capital of Japan for over 1000 years, and with over 2000 temples, shrines and gardens, Kyoto is a great place to get lost in. On arrival, head to one of the most photogenic spots in Kyoto – Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine – famous for the thousands of vermillion-coloured torii (gates) which straddle the paths and trails in the area. Afterwards, enjoy some free time to get acquainted with Kyoto by walking through its historic neighbourhoods.
Today is free for you to explore. With its many landmarks and historical sites and an abundance of traditional arts and literature, Kyoto is regarded as the cultural heart of Japan. Kyoto is also a city that lends itself to walking, and there are plenty of paths available – ask your leader for their recommendations. Perhaps visit the extravagantly decorated Kinkakuji temple, also known as ‘The Golden Pavilion’, or if you’re visiting in spring, head to the theatre for a presentation of Miyako Odori (the Cherry Blossom Dance) performed by elaborately dressed maiko (apprentice geisha). In the evening, enjoy a guided walk through the Pontocho and Gion areas – the famous geisha districts. Even today you can observe the age-old tradition of geisha visiting members of the wealthy elite – this unfolds in small teahouses tucked away in tiny back streets. For those who are keen, you can also choose to attend the Gion Corner cultural centre where you can enjoy some Japanese performing arts, from flower arranging to the Lion Dance.
Make the most of your day in Kyoto. If you haven’t done so already, you may like to see Japan’s largest pagoda at Toji, or you could visit the imposing and opulent Nijo Castle, home to the Tokugawa Shoguns who had power over the country during the Edo period. You can also check out the ‘nightingale floors’ of Ninomaru Palace, which squeak to warn of intruders. From the castle, it’s a short bus ride to Ryoan-ji, perhaps Japan’s most acclaimed Zen garden, where carefully placed rocks sit in an immaculately raked sea of gravel. For some local shopping there’s Kyoto’s handicraft centre, a perfect place to pick up some souvenirs with a fine selection of woodblock prints, yukata (light cotton robes), jewellery and pottery. Tonight, why not enjoy karaoke with your new friends, or maybe splash out on a kaiseki meal in a ryotei – small restaurants serving traditional multi-course cuisine. Being in Kyoto alone is definitely cause for celebration.
There are no activities planned for today and you can depart the hotel at any time. Check out time is 10 am, however if you’re departing later, you can arrange luggage storage at the hotel.