Secrets of Japan with Takayama Festival (15 days)

(Departure October)
Japan is a land of continual contradictions; from sky-scraping cities to rustic rural villages, cutting edge technologies to timeless traditions, this is a country rich in cultural anomalies and fascinating contrasts. Visitors to this island nation will recognize the bright lights and bustle of east coast mega-cities, but will marvel at the age-old villages and rugged mountain landscapes of a beautiful interior, and at the graciousness of a hospitable and welcoming people. This tour includes the Takayama Festival, one of the most striking festivals of Japan, held twice a year in spring and autumn. Secrets of Japan with Takayama Festival is sure to surprise you with hidden gems.
Photo Courtesy of Mark Yacker, Travel Indochina

Day 1 – Tokyo
Upon arrival at Tokyo’s Narita Airport you will be met by your tour leader or local guide and escorted the short distance to the airport transfer bus (a shared service). After a travel time of one to two hours (depending on traffic) you will be dropped off at the doorstep of your hotel in downtown Tokyo. The rest of the day is at leisure.

Day 2 – Explore Tokyo on Foot, Boat and Rail
Following breakfast meet in the reception area of your hotel for a tour briefing before embarking on your exploration of the city.

With a teeming population of eight million, the capital of Japan invigorates the senses. Founded in 1603 as an Edo-era military center, Tokyo has since lived a myriad of lives. Earthquakes, world wars and raging fires have at various times over the past 150 years razed Japan’s main city to the ground, while in the past half-century this current seat of royal power has emerged as a trading super-city and a headquarters for the world’s second largest economy.

On the back of foreign investment, the huge success of automotive and precision electronics industries and national industriousness, Tokyo presents as a truly pulsating metropolis – brimming with street-life activity and neon lights galore, yet also home to an underworld of drinking dens and atmospheric restaurants. Today you will explore some of the city’s highlights on a carefully created tour. You will begin with a short walk to nearby Hama Rikyu Garden, dating to 1654 and once the private respite of the Tokugawa Shogun.

After a stroll through this tranquil garden, after which you board a boat (shared service) for a cruise on Tokyo’s Sumida River. This short trip will take you past the headquarters of some of Japan’s most famous companies and will end near bustling Asakajusa Temple, the oldest and most beloved temple in Tokyo. Here, be introduced to the influences of Buddhism and Shintoism on Japanese culture.

Around mid-day, travel to serene Meiji Jingu shrine and Harajuku. Here, mingle with youngsters dressed to the hilt in colorful cult fashions. Later, take in mesmerizing sky scraper views of Japan’s major city from Tokyo Tower. Towards the end of the afternoon, return to your hotel by train and foot. (Breakfast included)

Day 3 – Tokyo at Leisure
Today you will have free time to explore one of Asia’s great cities. You might like to visit Akihabara, an entire suburb of neon-lit electronics shops and a testing ground for prototype technologies. Also consider a visit to the Ameyoko Arcade shopping area at peaceful Ueno Park, or a foray into the spending attractions at Shinjuku’s many ritzy department stores. (Breakfast included)

Day 4 – Tsukuji Fish Market and Hakone
This morning you will make an early morning trip to Tsukuji, the largest fish market in the world. Fish sold at Tsukuji come from all over the world and are auctioned at sometimes staggering prices.

Late morning you will leave your Tokyo hotel and travel by train the short distance to Hakone. This picturesque town is famous for its proximity to imposing Mount Fuji, a symbol of Japan and the highest mountain in the country. Before checking-in to your Japanese-style hotel you will enjoy a short boat trip on peaceful Lake Ashino, and an exciting cable car ascent (weather permitting) to the top of Mount Komagatake for majestic views of Japan’s most loved and famous geographic landmark.

After a sumptuous Japanese dinner, you will sleep tonight in an atmospheric tatami-floored room, on a futon mattress. Note that this morning your main piece of luggage will be couriered to Nagoya, so you will need to take an overnight bag for your stay in Hakone. (Breakfast and dinner included)

Day 5 – Hakone to Nagoya
Today you will travel southwards by shinkansen bullet train to Nagoya (a journey of just over one hour). An industrial city, Nagoya is known for its recreated castle, a friendly population, and – bizarrely – a prevalence of pachinko parlours (slot-machine gaming venues). Japan’s fourth-largest city is also home to the headquarters of one of Japan’s most famous companies – Toyota. Your tour of the Toyota site will include time in the Kaikan Exhibition Hall and in the Toyota plant itself.

At the end of the day you will return to your hotel for a break and freshen-up. This evening you might like to venture outside and sample some local food in this friendly city. (Breakfast included)

Day 6 – Kiso Valley Villages and Takayama
Today you will venture into the beautiful Kiso Valley at the southern tip of the Japan Alps. During the Edo-era, a middle highway (Nakasendo) linked the towns of Edo (Tokyo) and Kyoto on this lowland route through central Honshu. ‘Nakasendo’ was once dotted with way-station rest towns, several of which still exist today in wonderful condition.

Your journey today brings you first to Magome, set on the edge of a hill and a treasure-chest of traditional residential dwellings and shops. Magome is also home to a number of peaceful cafes; you will stop at one of these to take in the wonderful views and soak up the atmosphere of this quaint little town. Mid-morning continue the short distance to Tsumago – similar in feel to Magome, but set on a flat part of the Kiso Valley and flanked by thick forests. There are some wonderful souvenir shops in Tsumago town; you will have ample time to wander along the windy main street, meet local people and practise making a purchase.

By mid-afternoon you will re-board your vehicle for the onward trip to Takayama, passing pretty mountain scenery. You will have ample opportunities for photo stops on this four hour road trip. (Breakfast included)

Day 7 – Takayama Walking Tour and Takayama Festival
Known as ‘mini-Kyoto’, Takayama is an accessible town rich in shrine and temple architecture and has a pleasant, laid-back feel. Over the next few days you will also enjoy the Takayama Festival, one of the most striking festivals of Japan, held twice a year in spring and autumn.

The festival draws a large number of people from Japan and the world over. The key highlight of the Takayama Festival is the display of the festival floats. Decorative and dazzling ‘yatai’ are pulled in a festival procession on the streets of Takayama, which exhibit the festival floats on both the days of the festival, for the onlookers to see.

The Mikoshi procession is another part of the celebrations of the Takayama Festival in which a moveable shrine ‘mikoshi’ is carried around the town in a parade. The mikoshi encloses the Shinto deity, and this festival is the only time of the year when the idol is carried around town. A number of festival floats are decorated with elegant mechanical dolls known as ‘karakuri ningyo’, which are devised to move and dance. The festivities continue during the night while illuminated festival floats parade through the streets. To prepare for the festival enjoy an orientation morning walking tour of some of Takayama’s main attractions.

As an introduction, visit Takayama Jinya, formerly a government building and home to some wonderful insights into Japan’s past. Your walking tour will include a stroll past some beautifully preserved wooden houses on Kami Sannomachi Street and a venture past some enticing sake rice wine breweries. The small size of Takayama and its friendly inhabitants make the town a great place for evening exploring, and the locale for some atmospheric eateries. (Breakfast included)

Day 8 – Takayama to Hida-Furukawa
Today you will take a local train to Hida-Furukawa, a charming old city is known for its old sake brewery warehouses with gleaming white earthen walls. You will be greeted by more than 800 multi-colored carp swimming in the network of canals along the city streets. Here you will walk the charming streets lined with old houses that evoke the lifestyles of the Edo period (17th to mid-19th century).

This afternoon is at leisure to wander the streets of the market and soak up the atmosphere of the old town. (Breakfast included)

Day 9 – Takayama to Kanazawa
You will depart Takayama by vehicle today on a journey to the nearby Shirakawago district. This World Heritage Listed area is dotted with traditional thatched roof farmhouses which keep heavy snows out in winter, yet remain remarkably cool during the oppressive heat of summer.

You will stop and have the chance to take photos of the mountainous rural countryside and will also take part in a short Japanese paper-making experience. By early afternoon you will then set out for Kanazawa, a former castle town and samurai headquarters. Kanazawa is also home to one of Japan’s most famous gardens – Kenrokuen. Check-in to your centrally located hotel and venture out for dinner. (Breakfast included)

Day 10 – Kanazawa Walking Tour and Hiroshima
Depart your hotel this morning in one of Japan’s famously comfortable taxis, for the short trip to Kenrokuen Garden. This spacious garden dates to the 16th century and once formed the outer garden of (the now ruinous) Kanazawa Castle. You will explore the garden before your walking tour of some of Kanazawa’s other historic sites. These will include quaint Higashi Chaya Street, once the home of geisha courtesans, and Omicho Market, locale of some wonderful food stalls and a hive of activity.

At the end of your Kanazawa walking tour you will make your way to the train station for the journey to Hiroshima, infamously targeted in the world’s first atomic bomb attack. Nowadays Hiroshima is home to a million people and is a city devoted to peace. (Breakfast included)

Day 11 – Hiroshima
This morning you will take a short tram trip to the edge of the Seto Sea. Here, board a ferry for the ten-minute passage to Miyajima Island. This tranquil island is home to Itsukushima Shrine, partly comprised of an offshore red ‘torii’ gate – one of Japan’s most famous and photographed sites. In ancient times access to holy Miyajima Island was through this ‘floating’ gate; you will arrive more conventionally, gliding into the ferry terminal.

Take some free time to enjoy the peaceful atmosphere of this pretty island, mingle with the wild deer, and sample some Japanese snack food. Take this opportunity to try a traditional okonomiyaki pancake lunch before departing this unique setting and re-board the a direct ferry for the trip back to the mainland to the Peace Memorial Museum, dedicated to the events of 1945 and the aim of a war-free world. A visit to this exceptional museum is a sobering, yet educational experience. You will also see the famous Peace Memorial Park and a poignant cenotaph inscribed with all the known victims of the Hiroshima bomb, and the eerie A-Bomb Dome, a tragic city-symbol, left standing in a ruinous state after more than 60 years. In the evening, explore Hiroshima, a truly ‘reinvented’ city. (Breakfast included)

Day 12 – Hiroshima and Nara
Depart your hotel early morning to catch the train to magical Kyoto, once Japan’s capital for over 1000 years, a myriad of temples, shrines and historical structures adorn this captivating city. Here you take the local train for your day trip to Nara.

Nara was Japan’s first permanent capital and is home to a rich array of historic architectural treasures. Most impressive of these is Todaiji Temple, the largest wooden building in the world, yet made without the aid of a single nail! The temple is home to a gargantuan bronze Buddha, weighing more than 430 tonnes, including an astounding 130 kilogram’s (286 pounds) of gold. Nara is a small city and is easy to get around by foot, so you will set out this morning without a vehicle. Your further discoveries allow for encounters with the city’s denizen free-roaming deer (designated ‘National Treasures’), as well as bus-loads of Japanese children on excursion from school! In the afternoon you will return to Kyoto. (Breakfast included)

Day 13 – Kyoto
Kyoto is the spiritual and cultural capital of Japan, the setting of more than 1,000 temples and shrines, a headquarters for geisha courtesans, and the home of royal cuisine.

This enigmatic city is the birthplace of some of Japan’s most beautiful sites and alluring traditions: tea ceremonies, ‘shodo’ calligraphy, peaceful rock gardens, and an array of artistic and intellectual pursuits. Yet for all its reputation, first impressions of Japan’s most loved city usually disappoint; the center of town is undistinguished and developed, and its controversial main train station presents a garish, modernized introduction to arriving visitors.

The beauty of Kyoto is however, undeniably manifest in the temples and bamboo forests of Higashiyama, the shrine-dotted slopes of Arashiyama, the evening quiet of the Philosopher’s Path, and in the gorgeous Ponto-Cho and Gion geisha districts.

Your discoveries of Kyoto will take in a sampling of these treasures, beginning with visits to the Nijo Castle and the glittering Golden Temple, Kinkaku-ji. Nijo Castle was built in 1603 as a residence for the first Tokugawa shogun and is famous for squeaky wooden floors designed to betray the approach of unwelcome visitors. The nearby Golden Temple is one of Japan’s most cherished sites. This elegant, gilded structure was built in the 14th century as a retirement villa. Later today you will also visit World Heritage-listed Kiyomizudera temple, nestled into the forest-clad side of Higashiyama Hill, and the quaint Sannen Zaka and Ninnen Zaka streets. Heian Shrine, guarded by enormous sentinel gates, will provide a later contrast to the business of earlier sites. In the afternoon you will wander down the gorgeous Ponto-cho Lane and walk to the famous Gion geisha district, setting for the movie ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’. (Breakfast included)

Day 14 – Kyoto and Arashiyama
Today you will set out for the bamboo-clad western hills of Arashiyama for a short scenic train trip and a discovery of a quieter part of Kyoto. In the afternoon you will have free time to explore wonderful Kyoto. You might like to visit unique Fushimi-Inari Shrine, a sprawling complex dedicated to the gods of rice and famous for its kilometers of red torii-lined walkways, or Ginkaku-ji Temple, the peaceful Silver Temple.

Make sure you devote at least a couple of hours for a walk along the Testsugaku no Michi(Philosophers Path), which allows for quiet diversions to beautiful temple gardens, traditional suburban areas and local-style cafes. Consider doing this walk late afternoon/early evening, when the areas around the path are at their most mysterious. Return to Kyoto by the end of the day and relax before your special farewell dinner.

At 6.30pm you will be leave for the restaurant. Upon arrival you will be taken to a private dining room to start your kaiseki meal. Kaiseki is a type of art form that balances the taste, texture, appearance, and colours of food. To this end, only fresh seasonal ingredients are used and are prepared in ways that aim to enhance their flavor. Finished dishes are carefully presented on plates that are chosen to enhance both the appearance and the seasonal theme of the meal. Dishes are beautifully arranged and garnished, often with real leaves and flowers, as well as edible garnishes designed to resemble natural plants and animals.

The Maiko/Geisha will come to your private room to perform a traditional dance and to talk with you for up to 40 minutes.
A geisha with her elaborate kimono and ghost white make-up, is one of the most enduring images of Japan. This is a fantastic opportunity to experience a highly exclusive service that is usually only available through a personal introduction. After enjoying dinner and the performance the evening is yours to enjoy at your leisure. (Breakfast and dinner included)

Day 15 – Depart Kyoto
Today travel the short distance from your hotel to Kyoto Train Station for your onward travels. (Breakfast included)

CALL NOW TO BOOK 415-331-3791

Accommodation as mentioned above, with breakfast daily, one lunch and two dinners, all sightseeing as specified, including entrance fees, luggage courier service (see Important Notes below), Western tour leader (based on a minimum of ten persons travelling), local English-speaking guides, all transport as specified (including a 14-day Japan Rail pass which will be provided to you in Japan), the assistance of a Travel Indochina representative in boarding a shared-service transfer bus to your Tokyo hotel, unassisted pre-booked taxi service to Kyoto Station (you will use your rail pass to travel from Kyoto to Kansai Airport or to Tokyo’s Narita Airport, making your own way to the airport train on arrival at the station). Note that the departure transfer is provided on the day of tour ending only. Transfers outside the final day need to be organised independently or booked and paid for as separate service.

Not included:
Meals other than those specified, international departure tax (included in your international air ticket price), porters, insurance, tipping, and items of a personal nature.

CALL NOW FOR All DETAILS 415-331-3791