Japan Essentials: Itinerary Details

Fushimi Inari taisha shrine Kyoto Japan red orange torii gates

The beautiful red torii of Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto

Japan Essentials: Tokyo, Kyoto & Hakone (8 Days)

Day 1: Welcome to Tokyo! Meet-and-greet on arrival in Tokyo. Transfer to your hotel, Hotel Niwa.
Day 2: Private orientation tour of Tokyo, visiting Shibuya, Kagurazaka & Shinjuku. Afternoon to explore as you please. Evening izakaya (gastropub) outing.
Day 3: Private morning tour of Tsukiji Fish Market. Private afternoon tour of Tokyo, visiting Yanaka, Ueno Park & Ameyoko-cho Market.
Day 4: Romance Car train to Hakone National Park. Afternoon free to enjoy your luxurious ryokan, Yamanochaya, with onsen (hot springs). Multi-course kaiseki dinner this evening.
Day 5: Morning free. Board the world-famous shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto. Settle into your hotel, Royal Park Hotel THE Kyoto. Private evening tour of Kyoto’s Gion geisha district.
Day 6: Private orientation tour of the ancient capital, Kyoto, visiting Kiyomizu-dera Temple, the Higashiyama District & Nishiki Market. Afternoon to explore as you please.
Day 7: Private tour of the iconic Fushimi Inari Shrine. Remainder of the afternoon & evening to enjoy your final night in Japan.
Day 8: Train from Kyoto to nearby Osaka for your international departure. If your flight departs from Tokyo we can adjust the itinerary accordingly (additional costs may apply).


Day 1: Welcome to Tokyo, Japan!

Welcome to Japan! On arrival in Tokyo you’ll be met at the airport by our representative and escorted to the convenient shuttle bound for your hotel in the city center.

In Tokyo you’ll stay at the charming and centrally-located Hotel Niwa. “Niwa” means garden in Japanese, and this attractive hotel offers a perfect blend of traditional Japanese aesthetics and urban sophistication.

Your Hotel in Tokyo: Hotel Niwa (Including Breakfast)

Hotel NIWA Tokyo Japan

Hotel NIWA Tokyo

Day 2: Private orientation tour of Tokyo & evening izakaya (gastropub) outing

Meals today: Breakfast / Dinner

Today you’ll have a full day to enjoy Tokyo, starting with a morning tour and ending with an exciting evening out.

This morning your private guide will meet you at your hotel at 10:00 am for a private half-day tour introducing you to Tokyo. Your guide will be with you until about 2:00 pm.

Tokyo is one of the world’s most exciting and eclectic cities. You’ll find everything in Tokyo – history, food, art, architecture, gardens, fashion and more – which is what makes it endlessly fascinating to explore.

tokyo imperial palace bridge marunouchi japan

The Imperial Palace, Tokyo

You’ll start in Shibuya, one of modern Tokyo’s most colorful neighborhoods. Shibuya is home to the famous Shibuya scramble crossing, as well as shopping, nightlife, restaurants and the latest fashions. A stroll in this pulsating neighborhood is a great way to immediately immerse yourself in modern Tokyo.

From here you’ll continue to one of Tokyo’s most charming old neighborhoods for a complete contrast. Kagurazaka is an old geisha neighborhood, and its back alleys reveal a Tokyo from another era. Old geisha teahouses remain, many of which have now been converted into elegant restaurants and charming boutiques.

shibuya crossing scramble hachiko tokyo japan

Shibuya, Tokyo

To conclude the private tour you’ll visit Shinjuku. Home to the world’s busiest train station, Shinjuku is one of the city’s most dynamic neighborhoods, and you’ll find everything from ramen shops and high-end dining, tiny bars and karaoke rooms, to skyscrapers and elegant department stores (with delicious depachika food halls).

Afterwards your guide will help instruct you on how to most easily return to your hotel, or direct you to elsewhere in the city if you prefer to keep exploring.

Unless otherwise specified, for all tours you will be traveling around by public transport, making use of Japan’s clean and efficient transport systems. In some cases walking will be the best way to explore, and at other times you may want to take a taxi to save time (your guides can advise on where it will make the most sense). Please note that taxi fares are not pre-included (simply pay on the day).

To make getting around Tokyo as easy as possible, you will have electronic transport cards, known as IC cards, pre-filled with 2,500 yen (about US $25) of credit. You can use your IC cards to pay for trains and subways, and even at most vending machines and convenience stores. The cards are valid throughout Tokyo, and also in some other Japanese cities.

Panoramic view of Shinjuku skyline in Tokyo Japan

Panoramic views over Tokyo’s Shinjuku district on a crisp autumn day

After an afternoon at leisure, this evening at 7:00 pm you’ll be meeting up with a local Tokyo resident who will be taking you out to a locals-only izakaya (Japanese-style gastropub), where you’ll get an introduction to tapas-style Japanese cuisine.

During dinner you’ll not only learn about Japanese food but also have the chance to ask any questions you have about life in Tokyo, and Japan in general. This will be a very unique opportunity to enjoy great food and drink while immersing yourself in the inimitable atmosphere of an authentic Japanese izakaya.

Dinner is included but drinks will be extra. Afterwards your guide will help instruct you on how to most easily return to your hotel, or direct you to elsewhere nearby if you prefer to go for a nightcap.

shochu chuhai japan izakaya

Sashimi at an izakaya

Day 3: Private tour of Tsukiji Market & afternoon tour of Tokyo

Meals today: Breakfast

This morning your guide will meet you at your hotel at 8:00 am and together you will travel to nearby Tsukiji Fish Market.

Tsukiji is the world’s largest fish market, but despite its huge scale and incredible busyness, it is a model of efficiency. Take time to wander through the enormous market, exploring both the vegetable and fruit areas, and of course the impressive seafood section. You may also have the chance to see a complete tuna being cut and filleted.

If you’re a home cook, Tsukiji is a fantastic place to buy top-quality Japanese knives, and stock up on Japanese ingredients for your pantry. Make sure to bring cash as few shops accept credit cards.

As the market is slated to move to a nearby neighborhood in November 2016, this will be one of the last chances to visit.

tsukiji fish market tokyo japan

Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market

After your 2-hour morning tour you’ll have some free time to keep exploring or rest before your afternoon tour.

At 1:00 pm this afternoon your guide will meet you at your hotel for a private half-day tour of Old Tokyo. Your guide will be with you until about 5:00 pm.

Your walking tour will begin in Yanaka, one of Tokyo’s most charming historical districts. The Yanaka neighborhood was miraculously spared the carnage of the bombings during the second world war, and best preserves the old feeling of what Tokyo was like in the early 20th century.

Yanaka is full of temples and shrines, one of Tokyo’s oldest Buddhist cemeteries, and a plethora of traditional shops selling Japanese sweets, rice crackers, paper, and other goods. Yanaka is also home to galleries, such as the renowned SCAI the Bathhouse.

traditional tea ceremony green tea mattcha japan

Mattcha, tea ceremony

From Yanaka you will walk to nearby Ueno, another traditional district well known for Ueno Park, which is home to various museums, including the excellent Tokyo National Museum.

From Ueno Park, you’ll continue the stroll to nearby Ameyoko-cho, a colorful outdoor marketplace located directly beneath the tracks, where you can find a variety of goods from seafood and fruit, to tea and noodles, video games, bags and more. Originally the site of a black market after the second world war, this bustling market is the last of its kind in Tokyo.

Afterwards your guide will help instruct you on how to most easily return to your hotel, or direct you to elsewhere in the city if you prefer.

japanese food barbecued fish Ueno Park tokyo japan

Barbecued fish in Ueno

Day 4: Travel to Hakone National Park & luxurious ryokan (inn) with onsen (hot springs) & kaiseki dinner

Meals today: Breakfast / Dinner

Today you will leave Tokyo behind and travel to nearby Hakone, which is famous for its onsen (hot springs), and – on clear days – stunning views of Mount Fuji.

You will travel to Hakone on the scenic Romance Car train. The Romance Car makes the trip from Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station directly into the heart of Hakone. The scenic train features wide windows, and if you’re lucky with the weather you may even catch a glimpse of Mount Fuji on the way. It’s a comfortable ride and takes about 85 minutes.

torii hakone lake ashinoko japan

Torii Gate in Hakone

Upon arrival at Hakone-Yumoto Station you’ll be transferred to your ryokan by private vehicle.

In Hakone you’ll stay at Yamanochaya, a secluded ryokan (traditional Japanese-style inn) known for its cuisine and onsen.

From Yamanochaya’s entrance, where you leave your shoes behind, wooden steps lead to the attractive bar and lounge offering views over the Hayakawa River below. The inn’s 15 rooms are Zen-like in their simplicity, with natural woods, soft tatami-mat flooring, calligraphy scrolls and seasonal flowers.

Dinner is a kaiseki feast of exquisitely-presented courses, including local specialties such as mackerel sashimi, yuzu citrus and matsutake mushrooms.

yamanochaya tsukimidai nadeshiko room


Hakone is the perfect place to escape and unwind, but in addition to relaxing Hakone offers plenty to do.

One of the best ways to enjoy Hakone is with a hike along the Old Tokaido Road, which takes you from the shores of Lake Ashi through the historic Cedar Avenue.

For art lovers, there is the Hakone Open-Air Museum. With Hakone’s natural beauty as its backdrop, the museum features over 100 sculptures by artists such as Rodin, Miro and Picasso.

hike hiking hakone national park japan

Or take in the beautiful landscapes from Hakone’s famous sightseeing loop, which takes you around the Hakone region via a charming variety of modes of transport including:

  • The Hakone Tozan Railway, a scenic mountain train
  • The Hakone Tozan Cable Car, a funicular railway
  • The Hakone Ropeway, a gondola offering panoramic views
  • A cruise across beautiful Lake Ashinoko

To make getting around Hakone as easy as possible, you will have local transport cards known as Hakone Freepasses. The Freepasses, valid for the duration of your time in Hakone, give you unlimited access to the trains and mountain buses that criss-cross Hakone, as well as the entire sightseeing loop.

Your Ryokan in Hakone: Yamanochaya (Including Dinner & Breakfast)

yamanochaya rotenburo onsen


Day 5: Shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto & private evening tour of Gion geisha district

Meals today: Breakfast

Spend the morning relaxing with a soak in the onsen and a delicious traditional Japanese breakfast.

At check-out time you’ll be met at your ryokan and transferred by private vehicle to Odawara Station, where you will catch the shinkansen (bullet train) for the approximately 2-hour ride to Kyoto.

Kyoto, one of the most culturally rich cities in the world, is what most travelers dream of when envisioning Japan. Home to 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites, Kyoto was the capital of Japan for over a thousand years and remains the heart and soul of traditional Japan.

Today it is a large modern city of over a million residents, and at first glance looks almost like any other Japanese city. But the city retains many of its long-established traditions, and despite the neon and concrete prevalent in many parts of the city, it is teeming with beautiful and well-preserved pockets where time seems to move more slowly.

Kyoto Japan Gion Wooden House

Kyoto, Japan

You’ll have the afternoon free to settle in, and this evening begin your immersion into the city on a private walking tour of the famous Gion geisha district.

As you slowly meander your way through the narrow lanes and hidden alleys of this enigmatic district, your private guide will teach you about the history and reality of Kyoto’s geiko (as geisha are called in Kyoto).

Chances are quite good, though it’s not guaranteed, that during your walking tour you will come across geiko and maiko on their way to evening appointments. The walking tour lasts about 90 minutes and is one of the best ways to learn about Japan’s best known – and misunderstood – traditional professions.

In Kyoto you’ll stay at Royal Park Hotel THE Kyoto, a stylish mid-range hotel with an incredibly central and convenient location, just off Kyoto’s Sanjo-Kawaramachi intersection. You’ll have easy access to all of downtown Kyoto, including the Kamogawa River, Teramachi, the Gion geisha district, Nishiki Market, and countless dining options.

Your Hotel in Kyoto: Royal Park Hotel THE Kyoto (Including Breakfast)

geisha geiko maiko kyoto japan

Maiko (apprentice geisha) stroll in Kyoto

Day 6: Private orientation tour of Kyoto including Kiyomizu-dera Temple & more

Meals today: Breakfast

This morning your guide will meet you at your hotel at 9:00 am for a private half-day tour further introducing you to Kyoto. Your guide will be with you until about 1:00 pm.

Begin the day with a visit to the iconic Kiyomizu-dera Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage site that sits atop Kyoto’s traditional Higashiyama District, with spectacular views over Kyoto. The walk up to the temple is steep but lined with colorful shops selling souvenirs and delicious local snacks, and the walk is well worthwhile.

If you are concerned about the walk we can offer alternative options.

Sunset from Kiyomizudera Kiyomizu-dera Buddhist temple UNESCO world heritage site Kyoto Japan

The sun sets over Kyoto, from Kiyomizu-dera Temple

Afterwards walk through the Higashiyama district and through Gion before reaching the colorful shopping district of Teramachi, where you will enter Nishiki Market.

In addition to its countless temples, shrines and gardens, Kyoto is also a culinary center. The best place to immerse yourself in Kyoto’s cuisine is at Nishiki Market. In addition to a colorful variety of fresh produce and seafood, you’ll find incredibly photogenic seasonal foods and Kyoto specialties, including tsukemono (Japanese pickles), white miso, Kyoto-style sushi, Japanese sweets and much more.

Afterwards your guide will help instruct you on how to most easily return to your hotel, or direct you to elsewhere in the city if you prefer.

Kyoto Nishiki Market Pickles Tsukemono Japan

Tsukemono (Japanese pickles) at Nishiki Market

Day 7: Private tour of Fushimi Inari Shrine

Meals today: Breakfast

This morning your guide will meet you at your hotel at 9:00 am and together you’ll travel to nearby Fushimi Inari Shrine. Your guide will be with you until about 1:00 pm.

Just 15 minutes south of Kyoto, Fushimi Inari is one of the most important Shinto shrines in all of Japan, famous for its thousands of vermillion torii gates, which lead you up into the beautiful forest of sacred Mount Inari. These days it’s also known for having appeared in the film Memoirs of a Geisha.

The narrow streets leading up to the shrine are packed with stalls selling the local specialty, grilled quail, and shops offering local souvenirs. Fushimi Inari’s principal shrine buildings sit at the base of the mountain, but to really experience it you must walk up the hill for at least 5-10 minutes, where you’ll begin to enter seemingly-endless tunnels of vibrant torii gates.

Afterwards your guide will help instruct you on how to most easily return to your hotel in Kyoto, or direct you to elsewhere in the area if you prefer. You may want to stay in Fushimi a while longer, as it is also one of Japan’s most important sake-producing areas, with several breweries where you can sample the local offerings.

Fushimi Inari taisha shrine Kyoto Japan red orange torii gates

The beautiful torii of Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto

Day 8: Departure from Japan

Meals today: Breakfast

Depending on your flight time, you may have one last morning to enjoy Kyoto.

You’ll have tickets for the convenient Haruka Express train, which makes the trip from Kyoto Station to Osaka’s Kansai International Airport in just 75 minutes.

If your flight departs from Tokyo, or Osaka’s Itami Airport, we can adjust the itinerary accordingly (additional costs may apply). Please note that for a same-day Tokyo departure, your flight must depart at 3:00 pm or later.

Come back to Japan soon!

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