An immersive 13-day itinerary featuring essential highlights along with beautiful off-the-beaten-path destinations in the Japanese countryside. Visit the ancient capital Kyoto, charming and historic Kurashiki, the remote Ise Shima National Park, rural Shuzenji Onsen in the Izu Peninsula, and the Tokyo metropolis.
Our sample itineraries are here to inspire, but this is not a fixed itinerary and is designed to be customized around you.
Kellie T., Wisconsin
I just want to thank everyone at Boutique Japan, because this was truly a trip of a lifetime! I could not have done it without all your help. I just can’t believe how meticulously coordinated everything was and the incredible thoughtfulness and kindness from all of you, my guides, hotel/ryokan staff, and everyone I met… Read More
Lyn & Peter, Australia
We are very experienced, independent, international travelers but we found trying to plan and book a personalised holiday in Japan in late 2015 to be very challenging. That is until we discovered the wonderful team at Boutique Japan. After describing our areas of particular interest in art, architecture, culture and fitness, Andres and his team… Read More
Becky & Jay, New York City
Boutique Japan planned our honeymoon in February 2016. Our overall experience with them was absolutely exceptional, I could not recommend them more. My husband and I love to travel but had never used a travel agent before (truth is we’ve always been skeptical). We found an article written by Boutique Japan on the best sushi… Read More
Susan & Smiler, Palo Alto, CA
Nothing could have made this three-week, first time trip to Japan better. Andres and Piper's planning made it perfect. The level of thought and attention to detail they put into curating our experience in Japan was something I'd never experienced in many years of travel. I'm smitten, with Japan and Boutique Japan.
Sample Trip Highlights
An immersive private itinerary, crafted with love by Boutique Japan
Depart from either of Tokyo’s airports, or customize this trip to end with departure from Osaka or elsewhere in Japan.
Day 1: Arrive in Kyoto, Japan
Welcome to Japan! On arrival in Osaka, you’ll be met and transferred by private vehicle to your lovely accommodations in neighboring Kyoto.
Depending on your flight’s scheduled arrival time we typically recommend keeping your first evening free, both in case of unexpected flight delays, and also to account for possible fatigue from the long journey.
Settle in, adjust to your exciting new surroundings, and get ready for your adventure ahead!
Day 2: Unique Highlights of Kyoto (On & Off The Beaten Path)
Ohayou gozaimasu (good morning)!
Today is your first full day to begin taking in the ancient capital Kyoto. You’ll begin with an immersive half-day tour introducing you to the city, and end with a fascinating evening in one of the city’s atmospheric geisha districts.
After a delicious breakfast at your hotel, you’ll be met by your insightful private guide. While Kyoto can certainly be enjoyed without a guide, exploring with a fun and knowledgeable expert by your side will dramatically enhance your experience.
At Boutique Japan, we have exceedingly high standards when it comes to private guides, and carefully design each private tour to cater to your unique priorities and interests.
Kyoto is one of the most culturally rich cities in the world, and the place 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 town. But the city retains many of its long-established traditions, and despite the neon and concrete prevalent in many parts of town, Kyoto is teeming with beautiful and well-preserved pockets where time seems to move more slowly.
Explore highlights such as (for example) the historic Higashiyama district, the charming Philosopher’s Path, and the picturesque Arashiyama district, along with off-the-beaten-path strolls through lesser-known Kyoto areas with your expert guide.
Kyoto is also rightly renowned for its cuisine and artisans. The colorful Nishiki Market is crowded but a must-visit for food and market lovers. For travelers interested in the arts and traditional crafts, the chance to visit with a shokunin (master craftsperson) in their private workshop is an unforgettable experience.
Beyond the extraordinary sights and wealth of traditional culture, Kyoto is also home to a booming creative scene, and throughout the ancient capital you’ll also find stunning modern design in museums and galleries, along with shops and cafes.
Following your private tour, you’ll have some time to relax at your hotel and recover from any remaining jet lag you may have, or continue exploring independently. For your free time, you’ll be able to take advantage of the pre-departure materials we provide to each of our travelers.
In the early evening, you’ll head out on a fascinating private walking tour through the backstreets of Kyoto’s best-known geisha district, Gion. As you slowly meander your way through the narrow lanes and hidden alleys of this enigmatic district, your expert guide will teach you about the history and reality of Kyoto’s geiko (as geisha are called in Kyoto) and maiko (apprentice geisha).
This is a great way to learn about Japan’s most misunderstood traditional profession, and it’s likely you’ll come across geiko or maiko en route to their evening appointments. Following your immersive stroll, your guide will leave you at a great local restaurant. Kanpai!
Day 3: Fushimi Inari Shrine & Luxurious Ryokan Stay in Kurashiki
This evening you’ll have a sublime ryokan experience, but before leaving for Kurashiki you’ll have one last adventure in Kyoto.
An early start is necessary, as you’ll be visiting Fushimi Inari Taisha, one of Japan’s most famous sightseeing spots. Fushimi Inari is worth visiting even for people who generally avoid “touristy” places, and the easiest way to avoid crowds is by arriving early!
In the early afternoon you will make the easy journey to charming Kurashiki.
When it’s time to depart, you’ll be picked up at your hotel for your private transfer to Kyoto Station. Before leading you to your train, your guide will help you find beautiful bento box lunches to enjoy on the journey (major train stations in Japan offer an astounding variety of delicious seasonal bentos).
Then you’ll be escorted right to your departure platform for your first experience on Japan’s remarkable trains. Today you’ll be speeding west via Japan’s iconic shinkansen (bullet train), a wonderfully pleasant way to travel.
Located along the scenic canal in the heart of Kurashiki’s beautifully preserved historical district, the wonderful Ryokan Kurashiki is one of Japan’s best traditional ryokans and is rightly renowned for its extraordinary Japanese hospitality and fantastic cuisine.
Dinner tonight will be a magnificent kaiseki feast featuring seasonal and local specialties.
Early morning at leisure to relax in your calming Japanese-style surroundings and enjoy a beautiful Japanese breakfast. After breakfast you’ll be met by a local expert who will take you on a private walking tour of Kurashiki.
During the Edo Period, Kurashiki was an important rice distribution center and today the old merchant district, known as the Bikan Historical Quarter, is lined with attractive kura (storehouses) that have been lovingly preserved and converted into charming galleries, boutiques, and cafes.
Kurashiki’s lovely old streets are best explored slowly and on foot, and throughout the town you’ll find important landmarks and museums, traditional temples and shrines, a historic sake shuzo (brewery), and countless small shops featuring regional textiles, pottery, crafts, and foods.
For active travelers, the Kibi Plain in the rural outskirts of Kurashiki offers an idyllic setting for a leisurely bicycle ride through the Japanese countryside, passing fields, quaint farmhouses, temples, and shrines.
Part of the joy of a ryokan stay is doing nothing, and you’ll have some time this afternoon to relax in your gorgeous Japanese-style suite over over tea or sake.
This evening enjoy another splendid kaiseki feast in traditional surroundings.
Day 5: Visit Naoshima, Japan’s Wonderful Art Island
Today you’ll travel to the art island, Naoshima, a must-visit destination for art and architecture lovers. The island offers a truly beguiling combination of beautiful natural scenery, charming fishing villages, and cutting-edge modern art and architecture that blend into the coastal landscape.
The journey from Kurashiki to Naoshima is easy, with an effortless private transfer to the tiny Uno Port, and a short ferry across to the island. As a guest of the one-of-a-kind Benesse House, which doubles as a hotel and museum, you’ll have access to the convenient hotel shuttle making the rounds of the island’s various art sites.
Enjoy the full afternoon taking in the island’s museums, galleries, and installations. Among Naoshima’s many highlights are the stunning Chichu Art Museum, the Art House Project, the Lee Ufan Museum, and Benesse House itself (fans of Japanese architect Tadao Ando will be particularly delighted).
You’ll spend the night at the Ando-designed Benesse House, which overlooks the Seto Inland Sea. Guest rooms in each of the hotel’s unique buildings (Museum, Oval, Beach, and Park) feature different works of art, and — among other perks — guests of the hotel enjoy special after-hours access to Benesse House Museum.
Enjoy a peaceful evening in the laid-back Setouchi region of Japan.
You’ll have another full day in the art islands, and today have the opportunity to visit the nearby art island of Teshima.
Teshima is part of the greater Benesse Art Site (Inujima is another of the main art islands), located just thirty minutes by ferry from Naoshima.
The sleepy island’s standout is the incredible Teshima Art Museum, an awe-inspiring structure shaped like a drop of water by architect Ryue Nishizawa and artist Rei Naito.
You’ll have the remainder of the day to enjoy Teshima — home to galleries, installations, tiny cafes, and charming rural landscapes — or continue taking in Naoshima’s many highlights.
Enjoy another night at the one and only Benesse House.
Day 7: Travel to the Remote Ise Shima National Park
Enjoy a final early morning on Naoshima before departing for your next destination deep in the Japanese countryside, Ise Shima National Park.
Leaving Benesse House you’ll retrace your steps by ferry and private transfer, and then begin the rail portion of today’s travels to Ise Shima. On arrival following the journey, you’ll be rewarded with luxurious accommodations and have the remainder of your afternoon and evening to settle into Amanemu.
Aman Resorts’ take on the Japanese ryokan, Amanemu features natural onsen (hot springs), views of the scenic Ago Bay, seasonally inspired cuisine, and an award-winning spa and wellness program.
Relax in your spacious accommodations, soak in your rejuvenating private onsen, and this evening enjoy a sumptuous dinner featuring exquisite local ingredients.
Day 8: Spiritual and Historic Ise Jingu, Japan’s Most Sacred Shrine
Sleep in or enjoy an early morning yoga session, followed by a healthy and delicious breakfast. Then you’ll venture out on a fascinating private tour of nearby Ise.
Ise has long been one of Japan’s most important historical and spiritual destinations, and is home to Ise Grand Shrine (Ise Jingu), the country’s most sacred Shinto shrine.
The ancient Ise Jingu is a vast forested shrine complex home to over a hundred shrines. Jingu’s main shrines are Naiku (the Inner Shrine), dedicated to the sun goddess Amaterasu, and Geku (the Outer Shrine).
In keeping with tradition, the breathtaking shrines — constructed from cypress, and built without nails — are completely rebuilt every 20 years.
Oharaimachi, the old-fashioned street leading to the Inner Shrine, is lined with quaint shops and restaurants, many dating back generations.
The coastal sanctuary of Ise Shima National Park offers a wealth of memorable experiences, including the chance to learn from and dine with one of Ago Bay’s legendary Ama female freedivers, or the opportunity to fish with a local expert angler and savor fresh sashimi prepared by a master chef.
Tonight enjoy an unforgettable sunset cruise and a final evening in this lovely region of Japan.
Day 9: Travel to the Traditional Hot Springs Town of Shuzenji Onsen
Today you will travel from one part of the Japanese countryside to another as you make the journey from Ise Shima to Shuzenji Onsen.
Your journey by rail will take you north and then east as you speed through central Japan, culminating with your arrival in charming Shuzenji.
Located in Japan’s lush Izu Peninsula, Shuzenji Onsen is famed for its healing hot springs, traditional atmosphere, and refined traditional ryokans.
The Izu Peninsula is one of our favorite places to experience a luxury ryokan in Japan.
This afternoon settle into your sophisticated Japanese-style surroundings, or head out for a leisurely stroll through the picturesque Shuzenji, a quintessential hot springs town.
In Shuzenji, you’ll stay at a luxurious traditional ryokan renowned for its kaiseki cuisine and soothing onsen.
Day 10: Enjoy Onsen and Kaiseki at Your Luxurious Ryokan
Before your adventures continue to Tokyo tomorrow, take a day to decompress amidst your serene traditional surroundings.
Linger over an amazing Japanese breakfast and savor the tranquil pace of life in rural Japan. The Shuzenji area offers plenty to see, do, and eat, though you’ll experience plenty of excitement tomorrow in Tokyo!
Luxuriate in your final evening in the Japanese countryside, with one last kaiseki feast.
Day 11: Travel from Shuzenji to Tokyo & Old Tokyo Stroll
Take it slow this morning and relax with another soak in the onsen. Following an unhurried breakfast at your ryokan, you will depart by rail for the easy journey to nearby Tokyo.
On arrival at the massive Tokyo Station, you’ll be met right on your train’s arrival platform and escorted to your hotel. After dropping off your bags, your insightful guide will lead you on an immersive private tour designed to give you an authentic yet off-the-beaten-path experience of Tokyo.
Tokyo is one of the world’s liveliest cities, full of amazing restaurants, beautiful gardens, stunning modern architecture, charming backstreets, and a glittering neon-filled cityscape. Beyond the city lights and crowds, Tokyo is also full of quiet neighborhoods where you’ll find locals going about their daily lives, and countless hidden gems in the form of unsung yet wonderful little shops and restaurants.
Begin in Yanaka, one of Tokyo’s most well-preserved historical districts, and an up-and-coming area for young creatives. It was largely spared during World War II, and today is home to quaint streets, small temples and shrines, 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.
From Yanaka, walk to nearby Ueno, a bustling yet old-fashioned district best known for Ueno Park, which is home to various museums including the excellent Tokyo National Museum. You’ll come upon Ameyoko-cho, a boisterous outdoor marketplace where you can find everything from groceries and clothing shops to open-air yakitori stalls and more.
End with an early evening stroll through the backstreets of Asakusa, Tokyo’s best-known historical district. After taking in Senso-ji, Tokyo’s oldest and most famous temple, wander with your expert guide into the area’s off-the-beaten-path side streets, which remain full of atmosphere and hidden gems.
While the wholesale section of the fish market moved to Toyosu in 2018, Tsukiji’s lively outer market remains an incredible place to immerse yourself in Japanese cuisine. You’ll find historic lanes and alleys packed with a colorful array of shops and small restaurants — not to mention atmosphere and charm to spare.
From Tsukiji, your guide will introduce you to a selection of unique Tokyo neighborhoods based on your interests and priorities. Explore charming neighborhoods such as (for example) Aoyama, Daikanyama, Naka-Meguro, and Kagurazaka; along with one or more notable galleries, shrines, or gardens such as Tomio Koyama Gallery, Meiji Jingu Shrine, and Koishikawa Korakuen Garden (explore more of our favorite Tokyo neighborhoods).
Following your private tour you’ll have some time to take it easy at your relaxing hotel, or continue exploring independently making use of the pre-departure materials we provide to each of our travelers.
For a memorable farewell, this evening your private guide will take you to a casual and authentic izakaya (Japanese-style gastropub), where you can enjoy a lively atmosphere and sample a delicious and eclectic variety of Japanese foods. Enjoy your final evening in Tokyo!
Day 13: Depart Japan
You’ll be free until departure. Depending on your flight time, you may have time for some last-minute explorations (and eating!).
In good time for your departure flight, you’ll be picked up at your accommodations for the comfortable private transfer to your departure airport.
Come back to Japan soon!
Contact us to plan or begin brainstorming your trip to Japan.