Konnichiwa! Welcome to Tokyo, Japan's dynamic capital. Make your way to your first night's accommodation and check in. Your adventure begins with an important welcome meeting at 6pm in the hotel lobby. You'll meet your leader and your group at this meeting.
Kick things off with a visit to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. The free observation decks of this 243-metre-tall building (797 feet) offer awesome panoramas of the city and beyond. On a clear day, you can see Mount Fuji, the Tokyo Skytree, Tokyo Tower, Meiji Shrine and Tokyo Dome from this supreme vantage point. Afterwards, visit the Sensoji in Asakusa, a key Buddhist temple in Tokyo. Located on the banks of the Sumida River, it features a shopping street in its approach – a good place to find a quirky Japanese souvenir. While you're in Tokyo, you'll also be treated to a traditional calligraphy lesson. There also might be the chance to visit a manga (Japanese comic and cartoon) market, located out in Akihabara.
Visit the Tsukiji Fish Market for an eye-opening experience. This is the biggest wholesale seafood market in the world, with more than 400 seafood varieties on offer. Wander through the narrow aisles, witness the heated negotiations between merchants and buyers, and watch out for speeding market trolleys piled high with crates of fresh stock. Your market visit concludes with a delicious sushi breakfast – this is as fresh as it gets! We head to the market area around 9am for some brunch before the main market opens at 10am. Later, take a walk through a Tokyo depachika, a food-specific department store with a mind-boggling array of traditional and non-traditional Japanese foods. For lunch, head to Yoyogi park and join the locals. Dinner (on one of your nights here) will be a fun self-cooked 'okonomiyaki' (hotplate pancake) on a boat on Tokyo Bay, surrounded by the city lights. Note: The Tsukiji Fish Markets are closed every national holiday and every Sunday and some Wednesdays. Tuna auctions may be closed to the public during busy times. The market itself is scheduled to relocate to new premises at Toyosu sometime in 2018, however the timing of the move is still uncertain and has been postponed several times. We no longer recommend attending the early morning fish market auctions. Due to the high number of travellers seeking to view them it is now necessary to arrive at the market just after 2am and queue up to 3-4 hours in advance to be one of the 120 viewers permitted entry. Even then, this does not automatically ensure entry
Bid farewell to Tokyo and board your train to Hakone. You will see that it's astonishingly easy to travel by train in Japan. Trains operate with amazing precision, and the sight of a white-gloved guard bowing to a carriage full of travellers is something you're sure to remember. Part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, Hakone is a place of staggering natural beauty. It's also a veritable playground with a long list of holiday activities on offer – soaking in hot springs, going on bush walks, chilling out by peaceful lakes, taking in beautiful views of Mt Fuji, even exploring an open-air modern art museum.
Renowned as an excellent resort area since the Meiji period, Hakone and its onsens (hot spring baths) make a great place to relax and unwind with the family. Pay a visit to the Karakuri secret box museum – try to open the boxes to find a unique Japanese gift to take home. Then enjoy a walk around the scenic lake area. Your accommodation here is in a cosy, family-run guesthouse with Japanese baths for you to enjoy. Spend the night in traditional Japanese style, sleeping on a tatami mat in an authentically decked-out room.
A visit to Hiroshima is sobering, but the tragedy that happened here is an important part of history to confront. You’ll learn more about the aftermath of the atomic bombing of the city in World War II. Later, in the afternoon, consider an optional walk to learn more at the Genbaku (A-Bomb) Dome and the Peace Memorial Park and Museum, both of which stand as an emotional testament to the fateful day in August 1945 when Hiroshima became the first target for nuclear attack. The dome was just metres from where the bomb detonated and managed to retain its shape, eerily standing exactly how it was prior to the attack. These days it stands as both a symbolic reminder and a monument to peace.
This morning we head for the beautiful island of Miyajima, just a short ferry ride across the Inland Sea. The island is home to the venerable Shinto shrine of Itsukushima, famous for its huge bright orange gate (tori) which is absolutely stunning when the tide is high. Maybe take a stroll through the lovely Momaji Park (known as Maple Valley), or consider a walk or the cable car up to the top of Mt Misen (keeping an eye out for the hungry deer that roam the streets). Back in the city of Hiroshima you are free to explore at leisure. You may choose to see more of the extensive exhibitions at the Peace Memorial Park and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.
Travel to Kyoto, arguably the most stunning city in Japan. On the way there, make a stop at Himeji Castle The charms of Kyoto, the former Imperial capital, are subtle and profound. While you're here, you'll see some of the finest temples, shrines, palaces and gardens in the country, with a nice mix of included activities and free time. Spend the evening wandering the Gion district with your leader, seeing if you can spot geikos (geishas) or maikos (apprentice geishas) with their elaborate dresses and make-up. Afterwards, travel to a food market and learn all about the local ingredients and how to best use them. A good option here is to buy some supplies for an evening meal by the riverside.
Kyoto was originally founded as Heian-kyo in 794 and enjoyed a golden age during the imperial court’s heyday up until 1185. The city’s current name literally means ‘Capital City’, even though the Emperor and the government now reside in Tokyo. In saying that, the city still boasts some of the country’s best landmarks, historic sites, traditional arts and literature, and is often regarded as the cultural heart of Japan. Today we’ll head to Kyoto’s famed Fushimi Inari Shrine – known throughout the world as the ‘Path of the Red Gates.’ If we are feeling fit we’ll walk further than most visitors, allowing us to experience both the well-known part of the shrine, as well as taking time to appreciate the quieter corners and stunning city views from the shrine’s ‘half-way point.’ We’ll also take in one of Kyoto’s many beautiful temples.
Explore more of this delightful city. Perhaps check out the Arashiyama area, a pleasant district on the outskirts of Kyoto. This morning you'll have the opportunity to visit a monkey park – no doubt making a cheeky new friend or two. You'll also visit the Tenryu-ji Temple which is right near an incredible bamboo grove. This bamboo forest is one of the most photographed sights in the city, and you'll see why. It's like stepping into another dimension. Later on you will enjoy a boat cruise down the Hozu River – look along the banks for Japanese maples or (if you're lucky and it's the season) cherry trees in bloom.
Today is yours to enjoy Kyoto however you please. There are plenty of optional activities to choose from. Perhaps head out with the family and explore on a bike. This is definitely one of the best ways to navigate the city. Kyoto is regularly voted one of the best bicycle cities in Asia, and for good reason. The city is largely flat, roads are well maintained and there are lots of areas to park your bike. Or you can try your hand at the ancient art of Samurai sword dancing!
The adventure comes to an end today. There are no further activities planned. Hotel check is 10am. See the 'Finishing Point Hotel' section for checkout times and luggage storage options.