Day 1 – Welcome to Japan (Tokyo)
Our first day starts with creating our own Japanese fruit liqueurs. We visit a Japanese sake taste testing superstore which boasts over 100 different types of sake from all across Japan. After choosing the ones we want, we head to the grocery store to grab the fruit you want to incorporate into your own unique blend. In Japan plums are a popular choice (to make umeshu), but feel free to get creative. We use a traditional Japanese method to prepare the wines, while going over the tour orientation and introductions. Once our wines have been completed, we bottle them up to let them marinate, enjoying them at the end of the tour. Our first day ends with a sunset visit to Sensouji.
Day 2 – Tokyo from all angles (Tokyo)
On our second day, we gain a perspective of how large Tokyo is by looking at it from three famous views on three different levels. First we take to the skies with a panoramic view of Tokyo from Shinjuku’s Metropolitan government building, which places us 230 meters in the air. We then descend 20+ meters below the surface to the “Underground Temple”. We conclude with a ground-level view at the world famous Shibuya intersection, and finish the day by playing dodgeball on the rooftop of Shibuya station. For lunch on this day we explore the fashion district of Harajuku, and also make a visit to Meiji Jingu shrine.
Day 3 – Enchanting Eddo (Tokyo)
Here we shift our focus to learn a little bit about Tokyo’s past. We start early in the morning by watching how the sumo wrestlers train to compete. We then head to Tsukiji to take a peek inside one of the world’s busiest fish markets. After we’ve had our fill of uni and maguro, we transport ourselves back in time to the Edo era for an authentic kabuki theater show. We continue our experience of how people lived in the Edo era with a visit to the Edo-Tokyo museum. We also visit a small sumo wrestling exhibit on our way to a sumo pot restaurant. Before we wrap up our day, we explore Tokyo’s Imperial Palace right in the heart of the city. At night we zig zag our way through the 200+ bars in the Showa-era Golden Gai district.
Day 4 – Travel into the future (Tokyo)
After having delved into Tokyo’s past, we explore the more modern and futuristic areas of the largest city on earth. We start at the otaku culture mecca of Akihabara to satisfy one’s anime and manga fix. Not an anime fan? Never fear. There are a multitude of arcades, book stores, cafes, and other exciting spots for those with different interests. We then head to Shibuya for a graffiti lesson with a world-renowned spraypaint artist to create our own tags, learn the techniques, and hear about Tokyo’s street art culture (optional activity). Next, we’re off to Odaiba. You can’t experience the future of Tokyo, or even Japan, without having visited at least one of the many exhibits on the man-made island of Odaiba. Here we talk to androids, learn about the current global shifts in technology, and see all things future-tech. Once we’ve had our fill of the futuristic, we take in the sites of the city at night with a boat ride on Tokyo Bay. We also ride a roller coaster among the skyscrapers at Tokyo Dome City. For those not partial to roller coasters, there is a ferris wheel with a built-in karaoke booth and fantastic views. We end our time in Tokyo by boarding the last existing overnight sleeper train in Japan to Izumo. The views on this train are unparalleled. Watch the city slowly fade into countryside as we make our way to the town where all of the Shinto gods congregate.
Day 5 + 6 – Homestay in the countryside of Japan
We wake up in Izumo city on Day 5 and meet with our Japanese host families for two days of experiencing authentic, small-town life in Japan. Even though Izumo is a small town, and vastly different from the fast-paced lifestyle of Tokyo, it is a very important and culturally significant location. Some of the last surviving katana makers call Izumo home. It is also home to Izumo Taisha, which boasts one of Japan’s most important shrines, beautiful beaches, and relaxing natural hot spring bathhouses. This step of the trip is also important because it gives us a chance to actually spend time with a Japanese family. There are many things that are integral to Japanese culture that are easily missed without having the opportunity to build a relationship with a Japanese person. This experience gives you the chance to build new relationships with the people here, personally learn more about the culture, learn to cook real Japanese homestyle food, and gain a better understanding of the Japanese lifestyle and etiquette.
*Please note that the itinerary is not pre-determined for the homestays. They are based on your own personal interests, and what your host family would like to show you during your time there. Izumo and the surrounding area has a plethora of beautiful sites and destinations. Your guide will give you information about some of the activities that are possible there during the orientation meeting on Day 1.
Day 7 – Meet a Geisha (Kyoto)
We say goodbye to our host families early in the morning and head to Kyoto for the next stage of our trip. We start our time in Kyoto in the Higashiyama district of the old capital with a meet and greet with a geisha in training (a Maiko, or as they are known in Kyoto, a Geiko). We’ll exchange pleasantries over matcha tea and get the opportunity to ask some questions later on in the afternoon. We then head to Yasaka Shrine to view one of the only shrines that remains open at night. Lastly, we make our way to the Pontocho area, which is packed with world-class restaurants for dinner, and walk along the Kamogawa River while enjoying the ambiance of Kyoto’s mellow evenings.
Day 8 – Amanohashidate, the Bridge to heaven (Kyoto)
We start the day early as we make our way to Amanohashidate, a hidden gem in the Kyoto region and one of Japan’s top three sites. Literally meaning the bridge to heaven, this sandbar is an amazing site, and is a place where wishes are said to come true. While here, we also make a visit to Chionji Temple, Motoise Shrine and Amanohashidate View Land. A ropeway ride to the top of the hill reveals an even better view. After that we head to Fushimi Inari shrine (the shrine with a thousand red gates), around sunset when the crowds have died down to enjoy it at a more relaxed pace.
Day 9 – Explore the deer filled temples of Nara (Nara, Kyoto)
From old capital to ancient capital, we spend the first part of our day in Nara at Todaiji temple where monks share their space with the deer in that area. You’ll get a chance to feed the deer, explore the temple grounds, and also witness the largest bronze Buddha statue in the world, inside of the temple’s Great Buddha Hall. The rest of the day is dedicated to free time for people wanting to explore Kyoto on their own and pursue individual interests for a few hours. There are so many things to discover in Kyoto. The Pokemon Center, the Imperial Palace, Nishiki Market, the thousands of temples shrines and countless world heritage sites to name but a few. No matter what your interest is, our guide will help you plan an afternoon of activities to make the most of your free time. We conclude the day with an evening trip to a karaoke bar which is a must-do when in Japan.
Day 10 – Take in the natural beauty of the Arashiyama district (Arashiyama)
The morning starts with a trip to Kameoka via an *open-air steam train that weaves its way in and out of the Hozugawa river, while taking in the spectacular colourful mountain landscape. We then enjoy a traditional boat ride down the river, to make our way to the Arashiyama district where we visit Otagi Nenbutsu temple (which hosts 1200 completely unique stone carvings), Nonomiya Shrine, Tenryuji (and the famous bamboo grove behind it), and enjoy a beautiful view of Kyoto from the Arashiyama monkey park where macaques roam freely around the mountain. After that we leave the old capital behind and head to our first island destination on the tour. We stop in the city of Fukuoka to hop into a natural hot springs onsen before catching an overnight ferry to the Goto Archipelago.
*unavailable in winter
Day 11 – The mysterious Goto islands (Goto)
We wake up in the middle of an island-speckled sea before docking on Fukue Island. You’re in for a treat if you’re able to wake up early enough to catch the sunrise from the front deck of the boat. The Goto Islands are steeped in mystery. The history and stories that the islands have to tell are very deep and interesting. Kichi Japan are the only tours that take you there. There are many places to explore and discover in the archipelago. For example Kuroshima, which is an abandoned island on which a 96-year-old woman and her daughter have decided to resettle together. Or the multitude of islands that early Christian worshippers fled to in order to worship without being persecuted. Our journey there, however, starts on Hisakajima Island – a place that was settled, not by fleeing Christians, but a disgraced group of ronin (masterless samurai) who were fleeing shame. We learn about their story and also enjoy a bike ride around the island to visit Gorin church, which has recently been short-listed for Nagasaki’s growing list of UNESCO World Heritage sites. After we’ve explored the island, we make our way back to Fukue Island to soak ourselves in the natural, mineral-rich springs of Onidake onsen before heading to the Mt. Onidake observatory for stargazing. We then finish the night off at a one-of-a-kind ramen karaoke bar that serves quality food and drinks from the comfort of your own private karaoke booth.
Day 12 – Islands hidden in the sea (Goto)
On day 2 of our adventure in Goto, we make our way to Oushima (literally, Yellow Island). The history of this island is also fascinating. Once an island that was heavily populated during the whaling boom in this region, the population of the island has shot down from 1500 to a mere 40+ people who now call the island home. The cat population of the island is actually higher than the human. Abandoned schools, homes, and boats are a common sight here, but this small fisherman’s island still has life in it. We explore the island, and make our way to a cave on the opposite end to discover a secret hidden within. Oushima differs from the surrounding islands in that it is mainly flat and is much easier to navigate. After the island and cave exploration is over, we take a boat out to sea to try our hand at fishing while attempting to catch the season’s bounty (all of the necessary equipment will be provided). We then make our way back to Fukue Island for a traditional pottery lesson where we get our hands dirty whilst shaping our very own wares. Our last night in Goto is spent having dinner at the island’s best homemade style restaurant, where everything is freshly prepared on a daily basis and the menu is dependent upon the daily catch.
Day 13 – Huis ten Bosch + Mt. Inasayama night view (Sasebo, Nagasaki)
Day 13 begins with a trip to Sasebo to spend the day at the theme park Huis Ten Bosch. Designed to look like a Dutch village, Huis Ten Bosch has a plethora of attractions, and is twice the size of Disneyland. No matter your interests, there is something here for you. From zip lines to endless chocolate fountains, this place will mesmerize you. At night, we make our way to Nagasaki to catch one of the best night views on earth from the top of Mount Inasayama. The 5 minute ropeway will show us the amazing lights of Nagasaki as well as the harbor.
Day 14 – Nagasaki, Japan’s window to the world (Nagasaki, Kyoto)
On this day we visit some of the historical sites around Nagasaki, where we learn a bit about the history of the city. We start in Dejima to learn about the influence that the Dutch had on Japan, and the relationship that was formed between the two nations. After that we make our way to the Peace Park to hear about the unfortunate events that took place in the city during the Second World War. We then head back to Tokyo, enjoying the drinks that we made on Day 1, and say our goodbyes to those leaving us. For those staying on for the full 1-month tour, we have a short break before embarking on another 2 week journey around the lesser known, yet astoundingly beautiful areas that Japan has to offer.
Day 15 – Back in the capital (Tokyo)
Our second part of the tour starts with an active introduction to the world’s biggest city. Expect to hit the ground running, literally, with a trip to Chiba as we prepare to take on Japan’s largest obstacle course. We then hop on a train to visit one of Yokohama’s more eccentric oddities, the Cup Noodle Museum, where we create our own custom cup ramen with all of the trimmings you desire. We also have time to peruse the noodle bazaar which boasts noodle dishes from all over the world. And for those who are feeling especially brave, why not try the ramen-flavored ice-cream?
Day 16 – Time travel to Edo-period Japan (Nikko)
Today we make our way to two UNESCO world heritage sites, Toshogu shrine and Taiyuinbyo, which are some of the most ornate shrines in all of Japan. These two historically significant shrines also serve as mausoleums that deify the man who unified Japan, making them very sacred places for the Shinto religion. From there it ‘s a short walk to the Tamozawa Imperial Villa, which was previously the residence for both the Tokugawa Shogunate and the Imperial family, and features over 100 rooms. We then slip back into time and experience life as it was in 17th century Japan with a visit to the Edo Wonderland theme park. While in Nikko, we will also visit several other temples, and attractions.
Day 17 – Handmade sweets, puppets and sake Oh My! (Koriyama)
We start our day by making our very own manju sweets. Fukushima is famous for its manju, and our teacher runs one of the best manju confectioneries in the area. After that we continue to let our creative juices flow by crafting our very own papier-mâché hariko figures. We’ll also be treated to a show from the puppet-master himself. We finish our day with a trip to one of the few all-natural sake breweries in Japan. On our return to Tokyo, you can look forward to a free evening to explore the vastness of the city.
Day 18 + 19 – Sacred mountain mystics (Dewa Sanzan)
Leave the 21st century behind as you enter into the world of the Yamabushi or mountain mystics. The Tsuruoka area is inhabited by many followers of the Shugendo faith. Cell phone usage will be limited during this period of our travels, as we live together with the mountain ascetics who have foregone material possession in favor of spiritual growth, and harmony with nature. Throughout this two-day period we will *hike the three sacred mountains that represent birth, death and rebirth. We’ll also visit sacred temples that house Buddhist mummies. This leg of our trip will help us to reconnect with nature, and present us with the opportunity to learn more about Japanese mysticism, as well as the sacredness that nature holds in the Shinto religion. Historically the Yamabushi were men who were famous for their astonishing physical strength and seemingly magical abilities. While here we will train with them, and learn about the spiritual attributes that the mountains possess, and the principles of Shugendo.
*Hiking of Mount Yudono and Mount Gassan are only possible during the spring to fall seasons. Please be aware of this when booking.
Day 20 – Samurai sword arts (Tokyo)
We bid farewell to our Yamabushi guides and return to Tokyo where we’ll learn the basics of kendo sword fighting before putting the newly-learned techniques to use in a private tournament (this will only consist of members in our group). Less about pure strength, and more about technique and accuracy, this traditional samurai art will test your wits and see if you have what it takes to be our kendo champion. There is little risk of injury as all members will be equipped with full kendo ‘bogu’ armor. The winner will receive a gift to commemorate their success. After crowning our champion we’ll have some free time to explore and get dinner before boarding the ferry to our first island destination.
Day 21 + 22 – Tokyo’s hidden islands (*Aogashima, Hachijojima)
Did you know that Tokyo has islands? It does, and we start our day by visiting one of the islands that also happens to be the smallest village in Japan. With a population of just over 100 people, the entire island is also a small, lush dormant volcano out in the Pacific Ocean. Getting there can be accomplished by either helicopter or ferry, and once there it offers some of the best stargazing in Japan. Allow the ocean waves to soothe you, as you let time slow down and experience the island lifestyle, culture and a unique shochu that can only be tasted there. Our island experience continues as we move onto Hachijojima. Here, we get to enjoy the hot springs of Miharashi onsen while taking in the pristine ocean views. The onsen is also equipped with a routenburo. Our day ends with a BBQ on Sokodo beach which is famous for its beautiful black sands. During the summer months, Hachijojima is home to bioluminescent mushrooms, which we may catch a glimpse of.
*Access to Aogashima may be hindered by inclement weather conditions, the ferry schedule (and for those going by helicopter), and helicopter availability. Should this be the case we will remain on Hachijojima. Therefore the itinerary items that relate to Aogashima are not guaranteed and are largely dependent upon the weather conditions at the time that we arrive to Hachijojima. More information will be provided during the tour orientation.
Day 23 – Night out in Osaka (Osaka)
Today you will have plenty of time to work on your films as we exchange island vibes for city life on our journey south to Osaka. Upon arrival in Kansai’s largest city we’ll check in to our accommodation, freshen up and then head for a night out.
Day 24 – Osaka from all angles (Osaka)
Say hello to one of Japan’s most vibrant cities as we visit one of country’s most famous landmarks, Osaka Castle. The castle grounds span 15 acres and provides a panoramic view of the city of Osaka. We will begin by getting a good outside view of the castle from a boat trip around the moat that encircles the castle. From there we’ll journey inward to learn about the pivotal role that Osaka castle played in unifying the nation of Japan.The rest of the day will be catered to your interest as you explore the city of Osaka with the assistance of your guide. At night we’ll meet up again to discover what the nightlife of Osaka has to offer by starting off with a river cruise through the Tombori area. Next we’ll hit the streets of the city’s nightclub district, before calling it a night.
Day 25 – From Kansai to Kyushu (Osaka, Kagoshima)
The exploration of Osaka continues on this day as we let you loose to experience more of Osaka’s many attractions before heading to the southernmost tip of the Kyushu island, Kagoshima. Osaka is your oyster with the whole day being allocated for free time. There are countless things to do in Osaka and your guide will provide you with recommendations. Do not fret, as all of your travel expenses and most activities will be either completely covered or discounted. Once we arrive in Kagoshima, we will treat ourselves to the unique dishes and flavors of this coastal city.
Day 26 – Yakushima, UNESCO world heritage island (Yakushima)
Our day begins with a short ferry ride from Kagoshima port to the shores of Japan’s largest designated UNESCO World Heritage reserve, Yakushima. Our third island destination for this tour, Yakushima has been the inspiration for many stories, anime, and movies including the multi-award winning animated film Princess Mononoke. The dense, and ancient forests of the island are home to a variety of fauna and flora, including many deer, monkeys and even trees that date back 5,000+ years. Our journey starts with a tour by a local guide who will give us a brief history of the island, and its unique characteristics. We then head to a woodworking class where you can craft your own chopsticks out of the yakusugi cedar wood that is indigenous to the island.
Day 27 – Trekking the magical forests of Yakushima (Yakushima)
Don your hiking shoes and get ready for a forest adventure unlike any you’ve ever experienced! This all-day hike has multiple sights to enjoy including the supernatural Jomon Sugi which, at 25.3m tall and with a circumference of 16.4m, is the largest and oldest yakusugi on the island, and the largest conifer in Japan. Our hike will also include a stop at the Unsuikyo ravine for a heart-pumping canyoning experience before continuing our trek to Wilson’s stump, which is big enough to not only fit a shrine in it, but can also accommodate a person. The sight from within the stump is one that we’ll leave you to discover on your own.
Day 28 – Magical town of the gods (Kagoshima, Takachiho)
From the ancient magical island of Yakushima to the mythical town of Takachiho, we head out to the place that is the setting for multiple Shinto legends and holds much spiritual significance in the Shinto belief system. It is home to the spot where the goddess Amaterasu is said to have hid inside a cave, and caused the world to fall into darkness. Takachiho is also said to be the place where Niniginomikoto, grandson of Amaterasu and great-grandfather of Japan’s first emperor, descended to govern the world. There is much to be discovered, learned and experienced at this mystical spot and we start our time here with a show at Takachiho’s Kagura hall, where our performers play the role of the gods themselves to tell us their story.
*Due to tsunami damages, the train to Takachiho has been indefinitely suspended. Reaching this remote location will have to be made by bus, which will take time.
Day 29 – Taking in Takachiho’s beauty (Takachiho)
We get around the town by bike on this day. We start the day at the Amanoiwato Shrine, where Amaterasu is said to have hid herself, and her light from the world. When Amaterasu sent her grandson to Earth to govern it, one of his missions was to plant rice, so we’ll make our way to the Kushifuru Shrine by passing through the beautifully picturesque Tochimata terraced rice fields. We’ll move on to the Amaterasu Railway station where we’ll board an open-air, roofless train* to get a breathtaking view of the surrounding area. After which, we’ll revisit the Takachiho Shrine where we saw the kagura show the night before. The daytime light will provide us with a chance to see the shrine in all its glory as well as the monolithic wedded cedars in the front of the shrine. From there we’ll make our way down to the famous Takachiho Gorge and, if you are interested, you can rent row boats to explore an area the river. Before saying goodbye to the town of legends, wetake a short hike from the Mihashi bridge to the visit both Kihachi’s strength rock and the Sandan-bashi areas of the gorge.
We spend our last night in Kumamoto city, where we’ll hold our awards ceremony, and give gifts to the teams that created the best films during the trip, while eating and drinking to celebrate our time together and the memories we’ve created.
*dependent on weather conditions
Day 30 – Saying farewell in Mt. Fuji’s shadow (Atami, Tokyo)
We finish up the tour with a visit to Hatsushima which boasts pristine views of Mt Fuji. This island is the fourth and last island on our trip back to Tokyo and is seated in the sea outside of Atami. Positioned in the shadow of the iconic Mount Fuji, Hatsushima houses many different activities including a canopy walk and zip line facility. We’ll spend our day here before saying our goodbyes back in Tokyo.