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)
Our final day of the tour consists of a few visits to 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.
Note: Your JR pass, which covers all travel on JR train and bus routes, will be valid for two days after the tour has ended should you want to engage in some solo exploration after the trip. Your guide can provide you with recommendations and assistance with creating a personal itinerary.