Eternal Japan: From Tokyo to Kyoto
Go off the beaten path and explore Japan in depth, learning about its rich traditions as you take part in a traditional tea ceremony, meet with a preeminent calligrapher, and stroll through Miyakawacho, a geisha neighborhood.
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This tour is specially designed for a small group of 16 to 24 Smithsonian travelers and offers outstanding travel value. Prices include airfare, airline taxes, fuel surcharges, and departure fees.
Historically a land of sublime art, rich traditions, and unsurpassed natural beauty, Japan is also known for its bustling commerce and modernity. Experience fascinating aspects of Japanese culture, from a traditional tea ceremony and meeting with a preeminent calligrapher to a gallery visit and stay in a ryokan. You’ll delight in the natural beauty of Kanazawa’s famous Kenrokuen Garden, the majesty of Mt. Fuji, and a relaxing cruise on scenic Ashi Lake. See the highlights of cosmopolitan Tokyo, including the Shinto Meiji Shrine, the Edo-Tokyo Museum, and Tokyo’s oldest temple, Buddhist Asakusa Kannon.
Go off the beaten path to lovely Takayama in the Japanese Alps to experience the narrow medieval streets of the San-machisuji district and enjoy a sake tasting. Visit Shirakawa-go Gassho-zukuri Village, a World Heritage site showcasing a unique style of traditional architecture. Then conclude in Kyoto, Japan’s cultural capital, where highlights include the lakeside Temple of the Golden Pavilion, Nijo Castle, and a walk through lively Nishiki Market. From Kyoto you’ll also take a day trip to the World Heritage sites in nearby Nara.
Days 1 & 2 — U.S., Tokyo, Japan
Depart the U.S. for Japan. After arriving in Tokyo, Japan’s financial, commercial, and political capital this evening, transfer to your hotel where you learn about the journey ahead at a briefing with your tour director.
Day 3 — Tokyo
Spend the morning touring this amazing city that comprises 23 wards and covers a staggering 840 miles. Focus on a smaller area as you visit some of Tokyo’s top sights including Shinto Meiji Shrine, a peaceful enclave of temples and gardens; the Edo-Tokyo Museum, a historical presentation of Edo (the city from c. 1600 until 1868) and Tokyo (the new Edo from 1868 until the present); and historic Imperial Palace, surrounded by moats and ramparts, and home of the Imperial Family. Next visit Tokyo’s oldest temple, Buddhist Asakusa Kannon, followed by the Nakamise Shopping arcade. This afternoon is at leisure; dine tonight at a local restaurant specializing in kushiage, kabobs of meat, fish, and vegetables breaded and cooked on a bamboo skewer. (B,D)
Day 4 — Tokyo
Visit the gallery of preeminent calligrapher Koshun Masunaga, where you learn about this ancient art and browse the collection. Then embark on a motorcoach tour of Ginza, Tokyo’s famed shopping, dining, and entertainment district boasting Japan’s most expensive real estate. The remainder of the day is at leisure to visit some of Ginza’s department stores, boutiques, or galleries, or to set off in a new direction. (B)
Day 5 — Tokyo, Mt. Fuji-Hakone Isu National Park, Suwa
Japan’s pastoral side is on tap as you leave Tokyo for Mt. Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. Here sits imposing Mt. Fuji, a dormant volcano (it last erupted in 1707) with a perfectly symmetrical cone that rises to 12,388 feet. The mountain’s majesty is breathtaking, as artists and writers have attested for centuries. Take a cable car ride where, weather permitting, you’ll enjoy breathtaking panoramic views; then descend for a relaxing cruise on scenic Ashi Lake. Leaving the park, travel to the town of Suwa where you spend the night at a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn where you take off your shoes upon entering and sleep on a futon. (B,D)
Day 6 — Suwa and Takayama
Today travel to lovely Takayama in the Japanese Alps, considered one of the country’s most attractive towns with its 16th-century castle and old-style buildings. Your explorations center on three narrow streets in the San-machi-suji district where, in feudal times, merchants lived amid the authentically preserved small inns, teahouses, and sake breweries that you see here. Enjoy a sake tasting then have free time to visit local shops that sell the region’s unique lacquerware and prized carvings of yew wood. (B,D)
Day 7 — Takayama, Shirakawago, Kanazawa
Pay an early visit to the river side Miyagawa morning market selling flowers, fruit, and vegetables, a blaze of dazzling colors and exotic foodstuffs then leave Takayama for the World Heritage site of Shirakawago Gassho-Zukuri Village. Comprising buildings relocated from authentic villages nearby that were razed for a dam, the village is also a vibrant community whose residents work together to preserve the unique traditional architecture here known as Gassho style. Next visit that dam – Miboro – the largest dam constructed using “rock-fill technology”: just stones and clay. Late afternoon reach the castle town of Kanazawa, an alluring coastal city that survived the ravages of World War II. (B,L)
Day 8 — Kanazawa
Today’s tour of this culturally rich city features renowned Kenrokuen Garden, a national landmark whose origins date to 1676. Also see Ishikawa Gate, the only remaining section of the town’s original castle; the Gold Leaf Museum celebrating the art and craft of gold leaf technology; and the Higashi Chayagai tea house and geisha area. Your last stop is the Nagamachi Samurai district, where the ruling family’s samurai warriors lived. (B,D)
Day 9 — Kanazawa and Kyoto
This morning board the train for Kyoto, once Japan’s Imperial Capital and now the country’s cultural and artistic center. With its many temples, shrines, artful gardens, and well-preserved wooden architecture, Kyoto embodies Japan’s rich culture and complex history. Upon arrival, visit Kyoto National Museum, a premier institution featuring pre-modern Japanese and Asian art and artifacts, then continue on to Unrakugama, a workshop specializing in prized Kiyomizu pottery. (B,D)
Day 10 — Kyoto
Today’s tour reveals the highlights of Kyoto, which was spared destruction during World War II. Highlights include 16th-century Ryoan-ji Temple, with the dry garden of sand and rocks (kare-sansui), a marvel of classic Japanese design; and Kinkaku-ji, the lakeside Temple of the Golden Pavilion set on pillars suspended over the water. Also visit ostentatious Nijo Castle (c. 1603), where the shogun asserted control over the city and its people. Next, attend a traditional Japanese tea ceremony - an historic, ritualized ceremony of form, grace, and spirituality. (B)
Day 11 — Nara
Today, enjoy an excursion to Nara, Japan's ancient capital. After a short train ride from Kyoto, see the Kasuga Taisha Shrine and Todaiji Temple, both World Heritage sites, and Nara National Museum on a walking tour. Return to Kyoto late afternoon. (B)
Day 12 — Kyoto
See the sights today from a slightly different perspective as you embark on a cycling tour visiting the important Heian Jingu Shinto shrine; Nishiki Market, “Kyoto’s Kitchen” selling foodstuffs of all kinds; and the Gion district where geishas gather. Tonight enjoy a farewell dinner at a local restaurant. (B,D)
Day 13 — Depart Kyoto for U.S.
This morning travel by train to Osaka, to board your return flight to the U.S. (B)