Several tour operators are adding a variety of new Japan experiences to their lineup this year. The new contenders expand the current range of tours to Japan, offering fresh twists on the classic tour as well as new additions to suit all stripes of travellers to Japan, whether it is those who prefer to travel at a more sedate pace, family groups, or die-hard beach-bums.
Many of the new tours include time spent in lesser-known destinations in the central Chubu region, a repository of traditional culture and heritage, such as Kanazawa and Takayama, where old Japan exists untouched, making them a great choice for repeat visitors who’ve already covered the Golden Route.
Beach holidays may not spring to mind when you think of Japan, but it is after all an archipelago made up of nearly 7,000 islands. Island getaways feature heavily in the new tours, from Shikoku, Japan’s fourth largest island, to the tropical Ogasawara Islands, known as the Galapagos of Japan, and Okinawa, Japan’s southern beach resort paradise.
InsideJapan - All-in Japan
InsideJapan’s first all-inclusive tour includes everything from your lunch to your luggage, so there’s not a whole lot left to do other than sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride! And what a ride it is - full-on, fast-paced, and action-packed!
You’ll visit key historical and traditional destinations such as Himeji Castle
, Japan’s largest original feudal castle, the Golden Pavilion and Zen rock garden temples in Kyoto
, the Big Buddha in Nara
, and UNESCO World Heritage shrine Miyajima
’s majestic floating torii gate. It's not all temples and tradition, however - you’ll also have plenty of opportunity to get acquainted with modern Japan on architecture tours and science museum visits, as well as stop-offs at famous film locations. Film buffs will recognise Zojo-ji Temple
as the setting for scenes in Wolverine
, and retro izakaya Gonpachi
as the setting for the Crazy 88’s scene in cult classic Kill Bill
On the way, you’ll also enjoy a list of experiences as long as your arm, including exuberant taiko drumming in Tokyo, private drinks with a geisha in Kyoto, Zen meditation at a Buddhist temple, rustic hot springs in Kaga Onsen
, and Japanese sweet-making in Kanazawa
. Just about every culinary experience in Japan is also thrown in, with an evening dinner cruise on the Sumida River, ekiben (station lunch box) on the bullet train, and a multi-course kaiseki meal at a rural ryokan.
With every aspect of your trip covered, you'll be free to focus on immersing yourself in Japanese culture, safe in the knowledge that there’s not a penny to pay on the ground - pocket money for gifts and souvenirs is required, but other than that, this tour really is all-in.
12 nights, from £4,975. For tour highlights and detailed itinerary or to make an enquiry, see Inside Japan's website.
G Adventures - Japan Express-Osaka to Tokyo
From the Buddhist monks of Mt. Koya
to the neon lights of Tokyo
, capture the many faces of Japan on this condensed tour starting in Osaka
and ending in Tokyo. A great blend of the traditional and the contemporary, the tour provides a balanced taste of Japan’s unique and rich culture.
Start your adventure by overnighting in a shukubo (Buddhist lodging) atop 800m high Mt. Koya
, a religious centre founded in the 9th century. Savour meals of shojin-ryori (Buddhist vegetarian cuisine) and watch the monks praying the following morning morning. Pay a visit to Hiroshima
’s sobering atomic bomb memorials before catching a ferry across to unwind on the sacred island of Miyajima
with its magnificent floating torii gate.
, Day 1 visits Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine
, dedicated to the mischievous fox god, while Day 2 takes in Nijo Castle
, former shogun’s residence and UNESCO World Heritage site, and the spectacular gold leaf-covered Golden Pavilion
. There is also plenty of free time set aside to explore Kyoto’s myriad gardens, museums, temples, shrines and palaces at your own pace.
Finally, head to hot spring resort Hakone
for the complete experience of staying in a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn): dine on a multi-course kaiseki meal, soak in a hot spring, and snooze on a futon. Enjoy views of Mt. Fuji
on a scenic lake cruise before heading to Tokyo
with a full day left for some exploring before catching your flight home.
9 days, from £1,869 See G Adventures' website for more information and to book.
Trafalgar - Leisurely Japan
If you want to visit Japan but aren’t sure that the hustle and bustle of Tokyo is for you, then why not tackle it in a slower gear with this laidback and unhurried tour? Japan’s mesmerizing culture comes alive in unforgettable moments on this leisurely trail through several lesser-known destinations on the Seto Inland Sea, from Osaka to Hiroshima.
Experience a river cruise and panoramic views of castles and skyscrapers in Osaka and memorable encounters with the dignified Big Buddha, hundreds of freely roaming deer, and countless photogenic shrines and temples in Japan’s twin ancient capitals of Nara and Kyoto. Then leave the mainland behind, crossing the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge to little-visited Shikoku, Japan’s fourth largest island. Pause on the way with an overnight stay at Awaji Island, allowing time to explore the stunning modern architecture by award-winning architect Tadao Ando.
On Shikoku, experience hidden treasures in the small mountain hot spring village of Kotohira. Pay your respects at Kotohira-gu shrine - known as the “guardian of the sea” and dedicated to sailors - master the art of udon noodle-making under expert tuition, and sample refreshing rice wine at a sake museum. That’s not all - your route will also encompass Ritsurin Garden, one of Japan’s most famous historic gardens, and Dogo Onsen, one of Japan’s oldest hot springs, before returning to the mainland for a final few days spent exploring historic and religious sights in Hiroshima.
10 days, £3,525. For more information and to request a quote or book, visit Trafalgar's website.
Voyages Jules Verne - Discover Japan: Special Departures
VJV offers a coveted Japan travel opportunity with their Special Departures - three departures timed to coincide with the spring flowering of cherry blossoms or blazing autumn leaves. Arriving in Osaka and departing from Tokyo, the tour takes in key sites in each place it touches down, from Kyoto and Hiroshima to Kamakura and Hakone.
Enjoy panoramic cityscapes, neon-lit night-time entertainment, and scrumptious streetfood in Osaka before stepping back in time in former Imperial capital Kyoto. A profusion of temples, shrines and gardens await your discovery, from Kiyomizudera temple’s stunning viewing platform and Kinkakuji temple’s opulent Golden Pavilion to Ryoanji temple’s austere Zen garden and Arashiyama’s peaceful bamboo groves.
Tick off key sites in Hiroshima before day eight arrives. The highlight of the tour, this is the day you’ve been waiting for! Depending on tour dates, you will witness either the pastel hues of cherry blossoms or the fiery palette of autumn leaves in either temple-filledformer feudal capital Kamakura or bucolic hot spring resort Hakone with its unbeatable views of Mt. Fuji.
9 nights, from £3,145. For itinerary, departure and price information or to book, see Discover Japan's website.
Steppes Travel - Islands of Japan Adventure Holiday
Steppes Travel offers this incredible new tailor-made opportunity for a tropical adventure holiday exploring the Ogasawara Islands, a little-known and remote island chain of the Japanese archipelago known as “the Galapagos of the Orient”. This geographically isolated chain of 30 tropical, volcanic islands floating in the Pacific Ocean over 1000 km south of Tokyo is home to many unique flora and fauna, whose uniqueness was recognised in 2011 with UNESCO World Heritage status. The only way to reach the islands is by weekly 24-hour ferry ride - but their remoteness only adds to their mystique.
Bracketed by days in Tokyo, the majority of the tour is spent exploring Chichijima Island, one of only two inhabited islands in the chain. Staying at a local guesthouse, you’ll have ample time and opportunity to explore the island’s untouched forests and white sandy beaches to your heart’s content as well as indulge in many exciting ocean and island activities.
Go sea kayaking to hidden coves and beaches, snorkelling with dolphins and sea turtles, whale-watching for humpback and sperm whales, and diving alongside schools of tropical fish, manta rays and turtles. Back on land, hike through lush forests, spying exotic birdlife en route, and appreciate the mesmeric star-studded skies from the comfort of a well-slung hammock. One thing’s for sure - you won’t want to go back to civilization once this holiday is over!
9 days, from £3,495. To read the detailed itinerary and make an enquiry, visit Steppes' Travel's website.
Contiki - Japan Unrivalled
With 16 bi-monthly departures between March and October this year, there is plenty of opportunity to join this new in-depth tour by Contiki. Be guided on a souped-up Golden Route from Tokyo in the east to Hiroshima in the west, stopping off at Hakone, Wakayama, and Takayama en route - three destinations all known for their fabulous nature, traditional heritage, and revitalizing hot springs.
In Hakone, take in stunning mountain vistas from the Hakone Ropeway and stay at a ryokan (traditional guesthouse) where you’ll be on the receiving end of some authentic Japanese-style hospitality. In Takayama, hop on a bicycle to explore the town’s traditional morning markets, cobbled streets and wooden buildings, including Edo period shopfronts, houses and sake breweries, followed by mouthwatering Hida beef for dinner.
Take in the main sights in Hiroshima before heading to Kyoto to delve into the former capital’s artfully manicured gardens, shrines and temples, ticking off all the major sights, such as Fushimi Inari Taisha, the Golden Pavilion, Nijo Castle, and the Gion district, where the geisha hang out.
Finally, squeeze in a brief digital detox from the modern world with an overnight stay in a shukubo (Buddhist temple lodging) in Wakayama. The next morning, stroll through Mt. Koya’s peaceful centuries-old cemetery, with its moss-covered tombstones and cedar trees, before plunging back into the modern world in Osaka for beer and karaoke prior to catching your return flights.
13 days, from £2,800 To see a detailed itinerary or search for available dates, visit Contiki's website.
Battered Suitcase - Japan UNESCO World Heritage Tour
Visit a staggering number of UNESCO World Heritage sites on this fascinating and insightful journey through Japan's unique cultural and natural heritage with Battered Suitcase. The tour offers unbeatable flexibility, as departures can be arranged for anywhere in the world.
Explore the landscape, geology and architecture of Japan, a land laden with cultural gems, as you spend time travelling around historically significant UNESCO sites in Tokyo, Nikko, Takayama, Kyoto and Nara, zipping your way from place to place using Japan’s renowned world-class rail services.
Your immersive visit will include the famous “gassho-zukuri” farmhouses in Gifu, with their steeply pitched roofs constructed without nails like hands in prayer, and Nikko National Park’s UNESCO-listed Toshogu shrine complex. Along the way, you’ll also get the chance to marvel at the ornamental beauty of Nijo Castle, dating from 1603, in Kyoto, and pay your respects at the Peace Memorial Park, created at the site of ground zero of the atomic bomb dropped on the 6th August 1945, in Hiroshima.
16 days, from £3,857. To download the full tour brochure or make an enquiry, visit Battered Suitcase's website.
The Dragon Trips - Family Tours of Japan
Dragon Trips’ expertly designed family tour includes something for all ages, covering not only the countless sights of Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima and Osaka and numerous cultural experiences, but also incorporating plenty of playtime and downtime - an approach that’s sure to chime with the needs of holidaying families.
Start with a jam-packed four days in Tokyo, where you’ll ogle the cityscape from up high in a towering skyscraper, witness budding sumo champions training in sumo stables, and visit buzzing districts Shinjuku, Shibuya and Harajuku, as well as try your hand at sushi-making and make some furry friends at a cat cafe before a full free day at Tokyo Disneyland.
The journey west to Kyoto is broken up with a couple of stopovers to let the kids let off steam: in Kamakura, Japan’s former medieval capital, eyeball the Big Buddha statue and soak up the rays at the beach, while in mountain resort Hakone, gawk at majestic Mt. Fuji from a pirate ship or cable-car as you sup on “black eggs” boiled in sulfurous local hot springs.
In Kyoto, experience the timeless traditions of ancient Japan in the geisha district of Gion, explore countless shrines and temples such as the flashy gold-leaf-covered Golden Pavilion - a surefire crowd-pleaser - and enjoy an action-packed day in Arashiyama, Kyoto’s nature-filled pleasure district, with hiking in the bamboo forest and rafting down the Hozugawa River. Finally, enjoy days in modern cities Hiroshima and Osaka before jetting back to Tokyo on the bullet train for your flights home.
13 days, from £1,499. To view the full itinerary and make an enquiry, see The Dragon Trip's website.
Japan Travel Centre - Family Tour (Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Okinawa)
This fascinating package brings you the best of Japan, from the bustling and modern city of Tokyo to the more reserved and laidback Kyoto, and the invigorating buzz of Okinawa. In Tokyo, soak up sights such as its famous gardens, Tsukiji Fish Market, and Tokyo Skytree before embarking on your choice of day-trip to Nikko’s UNESCO-listed shrine complex, former medieval capital Kamakura’s Big Buddha, or alpine hot spring resort Hakone with its close-up views of Mt. Fuji.
From the capital, you’ll then head west by bullet train for three days of delights including mouth-watering Kobe beef, UNESCO-listed Himeji Castle - Japan’s most spectacular original surviving castle - and Kyoto’s lantern-lit nostalgic geisha district of Gion, before catching a short domestic flight from Osaka to Japan’s mellow southern island resort of Okinawa.
Spend the remainder of your trip getting your fill of sun, sea and sand, with days filled with plenty of relaxing and sightseeing, followed by evenings spent sampling the laid-back local nightlife in downtown Naha, Okinawa’s capital. End your trip with an unforgettable day-long getaway to Zamami Island to frolic among its heavenly dunes and waves, perfect for snorkelling, scuba-diving or tanning.
10 days, from £1,740. To view the tour itinerary or make an online enquiry, visit Japan Travel Centre's website.
Japan Travel Centre - Island Tours: Exotic Okinawa Escape
The perfect add-on to any tour of Japan, this exotic island escape will see you getting away from it all (at least temporarily!) on an island retreat to Japan’s southern resort paradise of Okinawa. Domestic flights from Tokyo or Osaka, accommodation, and daily breakfasts are all included, leaving you free to focus on what matters - relaxing, relaxing, and more relaxing.
After the hustle and bustle of Japan’s megacities, kick back and relax on one of Okinawa’s countless pristine beaches, letting time pass you by as you revel in the joy of the sublime white sand dunes and sparkling sapphire sea around you. Some of Okinawa’s best are to be found on Zamami Island, where you’ll be able to spend a blissful, carefree day - but it’s not all about beaches.
Called the Ryukyu Kingdom, Okinawa was a separate kingdom until the 17th century, so it also has plenty to offer in the way of cultural, historical and gastronomic delights, making it a hugely interesting destination for everyone - not just beach-goers. Take time out from topping up your tan to visit unusual and eye-opening historical and cultural sights such as Chinese-influenced Shuri Castle, tropical landscape garden Shikinaen, and Tamaudun Mausoleum, built for the Ryukyuan royal family in the 16th century.
4 days, from £399. To view the tour details or make an online enquiry, visit Japan Travel Centre's website.
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