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Best of Japan

By Claire Ross
General manager for Alfred&

Store up memories for a lifetime on this two-week journey of cultural discovery that features the highlights and hidden corners of Tokyo and Kyoto along with less-visited but equally compelling and significant destinations such as Takayama, Kanazawa, Hiroshima and the holy island of Miyajima.

Places

Length
14 days
Best months to go
March, April, October & November
Guide price range
£6,685 - £7,225pp
excluding international flights.

Top Experiences
Itinerary Highlights

Tokyo

Going backstage at Tokyo’s fish market

Plunging into the hustle and bustle of the world’s largest fish market makes you appreciate just how important seafood is in Japan...

Hakone

Susukinohara Ichinoyu, a hot-spring hideaway in Hakone

If you want a relaxing introduction to Japanese bathing culture in a beautiful setting, Susukinohara Ichinoyu is the place to come...

Miyajima

The inn with a World Heritage view

My favourite aspect of our ryokan, Kurayado Iroha, is the view of the great torii gate of Itsukushima Shrine...

Day by day
Itinerary in details

1

Arrive in Tokyo

On your arrival in Tokyo, you’ll be met at the airport for a shared transfer to your hotel. The rest of the day will be at leisure.

Things to do:

2

Tokyo

This morning you’ll see a side of Toyko’s Asakusa district that most visitors miss. Your guide will collect you at your hotel to take you to this popular area where you’ll head to a small shop to try your hand at one of Japan’s ‘lost arts’, amezaiku, otherwise known as sugar craft. Afterwards, you’ll stroll to Imado shrine and learn about its association with the Japanese lucky cat figurines that you’ll see everywhere in the country, before finishing at a temple known for its intriguing decorations based on the daikon radish. The tour ends here, but with one of Tokyo’s most famous sights – Senso-ji temple – so near at hand, it makes sense to linger for a while. Be sure to try the traditional sweetmeats sold in the shopping avenue that leads up to the temple gate. Overnight in a City Queen Room at the Park Hotel.

Things to do:

3

Tokyo

Get privileged behind-the-scenes access to Tokyo’s famous wholesale fish market, the largest in the world. Since it moved to new premises in 2018 most visitors have had to stay behind glass viewing screens, but you’ll get into the thick of the action with your guide, who’s also a licence holder. From there, you’ll head to the old Tsukiji market to learn more about preparing fish before travelling to a sushi restaurant to make your own fresher-than-fresh nigiri and – best of all – eat them for lunch. Use the rest of the day how you choose; one particularly fun option is to spend the evening in the lively Shinjuku nightlife district learning about Tokyo’s drinks culture with an insider. Overnight in a City Queen Room at the Park Hotel.

Things to do:

4

Tokyo & Hakone

Today you’ll use your Japan Rail Pass to take the bullet train from Tokyo to Hakone, which takes two hours. Hakone is known for mountains, lakes and hot springs, and on clear days there are superb views of Mount Fuji as well. Explore at your own pace armed with a Hakone Free Pass that covers the area’s varied transport network – from cable cars to pirate ships – before checking in to a traditional inn where you can enjoy a restorative soak in a thermal bath and an authentic Japanese evening meal. Overnight in a Japanese Style Room at Susukinohara Ichinoyu.

Things to do:

5

Hakone & Takayama

Using your transport passes, you’ll travel by bullet train and the Limited Express Hida Wideview, which winds its way through spectacular alpine scenery, to Takayama. This atmospheric mountain town is known for its well-preserved old quarter, which has barely changed in three centuries. You have the afternoon free to just wander around it, stopping off in small museums or family-run inns, or you could visit one of Takayama’s celebrated sake breweries to learn about how the national drink is made. For a special experience, add to the back-in-time feeling by upgrading your accommodation to a traditional Japanese ryokan complete with a hot-spring bath. Overnight in a Japanese Western Room at Hidatei Hanaougi.

Things to do:

6

Takayama

Explore Takayama at your own pace today, but be sure to start with a visit to the Miyagawa morning market, which sells local crafts and produce that you won’t see anywhere else. This is the perfect place to try some of the region’s delicious street-food specialities such as mitarashi dango – skewers of rice balls basted in soy sauce. Just a short bus ride away is Hida No Sato Folk Village, an open-air museum showcasing traditional buildings from the Hida region. At the village workshop, there’s a fascinating exhibit about heritage handicrafts including wood carving, tie-dying, weaving and lacquering. Overnight in a Japanese Western Room at Hidatei Hanaougi.

Things to do:

7

Takayama, Shirakawa-go & Kanazawa

Using your included coach tickets, you will travel to World Heritage-listed Shirakawa-go, famous for its traditional farmhouses, some of which are more than 250 years old. They have distinctive steep thatched roofs that are said to look like the hands of praying monks, and which are designed to withstand the heavy snows that fall in the region. From here, you’ll continue by coach to Kanazawa, known affectionately as ‘Little Kyoto’ thanks to its immaculately preserved historical samurai and entertainment districts. Overnight in a Stylish Queen at Nikko Hotel Kanazawa.

Things to do:

8

Kanazawa

Spend the day exploring Kanazawa at your own pace. There’s plenty to take in, including one of Japan’s most famous gardens, Kenrokuen, where you could linger for hours discovering hidden corners, stunning viewpoints, a tranquil teahouse and more. Not surprisingly, it’s particularly popular when the cherry and plum blossom is at its peak. There are also three entertainment districts filled with teahouses, cafés and tiny traditional stores that are made for leisurely browsing, not to mention a castle, several museums and a shrine with unusual Dutch-influenced architecture and a restful garden. For lunch, join the locals at lively Omicho market for a bowl of super-fresh seafood and rice. Overnight in a Stylish Queen at Nikko Hotel Kanazawa.

Things to do:

9

Kanazawa & Hiroshima

Today you’ll travel by train to Hiroshima, a journey of four hours with one change. You’ll have the rest of the day to relax in this pleasant coastal city, ready to learn more about its tragic history as the first city to be hit by an atomic bomb – which completely obliterated almost everything and everyone within a mile of the impact – on a guided tour tomorrow. Overnight in a Deluxe King Room at the Sheraton Grand Hiroshima.

10

Hiroshima & Miyajima

Today you will take a day tour of Hiroshima with a local guide, starting at the Peace Memorial Park, located in what was one of Hiroshima’s busiest central districts before 6 August 1945. The park is dedicated to those who lost their lives to the atomic bomb, and contains memorials – including the iconic Atomic Bomb Dome – statues and an affecting museum. From Hiroshima, it’s a short ferry ride to Miyajima, otherwise known as the ‘Island of the Gods’. It’s been a holy place for centuries and is home to an array of beautiful temples and shrines; the atmosphere is particularly soothing in the evening, so it’s well worth opting to spend the night here in one of the island’s ryokans. Overnight in a Standard Japanese Room at Kurayado Iroha.

Things to do:

11

Hiroshima & Kyoto

Today you’ll head to Kyoto on the bullet train, a two-hour journey from Hiroshima, arriving in time for an afternoon private cookery lesson about Kyoto’s typical kappo cuisine that will give you a fascinating insight into Japanese dining culture. ‘Kappo’ means ‘to cut ingredients with a knife and cook them over a fire’, though nowadays baked, fried and even raw dishes are included. What defines a kappo restaurant is that the food is served over a counter where you sit face to face with the chef, which adds a whole new level of entertainment to any meal. Overnight in a Standard Room at Granvia Hotel Kyoto.

Things to do:

12

Kyoto

The former imperial capital has such a wealth of impressive sites that it helps to have a local guide to steer you toward the highlights. One of those is Kinkaku-ji temple, whose top two floors are covered in gold leaf – it’s quite a sight, even on a cloudy day. Another must-see is 400-year-old Nijo-jo, one of the best-preserved castles from this era, which is surrounded by beautiful Japanese-style gardens. For a complete change of pace, you then head to lively Nishiki market, where you’ll discover local foodie specialities, before rounding off the day with a choice of temples. It’s a full day, so if you want to treat yourself it’s worth doing the trip by private car rather than public transport. Overnight in a Standard Room at Granvia Hotel Kyoto.

Things to do:

13

Kyoto & Nara

Transfer from your hotel to Nara by train with a local guide. For 74 years during the 8th century Nara was Japan’s capital and many of the temples and shrines built at that time still remain. Visit Todaiji temple, the world’s largest wooden building and home to Japan’s largest Buddha and Kasuga Taisha, established in 768 AD and famous for its hundreds of bronze and stone lanterns which have been donated by worshipers. Take a wander through Nara Park, called Deer park by locals due to the large population of deer living there. Before you make your way to Fushimi, you will stop by a Sake Brewery to learn about the production process, as well as sample a few cups for yourself. On the way back from Nara, visit Fushimi Inari Shrine, which was used in the movie “Memoirs of a Geisha”. It is home to over 10,000 red tori gates, which form a path up the mountain behind the temple.

Things to do:

14

Kyoto & Departure

Enjoy a final few hours at leisure in Kyoto before your train to Narita International Airport (four hours) in time for your return flight.

Holiday Budget
Guide price information

Low Season*

4 Jan – 28 Feb, 21 May – 30 Jun & 21 Nov – 10 Dec

£6,685

Mid Season*

1 Mar – 19 Mar, 7 May – 20 May, 1 Jul - 22 Jul, 11 Aug – 30 Sep & 11 Dec – 28 Dec

£7,029

High Season*

20 Mar – 19 Apr & 1 Oct – 20 Nov

£7,225

Alfred & Claire Ross

Claire has been with Kuoni for 12 years, most recently as head of the company’s specialist products, but her love of travel dates back much further, to the slideshows her globetrotting grandparents used to inspire her with. She has visited many countries in South East Asia and never tires of learning new things about their unique cultures.

Alfred & our Japan holiday experts

Freephone an expert

01306 744 656