Tokyo | The Shrine of Meiji-Jingu
After your welcome briefing, visit the Imperial Palace Plaza and stroll the grounds of Meiji-Jingu, the most popular Shinto shrine in Japan. Established in 1920 and dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his wife, the shrine stands surrounded by more than 100,000 trees that have been donated by people from all over Japan. Proceed to Asakusa Kannon Temple, pausing in the tiny shops of Nakamise-dori. The colorful pagoda-style temple was completed in 645 and is dedicated to Kannon, the goddess of mercy in several East Asian spiritual traditions. Tonight, join fellow guests for a welcome dinner.
Tokyo | Wonderful Nikko National Park
The Japanese have a saying: “Don’t say kekko (wonderful) without seeing Nikko.” Today, travel overland to Nikko National Park in the mountains north of Tokyo and discover this lovely region. A blend of man-made and natural beauty, the park features numerous shrines and temples recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visit the magnificently carved 17th-century Toshogu Shrine and take part in a special Shinto ceremony with a Shinto priest or miko (priestess). Enjoy some local flavor on a visit to a sake brewery before returning to your hotel in Tokyo.
Hakone | Traditional Ryokan
Travel to Hakone, among Japan’s most popular hot-spring resorts, and view the forested slopes of Hakone National Park, an area encompassing coastlines, mountains, lakes and more than 1,000 volcanic islands. Stroll the grassy hillsides of Hakone’s Open Air Museum, taking in sculptures and artwork from the likes of Picasso and Henry Moore. Next, embark on a scenic cruise of Lake Ashi, gliding past the wooded mountain slopes that enclose it, and then board a cable car on the Komagatake Ropeway for a spectacular view of Mount Fuji. Soar through the clouds on this inspiring vertical tramway, the largest in Japan, which rises to a lovely woodland area. Tonight, enjoy unparalleled service and traditional Japanese cuisine at Gôra Kadan, a top-rated ryokan (traditional inn).
Osaka | Bullet Train Ride & Medieval Castle
After a morning at leisure, Ride Like a Local by bullet train to Osaka. Historically known as a merchant city, this center of commerce is now considered the second-largest city in Japan. This afternoon, stroll through the lovely grounds and gardens of Osaka Castle, which played a key role in the unification of Japan in the 16th century. Travel to the top of the 40-story Umeda Sky Building for breathtaking views of the city from an open-air observation deck, aptly known as the “floating garden.”
Osaka to Nara | Gardens & Temples
Travel early this morning to visit ancient Nara, Japan’s first capital. Wander through Nara Park, home to over a thousand tame deer. Continue to eighth-century Todai-ji, a temple complex that contains the world’s largest wooden structure and the largest bronze Buddha in Japan. The temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is considered one of the legendary Seven Great Temples. It is among the most powerful and influential temples in Japan. Complete your excursion with a visit to the Kasuga Shrine, Nara’s most celebrated shrine, it is dedicated to the deity tasked with protection of the city. Continue with a visit to Kofukuji Temple — once the family temple of a powerful medieval clan, the complex includes a five-story pagoda that stands over 160 feet tall. Later, return to your hotel in Osaka.
Kyoto | The Golden Pavilion & Bamboo Forest
Travel early this morning to contemplate the iconic Zen rock garden at Ryoan-ji, the perfect spot for a meditative walk, and discover the glittering Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion), covered with gold paper, surrounded by green gardens and set on a lovely, tranquil pond. Later, explore the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, a lush oasis home to monkeys and towering stalks of bamboo. Bask in the magical atmosphere here, peacefully walking a winding path, as sunlight filters down through bamboo gently swaying in the breeze. This afternoon, check in to the newly opened Four Seasons Hotel Kyoto.
Kyoto | Japanese Mingei Folk Art
This morning, visit Kiyomizu Temple and stand on its massive veranda for stunning city views. Observe a traditional tea ceremony, noting its refined sense of hospitality and etiquette that date to the time of the Samurai. Then, stroll through Gojozaka Hills, an area known for its many pottery studios, on your way to the home and studio of the late Kawai Kanjiro, one of Kyoto’s most famous potters. Kanjiro’s beautiful, unusual home — redesigned to resemble a country house — is filled with his own creations and his personal collection, including ceramics, sculptures and wood carvings. Tonight, toast your journey with a Scenic Sundowner followed by an exquisite kaiseki banquet that includes a Chef’s Table chat with the chef, where an attending geiko (as a geisha is known in Kyoto) and maiko dance, sing, pour sake and converse about their fascinating lives.
After breakfast, transfer to Kansai International Airport or Itami International Airport, both located just outside of Osaka, for your flight home. Alternatively, begin a post-tour extension in Hiroshima.