Japan - an ancient culture of emperors, fierce shoguns, samurais and brutal martial arts. Yet it’s also a place of gentle geishas, colourful kimonos, exquisite garden design and Zen Buddhism. How did a country so deeply rooted in such diverse heritage become one of the most modern and advanced economies on the planet? Pondering such questions is what makes a trip to Japan so incredibly rewarding. Having travelled there once, you’ll feel almost hypnotically drawn back to this truly enigmatic country.
Japan’s roots lie in an ancient feudal culture, with many customs from these times still pervading modern society. The Portuguese and Jesuit missionaries arrived in the 16th century and by all accounts, they were initially treated well, mainly because the Japanese were impressed with their new technology – firearms. Despite trading together successfully for nearly a century, Christianity and western ideas were deemed to be undermining the social order and the Portuguese were expelled. All contact with outsiders was banned for over 200 years. The only country on earth to have been so completely isolated from all external influences, Japanese art and culture developed in its own unique way, until pressure from the US finally broke down the barriers in the 1850’s.
You arrive at the airport for your overnight direct flight to Tokyo.
On our arrival, we transfer to our hotel, the excellent four-star superior New Otani Garden Tower, for three nights with breakfast.
This afternoon we have our first taste of Tokyo with a short orientation walk in the surrounding area, with the rest of your first day to relax after the flight.
This morning we commence the exploration of Japan's capital and largest city visiting two gardens, the University of Tokyo Botanical Garden Koishikawa and Shukkeien Bonsai Museum set up by the famous Bonsai Master Kkunio Kobayashi. Upon entering there is a 1000 year old pine tree in front of the house. At first glance, Tokyo might seem similar to other great Asian cities like Singapore or Shanghai, with its gleaming glass skyscrapers and busy, fashionable shops. But you'll soon begin to notice some of the many fascinating differences – like the spotlessly clean and surprisingly quiet streets. There's no beeping of horns here, that would be far too impolite!
After we savour some Japanese cuisine at our included lunch, we experience the famous Shinto Meiji shrine, dedicated to one of its past emperors. Set in outstandingly lush parkland, this is a working religious site where you may be lucky enough to see a typical Japanese marriage underway.
This morning we visit Tokyo’s Asakusa district including the peaceful and tranquil Hamarikyu Garden, a serene location within the vast City. Full of traditional small houses and shops, it’s a unique insight into the Tokyo of a hundred years ago. We will then transfer by boat down the Sumida River to Ginza, widely recognised as one of the world’s most luxurious shopping destinations. It’s brimming with ultra-modern department stores, boutiques, restaurants and coffee houses. Your afternoon is free to shop, explore, or perhaps indulge in some fascinating people-watching. Alternatively for more exploring take the included one way ticket monorail from Shimbashi.
Another option is to head to the Tokyo National Museum, just a few stops on the metro. Here you’ll find the world’s largest collection of Japanese art, with pottery, painting and prints, textiles, fashion and oriental antiquities.
Saying goodbye to Tokyo we drive towards Mount Fuji, probably Japan’s most instantly recognisable sight. Fringed by thick forests and a crescent-shaped ring of shimmering lakes, we are presented with one of the world’s greatest and most spectacular views. We visit two of these beautiful lakes to give you the best chance of appreciating and enjoying the stunning panorama from two different angles with some of life’s most amazing photo opportunities. Our first stop is the Kachi Kachi Yama Ropeway followed by Ichiku Kubota Art Museum located on Lake Kawaguchi. The lake is well known to the Japanese but as yet undiscovered by most foreign visitors. On a clear day, the views of Mt Fuji are one of the world's greatest panoramas. Then we head south to explore the fascinating mountain resort of Hakone to discover the Hakone Botanical Garden of Wetland featuring more than a thousand species of woody and wild herbaceous plants within a designed eco-system of steams, ponds, rockeries, man-made hills including several types of marsh moors with natural plant species to Hakone.
Arriving at the four-star Hakone Hotel, we stay for one night with breakfast and dinner. The entire area here is geo-thermally active, and provides the perfect opportunity to try one of Japan's unmissable experiences – bathing in an 'onsen', a hot spring at our very own hotel.
This morning we travel to Hiroshima on Japan's iconic gleaming white bullet train. With reclining seats, plenty of legroom, air conditioned comfort and speeds up to 189 mph, this is an incomparable way to travel. Arriving at lunchtime, we’re on our way to one of the country’s most distinctive views on the nearby small island of Miyajima. A huge red 'Torii' gate sits just offshore; widely celebrated, at high tide it appears to float between the sea and sky. This popular little island is easy to explore on foot. It has a relaxed holiday atmosphere, lots of interesting shops and a covered market. Returning to Hiroshima, we stay for two nights at the Sheraton Hiroshima, with breakfast.
There’s a sobering reminder of the horrors of war this morning as we visit Hiroshima's Peace Park and museum, displaying the remains of the only building to survive the atomic bomb blast of August 1945. The city has been completely rebuilt and there are no signs left of the devastation of that fateful day. Yet you may notice a small digital counter indicating the number of days since the last atomic test – it's surprisingly recent. After lunch we visit the historic scenic Shukkeien Japanese Garden of which original garden construction dates back to 1620. This garden park features small bridges, lakes and circular features capturing flora of the Japanese countryside. Take the rest of the afternoon at leisure in this charming city.
Leaving Hiroshima by coach, we head towards the old imperial capital of Kyoto. En route we’ll visit the superb Korakuen garden at Okayama – built in 1700 and renowned as one of Japan’s most exquisite gardens, with lawns, lakes, wooden bridges and shrines and teahouses! Our hotel for four nights in Kyoto is the centrally located four-star Kyoto Century Hotel, with breakfast.
This morning is one of the real highlights of the tour as we explore some of the overwhelming treasures of Japan’s most revered city. First is the spectacular and beautiful Golden Pavilion, dating from the classical Muromachi age of Japanese temple design, perfectly overlooking its lake and garden. The whole of the upper floors, covered in gold leaf, glow in the morning light with an almost blinding intensity. Nearby is the Ryoan-ji temple, or the Temple of the Dragon at Peace, home to Japan's most famous Zen garden, consisting of fifteen rocks surrounded by white gravel carefully raked by monks daily. We see the Japanese Garden, less visited by foreigners at the huge temple complex of Myoshinji Temple founded in the 9th Century. As a complete change, we then move on to the amazing Sagano Bamboo Grove located in the gorgeous Arashiyama district of western Kyoto – experiencing an almost other-worldly feel as the light streams through the tall green columns of bamboo, up to 30 feet high! The day is completed visiting the Japanese Garden at the breath taking quiet Okochisanso Villa capturing views over the Arashiyama area of Kyoto.
Capital city before Kyoto, Nara is just a few miles south. Firstly we see one of the country's most iconic shrines, made from thousands of red Torii gates forming two extraordinary vermilion-coloured wooden tunnels up a hillside. Arriving at Nara you'll be greeted by the dozens of tame deer considered for centuries to be messengers of the gods. The main sight though is the amazing Todai-ji temple, astonishingly the world’s largest wooden structure. Housing a huge bronze Buddha, this is a truly inspiring sight and just one of Nara’s several UNESCO World Heritage sites. Today's Japanese Garden features unique lush vegetation at the Tofukuji Temple. This is the head temple of the Tofukuji scholl of the Rinsal sect of Zen Buddhism, a historic place built in 1236.
This morning we visit another iconic Kyoto monument - Nijo Castle. Set at the heart of the city and built in the 17th century, it's famous for its wooden floors remarkably designed to creak like a nightingale's song, thus warning its occupants of any impending stealthy attack!
After visiting the Heian Jingu Shrine Japanese Garden with charming serene water features, we experience a Traditional Japanese Tea Ceromony.
Finally we take an orientation walking tour through Kyoto's Gion district. Here is the classic image of Japan; streets of wooden houses, the unmistakable sound of wooden sandals reverberating on the pavements, bright, silk-clad geishas, cherry trees and a host of traditional restaurants.
Tonight you also have the option of staying in a ryokan, a typical Japanese inn. You’ll sleep on a rolled out futon with tatami matting on the floor. You’ll also enjoy a traditional 'kaiseki' multi-course dinner. Beautifully prepared and served, it’s just as stunning to look at as it is to eat. This is subject to availability and needs to be pre-booked, please mention at time of booking.
After a last free morning at leisure, we take our bullet train to Tokyo staying overnight at the four-star Excel Tokyu near the airport.
We fly directly back to the UK, arriving later the same day, with memories of an incomparable tour full of the most extraordinary insights and experiences that Japan has to offer.
The price for this holiday is based on two people sharing a twin bedded room with single rooms available at a supplement of £845 per person. Price includes eleven nights’ accommodation, daily breakfast and three meals, direct flights from London Heathrow, hotel porterage of one item of luggage per person, all touring as mentioned, all local accommodation taxes, all airport/flight taxes and the services of a Riviera tour manager.
FREE Japanese Gardens book by Monty Don worh £35. This book is published in May 2019 and BBC Gardeners World will despatch directly to customers once the balance of the holiday is made.
Discover the very best of Japan’s beautiful gardens
Eleven exclusive visits for BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine readers
Specialist Japanese gardener at four gardens.
For a traditional experience, stay in a wonderful ryokan, where you’ll sleep on a Japanese-style futon and enjoy a beautifully prepared kaiseki dinner. Single supplements apply. For more details of the Ryokan, please click here.
Please call us to book or for more information.
Visas and Passports
UK nationals do not require a visa to travel to Japan, but other passport holders should contact with the relevant embassy, however, please ensure that your British passport is valid for at least six months after the intended return date.
Whilst care has been taken to ensure that the information provided relating to visa requirements is true and correct at the time of publication, changes in requirements after this time of publication may impact on the accuracy of this information. therefore, whilst we strive to provide the most up-to-date information, we strongly suggest that you re-confirm requirements with the relevant embassy prior to travel.
There is a fair amount of walking involved throughout this tour, and as many places we visit as part of this itinerary are in national parks and historical areas, we cannot expect or guarantee the terrain to be flat and even. Whilst this should not pose any difficulty for clients who are in good health, please consider any mobility requirements personal to yourself. If you would like to discuss mobility related queries, please contact our reservations department.
There is currently no official health advice nor inoculations required to travel to Japan, however, this is dependent on your personal medical history and previous travel destinations. Please contact your GP at least one month prior to travel to discuss any travel and health information.
We want to ensure you make the correct choice before you book your holiday with us. If you have any concerns regarding the suitability of the holiday due to reduced mobility we would encourage you to call us to discuss these concerns. General information on mobility in connection with our tours can be found here.
All transfer times listed here are approximate, and dependent on traffic. If you have a question regarding transfer times please don't hesitate to contact us.
|Arrival airport||First hotel location||Transfer time||Final hotel location||Departure airport||Transfer time|
|Tokyo - Haneda Airport||Tokyo||1 hr||Tokyo||Tokyo - Haneda Airport||10 mins|
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