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Selected departures up to November 2016 & March to November 2017
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.
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.
It’s this unique development of its culture which makes Japan so utterly fascinating today. Inevitably, we harbour preconceptions about its complex etiquette, but you need not worry! The Japanese are a truly welcoming people and allowances are made for us ‘strange’ foreigners! Our tour is designed so you not only see the best of Japan, but come home having started to understand it.
Our tour covers three of Japan's capitals, both past and present. You’ll ride on a high speed bullet train past iconic Mt. Fuji, one of the most instantly recognisable places on the planet. You’ll have the option to stay at a typical Japanese inn, bathe in a hot spring, and see the spot where the first atom bomb was detonated. With longer stays in both Tokyo and Kyoto, you’ll have a unique opportunity to get right under the skin of this extraordinary country.
In Tokyo – the archetypal mega-city – you’ll see its most fascinating districts, including the shopping and entertainment mecca of Ginza. It might sometimes seem as if its entire thirteen million inhabitants are all simultaneously trying to get on the same metro train – but everything runs on time and everyone is faultlessly polite. The mountains north of the city are home to one of Japan's most scenic areas, Nikko National Park, relatively unknown outside Japan. Surrounded by breathtaking lakes, waterfalls, forests and hot springs, you’ll visit one of the country's most extraordinary shrines - dedicated to one of its greatest Shogun warriors.
Kyoto, the capital city for over a thousand years - and still considered to be its cultural heart - has carefully retained far more of historical Japan than any other major city. With exquisite shrines, temples, Zen gardens and traditional handicrafts such as ceramics, lacquer-ware, calligraphy and woodblock prints, Kyoto is a treasure-trove waiting to be discovered. We have four nights here and a whole day free in the city, so you'll have plenty of time to explore to your heart's content. You might visit a private home discovering the traditional arts of origami, flower arranging or Japanese cuisine, or opt to spend an unforgettable night in a ‘Ryokan’, a typical Japanese inn. We also visit Nara, Japan’s first capital, dating back to the eighth century. Here, traditional culture first took root and it is famous for its great Buddhist monuments and time-honoured festivals. Hiroshima is forever destined to be synonymous with the world's first use of an atomic bomb. Your visit to the Peace Memorial Park and museum, with the shattered remains of the nearby dome marking the epicentre of the resultant blast, will be an unforgettable experience.
Japan, like Europe, has four very distinct and wonderful seasons. Winter can be very cold, but springtime, with pink cherry blossom hanging heavy on millions of trees, is considered a great time to visit. May and June are quieter and warmer, with flowers and plants in full bloom in countless gardens. July and August are the festival months, time of colourful processions, whilst autumn is breathtaking, with the vibrant red and orange hues of maple trees everywhere you look.
Japanese food is increasingly being rightfully recognised as one of the world’s great cuisines and it goes way beyond just sushi… with teppanyaki, teriyaki, sashimi, yakitori, udon noodles, and a huge variety of sake rice wine. Utilising the freshest possible ingredients cooked without oils, fats or butter, it is a revelation. Even the famous “bento box” packed lunches, available at any railway station, are wonderful to look at, very tasty and excellent value. Despite what you may have heard, restaurants in Japan are certainly no more expensive than at home.
So place preconceptions aside and visit Japan on the tour of a lifetime. Prepare for wonderful service, the world’s politest people and a true assault on the senses. Immerse yourself in this extraordinary culture of contrasts, where the neon lights and gadgetry of huge futuristic cities live side by side with thousand-year old ceremonies, shrines and hot spas.
The price for this holiday is based on two people sharing a twin bedded room. It includes eleven nights’ accommodation, daily breakfast and three meals, direct flights from London Heathrow, two journeys on bullet trains, all sightseeing and entrances as described in Tokyo, Nikko, Hakone, Hiroshima, Okayama, Kyoto and Nara, porterage of one item of luggage per person, and the services of a Riviera tour manager.
UK nationals do not require a visa but other passport holders should check with the relevant embassy. However, please ensure that your 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 time of publication, changes in requirements after the 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.
On our arrival, we transfer to our hotel, the excellent four-star New Otani, for four nights with breakfast. Perfectly located in the heart of Tokyo, close to the Japanese parliament, the nearest metro stop is just a couple of minutes' walk allowing you explore at ease (all station names are given in English). In addition to a wide variety of dining options the hotel has a charming traditional garden. The air-conditioned Garden Tower rooms have hairdryer, TV, safe and minibar. This afternoon we have our first taste of Tokyo with a short orientation walk in the surrounding area, with rest of your first day to relax after the flight.
This morning we commence the exploration of Japan's capital and largest city. 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!
Our first stop is 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. Then we move on to some of Tokyo's most renowned quarters, including Omotesando Street, Tokyo’s 'Rodeo Drive', full of luxury brand shops. Then there’s the Harajuku area where teenagers sport the latest outrageous fashions and the Akihabara electronic town, home to one of the first stores devoted to personal robots. We savour some Japanese cuisine at our included lunch at a restaurant specialising in yakitori grilled dishes.
Today we drive north of the city passing through delightful farmland and small towns towards the great spine of mountains running the length of Honshu, Japan’s largest island. We soon arrive at the Nikko National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site with some of the best Shogun-era architecture in the country. Dating from the 17th century, built by thousands of skilled craftsmen, and dedicated to one of the country's greatest Shoguns, the unique and dazzling Toshogu shrine consists of a complex of wonderful shrines, gates and pagodas full of astonishingly intricate wood carvings and rich paintings. This is one of Japan’s most revered pilgrimage sites both for Buddhism and Shinto. After an included lunch, we continue to the 300-foot Kegon Falls and the serene waters of Lake Chuzenji, formed after a volcanic eruption around 20,000 years ago and a fine example of the famed natural beauty of the Japanese landscape. We return to Tokyo in the late afternoon.
This morning we visit Tokyo’s Asakusa district. Full of traditional small houses and shops, it’s a unique insight into the Tokyo of a hundred years ago. A scenic boat trip then takes us 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.
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 Mt. 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 – and some of life’s most amazing photo opportunities. Our first stop is at Lake Kawaguchi, well known to the Japanese but as yet undiscovered by most foreign visitors. Next we head south to explore the fascinating mountain resort of Hakone, taking a trip by aerial gondola up the steep mountainside to see the Owakudani 'Boiling Valley'. Aptly named and almost primeval in nature, the entire slope steams with a myriad of hot volcanic vents. Descending to the smooth dark blue waters of Lake Ashi, we take a cruise on a rather unusual Japanese version of an early 19th century pirate ship. From here, especially on a clear day, the views of Mt. Fuji are one of the world’s greatest panoramas.
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 the night at the four-star ANA Crowne Plaza.
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.
This afternoon we leave Hiroshima by coach to 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 Royal Hotel and Spa, 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. As a complete change we then move on to the amazing Arashiyama bamboo forest - experiencing an almost other-worldly feel as the light streams through the tall green columns of bamboo, up to 30 feet high!
Yet another iconic Kyoto monument is next - 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!
Finally we take a 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.
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.
You’re free today to explore and discover the many delights and attractions of Kyoto. There are still more enchanting temples to see - like the 15th century Silver Pavilion and the even older Eikando temple, marvels of architectural and garden design within an easy walk of each other along the charming Philosopher's Path. Other delightful options are a lesson in origami, flower arranging, dressing as a geisha or learning to cook a typical Japanese meal. All of these unique experiences can be arranged by your tour manager in local homes – a wonderful way to gain a deeper understanding of Japanese culture.
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. From £79 per person (single supplement from £119).
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.
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