Join Far Horizons, and only 13 others on an unforgettable 14-day journey through the enchanting landscapes and rich cultural tapestry of Japan, designed exclusively for those seeking the perfect blend of adventure and enlightenment. Our meticulously curated tour will take you on a captivating exploration of three iconic cities: Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka, along with their charming surrounding towns.
In Tokyo, you’ll be dazzled by the juxtaposition of traditional temples and towering skyscrapers, and you’ll have the chance to delve into Japan’s rich history at the Meiji Shrine. In Kyoto, our serene homebase for most of the trip, your senses will come alive as you stroll through the peaceful gardens of Kinkakuji (the Golden Pavilion), ascend the iconic Fushimi Inari Shrine’s thousand vermilion torii gates, and experience the tranquility of Koyasan, a UNESCO World Heritage Site nestled in the mountains. We will also have the opportunity to savor the elegance of Japanese culture through an exclusive private geisha dinner, a rare insight into this ancient tradition.
Led by Buddhist specialist and The Great Courses lecturer, Professor Malcolm David Eckel, our memorable tour will explore Japan’s profound history, art, and traditions while relishing its modern vibrancy. Won’t you join us on this voyage of discovery, where every day promises new insights and cherished memories? Secure your spot today and let Japan’s magic unfold before your eyes!
At the conclusion of the main trip, we encourage you to consider joining our post-trip extension to Naoshima Art Island, which is known for stunning contemporary public art installations, galleries, and museums.
Continue reading below for a day-by-day description of our Japan in Bloom tour itinerary. If you are still undecided on whether this is the perfect adventure for you, browse our full calendar of Archaeological and Cultural Tours.
Depart on a flight destined for Tokyo, Japan.
Arrive in Tokyo. Transfer to your centrally located hotel to get settled in. Enjoy a welcome dinner to get acquainted with your fellow travelers. Overnight for 2 nights at Grand Prince Shin Takanawa. (D)
Begin your exploration of Tokyo with a visit to Meiji Shrine, dedicated to the deified spirit of Emperor Meiji and a popular place for traditional Japanese weddings. From here your guide will take you to the Roppongi ward by private coach where you will visit the Roppongi Hills Observation Deck. The 238 meters tall Mori Tower is the centerpiece of the Roppongi Hills complex in Tokyo’s Roppongi district. The tower houses the entrance to the excellent Mori Art Museum and the elegant Tokyo City View observation deck. On a clear day, you can see Tokyo Tower, Tokyo Skytree and even as far as Mt. Fuji!
After lunch, you will visit Akihabara has gained recognition as the center of Japan’s otaku (diehard fan) culture, and many shops and establishments devoted to anime and manga are now dispersed among the electronic stores in the district.
Last stop is the nearby Asakusa, Tokyo’s old town where you can soak up the atmosphere of what Tokyo must have been like hundreds of years ago. Here you will visit Sensoji, also known as Asakusa Kannon and Tokyo’s oldest temple. (B/D)
Today you will make a day trip to Kamakura, the former de facto capital of Japan as the seat of the Shogunate during the Kamakura Period (1185 – 1333). At that time, Kamakura was the largest city in the world; however, the Kamakura of today is a small, sleepy seaside town with numerous temples, shrines and other attractions.
Visit Kotokuin Temple, home to the Daibutsu, a giant bronze Buddha that stands (or rather, sits) 13.35m high. Then move to Hasedera Temple. Hasedera Temple is a temple of the Jodo sect, which is most famous for its statue of Kannon, the goddess of mercy. The 9.18 meter tall, gilded wooden statue is regarded as one of the largest wooden sculptures in Japan.
After lunch, you will visit Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine. Dating from the 12th century, Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine is the spiritual heart of Kamakura and one of its most popular attractions. Originally founded by Minamoto Yoriyoshi in 1063, it was then enlarged and moved to its present site by Minamoto Yoritomo, the first shogun of the Kamakura government, in 1180. The shrine was dedicated to Hachiman, the Shinto god of war and patron of the Minamoto family.
After the tour, a private coach will take you to Shin-Yokohama Station, then you will board the famous Shinkansen bullet train, which reaches speeds of up to 300 km/h. taking us to Kyoto. Overnight for 6 nights at Miyako Hotel Kyoto Hachijo. (B/L/D)
Start the day with a visit to Ginkakuji, a Zen temple along Kyoto’s eastern mountains (Higashiyama). In 1482, shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa built his retirement villa on the grounds of today’s temple. The villa was converted into a Zen temple after Yoshimasa’s death in 1490. Today, Ginkakuji consists of the Silver Pavilion, half a dozen other temple buildings, a beautiful moss garden and a unique dry sand garden.
After visiting the temple, enjoy lunch before walking along the Philosopher’s Path. This path is a pleasant stone path through the northern part of Kyoto’s Higashiyama district. The path follows a canal which is lined by hundreds of cherry trees. Named after Nishida Kitaro, one of Japan’s most famous philosophers, who was said to practice meditation while walking this route on his daily commute to Kyoto University. There are many small temples and shrines to stop off along the walk.
Next stop is at Gion, Kyoto’s most famous geisha district; filled with shops, restaurants and teahouses, where geiko and maiko entertain. Finish your day with a Tea Ceremony in Higashiyama District. Your Tea Master will give you a full explanation of Japanese tea as well as the tea ceremony itself, its long history and relationship with Zen Buddhism. The Master will also tell you the meaning behind each movement involved in the making and serving of the tea, as well as the equipment involved. Dinner is on your own this evening. (B/L)
Our first stop today will be for the Shugakuin Imperial Villa (Shugakuin Rikyū). Built in the 17th century by Emperor Gomizuno, it is now managed by the Imperial Household Agency. It consists of the Upper, Middle and Lower Villa areas, each featuring gardens and buildings of the traditional imperial style.
Next, visit the Kyoto Sento Imperial Palace. This Garden’s style is based on the Heian shinden-zukuri style, with large gravel courtyards and a small pond garden. (Please note we will not enter the Imperial Palace itself).
After lunch, Take a walk down Nishiki Market, a narrow, five block long shopping street lined by more than one hundred shops and restaurants. Known as “Kyoto’s Kitchen”, this lively retail market specializes in all things food related, like fresh seafood, produce, knives and cookware, and is a great place to find seasonal foods and Kyoto specialties, such as Japanese sweets, pickles, dried seafood and sushi. Dinner is on your own this evening. (B/L)
Start with a visit to Kinkakuji, also known as the Golden Pavilion. Originally built as a retirement villa for Shogun Yoshimitsu, after his death it became a Buddhist Temple upon his request. It is now one of Kyoto’s most famous temples, with its top two floors completely covered in gold-leaf.
From Kinkakuji, a private coach will take you to Ryoanji. The Ryoanji Temple is UNESCO World Heritage Site, widely known for its rock garden. The garden is considered one of the finest surviving examples of kare-sensui (dry-landscape), where larger rock formations are arranged amidst a sea of pebbles that are raked into linear patterns to aid in meditation.
After visiting the temple, you will have lunch at a local restaurant. Enjoy the evening to recharge before departing for dinner at a local restaurant. (B/L/D)
Transfer from your hotel to Fushimi. While technically a part of Kyoto, Fushimi is an area rich in unique history and charm. 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.
Next, a private coach will take you to Tofukuji. A large Zen temple that was founded in 1236. The temple complex contains several gardens each with its own distinguishable character utilizing various elements of Japanese gardening and Zen such as pebbles, large rocks, moss, ponds and various well-kept trees.
Once we have visited the temple, quench your thirst at the Gekkeikan Sake Museum. During a tour of the museum, you will learn about the traditional brewing process, and then sample the different types of their sake.
After lunch, a private coach will take you to Sanjusangendo. This temple is famous for the Thousand-armed Kannon (Senju Kannon) and the hall is filled with one thousand statues. Dinner is on your own this evening. (B/L)
The first stop of the day is the Katsura Imperial Villa. Katsura Imperial Villa features what is said to be the most beautiful Japanese garden. Next you will head to Arashiyama. Enjoy a rickshaw ride as you drive through Arashiyama’s famous bamboo groves.
Then, we’ll make our way over to Tenryuji. Ranked among Kyoto’s five great Zen temples, Tenryuji is the largest and most impressive temple in Arashiyama. Founded in 1339 at the beginning of the Muromachi Period (1338-1573), the temple is one of Kyoto’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Finally, visit Iwaatayama Monkey Park which boasts about 120 snow monkeys. After lunch, we will head to our final stop of the day; the Nishi Honganji near Kyoto Station. Nishi Honganji is the head temple of the Honganji faction of the Jodo-Shin sect with over 10,000 subtemples across the country and 200 temples overseas.
In the evening, enjoy dinner and drinks with a private geisha entertainment consisting of conversation and dancing accompanied by the shamisen (Japanese stringed instrument). You will also have a chance to ask questions about the geisha and their world. (B/L/D)
After breakfast meet in the hotel lobby for a departure to the town of Nara which served as Japan’s capital for 74 years in the 8th Century. Many of the temples and shrines built at that time still stand today. Visit Todaiji temple, one of the world’s largest wooden structures and home to Japan’s largest Buddha. The park surrounding the temple is called Nara Park but is referred to by many as “Deer Park” due to the large population of more than one thousand tame deer who freely roam the streets and will bow their heads in exchange for a treat.
Next stop is Nara’s most celebrated shrine, Kasuga Taisha. Established in 768 AD the shrine is dedicated to the deity tasked with the protection of the city and is famous for its hundreds of bronze and stone lanterns which have been donated by worshippers over the years.
Transfer from Nara to Osaka for the remainder of the trip. Overnight for 4 nights at Mitsui Garden Hotel Osaka Premier. (B/L/D)
Depart Osaka and head to Himeji. On arrival, visit Himeji Castle, also called White Heron Castle (Shirasagijo). Initially constructed in the mid-14th century, a three-layer castle tower was built by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the 16th century. It was never destroyed by war, earthquake or fire and survives to this day as one of the country’s twelve original castles. The castle is both a national treasure and a world heritage site.
In the evening, enjoy a Street Food Tour of Osaka. Osaka is one of Japan’s most vibrant cities, and especially known for its lively people – and its food. Your guide will introduce you to the splendors of Osaka’s casual cuisine, venturing into the epicenter of street food culture in Osaka: Dotonbori. You’ll have the chance to sample a variety of local foods, including the famous and ubiquitous takoyaki (commonly known as “octopus balls”) and kushikatsu (skewered meats and vegetables). (B/L/D)
Today, venture out of Osaka towards Ise City, home to the Ise Shrines (Ise Jingu), Japan’s most sacred Shinto shrines. The Ise Shrines consist of two major shrines that stand several kilometers apart from each other, the Inner Shrine (Naiku) and the Outer Shrine (Geku), and over a hundred smaller shrines spread across the region.
On arrival, we’ll start with a visit to the Outer Shrine (Gekū). Formally known as the Toyouke Daijingu, the Outer Shrine enshrines Toyouke Omikami, the Shinto deity and guardian of food, housing and clothing. Toyouke provides the food for the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu Omikami, who is enshrined at the Inner Shrine. The Outer Shrine is believed to have been established over 1500 years ago, about 500 years after the Inner Shrine.
After visiting Geku, you will visit Sengukan Museum. Opened in 2012, on the occasion of the shrine’s most recent rebuilding, the museum explains to visitors the monumental shrine rebuilding process. After lunch, the tour continues to the Inner Shrine (Naikū), which is formally known as Kotai Jingu. The Inner Shrine enshrines Shinto’s most venerated deity, the Sun Goddess (Amaterasu Omikami), and is considered Japan’s most sacred shrine. The Inner Shrine is believed to have been established over 2000 years ago. Its main buildings resemble ancient rice granaries and are built in an architectural style that shows almost no influence from the Asian mainland, as they predate the introduction of Buddhism. Dinner is on your own this evening. (B/L)
Start our day early with a pilgrimage to the mountaintop religious center of Mount Koya (Koya-san). Home to over 100 temples, Koya-san has been the center of Shingon Buddhism, an important Buddhist sect, for over 1200 years. Koya-san and its surrounds is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visit Kongobunji Temple, the head monastery of Shingon Buddhism, and home to Japan’s largest rock garden, as well as the Garan temple complex.
After lunch, visit Okunoin, Japan’s largest cemetery and site of the mausoleum of the founder of Shingon Buddhism, Kobo Daishi. The 2 km walk to the mausoleum takes you past 200,000 tombstones, belonging to feudal lords, prominent monks and well known Japanese companies. Return to your hotel and rest before our farewell dinner. (B/L/D)
Depart hotel and head to Kansai Airport for your international flights to the USA. (B) OR continue on our optional post-trip extension to Naoshima Art Island.
Depart your hotel and head to the Shin-Osaka station, where you will ride the bullet train bound for Okayama. Upon arrival, transfer to the Uno port where you will catch the ferry to Naoshima.
After arriving at Naoshima Island, continue to Honmura, a small port town on Naoshima’s eastern coast, which is home to the Art House Project, a collection of abandoned houses, workshops, a temple and a shrine that have been converted into art installations and venues for contemporary art by artists and architects from Japan and abroad. The art houses are scattered throughout town, and most of them are unassuming from the street, blending into the surrounding traditional Japanese neighborhood. The interior of each, however, has been given over to artists to convert into whatever suits their artistic vision.
After visiting Honmura, a private coach will take you to Benesse House for check in. In addition to the art displayed in the on site museum and in the guest rooms, there are nearly twenty art pieces located on the lawns and beaches around the Benesse House, including the famous pumpkin. Many of these can be found along the shore and cliffs below the museum and have been specifically designed to integrate into the natural surroundings in which they are placed. Overnight at the Benesse House (B/L/D)
Begin with a visit to the Lee Ufan Museum, which features works by the Korean contemporary artist Lee Ufan, who was born in Korea but has been working and teaching in Japan. On display are large installations made of stone, concrete and huge slabs of iron, as well as a number of paintings from earlier in his career.
Next, visit the Chichu Art Museum. It is a unique modern art museum built into a hillside overlooking the southern coast of Naoshima. The museum building, designed by Ando Tadao and itself a work of art, is mostly located underground and solely utilizes natural light to illuminate the artwork. This creates a viewing experience that is heavily influenced by the surrounding natural environment.
Before getting back onto the ferry to the mainland you will explore the Miyanoura area. You can enjoy bathing at the I Love Yu bath house for a unique experience if you wish. Hotel Granvia Okayama for 2 nights. (B/L)
Enjoy a full day tour of Okayama Culture Zone, the thriving cultural heart of the city. First, visit the Korakuen Garden. This circuit-style garden is a place of scenic beauty officially recognized by the government. The garden reflects the open, mild atmosphere and climate of the Seto Inland Sea area and has been awarded a three-star rating; its highest rating by the “Michelin Green Guide.”
Next, visit the Yumeji Art Museum. Dedicated to Yumeji Takehisa, one of the leading Japanese artists of the 20th century, exhibits a collection of works by the Okayama native who was called the Japanese Toulouse-Lautrec. His paintings of beautiful, dreamy Japanese women have fascinated art lovers for decades.
Up next is a visit to Okayama Castle. The castle is a modern reconstruction but its inside is devoted to the history of Okayama and the Ikeda feudal family. Inside the museum you will be able to experience Bizen ware making, a traditional craft of Okayama’s, and make your own pottery works under the guidance of an expert potter.
Our last stop will be Hayashibara Museum. Many national treasures and important cultural assets, including utensils that lords used to use, along with antiques, including swords inherited from the Ikeda family who was the former domain lord of Okayama District and Bizen swords, are collected in the museum. (B/L)
Take a bullet train and Airport Express to Kansai International Airport. Please note, we will be taking the earliest train back to Osaka. (B)
Price is based on double occupancy and includes:
Trip prices are based on a minimum number of participants. If this minimum number is not met, trip prices are subject to change. Should the prices need to change, Far Horizons will reach out to registered guests to discuss directly.
Should a roommate be requested and one not be available, the single supplement must be charged.
As a tour company that benefits from the cultural and natural riches of our destinations, we have a policy of donating to the scientific and cultural sites and projects which we visit. This has created a bond between Far Horizons and the academic and local communities that has helped us establish an extensive list of lecturers and contacts in each of our destinations. We ask that each participant donate to the noteworthy project we designate. The donation amount is $150.00 per person. Note that the donation is required as part of your registration for the trip and that it is non-refundable.
Prices are based on currency exchange rates keeping below a projected level. While it is unlikely, if the exchange rates should change substantially, Far Horizons reserves the right to charge an additional amount to the trip cost.
A deposit of $1000 per person is required along with your registration & health forms, which will be linked in the email confirmation you receive once you pay your deposit on our booking platform. Final payment is due 120 days before departure. Prior to departure, you will be sent a reading list and a tour bulletin containing travel information.
Cancellations received in writing at least 120 days before departure will receive a refund less a $500 per person administrative fee. Cancellations received less than 120 days before the departure date will not receive a refund. If for any reason you are unable to complete the trip, Far Horizons will not reimburse any fees. Upon registering for the tour, the purchase of travel protection with both trip cancellation and emergency evacuation is strongly advised. Links to recommended insurance policies will be included in the email you receive confirming receipt of your deposit.
International round trip flights are not included in the cost of the trip. If Far Horizons must change the trip dates or cancel the trip for any reason, Far Horizons is not responsible for any air ticket you may have purchased. Please send your complete air schedule as soon as you have it. NOTE: Please contact Far Horizons if you would like for us to handle your air ticketing.
The private tours of archaeological sites and talks by specialists are scheduled in advance and include a donation to each. Specialists working at these sites are excited about showing their work to interested enthusiasts. However, please be aware that there may be times when the director or a member of the staff may not be on site when our groups arrive due to other commitments.
Far Horizons expects all participants to be physically active and able to walk and climb independently throughout the full touring days. This includes walking over uneven terrain (uphill and downhill) for 2 miles or more at each site. You should expect to be on your feet for much of each day, averaging as much as 5 miles of walking per day. As such, each participant should be able to walk unaided at a pace of 3 miles per hour for at least an hour at a time, and to stand unsupported for at least 60 minutes. Bearing this in mind, we suggest that, if you have not already done so, you begin walking several miles every day, ideally including stairs and hills. If you have questions about your ability to keep up with the group or the strenuous nature of this trip, please contact the Far Horizons staff.
This tour is designed for flexible, energetic people who like to be active, have a spirit of adventure and a positive attitude. We have designed this trip to be as comfortable as possible, while also aiming to visit some remote or unique sites that other companies do not attempt to include in their itineraries. There may be days where we have very long drives and the conditions of the roads may vary. Hotels and transportation in some remote areas may not be up to western standards. There may be times when no bellhops are available; please pack with the understanding that you need to be able to handle your own luggage at times. At times we may be walking over uneven trails for a mile or more; hiking boots are strongly recommended. Not every meal will not be haute cuisine and several lunches may be picnics or box lunches. By maintaining a flexible attitude we will soon be captivated by the beauty of the natural scenery, the hospitality of the local people, and the fascinating sites we will see. Your flexibility and patience will be appreciated.
Changes in our itinerary, accommodations, and transportation schedules may occur. While we are committed to keeping as close to the published details as possible, sometimes it is simply not possible. Weather events, government affairs, or other factors out of our control sometimes come into play. A good book to read as well as patience, flexible attitude, and a sense of humor are essential.