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Explore Tokyo's neon-lit streets, discover Kyoto's tranquil temples and visit the site of the world's first atomic attack in Hiroshima. Travel away from the tourist trail to uncover the country's rural charm with a stay in a traditional ryokan on the beautiful island of Hirado.
Explore Tour Leader
2 nights simple guesthouse
8 nights comfortable hotel
1 nights simple ryokan
Trip maximum 16 Explore Average 11
Itineraries on some departure dates may differ, please select the itinerary that you wish to explore.
Arrive in Tokyo, the ultra-modern capital of Japan.
For those arriving on time our Leader plans to meet you in the hotel reception at 6.30pm for the welcome meeting. If some of the group are arriving on later flights then the main introductory briefing will be conducted on the morning of day 2 with everybody present. After this we have dinner included at a nearby local restaurant where you will have the chance to sample various types of 'izakaya' style Japanese cuisine. There are no other activities planned today, so you are free to arrive in Tokyo at any time. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you'll need to arrive into Haneda Airport (HND) or Narita Airport (NRT). The city centre is around an hour away from Haneda Airport and an hour and a half from Narita. Should you miss the welcome meeting, your Leader will inform you of any essential information as soon as you catch up.
Kanzashi Tokyo Asakusa Hotel (or similar)
Over one-quarter of the Japanese population live within a 50 km radius of the centre of Tokyo, making it the most populous metropolitan area in the world. The result is a bustling and exciting city - the economic powerhouse of Asia. However, scratching its neon-clad surface reveals a city bursting with history and tradition.
We start our sightseeing with a morning stroll to Tokyo's oldest temple, Senso-ji, in Asakusa, a great introduction to Tokyo's unique culture. We then board a boat for a short journey along the Sumida River. Gaining a totally different perspective of the city, we drift past high rise apartments, secluded gardens and busy warehouses. After arriving in the heart of the city we visit Hamarikyu Gardens.
At a convenient time in the day we will get our Japan Rail Passes validated in a nearby station. Please note that for late bookings, and people who have not provided their passport copy in time as requested, it will not be possible to issue a Japan Rail Pass and you will be provided with individual train tickets for the included journeys instead.
After some free time for lunch we visit Meiji shrine. The rest of the afternoon is at leisure to seek out other areas of this fascinating city such as the trendy back streets of Harajuku, the busiest crossing in the world at Shibuya, or the skyscraper district of Shinjuku with its incredible robot restaurant and the latest electronic gadgets.
Today, we spend the day exploring Hakone National Park - home to the towering Mount Fuji - after a 2.5hour drive in our private bus from Tokyo. Although distances are short, we use a variety of forms of transport including bus, boat and cable car as we make our way initially to the hot, bubbling sulphur springs at Owakudani - a volcanic crater formed during the last eruption of Mount Hakone. From here, on a clear day, there are magnificent views of the snow-capped mountain that is so synonymous with Japan. Whilst at the springs, you may wish to join the locals in eating an egg boiled in the sulphur pools - just one is reputed to increase life expectancy by seven years! Our next stop is Lake Ashi, a magnificent lake created from the eruption of the Hakone Volcano over 3000 years ago. A short boat ride takes us to Moto Hakone where you may choose to relax in one of the lakeside restaurants.
In Hakone, we are accommodated in a traditional inn, known as a ryokan, where we sleep on comfortable, folding futon mattresses. During our stay, we learn about local etiquette, such as when to take off our shoes and the pleasures of taking a Japanese bath, all of which helps enhance our stay in this traditional establishment.
We include the luggage forwarding service today to ship our main bags to Kyoto to travel light with an overnight bag. Please refer to the Trip Information; Budgeting and packing; Luggage on tour section for more information.
Fuji Hakone Guest House (or similar)
Leaving the mountains behind us, we catch a local bus to Odawara where we board the world-famous 'Bullet Train', or Shinkansen, to Kyoto - the cradle of all things uniquely Japanese, arriving around midday. This imperial capital was at the heart of events that shaped Japan's destiny for more than 1000 years. As the only major Japanese city to remain unscathed by World War II bombings, signs of the past are in its grand temples and palaces, and also in the many quaint shops selling traditional wares. This afternoon, we head to the famous geisha district of Gion. Here, we hope to catch a glimpse of these enigmatic entertainers as they scuttle to work in the teahouses or high-class restaurants, and we'll meet with an apprentice (maiko) for a private tea and get the chance to interact, ask questions and take photos.
Hotel Elcient Kyoto (or similar)
Kyoto is regarded as Japan's loveliest city, with more than 2000 temples and shrines, many set in manicured landscaped gardens. We start with the Ryoan-ji Temple with its beautiful Zen gardens and famous rock garden. The exact history of the gardens is uncertain but the temple was converted from an aristocrat's villa in 1450. Whilst in the gardens try testing out the theory that at least one of the rocks is hidden from every vantage point. We then explore the famous Golden Pavilion. The temple is a three storey building with the top two tiers covered in gold leaf. Set in a lake the building appears to float on the water and the reflections, coupled with the background of forest make it worthy of its place on many Japanese postcards. We will also visit Nijo Castle. Built in 1603 as a Shogun palace, it is a great example of the sumptuous setting in which the Shogun would have held audiences with his samurai warriors. The grounds and gates are impressive but the real highlights are the nightingale floors and the extensive gardens. There is also time to stroll along Kyoto's charming streets and tree-lined canals, simply soaking up its unique atmosphere and your Explore Leader will take you to some of their own favourite sites while exploring Japan's former capital.
Today is left free for your own personal exploration of wonderful Kyoto. For an option outside of the city, it is possible to take an trip to nearby Nara, a journey of 45 minutes each way by train. Nara is one of Japan's greenest cities and is home to the Todai-ji Temple, until very recently the world's largest wooden building, it is also home to a giant bronze Buddha statue. All of Nara's highlights can be explored by foot so it makes for an easy day's exploration.
An early morning Shinkansen train takes us to Hiroshima, where we will spend the morning exploring this thought-provoking city in our own time. Completely destroyed on 6th August 1945, when it was the target of the first atomic bomb to be used in wartime, Hiroshima has literally risen from the ashes, and is now a thriving, friendly and welcoming city.
We plan a visit to The Peace Memorial Park and the well-presented museum on the site of the 1945 A-bomb hypocentre. Whilst serving as poignant reminders of the nuclear holocaust, their over-whelming message is of hope that such horrors will never reoccur. Travel around the city is easy, thanks to the provision of colourful street trams, brought in from all over Japan after the war.
This afternoon, we regroup continue our journey to Nagasaki by both Shinkansen and the excellent local train service, where we will spend the next two nights. This is a city with an eventful history and was, of course, the target of the second atomic bomb attack on Japan. In a cruel twist of fate, the city bore the unimaginable brunt of a last-minute change of plan, when the preferred target of Kokura was obscured by cloud.
We include the luggage forwarding service today to ship our main bags to Nagasaki to travel light. Note that the bags will arrive tomorrow so you will need to travel with an overnight bag. Please refer to the Trip Information; Budgeting and packing; Luggage on tour section for more information.
Inasayama Kanko Hotel (or similar)
This morning the tour leader will lead an orientation tour of Nagasaki, which, for long periods in its history has served as Japan's main contact with the outside world. In the 16th century, the city became established as the main trade point with the Portuguese. As well as providing wealth from trade, the Portuguese introduced Christianity. After almost a century of turmoil, the religion was banned, foreign traders were expelled, and Japan closed its doors to the West.
The one exception was the artificial island in Nagasaki harbour, Dejima. This small, closely guarded enclave was the site of the Dutch Trading Mission, which remained Japan's only contact with the outside world for almost 200 years. During our visit here, we can see that some of the original features remain, as well as some excellent reconstructions of the 18th century buildings. Continuing our tour in the Glover Gardens, we will see fine foreign residences of the Meiji period and enjoy impressive views over Nagasaki Harbour, perhaps the most scenic harbour view in Japan.
The afternoon has been left free to explore this historic city in your own time. You may choose to visit Gunkanjima 'battleship island' Museum, Nagasaki Peace Park and Museum, Central Nagasaki and the Spectacles Bridge area, China Town or Mount Inasa - one of the 'three greatest night time views in Japan'.
This morning we travel by private coach along a scenic road through the Higashi-Sonogi tea growing region. We'll stop at a terraced tea plantation and walk through the fields to the tea farmer's house. There'll be an opportunity to sample some of the brew including green 'Sencha' and roasted 'Hojicha' teas before enjoying a traditional style lunch with the local tea farmers. After lunch we continue our journey north to Hirado Island, on arrival before checking in to our accommodation we will visit Kameoka shrine and park as well as Hirado Castle. Hirado city prospered as a castle town for almost 500 years. Its excellent port enabled it to become the central stage for trade with China, Holland and Portugal from the 17th century. The next two nights are spent in a simple Ryokan or japanese style accommodation with futon-style beds and the chance to take another hot spring bath. Dinner will be a traditional Kaiseki Ryori - Japanese multi-course meal.
We include the luggage forwarding service once again today to ship our main bags to Fukuoka in order to travel light, packing our rucksacks for the two-night stay on the island of Hirado. Please refer to the Trip Information; Budgeting and packing; Luggage on tour section for more information.
Saiyou Wakigawa Hotel (or similar)
Today, we will explore the pristine and unspoiled islands of Hirado and Ikitsuki, connected by an impressive 400 metre-long bridge which happens to be the longest truss bridge in the world. Accompanied by a local expert on a full day tour in our charter mini-bus, we will discover rural Japan and take in the remote countryside of the Hidden Christians. Lunch today is a locally sourced Japanese bento box. Along the island shores, fishing remains one of the main occupations, but we also have the opportunity to learn about traditional industries along the way. We will discover the wonderful Matsura museum, housed in the former residence of the Matsura family who ruled the area from the 13th Century. On our journey, we will gain views of the spectacular coastlines and towering cliffs on these beautiful islands.
This morning we will travel in our mini-bus to Sasebo where we enjoy spectacular views on a relaxing cruise through the fabled 'Ninety Nine Islands'. In actual fact, 170 islands, mostly uninhabited, lie alongside the indented saw-toothed coastline. Later we travel by local train (2hrs) to Fukuoka where we spend the night, the last stop on our Shogun Trail. The rest of the afternoon is left free for sightseeing and gift or souvenir shopping.
Route Inn Hakata Eki-mae (or similar)
The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Fukuoka.
There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Fukuoka at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel, while you head for some last minute shopping or sightseeing. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you need to depart from Fukuoka Airport (FUK) which is around 20 minutes away.
Japan's climate is mostly temperate, with five distinct seasons. Summer is from June to September with temperatures reaching 30°c, although it can vary from warm to very hot. after mid-July. July and August can be humid. Spring and Autumn are mild throughout Japan. Winter, October to April, is cold with snowfall. The main rainy season is June. Japan can be prone to short, tropical cyclones in August to October. October / November although cooler is a great time to see the Autumn colours.
For trips that visit the Snow Monkeys at Jigokudani Onsen, you're very likely to see them all year around, aside from in October/November when there is enough food in the forest to prevent them coming down to the baths. You may still see some at this time but not in the numbers found during the rest of the year.
2 Pin Flat
Buddhism, Christian and Shinto
Tokyo - trip to Kamakura £20.00. Kyoto - Boat trip on Hozu River £30.00. Train to Nara - £10. Nagasaki - Sunset on Mt. Inasa £15
Rain gear is essential all year. You will need warm clothing from October through until April when temperatures drop, especially at night. December until February are particularly cold so bring extra layers if you are travelling at this time.
Comfortable shoes, and sandals for relaxing.
You should take one main piece of baggage and a daypack. Your main luggage won't always accompany you, being forwarded from Tokyo to Kyoto, from Kyoto to Nagasaki (arriving in Nagasaki the day after you) and then from Nagasaki to the final nightstop at Fukuoka. Your daypack should therefore have sufficient space for overnights in Hakone and Nagasaki and a 2 night stay on Hirado. We recommend a compact suitcase with wheels or good quality rucksack. The reason we include this luggage forwarding service is to avoid being encumbered on the train journeys, where you will be responsible for your luggage, and this will involve train connections where you will need to change platforms in stations where there may be no lifts or escalators and with a limited connection time. It is not obligatory; should you wish to keep your main bag with you throughout the trip please let the Tour Leader know upon arrival or at time of booking, and in this case we strongly recommend either a compact suitcase with wheels or a good quality rucksack, as well as packing relatively light so you can easily move your luggage from point to point and up and down stairs. Hotels in Japan frequently have excellent self-service laundry facilities with convenient washer driers that dispense detergent and softener so it is easy to travel light and wash your clothes as you go along.
Japan's rail network has a policy that requires passengers with oversized baggage to reserve a specific seat in an oversized baggage area. This relates to baggage with overall dimensions of over 160cm (taken by adding the height+width+depth measurements). These overall dimensions are around the same for which oversized baggage fees are charged on international airlines, so it's unlikely that you will be bringing a suitcase of this size. However, it is worth checking the dimensions and then repacking with a smaller case if necessary. Due to the complexities of booking these seats, if you arrive with an oversized bag, our team in Japan will ship the luggage from one place to the next from the beginning to the end of the tour, at an additional cost.
Bring a water bottle to save on purchase of plastic bottles and a small torch. Hairdryers are provided at all the hotels.
Bus, Boat, Train
On three nights we stay in traditional Japanese style accommodation. The rooms are twins with traditional tatami-mat (woven soft 'igusa' straw) flooring and futons to sleep on. Generally the rooms are simply decorated with a low 'kotatsu' table to sit around, a scroll or picture in an alcove and a Japanese tea set. The two futons are brought out at night. Shoes are removed in the entrance way to the room and the accommodation has shared toilets and traditional same sex communal baths and showers.
Can you drink the water?
It is generally possible to drink the local tap water, therefore to reduce the need for single-use plastic bottles we recommend you bring a refillable water bottle with you. Your leader will advise you on refill points each day.
We strongly recommend that you check your government's travel advisory for up-to-date information and advice about your destination: safety and security, entry requirements, health, local laws and customs. For UK citizens, check the latest Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office advice.
Please refer to our COVID-19 entry requirements page for any country-specific conditions of entry. Whilst we strive to update this on a regular basis we recommend you also check the FCDO website for the latest advice on entry requirements in this fast-evolving situation. Information can change at any time.
Please note that some countries require proof of parental consent when travelling overseas with under 18s. Please check requirements with the relevant embassy or consular office well in advance of travel if this applies to your party.
Once your booking has been confirmed we guarantee the price will not increase, whatever the circumstances. However, please note that if you voluntarily make any changes to your booking including changing your trip or departure date, any additional costs or charges incurred will not be covered. Before booking please ensure you have read our important tour pricing information.Booking Conditions
British passport holder do not require visa to enter Japan for tourism purposes. All visa related issues for other nationalities should be confirmed with the relevant Embassy prior to departure. A clear copy, either as a scanned photocopy or photo, of your main passport photo page is required. Please ensure that all the information is clearly visible with none of the edges missing. This is required by our local agent to finalise the train tickets and is required no later than 6 weeks prior to travel. Explore will request this from you approximately 8 weeks prior to departure. If passport copies are not received this will delay the purchase of the train tickets and may cause an increased customer charge.
If you do require assistance in obtaining a visa then you may be able to apply through Explore's recommended visa service in the UK, Travcour. See www.travcour.com to download the relevant visa application for your trip, if applicable (UK citizens only), along with details of how to apply for your visa through Travcour. The Team at Travcour will be happy to answer specific questions relating to visa applications, please call them directly on 0208 5431846.
It is your responsibility to ensure that you are in possession of a full passport, with the correct validity for your chosen destination.
Before booking your Explore trip, please ensure that you read both our Essential Information and Booking Conditions.
Customers who have chosen to book on the ‘Land Only’ arrangements of our tour, please ensure that you have checked your tour specific ‘Joining Instructions’ prior to booking your own travel arrangements. Your joining instructions can be found below in the dates and prices information.
You may also be eligible for the Free Explore Transfer.
Customers booked on the ‘Land Only’ arrangements will receive a Free Transfer, provided you arrive and depart on the tour only itinerary start and end dates. The complimentary transfers will be arranged from the Explore designated airport or train station to your trips joining point, and then back from the ending point to the designated airport or train station. Generally the airport or station that Explore have selected will be the one that is closest to the town or city where the trip starts, or the one nearest to the joining point. It will be either an airport or train station but not both.
The exception to this rule is customers who are booked on a tour where the joining and ending point is at the designated airport or train station.
Free transfers are not available for Polar customers.
If you are not eligible for the Free Transfer then you will need to make your own way through to the joining and ending point. On a majority of our tours Explore will be able to provide a private transfer at an additional cost. Please ask for a quote at the time of booking.
For more information regarding the Explore Free Transfer click here
It is a condition of booking with Explore that you have adequate valid travel insurance. It is your responsibility to arrange appropriate travel insurance and ensure you have read and understood the full terms and conditions of your travel insurance policy to ensure that you are covered for all activities you intend to undertake whilst on the tour, including all optional activities. Your Insurance Policy must fully cover you for medical expenses and emergency repatriation to your home country. Please ensure your policy includes medical emergency helicopter evacuation in the event of illness or injury and covers the entire duration of your holiday. If you are trekking at altitude please ensure that there is no upper altitude limit which may limit or exclude cover for your trip. The cost of many of our Polar Voyages will exceed the capped amount covered by standard insurance premiums and you will be required to pay an additional premium to cover the full value of your trip. Please ensure that you are covered for the full amount of your holiday cost, as insufficient cover could invalidate a claim under the policy. Medical and repatriation insurance cover is not mandatory for UK residents who are travelling on trips within the United Kingdom.
Read more information about what travel insurance is required.
Explore offers a wide range of flexible flying options to make joining and leaving our trips easy. Read more about them here.
You are able to book this tour on a 'land only' basis or as a ‘flight inclusive’ package. Your flight inclusive package will be fully protected by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) ATOL protection scheme.
We have a good selection of flights not only from London but from many regional airports around the UK allowing us to compare fares between scheduled carriers as well as low cost and charter airlines. Our dedicated flights team will match the best flight options to your arrival and departure airport.
On our website we display a UK flight inclusive package guide price which is generally based on a London departure. To avoid paying supplements or to secure your preferred flight option, we recommend booking as early as possible, especially for peak travel dates.
Nothing compulsory. We recommend protection against typhoid, tetanus, infectious hepatitis and polio. The use or possession of Vicks inhalers and some other common prescription and over-the-counter medicines (e.g. for allergies and sinus problems or even certain mild painkillers, such as those containing certain levels of codeine) are banned under Japan's strictly enforced anti-stimulant drugs law. Customs officials may not be sympathetic if you claim ignorance about these medicines. If in any doubt about customs procedures for such items, you should check with the nearest Japanese Embassy before visiting Japan. Please check the latest requirements with your travel clinic or doctor prior to departure. The above is not an exhaustive list. Further information regarding vaccinations and travel health advice can be found by following the NHS and NaTHNaC links at Explore Travel Health and from your local healthcare provider. Visa and vaccination requirements are subject to change and should be confirmed by you before travelling.