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ZEN & the art of travel

Bespoke holidays to Japan centred around your unique needs, quirks, and interests. Let us know what you have in mind and then we'll take care of the rest. It's that simple.

Yōkoso Nippōn

Welcome To Japan. A friendly country, always organised, spotlessly clean, filled with delights, immersed in beauty, totally safe, and carries with it a total commitment to omotenashi, a divine welcome. With Different Japan you will dig deeper, as we unravel a blanket of modernity from the rich cultural heritage, and get hands-on with everyday life to discover the real Japan.

We will create a truly memorable tailor-made holiday; your desires, likes and dislikes form the foundations of the bespoke itineraries we create. If your intention is to travel, experience and enjoy Japan without compromise – in serene luxury, and accompanied by the finest guides – then we may just be the travel company for you. Zen and the art of travel.

Different Japan is exclusive by design, working with a much smaller number of guests than other travel companies. We prefer to deliver unique holiday experiences tailored to the individual. Our holidays invariably feature many of the 'must-see' sites, but then also the off-the beaten-track and little-known, giving you an insight into the diverse character of Japan.

Sample Itineraries

Expertly designed holidays

Of course, the first-time visitor to Japan will want to see many of the major highlights, though not necessarily all. For many this may involve building in plenty of time for self-discovery, but only in the right place and at the right time. We also include cultural experiences, exciting activities and insightful tours. And we put a great deal of thought into how we operate these, often in a slightly unusual way - perhaps at a different time of day or with privileged access aimed at getting you under the skin of Japan.

 

We will try capture the insane buzz of Tokyo in a single neighbourhood, or a spiritual Kyoto that exists in the here and now and not as an ‘open-air museum’ experience. We want you to hike the volcanoes, mountains and historic trails or bathe in hidden onsens…though always far away from the sightseeing crowds. We will reveal Japan's exuberant pop culture with the same enthusiasm as its celebrated traditional heritage. But remember, everything we do is designed specifically for you.

Japan's culture is immersed in a rich history, with deep traditions dating back thousands of years.

From kaiseki haute-cuisine and saké to streetside yakitori and beer - this is why we love Japan.

Trek on ancient pilgrimage trails, or cycle Kyoto's backstreets or across the Seto Inland Sea.

The modern - futuristic, neon-drenched - and the palaces, shrines and gardens of the ancient.

Tropical beaches in the Pacific, world-class spa's in the city and onsen baths in the countryside.

Japan is so enthralling and entertaining because of the unexpected and, so often, unexplainable.

Accommodation options

Where you choose to stay in Japan carries with it an increased importance, as very often the accommodation is the experience, in and of itself. It could be a characterful and intimate traditional ryokan inn, sometimes centuries-old establishments steeped in traditional Japanese etiquette. Or, by sharp contrast, in a deluxe hotel occupying the top floors of a sleek, modern skyscraper in the city.  

Here we present a representative sample of a few of our favourites - the type of characterful accommodation we prefer and with whom we enjoy great relationships, going back many years. However, forgive us for keeping some of our most cherished selections held-back – exclusive options (for those of us living outside of Japan), luxury ryokans and hotels off the radar of other tour operators.

Hotels

Part funky hotel, part trendy restaurant, part hipster bar, and part creative space.

First Class
central Tokyo, Honshu Island

Three properties in Japan; a Tokyo city hotel, a spa resort and a new sanctuary in Kyoto.

Opulent
Tokyo, Kyoto & Ago Bay, Honshu Island

A perfect resort; low-rise and rustic, yet sumptuous and with empty white sand beaches.

Deluxe
Taketomi, Yaeyama Islands, Okinawa

A zeitgeist-defining hotel, which is boldly urban and with more than a few playful touches.

Deluxe
Osaka, Honshu Island

A stylish and modern urban hotel, harmonised with its surroundings in Japan's ancient capital.

First Class
central Kyoto, Honshu Island

Privately-owned, stylishly-renovated fisherman's houses overlooking a picturesque bay.

Medium
Ine Village, Honshu Island

Cool, sexy, chic, in a great location and with amazing city views; Tokyo's iconic 5-star legend.

Deluxe
central Tokyo, Honshu Island

Ryokans

Iwaso blends traditional style with relaxing rooms, wonderful views and fantastic food.

Deluxe
Miyajiima Island, near Hiroshima, Honshu Island

This famous historic inn, over 300 years old, is commonly regarded as the best ryokan in Japan.

Opulent
Kyoto, Honshu Island

A welcoming and historic ryokan just outside of Tokyo and under the shadow of Mount Fuji.

First Class
Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, Honshu Island

This striking tower hotel in the heart of Tokyo has been uniquely crafted as a Japanese ryokan.

Deluxe
central Tokyo, Honshu Island

An elegant and traditional mountain-side ryokan which simply oozes pedigree and class.

Deluxe
near Takamatsu, Shikoku Island

Remote on the shore of a beautiful lake, a larger ryokan-style hotel with an outstanding spa.

First Class
Lake Shikotsu, Hokkaido Island

A canal-side inn with a perfect combination of classic Japanese charm and modern amenities.

Deluxe
Kurashiki, Honshu Island

An ultra-modern and Zen take on the traditional ryokan, set in a beautiful remote woodland.

Opulent
near Hanazono, Hokkaido Island

Our people in Japan...

...will venture far beyond the call of duty, bring history to life and add both colour and context to everyday observations, ultimately making your trip a truly remarkable experience. Such people are a rare breed, and they can not be found on the 'available to all' freelance rosters used by most larger travel companies. Different Japan work with a different calibre of guide entirely.

 

Our local guides have the knowledge, people-skills, English-ability, insight and experience to bring Japan – both ancient and modern – to your immediate attention. From professional local guides to ex-pats who have made Japan their home, the people we use are simply the best in the business. Following is only a small selection of several we enjoy working closely with.

Explore the streets and meet the locals in a Tokyo neighbourhood with Kauru, and Japan is revealed.

Duncan will show you what makes Japan tick, often in smaller, less crowded and more soulful places.

Osaka native and passionate about the Kansai region, Tokie-san is a ball of energy and enthusiasm.

A trekking guide par excellence. Born in Hokkaido, but experienced on the trails throughout Japan.

A passionate guide, Himari is also cultured, insightful and brings with her a keen sense of humour.

Based down on Shikoku Island, Rod is a qualified saké sommelier and is keen on the great outdoors.

the seasons

when to travel

The seasons matter in Japan, as they somehow feel more pronounced here than anywhere else on earth. Whilst Japan is undoubtedly a year round destination, its essential character shifts with the equinox. From the stunning cherry blossoms of Spring to the golden glow of Autumn, the country never fails to astonish. Summer can be hot and dreamy and during the blissfully quieter Winter much of the country is carpeted with delicious powder snow. We can make a strong case for travelling during any season, there are no wrong answers. But this is your decision to make - not ours - so let us simply try guide you through the possibilities.

Autumn

Early September is hot, but also quiet...which makes it quite wonderful. Then, as the month progresses and Japan heads into Autumn-proper, the sun remains a constant in the sky though its intensity diminishes. Temperatures tend to bounce around the mid-20's, which as far as we are concerned is just about perfect and most especially welcome in the cities.

However, its Japan's lush interior which is the star of the show during Autumn, as leaves turn fiery red or dazzling orange, the maples a startling crimson. This natural show in Japan easily transcends New England's famous 'Fall Colours' every year, in our not-so-humble opinion!

These dazzling colours are everywhere, be it the landscaped gardens of Kanazawa and Okayama, or viewed through a train carriage window in Hakone National Park, whilst hiking through the Japanese Alps, or getting off the beaten-track staying in a remote countryside ryokan in Tohoku or simply when strolling through the quiet back streets of Kyoto. And the crisper, drier weather and cooler evenings make for photograph opportunities aplenty amidst the vivid bursts of autumn colours. 

For the more intrepid, and for sun-worshippers, this is a great time to explore many of Japan's outlying islands, be it in the tropical south and also in the more temperate north. Wherever you are, Autumn's best experience is also it's easiest to organise - let's book you in to a remote luxury ryokan (Japanese Inn), one with a rotenburo (outdoor onsen bath) overlooking the multi-coloured koyo (autumn leaves).

So...cards on the table, if you were to poll long-term residents of Japan, then they would overwhelmingly tell you that Autumn is the best season during which to visit Japan. It's looking its best, the temperature is perfect, it's dry and there are no major national holidays or 'events' to factor in, creating crowds (read; Cherry Blossom season). We won't argue - it may be a truism that most countries look at their best during the height of Autumn yet in Japan, perhaps, this is more overwhelmingly conspicuous than anywhere else. 

Winter

There are so many reasons to visit Japan during the winter months. From snowy castle landscapes and glittering lamp-lit shrines to warm sake and piping hot bowls of ramen in bustling restaurants, Japan takes on a different, more excitable air. Who doesn’t enjoy startling clear-blue dry skies, crisp fresh air, and an almost total absence of tourists? And if the freezing frightens you, then do remember the ambient temperate in the more sheltered eastern and southern regions, where you'll find Kyoto, Hiroshima and Nara, is actually quite mild. Indeed, Tokyo rarely get 'that' cold. Japan is largely split in two by the winter weather - the north and west of the country gets heavy snowfall, and simply looks simply exquisite under a carpet of deep powder, whereas the afore mentioned east and south rarely gets even frosty.

Winter is a great time to explore the cities, most especially Kyoto where moments of hushed solitary contemplation are possible in its many gardens and temples and shrines – simply not possible at other times of the year. This is also a wonderful (and romantic) time to head out in to Japan's countryside to soak in an outdoor onsen in a cosy ryokan. There really is nothing better than sitting in a hot spring as the snowflakes land softly on your head and steam rises all around.

The Yuletide holidays are quite magical, as Japan leans in to these Western festivities. It's like stepping in to a Christmas card during the weeks before the big day itself, as the city streets sparkle and the atmosphere crackles. However, notwithstanding all the build up Christmas Day itself can be something of an anti-climax, just another regular working day which comes and goes. But it's a good day to get out of the city to walk around temples and traditional villages in rural Japan is simply enchanting at this time of year. And New Year? Well, it's a major holiday in Japan and celebrated with gusto.

Other 'must-see' only-in-winter highlights include the dancing cranes of Tsurui, up on Hokkaido Island, or the onsen-bathing snow monkeys of Joshinetsu-Kogen National Park. For the ultimate frigid experience, the Sapporo Snow Festival in February is the biggest winter festival in Asia and an awesome experience. 

The truth - winter is our favourite time to be in Japan.  But we're somewhat biased. Our sister company - Different Snow - specialises in ski and snowboard holidays to Japan. With the best powder snow in the world, it falls reliably deep every winter across both Honshu and Hokkaido Islands. No-one knows more about skiing in Japan than us and if you would want to build in several days (or more) on the slopes, or in the backcountry, then you are in our wheelhouse. We feature 12 different ski resorts, from internationally-acclaimed Niseko up on Hokkaido Island to smaller, more characterful Japanese ski resorts such as Nozawa Onsen and Myoko Kogen in the Japanese Alps. We can organise everything; transfers, ski guides, lessons, ski and snowboard equipment hire, lift passes...etc. 

Spring

In late March, and then throughout most of April, a simple phenomenon takes place; the cherry blossoms open, and then fall. This is sakura season and it is considered by most to be the most perfect time to visit Japan. The blossoms tend to arrive in the southern extremities of Japan in early to mid-March and then sweep north through Japan, usually arriving in Kyoto and Tokyo for two or three weeks from late March / early April, and then the last sakura fall on Northern Hokkaido Island in early May. The blossoms really peak (mankai) about a week after the buds first open; and the weekend nearest mankao is when the Japanese get the most excited and sakura-viewing parties are at their peak.

But to reduce Spring to only 'sakura' would be to do it a huge disservice - the meticulous gardens, and verdant countryside are at their best, and the mountains are green, and gorgeous. And with optimal temperatures in the city, it's simply a lovely time to be in Japan.

Which leads us on to an over-arching consideration - the crowds. April is the  month everyone wants to come to Japan, for very good reasons admittedly, and so therefore it can get very busy. Kyoto, most especially, can present a challenge because of the sheer number of visitors which impact both the major sights and the available accommodation. By all means come to Japan during the Spring, but this is the season during which you need us more than ever - to turn left, when all others turn right, to find you a bed (or futon) which would otherwise be a scarce commodity, and to hook you up with a guide skilled in revealing a hidden Japan, away from the coach-dependant masses.

As the cherry blossoms disappear and the grounds of parks, pavements and even rivers are carpeted with the fallen petals, then 'Golden Week' is upon us. At the beginning of May, this major Japanese national holiday hikes up accommodation costs and, once again, creates a throng at the major sights. However, later in May and in to June has its rewards; the weather is mild, gardens are in bloom and the mountainsides are lush and green. Once again this is, without doubt, one of the best times to travel.

The weather usually remains lovely all the way through until mid to late-June, when a very wet, yet very short 'rainy season' hits Japan. And this is why we will never send anyone to Japan in late June - it rains and rains and rains solid for about 2 weeks, before the heat rises and summer hits you.

Summer

The hottest months of the year come after the late June rains…and therein the most challenging season during which to travel to Japan is upon us. But let us make the case for the summer months, not least because many if us welcome, indeed relish, the heat. We certainly enjoy the lack of crowds. And travelling in the cooling countryside, mountains and National Parks, blooming at their pristine best, can be wonderfully refreshing and restorative. Summer is also the season for festivals and it is out here, in the hill towns and in remote shrines, that many of these celebrations take place. Convinced yet? As far as we are concerned, we honestly believe that summer is a great season in which to explore Japan.

For many Japanese this summer exodus from the city holds true, though they can only leave for short periods at a time only (work / life balance is rarely a 'thing' in Japan). For a short break during the school holidays many choose to return to their home towns, adding a vibrancy and energy to rural life not always seen at other times of the year. 

However, spending time in the mega-cities is a key part of any Japan adventure so we need to adapt and come up with innovative strategies to keep cool in the summer (though one must reluctantly acknowledge that blanket coverage by effective, and blissful, air-con is a Godsend). We try take the pace out of the sticky days in the urban jungle, perhaps simply by building in time to to visit one of the many wonderful 'pop up' beer gardens on the roofs of departments stores.

O-Bon in mid August is a week to avoid, because it is one of Japan's three major national holidays (alongside New Year & Golden Week). There is a lot of domestic travel and, therefore, increased accommodation rates or, more critically, simply 'no room at the inn'. 

What our customers say

5 star rating

Our customers rate us 'Excellent'

Very happy honeymooners...

Wonderful experience from start to finish. The binder they send you is like your Bible when you are out there. It has everything in you will need, from hotel addresses to train times, to advice about what to do whilst you're there. Trust the binder! Definitely will be using them for my next Japan trip.

Ashleigh  ·  TrustPilot (verified review)

I can’t rate Different Snow highly enough...

Different Snow put together a well thought out and carefully researched tailored three week trip. Their recommendations for hotels, sightseeing, entertainment and dining were spot on.

David  ·  TrustPilot (verified review)

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Begin your journey
How to book

It's pretty straight forward. You simply need to take the first step by getting in contact with us...

Contact

Give us a call, or fill in the enquiry form, or send us an email. We’ll listen, give advice and make suggestions.

Itinerary

We create a tailor-made itinerary proposal and email this to you. Together, we then refine it until it is just as you want.

Deposit

A 20% deposit secures the booking. The balance payment is not due until 10 weeks before departure.

Travel

We post out your comprehensive travel pack, and then you travel in Japan under the care of our various local partners.