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Itinerary

A Family Adventure

Tokyo – Hiroshima & Miyajima – Kurashiki - Kyoto
2 weeks

Travelling as a family is a very particular affair – we’ve found what works well for some does not necessarily translate for another family, depending on ages (and interests) of the kids, the preferred pace of travel and quite how ‘active’ the parents are prepared to get. This is where our tailor-made approach, combined with years of experience of creating itineraries for families and a somewhat innovative approach all pay dividend.

So what do we know universally works well for families? Establishing fewer bases from which to explore (this itinerary has only four stops only, though much is achieved from each) and maintaining a certain momentum, punctuated by activity, which does much to avoid kids finding sanctuary in smart phones and iPads. And Japan delivers in spades – all generations tend to find Japan fascinating, not for any confection. Instead, simply because it is…both the quirky modern and the enchanting ancient. This itinerary has you exploring both Tokyo and Kyoto beyond the ordinary, and then also getting to grips with Hiroshima’s modern history and embracing the artistic ambience of Kurashiki and Naoshima. All the while, the experience of being in Japan is realised through activity, be it on bicycles, kayaks, using ferries or travelling on bullet-trains.

Content

WHERE WILL YOU STAY & WHAT WILL YOU BE DOING?

accommodation & activity

Tokyo is not the place for traditional ryokans or even boutique hotels - we'll tick these boxes elsewhere on your travels in Japan. This is a high-rise city and many of the luxury hotels occupy the top floors of imposing skyscrapers, with amazing views across the urban sprawl. Therefore, the most important decision we need to consider is 'where?' - which district of Tokyo you choose to base yourself in making all the difference. We often prefer to base our guests with families over in the west of the city, Shinjuku or Shibuya, because these are the main entertainment districts, full of restaurants, shopping streets, parks and many of the youth-orientated and hipster hangouts. There are many luxury hotels in Shinagawa and Shiodome - several of them very nice - be we do tend to avoid these properties because...well, they are 'nothing' neighbourhoods, very business-orientated and lacking in character - leaving kids underwhelmed.

 

It is perfectly possible to explore Tokyo by yourself - most of the signs are now in English, the overground and subway rail system is second-to-none and a decent guide book will tell you much of what you need to know. We also publish our own pragmatic self-touring notes, which also include many personal recommendations. But to have a local guide accompany you undoubtedly elevates the experience, at the very least getting you between the 'must-see' sights more efficiently or - more importantly - explaining, adding context and showing you lesser-visited neighbourhoods which will no doubt form your most cherished memories of the capital. With teenagers, then we tend to focus on Shibuya, Tokyo’s main centre for youth fashion and culture, whose streets are the birthplace to many of Japan's fashion and entertainment trends. It is also home to the famous 5-way “scramble crossing”. Next is Harajuku, and the famous Takeshita dori (Cat Street). Whether you are a goth, punk or anything in between, there is a shop in Harajuku that caters for you. Known as Electric Town, Akihabara was originally famous for its many electronics shops. Perhaps you'd prefer that we weight the itinerary with 'experiences' as opposed to 'sights', such as cookery classes, ninja workshops or visiting a sumo stable? It's Tokyo - the world's most exciting city and the possibilities are limitless! 

 

You will stay in a ryokan on Miyajima Island. You stay on Miyajima Island, but then your guide will take you back to the mainland for the day in Hiroshima - all perfectly possible to do self-guided (and we can provide comprehensive notes), but it is a poignant experience better delivered by a local.

 

Kurashiki offers a 'small town' counter-point to everywhere else on the itinerary and it is possible to stay in either a hotel or ryokan here, the best being canal-side. It is wonderful exploring this preserved the quaint shops, cafes and art museums of this old town, a compact but picturesque maze of streets around a central canal that is lined with willow trees. Nearby, Naoshima is an island in the Seto Inland Sea, dotted with sculptures, art museums and golden beaches, a rural and relaxing place to walk, cycle and unwind, regardless of your opinion of modern art. And then Okayama, the city nearby, has its own treasures to boast. Korakuen, one of Japan’s three famous landscape gardens, and the reconstructed Okayama Castle peers over the greenery to improve everyone’s snapshots of the spacious lawns.

 

The layout of Kyoto is most unusual for Japan, because in this instance the main railway station is not the hub around which everything revolves. Instead, a couple of miles further north are the districts of Gion, Shijo, Higashiyama, Karasuma and this is where we prefer to base our clients - neighbourhoods in which you can walk out the door and soak up the atmosphere of old Japan, close to the temples, shrines, geisha districts and markets. However, there are many hotels down by the station, indeed most, and tour operators without a clue would have you stay here. In Kyoto - not a high-rise city - you can stay in either in a ryokan, and Kyoto is home to Japan's most historic and finest, or in a stylish hotel, often with its own landscaped gardens. Or both. All that we insist on is that where you stay has a relationship with its surroundings - in style, in decor, in its sense of hospitality. This is Kyoto after all and every hotel or ryokan ought to have its essential character running through its veins.

 

However many days we have allocated to Kyoto in your itinerary, it won't be enough. There is simply so much to see and do in Kyoto and the more time to have to linger, the more will be revealed. And because there are so many 'must-see' temples, shrines and gardens we strongly suggest that we throw away the rule book and instead commit to explore at your own pace, not worrying unduly about missing any one 'big ticket' sight. Consider turning left when everyone else turns right and our local guides know where, when and why you should do this. In Kyoto, they add so much. Here more than anywhere else in Japan does local insight, knowledge and personal relationships pay more dividend. And your sightseeing should not be limited to only Kyoto - use the city as a base from which to explore the region. Arashiyama, Nara, Hikone and even Osaka itself and all with day-tripable distance.

 

Itinerary

Day 1
Depart from your local airport, and then fly direct to Japan from Heathrow or wherever is most convenient.
Day 2
Arrive in Tokyo, where you are met by our representative, and then you have a private transfer to your central hotel. The remainder of the day is left free - time to relax after the long journey to Japan.
Days 3 & 4
Plenty of time to explore Tokyo. But not only explore, but also to experience whatever interests you as a family? Harajuku is epicentre of Japan’s - indeed, the world’s – teen culture and then the futuristic neighbourhoods of Akihabara and Nakano Broadway (along with Studio Ghibli) are the holy grail for those obsessed by Otaku culture – an anime and gaming enthusiast’s nirvana. Then throw in cat / owl / hedgehog / bunny cafes, sumo stables and futuristic electronics showrooms and you’ve got a heady mix for all the generations to enjoy…along with simple pleasures such as cycling around more traditional neighbourhoods and a global cuisine, to endless options satisfy even the fussiest eaters. With a guide, or exploring yourselves, there is enough to do in Tokyo to keep the whole family entertained for weeks, and weeks!
Day 5
The ultimate bullet-train journey, across half the length of Honshu Island, to Hiroshima. From here you head over on a ferry to Miyajima Island, a rural retreat and home to one of Japan’s most iconic images - Itsukushima Shrine. Check in to your Japanese ryokan, for a couple of nights sleeping on a futons on tatami mats. Indeed, on this first afternoon on the island you could grab a kayak and circle Japan's most famous floating Tori Gate.
Day 6
Head back to the mainland for a morning visiting the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park – educational, moving, impactful and providing an essential lesson accessible for young minds to learn. Head back to Miyajima Island after lunch in the city and spend the afternoon with the free-roaming deer on the flanks Mount Misen – cable car up and then walk back down?
Day 7
Back to Hiroshima Station and it’s a bullet-train again up the coast to Okayama (amazing castle and beautiful Japanese gardens) and then local train on to gorgeous Kurashiki – a backwater idyll of boutiques, cafes and a preserved canal area that dates back to the Edo Period. A charming town in which to base yourself for several nights, enough time to become accustomed and feel at home.
Day 8
A relaxing day in Kurashiki – explore the canal area and visit the impressive Ohara museum, which includes a private gallery featuring masterpieces of Western art by Picasso, El Greco, Gauguin, Modigliani, Rodin, Klee, Pollock and Kandinsky among others and also craft art gallery with displays of ceramics, woodblock prints, stencil dyeing, and other crafts.
Day 9
A day trip to Naoshima, an island in the Seto Inland Sea and accessed by ferry from nearby Uno (close to Okyama). Here you will have rental bicycles (including electric bikes for more reluctant and ‘relaxed’ cyclists) and spend the day exploring this amazing tiny island known for its modern art museums, architecture and sculptures (along with a laid-back Mediterranean atmosphere, sandy beaches and often wondrously sunny weather).
Day 10
Leaving your base in Kurashiki you head back to the bullet-trains and make the short hop to Kyoto – Japan’s ancient capital. Here you can stay in your own 'townhouse' for the next four nights, enjoying the independence and freedom this offers.
Days 11 to 13
Three full days to explore Kyoto, either with or without a guide - we’d suggest using a guide to tick off the sights, orientate you but then also build-in free time for you to enjoy Kyoto as a family. Temple and shrine fatigue can be tempered with activities such as private Taiko drumming lessons, practising how to become a 'ninja' in a nearby small theme park and getting on your bikes to explore quieter neighbourhoods. All generations will enjoy ‘geisha spotting’ in the early evenings when immersed in Gion’s smaller alleyways.
Day 14
Private transfer from your accommodation in Kyoto to Kansai Airport and then fly directly home.

An indication of cost

An indicative per person cost for this two week itinerary would be circa £6,480 to £7,600, which would include luxury accommodation, private transfers from and to airports, the activities and excursions (with private guide) as shown, bullet-train tickets in Green Car (first class), and international flights from the UK in the World Traveller Plus cabin (Premium Economy).

 

Obviously, the price you pay depends on the accommodation you choose (and room category), for how many days you would prefer to book a private guide, which cabin you like to fly in (if you'd like for us to include the international flights)...etc. Because all of our holidays are tailor-made, by altering the itinerary, changing the accommodation selections and/or taking another look at the inclusions we can usually adjust the total price – either down to match your budget or enhancing it further with upgrades.

 

If you were to move the dates in to peak periods (Cherry Blossom Season, Golden Week, New Year and the such), then the cost could potentially rise. And, of course, if you wanting the absolute finest, most prestigious accommodation - the Aman in Tokyo, or the Tawaraya Ryokan in Kyoto by way of example - then costs will once again head north.

 

We don't have to include international flights. However, by keeping it all within one package, your arrangements are protected by our ATOL licence which offers financial peace-of-mind for you.

 

Different Japan strive to offer the most competitive prices in all instances - just because you may have a larger budget at your disposal, this does not then mean that 'value' assumes any lower priority. We will always keep a keen eye on cost by using any promotions available and seeking the best value with every airline, hotel and/or service provider we use. We explore all the available options and monitor our costs against what you would be able to buy direct, ensuring we are always the better option.

 

However, we pride ourselves first and foremost on quality - we are an independent specialist tour operator and, therefore, are not beholden to any supplier. We make our decisions based only on who's best in each and every instance.

What our customers say

5 star rating

Our customers rate us 'Excellent'

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)

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)

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