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A Sakura Adventure

Kyoto - Kanazawa - Lake Kawaguchiko - Tokyo - Hirosaki
2 weeks

A simple statement of fact; Spring is a wonderful time to travel, as Japan looks at its best. However, many of the major sights get packed with tourists, all gathered to view the cherry blossoms. But what most don't realise is that cherry trees are everywhere in Japan, not only in the famous sightseeing spots. Indeed, almost every temple, shrine, hillside and alley has a few cherry trees, so you don’t have to simply follow the sightseeing hoards. This itinerary is careful to tick off all the main places in Japan, but also take you away from the crowds to our personal favourite sakura-viewing places.

In Kyoto, your first stop, we plan carefully to see the best trees and avoid the worst crowds. Highlights here are meeting a maiko (apprentice geisha) and tickets to the Miyako Odori - annual geisha dances given to celebrate the spring. Kanazawa offers a glimpse of life in a small, beautifully preserved traditional city and Kenroku-en garden is gorgeous at this time of year. With stunning views of Mount Fuji across the Lake Kawaguchiko, you'll have the opportunity to relax and unwind in a traditional onsen bath before heading on to Tokyo. Finally you head north to Hiroki Castle, possibly the prettiest spot for cherry blossom viewing in the entire country.



accommodation & experiences

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.


Kanazawa again has a choice of ryokan or city hotel - we tend to prefer the Nikko Hotel close to the station, for its convenience and comfort. It's a great hotel. But there are several ryokans we could use also, as well as some magnificent 'machiya' - traditional Japanese houses for rent. We work some amazing local guides in, though self-guiding is perfectly possible.


Lake Kawaguchiko is all about the resort-style hotel, the views to Mount Fuji, the onsen baths and the fine dining. Just relax and enjoy.


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 over in the west of the city, Shinjuku or Shibuya, because these are the main entertainment districts, full of restaurants, bars and the neon-drenched nightlife synonymous with the capital. Alternatively, the hotels closer to Tokyo Station and the Imperial Palace in east Tokyo - Nihombashi - are well-located in an upmarket district, with some amazing shopping streets and many of the city's major sights close by. 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.


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. We can hire commuter bikes to explore the backstreets or perhaps you'd prefer that we weight the itinerary with 'experiences' as opposed to 'sights', such as cookery classes, sunset helicopter rides or visiting a sumo stable? In the evenings, head out with your guide to a buzzing 'locals' izakaya or yakitori stand, or to see show in the kabuki theatre...or robot café. It's Tokyo - the world's most exciting city and the possibilities are limitless!


There are more limited accommodation options in Hirosaki - indeed, most on offer is pretty mundane. It's a good job we know the best places to stay in town, though we do need to book early to find availability. The day or two you have up here in Northern Japan are actually easy to navigate by yourself, the Hirosaki Park area is well sign-posted and compact. However, a local guide does add that something extra and we can happily organise this for you.




Day 1
Depart from your local airport, and then fly direct to Japan from Heathrow or wherever is most convenient.
Day 2
Arrive in Osaka Kansai Airport, where you are met by our representative and transferred directly to your hotel, or ryokan, in central Kyoto. Relax after the long international journey.
Day 3
A full day in Kyoto, with your private guide. You'll head to the Path of Philosophy as early as you can to beat the crowds and then spend the rest of day visiting smaller temples, well off-the-beaten path. In the evening we will try book you to see one of Japan's biggest geisha dances, the Miyako Odori and the Kyo Odori. One of the best ways to celebrate this festive season is to catch one of these amazing dances.
Day 4
Spend the day in nearby Arashiyama with your guide, visiting the temples, taking a river boat cruise and then cycling through the bamboo forest.
Day 5
More time in Kyoto - either a free day to explore, or we would suggest renting bikes and exploring some of the outer-suburbs. You could, alternatively, head out of the city to Nara or elsewhere in the countryside surrounding Kyoto with your guide. Last thought - perhaps a day in nearby Osaka?
Day 6
Morning at leisure in Kyoto, to explore at yoru own pace, and then in the afternoon catch the 'Thunderbird Express' train to Kanazawa. Spend the evening visiting the ancient Samurai district.
Day 7
A full day in Kanazawa, with or without a local guide. Top of the priority order will be Kenroku-en Park, but you will also want to visit the castle, local markets and the wonderful contemporary art museum.
Day 8
Morning bullet-train to Tokyo and then head west to Lake Kawaguchi, where your onsen-resort hotel sits on the northern shore with amazing views over to Mount Fuji.
Day 9
Travel back in to Tokyo and check in to your hotel in the Shinjuku district. After some initial exploration of your local neighbourhood, it's then time to join the revellers in Ueno Park or Inokashira Park, for a 'hanami party'.
Day 10
A full day in Tokyo, with your local guide. may want to tick off many of the major sights, but we'll focus the itinerary around your preferences and interests and perhaps give some thought in to how we may best avoid the bottleneck tourist traps.
Day 11
A second day inTokyo. This can be left free, for you to explore at your own pace. Alternatively, we can head out of the city to Nikko or Kamakura with your guide - both gorgeous during the Spring.
Day 12
Bullet-train north from Tokyo, half the entire length of Honshu Island to its northernmost tip. Arrive in Hirosaki in the mid-afternoon and spend the evening enjoying the small town atmosphere - a festival is held annually in late April when the blossoms are usually in bloom.
Day 13
Hirosaki Park, in which you'll find the castle, is one of Japan's best cherry blossom spots. With its abundance of over 2500 trees, cherry blossom tunnels, petal filled moats, numerous pleasant picnic areas, rental rowing boats, many varieties of cherry trees and illuminations in the evenings, it feels magical. Hirosaki Castle was built in 1611 by the Tsugaru Clan and it is a three-story castle tower, with fortified moats, castle gates and some corner turrets. There are a few other sites of interest inside Hirosaki Park, including the Hirosaki Castle Botanical Garden and Gokoku Shrine, the Aomori branch of Yasukuni Shrine in the north end of of the park.
Day 14
A free morning in Hirosaki, before heading north to Aomori City in the afternoon. You final night in Japan is spent exploring the largely unvisited, but charming, prefectoral capital. The seafood is second-to-none in all Japan.
Day 15
Transfer to Aomori Airport and then fly home to the UK, transferring through Tokyo Haneda en route.

An indication of costs

An indicative price for this two week itinerary would be circa £8,500 to £10,400 per person, including luxury accommodation, private transfers from and to airports, the activities and excursions (with private guide) as shown in the itinerary, 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. 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 shoot 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 the best on-the-ground in each and every instance.

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  ·  U.K.

Very happy honeymooners...

Wonderful experience from start to finish. The information 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  ·  United States

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...


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


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


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


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