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The Japan Itinerary

Tokyo – Hakone – Takayama – Kyoto - Hiroshima & Miyajima - Osaka
2 weeks

The brief was to design the perfect itinerary for first-time visitors to Japan, for guests who want to tick off most of the main ‘must-see’ sights but who also know that they don’t want to simply follow the same old hackneyed, well-travelled route.  The classic Japan itinerary, if you like...but simply better.

We’ve got all facets of Japan covered; the two main cities, mountains and countryside, hot springs, great food, history (both ancient and modern) and also a big tick in the culture box. Locations you will visit include Japan's historic capital, Kyoto; Tokyo with its bright lights and excitement; the Fuji-Hakone National Park; Takayama in the Japanese Alps; and Miyajima Island, which sits off Hiroshima. But where we add most value is on the full days of guided touring which can provide privileged access and can be tailored to suits your preferences – following your interests, at your pace.  We could also throw in some truly unforgettable activities – cycling in Tokyo’s older districts? dining with a maiko (apprentice geisha)? Zen meditation in the gardens of a Kyoto temple? – to create the most splendid journey imaginable.


Where to stay? What to do?

accommodation & experiences

You will be staying in traditional ryokans in both Hakone and on Miyajima Island - with their onsens, kaiseki dining and futon beds on tatami mats floors. There is plenty of choice in both, though the commercial and over-priced are prevalent as foreign guests are plentiful and are easily misled. We know the authentic, the historic and the refined options.


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. 


Again, Takayama is a perfect place in which to stay in a ryokan - some of the best are just out of town in the countryside. This is where you'll be based in the Japanese Alps, though you do head out to Shirakawa-go on an excursion with your local guide using private transport.


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. 


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.


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 head out of the city for day trips to Nikko, Hakone, Mount Fuji or Kamakura. 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!


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.


Day-by-day 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 Haneda, where you are met by our representative and have a private transfer to your hotel. Remainder of the day relaxing after your long international flight(s).
Days 3 & 4
Two full days in Tokyo. We can arrange a private English-speaking guide and arrange innovative excursions to best explore the capital.
Day 5
Catch the train to either the Hakone National Park or to the Lake Kawaguchi region, both under the shadow of Mount Fuji. Check in to your luxury ryokan and explore / enjoy the region.
Day 6
A leisurely morning enjoying the onsen in your ryokan, before catching the bullet-train to Nagoya and then enjoying the Hida “Wide View” train travelling north in to the Japan Alps. Check in to your ryokan in Takayama. Kaiseki dinner in your ryokan in the evening.
Day 7
Spend the morning exploring Takayama with your guide, and then head out to Shirakawa-go (private vehicle) in the afternoon. We will make dinner reservations in one of Takayama’s best restaurants this evening.
Day 8
Morning at leisure in Takayama, strolling the ancient streets. Take the scenic railways back south to Nagoya and then the bullet-train on to Kyoto. You are met at the busy station and transferred directly to your accommodation. Meet you guide for dinner in the evening, eating like a local.
Days 9 & 10
Two full days to get to grips with Kyoto. Tick off the main sights by all means, but then our guides are also able to reveal a hidden, secret Kyoto. You can also use the second day to explore Arashiyama or nearby Nara.
Day 11
Morning at leisure in Kyoto. After lunch take a direct bullet-train from Kyoto to Hiroshima, where you are met at the station and taken by ferry over to Miyajima Island. Dinner in your ryokan.
Day 12
In the morning, take the ferry back to the mainland and spend the morning visiting the Peace Memorial Park and Museum with your guide, who can provide additional insight. Lunch is in Hiroshima, and you then head back to Miyajima Island for the afternoon, taking in the views from the top of Mount Misen.
Day 13
You are transferred back to Hiroshima Station and then catch a direct ‘Nozomi Express’ shinkansen back to Osaka. Transfer to your central hotel, where you check in at lunch time. Afternoon and evening free to explore Japan’s second city, famous for its culinary delights.
Day 14
Private transfer to Kansai Airport and fly directly home.

How much would this holiday cost?

An indicative price for this two week itinerary would be circa £7,250 to £8,880 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, 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 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.

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)

Please visit our TrustPilot page to read the full reviews.

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.