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Ancient Highway Tour
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Mixed Groups

12 Days / 11 Nights Trip to Japan

Ancient Highway Tour

Welcome to a country that fuses the ultra-modern and traditional with ease, a nation that blends the elegance of kimonos and the speed of bullet trains with verve.
Japan will surprise, amaze, delight and completely captivate you, from modern metropolis Tokyo, to imperial Kyoto, quiet bamboo forests to the iconic Mt. Fuji.  But no matter where you go, it’s the little experiences - a bowl of spicy ramen,fortune-telling at a Shinto shrine, the shade of a pale-pink kimono, the whimsicality of a robot cafe - that will make your time here truly captivating.
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  • Duration
    12 Days
  • Starting From
    $3,456
    /person
    Twin sharing
  • Travel Operator
    Dragonfly Tours
  • Flights
    Not Included
    Flight booking assistance will be provided.

Trip highlights

Kyoto takes you back in time
Highlight #1
Kyoto takes you back in time
Japan's ancient and imperial capital is famous for its elegant temples, tea gardens and markets.
Be astonished by Tokyo
Highlight #2
Be astonished by Tokyo
Explore a modern metropolis of skyscrapers and bullet trains, small ramen stalls and robot bars, and get a first-hand glimpse of life in the capital.
Visit the incredibly moving memorial to the Hiroshima atomic bomb attack of 1945.
Highlight #3
Visit the incredibly moving memorial to the Hiroshima atomic bomb attack of 1945.
Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial museum
Take part in an elegant tea ceremony
Highlight #4
Take part in an elegant tea ceremony
Could there be anything more quintessentially Japanese?
Video

 There’s simply no place like Japan

Futuristic cities, quiet bamboo forests, kimonos, sushi, Mt. Fuji and more will guarantee you an unforgettable time. Take a look at this video by Media Hog Productions for a glimpse of what’s in store.

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Itinerary

Tokyo

The tour proper will start this evening, after introductions and a tour briefing you are treated to a meal (on us) at a local restaurant. This is a great opportunity to experience some local cuisine and meet the other members of the group.

Later, you go to the Tokyo Metropolitan Building, a skyscraper within the business district, where you head for the 45th floor for panoramic night views over the city. You wrap up the evening with a walking tour of the neon-lit streets of the famously hedonistic Kabuki-cho night-time entertainment district.

Tokyo (Kamakura Day Trip)

This morning you visit the fascinating Tsukiji Outer Fish Market. In a country famed for its regimented order, you witness a taste of the local chaos as fish and vegetables are sold. Here you can sample some of the freshest and best sashimi you’re ever likely to taste — straight off the boats — at one of the many restaurants around the market.

Then the tour of Japan moves on, boarding the train for Kamakura, an hour away southwest of the capital for a daytrip. Kamakura was Japan’s capital from 1185 to 1333 and many of its sites date back to that time including the serene bamboo Zen Garden of Hokokuji, where you may want to sit down with a bowl of macha (green tea) and contemplate life, the universe and everything.

After lunch visit the famous Great Buddha, an enormous statue of The Amida Buddha, cast in 1252. Originally it was housed within a huge wooden structure but that was washed away in a tsunami in the 15th century, leaving the Buddha open to the elements, as it remains today.

Assuming the weather is on our side you take a forest walk, which ends at 800-hundred-year-old Zeniarai Benten shrine, hidden away in a cave. Bring money — money washed in the spring water of this shrine is said to multiply, which may be why this site is the second most visited in Kamakura after the giant statue of Buddha. This walk is optional. You head back to Tokyo late in the afternoon.

Hakone (Mount Fuji)

You make our way to the region of Hakone, 100km west of Tokyo this morning. Hakone-Yumoto is renowned for its hot springs and you stay here for two nights in a hotel near the main town with fantastic views and traditional onsen (hot spring) facilities dating back to the early Edo era.

There are a number of world-class museums in the region, but in keeping with the theme of the tour, your guide will take you to the Samurai Museum where you can try on real Edo armour. If you prefer you can split off from the group and visit any of the other museums in the area, or simply relax and soak in any of the many hot springs.

Hakone (Mount Fuji)

Today is a fun day and best started soon after breakfast to avoid the day-trippers coming in from Tokyo. You take the cable car up the mountain to Owakudani, “Hell’s Valley”. From this craggy volcano, you should see Mount Fuji in its full majesty. Eggs that have been cooked in the volcanic waters are sold here. The process turns them black and, it is said, for every egg you eat your life will be extended by seven years. Unsurprisingly, the eggs sell very well — how many can you eat? Due to volcanic conditions, visiting Owakudani may not be possible and this part of the circuit will be missed out.

You descend on the other side of the mountain. The hike down to Lake Ashi takes about an hour but, but there’s the option of taking the cable car. At the bottom, the lakeside makes a beautiful place for a stroll, (especially if you didn’t walk down the mountain) before regrouping and getting a bite to eat. After that, you catch the cheesy-but-fun pirate ship across the lake to the reproduction of the Hakone checkpoint, a place of great historical significance. After much research, and built using traditional methods and tools, this re-creation was opened to the public in the spring of 2007. During the Edo era (1603-1868) the Tokugawa shogunate imposed strict regulations monitoring and controlling travellers and merchandise in order to maintain the newly won, but fragile, peace. During the Edo era there had been 52 such checkpoints, but this one is thought to have been the largest and most important.

From here, you walk along a stretch of the ancient highway with huge cedar trees on either side, planted in 1618 to shade the travellers from the winter snows and the intense summer sun. After this stretch you can take a bus back to the hotel or you can continue walking along the ancient highway, some sections of which still have the original paving. Many of the greatest people in Japanese history have walked (or been carried in palanquins) along this road — shogun, armies of samurai, noblemen, writers, artists, peasants, courtesans and disguised ninja all took this route — and it’s a very special thrill to walk in their footsteps.

Kyoto

After breakfast, and perhaps one final soak in the onsen, you board the bullet train bound for Kyoto. Sit back and enjoy your bento (lunch box) as you head westward to the cultural heart of the country at almost 300km/h. This ancient and enchanting city was lucky enough to have been saved from the Second World War bombing, and is more recently known for the treaty on carbon emissions.

Today, you visit the must-see site of Kiyomizudera, the famous stilted temple with UNESCO status on Higashiyama, the Eastern Mountains. It’s the most visited temple in Kyoto and was a runner up in a recent wonders of the world competition. Kiyomizudera and the neighbouring Jishu Shrine have altars where the devout can pray for almost anything, from finding Mr. or Mrs. Right, to soothing the corns on their feet.

From there you stroll through the ancient winding cobbled streets to the Gion geisha district where we conclude today's guided tour.  Later, in the evening you have the opportunity to watch a performance of traditional performing arts, including among other things, a koto (Japanese harp) performance and maiko (apprentice geisha) dance.

Perhaps you have dreamt of dressing up as a geisha — well, today you have the opportunity to do so, have some pictures taken, and, if you’re feeling confident, even go for a walk around the old streets in full costume. If this is something you are interested in doing please let your tour leader know in advance and get an appointment made for you.

Kyoto

The tea ceremony has fascinated visitors to Japan for centuries. Its ritual, its precise choreography, its Zen calm, its mystery, have made it one of the nation’s most famous cultural features. But what is it all about? Now you can find out because on day 6, the tour invites you to participate in the tea ceremony at a venerable teahouse that has been part of Kyoto’s tradition for seven generations.

After the meditative serenity of the tea ceremony, it is appropriate that you next walk Tetsugakku-no-michi (the Path of Philosophy), a path that runs between Nanzenji and Ginkaku-ji, alongside a stream lined with cherry and maple trees through evocatively old neighbourhoods. Influential 20th century philosopher professor Nishida Kitaro is said to have regularly walked this path while mulling the big questions — hence the name of this street.

Your philosophical walk terminates at the UNESCO site of Ginkaku-ji, (the Temple of the Silver Pavilion). This Zen temple feels like the overlooked treasure of Kyoto, often mentioned only after Ryoan-ji, Kinkaku-ji, and Kiyomizudera. Founder Ashikaga Yoshimasa planned to cover the temple in silver leaf but work had not yet begun at his death in 1490, and was never completed. Ginkaku-ji remains as Yoshimasa probably last saw it; simple and unfinished, but today an exemplar of the Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi. Walking into the precincts of the temple takes you into another world. The designs of the garden are intended to evoke land and sea; elegant stone gardens lie next to groves of birch and moss gilds the natural surfaces.

From here you have choices. You may wish to take a short bus ride into the centre of Kyoto or if you’d prefer, join your tour leader for a walk through the local residential area to the Kyoto Handicraft Centre, a popular destination for souvenir hunters.

Kyoto

Today you see three of the best UNESCO World Heritage sites in Kyoto, starting with Ryoan-ji and its renowned Zen rock garden. The garden’s 15 stones are cunningly laid out so that only 14 are visible from any one place in the garden. The full 15 are only visible to the enlightened.

Afterwards you go to the nearby Temple of the Golden Pavilion — Kinkaku-ji. This is perhaps the most famous of Kyoto’s sights, and certainly the most photogenic. The three-storey pavilion, covered in gold leaf, as its name suggests stands in classic Muromachi period gardens and next to a pond, which catches the gold reflection in its shimmering surface.

From Kinkaku-ji, the tour goes on to Nijo castle. The castle was built by the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, one of the towering figures in the formation of Japan — and builder of the Hakone checkpoint you visit on day 4. Tokugawa lived in dangerous, turbulent times at the centre of a power struggle that lasted his entire life — and his enemies continually sought his demise. Aware of the constant danger of assassins, the shogun came up with a novel alarm system, which he installed in Nijo castle: “nightingale” floorboards. Not even the stealthiest ninja could sneak around this castle without the floor singing his presence to everyone.

Kyoto

Today is a free day set aside for shopping, relaxing and exploring. There is so much to do in Kyoto and the surrounding area. Your tour leader will offer plenty of suggestions and let you in on a few local secrets to help you make the most of your day.

Perhaps you would like to attend a workshop for one of the following:

    Taiko (traditional drumming)
    Ikebana (flower arranging)
    Wearing a kimono
    Cooking class at a local home
    Sake tasting
    Shodo (Calligraphy)
    Paper craft with Washi paper

If interested, please let us know in advance and we’ll get it arranged for you!

This day is also an opportunity to take a trip to one of the neighbouring cities: Osaka, Nara or Kobe. Nara is another UNESCO trove and a former capital of Japan that predates even Kyoto. Osaka is Kansai’s commercial powerhouse, and centre of more worldly delights in its profusion of restaurants and night spots. Kobe is a fashionable and affluent city with a cosmopolitan tone, derived from its history as one of the first places to admit foreign residents when Japan opened its Chrysanthemum Curtain in the 19th century.

Another option in the summer is the beach — which is only an hour away.

Hiroshima (Miyajima)

The Japan tour moves on to Hiroshima. The events of 1945 need no explanation and a visit to the Dome, Peace Park and museum are truly moving experiences. The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have had a huge formative influence on the psyche of the modern nation and time spent at these memorials will help the visitor understand modern Japan. It is powerful experience to stand at ground zero and reflect that you are standing at the centre of one of the most profoundly affective and destructive events in the history of humanity.

However, modern Hiroshima is more than the bomb. The phoenix city offers as much as any other city in Japan in terms of attractions and distractions.

At day’s end you take a short ferry ride to beautiful Miyajima, a forested and historical island in the bay, and the region’s principal attraction after the city itself. Miyajima also has UNESCO status. You spend the night in a traditional ryokan and feast on a classic kaiseki meal that comprises various dishes of seasonal foods prepared in a quintessentially Japanese way.

Hiroshima (Miyajima)

You start the day by visiting the main attraction on the island, the magnificent Itsukushima Shrine, perched on stilts over the ocean. The waves lapping gently beneath create a very special atmosphere. In the same bay, welcoming the tide, is the much-photographed “floating torii”, a massive Shinto gate standing in the water, framing the view across the straits and the hills of Hiroshima beyond.

Miyajima is a small island but is home to infinite mysteries. Mt Misen, Miyajima’s dominant peak, is associated with the Buddhist ascetic Kobo Daishi and is dotted with shrines and sites of miracles attributed to him. Among these is the eternal flame, lit by Kobo Daishi himself as part of his rites and which is said to have burned continuously for 1,200 years. The eternal flame ignited the lamp which now burns in the Hiroshima peace park as memorial to the atomic bombing.

A ropeway takes the traveller to a point near the summit of Mt.Misen and provides opportunities for hiking to the summit for more spectacular views of the Seto Inland Sea and the mainland. The full walk would take about two hours, but you tailor your adventure to your own needs. Later treat yourself to fresh oysters from the bay.

As with Nara, deer, messengers of the gods, roam freely with no fear of people. Less godly and full of mischief, the island is home to a large colony of monkeys, who may oblige the lucky traveller with their antics.

Tokyo

The tour now returns to Tokyo, but on the way you stop off in Himeji to visit Japan’s most beautiful and renowned castle.

Himeji Castle, white and majestic stands over the city and its elegance and white colour has earned it the nickname, “the Egret Castle”. The castle was constructed in the busy nation-building period that saw Kyoto’s Nijo Castle go up, and was improved and developed by various warlords over the centuries. Unsurprisingly, Himeji castle has UNESCO World Heritage status. In recent years the structure has undergone extensive repairs and cleaning and the white has been burnished to ever-greater impressiveness.

Once sated on the glory of Himeji, you continue back to Tokyo.

The journey's end

Sadly, this is the last day of the tour and there is no itinerary. However, the adventure doesn’t have to end. If you would like to stay longer in Japan, let Dragonfly Tours know, and we will be happy to help you out — arrange hotel bookings and discuss travel ideas with you.

If you are travelling in May, Tokyo’s main sumo tournament will be in progress — a great opportunity to catch the unique spectacle of the big men doing battle.

Inclusions

 ALL accommodation (11 nights)

 The support of your Tour Leader for the entirety of the tour

 ALL Entrance fees to Museums, Temples, Shrines and Gardens when with the guide following the itinerary. Visiting alternative / additional sites at personal expense

 ALL city to city transportation including the shinkansen bullet train

 ALL local transportation is covered while with the guide following the itinerary. Visiting alternative / additional locations at personal expense

 Suica card - An electronic travel card for your convenience (saves fiddling around with tickets)

 Meet & greet at the airport in Tokyo (either Narita or Haneda) on arrival and transfer (guided) to the tour hotel up to one week before the starting date of the tour

 Airport transfer at the end of the tour from the tour hotel (this is non-guided)

 Authentic Tea Ceremony at a tea house in Kyoto

 Baggage forwarding for one bag per person, two times (from Tokyo to Kyoto and from Kyoto back to Tokyo)

 Breakfast every morning

 Group meal on Day 1 in Tokyo (Alcoholic drinks included!)

 Dinners (Traditional Teishoku) on Days 3 and 4 at Hakone

 Dinners (Traditional Kaiseki Ryori) on Days 9 and 10 at Miyajima

 Tour Info-Pack

 100% payment protection through the TTA (our membership number is U6165)

Not Included

 Additional 5% GST

 VISA Fee

 Meals, except for the ones mentioned above

 Any coin lockers that you may use

 Travel Insurance. You must take out travel insurance before travelling to Japan, we suggest this is done soon after a booking has been made.

 Flights to and from Japan!

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12 Oct 2020

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25 Jan 2021

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08 Mar 2021

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19 Mar 2021

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10 May 2021

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21 May 2021

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08 Nov 2021

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This Trip Is Operated By Dragonfly Tours

Welcome to Dragonfly Tours Japan, where you will find enthralling holidays and tours in Japan brought to you by guides who are passionate about their country and want to share it with you.  In small groups (most of our Japan tours have a maximum of 8-10 people) and with a flexible schedule our escorted tours will show you the best of Japan whilst also giving you the freedom to explore this magical country by yourself.  We have tours throughout the year including incredible last minute Autumn tours to Japan a brilliant winter tour in Japan and fabulous Japan tours in spring 2020.

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