(Tokyo, Hakone, Kyoto)
Konnichiwa! From age-old tea ceremonies, samurai legends, sumo lessons, kimono clad geishas, century old bonsai trees, spiritual shrines and woodblock art to suited business men, futuristic skyscrapers, quirky theme restaurants and Harajuku clad teens, this adventure is packed with so many Japanese cultural adventures from past, present and future, it’s guaranteed to be the stuff family legends are made of.
Thrilling for kids 1 through 99, watch the legends of the Land of The Rising Sun come to life before your eyes as local private guides born and raised in each city provide your clan with in-depth explorations of Tokyo, Nagano, Yudanaka, Hakone and Kyoto, with lots of family flair. Learn how age-old traditions mix seamlessly into modern life as you discover the futuristic art of Japanese manga and anime (comics and animated film), spend a day training with sumo wrestlers, check out “quirky” themed cafes (cat, robot, maid, jail or vampire take your pick) even cheer with local fans at a beloved professional Japanese baseball game. Be immersed in ancient customs and UNESCO sites as you unveil the secrets of the geishas, learn the history behind Japan’s time-honoured bow, take part in a tea ceremony, practice the art of origami, visit Hokusai’s museum to learn about this famous Edo woodblock painter, relax in therapeutic mountain onsens and even boil eggs in one for 7 extra years of good living! Spiritual encounters include pilgrimages to Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, tying prayers in trees and obtaining enlightenment by finding the "key to paradise.” From sushi, sake tastings (for grownups) to stir fry and teriyaki to tempura, treat your taste buds with all kinds of Japanese cuisine. Shop in a local fish market and then take your “catch” to a local home where you’ll learn to make various kinds of sashimi and sushi. Celebrate Japan’s natural treasures and designated "Places of Scenic Beauty" as this tour takes you through traditional gardens, national parks, Mt. Owakudani, Mt. Fuji, the interactive Nara Deer Park and meet the famous Japanese macaque, better known as snow monkeys which are native to the country.
Reduce your family’s footprint as you travel by bullet trains, local buses, bicycles and on walking tours. Automobiles are only used when deemed necessary in order to keep your clan’s journey as eco as possible. Nights are spent at a diverse collection of carefully selected child friendly properties - Tokyo and Kyoto’s greenest hotels, a Ryokan dating back 400 years and a Japanese inn boasting more hot springs than you can count.
The best part? At Kensington we know one size never fits all, especially when families are involved. Work with our Japan destination specialists to customize this tour to suit your individual travel style, schedule and budget!
During your journey through Japan, you may encountered various people whom will bow to you as a greeting or welcome. A welcoming bow is probably the feature of Japanese etiquette that is best known outside Japan. Bowing is considered extremely important in Japan, so much so that, although children normally begin learning how to bow from a very young age, companies commonly provide training to their employees in how to execute bows correctly. This gesture is a sign of great respect and honour of presence, although do not feel insulted if a bow does not occur. Quite often, in these modern times, when dealing with non-Japanese people, many Japanese people will use a more popularized sign of greeting, by shaking hands.
Upon your arrival at the airport, an English speaking assistant will meet you outside the gates and take you to meet you driver and waiting vehicle.
After meeting your driver, you'll board your vehicle and make way from the airport to your hotel.
Tokyo is located on the eastern side of the main island Honshu, and is the capital of Japan. The name "Tokyo" literally means eastern capital. It is the seat of the Japanese government, the Imperial Palace, and the home of the Japanese Imperial Family. The twenty-three special wards of Tokyo, have a total population of over 8 million people, with 35 million in the greater Tokyo area. The city has many museums and theatres, important temples, parks and restaurants. It is one of the world's leading cities - and one of the most expensive.
Enjoy a half day discovery tour of this fascinating city alongside an experienced and knowledgeable local guide, making use of Tokyo’s comprehensive and user friendly public transport system. The day begins with a visit to the Imperial Palace, home of Japan’s Imperial Family. Next, we will visit Asakusa, Tokyo’s old town where you can soak in the atmosphere of old Tokyo. Visit Sensoji, Tokyo’s oldest temple and wander down Nakamise, a shopping street that has been providing temple visitors with a variety of traditional, local snacks and tourist souvenirs for centuries. Take the subway across town to Meiji Shrine, a shrine dedicated to the deified spirit of Emperor Meiji and a popular place for traditional Japanese weddings. If time permits, you can take a walk down Omotesando shopping street, a broad tree lined avenue home to the flagship stores of the world’s top fashion brands. The tour will finish in Harajuku/Omotesando. Please note that with this tour, you will have a private guide, but rather than travelling by private vehicle, you will make use of Tokyo’s efficient local transit system.
Relive the magic of youth with a visit to the popular Ghibli Museum, Mitaka, dedicated to the works of Hayao Miyazaki, Japan's greatest living animated film director. From there, travel by local bus to Kichijoji, western Tokyo's biggest shopping and entertainment district. Explore the back streets and unique shops of this trendy part of suburban Tokyo. Please note this tour is shared. Upon arrival in Japan, a voucher will be provided with hotel pickup time, or meeting place details.
Please note that with this tour, you will have a private guide, but rather than travelling by private vehicle, you will make use of Tokyo’s efficient local transit system.
Sumo is a competitive full-contact wrestling sport where a rikishi or wrestler attempts to force another wrestler out of a circular ring (dohyo) or to touch the ground with anything other than the soles of the feet. The sport originated in Japan, the only country where it is practiced professionally. It is generally considered to be a gendai budo (a modern Japanese martial art), though this definition is misleading as the sport has a history spanning many centuries. Many ancient traditions have been preserved in sumo, and even today, the sport includes many ritual elements, such as the use of salt purification, from the days when sumo was used in the Shinto religion. Life as a wrestler is highly regimented, with numerous hours daily spent strictly on training and meditation.
Your guide for the morning will meet you at your hotel and take you to the Ryogoku, the centre of Japan’s sumo world. As well as the Kokugikan Sumo Stadium, Ryogoku is home to most of Tokyo’s sumo heyas. All rikishi (wrestlers) belong to heyas, or sumo stables, where they live, train, and eat. You will be able to visit one of these heya to get up close and personal with these giant men and watch their asa geiko (morning training). The day begins in the early morning, when the lowest ranked men wake up and put in some practice before going about their assigned duties, which include cleaning the building and preparing the food for the main meal of the day. Higher ranked sekitori appear at a more reasonable hour, and they begin a practice session that runs from about 7am until about 10am. After several hours of warm up and technique practice, the wrestlers play an exciting "King of the Castle" game where one wrestler stays in the ring fighting bouts without any rest until he is defeated. After training, it is time to eat like sumo at a local restaurant specializing in chanko nabe. Chanko nabe is a Japanese stew with chicken, fish, tofu, and vegetables. While a very healthy dish, when eaten in sumo sized amounts it helps the wrestlers to gain weight. Many of the restaurants in the area that serve chanko nabe are run by ex-sumos. The tour will finish in the Ryogoku area. Please note that with this tour you will have a private guide, but rather than travelling by private vehicle, you will make use of Tokyo’s efficient local transit system.
Take in 3 of Tokyo’s centres of youth fashion and pop culture. Start in 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, visit Harajuku, and the famous Takeshita dori (Cat Street). Known as Electric Town, Akihabara was originally famous for its many electronic shops. However in more recent years, Akihabara has gained recognition as the centre of Japan's otaku (diehard fan) culture, and many shops and establishments devoted to anime and manga are now dispersed among the electronic stores in the district. To end this afternoon, check out one of Japan’s famous “quirky” themed cafés (cat, robot, maid, jail or vampire take your pick). End the tour in Akihabara. Please note that with this tour you will have a private guide, but rather than travelling by private vehicle, you will make use of Tokyo’s efficient local transit system.
Sushi is a Japanese food consisting of cooked vinegared rice combined with other ingredients, seafood, vegetables and sometimes tropical fruits. Ingredients and forms of sushi presentation vary widely, but the ingredient which all sushi have in common is rice or sumeshi. Sushi can be prepared with either brown or white rice. Sushi is often prepared with raw seafood, but some common varieties of sushi use cooked ingredients. Raw fish (or occasionally other meat) sliced and served without rice is called sashimi. Sushi is often served with shredded ginger, wasabi, and soy sauce. Popular garnishes are often made using daikon.
Today your guide will take you to the Tsukiji Fish Market. Take a few hours to wander through this enormous market, exploring both the vegetable and fruit areas plus the impressive seafood section. On offer in the seafood section are more than 480 different kinds of seafood ranging from fresh fish to shellfish and prawns. There may also be an opportunity to see a complete tuna being cut and filleted. After buying various ingredients you will have the opportunity to visit a typical Japanese home. Your guide will answer any and all questions about Japanese culture and everyday life in Tokyo during the transfer by public transportation. Learn to prepare “maki sushi” (rolled sushi), "gunkan maki" (sushi rice wrapped with a strip of seaweed and topped with soft ingredients), and "nigiri sushi" (sushi rice topped with a slice of raw fish). You will then get to enjoy your homemade sushi for lunch. End the tour in central Tokyo. Please note that with this tour you will have a private guide, but rather than travelling by private vehicle, you will make use of Tokyo’s efficient local transit system.
This afternoon attend a professional league baseball game at one of Tokyo's major league stadiums. Baseball is one of Japan's most beloved sports, and it's fans are famous for being some of the most devoted and enthusiastic in the world. Depending on the schedule, you may see the Tokyo Swallows, or the Seibu Lions, or the Chunichi Dragons!
Today you will depart on your self-guided adventure to Nagano. From your hotel make your way independently to Tokyo station board Japan’s world famous Shinkansen bullet train. Local taxis are affordable and plentiful. Train tickets will be included in your welcome package. With a top speed of 300km/h (186 mph), the Shinkansen takes 1 hour and 40 minutes to reach Nagano.
On arrival in the afternoon, you will have some free time to explore Nagano. Drop your bags in one of the stations lockers, and head out to sample some of the regions famous soba noodles. Kouzantei and Furusato restaurants are both close to the station, and are a few of our favorites.
It is worth your while to take a stroll downtown to visit Zenkoji temple. This is an easy walk from the rail station. One of the most visited temples in Japan, it was founded 1400 years ago and stores, what many believe to be the first Buddhist statue ever brought to Japan. A copy of the statue is shown to the public every six years for a few weeks, the next opportunity being in 2015. Most recently rebuilt in 1707, Zenkoji's main hall has a tunnel in its basement in which visitors are trying to find and touch the "key to paradise" in complete darkness. The key is attached to the wall and grants enlightenment to anybody who touches it.
Return to the station on foot to catch your onward train.
From Nagano, you will then take a local train to Yudanaka (45min) – these tickets are also included in your package, and from there it is a short ride by hotel shuttle bus to the Kokuya.
Dinner tonight will be a Japanese traditional kaiseki meal, comprised of nine or more dishes. The meal is made up of seasonal dishes using only the freshest of local Nagano ingredients. The kaiseki is a unique cultural experience, and one not to be missed in Japan.
This morning you can head to the Jigokudani Yaen Koen to see the famous Snow Monkeys. Jigokudani means ‘hell’s valley’ due to the steam and boiling water that bubbles out of small crevices in the frozen ground, and it is in these baths of boiling water that the resident Japanese Macaques like to soak. The monkeys live in large social groups, and it can be quite entertaining to watch their interactions. Accustomed to humans, they can be observed from very close and almost completely ignore their guests.
In the afternoon we recommend a visit to the nearby charming town of Obuse, with traditional houses, stores and streets. Obuse is known for its delicious chestnuts and as the home of Hokusai, the famous painter and printmaker from Japan’s Edo period. A visit to his museum here is a must. Over 100 houses in the town participate in an ‘Open Garden’ scheme. If you see this sign in front of the house, it means you can enter the property and enjoy the gardens, giving you a unique insight into local Japanese homes. No visit to Obuse is complete without stopping in at the Masuichi sake brewery for a taste of their delicious sake made from high quality local rice.
This morning you will return to the train station by shuttle, and board your onward Shinkansen transfer.
Transfer by train from Yudanaka to Tokyo via Nagano.
Transfer by train from Tokyo to Odawara. The train ride is approximately 30 minutes.
Meet your driver for a train station transfer with a private vehicle.
Hakone is famous for its beautiful natural setting, hot springs, and of course the view of Mt Fuji. There are many things one can do independently while in Hakone, including shopping at local boutiques, enjoying some Japanese cuisine, or relaxing in a local onsen. We have also included the "Hakone Free Pass" which gives you access to the numerous forms of transport on offer. Ride the world’s second longest cable car up Mt. Owakudani, passing over sulfurous fumes, hot springs, and hot rivers in this volcanic area, where you can eat an egg hard boiled in the sulfuric hot springs which makes Hakone famous. If you do, it will add seven years to your life. A majestic replica pirate ship will sweep you across Lake Ashinoko, a lake formed by a volcanic eruption 3000 years ago, and the Hakone Tozan ‘switchback train’ zig zags though the mountains, giving amazing views of the surrounding valleys. Throughout the day you will have the chance to get a glimpse of Mt. Fuji, however please keep in mind that she is a notoriously shy mountain and it needs to be a clear day.
Transfer by train from Odawara to Kyoto. The train ride is approximately 2 hours.
This afternoon you will have the opportunity to visit the home of an instructor of one of Japan’s Traditional Arts: Origami. An assistant will meet at your hotel and escort you to the instructor’s house. “Origami” means paper-folding. Sheets of square paper can be folded into various shapes such as animals, flowers, furniture, toys, etc., without the use of scissors. The instructor will advise you on how to fold some basic shapes such as a crane, box, samurai warrior’s helmet, and you can take your work home with you.
Explore the former imperial capital with a knowledgeable local guide and private vehicle to visit some of Kyoto’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites. You will start your day with a visit to Nijo Castle. This ornamental castle was built by the founder of the Edo Shogunate as his Kyoto residence and is surrounded by stunning gardens. Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion) was originally built as a retirement villa for the Shogun. After his death it became a Buddhist Temple at his request, and is now one of Kyoto’s most famous temples. Heian Shrine was built on the occasion of the 1100th anniversary of the capital's foundation in Kyoto and is dedicated to the spirits of the first and last emperors who reigned from the city.
With your local guide, cycle through the Miyagawacho and Gion geisha districts, hoping to see a geisha or maiko (apprentice geisha) as they dash between appointments. Continue along the Shirakawa canal lined with weeping willow trees, past traditional Kyoto style tea houses. Next, will be the Imperial Palace Park with its beautiful gardens. Cycle back to Kyoto station along the Kamogawa River, whose riverbanks are popular with the locals. Cherry blossoms bloom along the banks of the river in spring, and in summer the restaurants open their balconies looking out to the river. End the tour near Kyoto Station. If you wish to continue sightseeing in Kyoto on your bike after the tour has finished, it can be arranged for you to keep the bike until 19:00 at no charge.
Transfer from your hotel to Nara by train (45 minutes) with a local guide. For 74 years during the 8th century Nara was Japan’s capital and many of the temples and shrines built at that time still remain. Visit Todaiji Temple, the world’s largest wooden building and home to Japan’s largest Buddha. Next stop is Nara’s most celebrated shrine, Kasuga Taisha, established in 768 AD and famous for its hundreds of bronze and stone lanterns which have been donated by worshipers. Take a wander through Nara Park, called Deer Park by locals due to the large population of more than 1,000 tame deer living there.
This afternoon you will have the opportunity to visit the home of an instructor of one of Japan’s Traditional Arts: Tea Ceremony. An assistant will meet at your hotel and escort you to the instructor’s house. You will learn all about the various types of tea and the instruments used to prepare it with the support/advice from the professional instructor and interpretation from your assistant. You will see how every movement has a meaning and what serving tea to guest’s means in Japan. Enhance the above experience by getting dressed in a Japanese festive kimono (not included). You will learn about the different kinds of kimono, and which kimono should be worn on each different occasion. Please tell your Sales Advisor your height and size at the time of booking so the instructor can prepare the right kimono for you.
Meet your driver for an airport transfer with a private vehicle.
The New Otani is surrounded by one of Tokyo’s noted Japanese-style gardens that features a waterfall within its grounds. The garden boasts over 400 years of history, has been painstakingly maintained and exhibits different but equally enjoyable scenery each season. The hotel is continuously being praised by customers for its environmental friendliness through its ‘Hybrid Hotel Project’, aiming to bring about a higher level of service through the ideology that ‘creating environmentally friendly amenities is inherent to the genuine comfort of guests’. By way of a major restoration, the hotel has upgraded its earthquake safety, installed an improved climate control system, and amongst other distinctions has cut its CO2 emissions to offer an eco-friendly level of service. In addition it has many green features like a roof garden, a water recycling plant, a composting plant, and local organic produce.
Kokuya is a traditional Japanese style hotel (ryokan) with a 400 year history; the present owner is the 16th generation owner. The ryokan has six different 100% natural hot springs rich in health-giving minerals, which benefit your muscles, joints, and skin. It is located on Shibu Onsen ‘spa street’, which has 9 public onsens you can try as well, and you will see local people in kimono strolling down the street in yukata (light robes) as they head for a soak.
Sounkaku is a traditional Japanese-style inn located near the top of Mt. Soun. Guests can enjoy splendid landscape overlooking the mountains of Hakone. The popular tourist spots are easily accessible from the nearest station, Sounzan. Sounkaku has been in business for over 80 years and was fully renovated in April 2010. It now offers the spirit of traditional Japanese aesthetics with elegant scent of Japanese cypress wood while retaining a classical atmosphere.
Standing on the Higashiyama Hills overlooking the beautiful ancient capital, the Westin Miyako Kyoto is surrounded by abundant nature, which fully displays the beauty of each season. Immerse yourself in a feeling of inspired serenity while you are visiting the hotel's garden, which is a registered cultural property of the City of Kyoto, or enjoy a stroll or wood bathing along the bird watching trail of the wild bird sanctuary forest. All guest rooms are equipped with the Westin "Heavenly Bed" featuring a plush mattress, fluffy pillows, light duvet and crisp sheets, which makes guests feel as if they were "sleeping on a cloud", guaranteeing that they will wake refreshed. The hotel offers diverse dining options including Japanese, Continental, and Chinese cuisines. Delicacies are served buffet-style and à la carte throughout the day at the café restaurant. You can also enjoy cocktails and sweets at the lounges and bars.
Maynard Fossum ,
December 12, 2014
"My trip to China proved to be an outstanding experience. Each location provided excellent learning and entertainment opportunities. The country was very impressive both in its deep history and in the huge modernization that has taken place in recent decades. The tour guides at each location were well informed and able to answer questions while also offering detailed information at all sites. It was a pleasure to be so well taken care of. The guides and drivers were always helpful. The meals on the tour were delicious and varied. I was pleased with the choice of restaurants. The hotels were comfortable and well located. I will recommend Kensington Tours. "
December 12, 2014
"I was a bit nervous about visiting Myanmar. Thanks to the outstanding help and planning via Kensington Tours, everything went off without a hitch!! It was a fantastic experience, that I would recommend to anyone with a spirit of adventure. "
Craig Gelman ,
December 12, 2014
"Fabulous trip. Every aspect from the planning to execution was excellent. "
Ruth Reinhard ,
December 12, 2014
"The trip was fantastic!!!Each guide and driver gave us so much information and were so helpful. They made sure that they took good care of our well being and requests. My husband, who we all call "the reluctant traveler" said, halfway through the trip, where are we going next? He said if he can go with Kensington then he will go anyplace. Thanks for making our trip to China a memorable experience."
SixtoCastenada Jr. ,
December 12, 2014
"100% satisfied! We had a wonderful trip. Our travel adviser, Tony Newman put together a tour that included everywhere we wanted to visit and within our very limited time frame. Conrad, who booked our transportation was very professional. The tour guides, hotel accommodations and transportation arrangements were all excellent. We will be using Kensington Tours again!"
December 12, 2014
"We were so impressed with all aspects of the trip that Kensington arranged for us - even at short notice. The itinerary was perfectly planned, full of extra activities like riding an elephant and a water buffalo cart ride. The guides were wonderful in all the places we went and the travel was easy between locations. Vietnam is a wonderful destination and Angkor Wat is amazing too. We loved the overnight on the boat in Halong Bay and the train ride to Sapa. The day we spent trekking between indigenous villages in the mountains of Sapa was one of the most interesting days of my life! We have travelled a lot and this was one of the best trips we have ever taken."
Olive Ramchand ,
June 03, 2014
"I have to admit, this was the BEST vacation I ever had. The tour was nothing less than Fantastic! The hotels were great, the guides were great, the transportation was great, the places were great, the people were great, the food was great and last but not least China, itself was out of this world. I'm so glad I booked this tour and would recommend this to anyone. Thanks so much for all your help, your interest and your recommendations. Steve in China was so attentive, he called constantly to make sure everything was fine. We really had a fabulous time and even my jaded husband who normally only seems to care about where the nearest golf course is, was impressed and had a wonderful time.
Thanks again, and unto the next vacation (although I don't know how we would top this one!!)
Jeanne Tarvin ,
April 21, 2014
"The tour was absolutely fabulous. It all started with the planning. Kathryn graciously accommodated our tight schedule and multiple needs, including a mid-trip change in plans. The tour guides and drivers were all great and extremely knowledgeable. The accommodations and meals were fantastic. I was apprehensive about going to China not knowing the language but it worked out great!"
January 15, 2014
"We just returned on Monday from our wonderful trip to South Korea, Bangkok and Phuket. I wanted to thank you for all of your hard work in planning our tours and adventures. Everything was spot on, from our arrivals at the airports, to the guides and the tours. I would not hesitate to recommend you and your company. It was truly a wonderful vacation. Thank you again.
Bob Feldman ,
November 19, 2013
"I wanted to let you know that our trip to China was great! Everybody enjoyed themselves. When planning a trip I am always concerned about the itinerary, the vehicles and the guides. All 3 of these were great. The guides were particularly good and in this case really made the trip a pleasure. Overall a great trip. Thanks for all you did."
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