As thick steam rises from boiling hot springs in the frozen earth and wild snow monkeys congregate in the natural ponds, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you’ve somehow stumbled into a prehistoric scene.
But this is exactly what you’ll encounter at Jigokudani Yaen Koen near Nagano. Known as ‘Hell’s Valley’ for its mysterious bubbling natural baths and alien landscape, it’s also home to a plentiful population of wild snow monkeys who playfully interact in the hot springs in full view of enthusiastic sightseers. Elsewhere, you’ll experience the contrasts of Tokyo as you explore ancient temples and Edo period gardens in the shadows of the futuristic skyscrapers, high-fashion boutiques and vibrant nightlife of the Shiodome district.
This extensive tour reveals the many contrasts of today’s Japan. From the science-fiction skylines of Tokyo and riding the 300km/h Shinkansen bullet train, to the prehistoric hot springs of Hell’s Valley and the 15th-century mountain temples of Kyoto, your team of private tour guides will take you deeper into the mysterious culture of past and present Japan. And you’ll experience all this while enjoying a collection of luxury accommodation that include a serene oasis in bustling Tokyo, a warm and elegant hotel in frozen Nagano, and a modern masterpiece in Kyoto.
Enjoy a personalized vacation that best suits your needs, developed by one of our experienced destination experts. Relax during your trip with our 24/7 support and expert local guidance.
Welcome to Japan!
An English speaking assistant will meet and assist you on arrival at the airport and take you to meet your driver and waiting car.
Meet your driver for an airport transfer with a private vehicle.
Take a half day tour of this fascinating city with a 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 is 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.
Today leave Tokyo behind as guests make the 90 minute journey to Hakone, the gateway to Mt. Fuji and surrounding national park. Your local guide for the day will accompany you on the “Romance Car” express train from Tokyo’s Shinjuku station. To explore the National Park, you can take advantage of 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 a hard boiled egg 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 the 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. 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.
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 from Nagano to Kyoto via the high-speed Bullet Train. The train ride is approximately 3 hours.
The Granvia Kyoto is located directly above the Japan Rail train station. After exiting your train, please follow the below instructions to reach your hotel. This is a very short walk, and done easily on your own, so no guide service has been included.
When using the Shinkansen bullet train: Exit via the Shinkansen Main Exit, turn right and walk straight through Nanboku-Jiyu-Tsuro (North-to-South main corridor) until you reach the escalator to the hotel entrance on your right.
When using the Haruka Express from Kansai International Airport: Exit via the JR Chuo Main Exit and take the escalator on your right to the Lobby on the 2nd floor of the hotel.
Visit 3 of Kyoto’s 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites on this half day tour. Start the day with a visit to Kinkakuji Temple (Golden Pavilion), which 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. Next is Nijo Castle, an ornamental castle built by the founder of the Edo Shogunate as his Kyoto residence and is surrounded by stunning surrounding gardens. The main building was completed in 1603, and is famous for its architecture, decorated sliding doors and ‘chirping’ nightingale floors. Finish the day with a visit to Kiyomizu (Pure Water) Temple. From the 13 meter high veranda jutting out from the Main Hall you can enjoy amazing views of the whole of Kyoto, while pondering the fact that both the Main Hall and Veranda were built without the use of nails or any kind of joiners. End the tour in the Kiyomizu 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 Kyoto’s efficient local transit system.
Transfer from your hotel to Nara by train (45min) 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.
The Granvia Kyoto is located directly above the Japan Rail train station, and so departing by train is easily done independently. Simply make your way by foot to the appropriate platform as listed on your train tickets. No assistance is required, or included.
Park Hotel Tokyo is ideally situated in Shiodome, a flourishing center of business and culture. This luxury business hotel in Tokyo provides a superior level of service to satisfy the needs of all international clientele. A member of the design hotels TM group, Park Hotel Tokyo offers an extraordinary level of service and coordinated interior designs. Each room at Park Hotel Tokyo is decorated with Monique Le Houelleur's natural artwork and features color coordinated curtains and bedcovers. With its Atrium, Restaurants and Travel concept, ART, the hotel is also unique in not only offering traditional Japanese hospitality throughout the year, but also stimulating the aesthetic senses of its guests.
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.
Hotel Granvia Kyoto is an integral part of the JR Kyoto Station Building, the visually striking architectural masterpiece which also includes a department store, museum, musical theater, and a vast underground shopping mall. From this convenient location, hotel guests have direct and easy access to and from Kansai International Airport and major metropolitan destinations across Japan. With its elegant accommodations, including beautifully appointed guestrooms, there is simply no better place to stay in Kyoto. The inclusion of 12 restaurants and bars and fitness facilities makes Hotel Granvia Kyoto the premier destination for international travelers.
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."
Gloria DeWeese ,
October 10, 2013
"A wonderful trip and everything went like clockwork. Thank you so very much for all your assistance. I hope I will have a chance to work with you again."
Wayne Gavioli ,
September 04, 2013
"We just returned from our thailand/cambodia trip. It was fantastic. You did a great job. The guides were excellent as was the drivers. We loved the Victoria Hotel you selected in Siem. Wish we had more time. Thailand met our expectations but our expectations for Cambodia were low and they exceeded them. Loved the places selected for the included lunches. Certainly would use Kensington again"
Santo Filice ,
August 30, 2013
"Thank you for arranging our guided trip to Thailand - Vietnam. It was a memorable, and pleasant trip - a 1st for us with Kensington tours and a most enjoyable one. We found that we were able to maximize our visit of the the area without the concern of booking hotels, airline, finding parking and understanding the local language. "
Tim Mesarch ,
August 02, 2013
"Alexis helped us fit in all of the sites we wanted to see on our trip to Thailand and Cambodia, and suggested some more. It was valuable talking with someone who had been there and done that. The planning went pretty smoothly, and so did the trip. The local guides were all top-notch! "
July 25, 2013
"I highly recommend Kesington Tours. The planning of our trip to Cambodia was outstanding. Our advisor Alexis Mayer was unbelievably patient, knowledgeable and responsive. We planned the trip in every possible detail and Alexis was extraordinary during the whole process. Once we were in Cambodia, we had a tiny issue with the car. I was able to get in contact with Alexis right away and the problem was instantly solved. The trip itself was fantastic. Everything was very well planned and perfectly organized. The local guides and drivers were great. The hotels were very well chosen.
Great trip. I would definitely travel again with Kensington Tours."
Pennie Quintana ,
August 07, 2013
"Thank you so much for the amazing trip we enjoyed!! All our guides were fantasy. Joseph in Jakarta, July in Jojakarta and Deon in Borneo!! Wow!! Bless you for all your attention to detail and the outstanding communication to all my questions. You made me feel so taken care of and tended too!! "
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