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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. And in the mountains of Kyoto you’ll meditate at a 15th-century Zen temple and take in expansive views of the city from the exceedingly peaceful Pure Water Temple.
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!
Meet your driver for an airport transfer with a private vehicle.
Park Hotel Tokyo is ideally situated in Shiodome, a flourishing new center of business and culture. The hotel offers an extraordinary level of service and coordinated interior designs. The Park Hotel Tokyo also shows respect for local traditions of nature, translated in the hotel's glass-roofed atrium. A soothing haven of trees and greenery, it stretches between the building's 25th and 34th floors, creating a well of warming sunlight that augments the sensation of balance and vitality fostered by the architecture.
Take a 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 Meiji Shrine, a shrine dedicated to the deified spirit of Emperor Meiji and a popular place for traditional Japanese weddings. Take a walk down Omotesando shopping street, a broad tree lined avenue home to the flagship stores of the world’s top fashion brands. Head across town to 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 a boat cruise on the Sumida River passing under 12 bridges. Disembark in Hamarikyu garden, an Edo Period Japanese garden surrounded by the Shiodome district’s futuristic skyscrapers, a great example of how Japan is the land of contrasts, where you will stop for a cup of steaming matcha and Japanese sweets in a tea house on a small island in the park’s lake. 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.
From Tokyo station board Japan’s world famous Shinkansen bullet train. With a top speed of 300km/h (186 mph), the Shinkansen takes 1 hour and 40 minutes to reach Nagano.
Nagano is famous for its soba noodles, so you will be sampling some for lunch. Kouzantei and Furusato restaurants close to the station are some favorites.
One of the most visited temples in Japan, Zenkoji 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.
From Nagano, you will then take a local train to Yudanaka (45min), and then it is a short ride in the shuttle bus to the Kokuya Hotel.
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.
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.
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 the baths of this boiling water that the resident Japanese Macaques like to soak in on. 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 human 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, and 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 Japanese houses. No visit to Obuse is complete without stopping in at the Masuichi sake brewery for a taste of their delicious sake made from the high quality local rice.
Transfer back to Tokyo by train.
Transfer from Nagano to Kyoto via the high-speed Bullet Train.
We recommend hailing a local taxi for today's transfer, they are readily available, safe and affordable.
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 535 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.
Today you explore the former imperial capital with a knowledgeable local guide, utilizing Kyoto’s comprehensive bus system to visit some of Kyoto’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites. You will start your 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. Nijo Castle is an ornamental castle and was built by the founder of the Edo Shogunate as his Kyoto residence and is surrounded by stunning gardens. The main building was completed in 1603, and is famous for its architecture, decorated sliding doors, and ‘chirping’ nightingale floors. Take a walk down Nishiki Market, a narrow, five block long shopping street lined by more than one hundred shops and restaurants. Known as "Kyoto's Kitchen", this lively retail market specializes in all things food related, like fresh seafood, produce, knives and cookware, and is a great place to find seasonal foods and Kyoto specialties, such as Japanese sweets, pickles, dried seafood, and sushi. Final stop is Kiyomizu (Pure Water) Temple. From the 13 metre 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.
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!! "
Denise Abadi ,
June 21, 2013
"We have just returned from our trip to Malaysia and wanted you to know how much we enjoyed the itinerary you put together for us. Our guides were personable and very knowledgeable about the various places we visited. We were amazed by the sights, sounds and friendliness of the people we encountered. Needless to say, it was a most memorable trip and one of the
highlights of our traveling careers!
July 11, 2013
"Sunita, my wife and I had a wonderful time in China. The hotels were superb. Our guides were excellent. They spoke good English, were knowledgeable, and flexible. It was a wonderful trip. We particularly enjoyed the Yangtze River cruise. We will certainly consider your firm for international travel in the future."
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