Our adventure begins with an overnight flight to Tokyo, the futuristic, neon-lit capital of Japan and the world’s largest metropolis.
After arrival, transfer to your hotel. Originally a small fishing village named Edo, Tokyo became a prominent political center in 1603 and is now Japan's top destination for contemporary art, stunning architecture, pop culture and non-stop entertainment. Take time to explore or just relax and unwind before our welcome orientation followed by a Japanese-style dinner at a local restaurant.
Meals: In-flight, Dinner
- Transfer from Tokyo airport to hotel included with purchased AESU group airfare
- Welcome orientation and dinner
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Explore this vibrant city like a local with our expert guide. See the Imperial Palace and visit Asakusa, the city’s original Geisha district to see the oldest Buddhist temple, Sensoji, famous for the massive red lantern hanging at the entrance gate. Enjoy the colorful Tsukiji Outer Fish Market brimming with fresh fish and produce and explore the old Edo Akihabara district with time for lunch on your own amidst the labyrinth-style market aisles and food stalls. In a lush forest outside of Tokyo, we’ll visit the Shinto Meiji Shrine, dedicated to Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. Return to the city to check out the renowned Harajuku shopping street and visit the Digital Art Museum, a popular, immersive experience with futuristic, borderless digital art installations that make for great photo ops. Tonight, discover the one-of-a-kind charms of Tokyo’s liveliest neighborhood, the fashion and food hub of Shinjuku. Our fun Food Tour will allow us to take a deep dive into culinary traditions and taste varieties of delectable cuisine while taking in the frenetic atmosphere of other-worldly robot bars or popular karaoke clubs.
Meals: Breakfast, Dinner
- Guided city tour with local historian
- Asakusa district
- Sensoji Buddhist Temple
- Tsukiji Outer Fish Market
- Edo Akihabara district
- Shinto Meiji Shrine
- Harajuku shopping district
- Digital Art Museum
- Shinjuku Food Tour
Today we journey to the lakeside resort of Hakone, famed for its healing hot springs. In the shadow of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Mt. Fuji, this scenic village is built along the shorelines of Lake Ashi. We’ll stop at the Owakudani crater that was created over 3,000 years ago when Mt. Hakone erupted. Enjoy a thrilling cable car ride for a breathtaking view of Mt. Fuji and then cruise the tranquil waters of Lake Ashi, formed in the caldera and surrounded by lush mountains. After lunch in Hakone, we visit the open-air museum with collections of art by Picasso, Henry Moore, Taro Okamoto, Yasuo Mizui, and many others, featuring over a thousand sculptures and works of art. Return to Tokyo for an evening at leisure and a seemingly endless array of diversions to choose from.
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch
- Hakone Open-Air Museum
- Mt. Fuji views
- Lake Ashi cruise
- Owakudani Crater cable car
Experience a centuries-old Japanese sport up close and personal by visiting a sumo stable and watching the morning training session, known as asageiko. Get a glimpse into how wrestlers build their extreme strength and agility and how their personal interactions reflect the strict system of hierarchy so central to the fascinating world of sumo. You’re in for a treat for lunch today as we learn how to make sushi at our fun hands-on cooking class. Roll your way into making some traditional dishes, and of course, you’ll get to taste your handiwork along with other specialties at the end of the class. This evening is free for more exploration and finding your own hidden gem to dine on what you crave most, whether its yakitori, ramen, sushi, sukiyaki or other incredible edibles. Don’t forget to sample local beers, sake and matcha.
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch
- Sumo Wrestler training session
- Sushi Cooking Class
This morning we board the legendary Shinkansen bullet train. Passing rural villages and small tea plantations, on a clear day you get another glimpse of snow-capped Mt. Fuji. Enjoy a bento box lunch while whizzing along at speeds up to 199 miles per hour. Lush vegetation and mountains rise on the horizon as we approach ancient Kyoto in just 2.5 hours. Kyoto is where the tea ceremony was born and remains its spiritual heart. What better place to participate in an authentic tea ceremony. Our charming hosts give us an insightful introduction to the highly ritualized and precise etiquette of this age-old practice. Afterward, visit Fushimi Inari Shrine, the most revered shrine of Inari, the Shinto god of rice. Wind through the wooded mountain forest paths and stroll under thousands of orange-vermilion torii gates that mark the entrance to the sacred inner shrine. Check in to our hotel for a relaxing free evening. Try out a popular noodle bar or consider seeing a show at the Minamiza Kabuki Theater. The Gion is Kyoto’s entertainment area and the most famous geisha district. In the more modern areas the bars and restaurants come alive at dusk, and in the preserved, picturesque streets the lanterns are lit on the teahouses and maiko, apprentice geisha, can be seen hurrying to their appointments.
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch
- Shinkansen Bullet Train
- Kyoto Tea Ceremony
- Fushimi Inari Shrine
- Gion Geisha and Entertainment District
Kyoto served as Japan's capital and the emperor's residence from 794 until 1868 and escaped destruction during World War II. Countless temples, shrines and other priceless historic structures survive in the city today. On our walking tour today, our local expert shows us the Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion), a graceful Zen temple overlooking a tranquil pond. The top two floors are in the Bukke style used by the samurai and are completely covered in gold leaf. Visit the majestic Nijo Castle, former residence of the shogun and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was built in 1603 as the Kyoto residence of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the Edo Period. After visiting the impressive Zen Tenryuji Temple and gardens, we’ll have free time for lunch in the bustling Arashiyama district offering a myriad of small, cozy restaurants and shops for browsing. Free time may find you walking or biking the paths through Arashiyama's famous bamboo groves or relaxing on a Hozu River boat ride. Your evening is at leisure.
- Kyoto Walking Tour
- Kinkakuji - Golden Pavillion
- Nijo Castle
- Tenryuji Zen Temple
- Arashiyama shopping district
- Bamboo Groves
The day’s all yours in Kyoto for further exploration, or you can consider participating in a Samurai Kenbu lesson or join our excursion to Kurama. Kurama is a rural town in the northern mountains of Kyoto City, less than one hour from the city center. Kurama is best known for its Buddhist mountain temple Kurama-dera and its hot springs. Hike picturesque trails following the river (approx. 2 hrs) past ancient hidden temple structures. After lunch we’ll relax and soak in outdoor baths called rotemburo, surrounded by forested mountains, taking in the invigorating air and beautiful vistas. If you opt for the Samurai Kenbu Lesson -- get a glimpse into the philosophies of Bushido, the way of the warrior, by learning general concepts of the world of the samurai, and learning how to wield a real katana while wearing traditional samurai clothes. Free evening for strolling and taking advantage of the unlimited dining options in Kyoto.
- Optional activity:
- Samurai Kenbu Lesson
- Kurama Hike & Hot Springs outdoor baths
En route to Osaka we visit Nara, Japan’s first capital. See Todaiji Temple (another UNESCO site) and be awestruck by one of Japan’s largest bronze Buddha statues, the Daibutsu. Then we visit the Nara Deer Park, designated as a natural treasure. Hundreds of temple deer are allowed to roam freely on the grounds as deer are considered the messengers of the gods. In Osaka we see the towering Osaka Castle, one of Japan's most famous landmarks that played a major role in the unification of Japan during the sixteenth century. Then there’s free time for lunch in the Dotonbori shopping district surrounded by towering walls of neon. Take in the incredible views of downtown from the top of the Umeda Sky Building. The two 40-story towers are connected at the top by a “floating observatory” accessed via a tunnel-like escalator surrounded by glass. A fun fact is that Osaka is the birthplace of instant noodles, invented in 1958. So, of course, we have to visit the Cup Noodle Museum. This creative, interactive museum relays the important message of global inventiveness and discovery of a new food culture starting with the original “Chicken Ramen” and later, CupNoodles and Space Ramen. Check into our hotel with time to freshen up before dinner. Osaka is renowned for its food and the Japanese call it “the nation’s kitchen”. Our farewell dinner will include many local delicacies and will surely not disappoint.
Meals: Breakfast, Dinner
- Todaiji Temple
- Daibutsu - Great Buddha statue
- Nara Deer Park
- Osaka Castle
- Dotonbori District
- Umeda Sky Building
- Cup Noodle Museum
- Osaka farewell dinner
After breakfast, we bid farewell or “Sayonara” to new friends, and begin to plan our next adventure.
Meals: Breakfast, In-flight
- Transfer from hotel to airport included with purchased AESU group airfare