Japan: Cherry Blossom Tour

Available as a group (max 14) or private departure

Spring is the most beautiful season in Japan, when the country casts off its winter blanket. Every park is packed with revellers gathered to view the cherry blossom, festivals are underway across the country, and nearly everyone embraces the party-like atmosphere. This really is a wonderful time to travel.

Not far from Tokyo, the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park is a haven of natural splendour. There are stunning views of Mount Fuji across Lake Ashi and a profusion of volcanic hot springs. You’ll stay in traditional Japanese accommodation and visit a world-class sculpture park in an unbeatable setting.

Kanazawa offers a glimpse of life in a small, beautifully preserved traditional city. Three days in Kyoto, meanwhile, will induct you into Japan’s other great city. The highlights here are meeting a maiko (apprentice geisha) and tickets to the Miyako Odori – annual geisha dances given to celebrate the spring.

In the Japanese Alps, the city of Matsumoto and the craft town of Takayama offer a trip to the iconic ‘Black Crow’ castle and an excursion to Hida no Sato respectively. The former is one of Japan’s most impressive samurai castles, while the latter is an open-air museum showcasing the steeply thatched ‘praying hands’ farmhouses typical of the region.

No trip to Japan would be complete without seeing something of the big city, and your tour will be book-ended by stays among the skyscrapers of Tokyo. Here you’ll receive an introduction to Japanese cuisine at a local restaurant and see the city from the waters of the Sumida River.

This is an active tour packed with opportunities for exploration, good-value mid-range accommodation and a variety of meals included. With your tour leader to steer you through the most fascinating aspects of these superb destinations, this tour offers a classic sightseeing experience at a fantastic time of year.

Detailed itinerary

Day one to three

Explore the many exciting districts of Tokyo and make an optional day trip to Nikko or Kamakura.

On arrival at Tokyo’s Narita Airport you will be met and travel by shared shuttle to your hotel in Tokyo’s traditional Asakusa area. The rest of today will be free for you to explore the low-rise market stalls and beautiful red temple of Senso-ji before a welcome meeting this evening, followed by an included group meal at one of the area’s excellent restaurants.

On day two of your stay in Tokyo your tour leader will lead you on an extensive tour of the city. Tokyo is made up of multiple city centres, each with its own distinct character – from the traditional streets of Asakusa, where you’ll be based, to the towering skyscrapers of Shinjuku; from the electronics paradise of Akihabara to the upmarket shopping district of Ginza. Today you’ll experience a few of these many faces, with a ride on the Sumida River bus and tea in the beautiful Hamarikyu Gardens.

On day three you will have the day to yourself to continue exploring the city, or you can opt for a day trip to one of the wonderful destinations within easy reach of the train system. Perhaps you might visit Nikko, home to a wonderfully elaborate temple complex and resting place of Japan’s most important shogun, or perhaps you might choose Kamakura – a lovely seaside city famous for its giant Buddha.
Overnight: Asakusa View Hotel

Day four

Journey into the Japanese Alps as you visit Matsumoto, known for its impressive ‘Black Crow’ samurai castle.

Today you’ll begin your journey into the Japanese Alps as you make your way to Matsumoto, a city surrounded by mountains and famous for its impressive ‘Black Crow’ castle. This is one of the few remaining original samurai castles in Japan, so make sure you take the time to explore the donjon (main keep) and its museum.

For dinner this evening we recommend trying soba noodles, a speciality of the region, or (if you’re feeling adventurous) perhaps a bite of basashi – that’s raw horse.
Overnight: Marunouchi Hotel

Day five to six

Traverse the Alps to Takayama, a mountain craft town where you can sip sake, wander craft shops and visit an authentic folk village.

On day five you’ll continue your adventure through the Japanese Alps as you travel to Takayama, a town traditionally known for the high quality of its craftsmen – many of whom were responsible for building some of the greatest temples and shrines in Kyoto.

This afternoon you will have some time to explore the lovely old-town district of Takayama, where you’ll peruse craft shops and perhaps stop in at one or two of the town’s breweries for a spot of sake-tasting.

This evening you’ll return to your traditional ryokan inn for an elaborate, multi-course kaiseki dinner served Japanese-style, at a low table sitting on tatami mats. We recommend taking advantage of the ryokan’s hot-spring baths before bed this evening.

On day six you will have another day to explore Takayama. Your first port of call must be the wonderful riverside morning market, where you’ll get a look at the fresh local produce and crafts. Next we have included tickets to the Hida no Sato folk village, an open-air museum where you can wander in and among traditional thatched gassho zukuri farmhouses typical of the region – a great opportunity to see what Japanese mountain life was like before industrialisation.

Dinner is not included tonight, so we suggest heading out to try some succulent Hida beef – not as well known as the Kobe variety, but by all accounts just as tasty.
Overnight: Tanabe Ryokan

Day seven

Explore the preserved geisha and samurai districts of Kanazawa before visiting Kenrokuen, one of Japan’s top three landscape gardens.

Today you will leave the mountains behind in exchange for a day in Kanazawa on the Japan Sea coast. Like Kyoto, Kanazawa escaped bombing during World War II thanks to its wealth of historical buildings and cultural achievements – meaning that today it is one of Japan’s best-preserved historical cities.

Wander the geisha districts, visit Edo-period houses in the samurai quarter, sample some fresh sushi from the market – and whatever you do, don’t miss Kenrokuen – one of Japan’s top three landscape gardens.
Overnight: Garden Hotel Kanazawa

Day eight to 10

Explore Kyoto, Japan’s ancient capital city, and make an optional day trip to Nara, Himeji or Hiroshima.

On day eight you will be heading to Kyoto, which was Japan’s ancient imperial capital for more than a millennium. This evening you will be taken on a walk to Gion, the city’s traditional geisha district, for a private audience with maiko (apprentice geisha) before heading out to one of the city restaurants for an included group meal.

On day nine, your tour leader will lead you on a tour of Kyoto, during which you’ll find out why this is called the ‘City of Ten Thousand Temples’. It’s not all religious sites, however, and you may also get a chance to see the bustling food market at Nishiki, the Philosopher’s Path along the canal (a great cherry blossom spot), the ‘nightingale floors’ of Nijo Castle and the bamboo groves of Arashiyama. You will also have tickets for the Miyako Odori geisha dances this evening.

Day ten of your tour will be free for you to continue exploring Kyoto’s myriad sights, or to make a day trip out of the city. Your tour leader will be heading out to one of their favourite day-trip spots – perhaps the nearby ancient city of Nara or the spectacular samurai castle at Himeji. If there is somewhere you would particularly like to visit, your tour leader will be happy to help you make independent arrangements for today.
Overnight: Royal Park Hotel The Kyoto

Day 11 to 12

Spend two relaxing days in Hakone, home of hot springs, a wonderful open-air sculpture park and spectacular views of Mount Fuji.

On day eleven it’s all aboard the bullet train for the journey to Hakone, one of Japan’s most popular hot spring resorts and part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. This afternoon we’ve included tickets to the Chokoku no Mori Open-Air Museum, where you’ll find works by Henry Moore, Auguste Rodin, Yayoi Kusama and Pablo Picasso amid beautiful alpine scenery.

Tonight you’ll be staying at Japan’s first ever western-style hotel, a wonderful building with old-fashioned wooden interiors set in an area of outstanding natural beauty. Be sure to take advantage of the indoor and outdoor hot-spring baths – as well as a swimming pool filled with hot spring water. Dinner will be included this evening.

On your second day in Hakone, you’ll have a full day to explore the sights. Take a pirate ship ride across Lake Ashi, visit the Checkpoint Museum to find out about Hakone’s past as a post town on the Tokaido trail route, eat a black egg boiled in hot spring waters at Owakudani, and admire spectacular views of Mount Fuji – if the weather obliges.
Overnight: Prince Hotel Lake Ashinoko 

Day 13 to 14

Scale the Skytree, catch the monorail to Odaiba or sing your heart out at karaoke in Shinjuku – whatever you decide to do, your final night in Tokyo promises to be spectacular.

On day 13 it’s time to return to Tokyo for one final day in the capital. Use this time to do a little lastminute shopping – perhaps take a trip up the 634-metre (2,080-feet) Skytree, catch the monorail to futuristic Odaiba Island or book out a Shinjuku karaoke booth to sing the night away! Dinner is not included tonight, but we recommend heading out with your tour leader and group for a lovely final-night meal to toast the end of a great trip.

Finally it’s time to say goodbye, and on day 14 you’ll make your way to Narita Airport in time for your flight home.
Overnight: JR Kyushu Blossom Shinjuku