Your in-depth exploration of Japan begins in Tokyo. On arrival at Narita or Haneda Airport, take a shuttle bus transfer to your centrally located hotel, where you'll join your Travel Director and fellow guests for a Welcome Reception drink and local appetisers.
We launch our City Tour in the old-time entertainment centre of Asakusa, where we'll encounter the Sensoji Buddhist Temple. One of Tokyo's most colourful and popular temples, Sensoji has been rebuilt countless times since it was founded in 628, making it Tokyo's oldest temple site. Strolling down Nakamise next, we immerse ourselves in the sights and sounds of shitamachi (downtown Tokyo), admiring the wooden dolls, colourful chiyogami (origami paper) and traditional Japanese sweets. We'll ascend Tokyo Skytree, the world's highest free-standing broadcasting tower for panoramic views of the city, then enjoy the rest of the day at leisure or on an Optional Experience where a professional stylist will dress you in a traditional Japanese kimono.
Our first stop today is the Imperial Palace Plaza from where the two bridges that form the entrance to the inner grounds of the Imperial Palace can be viewed. We'll have the opportunity to explore the leafy Imperial Palace East Gardens before continuing our City Tour. At the Edo-Tokyo Museum, we delve into the history and culture of Tokyo's Edo era, then continue to the Ginza district where we'll learn how to make sushi with a 'Local Specialist'. We venture to the Five Lakes District next, keeping a keen eye out for the UNESCO listed Mt. Fuji which dominates the landscape.
Visit Oshino Hakkai, a small rural village in the Fuji Five Lakes district, renowned for eight natural spring water ponds that are fed by melted snow from Mt. Fuji. Admire the reflections of the sky and landscapes in its clear waters, then ascend Mt. Fuji by road to 2,300 metres at the 5th station. Ride up Mt. Tenjo on the Kachikachiyama Ropeway next, for jaw-dropping views (weather permitting) of Mt. Fuji and Lake Kawaguchiko. Then, journey through the Japanese Alps to the beautiful hillside town of Takayama, before enjoying dinner at the hotel.
Immerse yourself in tradition as you walk through the Edo-style streets of Takayama's Old Town. Indulge a lunch of Japanese Hida-gyu – beef from a black-haired Japanese cattle breed, renowned as one of the finest quality varieties of beef. Journey back in time this afternoon during a visit to the peaceful UNESCO-listed Gokayama, a mountain village set amidst five valleys. Admire the unique construction of the local Gassho-zukuri wooden houses that have been built without the use of nails with steeply sloped thatched roofs to prevent snow from building up on them. Next, meet a local family in one of these houses, then Dive Into Culture observing local artisans making washi paper and trying your hand at making your own. Make a difference to the sustainability of this small business during this MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® Experience. Stay overnight in Kanazawa.
Join a 'Local Specialist' this morning to learn the secrets of painting gold leaf, a delicate craft the Japanese have been perfecting since the 16th century. Continue to the tranquil gardens of Kenrokuen, which took shape over a hundred years to emerge as one of Japan's most beautiful gardens. Connecting with your exquisite natural surrounds, you'll stroll through ornate landscapes and past ponds and temples. Take a short walk through the Omicho market next to see the local fish catch and enjoy an insider's view of everyday life in a busy coastal town. Then, visit the Nagamachi District with its beautifully preserved samurai houses that line the traditional stone streets. Here you will gain first-hand insights into samurai life during a visit to the Nomura house, an elegant samurai mansion.
We board an Express train this morning to Kyoto, where we'll 'Connect With Locals' at a traditional ryokan, built in 1932 to serve as the second residence of Emperor Akihito's uncle. We'll enjoy a 'Be My Guest' lunch and learn about local Japanese customs as our hosts welcome us into their beautiful home. After lunch, we visit the UNESCO-listed Kinkakuji Temple with its famous Kinkaku (Golden Pavilion), the proud symbol of Kyoto and a Zen temple, which has its origins as a 14th century villa.
The blazing orange torii gates of Fushimi Inari Shrine guide our path through the forest, up into the mountains and to a sacred site that has heard prayers for prosperity and happiness since the 8th century. We continue to Sanjusangen-do Hall and admire the minute detail of each of its 1,001 "thousand-handed" goddesses of mercy statues, then enjoy a walking tour of the Gion area. This evening, we indulge in a Farewell Dinner with your Travel Director and fellow guests.
This morning we leave Japan's main island Honshu behind, crossing the world's largest suspension bridge over the Seto Inland Sea to Awaji Island. Enjoy free time for lunch, then take a walk around Yumebutai, a complex of buildings built on the side of the mountain. One of the most striking features is the '100 Stepped Garden' - a group of 100 flowerbeds in small square gardens on an incline and arranged in grids spread over several levels. Visit the Water Temple and admire the reflection of the surrounding mountains, rice paddies and bamboo groves as you descend the steps to the Buddhist temple beneath its still waters. Journey to the small mountain hot springs village of Kotohira where our accommodation tonight is one of Trafalgar's 'Stays With Stories' - a traditional Japanese ryokan. We'll have some time this evening to climb the steps adjacent to the hotel to visit Kotohira-gu Shrine and be rewarded with breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside. Later perhaps take a relaxing soak in the onsen (hot spring) bath at our hotel.
This morning visit the Zentsuji Temple, birthplace of one of the most revered figures of Japanese Buddhism, the high priest Kobo Daishi. It is the 75th temple on the 88 temple Shikoku Pilgrimage, which covers approximately 1,200 kilometres and was traditionally done on foot taking up to 60 days to complete. It is still done by many people today although modern pilgrims use cars, taxis, buses, bicycles or motorcycles. Continue to Omishima Island and make a stop at a local restaurant for lunch. Drive to Hiroshima via the Setouchi Shimanami Kaido Expressway, a 60-kilometre highway that links the islands of the Seto Inland Sea with nine individual bridges. Check into your hotel for a relaxing evening.
We travel by ferry to the sacred Miyajima Island, where we'll see the famous UNESCO-listed Itsukushima Shrine and elaborate torii gate that stands majestically in the sea. After some free time for lunch and to explore the island's spiritual sanctuaries, we return to Hiroshima for a visit to the Peace Memorial Park and Museum. Imagine the devastation and horror that followed the world's first atomic explosion in 1945 as you see the UNESCO-listed Peace Memorial, the only structure left standing in the area and an expression of hope for world peace. This evening, we'll indulge in Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, a savoury pancake made with egg, cabbage, soba noodles, and meat, seafood or cheese, grilled in layers on a hot plate.
Board the high-speed bullet train to Osaka this morning and enjoy some free time for lunch and shopping in the Dotonbori Street area. Visit Osaka Castle, which played a major role in the unification of Japan during the sixteenth century. This evening, join your Travel Director and fellow guests for a Farewell Dinner at a local restaurant.
Our encounter with Japan's centuries-old traditions and modern cityscapes at its end, take a transfer by airport shuttle service to Kansai International Airport, or Osaka Itami Airport for your onward flight.