There's no travel experience in the world quite like the Kyoto cherry blossoms. The explosion of color attracts visitors from around the world. We’re going to experience this natural phenomenon through the lens of Wabi Sabi - a Japanese aesthetic of appreciating beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”. We’ll headquarter ourselves in Kyoto, the center of Old Japan amongst the beautiful temples and zen gardens. We’ll strive to come away with both a once-in-a-lifetime experience as well as a deeper understanding of Japanese culture.
Here's a day-by-day itinerary for the trip
It’s a long trip to Japan, so we suggest that you arrive a day early (or more) to rest and recover from your travels. You’re free to stay at whatever hotel inspires you, but we offer as a recommendation the Cerulean Tower. (Note, your stay in Tokyo before the trip start is not included in the trip cost). If you come several days early, we can help you plan some day tours of Tokyo. If you can’t sleep, we’ll meet extremely early at the fish market for an early Sushi breakfast!
We’ll meet up this morning at the Cerulean Tower and make our way to the train station to catch a bullet train to Kyoto, our home for the next five nights. As the home of kaiseki (multi-course) dining, tofu, shojin ryori cuisine (Zen Buddhist Vegetarian Cuisine), and the traditional Japanese tea ceremony, Kyoto is a serious foodie haven.
The train arrives mid-day in Kyoto. Upon arrival, we’ll check into our Traditional Ryokan hotel and get settled in. The hotel is situated in central Kyoto and offers Japanese-style accommodations, traditional design and modern facilities.
The ryokan is located a short walk from the river.
This evening over sake and drinks, we’ll learn about the concept and history of Wabi-Sabi, something we’ll revisit each day.
Tonight, we’ll experience a traditional royal Kaiseki feast, a 10-course meal focused on seasonal ingredients. If you’ve never experienced it, this is guaranteed to blow your mind!
Today we’ll visit the top two temples in Kyoto, the golden temple Kinkaku-ji & Kiyomizudera. Plus we’ll visit the key cherry blossom walks & sights. We’ll lunch at the oldest noodle house in Japan, which is over 400 years old.
This afternoon we’ll learn about the importance of the Tea ceremony which is more involved and fascinating than you ever could have imagined. We’ll learn about this traditional custom as well as precisely how to sip your tea in the private tatami room of our hotel. This is so much more than just tea!
Tonight, we’ll enjoy a Whiskey tasting. Japanese whiskey is so good even a non-whiskey drink will enjoy it. The tasting will be followed by Okonomiyaki at a place famous for it. Okonomiyaki is a cabbage pancake, traditional Japanese comfort food. It sounds a little odd, but its scrumptious!
After our meal we’ll visit 600 cherry trees lit up in Maruyama Park – a display created specifically for night viewing.
We’ll lunch at a tofu temple and in the afternoon, we’ll discover Ikebana. This is traditional Japanese flower arranging. We’ll have a hands-on class back at our hotel.
Tonight, we’ll change things up by trying a unique modern fusion Japanese meal created by one of the top Kyoto chefs.
Today, we’ll head to Nara for the day. Nara is the old capital of Japan. Here we’ll see the largest Buddha in Japan and then pet and feed the tamed deer that walk on the property of the Kasuga Grand Shrine dating back 1300 years. At the temple we will meet with a monk who will help us learn a bit about Zen Buddhism as practiced by the Japanese. We’ll also explore the nearby Kasugataisha Manyo Botanical Gardens.
We’ll have a light lunch of Udon noodles at Mizuya Chaya sitting outside if the weather is fine.
As we head back to town, if time allows and energy holds up, we’ll stop at the Fushimi Inari Tori Shinto Shrine which you’ve probably seen photos of on Instagram.
The hearty souls among us will walk up to the top, others can stop halfway. This shrine dates back more than 500 years and is the principal shrine for this sect of Shinto priests and monks. The shrine is dedicated to the gods of rice and sake, something we’ll be dedicating ourselves to during this tour!
Tonight’s meal will be simpler, taken at a casual local place where we’ll try yakitori or tonkatsu with Japanese beer at a nearby Izkaya, (Japanese pub).
Today we’ll learn about Japanese Pottery and why Raku commands such extremely high prices. We’ll also learn about and then have the chance to purchase some of the iconic hand-dyed Japanese indigo fabrics. We’ll discover the world of the geisha and enjoy some free time for shopping. Today, it’s tempura for lunch.
Tonight, we’ll splurge on a sushi dinner at Izuju in the Gion District. Izuju has been open for 100 years. Beyond regular sushi and rolls, Izuji serves hakozushi, which is boxed sushi – small, neat squares of rice topped with roasted fish – as well as inari sushi, rice stuffed into pockets of fried tofu.
Today we head to Mt. Koya-san via train and funicular. After checking into our monastery, we’ll visit some of the most historic and interesting temples and make an offering.
Tonight, we have the opportunity to spend the night at a Buddhist Monastery and enjoy Shojin Ryori cuisine, a vegetarian feast.
Today we’ll take an early hike up into the mountains to watch the sunrise and then take part in a prayer ceremony with the monks. This is something you’ll never forget.
For those ending the trip here, we’ll have to bid each other adieu, or perhaps we shall say “Mata zehi” (I had a great time and hope to see you again soon!). We’ll check out and head back to Tokyo by train. We recommend that you stay one more night in Tokyo before flying out, so you’re not pressured to make a flight (not included). Your return to the Tokyo airport will be all arranged for you.
But why not stay a while longer? An optional extension trip to Hakkone for 2 nights of Onsen (Japanese baths) and Mt. Fuji will relax and fulfill you even more.
For those continuing on, we’ll make our way from Kyoto to Hakone, the epicenter for Onsen bath experiences and the chance at a view of Mt. Fuji (it is often shrouded in clouds).
In Hakone we’ll be staying at the Hoshino Resort & Spa.
Upon arrival and check-in, you’ll get to experience your first Japanese bath experience. There is much to learn and enjoy. We’ll soak in the views of the Sukumo River and soak your cares away in the Onsen fed by a hot spring that's been used in this manner for over 1,200 years.
This evening, we’ll relish a delightful meal at our resort. They specialize in Japanese hot pot featuring succulent Japanese beef.
Today, you’ll have the choice of relaxing at the spa hotel, or setting out to explore our surroundings.
Nearby, there’s the Odawara castle to explore, the Hakone Shinto Shrine on the shores of Lake Ashi with its huge Tori Gates, and/or taking a ride on the Hakone Ropeway with its panoramic views of the lake and Mt. Fuji (when the weather cooperates). We can also visit the open-air museum that boasts a collection of sculptures and art from all over the world.
Back at our hotel you can book an optional massage. Tonight, for our grand farewell, we’ll dine at one of the oldest hotels in Japan, the Fujiyama.
Today it’s time to say our goodbyes and train back up to Tokyo for your departure back home but your memories and new friends will last a lifetime.
Everything is included that is stated above
All lodging in Kyoto and Mount Koya-San
All meals, all drinks at meals including sake/beer/wine
All guides, masters and experts
Entry tickets into all temples and gardens
Train tickets and other transportation for the 7 days and 6 nights of the tour
All transportation to and from the airports
Your hotel stays in Tokyo
Travel and Medical Insurance (required)