- Kinkakuji Temple
The top two tiers of this temple, set in serene gardens by a lake, are completely covered with gold leaf.
- Amazing Arashiyama
Walk in the famous Bamboo Forest in the outskirts of Kyoto.
- Scenic Hiraizumi
Take a spectacular cruise through the stunning Genbikei Gorge, framed by glorious seasonal foliage.
- Take a bird’s-eye view…
Ascend Tamoyachidake, a volcanic peak, via the Hakkoda Ropeway.
- Tranquil Mount Fujii
Cruise on Lake Kawaguchi, with the snow-crested Mount Fuji as a backdrop.
- Small Group 25 or less
- VIP door to door
- Discover by rail
Discover the seasonal beauty and colours of Japan
Explore high-tech Tokyo and take the bullet train to Kyoto. Discover thousands of years of history and uncover serene temples, shrines, castles and more as you learn about the fascinating culture of the Land of the Rising Sun, set against a backdrop of spectacular seasonal natural beauty.
The Japanese consider cherry blossom to herald the start of spring, also known as hanami, and each year locals and tourists alike flock to scenic spots to celebrate with picnics and drinks underneath the falling sakura petals.
Six months later the russet tones of autumn – with leaves known as koyo – draw the crowds to idyllic spots both in the mountains and in city parks. Each year, from mid-September, the ‘koyo front’ moves slowly south from the northern island of Hokkaido until it reaches the lower elevations of central and southern Japan towards the end of November. Some trees around Tokyo and Kyoto remain ablaze with colour until early December.
11 nights in hotels and 2 in flight
16 meals: 11 breakfasts, 3 lunches and 2 dinners (Spring and Autumn departures)
19 meals: 11 breakfasts, 3 lunches and 5 dinners (Summer departure)
- Optional travel insurance underwritten by Great Lakes Insurance SE, UK
- Return flights and transfers
- Saga tour manager
- Welcome drink
- Porterage at all hotels
Excursions and visits
- Tokyo city tour
- Sushi-making class
- Boat cruise on Sumida River, Tokyo
- Mount Fuji area visit
- Genbikei Gorge boat cruise in Morioka
- Visit to Lake Tazawa
- Walking tour of Tsugura han Naputa village and Hirosaki Castle
- Ride on Hakkoda Ropeway
- Walk through Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
- Kyoto city tour
- Osaka Castle and Dotonbori food district
Day 1 UK-Tokyo
After taking Saga’s UK door-to-door travel service to Heathrow, fly overnight to Tokyo.
Day 2 Tokyo
On arrival at the airport you'll be met and taken to the locally-rated 4-star Daiichi Hotel Tokyo Seafort or similar, where you will stay for four nights with breakfasts included.
Day 3 Tokyo
After breakfast at the hotel, join an included full-day coach tour that will reveal Tokyo's contrasting sights, old and new. Stop at the Imperial Palace Plaza, a large park which houses the two bridges which form the entrance to the inner grounds of the Imperial Palace, and later explore the Ginza district on foot. The Ginza is Tokyo's most famous upmarket shopping, dining and entertainment area, featuring numerous department stores, boutiques, art galleries, restaurants and cafes. At one such eatery, learn the art of sushi making from an expert chef and then use your new skills to create your own lunch.
Your tour continues to the Hamarikyu Gardens – a natural oasis in the heart of the city. Located alongside Tokyo Bay, Hamarikyu features sea water ponds which change level with the tides, and a teahouse on an island. Perhaps enjoy a traditional brew overlooking the beautiful gardens, set against a backdrop of the soaring skyscrapers of the Shiodome district. Spring is a perfect chance to see the famous cherry blossom, though peonies and canola (bright yellow rape) are also in bloom. In the autumn the gardens’ plethora of maple, ginkgo and other trees offer a spectacular sight.
This afternoon, enjoy a scenic river cruise from Hamarikyu to the historic Asakusa district where you can visit the Senso-ji Buddhist temple, built in the 7th century, and the most famous and popular in Japan. The temple is approached via the Nakamise, a shopping street that has been providing visitors with a variety of traditional, local snacks and tourist souvenirs for centuries. Return to your hotel and find somewhere to enjoy dinner this evening at your own expense. B, L
Day 4 Tokyo
After your included breakfast look forward to another morning of sight-seeing. First, head to the striking Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. The 243 meter tall building has two towers, and each houses an observatory at a height of 202 meters. It had been the tallest building in Tokyo until it was overtaken by the Midtown Tower in 2007. In good weather you can see landmarks such as Mount Fuji, the Tokyo Skytree, Tokyo Tower and the Tokyo Dome from the observatories. Your tour continues to the Meiji shrine – which you can also see from the viewpoints.
Emperor Meiji was the first emperor of modern Japan. He was born in 1852 and ascended to the throne in 1867. During his reign the country modernised and westernised to join the world's major powers by the time Emperor Meiji passed away in 1912. The shrine is dedicated to the deified spirits of the Emperor and his consort, Empress Shoken and features a large forested area, featuring pleasant walking trails and particularly spectacular in the autumn, amid the urban sprawl. Next you can enjoy a walking tour of the trendy Harajuku area – know for its cutting-edge, and often eye-catching fashions, plus side streets of boutiques and some historic sights. Enjoy a stroll down Omotesando, a broad, tree lined avenue boasting elegant shops, once described as Tokyo's Champs-Elysees. This afternoon and evening are at leisure. B
Day 5 Tokyo-Mount Fuji
Enjoy another full-day excursion which will see you visit iconic Mount Fuji, the tallest mountain in Japan at 3,776 metres and one of the most famous in the world, in part due to it’s striking conical shape. Fujisan is an active volcano, which most recently erupted in 1707. After ascending to the 5th station – a height of 2,305 metres – enjoy stunning views of the mountain. Descend the slopes to Lake Kawaguchi, one of the five lakes surrounding the mountain, where you will enjoy lunch at a local restaurant and a stroll in the small town. Weather-permitting, the best views of Mount Fuji can be enjoyed from the lake's northern shores. They are particularly breathtaking during the cherry blossom season in spring, and with the autumn leaves in full colour – particularly the maple trees.
This afternoon, visit the Icchiku Kubota Museum where you can see kimono displays created by the man who dedicated his life to reviving the lost art of Tsujigahana silk dyeing. Those on display include his unfinished work ‘Symphony of Light', comprising 80 kimono that together form a picture of Mount Fuji. Head back to the hotel late this afternoon for an evening at leisure. B, L
Day 6 Tokyo-Hiraizumi-Morioka
Pack a small bag for a three-night stay. Transfer to Tokyo station to catch the famous bullet train – capable of speeds up to 150mph – that will whisk you the 450 kilometres to Ichinoseki station in the north of Honshu Island in just over three-and-a-half hours.
Transfer to Hiraizumi and the region’s most famous attraction, Chusonji Temple. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was established in 850 as a temple of the Tendai sect of Buddhism. At its peak, it was a network of dozens of buildings, though only two buildings, dating from the 12th century, remain intact.
One of them is spectacular. The Konjikido is a small hall covered inside and out in gold leaf – apart from the roof – and dating back to 1124. It sits within a large modern building for protection. The golden hall contains a highly-decorative Buddhist tomb – be sure to drink in the detail because photography is prohibited inside. However, you will want to capture the stunning seasonal colours of the woods surrounding the temple, where cherry blossom or autumn leaves provide a stunning backdrop to walking trails.
After an included packed lunch, enjoy a spectacular cruise through the stunning Genbikei Gorge, framed by more glorious seasonal foliage and distinctive for its huge rock formations and deep water pools.
Transfer to the locally rated 4-star Hotel Metropolitan Morioka or similar, and enjoy an evening at leisure. Perhaps join a lesson in dancing to the beat of traditional Taiko Drums. B, L.
Day 7 Morioka to Lake Tazawa to Kakunodate to Akita
After breakfast check out of your hotel and transfer to scenic Lake Tazawa – the deepest lake in Japan. The stunning blue of the water contrasts perfectly with the natural beauty of the trees on the shoreline – bask in the beauty of more cherry blossom or autumnal gold, brown, orange and yellow, depending on which departure you are on.
This afternoon head to the leafy Akita neighbourhood of Kakumodate, which is best known for its historic samurai residences and spectacular weeping cherry trees. Here you will explore the Ishiguro Samurai House – known as Bukeyashiki – one of the most impressive samurai residences in the town which was built in the early 19th-century and home to the Ishiguro family, retainers of the dominant Satake clan. See old maps, books, pottery, tools and swords plus the striking black fences and gates.
Later transfer to the locally rated 4-star Hotel Metropolitan Akita or simila,r and enjoy an evening at leisure, or another opportunity to immerse yourself in local culture by joining a dance lesson set to the music of bamboo flutes. B
Day 8 Akita-Hirosaki-Tsugaru-Aomori
After breakfast, check out of your hotel for a visit to the Namahage Museum. It’s dedicated to Oga region folklore in which masked and costumed demonic figures –Namahage – appear in villages each New Year to punish naughty or lazy behaviour. Afterwards, travel to Hirosaki Castle, one of Japan’s most historic. Built in 1611, the three-story castle tower, fortified moats, castle gates and some corner turrets survive or have been reconstructed. It’s also one of its best cherry blossom spots, with more than 2,500 trees, blossom tunnels and petal-filled moats.
In the grounds you’ll also find a museum dedicated to Hirosaki's famous summer festival, the Neputa Matsuri, which features painted floats and screens depicting everything from beautiful women to mythological warriors. Many of these are on display in the museum, where you can also enjoy a performance of Tsugaru Shamisen guitar and Taiko drums. Transfer to the locally rated 4-star Hotel Aomori or similar for an overnight stay. B
Day 9 Aomori-Hakkoda-Hachinohe-Tokyo
After breakfast, check out of your hotel and travel to the slopes of Mount Hakkoda, located between Aomori City and Lake Towada. It’s renowned for its seasonal beauty, particularly in autumn. As well as hiking and hot springs, the area is a popular skiing destination in winter. Ascend to the top of Tamoyachidake, one of the mountain’s multiple volcanic peaks, via the Hakkoda Ropeway, to enjoy amazing views.
At lunchtime head to the Hasshoku Centre, a giant marketplace with a huge fish market, with time to perhaps try one of the seafood bowls popular with locals. Afterwards, transfer to Hachinohe Station for a three-hour bullet train journey back to Tokyo where you will be reunited with your luggage ahead of another night at the locally rated 4-star Daiichi Hotel Tokyo Seafort or similar. B
Day 10 Tokyo to Kyoto
After breakfast you’re back to the station to catch another bullet train – this time to Kyoto. Founded in 794, the city is widely considered Japan's cultural heart and a living museum of the country's artistic heritage.
On arrival, travel to Arashiyama, a leafy district on the western outskirts of Kyoto and one of the best places in Japan to see cherry blossom in spring and the russet tones of autumn six months later. Enjoy a stroll across the famous Togetsukyo (’Moon Crossing’) Bridge, see Tenryuji Temple and wander in Arashiyama's renowned bamboo groves. Perhaps enjoy lunch in one of the many waterfront eateries.Afterwards, continue to the iconic, UNESCO-listed Kinkakuji, a Zen temple in northern Kyoto whose top two floors are completely covered in gold leaf. Next stop is the Heian Shrine, dating back to 1895 when it was built to mark the 1100th anniversary of the capital's foundation in Kyoto , originally known as Heian-kyo. The shrine, which is accessed via a huge torii gate,boasts a host of weeping cherry trees, and is dedicated to the first and last emperors who reigned from the city more than a millennium apart.
Later this afternoon transfer to the locally rated 4-star Kyoto Tokyu Hotel or similar, for a two-night stay with breakfasts included. Look forward to a unique experience as your dinner tonight is included at an Izakaya – a traditional Japanese pub. B, D
Day 11 Kyoto
Spend today at leisure exploring the streets of Kyoto which are packed with tea houses and modern shops, gardens and fashionable restaurants.
Perhaps seek out the UNESCO-listed Kiyomizu Temple – one of the most renowned in Japan. It was founded in 780 on the site of the Otowa Waterfall in the wooded hills east of Kyoto, and derives its name from the fall's pure waters. The cherry and maple trees all around ensure it is awash with colour in spring and autumn. Nijo Castle, dating back to 1603, is another landmark to discover while you might opt to treat yourself to lunch in Nishiki market and enjoy a stroll around the Gion district, once the haunt of geisha, where you can enjoy traditional teas, including matcha, and sample Japanese sweetmeats. B
Day 12 Kyoto to Osaka
Explore more of Kyoto during a morning at leisure, then transfer to Osaka by coach. Enjoy a guided tour of the city and an insight into the street food culture from a local expert, then treat yourself to some lunch on Dotonbori Street. One of Osaka's most popular tourist destinations for shopping, entertainment and food. Perhaps try a local delicacy such as Takoyaki (octopus meatballs).
This afternoon, you’ll visit Osaka Castle, surrounded by a park which is one of the city’s most popular during cherry blossom season. Check into a locally rated 4-star hotel overnight, with a farewell dinner here or at a local restaurant. B, D.
Day 13 Osaka to UK
After breakfast, travel to Itami or Kansai airport for your return overnight flight to the UK. B
Day 14 UK
Arriving in the afternoon for your included UK door-to-door travel service.