Day 2: Tokyo
Arrive at Narita International Airport. After clearing Immigration and Customs, exit into the arrival area and go to the counter for the Airport Limousine Bus. Present the coupons we have provided and tell the clerk the name of your hotel. You will also have the hotel’s address in Japanese, so there will be no confusion, and you will be given a seat on the first available bus going to your destination. The Airport Limousine Bus stops are located outside of the exit doors. Baggage attendants will take care of tagging your bags and storing them on the bus when it arrives. Depending on traffic, it may take up to two hours to reach downtown Tokyo, and you’ll be dropped at the door of your hotel. Expect a call from Esprit’s local guide tonight to confirm your meeting time for tomorrow. Your onward train tickets will be delivered to your hotel.
Day 3: Tokyo
Today you’ll be touring with our local guide, who will meet you in the hotel lobby at the agreed upon time. Begin the day with a visit to Meiji Shrine, where you’ll get an introduction to Shintoism and participate in a blessing ceremony with music and dance. Walk to nearby Omotesando-dori for a tour of spectacular contemporary architecture and stop for a break at one of the many cafes. Your afternoon itinerary will be created after consultation with you during the trip planning process.
Day 4: Tokyo
Today you’ll be touring on your own, so make sure you have these sightseeing essentials:
City and subway maps
Change for subway tickets
Telephone card for local calls (purchase from vending machine or at a convenience store)
Small package of tissues (public restrooms don’t always supply toilet paper)
Handkerchief (use for a napkin in restaurants, as they are often not provided)
The Tokyo subway system is extremely easy to use, reliable and efficient, with English language signs. A visit to the Tsukiji Fish Market will be a lively start to the day, and you’ll marvel at the enormous array of seafood. Detailed directions from your hotel will be provided. You’ll also want to visit the outer market, a maze of streets lined with wholesale food shops and restaurant supply shops. Afterwards, walk up Harumi-dori to the Ginza district, a lively area packed with boutiques, galleries and cafes. Next, board the Ginza Line to Asakusa, and visit the Senso-ji complex, the heart and soul of Asakusa, dedicated to the goddess Kannon. You’ll enjoy the carnival atmosphere on nearby Nakamise Street, where traditional crafts and street food are offered. Refer to the materials we have provided for suggestions and logistical information for the remainder of the day. The afternoon could include a visit to the Edo Tokyo Museum, a walk through the East Garden of the Imperial Palace, or a stroll through one of Tokyo’s charming traditional neighborhoods.
Day 5: Tokyo to Takayama
Depart Tokyo by Shinkansen (bullet train) to Nagoya and on to Takayama by an Express train, with reserved seats on both trains. Refer to your train tickets for the exact departure time and plan to leave the hotel one hour in advance. We will provide information on how to ship your large suitcases ahead to Kyoto, so you can travel with a smaller, easily managed bag for the next 3 nights. The charge will be approximately $15 per bag, and it will arrive the day after you send it. We’ll explain how to make the easy transfer of train lines in Nagoya, and you’ll continue your journey up the scenic Kiso Valley. Upon arrival at Takayama Station, stop at the Tourist Information kiosk to get an English map before taking a taxi to your ryokan. The innkeepers will give you an orientation to the public bath, which is separated by gender. Once you’ve settled in, you’ll have time for a stroll of the nearby Sanomachi historic before dinner. Feel free to wear your yukata to dinner. Your futons will be prepared for you while you dine.
Day 6: Takayama
Today you’ll be sightseeing on your own, with suggestions and logistics provided. After breakfast, begin at the riverside morning market, then follow the map to Kusakabe Merchant House. Your admission ticket there includes tea and crackers and entry to the family’s mingei (folk art collection) in their storehouse. From there, it’s a short walk to Hachimangu Shrine and Festival Float Museum. In the afternoon you may want to take a walk in the hills or visit the Hida Folk Village. Another delicious multi-course dinner will be served to you tonight.
Day 7: Tokyo to Kanazawa
After breakfast, you’ll depart by private car and drive through the scenic rural countryside. After about an hour you’ll arrive at Shirakawa-go, a charming village of well preserved old farmhouses, that has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Shirakawa’s houses are examples of the architectural style known as gassho-zukuri, or “prayer-hands construction” style, characterized by a thatched, steeply slanting roof. After spending some time in the village, you’ll continue by car to Kanazawa, arriving in the mid afternoon. After checking into your hotel, begin your exploration of the Nagamachi Samurai district, including a visit to the Saihitsuan Yuzen Silk Center, which offers demonstrations of the centuries-old Yuzen silk painting technique and the Nomura Samurai House, a traditional Japanese home, complete with tea-ceremony room, an interior courtyard garden and artifacts from the Edo period.
Day 8: Kanazawa to Kyoto
Begin the day with a visit to Kenrokuen Garden and the ruins of Kanazawa Castle. Adjacent to Kenrokuen Garden are the Seisankaku Villa, the Prefectural Craft Museum. There are many galleries featuring Kanazawa lacquerware and Kutani pottery located near Kenrokuen Garden. We can arrange for a volunteer guide to accompany you today. In the late afternoon you’ll be boarding a reserved train for Kyoto. Upon arrival, take a taxi to your hotel.
Day 9: Kyoto
Today you’ll be touring with Esprit’s local guide. As before, please pay for all transportation and admission charges as you go. Begin at Daitoku-ji Zen Monastery with its temples, stone walkways, and quiet tea gardens. We have arranged for you to experience the Way of Tea and meet with the abbot at a peaceful subtemple within the complex. After a visit to another lovely garden, enjoy lunch at a Zen style restaurant within the temple grounds. Later, you’ll visit the studio of a master calligrapher and performance artist. You’ll see him wielding an enormous brush and dancing across washi paper to create a masterpiece-in-the-moment. The remainder of the day will be planned per your interests and could include a visit to a contemporary textile gallery, a museum tour, or specialized shopping.
Day 10: Kyoto
Tour on your own today, using our detailed sample itineraries. As in Tokyo, it is very easy to navigate Kyoto combining travel by subway, taxi and walking. You may want to explore eastern Kyoto’s Higashiyama district, including Ginkaku-ji, the Silver Pavilion, Honen-in, with its rustic entry gate and wild camellia forest, and a stroll on the Philosopher’s Walk southward to Nanzen-ji Temple.
Day 11: Kyoto
Continue touring on your own, including, if desired, reservations at one of Kyoto’s Imperial Palaces or Saiho-ji, the temple of the Moss garden. As with all of your independent touring, the day will be carefully crafted to meet your interests and goals.
Day 12: Depart for U.S.
Most US bound flights depart in the afternoon so you’ll have the morning to shop, take a stroll, or take in the sights of Kyoto one last time before transferring by reserved van shuttle to Osaka’s Kansai Airport. Or, if your travel schedule allows for additional days, we can discuss ways you might extend your trip, for example, on Naoshima Island, a contemporary art resort, to a Bizen pottery village, a Koya san monastery, or to Hiroshima.