Custom Independent Tour Sample Itinerary

Our Comprehensive Japan itinerary is designed to give you an idea of the breadth of experiences you can have in Japan if your leisure time allows for a more extended stay (23 days).  Combining a mixture of contemporary and traditional cities, active and leisurely touring, western hotels and Japanese inns, this itinerary is designed to expose you to all levels of Japanese arts and culture.

Ono Oyu (c 737)

The capital at Nara,
Beautiful in green earth
Flourishes now
Like the luster
Of the flowers in bloom


Depart for Japan on your individually arranged flight.


Japan Custom Travel Sample-Comprehensive - Palace Hotel View

After arrival, met by private driver and transferred to your hotel in downtown Tokyo.

Accommodations: TBD


Japan Custom Travel Sample-Comprehensive - Shinto Shrine

Tour with Esprit’s locally based guide, starting with a tour of the inner and outer markets of the world-famous Tsukiji Fish Market. This is followed by an introduction to Shinto at Meiji Shrine with an experience of sacred kagura dance and music. Afterwards, take a contemporary architectural walking tour through the exciting Omotesando area or see the youth culture in Harujuku. After lunch, we suggest a visit to one of Tokyo’s quieter neighborhoods, Yanaka, where your guide can show you local life and you can meet with a Nihonga artist. The day is customized totally to your interests.

Accommodations: TBD
Meals: Breakfast


Japan Custom Travel Sample-Comprehensive - Asakusa Lanterns

Tour on your own today with Esprit’s suggestions. This morning, start with a walking tour of the Ginza district, ending at the fascinating opening ceremony of one of Japan’s flagship department stores. You might board a boat for the Sumida River cruise to Asakusa, the historic “shitamachi” (Japanese for Downtown) district that still retains much of the flavor of old Tokyo, although it’s been rebuilt many times over the centuries (including post-WWII). The centerpiece of this neighborhood is Sensoji Temple, dedicated to Kannon, the Buddhist deity of mercy. From there, travel to the Edo-Tokyo Museum, which was founded to preserve the historical heritage of Edo-Tokyo and in which you can experience the atmosphere of Edo (old Tokyo).

Accommodations: TBD
Meals: Breakfast


Japan-Custom-Travel-Sample-Comprehensive - Obuse

Travel via train to the small town of Obuse northeast of Nagano, which has nearly a dozen small museums. It is best known for its connection with ukiyo-e artist Hokusai, who lived and worked here toward the end of his life. Afterwards, go on to Matsumoto for a two-night stay.

Accommodations: TBD
Meals: Breakfast


Japan-Custom-Travel-Sample-Comprehensive - Nakasendo sign

Travel via train and taxi this morning to Magome to explore this small town on the Nakasendo Road. Continue on a short hike to the immaculately preserved hamlet of Tsumago, where highlights include the guest houses for samurai and their retainers, for further exploration before returning via taxi and train to Matsumoto for the evening.

Accomodations: TBD
Meals: Breakfast


Japan-Custom-Travel-Sample-Comprehensive - Matsumoto Castle

This morning tour the city. Matsumoto Castle, circa 1595, is one of four remaining from Japan’s feudal period in its original condition. Nakamachi is a pretty neighborhood of historic homes, many of which have been converted to cafes and galleries for crafts and antiques. In mid-afternoon, meet your car and driver for an excursion to the Japanese Ukiyo-e Museum, located outside of Matsumoto, and then travel on via private hire car through the mountains to visit a traditional wooden Japanese town in pristine condition. You will be staying at your first onsen, where you will experience a Japanese-style room, Japanese baths and a special multi-course kaiseki dinner.

Accommodations: Ryokan
Meals: Breakfast, Dinner


Japan-Custom-Travel-Sample-Comprehensive - Takayama Red Bridge

Explore this delightful town on your own with Esprit’s suggestions. Hida Takayama (or simply “Takayama”) is located high in the Hida Mountains in Gifu Prefecture. Founded in the 16th century, Takayama borrowed from the cultural centers of Kyoto and Tokyo and developed its own arts and crafts, cuisine, and architecture. San-Machi Suji is the historical district of Takayama, and strolling through this area is like taking a journey in time to 18th century Japan. Indeed, the entire town is full of character which begs to be explored. Take your time and enjoy the lovely shops, outdoor market, wonderful museums, and the famous Hida Minzoku Mura Folk Village. The staff from your inn will meet you at the train station to take you to the inn for the evening.

Accommodations: TBD
Meals: Breakfast, Dinner


Japan-Custom-Travel-Sample-Comprehensive - Kyoto Kiyomizu

Travel via train through a scenic valley en route to Kyoto. Tour on your own with Esprit’s suggestions upon arrival. Tonight might be a good night to visit one of our favorite Sake bars in Kyoto, serving premium sakes from micro-breweries throughout the country. The owner can provide you with an education and tastings of a wide range of sakes.

Accommodations: TBD
Meals: Breakfast

DAY 10

Japan-Custom-Travel-Sample-Comprehensive - Zuiho-in

Tour with staff guide, not including transportation and admissions. Spend the morning at Daitoku-ji Zen monastery, for a private experience of the Way of Tea with the abbot of Zuiho-in subtemple and visits on foot to some of the lovely gardens there. After a Zen style vegetarian lunch, visit the studio of a contemporary artist who has chosen Kyoto as her home and works primarily with washi paper or visit the studio of performance calligrapher for a demonstration of his “giant brush” technique. From here we suggest a visit to one of the many traditional gardens such as the quiet, little-visited gem, Shisendo, or we will tailor the rest of the day to your interests.

Accommodations: TBD
Meals: Breakfast, lunch

DAY 11

Japan-Custom-Travel-Sample-Comprehensive - Sanzen-in

Take a day trip outside of Kyoto. Ohara is a lovely small, quiet town north of Kyoto where you can experience a taste of rural Japan: enjoy the daily farmers market, take a stroll through the countryside, visit a 1000-year old temple and garden, have lunch cooked by a gourmet chef cook lunch in the open kitchen of a restored farmhouse using food he grows himself, visit a kaki shibu dyer or a natural textile dye studio and visit Sanzen-in Temple and garden (an exquisite gem that you often see in photographs.)

This evening we will give you directions for a visit to a working dojo for a demonstration of kendo, archery and other arts.

Accommodationst: TBD
Meals: Breakfast, lunch

Day 12

Japan-Custom-Travel-Sample-Comprehensive - Moss Garden

Tour on your own with Esprit’s suggestions. Head to western Kyoto and the Arashiyama area. Start a walk through the charming Sagano strolling area (village) ending at the preserved area of Sagano Toriimoto (bamboo forest). Stop into Tenryuji, one of the oldest gardens in Kyoto, dating from the early 14th century for an in-depth exploration. The garden was the design work of Muso Kokushi, a renowned priest, diplomat, meditation teacher and garden designer of the 1300’s. After a light lunch, head to Saiho-ji Moss Garden Temple), which provides an experience of a completely different type of garden, known as a natural strolling garden. After a brief chanting ceremony by the resident monks, try your hand at an optional calligraphy exercise before taking a leisurely stroll through the mystical 1300-year-old site. For dinner tonight, we might suggest one of the many restaurants located in lovely old sukiya-style houses in the Ponto Cho Geisha District. In addition to Ponto-cho, the old Gion district is home to another one of the four communities of Geisha in Kyoto. This beautifully preserved area is a fine place to stroll on your own and see Kyoto the way it looked up to 150 years ago.

Accommodations: TBD
Meals: Breakfast

Day 13

Japan-Custom-Travel-Sample-Comprehensive - Nara Todaiji Buddha

Tour on your own with Esprit’s suggestions. Today we might would suggest starting the day with a visit to Fushimi Inari to see the bright vermillion tori gates in the early light, then continue on for a day trip to Nara to see the temple complex. We have prepared instructions as we send many people on this option. In Nara you will explore the Todai-ji, originally constructed in the 700’s, and housing the famous Great Buddha statue and Kasuga shrine. This trip will not take all day, but it cannot be done in a half-day either, allow about 6 hours.

Accomodations: TBD
Meals: Breakfast

Day 14

Japan-Custom-Travel-Sample-Comprehensive - Katsura

Tour on your own with Esprit’s suggestions. Start today with a visit to Katsura Imperial Villa, considered one of the finest sukiya-style gardens in Japan and available only by special advanced appointment. Afterward, head to eastern Kyoto to Nanzen-ji Temple, then a walk under the cherry trees on the Philosophers Walk, ending in Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavillion). Afterwards, visit with one of Kyoto’s leading ceramics experts for an introduction to Japanese ceramics in his fully restored machiya. End the day exploring downtown Kyoto with Esprit’s special Shopping guide or, in late afternoon, enjoy a private cooking lesson focused on the Japanese foods you would most like to learn about.

Accommodations: TBD
Meals: Breakfast

Day 15


Depart Kyoto early today and travel via train to Kurashiki on an optional day trip. Explore the town upon your arrival. The name “Kurashiki” means “warehouse village,” and during the 17th century Kurashiki became a prosperous market where rice, cotton, and sake were collected from the surrounding area and shipped off to other parts of Japan. The warehouses of Kurashiki are still there, and this architecture gives this town its special appeal. Full of traditional Japanese-style buildings and canals, Kurashiki is one of the most picturesque towns in Japan and a great place to take some wonderful photos. Return to Kyoto at the end of the day.

Accommodations: TBD
Meals: Breakfast

Day 16

Japan-Custom-Travel-Sample-Comprehensive - Garden Foliage

Enjoy a visit to Nijo Castle, a huge, 400-year old castle surrounded by moat and gardens which features the famous “nightingale floors,” a medieval-era security device of squeaking floor boards that warn of intruders. Other suggestions will be tailored to your interests.

Accommodations: TBD
Meals: Breakfast

DAY 17

Japan-Custom-Travel-Sample-Comprehensive - Koyasan Okuin

Travel via private hire car to Mt. Koya for a stay at a Buddhist monastery. A 9th century Buddhist monastery complex set in the high hills of Wakayama, representing the Shingon esoteric sect. Shingon is a close cousin to Tibetan Buddhism, and is distinctly different from the other two main divisions of Buddhism in Japan: Pure Land and Zen. This mountain was the monastery of the great Buddhist priest Kobo Daishi (aka Kukai), who is credited with spreading esoteric Buddhism throughout Japan. Enjoy touring in the area and photographing the many temples, monasteries, cedar forests and the Okuno-in Cemetery. Among other possibilities, if weather and energy permit, you can hike a 3-mile trail, called the Women’s Pilgrim Course, circling the perimeter of Koyasan.

Overnight: Soji-in Temple guest house in special quarters

Accommodations: Temple guest house in special quarters
Meals: Breakfast, dinner

DAY 18

Japan-Custom-Travel-Sample-Comprehensive-Oyado The Earth View

Awaken for the early morning chanting service followed by breakfast. Travel via car to Ise National Park for a stay at a contemporary ryokan. Oyado The Earth is perched in isolated splendor high above the Pacific Ocean with panoramic views of the sea and the waves crashing on the cliffs below. Have a cocktail on the rooftop terrace to watch the sunset burnish the sea to a deep blue or relax in your room’s private onsen bath. Enjoy a multi-course kaiseki meal in the Ran Restaurant with its floor to ceiling windows.

Accomodations: Oyado The Earth
Meals: Breakfast, dinner

DAY 19

Japan-Custom-Travel-Sample-Comprehensive - Ise Shrine

Have a relaxing day of local touring. Travel via shuttle to Toba to take a short local train ride and taxi to visit Ise Shrine, the most sacred in Japan. Ise is the shrine that is rebuilt every 20 years in accordance with Shinto principles of purity and renewal. Shinto is Japan’s oldest religion and this area dates from around 600. There are many places to eat in the Okage Yokocho district, immediately adjacent to the shrine. The Okage Yokocho restored, historic district looks much like it did during the Edo period (1600 – 1868). Return via taxi, local train and shuttle to the hotel.

Accommodations: Oyado the Earth
Meals: Breakfast, dinner

DAY 20

Japan-Custom-Travel-Sample-Comprehensive - Mt. Fuji

This morning, transfer via hotel shuttle to Toba station and then travel to Hakone via local train, Shinkansen (bullet) train and private hire car.  Hakone, the gateway to the Mt. Fuji National Park and historically important as one of the “checkpoints” during the Edo Period. Afternoon sightseeing with our suggestions on arrival.

Accomodations: Ryokan or western-style hotel
Meals: Breakfast

DAY 21

Japan-Custom-Travel-Sample-Comprehensive - Lake Ashi Ship

Tour on your own with Esprit’s suggestions.  You can complete the Hakone “circuit”, which includes riding on a switchback train, cable car, gondola (where you can see Mt. Fuji peak through the clouds on a good day), ship ride across Lake Ashi and ends with exploration of the town of Hakone at the end and a stop at a reconstructed checkpoint from the Tokaido Road. Alternatively, you could hike in the mountains around Hakone, along the Hakone Gai Rin, the outer ring of peaks in the Hakone mountainous region with spectacular views from the peak of Myojin-ga-take. The hikes around here are suitable for all hikers with plenty of variety and points of interest. You may also want to visit the Hakone Open Air Museum with it’s fine collection of outdoor and installation art.

Accomodations:  Ryokan or western-style hotel
Meals: Breakfast

Day 22

Japan-Custom-Travel-Sample-Comprehensive - Tokyo Skyline

Travel via private taxi and Shinkansen (Bullet Train) to Tokyo early today. You will be met on arrival by the hotel staff to escort you to the hotel. Tour on your own with Esprit’s suggestions. Tonight we might suggest dining on local sushi at a restaurant with a city view or strolling around the Ginza area on your own.

Accommodations: TBD
Meals: Breakfast

Day 23

Depart from Tokyo Narita Airport or Haneda Airport

Tour Tokyo on your own today with Esprit’s suggestions. Since your flight is late, you will be able to get a full morning of touring in before departing for the airport. Travel via private hire car to the airport for your departure.

Meals included: Breakfast


Note: The itinerary(s) will be finalized approximately 30 days prior to departure.  Artist visits are subject to availability and the schedules of our Japanese colleagues.  A final itinerary will be sent to you about two weeks prior to departure.   The itinerary and visits are subject to change at any time.

Sample Itinerary Destinations and Visits


For more information about current pricing for an itinerary like this, please contact us directly.

During an initial phone call or exchange by email we try to get a feel for what kind of trip and services you are looking for, your dates, your style of travel, your budget and any special needs and interests which we can accommodate. Based on that initial information, we give you a Sketch Itinerary outlining a route, types of accommodations, and other services we can provide. After getting your feedback, the Sketch Itinerary is revised if necessary and we are now able to give you a ballpark price.

The estimated price that you will be quoted will include the actual cost of the services: hotels, transportation, guides, tours etc, plus a tour planning fee. This fee includes all the expenses involved in making the arrangements (e.g., phone, fax, FedEx and currency transfer fees) and our time in making your arrangements. Please note that all trips are quoted and sold a package basis. We cannot provide detailed cost breakdowns.

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