Take a mind-blowing tour of historic, cultural and modern Japan during its mesmerising winter

Ever-welcoming and always fascinating, Japan is a land of ancient cultures, austere traditions and groundbreaking technology. Experience the best that this diverse country has to offer from the excitement of lively Tokyo to the tranquil winter scenes in Yamagata. Watch the snow monkeys enjoy an onsen like a pro, feast on local delights at a Takayama market, take a sobering visit to the Hiroshima Peace Park and explore magnificent Kyoto temples. Discover ancient castles, magical winter wonders and fascinating feudal history on this authentic travel adventure. If you pack a good sense of humour and leave all inhibitions behind, the Land of the Snow Monkeys rarely disappoints.

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Terms & Conditions

Start
Tokyo, Japan
Finish
Kyoto, Japan
Destination
Japan
Style
Original
Theme
Explorer
Code
CJSS
Physical rating
Ages
Min 15
Group size
Min 1, Max 12

Why you'll love this trip

  • Japan is a year-round destination with something in store for every season, and this Land of Rising Sun looks especially spectacular in winter. We are taking you to some of the best winter destinations in Japan on this trip, mixed with the other must see highlights too.

  • There’s no better way to get around Japan than the country’s famous railway system. Be impressed by the efficiency and ultra-modernity as you zip from place to place with your included 14-day Japan Rail Pass.

  • Enjoy some proper winter experiences in Yamagata and Yunadaka, admiring the unique 'snow monsters' and watch the snow monkeys enjoy their hot onsen in snow.

  • Stay in a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) and sample simple home-cooked fare in Edo-era Takayama. Explore local markets, the Hida Folk Village and perhaps stop by a sake brewery.

  • A visit to the Hiroshima Peace Park is a sobering but important experience for understanding the tragedies of Japan’s not-so-distant past.

  • Finish off your time in the Land of the Snow Monkeys in Kyoto, the country’s 'cultural capital' and home to a stunning selection of temples, tea houses and frozen-in-time Zen gardens.

  • Visit the country in a relatively quiet time, esp. in Takayama and Kyoto, that'll allow you more time to enjoy each destination without the crowds.

Is this trip right for you?

  • Japan is best to explore on foot - in fact most travellers are surprised at how much distance they end up covering just exploring places on foot. Make sure your shoes are comfy and you are fit enough to spend most of each day on your feet.

  • In some destinations you may be staying in a ryokan, which is a Japanese-style inn. It’s a great taste of tradition, however not everyone finds futon matresses on the tatami mat floor, tiny bathrooms and proximity to other guests as comfortable as more Western-style hotels and beds. Read more about ryokans in the Accommodation section of the Essential Trip Information.

  • Be prepared to pack light and smart for this trip as you'll be required to carry your own luggage between train stations and to hotels. This can include going up and down multiple flights of stairs in crowded train stations - if its' a wheeled suitcase, please be aware that you may have to pull your luggage through snow on the street between hotels and stations.

  • While heating inside buildings and trains is cosy, it gets very cold in Japan at this time of year (well below zero), so it's important to be prepared with warm clothes and waterproof shoes suitable for walking on ice and snow.The temperature in northern Japan is well below freezing from Nov to Mar and the weather can be unpredictable with overnight heavy snow as thick as 50 cm. It's important to come prepared for these weather conditions to best enjoy the trip - warm jacket that's rain and wind proof, hat, gloves, sturdy walking shoes with good traction are necessary.

  • Please be aware that the snow monkeys are wild animals with unpredictable behaviors - depending on the weather, their mating activities and other factors, the chance of seeing the snow monkeys is not 100% guaranteed.

Itinerary

Konnichiwa! Welcome to Japan. Bursting with contemporary urban culture, there are many sides of Tokyo to explore, from fascinating museums and world-class shopping, to neighbourhood backstreets lined with restaurants and karaoke bars. Your adventure begins with a Welcome Meeting at 6pm tonight. You can arrive at any time during the day, as there are no activities planned until this important meeting. Please check with hotel reception or look on the reception noticeboard for where and when the meeting will take place. If you're going to be late, please inform the hotel reception. Have your insurance and next of kin details on hand as we'll be collecting them at this meeting. Afterwards, you’ll have some free time to explore Tokyo’s exhilarating nightlife. Perhaps take a walk down Shinjuku’s Memory Lane. This crowded alley of busy restaurants and bar stalls started in the 1940s and quickly gained infamy as a black market drinking quarter. Today, it is still one of the best spots to try some of Tokyo’s famed ‘fast food’ dishes.
Accommodation
  • Ryokan/Hotel (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • Tokyo - Hamarikyu Garden - JPY300
  • Tokyo - Shinjuku Garden - JPY200
  • Tokyo - Edo Tokyo Museum - JPY600
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Special Information
Please note we do not include daily breakfasts on this tour as past experience has taught us that our travellers often struggle with traditional Japanese breakfast foods and the western variations that our accommodation provides. You may choose to pay separately for breakfast, or alternatively, grab something from a convenience store, bakery or coffee shop in the mornings.
Venture out with your leader on the metro to the buzzing Shibuya area and explore both the well-known and secret gems of Tokyo. Look down on the one of the busiest intersections in the world then visit the statute of Hachiko, the famously loyal dog, then head to a depachika for a mouth-watering array of tempting Japanese treats. Depachika are food halls lurking beneath major departhment stores, where vendors sell everything from bento boxes to formal gifts. Head to Yoyogi Park, home to many events from the first Japan Olympics, then visit Meiji Shrine. Enter via a massive Torii (gate) and the sights and sounds of the busy city are replaced by a tranquil forest. Approximately 100,000 trees were planted during the shrine's construction and were donated from regions across the entire country. Finish with a visit to Harajuku, the home of quirky pop culture, then jump on a train that'll take the group to the mountain city of Yamagata.
Accommodation
  • Ryokan/Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Tokyo - Shibuya walking tour
  • Tokyo - Yoyogi Park
  • Tokyo - Meiji Shrine
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Special Information
Your 14 day Japan Rail Pass will be validated today. If you are planning to travel longer after our tour ends, you might like to consider extending your Rail Pass to 21 days at time of booking your trip. Extensions or new JRPs are not available for purchase within Japan.
Take some free time to explore Yamagata this morning. Perhaps you'd like to visit Yamadera, a scenic temple in the mountains north-east of the city, and take in the spectacular views of the valley from the temple grounds. The temple was founded in AD860 and the 1000 steps up the mountainside are lined with stone lanterns and small statues. In the afternoon, a 40-minute bus journey will take you to the town of Zao Onsen. If the weather is behaving, the group'll take the Zao Ropeway (cable car) to the top of Mount Zao. The views of the snow-coated landscape are incredible, and the area is famous for its spectacular 'Ice Monsters' (Juhyo), which are heavily snow-covered trees that have become misshapen under the weight of the snow.
Accommodation
  • Ryokan/Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Yamagata - Mt Zao Ropeway
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Depart Yamagata for Yudanaka in search of Japan's famous snow monkeys (approximately five hours). Stop en route at Zenkohi Temple, a 7th-century temple in Nagano that stores the first Buddhist statue brought to Japan. Spend the night in a traditional Japanese ryoken, where the host will prepare a Japanese dinner with local ingredients. Kick back in your yukata (Japanese gown) or call it a night and get some sleep on the cosy futon beds laid out on tatami mats on the floor.
Accommodation
  • Ryokan (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Nagano - Zenkoji Temple
Meals Included
  • Dinner
Take a thirty to forty-minute walk through the forest to the aptly named Jigokudani (Hell Valley), named for its steep cliffs from which fountains of hot water and steam emit. The Jigokudani Monkey Park offers visitor the unique experience of seeing monkeys in the wild, bathing in natural hot springs. The park is inhabited by Japanese Macaques, known as snow monkeys, which live in large social groups and are highly entertaining to watch. Though the park is open throughout the year, the monkeys are particularly photogenic when the area is covered in snow from December to March. Afterwards, warm up in a steaming-hot onsen (hot spring bath) in your ryokan. This is a highlight for many. Generally, onsens are communal bathing areas and you are not permitted to wear bathing suits. While this can seem somewhat intimidating at first, it's a quintessential Japanese experience that most visitors quickly become accustomed to.
Accommodation
  • Ryokan (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Yamanouchi - Jigokudani Monkey Park
  • Yamanouchi - Onsen
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Special Information
It's about a 2km walk from the bus station to the park (one way), but it can get rather slippery and the road is not paved. Please note that the monkeys are wild ones as cute as they are, so please keep your distance and do not use selfie sticks.
Travel to Takayama by bullet and local trains (approximately five hours), reaching speeds of 270 kilometres per hour. Takayama, a charming town from the Edo period, is located in the Japanese Alps and famous for its traditional inns, sake breweries and the museum of Hida Folk Village, which is your first stop. It's an outdoor museum where the traditional thatched-roof architecture unique to this area has been crecreated in a mountain setting. Learn the techniques used to build farmhouses designed to withstand the winters, then enjoy free time to explore the art galleries, local markets and museums, or simply wander the delightful streets. 
Accommodation
  • Ryokan (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Takayama - Hida Folk Village
Optional Activities
  • Takayama - Bike hire (per day) - JPY800
  • Takayama - Merchant House - JPY700
  • Takayama - Festival Float Museum - JPY820
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
The Gifu prefecture is known to produce many fine altitude vegetables, and today you’ll visit morning markets that date back over 600 years. Browse the stalls of seasonal vegetables brought in from the surrounding countryside, set up by local farm women from 6 am every day. While browsing the food markets, look out for the unique local-style pickles, the bags of miso wrapped in leaves, Genkotsu ame (soy bean candy), preserved fish, spices and the delicious marshmallow treat of owara tamaten. The rest of the day will be free to spend as you wish. The alpine climate and crystal-clear mountain waters are perfect for creating sake, so why not visit a local brewery for a taste of the region's prized signature drop.  
Accommodation
  • Ryokan (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Takayama - Market visit
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Take a train for approximately 5 hours to Hiroshima. Visit the Genbaku (A-Bomb) Dome and the Peace Memorial Park, both of which emotionally stand testament to the fateful day in August 1945 when Hiroshima was chosen as target for the first ever wartime use of the atomic bomb. The dome was just metres from where the bomb detonated so it was able to retain its shape; the fact that it looks almost exactly as it did after the bombing means it serves as a reminder and symbol of peace. The memorial park serves the same purpose, and has museums, memorials and monuments dedicated to the memory of victims, education on what lead to the bomb’s use, as well as advocating world peace.
Accommodation
  • Ryokan/Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Hiroshima - Peace Park & A - Bomb Dome
Optional Activities
  • Hiroshima - Peace Museum - JPY200
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Head for the serene, enchanting island of Miyajima, reached after a short ferry ride (30 kilometres) across the Inland Sea. The island is home to the venerable Shinto shrine of Itsukushima, famous for its huge bright orange gate (tori) that rises majestically out of the sea. At high tide it is considered to be one of the most beautiful sights in Japan. The size and physical landscape of Miyajima makes it an ideal place for walking. There is the lovely Momaji Park (known as Maple Valley), from where it is possible to walk or take a cable car up to the top of Mt. Misen. Keep your eyes out for inquisitive and hungry deer that roam the streets. In the evening, maybe try one of the city’s signature dishes for dinner – okonomiyaki, a kind savoury pancake of egg, cabbage, soba noodles, and meat or seafood.
Accommodation
  • Ryokan/Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Hiroshima - Miyajima Island
Optional Activities
  • Miyajima - Itsukushima Shrine - JPY300
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Leave Hiroshima today and head to Japan’s most impressive samurai castle at Himeji by train (approx. one hour). The building, which has survived earthquakes and war since the mid-16th century, was restored to its full glory in 2015. The moats, baileys, towers and walled alleyways were ingeniously designed to trick attackers – perhaps so intimidatingly that they were never in fact tested. Explore the castle that was once home to over 10,000 Samurai families and look out over the castle grounds and the city below from the seventh floor. Continue on a 1 hour train ride to Kyoto. Originally founded as Heian-kyo (literally 'tranquillity and peace capital') by Emperor Kammu in 794, Kyoto had its golden age during the imperial court's heyday from 794 to 1185. Kyoto was the capital of Japan for over 1000 years, but the emperor and government are now located in Tokyo. With over 2000 temples, shrines and gardens, Kyoto is a great place to get lost in. Spend some free time getting acquainted with Kyoto and walking through the historical streets. In the evening, maybe discover Kyoto’s exuberant nightlife. Hit up the city’s izakayas (traditional Japanese pubs), live music venues, theatres or nightclubs.
Accommodation
  • Ryokan/Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Himeji - Himeji Castle
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
With its many cultural landmarks and historical sites, and the abundance of traditional arts and literature, Kyoto is regarded as the cultural heart of Japan. Kyoto is a city that lends itself to walking, and there are a number of walks available. Visit some of the best temples in the town suggested by our leader in the morning. Then enjoy a free afternoon for more exploration. Recommended is a gentle stroll through the nearby eastern hills along the ‘Path of Philosophy’ that links Ginkaku-ji, the Temple of the Silver Pavilion, with Nanzen-ji Temple. This walk can be extended south through well-preserved ‘Old Town’ areas to Kiyamizu-dera (Temple of Clear Water) from where there is a justifiably famous view across a wooded gorge toward Kyoto. Also recommended is a visit to the extravagantly decorated Kinkakuji temple, immortalised in Yukio Mishima’s novel 'The Golden Pavilion'. Another great stop is the architecturally impressive Higashi Honganji temple and the almost surreal Sanjusangendo, home to 1001 statues of Kannon. In the evening, perhaps head out to Gion, the famous Geisha district. Even today you can observe the age-old tradition of Geisha girls visiting members of the wealthy elite. This unfolds in small teahouses tucked away in tiny back streets.
Accommodation
  • Ryokan/Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Kyoto - Temple/Shrine entrance (2)
  • Kyoto - Gion District walk
Optional Activities
  • Kyoto - Bike hire (per day) - JPY800
  • Kyoto - Sanjusangendo Temple - JPY600
  • Kyoto - Obanzai Cooking Class - JPY3800
  • Kyoto - Kiyomizu Temple - JPY500
  • Kyoto - Tea Ceremony with Maiko - JPY2000
  • Kyoto - Kinkakuji Temple - JPY500
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Make the most of your last day in Kyoto. If you haven’t done so already, you may like to see Japan’s largest pagoda at Toji. Consider doing one of our Urban Adventure tours, such as the cycling tour of the Path of Philosophy (see urbanadventures.com for more information). You could visit the imposing and opulent Nijo Castle, home to the Tokugawa Shoguns who had power over the country during the Edo period. Check out the ‘nightingale floors’ of Ninomaru Palace, which squeak to warn of intruders (like otherwise-silent ninjas). From the Castle it’s a short bus ride to Ryoan-ji, perhaps Japan’s most famous Zen garden, where carefully placed rocks sit in an immaculately raked sea of gravel. For some last minute shopping there’s Kyoto’s handicraft centre, a perfect place to pick up some souvenirs with a fine selection of woodblock prints, yukata (light cotton robes), jewellery and pottery. For our final evening you might like to celebrate your journey with a Japanese feast or maybe discover Kyoto’s exuberant nightlife. Alternatively, you could hit up the city’s izakayas (traditional Japanese pubs), live music venues, theatres or nightclubs.
Accommodation
  • Ryokan/Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Your trip come to an end this morning and you’re able to depart at any time
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.

Meals

6 breakfasts, 1 dinner

Transport

Bullet Train, Local Train, Metro, Public Bus, Ferry

Accommodation

Hotel (6 nts), Ryokan (6 nts)

Included activities

  • Tokyo - Shibuya walking tour
  • Tokyo - Yoyogi Park
  • Tokyo - Meiji Shrine
  • Yamagata - Mt Zao Ropeway
  • Nagano - Zenkoji Temple
  • Yamanouchi - Jigokudani Monkey Park
  • Yamanouchi - Onsen
  • Takayama - Hida Folk Village
  • Takayama - Market visit
  • Hiroshima - Peace Park & A - Bomb Dome
  • Hiroshima - Miyajima Island
  • Himeji - Himeji Castle
  • Kyoto - Temple/Shrine entrance (2)
  • Kyoto - Gion District walk

Dates & availability

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Important notes

1. A 14-day Japan Rail Pass is included in the price of your trip (validated on Day 2). For those wishing to stay and travel longer in Japan, an Japan Rail Pass Extension (total 21 days) is available.
2. A Single Supplement is currently not available for this trip due to limited rooms at many of our properties.
3. Due to the rapid increase in tourism in Japan and in the lead up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics it has been necessary to go outside our traditional tour leader sources. As a result our passionate, professional and trained tour leaders may be local Japanese or long term foreign residents in Japan.
4. We are currently unable to book pre or post tour accommodation at our start & finish point hotels due to limited room availability. We recommend booking a hotel of your choice through an online booking engine if you are planning to stay longer in Japan.
5. Please be aware that the snow monkeys are wild animals with unpredictable behaviors - depending on the weather, their mating activities and other factors, the chance of seeing the snow monkeys is not 100% guaranteed.

Essential trip information

Want an in-depth insight into this trip? Essential Trip Information provides a detailed itinerary, visa info, how to get to your hotel, what's included - pretty much everything you need to know about this adventure and more.