Temples, tempura and torii on a fast-tracked adventure

Home to sumo wrestling, sake, geishas, karaoke and onsens, Japan’s got a lot going for it. And on this nine-day Lonely Planet Experience to some of its most acclaimed cities, you’ll get to see the country at its best. Take in the neon nightlife of Tokyo, relax in the manicured gardens of Nikko and discover thousands of years of culture and history in Kyoto. And have you heard about the food? World-class sushi, ravishing ramen, delectable donburi – you certainly won’t be going hungry. With your local leader to point you in all the right direction and plenty of time to explore at your own pace, experience the culture and charm of the Land of the Rising Sun.


Start
Tokyo, Japan
Finish
Kyoto, Japan
Destination
Japan
Style
Basix
Theme
Lonely Planet Experience
Code
CJRB
Physical rating
Ages
Min 15
Group size
Min 1, Max 16

A powerful partnership

Lonely Planet and Intrepid Travel share the same philosophy: we help curious people explore the world.

Why you'll love this trip

  • From the ultra-modern to ancient traditions, this express adventure will introduce you to some of the many faces of Japan in a short amount of time.

  • Visit the little town of Nikko – packed with World Heritage-listed temples and picture-perfect hiking trails, and one of the best backdrops for a soak in a steaming onsen.

  • Eat your way from Tokyo to Kyoto with plenty of chances to try all kinds of delicious street food, sake, snacks and surprises – from a hearty bowl of ramen to world-class sashimi.

  • Even getting from place to place is fun in Japan! Ride the renowned Shinkansen bullet train and make use of public transport day passes to get to and from the activities you choose.

  • With a local leader to show you around, a new group of friends to explore with and plenty of free time for discovery, you’re guaranteed to get the most out of Japan’s wondrous sights.

Is this trip right for you?

  • This is a Lonely Planet Experience powered by Intrepid, made for travellers who value their independence but also want the benefit of a local leader and a group of like-minded travellers. The itinerary has a mix of included activities and free time when your leader will offer suggestions. Please budget spending money for optional activities you want to partake in.

  • Your leader will take you on orientation walks in each destination, giving you tips on things like supermarkets, places to eat, ATMs and recommendations of fun things to see and do. For more in-depth exploration you can head off on your own or with other members of your group, or if you are interested in an itinerary with more inclusions, please see Intrepid’s Land of the Rising Sun trip – search trip code CJST on the Intrepid website for more information.

  • 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 mattresses on the tatami mat floor, tiny bathrooms and proximity to other guests as comfortable as more western-style hotels and beds.

  • Are you aged 18-29 and want to travel with people of a similar age? Check out the Real Japan adventure – search trip code CJYO on the Intrepid website to get the low-down.

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 6 pm tonight. Afterwards, why not head out for an optional dinner to try some local food and experience the nightlife in this amazing city. You might like to finish the night with a drink at a traditional Japanese izakaya – ask your leader for their favourites.
Accommodation
  • Hotel/Ryokan (1 night)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Special Information
It’s very important that you attend the welcome meeting as we will be collecting insurance details and next of kin information at this time. If you are going to be late please let your travel agent or hotel reception know. Ask reception or look for a note in the lobby for more information on where the meeting will take place.
This morning, venture out with your small group on the metro to explore the buzzing Shibuya area. Check out one of the busiest intersections in the world before heading into a depachika (underground food hall) for a mouth-watering array of tempting Japanese treats. Next, visit Meiji Shrine – enter via a massive torii (gate) and notice the sights and sounds of the city fade away as you enter the tranquil forest. Afterwards, explore the Harajuku district, the home of quirky youth pop culture. In your free time this afternoon, perhaps take in the historic Asakusa area – one of the older and more traditional parts of Tokyo. Here you can stop by Senso-ji, the city’s oldest temple, which was founded almost 1400 years ago when Tokyo was nothing more than a fishing village. This evening, you've got endless options for dinner – how about a hearty bowl of ramen, crispy tonkatsu, or snacks and beer at (another) izakaya.
Accommodation
  • Hotel/Ryokan (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Tokyo - Yoyogi-kōen
  • Tokyo - Meiji-jingū Shrine
  • Tokyo - Shibuya walking tour
  • Tokyo - Metro day pass
  • Tokyo - Harajuku street
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Enjoy a morning walk around the famous Tsukiji Outer Market, where fresh seafood from Tokyo’s wholesale fish market (recently relocated to a new site at Toyosu) is delivered daily. Wander through the narrow aisles to find all sorts of amazing food then perhaps pop in to one of the sushi restaurants for a fresh breakfast. Continue on to the famous Akihabara District – the centre of Japan's otaku culture. Shops and establishments devoted to anime and manga are scattered among the electronic stores in the district. This afternoon is free for you to explore, so why not spend some time in the city’s green spaces like Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden or create your own entertainment with some karaoke. If you’re stuck on things to do, open up your Lonely Planet app and get exploring with the top picks!
Accommodation
  • Hotel/Ryokan (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Tokyo - Akihabara walking tour
  • Tokyo - Metro day pass
  • Tokyo - Tsukiji Outer Market
Optional Activities
  • Tokyo - Karaoke - JPY2000
  • Tokyo - Tokyo Cruise - JPY980
  • Tokyo - Metropolitan Government Building observation deck - Free
  • Tokyo - Imperial Palace - Free
  • Tokyo - Shinjuku-gyoen - JPY200
  • Tokyo - Edo-Tokyo Museum - JPY600
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Say goodbye to Tokyo and take the train to Nikko (approximately 2 hours) where you’ll have a free day to explore. Nikko has been a sacred city since the middle of the eighth century and is full of shrines and temples. Perhaps visit the Toshu-gu Shrine, a resting place of a Tokugawa shogun who was one of the most powerful rulers of the country. Every corner of this monument is covered in intricate gold leaf, lacquerwork, paintings and patterns. Here you can also visit the Museum of Art at the back of the temple complex. This 1920s mansion has one of the country’s most beautiful collections of sliding doors and screens decorated by the best Japanese painters of the day. You could also head to Shin-kyo bridge – one of the town’s most famous landmarks – and the Buddhist temple of Rinno-ji, home to fearsome statues and an elegant garden.
Accommodation
  • Hotel/Ryokan (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Nikko - Public bus area pass
Optional Activities
  • Nikko - Rinnō-ji - JPY400
  • Nikko - Kanman-ga-Fuchi Abyss - JPY200
  • Nikko - Tōshō-gū - JPY1300
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
For those feeling energetic, join your leader for a hike around the Nikko area. Depending on the time of the year, you can climb up to the Senjogahara Plateau, where the gods of Mt Nantai and Mt Akagi are said to have battled for possession of Chuzenji Lake. You can take a six-kilometre walk following the course of the plateau or explore the various hiking trails that spread off from the lake itself. The lake area is also home to the Kegon Waterfall, and you can get the Akechidaira Ropeway (cable car) over the falls and lake. A little further on is Lake Yunoko and Yumoto, where you can soak in the natural hot springs – a great place to experience one of Japan's well-loved public onsens. In the town itself you can explore the shops along Hippari Dako, maybe tasting yuba – the skin that forms on top when making tofu. Sounds strange, but it's a delicious treat!
Accommodation
  • Hotel/Ryokan (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Nikko - Hiking
Optional Activities
  • Nikko - Akechidaira Ropeway (return) - JPY710
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Enjoy your last free morning in Nikko before making your way to Kyoto. Take the local train (around 2 hours) and then jump on board the shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto for approximately 3 hours. Originally founded as Heian-kyo ('tranquillity and peace capital') by Emperor Kammu in AD794, Kyoto was the capital of Japan for over 1000 years, and with over 2000 temples, shrines and gardens, Kyoto is a great place to get lost in. On arrival, head to one of the most photogenic spots in Kyoto – Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine – famous for the thousands of vermillion-coloured torii (gates) which straddle the paths and trails in the area. Afterwards, enjoy some free time to get acquainted with Kyoto by walking through its historic neighbourhoods.
Accommodation
  • Hotel/Ryokan (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Kyoto - Fushimi Inari-Taisha
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Today is free for you to explore. With its many landmarks and historical sites and an abundance of traditional arts and literature, Kyoto is regarded as the cultural heart of Japan. Kyoto is also a city that lends itself to walking, and there are plenty of paths available – ask your leader for their recommendations. Perhaps visit the extravagantly decorated Kinkakuji temple, also known as ‘The Golden Pavilion’, or if you’re visiting in spring, head to the theatre for a presentation of Miyako Odori (the Cherry Blossom Dance) performed by elaborately dressed maiko (apprentice geisha). In the evening, enjoy a guided walk through the Pontocho and Gion areas – the famous geisha districts. Even today you can observe the age-old tradition of geisha visiting members of the wealthy elite – this unfolds in small teahouses tucked away in tiny back streets. For those who are keen, you can also choose to attend the Gion Corner cultural centre where you can enjoy some Japanese performing arts, from flower arranging to the Lion Dance.
Accommodation
  • Hotel/Ryokan (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Kyoto - Public bus day pass
  • Kyoto - Gion District walk
Optional Activities
  • Kyoto - Kiyomizu-dera - JPY400
  • Kyoto - Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion) - JPY500
  • Kyoto - Path of Philosophy (Tetsugaku-no-Michi) - Free
  • Kyoto - Gion Corner cultural centre - JPY3150
  • Kyoto - Miyako Odori performance (tickets from) - JPY4000
  • Kyoto - Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion) - JPY500
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Make the most of your day in Kyoto. If you haven’t done so already, you may like to see Japan’s largest pagoda at Toji, or you could visit the imposing and opulent Nijo Castle, home to the Tokugawa Shoguns who had power over the country during the Edo period. You can also check out the ‘nightingale floors’ of Ninomaru Palace, which squeak to warn of intruders. From the castle, it’s a short bus ride to Ryoan-ji, perhaps Japan’s most acclaimed Zen garden, where carefully placed rocks sit in an immaculately raked sea of gravel. For some local 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. Tonight, why not enjoy karaoke with your new friends, or maybe splash out on a kaiseki meal in a ryotei – small restaurants serving traditional multi-course cuisine. Being in Kyoto alone is definitely cause for celebration.
Accommodation
  • Hotel/Ryokan (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Kyoto - Public bus day pass
Optional Activities
  • Kyoto - Ryōan-ji - JPY500
  • Kyoto - Tō-ji (grounds free) - JPY800
  • Kyoto - Kyoto Cycling Tour Urban Adventure - JPY7813
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
There are no activities planned for today and you can depart the hotel at any time. Check out time is 10 am, however if you’re departing later, you can arrange luggage storage at the hotel.
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
This trip is a Lonely Planet Experience
Our Lonely Planet Experiences include plenty of free time so you can do the things that suit your budget and interests. Between your Intrepid Travel leader’s local knowledge and Lonely Planet’s trusted travel tips and recommendations, your trip will be more epic than ever.

Meals

No meals are included on this tour

Transport

Public bus, Metro, Train, Bullet Train

Accommodation

Hotel/Ryokan (8 nts)

Included activities

  • Tokyo - Yoyogi-kōen
  • Tokyo - Meiji-jingū Shrine
  • Tokyo - Shibuya walking tour
  • Tokyo - Metro day pass
  • Tokyo - Harajuku street
  • Tokyo - Akihabara walking tour
  • Tokyo - Tsukiji Outer Market
  • Nikko - Public bus area pass
  • Nikko - Hiking
  • Kyoto - Fushimi Inari-Taisha
  • Kyoto - Public bus day pass
  • Kyoto - Gion District walk

Lonely Planet extras

  • Free access to the Lonely Planet mobile app for one year
  • 25% discount on all items in the Lonely Planet Shop

Dates & availability

Trip departures are unavailable.

There are currently no scheduled departures on our Japan Express trip. If you are interested in other trips in the region visit one of the links below.

Prices may go up, so secure your trip today!
Jump to a departure month

Important notes

1. This trip does not include a Japan Rail Pass. You will need to buy your own train tickets for any independent rail travel you wish to do in Japan pre- or post-tour.
2. 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.
3. We are currently unable to book pre- or post-tour accommodation at our start and finish point hotels due to limited room availability. We recommend booking a hotel of your choice through your travel agent or an online booking engine if you are planning to stay longer in Japan.
4. It is essential you pack light and compact for rail travel in Japan. From May 2020 there will be size restrictions for luggage on Shinkansen trains. Luggage between 160–250 cm may require an additional JPY 1000 oversize luggage fee per train journey. Luggage over 251 cm will NOT be permitted on the Shinkansen trains at all. Please notify your tour leader at your welcome meeting if your luggage is over 160 cm or 251 cm so they can make the necessary arrangements.

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.

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