2023 Autumn Colours Spectacular Tour of Japan
All our tours are designed to offer exclusive access to the real Japan. This Autumn Colours Spectacular tour is off the beaten track, giving you an experience that will exceed your Japan bucket list expectations.
This tour takes you on a 15-day VIP journey to experience the best of Japan at autumn’s peak. You will experience the Japanese culture up close, enjoy the curious blend of history and modern Japan along with the must-see sites.
This tour is a perfect introduction to Japan, with tour guides who offer first-class wisdom as you experience the diverse landscapes, iconic sites and many hidden treasures.
This trip incorporates some unique elements exclusive to Journey to the East, such as a private tea ceremony at a tea master’s own home. The tour gives you some intimate insights into Japan’s most enigmatic of traditions. It travels at a reasonable pace with guided excursions in the back streets on foot.
Our most comprehensive autumn tour visiting iconic sites in Tokyo, Kyoto, Nikko, Mt Fuji, Hiroshima and Miyajima as well as providing rural experiences in Matsumoto and Takayama.
Day 1: Arrival in Tokyo
Welcome to Japan! On arrival at Narita or Haneda International Airport, you will be met by a Journey to the East guide and escorted to your hotel by an airport shuttle.
Today is an arrival day and no group program is scheduled. Your hotel is located near glitzy Ginza and famous Tsukiji Market. Why not take a stroll and relax, ready to start the first full day of your 2023 Autumn Colours Spectacular Tour of Japan.
*Many of our guests arrive a day or so early to settle in before the tour starts. We can arrange your additional nights accommodation in the same room as the tour.
Day 2: Tokyo
You begin your exploration of Tokyo after a brief orientation with your guide. Experiencing the bustle of Tokyo's super-efficient subway (gently!) you will arrive at the old Tokyo neighbourhood of Asakusa. Here, your guide will explain Buddhism and Shintoism and their relationship with everyday life of Japanese people. Highlights of this morning include:
- Tokyo’s oldest temple, ever-popular Sensoji,
- Walk through the distinctive red Kaminarimon Gate, and
- Wander around the bustling Nakamise Shopping Street.
After a tempura lunch at a local restaurant you will progress to Ginza, the most famous commercial town in Tokyo. Here you will see,
- The venerated Kabukiza Theater,
- Food hall of department store exhibiting beautifully packaged food, and
- Back streets with small shops selling traditional ware.
Tonight you will get together for a welcome dinner of modern Japanese cuisine at a restaurant with great night views.
Day 3: Nikko
Nikko is arguably the most popular autumn destination in Japan. Today you will make a day visit to this UNESCO listed site on Japan’s impressive bullet-train – the shinkansen.
Nikko's origins go back as a mountain hermitage for a Buddhist priest in the 8th century and rose to fame in the 17th century when it was chosen as the site for the mausoleum of the powerful shogun who unified Japan in 1603.
You visit the Nikko National Park to admire the stunning autumn coloured foliage and;
- Enjoy the truly beautiful autumn colours against the Chuzenji Lake,
- See the Kegon Waterfalls with its dramatic 100-metre fall, and
- The Toshogu Complex where you will walk through an impressive avenue of giant cedar trees and a highly decorative shrine, which honours the powerful shogun.
Day 4: Tokyo
JttE Special Experience!
A deep dive into Japanese culture learning about the “Way of Tea”, the Japanese tea ceremony. You have the unique opportunity to spend a day with a Japanese tea master in her own home in a quiet Tokyo suburb. Today you will experience;
- Tokyo's residential suburb and visit a home,
- Beautiful philosophy behind the Japanese Way of Tea,
- Formal ritual of drinking matcha tea, and
- Traditional tea-ceremony lunch at tea master's living room.
After returning to your hotel this evening, you have a chance to explore Tokyo a little more at your own pace.
Day 5: Mt Fuji and Kawaguchi-ko
A scenic train takes you to Kawaguchiko, a town located in the scenic Fuji Five Lakes District in the foothills of Mt Fuji. At Kawaguchiko, the highlights include;
- Breathtaking views of Mt Fuji, with the lake and stunning autumn foliage in foreground,
- Lunch of hearty noodle soup "Hoto", a local specialty,
- Itchiku Kubota Art Museum to see superb examples of kimono art using the centuries-old “shibori” tie-dyeing technique,
- Stay in a traditional Japanese inn (a ryokan) and sleep on the comfortable futon bedding in your traditional tatami-mat room,
- Authentic kaiseki-style banquet for dinner, and
- Soaking in an hot spring onsen bath with dramatic views of Mt Fuji across the lake. Japanese ryokan hospitality at its best!
Day 6: Matsumoto
You start the day with another new experience, a traditional Japanese-style breakfast – a beautifully presented and nutritious, it is an experience in its self!
Aboard an express train, you head for Matsumoto in Nagano Prefecture, in the heartland of the Japan Alps. During Japan’s feudal period, Matsumoto became an important castle town ruled by a powerful local clan. Today the city is popular for its cosmopolitan atmosphere, galleries, and stunning alpine setting. After arriving Matsumoto, you will;
- Walk through the well-preserved old merchant district, Nakamachi and Nawate-Dori, to see the Namako-walled homes,
- Browse through shops selling Japanese traditional crafts and food items such as pottery, timber ware and sake, and
- Dinner at a small local Italian restaurant showcasing Nagano's fresh produce.
Day 7: Matsumoto and Takayama
A visit to the impressive Matsumoto Castle begins the day. The castle is Japan’s oldest wooden castle and one of the nation’s five castles designated as national treasures. Still in impeccable original condition, you will explore its wooden interiors and climb to the top of its distinctive black-and-white turret.
You then take a coach trip across an autumn-coloured mountain pass to the town of Takayama. You will slide back in time as you wander through Takayama’s beautifully preserved streets of old timber merchant houses in this most atmospheric and compact of towns – best explored on foot. This evening you will enjoy a regional cuisine at a local izakaya restaurant.
Day 8: Takayama and Shirakawa-go
You set out to visit Takayama’s Morning Market, with its heritage going back some 200 years, to check out its farm-fresh produce and handmade crafts.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Shirakawa-go is next on the agenda. You will spend a few hours exploring this charming rural village surrounded by mountains and autumn colours. The village’s famous thatched-roof farmhouses are known as gassho-zukuri (meaning “hands clasped together in prayer”). Their steeply-slanted roofs are built to withstand the region’s heavy snowfalls. You will go inside one of the houses to study the interior and learn about their history and the life of snowbound countryside.
Back in Takayama you have some free time to wander around Takayama’s old merchant precinct and visit boutique sake breweries or craft shops. The evening is also free for you to sample some of Takayama's fine restaurants.
Day 9: Kyoto
This morning you will take an express train to head to Kyoto. Kyoto is the cultural heart of Japan and the guardian of many of its ancient traditions. Originally made capital in 794, present-day Kyoto offers an endless range of ancient temples and Shinto shrines, contemplative gardens, traditional craft shops and refined restaurants.
Upon arrival, you will explore the Gion area by a walking guided tour. The guide will take you through atmospheric backstreets to discover Kyoto's traditional culture and architecture. You may spot a geisha or two on a way to their performance engagement.
Day 10: Kyoto
Full day guided tour of Kyoto today. You will walk through a select gardens and temples such as Eikando and Nanzenji, which display the best autumn colours at the time.
After a modern Kyoto style lunch, you will visit an UNESCO listed site of Kiyomizu Temple. The temple is magnificent and especially gorgeous in autumn, however, the other attraction of this area is surrounding small streets such as Nineizaka and Sannenzaka lined with high quality potteries and other crafts.
A difference in our guided tours is you don't just visit famous sites but explore the destination by walking through the back streets popping into local shrines, markets and craft shops to truly experience the city.
In the evening you will have a Cooking Class to learn the techniques of popular Japanese dishes. A great way to take home your experience of holiday and recreate it at home to share with your family and friends!
Day 11: Arashiyama (Kyoto)
In Arashiyama at the foot of the mountains to Kyoto’s west, once again you will immerse yourself in magnificent autumn scenery against the backdrop of exemplary temples and gardens. Today, you will;
- Take a Rickshaw ride to go through Arashiyama's famous Bamboo Grove,
- Explore deeper into rural Sagano and fully experience the rustic simplicity and serenity of mountain temples away from the tourist crowds, and
- Sample Kyoto’s traditional tofu cuisine, a local specialty which has its roots in Kyoto’s Buddhist vegetarian past for lunch.
Tonight, dinner is at a shabu shabu restaurant serving wagyu beef and you have a Maiko (apprentice geisha) join you for a private performance. It is a unique opportunity to engage with her in person and learn more about this centuries-old art form and the life of a modern-day geisha.
Day 12: Hiroshima
Once again onboard shinkansen, you travel to Hiroshima. The first stop is the Peace Memorial Park and its informative and sobering Atomic Bomb Museum contemplating the devastating impact of the world’s first atomic bomb attack in 1945.
Despite this history, present-day Hiroshima remains a very welcoming and vibrant city, characterized by wide boulevards and attractive leafy parks. Tonight, you have Okonomiyaki dinner - a Hiroshima specialty and very popular amongst our past guests.
After dinner at our hotel, you may have an opportunity to visit Shukkeien Japanese Garden illuminating autumn colours.
Day 13: Miyajima
It is a short train and ferry ride to the island of Miyajima. The island best known for the vermillion-red floating torii gate of Itsukushima Shrine (a UNESCO World Heritage Site).
You tour Itsukushima Shrine which was originally constructed in 593 when the island was designated a sacred island only to be inhabited by the gods. The shrine’s unique pier-like structure (which appears to float above the tides) was restored to its present state in 1168.
Tonight you will stay on the island overnight, and enjoy the evening quiet after the day-trippers have left and to perhaps capture a photo of the famous torii gate at sunset. The second night experience of staying at ryokan on the tour.
Day 14: Osaka
This morning you head your final destination, Osaka, by bullet train. Upon arrival, you will see the city and its iconic sights from a different perspective onboard a River Cruise boat. The cruise will past the Japan Mint, City Hall, Nakanoshima and Osaka Castle, one of Japan's most famous landmarks at autumn's peak. In the afternoon, you will continue onto the downtown district of Namba and have a walking guided tour including the Doguyasuji, the 'kitchen tool' street. It is a haven for those who love Japanese cuisine. You will find anything from delicate Japanese lacquerware, to a takoyaki griddle, the perfect set of chopsticks or a high-end Japanese knife.
A farewell Japan dinner tonight is at an entertainment area of Dotonbori, famous for its night-time neon and historic canal. Before dinner you will have a twilight guided tour of Dotonbori, to feel the bigger-than-life spirit of Osaka.
Day 15: Bon Voyage
This morning after breakfast, your 2023 Autumn Colours Spectacular Tour of Japan concludes. You can return to Tokyo by bullet train or depart from Osaka’s Kansai International Airport. Perhaps you might like to linger in Japan for a little longer. We will be delighted to plan your personal post-tour extension to show you a different part of Japan. Please see our Model Extension Itineraries to get some inspiration!
Note: The cost of an escorted transfer to your departure airport is not included in our Small Group Tours (as we have found many guests choose to stay in Japan a bit longer), but we will be happy to arrange your transfer to next destination or to exit airport. Please see our FAQ for more details.
Each guest is personally looked after with one-on-one interactions with our hand-picked, expert tour guides. As part of your investment, this tour includes:
- First-class wisdom and higher standard of individual care and attention
- 14 nights’ accommodation (including traditional Japanese inns)
- All Breakfasts included
- 8 set lunches included (6 free choice lunches)
- 11 set dinners included (3 free choice dinners)
- Exclusive activity access
- Airport meet & greet
- Hotel transfer by public transport on arrival
- All local transport (train, bus and taxi)
- Pre-loaded Suica card
- Expert English speaking tour guides (Locally licensed)
- Cultural activities and entry fees included in itinerary
- Luggage Transfers (1 piece per person)
- Private tea ceremony at a tea master’s own home
Dates & Prices
2023 Autumn Colours Spectacular Tour of Japan
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… It was the best organised tour I have ever done – and I’ve done a lot of travelling in crazy and beautiful countries – so many of which no-one can travel to now…..
A top quality, well planned & organised small group tour giving many varied experiences and opportunities to experience the beauty of Japan, its history and culture and enjoy sensational cuisine.