Our most comprehensive cherry-blossom tour, the 2024 Cherry Blossom Spectacular Tour of Japan truly delivers the magic of Japan at spring-time. Over 15 days, you follow a route across the country specifically chosen to reveal the explosion of soft pink colour at some of Japan’s most iconic sites.
Covering some geography, you journey from Tokyo down to Hiroshima and Miyajima, then on to Osaka and the ancient capitals of Kyoto and Nara before travelling into Japan’s alpine region. Here you visit the old samurai towns of Takayama and Matsumoto, and catch views of majestic Mt Fuji from onsen towns before circuiting back to Tokyo. Along the way, you venture into some less-visited parts and neighbourhoods to gain a sense of the local and experience some unique cultural activities and immersive elements specially created by Journey to the East.
The trip is geared towards those comfortable travelling at a reasonable pace, exploring by foot and using local transport, and having some free time to do their own discovering. The expert local guides who lead our small 8-person groups are also happy to pass on insider tips, making for an even more authentic and rewarding trip!
Highlights of this small group tour include:
- Enjoying the exuberant mood of cherry-blossom parties in beautiful Inokashira Park in a local Tokyo suburb
- Tasting Japan’s diverse range of food – from lively local izakaya pubs and fresh Tsukiji sushi to delicious food creatively served up in a tiny Miyajima backstreet
- Exploring the elegant castle fortress of Himeji framed by cherry blossoms and the distinctive black & white castle of Matsumoto – both magnificent national treasures
- Visiting Yoshino in the mountains of Nara, famous for over 1,000 cherry blossom trees
- Experiencing a traditional tea ceremony in a tea master’s private home and learning about the history and philosophy of this ancient practice
- Soaking in your own private onsen bath in a superb boutique ryokan in alpine Takayama
Day 1: Arrival in Tokyo
Welcome to Japan and your 2024 Cherry Blossom Spectacular Tour of Japan! On arrival at one of Tokyo’s international airports, you’ll be met by a Journey to the East guide and escorted to your central Tokyo hotel by airport bus or train.
Today is an arrival day and no group program is scheduled. You might like to step out and explore the local neighbourhood around your hotel in Tokyo, such as Ginza or Hibiya Park. Let us know if we can help with any local suggestions.
*Many of our guests arrive a day or so early to settle in before the tour starts. Please contact us if you’d like us to arrange additional night’s accommodation in the same room as the tour.
Day 2: Tokyo
After orientation with your guide, you begin your exploration of Tokyo. A dazzling metropolis characterised by soaring towers and neon, Japan’s capital is also an intriguing collection of small neighbourhoods each with their own distinct flavour. As we explore the city, we’ll also get beyond its surface to discover some of the local places where ordinary Tokyoites live and socialise.
Today we make good use of Tokyo’s efficient train system and head to the lovely neighbourhood of Kichijoji. We take a walking tour through its attractive sidestreets and head for the beautiful, wooded expanse of Inokashira Park. The park draws locals from across Tokyo for its beautiful cherry blossoms and hanami parties and we enjoy the exuberant mood of this spring-time ritual.
For a taste of Tokyo’s fashionable heart, we journey onto Shibuya and head to the observation deck of Shibuya Sky Tower for its spectacular views. Watch the crowds far below as they navigate Shibuya Scramble, Japan’s busiest intersection, and spot major landmarks such as Tokyo Tower, and on clear days Mt Fuji in the distance.
After a full day’s exploration we head back to our hotel and a welcome dinner at a local Japanese izakaya pub.
Day 3: Tokyo
Tokyo is famous for its sushi and serves some of the best in the country. Until recently, fresh seafood from around the world was delivered daily to Tokyo’s Tsukiji market. The wholesale market has since moved to a new facility, but Tsukiji is still open to the public and that’s where we head this morning for a delicious sushi breakfast and to soak up its historic atmosphere.
This afternoon we explore another fundamental aspect of Japanese culture – the Japanese tea ceremony. You have the unique opportunity to spend time with a Japanese tea master in her own home in a Tokyo suburb – an immersive experience specially created by Journey to the East. The tea master will take you through the history and philosophy of the tea ceremony ritual and the steps and utensils involved in preparing the ultimate bowl of frothy matcha tea. In this relaxed and welcoming environment, you can ask all the questions you like about this ancient practice and why it remains popular today.
We head back to our hotel by train and enjoy a casual Japanese dinner in Ginza, near our hotel.
Day 4: Miyajima
We leave Tokyo this morning onboard a shinkansen (super-express bullet train) to visit the iconic sites of Hiroshima and Miyajima. First stop is the island of Miyajima, accessed by a short tram and ferry ride from Hiroshima and most famous for its floating red torii gate.
We relax from our journey over a modern Japanese lunch, set in a beautifully restored traditional house in a quiet backstreet. The restaurant specialises in local produce, sourcing the best ingredients from the fertile lands and waters around Miyajima.
Our guide takes us on a tour of UNESCO-listed Itsukushima Shrine and its famous torii gate, originally constructed in 593. Mortals were not permitted to step foot on the sacred island and could only access the shrine to perform rituals by boat, hence the unusual pier-like structure of the shrine’s main building.
We overnight on the island to enjoy the quiet after the day-trippers have gone and to capture an evocative photo of the famous torii gate at sunset. Dinner is a multi-course kaiseki banquet at a historic ryokan inn – here you’ll experience the elegant beauty of a tatami mat room and traditional ryokan hospitality.
Day 5: Hiroshima
Enjoy a relaxed morning enjoying the island’s ambience. Perhaps hike up Mt Misen for its stunning views of the Seto Inland Sea, visit some Buddhist temples such as the intriguing Daisho-in, or simply enjoy some down time in a waterfront cafe.
Back in Hiroshima, we visit the Peace Memorial Park and the sobering but informative Peace Memorial Museum, and contemplate the devastating impact of the world’s first atomic bomb dropped in August 1945. Despite its tragic past, present-day Hiroshima remains a very welcoming and vibrant city, characterized by wide boulevards and attractive leafy parks.
Hiroshima is also known for okonomiyaki, a savoury pancake cooked on a hot plate right in front of you. We enjoy a relaxed meal of this local dish, before stopping by Shukkei-en Garden, to admire its cherry blossoms beautifully illuminated at night.
Day 6: Osaka via Himeji
Back on the shinkansen, our next destination is Himeji and its magnificent World Heritage castle. Built in 1580, Himeji Castle is a stunning example of castle architecture, and one of the precious few original castles left in Japan. With an impressive network of defensive walls and turrets, its elegant white façade and cherry blossoms make it arguably Japan’s most photogenic castle in spring.
The vibrant city of Osaka is our next stop. Japan’s third largest city, Osaka’s history is as long as the nation’s itself, eventually becoming an important political base when one of Japan’s most powerful shoguns built a formidable new castle in the 16th century. In the evening we do a walking tour of Osaka’s lively entertainment district of Dotombori, famous for its night-time neon and historic canal. We sample some of its street food, such as grilled takoyaki, and stop for a relaxing sit-down meal of crisply fried kushiage skewers, another popular Osaka dish.
Day 7: Nara
Today we make a day-trip to Nara, Japan’s first capital. Nara was the place where Buddhism first took hold in the 6th century, and its monumental Buddhist temples are testament to its splendid past.
Our tour starts with a visit to UNESCO-listed Todai-ji Temple, the world’s largest existing wooden structure. This majestic structure also houses one of the largest bronze Buddha figures in the world! The awe-inspiring statue, originally cast in 752, is flanked by two exquisitely sculptured guardian figures.
We travel deeper into the heart of Nara Prefecture and explore Yoshino, a mountain-side town famous for the 1,000 cherry blossom trees which blanket the surrounding hills in pink. We’ll head up the narrow main street to the higher levels, passing by some notable temples and shrines which once housed emperors, fugitive warlords and ascetic mountain priests.
You have the evening free tonight. Osaka is very much a food-focused town and offers endless options. There’s even a local expression (“kuidaore”), which means ruining yourself financially by too much good food! Chat to your guide if you’d like some recommendations.
Day 8: Osaka
This morning we visit iconic Osaka Castle and cruise the castle’s inner moat to admire its towering stone walls, a formidable barrier to any invader. The cherry blossom trees which surround the castle in spring add to its spectacular effect.
Leaving Osaka behind, we head by private vehicle to our next destination – Kyoto, that most iconic of cities. Originally made capital in 794, Kyoto remains the cultural heart of Japan and is home to 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites and a wealth of traditional craft shops, museums, galleries and outstanding restaurants.
Stretch your legs with a walk along scenic Kamo River, which runs through the city’s heart near your hotel, before enjoying a traditional Kyoto meal for dinner.
Day 9: Kyoto
Kyoto in spring time is a joy to experience and this morning we walk along the Path of Philosophy at the foot of the Higashiyama mountains – a picturesque canal lined by an avenue of cherry trees and other flowering plants. The path takes us to the Zen Buddhist complex of Nanzen-ji, where we pass through its massive San-mon gate to a forest of flowering cherry and maple trees and numerous sub-temples. Don't miss the unique aqueduct built over 150 years ago as part of a major civic project, which makes for a photogenic backdrop.
Lunch today is yakitori, skewered chicken and vegetables grilled over hot coals. Nicely fortified, we head by private vehicle to Fushimi Inari Shrine, one of Kyoto’s most popular attractions, and walk through a seemingly endless tunnel of red torii gates leading up the mountain. Originally dedicated to the gods of rice and sake, today Fushimi Inari is visited for those praying for success in business, as well as those keen to experience its magical atmosphere.
The day ends with a visit to Fushimi, Kyoto’s traditional sake-making district and one of Japan’s most famous. We’re introduced to the sake-making process and enjoy a tasting of different varieties of Japan’s time-honoured spirit.
Day 10: Arashiyama
Today is spent exploring Arashiyama and Sagano in Kyoto’s western mountains. The area is known for its natural beauty, and once attracted Kyoto’s nobility and literati, poets and Buddhist priests during the flourishing Heian period. That legacy has left behind some sublime temples, villas and landscaped gardens.
UNESCO-listed Tenryu-ji is the key attraction with its superb stroll garden which artfully utilises the mountains behind as part of its design. It’s also a popular stop for its cherry blossom trees. We visit historic Togetsu Bridge and its scenic river and stop for a traditional vegetarian lunch, typical Buddhist monk fare. Arashimaya’s bamboo forest is another popular site for its thick bamboo dappled in ethereal light. Escaping the other day-trippers, we’ll walk on through quiet backstreets to Daikakuji Temple with its beautiful lake fringed by cherry blossom trees.
We’ll travel by the charming Randen train today, which weaves through old Kyoto neighbourhoods providing glimpses of local life. Back in central Kyoto, we’ll see a performance of Miyako Odori, a colourful spring-time dance spectacular performed by Kyoto’s geisha community.
Day 11: Takayama
It’s time to explore Japan’s mountain regions and today we journey by train to atmospheric Takayama in the Japanese Alps. Today you wander back in time through Takayama’s beautifully preserved streets of old timber houses – best explored on foot. We visit Takayama Jinya, once the prefectural office of the Tokugawa shogunate in feudal times, and enjoy some of the early blooming cherry trees along the town’s central canal.
Tonight’s accommodation is one of the standouts of the trip – a luxurious onsen ryokan inn in a quiet part of Takayama with an open-air onsen bath in each of the guest rooms. Relax and rejuvenate in your own private bath and understand why visiting a hot spring remains one of the top past-times of the Japanese. The multi-course cuisine dinner is also a highlight, featuring delicious Hida beef, a Takayama specialty.
Day 12: Shirakawago
Start the day with an authentic Japanese-style breakfast – a filling and nutritious feast of grilled fish, miso soup, steamed rice and pickles.
Takayama is famous for the Miyagawa morning market, which is believed to have been operating for some 200 years. After viewing its crafts and farm-fresh produce, we head to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Shirakawa-go. We visit the famous thatched-roof farmhouses with their steeply-slanted roofs built to withstand the region’s heavy snowfalls and learn about their fascinating construction.
Traversing a spectacular mountain pass, we journey on by private vehicle to lovely Matsumoto in Nagano. Surrounded by mountains, Matsumoto’s own beginnings extend back to the 8th century, later becoming a strategically important castle town ruled by a powerful clan. Today the city is popular for its cosmopolitan atmosphere, historic quarter and stunning alpine setting.
Dinner is at one of the city’s acclaimed restaurants serving delicious Italian-fusion cuisine.
Day 13: Kawaguchiko
This morning we visit magnificent Matsumoto Castle, Japan’s oldest wooden castle and one of the nation’s five castles designated a national treasure. Still in impeccable condition, we explore its wooden interiors and climb to the top of its distinctive black-and-white turret.
A scenic train trip takes us to Kawaguchiko, located in the lakes district at the foot of Mt Fuji, Japan’s tallest mountain. Kawaguchiko offers some breathtaking views of the majestic mountain and spring-time foliage. We take the Kachi Ropeway above Kawaguchiko’s lake to catch views of Mt Fuji, which (notoriously shy!) can sometimes be clouded over. A stop at the Mt Fuji World Heritage Center tells us a little more about the mountain’s intriguing seismology and cultural significance.
We visit Itchiku Kubota Art Museum to see superb examples of kimono art using the centuries-old shibori dyeing technique. Along the way we stop for a lunch of hearty Hoto noodles, the region’s tasty specialty.
Our ryokan hotel tonight offers one last chance to enjoy Japan’s sublime onsen culture. The communal open-air baths overlook the lake, offering spectacular views of Mt Fuji, weather permitting of course!
Day 14: Tokyo
Since ancient times, Mt Fuji has been considered a sacred mountain and a place where deities are believed to reside. We visit beautiful Sengen Shrine, which has been a place of worship for the mountain since 745 and is marked by a beautiful red torii gate at its entrance. Hopefully we catch the iconic view of Mt Fuji framed by cherry blossoms, before we depart for Tokyo by express coach.
Back in the capital, we gather one more time for a farewell dinner – slices of tender wagyu-beef cooked to perfection on a hot plate, teppanyaki-style. For those who don't mind a bit of singing, join our guide and the group for a lively karaoke session, ending our trip in true Japan-style!
Day 15: Goodbye
You check out of your hotel after breakfast and your 2024 Cherry Blossom Spectacular Tour of Japan concludes.
You can take an airport express, limousine bus or chartered vehicle to one of the international airports in Tokyo. If you’d like to linger in Japan a little longer, we would be delighted to plan your personal post-tour extension to show you a different part of Japan. Please see our Model Extension Itineraries for inspiration.
Note: The cost of an escorted transfer to your departure airport is not included in our Small Group Tours as we found many guests choose to stay in Japan a bit longer. However, we would be happy to arrange your transfer to your next destination or your departing airport. Please see our FAQ for more details.
Dates & Prices
2024 Cherry Blossom Spectacular Tour of Japan
Per person twin share:
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:
- 14 nights accommodation (including traditional inns)
- Meals as specified
- Airport meet & greet and hotel transfer by public transport on arrival
- Transport in private minivan and all local transport (train, bus, ferry and taxi)
- Locally licensed English speaking tour guides
- All cultural activities and entry fees included in group itinerary
DISCLAIMER: Unless otherwise stated, this tour does not include the costs of international and domestic airfares, transfers on the last day, travel insurance, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, transport during free time, personal expenses (laundry, internet, telephone, coin lockers etc.) and Visa (if required).
I found JTTE easy to deal with and helpful in answering my questions ahead of time, and allaying my concerns. I liked their attention to detail. They helped me arrange a most enjoyable private tour after the group tour finished. The guides they use are all excellent. JTTE also know the best places to visit. Everything was so well organised.
Without hesitation I would thoroughly recommend JttE to anyone considering Japan. They have near all-inclusive tours and great itineraries. To those wanting a feel for Japan I would recommend the Signature tours as you get to travel like the locals and great but not 5 star hotels.