2024 Cherry Blossom Tour of Japan – Classic Route
The 2024 Cherry Blossom Tour of Japan – Classic Route has been specifically designed as a once-in-a-lifetime trip to experience Japan’s most iconic sights as the delicate cherry blossoms hit their peak. With a focus on luxury accommodation, private transport and a relaxed travel pace, it truly offers the ultimate tour of this captivating country in spring!
This 13-day Japan cherry blossom trip takes you on a comprehensive journey across the country, including the dazzling metropolis of Tokyo, the ancient capital of Kyoto with its treasure-trove of UNESCO sites, welcoming Hiroshima and the sacred island of Miyajima, and the onsen resort of Hakone at the foot of Mt Fuji. In between, we make special excursions to some of Japan’s less-visited corners and local neighbourhoods and offer some exclusive experiences to deliver a truly authentic trip where the real Japan comes to life.
Available to just 8 guests, this is a perfect option if you’re looking for a fully-organised trip where all your transport and almost all your meals are covered, where you stay at superb hand-picked hotels, and benefit from the warm personalised attention and deep knowledge of our expert tour guides.
Highlights of this small group tour include:
- Wandering under the cherry blossoms of beautiful Shinjuku Gyoen Park, Himeji Castle and Nara Park, Japan’s ultimate hanami destinations
- Learning about the intriguing modern-day life of one of Kyoto’s geisha over an exclusive private dinner
- Enjoying the passing scenery as you speed through the countryside aboard a shinkansen bullet train in first-class comfort
- Exploring the sacred island of Miyajima and taking an iconic snap of its floating torii gate at sunset after the tourists have left
- Sipping on a bowl of freshly whisked matcha tea in a quiet temple teahouse surrounded by bamboo in Kamakura
- Taking in the magical views of night-time Tokyo from your luxurious suite with its elegant Japanese design
Day 1: Arrival in Tokyo
Welcome to Japan and your 2024 Cherry Blossom Tour of Japan – Classic Route. On arrival at one of Tokyo’s international airports, you’ll be met by a Journey to the East guide and escorted to your Tokyo hotel by private transfer.
Today is an arrival day and no group program is scheduled. Stretch your legs if you like and explore the local neighbourhood around your hotel, which is the boutique Tokyo Station Hotel, located in an elegantly restored building over a century old. You’ll be staying here for three nights, which will help you ease into the trip and recover from any jet-leg.
*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 ultra-modern metropolis, Tokyo is also steeped in great history. Today you experience both the traditional and contemporary sides of Japan’s captivating capital.
We travel by private vehicle to the old neighbourhood of Asakusa, where you get a sense of days gone by. Asakusa is also home to Tokyo’s oldest temple, venerable Sensoji with its iconic Kaminari-mon Gate and Nakamise street stalls. After visiting the temple we take some fascinating backstreets to riverside Sumida Park, a popular place for locals and office workers to enjoy hanami parties under the cherry blossoms, a lovely spring-time ritual.
We head across town for a catered lunch in beautiful Shinjuku Gyoen Park, originally an imperial retreat but now one of Tokyo’s top destinations for cherry blossom viewing. For a taste of Tokyo’s fashionable heart, we journey onto neighbouring Shibuya and the observation deck of the 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 SkyTree, and on clear days Mt Fuji in the distance.
After a busy first day, we return to the hotel and then gather for a relaxed welcome dinner of modern Japanese degustation cuisine.
Day 3: Kamakura
Today we briefly leave Tokyo for Kamakura, an ancient capital from early feudal times. Nestled among rolling hills on Tokyo Bay, Kamakura is home to some of the country’s best Zen Buddhist temples. We visit the magnificent Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu, a shrine designed to impress with an imposing promenade flanked by pine trees, built by a powerful warlord in the 12th century.
We wander through some sleepy backstreets and stop for a buckwheat soba noodle lunch. Later we visit a quiet temple teahouse, set amongst a lovely bamboo forest, and enjoy a freshly whisked bowl of matcha tea with some traditional sweets.
Then it’s back to Tokyo by private vehicle for a group dinner at a local izakaya (Japanese-style pub).
Day 4: Hiroshima
Leaving Tokyo behind, we settle into the comfortable first-class seats of Japan’s gleaming shinkansen (super-express bullet train) and journey to Hiroshima. Here we visit the Memorial Peace Park and its sobering but informative museum, and contemplate the devastating impact of the world’s first atomic bomb dropped on the fateful day in August 1945.
Later we take a short ferry ride to the sacred island of Miyajima, one of Japan’s top scenic spots. It’s best known for the vermillion-red floating torii gate, a designated UNESCO World Heritage site. We stay two nights on the island to fully enjoy Miyajima’s island ambience, particularly after the day-trippers have gone. Early evening is also a perfect time to take an evocative photo of the torii gate at sunset.
Enjoy the stylish Japanese aesthetic of your hotel, and perhaps try the communal onsen bath for your first taste of Japan’s renown hot spring culture – a quintessential part of any Japan experience! Here we also enjoy a lunch of okonomiyaki, the region’s famous savoury pancake dish, and relax over its celebrated buffet at dinner.
Day 5 Miyajima island
Accompany your guide, in the morning before the tourists arrive, on a tour of Itsukushima Shrine and its floating torii gate.
The shrine was originally constructed in 593, when the island was designated a sacred island for the gods. Mortal were not permitted to step on the island and could only access it, by boat, to perform rituals, Hence the unusual pier-like structure of the shrine's main building. In the afternoon you have time to enjoy the Island in your own way.
Perhaps catch the ropeway up Mt Misen for breathtaking views across the Setao Inland Sea, which stretches all the way to Shikoku. Or visit the island's Buddhist temples and pavilions, such as Daisho-in. Alternatively, simply enjoy some down time, relaxing at one of the island's waterfront cafes and watching the people(and the wild protected deer!) as they wander by. Your guide will be happy to offer suggestions if needed.
Dinner is modern Japanese cuisine, set in a beautifully restored traditional house in a quiet backstreet. The restaurant specialises in local produce, sourcing the best ingredients from fertile lands and waters around Miyajima.
Day 6: Kyoto via Himeji
It’s back to Hiroshima this morning to board the shinkansen for the exquisite ancient capital of Kyoto. On the way, we make a stop at Himeji Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Built in 1580, the fortress is a magnificent example of castle architecture and one of the precious few original castles left in Japan. Extensive in scale with an impressive network of defensive walls and moats, its elegant white façade and cherry blossoms make it arguably Japan’s most photogenic castle in spring!
We hop back on the shinkansen for the short ride to Kyoto. Originally made capital in 794 before power transferred to Tokyo some 1,000 years later, Kyoto remains the cultural heart of Japan. It is home to a staggering 17 UNESCO sites and a wealth of traditional craft shops, museums, galleries and outstanding restaurants.
After checking into our hotel in the heart of Kyoto’s geisha district, you have time to relax before we head out for a local meal. You’ll spend four nights here, allowing you to enjoy a slower pace mid-trip and get to know the local neighbourhood.
Day 7: Kyoto
Our day starts with a relaxed stroll along the Path of Philosophy, a pedestrian path which follows a picturesque canal lined with cherry blossom trees. We visit one of the most interesting temples in this area – the enchanting Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion) built in the 15th century and UNESCO-listed. Its artful raked gravel garden is a standout and a hallmark of Zen temple design.
Lunch is traditional yudofu cuisine, featuring the silky tofu for which Kyoto is famous.
We visit the expansive grounds of UNESCO-listed Nijo Castle, which attracts cherry blossom lovers for the scale and variety of the trees. The castle is also a major historic site – home to the powerful Tokugawa shoguns who ruled Japan for some 250 years. Their palace is an intriguing series of outer and inner chambers with spectacular painted screens and the famous squeaking “nightingale” floors.
The day ends in a riot of gorgeous colour as Kyoto’s geisha community perform the annual Miyako Odori – a dance spectacular accompanied by traditional music.
Day 8: 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 the 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 in the area, 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 shojin-ryori lunch, traditional vegetarian fare eaten by Buddhist monks.
Arashimaya’s bamboo forest is another popular sight for its thick bamboo dappled in ethereal light. Escaping the other day-trippers, we’ll take a rickshaw ride through quiet backstreets and stop at Daikakuji Temple with its beautiful lake fringed by cherry trees.
Back in central Kyoto, you’ll have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet a maiko, an apprentice geisha from Kyoto’s celebrated geisha community. Over dinner you can engage directly and learn about the life of these refined entertainers, expertly trained in the Japanese arts.
Day 9: Nara
Today we step back further into old Japan and make a day-trip by private vehicle to timeless 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.
We start with a tour of UNESCO-listed Todai-ji Temple, the world’s largest existing wooden structure. If that’s not enough, the majestic structure 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 walk on to Nara Park, an extensive parkland full of Buddhist sites and grazing deer, and stop by Nara’s other star attraction, Kasuga Taisha Shrine. Also UNESCO listed, this ancient shrine is celebrated for its grand approach lined with hundreds of stone lanterns and the gilded hanging lanterns decorating its main shrine building.
Back in Kyoto, you have the evening free. Perhaps stroll atmospheric Ponto-cho in the evening lantern light and stop for a craft whisky or enjoy Kyoto’s famed obanzai cuisine. Have a chat to your guide for recommendations.
Day 10: Hakone
We farewell Kyoto today and head north by shinkansen to Hakone, a scenic hot springs resort area located in the mountains near Mt Fuji. With its proximity to Tokyo, Hakone has been a popular destination for Tokyoites seeking rest and rejuvenation for centuries.
Over the next two days you’ll be staying at one of Hakone’s premium boutique hot spring hotels. Featuring private onsen baths within each room as well as large communal baths, you’ll experience Japan’s onsen culture firsthand and understand why an onsen visit remains one of the top past-times of the Japanese.
We tour the general Hakone region by private vehicle, travelling through the Izu-Hakone National Park and, depending on the weather, catching glimpses of Mt Fuji up close. Hakone has some outstanding world-class museums and galleries and we’ll visit the Hakone Open-Air Museum with its amazing outside sculptures.
Lunch is at the delightful Fujiya Hotel, Japan’s oldest western-style hotel which has been welcoming guests from around the world since 1878.
Our hotel will serve a kaiseki multi-course banquet of beautifully presented fresh local produce for dinner.
Day 11: Hakone
Our exploration of Hakone continues with a visit to scenic Lake Ashi and a cruise onboard the viking ship that plies the lake. Don't miss the classic photo shot of the floating red torii gate as we cruise by. We also visit the checkpoint of the Old Hakone Highway, part of the old stone-paved route that once linked Tokyo and Kyoto and traipsed by retinues of foot-soldiers and traders for centuries.
Hakone’s latent geothermal activity can be experienced firsthand at Owakudani (or Great Boiling Valley), formed when a mountain collapsed some 3,000 years ago. Today great steams of sulphide can be seen from the boiling hot pools, making for a spectacular (and rather smelly) experience! If time allows, we also visit Narukawa Museum of Art.
We return to the hotel for dinner and another relaxing onsen bath.
Day 12: Tokyo
We arrive back in Tokyo by shinkansen today, and check into our boutique hotel located in the city’s heart. Combining the best of a traditional ryokan and a luxury city hotel, Hoshinoya Tokyo is the flagship hotel for the boutique Hoshino group. We hope it offers a very special last-night experience in Japan.
You have the afternoon free to enjoy Tokyo as you like. Located near the hotel, consider visiting Ginza’s central boulevard with its department stores, brand stores and speciality shops and polished feel. Make sure you visit the basement food hall of one of its department stores – you’ll be impressed by the range of beautifully presented food and confectionery. Ginza’s side streets are also worthwhile exploring, lined with pretty willow trees and tiny galleries, boutiques, and some nice cafes.
Tonight we gather one last time for a farewell dinner – a delicious meal of wagyu beef and vegetables, cooked to perfection teppanyaki style!
Day 13: Goodbye
You check out of your hotel after breakfast and your 2024 Cherry Blossom Tour of Japan – Classic Route 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 Tour of Japan – Classic Route
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:
- 12 nights accommodation (including traditional inns)
- Meals as specified.
- Airport meet & greet and hotel transfer by private transport on arrival
- Transport in private minivan and all local transport (train in Green Class, bus, ferry and taxi)
- Pre-loaded Suica card
- Locally licensed English speaking tour guides
- All cultural activities and entry fees included in group itinerary
- Luggage transfers (1 piece per person)
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).
We did the Cherry Blossom Comfort Tour on our first visit to Japan. We enjoyed quality accommodation, excellent food, professional guidance and a varied itinerary with a small group. We would love to travel with Journey to the East again.
Journeys to the East provides exceptional experience, local guides and all the attention to detail you would need to have a fantastic holiday in Japan.