2024 Cherry Blossom Tour of Northern Japan
The 2024 Cherry Blossoms Tour of Northern Japan introduces you to a less-hurried side of Japan during the country’s peak cherry-blossom season. Leaving Tokyo behind, you journey to Japan’s Tohoku region and the northern island of Hokkaido to experience some of the most spectacular cherry blossoms in the country, which bloom later here than other parts of Japan, and without the crowds!
Over 13 inspiring days, you enjoy the warm hospitality of the people, outstanding regional food, and natural mineral hot-springs – and all against the backdrop of landscapes blanketed in pink. Centuries of isolation have ensured tracts of unspoiled natural beauty, unique traditions, well-preserved samurai towns and historic trading outposts.
This is the perfect tour for those looking for a culturally immersive experience and a Japan that lies beyond the big cities. Our small 8-member groups led by expert local guides mean you benefit from their local knowledge, as well as access local restaurants, lodgings and hidden sites where you can truly experience the unique flavour of Northern Japan, one of Japan’s best-kept secrets!
Tour highlights include:
- Visiting Japan’s most photogenic historic site – weeping cherries framing the old samurai houses of Kakunodate
- Surrounding yourself by the 5,000 cherry blossom trees of Hirosaki Castle Park
- Appreciating the ornate grandeur of Toshogu Shrine in UNESCO-listed Nikko, the resting place of Japan’s most famous shogun
- Savouring distinctive regional cuisine, such as Akita’s soul-warming kiritampo hotpot
- Touring the former foreign trading outpost of Hakodate in Hokkaido
- Cruising the pine-covered islands of Matsushima Bay, regarded as one of Japan’s top three scenic sights
- Experiencing the timeless beauty of Tozawa-ko, Japan’s deepest lake surrounded by mountains
Day 1: Arrival in Tokyo
Welcome to Japan and your 2024 Cherry Blossom Tour of Northern 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 Tokyo hotel by airport bus or train.
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, such as Ginza. Let us know if you need any local tips. You’ll be staying here for two 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 an orientation with your guide, you begin your exploration of Tokyo. A dazzling ultra-modern city, Japan’s capital is also steeped in great history. In the morning we explore the old neighbourhood of Asakusa to get a sense of this history. Once the entertainment area for the flourishing merchant class in Edo times, Asakusa is also home to Tokyo’s oldest temple – venerable Sensoji. We do a walking tour through fascinating backstreets to Sumida Park to capture the first cherry blossoms of the trip, stopping by a popular local tempura restaurant on the way.
Then it’s on to explore the Imperial Palace and Marunouchi area, right in the city’s heart. It was here that the Tokugawa shoguns ruled the country from 1603 before power reverted to the emperor in 1868. The imperial palace is surrounded by wide moats and immaculately manicured lawns, and positioned right next to Marunouchi with its gleaming skyscrapers, once home to Japan’s early trading houses and now its blue-chip companies. Located here too is the classic brick building of Tokyo Station, over a century-old and representative of Japan’s early modern era when the country turned to the west for new ideas. The area’s tree-lined boulevards and polished feel reflect both the city’s rich past as well as its present.
We stop by Hibiya Park, once part of the Tokugawa’s fortress, to see its cherry blossoms before heading out for a welcome dinner in an izakaya (Japanese-style pub) to end an exciting first day!
Day 3: Nikko
Today we leave Tokyo by shinkansen bullet train for Nikko, a UNESCO heritage site. Once a remote mountain hermitage, Nikko rose to fame in 1617 when it became the mausoleum for Tokugawa Ieyasu, Japan’s most famous shogun. We walk through an impressive avenue of giant cedar trees before arriving at the brilliantly decorated Toshogu Shrine. There will be time to explore the extensive complex of shrine and temple buildings as well as beautiful Chuzenji Lake and Kegon Falls, part of Nikko National Park.
Tonight you’ll experience your first hot spring onsen bath of the tour at a traditional ryokan inn. Our guide will talk you through basic bathing etiquette and explain why a visit to an onsen remains one of the nation’s most popular pastimes. Unwind in the mineral waters, enjoy a multi-course kaiseki banquet, and sleep on futon in the simple elegance of a tatami mat room – a quintessential Japan experience!
Day 4: Matsushima
Back onboard the shinkansen, we head north for Sendai and transfer to a local train for the seaside town of Matsushima, regarded as one of Japan’s top three scenic sights. It’s most famous for its impossibly picturesque bay, dotted with over 250 pine-covered islands. The best way to experience the bay’s beauty is onboard a cruise boat where you can see up close how sea-winds have shaped the pine trees. Their twisted trunks silhouetted against rocky outcrops make for quite a sight!
Another spectacular sight is the cherry blossoms at Shiogama Shrine, located on a hilltop overlooking Matsushima’s beautiful bay.
The Matsushima area is also well-known for its seafood and we draw on its natural bounty with a sushi lunch today. The buffet-style dinner at your ryokan tonight also features fresh seafood as well as other local specialties.
Day 5: Matsushima
Matsushima Bay is populated with tracts of cherry blossom trees along its coast and we spend the morning walking among the trees and enjoying their beauty in the fresh sea air. We also explore ages-old Zuiganji, Entsu-in and Godaido temples, which rank among the oldest temples in northern Japan. While here, your guide will provide some insights on the popular daimyo Date Masamune who ruled the area in the 1600s and the wandering poet Basho who captured the bay’s beauty in numerous haiku poems.
The afternoon is free to do your own exploring. You may like to visit compact Ojima Island which offers a number of notable sites including some intriguing pilgrim caves, or sample a bowl of frothy matcha tea and traditional sweets at a centuries-old teahouse. For lunch perhaps try some of the local oysters, Matsushima’s most famous food.
Day 6: Kakunodate
Journeying further north, we take the shinkansen to the former castle town of Kakunodate in Akita Prefecture. Kakunodate is often referred to as Tohoku’s “little Kyoto” due to the rich crafts and traditions introduced from the old capital when this northern fortress was first established. While its castle was destroyed long ago, the old samurai and merchant districts remain remarkably unchanged since the 1600s, making Kakunodate one of Japan’s most photogenic towns. We visit some former samurai residences and the Cherry Bark Work Museum with its displays of beautiful items covered in fine strips of cherry bark, the area’s main traditional craft.
For dinner, we’ll enjoy a soul-warming hotpot of Kiritampo nabe, Akita’s famous signature dish.
Day 7: Kakunodate & Lake Tazawa
Our tour continues this morning with a circuit of Tazawa-ko, Japan’s deepest lake famous for its clear blue waters and absolutely stunning mountain setting. Your guide will recount the tale of the female dragon spirit, who is believed to inhabit the lake, before we explore the shrine and statue associated with the legendary spirit. We stop by a charming historic schoolhouse, fortunately rescued from demolition by a group of passionate locals.
Then it’s back to central Kakunodate and the afternoon is yours to wander freely. Stroll through the atmospheric streets of the samurai district beautifully framed by weeping cherry trees or hike through a tunnel of pink formed by 400 cherry trees overhanging the bank of the Hinokinai River. Truly one of the best cherry blossom sights in the country! Enjoy exploring some of the traditional shops selling crafts and food items such as miso paste, dashi stock and Japanese pickles.
Day 8: Hirosaki
Back on the shinkansen, we speed through Tohoku’s countryside to its northern-most tip. We stop for the night at Hirosaki in Aomori Prefecture, a former castle town. Today, it’s a picturesque city with a hilltop castle and expansive parks at the foot of scenic Mt Iwaki. In spring, the castle’s park literally erupts in a sea of pink as thousands of cherry trees respond to the warming weather, as do the locals who flock to the park to soak up the sun after a long, cold winter. We visit the ancient remains of Hirosaki Castle to enjoy the sight of cherry trees on mass framing the castle’s network of solid stone walls and moats.
Over dinner we enjoy a live performance of the Tsuguru shamisen, the local version of Japan’s traditional three-stringed instrument played with great energy to express the distinctive sound of the region’s folk songs.
Day 9: Hakodate
The shinkansen takes us to Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido via an underwater sea tunnel, an impressive feat of engineering. We disembark at Hakodate, a historic port city with a distinctly European feel. The city was one of Japan’s foreign trade ports allowed to engage with Russian and other foreign traders during Japan’s self-imposed period of seclusion and that legacy is still apparent today.
We tour unique Goryo-kaku Park, a fascinating western-style fortress built in the shape of a star to defend Hokkaido against western powers in the mid 19th century. Come evening, we head up Mount Hakodate to enjoy the stunning panoramic view of the harbour lit-up at night, one of Japan’s best! Hakodate is also known for its excellent cuisine and we enjoy a delicious kaiseki meal at one of its local eateries.
Day 10: Hakodate
The day starts with an early-morning visit to Hakodate’s seafood market, known particularly for premium crab and squid caught daily from local waters. We hop on one of the city’s vintage street cars to the old hillside district of Motomachi where we do a walking tour, stopping by the former British Embassy and the heritage Red Brick Warehouse district on the waterfront to get a sense of the city’s early cosmopolitan history.
Hakodate was not only one of the early gateway ports for Japan’s trade with the west, but also between the local Ainu people and the Japanese settlers who moved to Hokkaido around 500 years ago. We visit the small but insightful Ainu Museum today to learn about the intriguing culture of Hokkaido’s indigenous people.
Step out tonight to sample some of Hakodate’s local cuisine – fresh seafood served up in a casual izakaya or perhaps a bowl of tasty ramen noodles. Chat with your guide if you’d like some recommendations.
Day 11: Sapporo
We journey by express train to Sapporo, Hokkaido’s prefectural capital, skirting vast Uchiura Bay on the way. With its wide boulevards and large public parks, Sapporo is a welcoming, cosmopolitan city with a lively food scene and stylish shops. In February the city hosts the Sapporo Snow Festival, one of Japan’s most popular events. However over April-May the atmosphere is distinctly spring-like, with masses of flowers on display in Odori Koen, the long stretch of public park in the city’s centre.
Our guide takes us on a walking tour of Odori Koen. We stop for some classic Hokkaido-style ramen, visit the modern Sapporo TV Tower for a great view of the city from above, and check out the historic Clock Tower and charming weatherboard barns of the former Agricultural College, which introduced livestock farming to Hokkaido 150 years ago, now one of its key industries.
Day 12: Sapporo & Otaru
Enjoy a morning at leisure, enjoying Sapporo’s many attractions and relaxed vibe.
After lunch we head to the quaint town of Otaru. Once a vibrant trading centre, Otaru has converted its stone and brick warehouses from its boom times into attractive museums, glass workshops, craft breweries and sake distilleries. We explore Otaru’s central canal with its Victorian-era buildings and street lamps and visit intriguing Aoyama Villa, once the home of a wealthy herring merchant built during the hey days of Otaru’s prosperous herring trade.
We return to Sapporo in the afternoon and head to the famous Sapporo Beer Park for a few beers brewed by one of Japan’s leading beer producers and a farewell dinner over a delicious Genghis Khan BBQ to share our best memories of the trip!
Day 13: Goodbye
This morning, you check out of your hotel after breakfast and your 2024 Cherry Blossom Tour of Northern Japan concludes.
You can take a domestic flight from Sapporo to the international airports in Tokyo, or 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 Northern 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:
- 12 nights accommodation (including traditional inns)
- Meals as specified
- Airport meet & greet and hotel transfer by public transport on arrival
- All local transport (train, bus 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).
For anyone interested in seeing and experiencing the best of Japan, Journeys to the East is the go-to tour company, with the most wonderful guides, great planning and organisation, and the best all-round, guaranteed fabulous experiences!
Journey to the East excelled again. This was our second trip with them and we couldn’t speak highly enough of them. Their attention to detail is second to none. We’ll be back for a third time!
We have travelled to Japan three times with Journey to the East. We love their concept of small group tours with excellent guides, varied and really well chosen hotels and superb dining experiences. All of the trips we have taken, to different areas of Japan and with different themes, have been very professionally organised, varied and fascinating.