The 2024 Cherry Blossom Tour of the Sea of Japan Coast takes you on an exhilarating journey away from Japan’s busy metropolitan centres to the fascinating Hokuriku region. Separated from Tokyo and the eastern seaboard by the rugged Japanese Alps, Hokuriku offers a less-hurried pace and the chance to experience natural landscapes and old rural and sea-faring traditions less impacted by industrialisation and modern life.
This comprehensive 14-day small group tour takes you into Hokuriku’s heartland as you travel through Niigata, Toyama, Ishikawa and Fukui, the four prefectures hugging the central Sea of Japan coast. Along the way, you experience the region’s deep Buddhist roots, its mountain culture and distinctive thatched roof houses, its strong artisanal traditions and its coastal towns and fresh seafood markets.
For those who like discovering the roads-less-travelled, this is a fabulous introduction to the raw beauty and rich traditions of the Sea of Japan Coast at magical cherry blossom time.
Highlights of this small group tour include:
- Experiencing an authentic shukubo temple stay at the historic monastic complex of Eiheiji
- Participating in a live seafood auction at Shinminato Kitokito Market on beautiful Toyama Bay
- Learning about the sophisticated woodworking traditions of Inami and staying in one of the town’s beautifully renovated villas
- Experiencing the cultural heritage of Kanazawa with its beautifully preserved geisha precinct, tea ceremony traditions and sublime Kenrokuen, one of Japan’s top three gardens
- Enjoying the benefits of small group travel – with a maximum of just 8 guests, our groups can access more authentic and local styles of accommodation, restaurants and activities and enjoy more personalised service and cultural insights from our expert local guides
Day 1: Arrival in Tokyo
Welcome to Japan and your 2024 Cherry Blossom Tour of the Sea of Japan Coast! 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 and Hibiya Park. Let us know if you need any local tips. You’ll be staying here for three nights, which will help you ease into the trip.
*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, Japan’s capital is also steeped in great history. We explore some of that history this morning with a stroll through Hama-Rikyu Park. This beautiful oasis on Tokyo Bay is a typical example of an Edo-era garden with landscaped lawns, strolling paths, sculptured pine trees and seawater ponds. It was originally enjoyed by the Tokugawa shoguns who ruled Japan from their Edo (old Tokyo) base. We stop for some refreshments at a historic teahouse serving matcha tea.
The Sumida River and its tributaries were once a critical part of Edo’s transport network and from the park we take a cruise up the river, admiring the cherry blossom trees along the riverbank as we approach Asakusa. We take a walking tour through Asakusa’s atmospheric backstreets to Tokyo’s oldest temple – venerable Sensoji with its iconic Kaminari-mon Gate. Lunch is at one of Asakusa’s traditional restaurants.
On the way back to our hotel we explore another old Edo landmark – Ueno. Its central park bursts into life in spring when residents and workers gather for hanami parties. We stroll under the blossoms ourselves and enjoy the exuberant mood of this spring-time ritual.
Returning to our hotel by subway, we relax over a welcome dinner at a local izakaya, a Japanese-style pub. For those who don't mind a bit of song, head out with your guide for a lively karaoke session – another not-to-be-missed Japan experience!
Day 3: Tokyo
Today we explore another local neighbourhood to get a sense of how Tokyoites live and socialise. Making the most of Tokyo’s ever-efficient transport system, we head to the lovely neighbourhood of Kichijoji. We walk its attractive sidestreets past local cafes and shops and head for the wooded expanse of Inokashira Park. The park attracts Tokyoites from across the city in spring for its stunning cherry blossoms.
For a taste of Tokyo’s fashionable heart, we journey on to Shibuya. We head to the observation deck of Shibuya Sky Tower for spectacular views of Tokyo’s vast cityscape. 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!
You have the evening free to experience your own slice of Tokyo. You may like to linger longer in Shibuya and enjoy its youthful vibe, or head to nearby Harajuku and stroll the elegant tree-lined boulevard of Omotesando. Our guide will be happy to provide suggestions.
Day 4: Niigata & Toyama
We leave the big metropolis behind this morning and take a shinkansen (a super-express bullet train) to the Sea of Japan coast and the stunning Hokuriku region. First stop is the prefecture of Niigata, known for its bountiful nature, fertile soils and rural culture. Niigata is also a prolific rice producer, believed to produce Japan’s best.
Today we visit Takada Castle in the heart of Niigata’s rice-growing region. The castle is surrounded by an astounding 4,000 cherry blossom trees and its annual cherry blossom festival attracts visitors from across the country. We join the local community as they gather under the blossoms and enjoy local treats from festive food stalls.
Next stop along the coast is the prefecture of Toyama, a similarly appealing slice of rural Japan. Here we stop to enjoy a unique local landmark, only possible at this time of year. Known locally as the “Spring Quartet”, contrasting rows of rapeseed and tulips sit alongside cherry blossoms lining the Funakawa River, with the dramatic snow-capped Northern Alps in the background. If time allows, we may stop by the sublime two-storied villa of Shouokaku set in a lovely landscaped garden, once the home of a late 19th century politician.
By late afternoon we arrive at our onsen ryokan inn in the hot spring town of Unazuki, nestled in the foothills of magnificent Kurobe Gorge. Unwind in your first natural hot spring bath of the trip, enjoy the simple elegance of a tatami-mat room and feast on a delicious kaiseki multi-course meal. Bliss!
Day 5: Toyama
We head to Toyama City by private transport today, and for a slice of local history stop by an old medicine shop specialising in traditional medicines. Remarkably, some of the traditional medicinal herbs first sold centuries ago in Japan are still available.
We take a cruise through a stunning tunnel of cherry blossoms on the Matsukawa River, before journeying on to Toyama Bay. The bay is actually a member of the UNESCO-endorsed “Most Beautiful Bays in the World Club” and it’s easy to see why – the towering snow-capped Northern Alps provide a dramatic backdrop to the coast and its pine trees. The view has inspired Japanese poets and writers for centuries.
The bay is one of the country’s best places to enjoy fresh seafood and we have the unique opportunity today to witness a fresh seafood auction at Shinminato Kitokito Market – yellowtail, crab and firefly squid are especially highly prized. Afterwards we sit down for a sushi lunch, perhaps the freshest you’ve ever had and caught from the bay in front of you!
We journey onto stately Zuiryuji Temple, a national treasure from the 17th century, with its striking hall and courtyard enclosed by wooden cloisters. The day ends with a visit to Takaoka Kojo Park, popular for its wide castle moats and arched bridges, and we enjoy its famous cherry blossoms in the late afternoon light.
In the evening we step out for a relaxed local dinner in Toyama’s city centre.
Day 6: Inami
To catch the sight of cherry blossoms in the morning light, we head to Shogawa Water Memorial Park. The rest of the day is dedicated to exploring the traditional woodworking town of Inami in Toyama’s countryside. While there other Japanese towns known for their woodcraft traditions, Inami is justifiably known as Japan’s best. Its high level of craftmanship is officially recognised as “Japan Heritage” designated by the Agency for Cultural Affairs, and its master craftsmen are regularly dispatched across Japan to help in the renovation of traditional buildings.
Inami’s picturesque Yokoaichi Street is lined with woodcarving studios, where artisans can be seen at work. We visit Inami’s museum which displays over 200 crafted pieces, including the ornate transom panels that sit above Japanese sliding doors. The town’s Zuisenji Temple represents the pinnacle of Inami craftmanship and we visit this grand temple to appreciate the beautiful woodwork on its main hall and Sanmon gate.
Reflecting our focus today, we stay at BedandCraft, which has progressively renovated the town’s old buildings as lovely boutique villas. Dinner will be in the hotel restaurant, prepared from fresh, seasonal produce from surrounding farms. A very special day spent exploring the local!
Day 7: Inami, Gokayama & Kanazawa
This morning we do a hands-on craft workshop, fashioning a small dish out of wood, guided by an Inami master artisan. This session provides an opportunity to chat with local folk in a relaxed studio setting and gain some insights into their work and lives as well.
Leaving Inami, we head by private vehicle to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Gokoyama where we spend the afternoon exploring this enchanting high-mountain village with its thatched-roof farmhouses. Some of the farmhouses, with their steeply slanted roofs built to withstand heavy snowfalls, are open to the public and we take a look inside to learn about their history, construction and ongoing preservation efforts.
Our last stop for the day is Kanazawa, located on the Sea of Japan coast in Ishikawa Prefecture. With its lineage as a wealthy castle town steeped in samurai culture, Kanazawa offers an impressive list of architectural and cultural sites. For dinner tonight, we enjoy some local Kaga-style cuisine. We stay here for three nights, giving us a chance mid-trip to enjoy a slower pace and do some of our own exploring.
Day 8: Kanazawa
Kanazawa is home to Kenrokuen Garden, a castle garden dating back to the 17th century, regarded as one of three great gardens of Japan. After touring this sublime garden and admiring some of its ancient cherry trees we head to nearby Kanazawa Castle Park to view the remains of castle embattlements from feudal times. We learn about some of the beautiful crafts indigenous to the region at the National Craft Museum.
Kanazawa’s wealth and sophisticated culture once supported a thriving geisha community and we tour the Higashi Geisha District, a well-preserved network of atmospheric streets where geisha once entertained patrons in slatted wooden tea houses.
Tonight’s dinner is teppanyaki – tender wagyu-beef and vegetables grilled to perfection on a hot plate.
Day 9: Kanazawa
This morning we visit the Nagamachi district, the old part of Kanazawa where daimyo lords once resided. Its winding old streets are full of beautiful villas and gardens nestled behind traditional plaster-covered walls.
Samurai warriors were required to regularly engage in Zen Buddhist practice as part of their training and the tea ceremony formed a key part of this discipline. Today you participate in a formal tea ceremony delivered by a master practitioner and learn about the philosophy and rituals of this ancient tradition.
You have the afternoon and evening free to explore the city. Perhaps visit Omi-cho Market, a lively working market full of fishmongers and eateries. Or wander Kanazawa’s backstreets, discovering galleries and shops offering all sorts of exquisite ceramics, gilded lacquerware, local sake and traditional foods.
Day 10: Fukui
It’s on to our last destination along the captivating Sea of Japan coast – Fukui Prefecture.
Travelling by private transport, our first stop is Tojinbo where we take a cruise to view the unusual rock formations from the ocean. A spectacular natural landmark in Echizen-Kaga Kaigan Quasi-National Park, the rock formations have been sculpted by wind and wave over millions of years to form rugged honeycomb-shaped columns.
From here, we undertake a more sedate form of sightseeing and meet with some geisha from Fukui’s geisha community. In a relaxed session, they perform traditional dances and songs, and demonstrate some of the fun party games typically played at functions. Over tea and sweets, you’ll be able to chat with them in person, snap some memorable photos and get a unique glimpse into geisha life.
Tonight we stay at Awara Onsen, Fukui’s largest hot spring town. Guests staying at the town’s ryokan are able to dress up in yukata robes and stroll around the town – a lovely experience in the spring-time weather. Enjoy a delicious kaiseki meal serving Fukui’s fresh seafood and prized local wagyu-beef, and afterwards luxuriate in the communal open-air bath.
Day 11: Fukui
Fukui has long and deep Buddhist roots and today we experience the spiritual side of this region. We first explore the worship hall of Heisenji Hakusan Shrine, an elegantly simple structure surrounded by a forest of tall cedars carpeted in moss, just beautiful. The whole compound was once a base for mountain worship associated with sacred Mt Hakusan (one of Japan’s three holy mountains), and supported a large community of monks. Today it’s a quiet spot with a mysterious, contemplative air.
On the way to our next destination, we stop briefly at the Ichijodani Asakura samurai residence, part of a former castle complex ruled by the powerful Asakura clan, and take a look at Echizen Ōno Castle, located on a hilltop above Ono’s charming castle town.
We arrive at the beautiful hillside temple of Eiheiji (Temple of Eternal Peace), where we overnight at its shukubo lodging. This large Zen Buddhist temple and monastery was founded in 1244 by the famous priest Dogen Zenji and belongs to the Soto School, Japan’s largest Zen Buddhist sect. Here you can experience a Zazen meditation session, wander its forested paths and covered walkways, and sample shojin-ryori (traditional Buddhist vegetarian fare) for dinner and breakfast. The temple stay offers a very unique opportunity to experience Zen culture in a historic setting and welcoming environment.
Day 12: Fukui & Kyoto
For those interested, get up at dawn to attend the morning prayer service where Eiheiji’s monks gather for the first prayers of the day.
Leaving the monastery, we journey by private vehicle to the region of Echizen, where the tradition of forging swords, knives and farming tools has continued for some 700 years. In the 1970s artisans from the area gathered to decide how to revitalise a declining industry impacted by agricultural mechanization and stainless steel knives. Takefu Knife Village with a shared factory and showroom was established as a result. Echizen knives are now sold around the world and recognised on Japan’s traditional crafts register. We tour the factory as artisans expertly forge metal into bladed implements using traditional methods.
From Fukui, we leave the Sea of Japan coast by express train and head inland to Kyoto. Established as capital in 794, Kyoto remains the cultural heart of Japan and home to 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites and a wealth of traditional craft boutiques, museums, galleries and restaurants.
We gather for a relaxed dinner in the city’s heart. Many of Kyoto’s key temples, such as spectacular Kiyomizu Temple, are beautifully illuminated at night during the spring season – talk to your guide if you’d like more information.
Day 13: Kyoto
Kyoto in spring time is a real delight and this morning we head to Heian Jingu Shrine to enjoy its weeping cherries. Famous for its giant torii gate and distinctive red and green-lacquered buildings, Heian Jingu was built in 1895 to commemorate the 1100th anniversary of the city’s founding. Landscaped around four lily and iris ponds, the shrine’s garden has been designed to incorporate garden styles from each era of Kyoto’s long history.
We journey on to the large Zen Buddhist complex of Nanzen-ji and pass through its massive San-mon gate to a forest of flowering cherry and maple trees and numerous sub-temples with raked gravel gardens. We take a look at the remarkable aqueduct built over 150 years ago as part of a major civic work. From here we stroll on to the Keage Incline, part of the same civic project, and enjoy the views and the uniquely beautiful sight of blossoms overhanging disused railway tracks.
We gather tonight for a farewell dinner of Kyoto kaiseki-style cuisine and relive our best memories of our Japan adventure. Afterwards, perhaps stroll along atmospheric Ponto-cho in the evening lantern light, stopping for a Kyoto craft gin or beer in a tiny bar to enjoy your last night!
Day 14: Bon Voyage
You check out of your hotel after breakfast and your 2024 Cherry Blossom Tour of the Sea of Japan Coast concludes.
You can take an airport express or limousine bus to Kansai International Airport (KIX) or a shinkansen and trains 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 Sea of Japan Coast
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:
- 13 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).