2024 Discover Japan in Spring
The 2024 Discover Japan in Spring tour is specifically designed to introduce the most iconic sights of central Japan as cherry blossoms transform the landscape, and in a flexible travel format which includes free days to do your own thing.
On this compact 10-day cherry blossom journey you explore Japan’s ever-vibrant capital, tour the lakes district at the foot of iconic Mt Fuji, discover the beauty of Kyoto’s landscape gardens, learn about Buddhism at the ancient monastic complex of Koya-san, and enjoy the welcoming vibe and food culture of Osaka. Along the way, you experience Japan’s onsen culture and legendary food and stay in a mix of boutique hotels, onsen inns and temple lodgings. You have three free days over the course of the trip to immerse yourself in local neighbourhoods and follow your own interests, with our local expert guides always on-hand to provide local tips and support whenever needed.
Limited to just 8 participants, this tour introduces the landscapes and rich traditions that lie right at the heart of Japan and at its most magical time – spring!
Highlights of this small group tour include:
- Experiencing the spring-time hanami parties in Tokyo as locals and workers gather under the cherry blossoms
- Tasting a diverse range of Japanese food, from the freshest of Tsukiji sushi in Tokyo to the street food delights of Dotomobori in Osaka and some special restaurants in-between
- Soaking in an open-air hot spring bath by the lake at Kawaguchiko, and possibly catching a glimpse of Mt Fuji in the distance
- Enjoying a hands-on taiko-drumming experience in a private class
- Experiencing an early-morning prayer service in the spiritual air of Koya-san
Dates & Prices
2024 Discover Japan in Spring
Per person twin share:
Day 1: Arrival in Tokyo
Welcome to Japan and your 2024 Discover Japan in Spring! 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. Stretch your legs if you like and explore the neighbourhood around your hotel in Shinjuku. Let us know if you need any local sightseeing tips.
*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. Dazzling and ultra-modern, Japan’s capital is also steeped in great history, making its mark as the seat of power in 1603 when the new shogun moved here. Today you explore some of this history and travel by subway to the old downtown neighbourhood of Tsukiji, famous for its fresh fish market. We wander lanes full of vendors and market stalls and sit down to a sushi breakfast, delicious and impossibly fresh!
We travel on to Asakusa, another old neighbourhood and once home to the merchant class who rose to prominence as the city flourished. This is where you find Tokyo’s oldest temple – venerable Sensoji with its striking Kaminari-mon gate. We take a walking tour through atmospheric back streets and eventually arrive at Ueno. Its huge central park bursts into life each spring when residents and local workers gather for cherry blossom parties. We stroll under the blossoms ourselves and enjoy the exuberant mood of this spring-time ritual.
Returning to our hotel we relax over a welcome dinner at a local izakaya, a Japanese-style pub. For those who don't mind a bit of singing, head out with your guide for a lively karaoke session – another quintessential Japan experience!
Day 3: Tokyo
Armed with a pre-loaded IC transport card, you have the day free to explore Tokyo.
You may like to spend the day visiting the city’s cutting-edge museums and immersive digital art, checking out the latest electronics and anime culture at Akihabara, café-hopping in tree-lined Omotesando and boutique-centric Aoyama, or wandering Ginza’s boulevard and grand department stores and soaking up its polished feel.
For an easy day-trip, consider Nikko for its ornately decorated temples and shrines surrounded by wooded forests or the seaside atmosphere of ancient Kamakura with its Zen temples and timeless Buddha statue.
If you’d like some direction or recommendations, don't hesitate to talk with us or your guide.
Day 4: Kawaguchiko
Today we travel by express train to Kawaguchiko, a town located in the scenic Fuji Five Lakes district in the foothills of Mt Fuji. Kawaguchiko offers some breathtaking views of the majestic mountain and today we’ll seek out the best spots to see Japan’s tallest mountain.
Since ancient times Mt Fuji has been considered sacred. We visit beautiful Sengen Shrine, which has been a place of worship for the mountain since 745, marked by a striking red torii gate at its entrance. Hopefully here we’ll catch the ultimate travel shot of Mt Fuji framed by cherry blossoms!
While in the area 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 bowl of hearty Hoto noodles, the region’s tasty specialty.
Our ryokan hotel tonight offers your first opportunity to experience Japan’s sublime onsen culture. The communal open-air hot spring baths overlook Kawaguchiko Lake, offering spectacular views of Mt Fuji (weather permitting of course). Relaxed and rejuvenated by the bath, enjoy a kaiseki multi-course banquet and the elegant simplicity of a tatami mat room – Japanese hospitality at its best!
Day 5: Kyoto
We catch a local bus before transferring to shinkansen (Japan’s super express bullet trains) for the journey to Kyoto. With 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites, Kyoto is the cultural heart of Japan and the guardian of its ancient traditions. Originally made capital in 794, present-day Kyoto offers an endless range of traditional craft shops, superb restaurants, Buddhist temples and some of Japan’s most beautiful gardens.
You have a guided tour this afternoon and, depending on where the cherry blossoms are at their best, visit one of the following sites:
- Striking Heian Jingu Shrine with its spectacular weeping cherries in a landscaped stroll garden
- Historic Nijo Castle surrounded by expansive grounds of pink blossoms
- Timeless Ginkakuji with its exquisite raked gravel garden and the Path of Philosophy with its cherry blossoms
Along the way, we stop for some sencha tea and delicious matcha-flavoured cakes. If time allows, we’ll wander through Gion’s geisha quarter for its well-preserved streets of wooden townhouses.
In the evening, discover the rich history of taiko drumming in a private class with a taiko master. Learn about the different drum styles and basic techniques and try a few rhythms yourself! For dinner, we’ll relax over a local meal in the heart of the city. Perhaps afterwards head down Ponto-cho bathed in lantern light and stop by a tiny bar to try some Japanese whisky!
Day 6: Kyoto
You have a free day in Kyoto today to explore the city in your own way.
Flat and compact, Kyoto is a great city to explore by bicycle. Consider cycling along the scenic Kamo River lined by cherry trees at this time of year, and stop at ancient Shimo-gamo Shrine surrounded by a lovely wood. Enjoy a bento lunch under the blossoms on the riverbank.
Arashiyama in Kyoto’s west offers plenty to see too. Tour Tenryuji Temple with its celebrated stroll garden and walk through the famous bamboo forest nearby. Located north of here you’ll also find the famed Golden Pavilion of Kinkakuji and the austere raked garden of Ryoanji.
Or in Kyoto’s east, explore the ever-buzzing Kiyomizu Temple with its hilltop platform and network of lanes and shops. Fushimi Inari Shrine, famous for its tunnel of red torii gates, is a good destination to enjoy at sunset, after most visitors have left.
Kyoto also offers a number of cultural and artisanal experiences, such as the tea ceremony, ikebana flower arrangement, Nishijin textile weaving, Yuzen dyeing and wagashi confectionery. Let us know if you’d like us to make any arrangements in advance.
Day 7: Koyasan
Our destination today is the ancient monastic complex of Koya-san, nestled in the mountains of Wakayama. Travelling by private transport, we journey through ancient Nara and mountain forests to this home of Shingon Buddhism. UNESCO-listed, Koya-san was established in the 9th century by priest Kobo Daishi, one of Japan’s most important historical figures.
Koya-san remains an active centre for the study of Shingon Buddhism, attracting practitioners from across the country. Its historic roots have left a treasure trove of notable buildings, as well as Japan’s largest rock garden. We tour several sites located in the Garan Sacred Precinct as well as Koya-san’s ethereal Okunoin cemetery, with its spiritual air and moss-covered stupas.
We overnight here at a traditional shukubo temple lodging – a unique opportunity to experience Buddhist culture in an authentic and welcoming environment. You’ll be able to sample shojin-ryori (traditional Buddhist vegetarian fare), do a meditation experience, stay in a tatami-mat room and observe temple staff as they go about their daily rituals.
Day 8: Osaka
For the full shukubo experience, rise at dawn for the gongyo prayer service as resident monks gather for the first prayers of the day.
We leave Koya-san this morning by train for our final destination – Osaka. A major economic hub, Osaka’s history is as long as the nation’s itself, eventually becoming an important political centre when a powerful warlord built an imposing new castle in the late 16th century. We cruise the inner moat of Osaka Castle and admire its formidable stone walls, an effective barrier for any invader. The cherry blossoms surrounding the castle in spring add to the spectacular effect.
The oldest part of the city is concentrated around Namba and we take a walking tour through Dogusuji, Osaka’s traditional kitchenware area. Forage through shops packed full of hand-forged kitchen knives, miso soup bowls and ceramic plates. From here we stroll on to Kuromon Market to browse the rich variety of fresh produce at this 200-year-old market.
We head on to Ebisu-bashi Bridge in the lively entertainment district of Dotombori, famous for its larger-than-life neon signs and a key photo stop. Amongst the riot of colour, we stop at Hozenji Temple and the tiny bar alley of Hozenji Yokocho. Popular for its relaxed vibe and delicious street food, Namba is where we’ll enjoy a dinner of okonomiyaki. This savoury pancake cooked on a hot plate right in front of you is a trademark Osaka dish.
Day 9: Osaka
You have a free day today to explore Osaka’s many attractions, before we get together for our farewell dinner.
Osaka is very much a food-focused town and has a local expression “kuidaore”, which carries the meaning of ruining yourself financially by indulging in too much good food! With its strong trade roots and maker culture, Osaka is also traditionally known as the “kitchen of Japan”. Today, you may like to consider a cooking class – make your own ramen noodles or learn about Japanese dashi soup. Osaka was the place where instant noodles were invented – visit the Instant Ramen Museum to learn how they did it.
Alternatively check out Umeda Sky Building for its space-age architecture and panoramic views, wander the art museums and riverside park of Naka-no-shima, or explore the vintage shops and hip cafes of Amerika-mura. Universal Studios Japan is also based in Osaka and attracts a steady flow of Super Mario and Harry Potter fans from around the world.
We celebrate our trip tonight over a farewell dinner of teppanyaki – tender slices of wagyu-beef and vegetables cooked to perfection on a teppan hot plate. Perhaps head back to lively Dotombori for one last drink before heading home!
Day 10: Goodbye
You check out of your hotel after breakfast and your 2024 Discover Japan in Spring concludes.
You can take an airport express or limousine bus to Kansai International Airport (KIX) or a shinkansen and airport trains back 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.
Accommodation listed in itineraries at the time of publishing is an indicative choice only and we may select a similar alternative.
- 9 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)
- 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)
- International and domestic airfare (unless otherwise stated)
- Transfer on the last day
- Travel insurance
- Alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages
- Tips and gratuities (not routinely expected in Japan)
- Transport during free time
- Personal expenses (laundry, internet, telephone, coin lockers etc.)
- Visa (if required)