Upon arrival at Haneda or Narita Airport, meet your driver for your transfer to your hotel. After checking in, the remainder of the day is free for relaxation or independent sightseeing. Dinner will be on your own this evening.
After breakfast, meet your local guide in the lobby for a private half-day tour of this fascinating city via public transportation. Our first stop Asakusa, Tokyo's old town where you can soak in the atmosphere of the Tokyo of old. Visit Sensoji, Tokyo's oldest temple and wander down Nakamise, a shopping street that has been providing temple visitors with a variety of traditional, local snacks and tourist souvenirs for centuries. We'll take the subway across town to Omotesando to explore the ritzy flagship stores and Meiji Shrine, Tokyo's most famous Shinto shrine, dedicated to the deified spirit of Emperor Meiji. You'll have the opportunity to write a wish on a small piece of paper and tie it onto the prayer wall, just as locals do. Your guide can instruct you to place some yen into the offering box, then bow your head twice, clap twice, and bow once more. Your guide will leave you to either return to your hotel via the subway*/taxi or continue independent sightseeing.
(Breakfast & Accommodations, Tokyo)
Our recommended optional day tour for today is Private Kamakura Full Day Tour via Public Transportation. We'll take the local train for the 1 hour trip to the former de facto capital of Japan from 1185-1333. At that time Kamakura was the largest city in the world, however the Kamakura of today is a small, sleepy seaside town with numerous temples, shrines and other attractions. With your local guide, you will visit Kotokuin Temple, home to the Daibutsu, a giant bronze Buddha that stands (or rather, sits) 44 feet high. Hasedera Temple is a temple of the Jodo sect, which is most famous for its statue of Kannon, the goddess of mercy. The statue shows Kannon with eleven heads, each representing a characteristic of the goddess. Dating from the 12th century, Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine is the spiritual heart of Kamakura and one of its most popular attractions. After the tour, you may want to stop for lunch at nearby Komachi-dori; a stylish street with historic restaurants and fashionable stores. The street is lined with over 250 restaurants, boutiques, fancy cafes, Japanese-style sweet cafes, and stores selling souvenirs and sundry articles unique to the ancient city. Stepping into narrow alleys you will find old Western-style houses with an historic atmosphere and hidden traditional stores. There are also incense stores, a historic restaurant for handmade soba noodles, and retro-inspired French restaurants. After your full day, return to Tokyo by train.
(Breakfast & Accommodations, Tokyo)
Today after breakfast, transfer by taxi to the rail station and take the Asama Bullet Train to Nagano, the mountain capital of the Japanese Alps. Upon arrival, you'll take a taxi for the short ride as your hotel will be near the station. After settling in at your hotel, the afternoon is at your leisure. Enjoy some independent sightseeing as you'll find this tourist-friendly resort town very easy to navigate. Dinner is on your own this evening and be sure and sample some of Nagano's specialties; delicious soba noodles, apples and sake, as well as oyaki dumplings, gohei mochi snacks, bamboo leaf-wrapped sasa-zushi; just a few of Nagano's culinary heritage.
(Breakfast, Tokyo; Accommodations, Nagano)
In the morning, meet your English speaking guide for a full day tour of the famous Jigokudani Monkey Park and the charming town of Obuse. We'll go by public transportation to view the famous Snow monkeys. Jigokudani literally means 'hell's valley' due to the steam and boiling water that bubbles out of small crevices in the frozen ground, and it's in these baths of this bubbling water that the resident Japanese Macaques like to bathe. The monkeys live in large social groups, so it can be quite entertaining to watch their interactions. Accustomed to humans, they can be observed from very close and almost completely ignore their human guests. The entrance to the park is located around a 20-minute hike away from the closest point reachable by car, however the hike is very leisurely and scenic, with moderate to no slopes.
In the afternoon, we'll stop a nearby Obuse, known for its delicious chestnuts and also the home of Hokusai, the famous painter and print-maker from Japan's Edo period. Over 100 houses in the town participate in an "Open Garden" theme. If you see this sign in front of the house, it means you can enter the property and enjoy the gardens, giving you a unique insight into Japanese houses. No visit to Obuse is complete without stopping in at a local sake brewery for a taste of their delicious saké. Saké is a Japanese rice wine; an alcoholic beverage made by fermenting rice that has been polished to remove the bran. Returning to your hotel, dinner will be on your own this evening.
(Breakfast & Accommodations, Nagano)
After breakfast, take a taxi to the rail station for the one-hour ride on the Kagayuki Bullet Train to Kanazawa. Your driver will meet you for your transfer to your hotel. The remainder of the day is at your leisure. This historical jewel of mainland Japan, often called "little Kyoto", is frequently overlooked by foreign tourists. The central city is fairly compact and the best way to get around is walking and exploring the narrow side streets. The rail station's Tourist Information Center is a good place to start with their helpful staff. They'll provide directions, maps, and suggestions to visitors. A good way to relax would be the Kenroku-en Garden, ranked as one of the top 3 gardens in Japan. A short walk away is D.T. Suzuki Museum. Suzuki was famous for introducing Zen Buddhism to the West. Strolling around the garden and water features provides the perfect setting for contemplation or meditation.
(Breakfast, Nagano; Accommodations, Kanazawa)
After breakfast, your English-speaking guide will meet you for full day excursion to Shirakawa-go. We'll go via public transportation for the 90 minute trip and your guide will explain some of the attractions to be seen. Situated at the foot of Mt. Haku-san, Shirakawa-go remains a quiet mountain village with rice fields and a river running through it. 114 thatched roof stand together in the village, which was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. Your guide will escort you through the village, famous for its traditional gassho-zukuri farmhouses, some more than 250 years old. Gassho-zukuri translates as Praying Hands, as the farmhouses steep thatched roofs resemble the hands of Buddhist monks pressed together in prayer, and are designed to withstand the heavy snows which fall in the region. There will be a lunch stop at a delicious local spot for hobayaki, meat or fish grilled on a magnolia leaf over an open flame. Other options are also available if this is not to your liking.
(Breakfast, Lunch & Accomodations, Kanazawa)
After breakfast, you'll have a private transfer to the rail station to take the Thunderbird Express Train. The train follows the northern coast for a scenic 2-hour ride to Kyoto. Your driver will await you at the rail station for your private transfer to your hotel. Kyoto remains the spiritual heart of Japan, and you'll be reminded by the scent of burning incense and robed monks walking through zen gardens. After checking into your hotel, there's time for some exploring on own. Dinner will be on your own this evening, and ask your concierge assist you with recommendations and reservations. After all, Kyoto is home to several Michelin-starred restaurants, many of which specialize in multi-course kaiseki meals served to diners seated on tatami mats.
(Breakfast, Kanazawa; Accommodations, Kyoto)
Meet your guide for a full day tour of Kyoto via subway and bus*. Our first stop will be the Ryoanji Zen Temple, the site of Japan's most famous rock garden, which attracts hundreds of visitors every day. Originally an aristocrat's villa during the Heian Period, the site was converted into a Zen temple in 1450. The garden consists of a rectangular plot of pebbles surrounded by low earthen walls, with 15 rocks laid out in small groups on patches of moss. We'll proceed to the Kyoto Imperial Palace, formerly the residence of Japan's Imperial Family until 1868, when the emperor and capital were moved from Kyoto to Tokyo. It's located in the spacious Kyoto Imperial Garden that encompasses the Sento Imperial Palace.
There will be time for lunch on your own before taking a stroll along the *During the busy season (March 20 - May 8, October 10 - November 30) tour will be conducted by taxi.
(Breakfast & Accommodations, Kyoto)
*During the busy season (March 20 - May 8, October 10 - November 30) tour will be conducted by taxi.
(Breakfast & Accommodations, Kyoto)
After breakfast, meet your driver for your transfer to either Itami or Kansai airport and on to your next Avanti Destination.