After arrival at Tokyo Airport, you will be met by your driver for your private transfer to your hotel. Remainder of the day is free to relax or explore the area. Dinner on your own this evening.
After breakfast, meet your guide for your half-day tour of this fascinating city. The day begins with a visit to the outside Imperial Palace, home of Japan's Imperial Family. Your next stop is Asakusa; Tokyo's old town where you can soak in the atmosphere of its ancient past. You'll 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. Taking the subway across town will bring us to the historic Meiji Shrine, a shrine dedicated to the deified spirit of Emperor Meiji and a popular place for traditional Japanese weddings. At the end of the tour, you will return to the hotel on your own via the excellent subway system or taxi.
*Using public transit in Tokyo is very easy for the English-speaking traveler. Most subway stations have signs using the Latin alphabet (i.e. Shibuya, Omote-sando, Roppongi, Ginza, etc). The lines are color coded just like other subways so it's very easy to get around. If you are taking a taxi, your hotel can provide a card with their address in Japanese.
Remainder of the afternoon is free before the evening's Red Lantern Dining Tour. Your tour (with a maximum of 6 people) will begin with a stroll around one of Tokyo's trendiest areas, conveniently located minutes away from Shibuya. A popular place for locals ranging from their mid-twenties to early forties to grab a drink and a bite, this area boasts some of Tokyo's best casual eateries driven by competition among local restaurants.
On this tour, you will visit five different restaurants and izakaya (the Japanese casual pub). Aka-chouchin (red lantern) is the symbol of the izakaya and is a similar concept of Spanish tapas. You'll get to experience some of the authentic food that locals enjoy, and your English-speaking guide will be there to explain some of the dishes that are served. Some of the items to sample include Yakitori, Sashimi, Okonomiyaki (a savory pancake), Ramen or Udon noodles, Japanese ice cream, and a sake tasting.
*Minimum age requirement is 16 and that teenagers below 20 cannot drink and will not be served alcohol.
(Breakfast, Dinner & Accommodations, Tokyo)
After breakfast, meet your guide for private sushi making at a local home. On your visit to a typical Japanese home, your guide will answer all your questions about Japanese culture and everyday life in Tokyo during the transfer. Learn to prepare maki sushi (rolled sushi), gunkan maki (sushi rice wrapped with a strip of seaweed and topped with soft ingredients), and nigiri sushi (sushi rice topped with a slice of raw fish). You will then get to enjoy your homemade sushi for lunch. After an enjoyable meal, you'll return to your hotel via the subway, or explore more sights on your own.
In the evening, your guide will meet you for Depachika and Monjayaka Alley Evening Tour via public transportation. We'll set out to the Mitsukoshi department store, one of Tokyo s oldest, whose basement food floor is something to behold. Then hop on the subway to reach Tsukishima, a retro neighborhood just across the river from Tsukiji market. You'll notice that many of the retro restaurants that line its street offer a dish called monjayaki. It is a tasty dish consisting of a flour and vegetables batter with different toppings cooked right on the table on a hot plate and eaten with small iron spatulas. Your dinner will also include one soft drink or beer per person. Returning to the hotel will be on your own.
(Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner & Accommodations, Tokyo)
After a leisurely breakfast, your guide will meet you for the taxi ride to Tokyo rail station, where you'll board the famous Nozomi Bullet Train to Kyoto. This trip, (2½ hours) offers the fastest train service running in Japan, and speeds can reach up to 300 km per hour (186 mph).
There will be a Meet & Greet guide for a private transfer from Kyoto Rail Station to your hotel. After checking in, meet your private guide for a market visit, sake tasting, and cooking lesson. Together with a local guide, you will walk the mile-long Nishiki covered food markets, where there are many interesting food stores to explore as you help your guide buy the ingredients for your Japanese cooking class. This is a great opportunity to learn about local Japanese produce. After visiting the markets, you'll travel through the back streets and lanes of Kyoto and visit a traditional townhouse for a sake tasting. Your walk will conclude at a traditional wooden townhouse for your Japanese cooking class. Here, you'll learn how to make rolled sushi, miso soup and cooked salad with seasonal fruit for dessert and enjoy the results of your labor for dinner. Your return to the hotel is on your own via subway or taxi.
Note: Like Tokyo, Kyoto's subway stations have signs posted in Japanese, and Latin alphabet that indicate the next station on the route. Stops are announced in Japanese and English on the train. Their buses also have destinations posted in both Japanese and English, as well as announcing points of interest in English. The new Raku Buses painted in distinct designs operate on the most popular tourist routes.
(Breakfast, Tokyo; Accommodations & Dinner, Kyoto)
After breakfast, your day begins with a private Kyoto Highlights half-day tour via public transportation. The tour includes a visit to 2 of Kyoto's 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites and a local market. Our first stop is the Kinkakuji Temple or Golden Pavilion. It's a Zen temple whose top two floors are completely covered in gold leaf. Formally known known as Rokuonji, the temple was the retirement villa of the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. After his death, it became a Buddhist temple at his request and is now one of Kyoto's most famous temples. A short bus ride away is Nijo Castle, an ornamental wooden castle encompassed by a wide moat and massive stone walls. It was built by the founder of the Edo Shogunate as his Kyoto residence and is surrounded by stunning gardens. The main building was completed in 1603 and is famous for its architecture, decorated sliding doors, and "chirping nightingale" floors; squeaky floors that would alert occupants to the presence of intruders. The decorative panels and carvings here reflect the enormous power and attitudes of the warlords who occupied the castle. You'll finish your tour with a stop at Nishiki Market again just in case you want to grab dinner or missed anything from the visit yesterday. Upon returning to your hotel on your own, the remainder of the day is free for sightseeing or resting.
*Dinner is on your own this evening, and your guide will offer some dining suggestions.
(Breakfast & Accommodations, Kyoto)
Today, your morning is free for exploring and lunch will be on your own. Your guide will meet you in the lobby for a private afternoon tea with a geisha via taxi. You'll explore the back streets of Kyoto's geisha districts with the leading foreign geisha culture expert, Peter MacIntosh who has spent half his life living in Kyoto. He was married to an ex-geisha, studies Japanese arts and is a lecturer on Geisha Studies at Kansai University. On a private walk through the geisha districts he will discuss the history as well as the present situation of the flower and willow world of Kyoto before stopping at a private, members-only ochaya (geisha teahouse), where you will enjoy matcha green tea and Japanese sweets in the company of a maiko or geiko. No other customers will be present. There will be traditional song, dance and games along with great photo opportunities.
*Please note this is just drinking tea and sweets with the maiko or geiko, not a tea ceremony, which is a traditional art geisha do not practice.
Your return to the hotel is via public transportation or taxi. Dinner will be on your own this evening.
(Breakfast & Accommodations, Kyoto)
After breakfast, your driver will meet you for a private transfer from your hotel to charming Osaka. The leisurely drive will take about 1 hour, which affords plenty of time to check into your hotel and the day is free for exploring on your own. And with their excellent subway system, you'll have a myriad of activities to choose from. For coffee lovers, make your way to the trendy Amerikamura neighborhood which offers several specialty coffee shops. Haven't had time to shop for souvenirs? In the nearby Horie district, you'll find an array of attractive boutiques. The glitzy Minami district also hosts several department stores and fashionable shops. The Osaka Aquarium is rated one of the best in the world, and one of the few where one can view whale sharks. In the Kita district, you'll find a beautiful park to escape the rush of the city, plus two interesting museums: The National Museum of Art and the Museum of Oriental Ceramics.
(Breakfast, Kyoto; & Accommodations, Osaka)
After breakfast, your guide will meet you at your hotel for a private tour of Osaka by public transportation. Our first stop will be the magnificent Osaka Castle. The castle is one of Japan's most famous and played a major role in the unification of Japan during the sixteenth century. It has been completely rebuilt, faithful to the original appearance after its destruction during World War II. The inside is modern and functional and serves as a museum of Osaka history. Our next visit is the Floating Garden Observatory. Built on top of the highest building in Osaka, the Umeda Sky Building consists of two towers that are connected with each other by the "Floating Garden Observatory" on the 39th floor. The observatory offers great views of the city through its windows and from its open-air deck. With its unobstructed 360-degree view, you can not only see all of Osaka but as far away as Awaji Island. We'll hop on the underground for today's last stop: the hustling district of Dotonbori, a former pleasure district turned restaurant mecca. Here, you'll have the opportunity to sample some regional delicacies including the famous takoyaki. Essentially an octopus dumpling, it is considered as Osaka's most famous street food. After taking public transportation back to your hotel, the rest of the day is free to explore. Dinner will be on your own this evening.
(Breakfast & Accommodations, Osaka)
After breakfast, take your private transfer to Kansai Airport for your return home or on to your next Avanti destination.