Our first day started with creating our own Japanese fruit liqueurs. We visited a Japanese sake taste testing superstore which boasted over 100 different types of sake from all across Japan. After choosing the ones we want, we headed to the grocery store to grab the fruit we wanted to incorporate into our own unique blends. We used a traditional Japanese method to prepare the wines, while going over the tour orientation and introductions. Once our wines had been completed, we bottled them up to let them marinate, waiting to enjoying them at the end of the tour. Our first day ended with a sunset visit to Sensouji.
On our second day, we gained a perspective of how large Tokyo is by looking at it from three famous views on three different levels. First we took to the skies with a panoramic view of Tokyo from Shinjuku’s Metropolitan government building, which placed us 230 meters in the air. We then descended 20+ meters below the surface to the “Underground Temple”. We concluded with a ground-level view at the world famous Shibuya intersection, and finished the day by playing dodgeball on the rooftop of Shibuya station. For lunch on this day we explored the fashion district of Harajuku, and also made a visit to Meiji Jingu shrine.
Here we shifted our focus to learn a little bit about Tokyo’s past. We started early in the morning by watching how the sumo wrestlers train to compete. We then headed to Tsukiji to take a peek inside one of the world’s busiest fish markets. After we’d had our fill of uni and maguro, we transported ourselves back in time to the Edo era for an authentic kabuki theater show. We continued our experience of how people lived in the Edo era with a visit to the Edo-Tokyo museum. We also visited a small sumo wrestling exhibit on our way to a sumo pot restaurant. Before we wrapped up our day, we explored Tokyo’s Imperial Palace right in the heart of the city. At night we zig zagged our way through the 200+ bars in the Showa-era Golden Gai district.
After having delved into Tokyo’s past, we explored the more modern and futuristic areas of the largest city on earth. We started at the otaku culture mecca of Akihabara to satisfy one’s anime and manga fix. There were also a multitude of arcades, book stores, cafes, and other exciting spots for those with different interests. We then headed to Shibuya for a graffiti lesson with a world-renowned spraypaint artist to create our own tags, learn the techniques, and hear about Tokyo’s street art culture (optional activity). Next, we headed to Odaiba. You can’t experience the future of Tokyo, or even Japan, without having visited at least one of the many exhibits on the man-made island of Odaiba. Here we talked to androids, learn about the current global shifts in technology, and saw all things future-tech. Once we’d had our fill of the futuristic, we took in the sites of the city at night with a boat ride on Tokyo Bay. We also rode a roller coaster among the skyscrapers at Tokyo Dome City. For those who weren’t partial to roller coasters, there was a ferris wheel with a built-in karaoke booth and fantastic views. We ended our time in Tokyo by boarding the last existing overnight sleeper train in Japan to Izumo. The views on this train are unparalleled. We watched the city slowly fade into countryside as we made our way to the town where all of the Shinto gods congregate.
We woke up in Izumo city on Day 5 and met with our Japanese host families for two days of experiencing authentic, small-town life in Japan. Even though Izumo is a small town, and vastly different from the fast-paced lifestyle of Tokyo, it is a very important and culturally significant location. Some of the last surviving katana makers call Izumo home. It is also home to Izumo Taisha, which boasts one of Japan’s most important shrines, beautiful beaches, and relaxing natural hot spring bathhouses. This step of the trip was also important because it gave us a chance to actually spend time with a Japanese family. There are many things that are integral to Japanese culture that are easily missed without having the opportunity to build a relationship with a Japanese person. This experience gave the guests the chance to build new relationships with the people there, personally learn more about the culture, learn to cook real Japanese homestyle food, and gain a better understanding of the Japanese lifestyle and etiquette.
*Note that the itinerary was not pre-determined for the homestays. They were based on guests’ own personal interests, and what their host families wanted to show them during their time there.
We said goodbye to our host families early in the morning and headed to Kyoto for the next stage of the trip. We started our time in Kyoto in the Higashiyama district of the old capital with a meet and greet with a geisha in training (a Maiko, or as they are known in Kyoto, a Geiko). We exchanged pleasantries over matcha tea and got the opportunity to ask some questions later on in the afternoon. We then headed to Yasaka Shrine to view one of the only shrines that remains open at night. Lastly, we made our way to the Pontocho area, which is packed with world-class restaurants for dinner, and walk along the Kamogawa River while enjoying the ambiance of Kyoto’s mellow evenings.
We started the day early as we made our way to Amanohashidate, a hidden gem in the Kyoto region and one of Japan’s top three sites. Literally meaning the bridge to heaven, this sandbar is an amazing site, and is a place where wishes are said to come true. While here, we also made a visit to Chionji Temple, Motoise Shrine and Amanohashidate View Land. A ropeway ride to the top of the hill revealed an even better view. After that we headed to Fushimi Inari shrine (the shrine with a thousand red gates), around sunset when the crowds had died down to enjoy it at a more relaxed pace.
From old capital to ancient capital, we spent the first part of our day in Nara at Todaiji temple where monks share their space with the deer in that area. Guests got a chance to feed the deer, explore the temple grounds, and also witnessed the largest bronze Buddha statue in the world, inside of the temple’s Great Buddha Hall. The rest of the day was dedicated to free time for people wanting to explore Kyoto on their own and pursue individual interests for a few hours. There are so many things to discover in Kyoto. The Pokemon Center, the Imperial Palace, Nishiki Market, the thousands of temples shrines and countless world heritage sites to name but a few. No matter what their interests were, our guide helped plan an afternoon of activities to make the most of guests’ free time. We concluded the day with an evening trip to a karaoke bar which is a must-do when in Japan.
The morning started with a trip to Kameoka via an open-air steam train that weaved its way in and out of the Hozugawa river, while taking in the spectacular colourful mountain landscape. We then enjoyed a traditional boat ride down the river, to make our way to the Arashiyama district where we visited Otagi Nenbutsu temple (which hosts 1200 completely unique stone carvings), Nonomiya Shrine, Tenryuji (and the famous bamboo grove behind it), and enjoyed a beautiful view of Kyoto from the Arashiyama monkey park where macaques roam freely around the mountain. After that we left the old capital behind and headed to our first island destination on the tour. We stopped in the city of Fukuoka to hop into a natural hot springs onsen before catching an overnight ferry to the Goto Archipelago.
We woke up in the middle of an island-speckled sea before docking on Fukue Island. The Goto Islands are steeped in mystery. The history and stories that the islands have to tell are very deep and interesting. Kichi Japan are the only tours that take you there. There are many places to explore and discover in the archipelago. For example Kuroshima, which is an abandoned island on which a 96-year-old woman and her daughter have decided to resettle together. Or the multitude of islands that early Christian worshippers fled to in order to worship without being persecuted. Our journey there, however, started on Hisakajima Island – a place that was settled, not by fleeing Christians, but a disgraced group of ronin (masterless samurai) who were fleeing shame. We learned about their story and also enjoyed a bike ride around the island to visit Gorin church, which has recently been short-listed for Nagasaki’s growing list of UNESCO World Heritage sites. After we’d explored the island, we made our way back to Fukue Island to soak ourselves in the natural, mineral-rich springs of Onidake onsen before heading to the Mt. Onidake observatory for stargazing. We then finished the night off at a one-of-a-kind ramen karaoke bar that served quality food and drinks from the comfort of our own private karaoke booth.
On day 2 of our adventure in Goto, we made our way to Oushima (literally, Yellow Island). The history of this island is also fascinating. Once an island that was heavily populated during the whaling boom in this region, the population of the island has shot down from 1500 to a mere 40+ people who now call the island home. The cat population of the island is actually higher than the human. Abandoned schools, homes, and boats are a common sight here, but this small fisherman’s island still has life in it. We explored the island, and made our way to a cave on the opposite end to discover a secret hidden within. Oushima differs from the surrounding islands in that it is mainly flat and is much easier to navigate. After the island and cave exploration was over, we took a boat out to sea to try our hand at fishing while attempting to catch the season’s bounty. We then made our way back to Fukue Island for a traditional pottery lesson where we got our hands dirty whilst shaping our very own wares. Our last night in Goto was spent having dinner at the island’s best homemade style restaurant, where everything is freshly prepared on a daily basis and the menu is dependent upon the daily catch.
Day 13 began with a trip to Sasebo to spend the day at the theme park Huis Ten Bosch. Designed to look like a Dutch village, Huis Ten Bosch has a plethora of attractions, and is twice the size of Disneyland. No matter our guests’ interests, there was something for everyone. From zip lines to endless chocolate fountains, it was mesmerizing. At night, we made our way to Nagasaki to catch one of the best night views on earth from the top of Mount Inasayama. The 5 minute ropeway showed us the amazing lights of Nagasaki as well as the harbor.
Our final day of the tour consisted of a few visits to some of the historical sites around Nagasaki, where we learned a bit about the history of the city. We started in Dejima to learn about the influence that the Dutch had on Japan, and the relationship that was formed between the two nations. After that we made our way to the Peace Park to hear about the unfortunate events that took place in the city during the Second World War. We then headed back to Tokyo, enjoying the drinks that we made on Day 1, and said our goodbyes.
A whirlwind tour of all that we love about Japan!
This unique tour took our guests to all of the major cities and sites in Japan, but also exposed them to places few tourists and tour companies have even heard of. Our route included Tokyo, Kyoto, Izumo, Nagasaki, Sasebo, and the rarely visited Goto Archipelago, all within 14 days. The itinerary also included a homestay, an experience that allowed guests to go beyond just visiting the country, and gave them a more intimate understanding of Japanese life as they actually lived with a local family. This tour delivered Japan from all angles. From Tokyo’s futuristic neon lights, to the rice fields of Izumo. From Kyoto’s traditional setting and its ancient temples, to the pristine beaches of the Goto Islands. We chose the best locations to make the absolute best of our guests’ time in Japan.