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This tour combines some of the best highlights from our group departures with some of Japan’s most memorable winter experiences into one unforgettable trip across the Land of the Rising Sun. Each destination offers a unique and different perspective and a completely different experiences. From drifting on a professional circuit, to kendo lessons in a dojo with a master of the samurai arts, this trip will guarantee a view of Japan from all different angles.
March 5th 2020
March 18th 2020
Bullet train, and local trains mostly, but the occasional bus or private car.
As this is a winter trip, please be sure to bring clothes that are appropriate for colder temperatures. Ski and snowboarding clothes and equipment rentals can be arranged upon arrival by us for those who want to experience that while here (equipment/clothing rental is an optional expense). Gloves, hats, and all other winter apparel are highly recommended.
In addition to these, a comfortable pair of shoes is suggested, and also as we will be staying at a couple of traditional-style inns, we suggest having a good set of warm socks as shoes are not allowed in either the ryokans or the martial arts dojo that we will be visiting.
The first day in Tokyo will be relatively relaxing, so as to give everyone a chance to rest after long flights. There will be a guided visit of the Samurai Museum to learn about Japan’s warrior class armor and weaponry, before heading out to to dinner at Tokyo Bay. The dinner will be on a traditional boat that will cruise along the bay of Tokyo at night so that you can get a good view of Tokyo’s city lights while enjoying a traditional meal.
Tsukiji Fish Market, when it had the wholesale portion of the market located here, was Japan’s largest fish market and one of the biggest and busiest in the entire world. The outer market is still thriving and is a great place to go for buying fresh, never frozen fish and sushi for breakfast. To best appreciate the history of this significant location, we will arrange a guide to give you some background knowledge before heading to the chef’s kitchen to begin the sushi lesson. There will be vegetarian options available for those who don’t eat fish and those who don’t want to eat raw fish.
For those who are interested, we can also schedule a graffiti tagging lesson with one of Japan’s best graffiti artist, to teach you the basics of spraying (this is an optional activity). At night everyone will go out to one of the best steakhouse restaurants in Tokyo, where you will get the chance to eat A5 quality Wagyu, prepared right in front of you!
Today, will be a chance to see some of Tokyo’s more modern offerings. We will start with a tour of Akihabara, which is mecca for anyone who is into Japanese anime, video games, or manga. While here, we will visit a few arcades (both retro and new), visit a cosplay purikura booth, and take a look at some spots where Akihabara’s underground culture is still very strong. After the tour of that area, we will head to Odaiba to visit the mind-blowing TeamLab exhibit.
Please note, that on this day, we can schedule go-kart tours of the city at night for those who have an International Driving Permit. Securing an IDP is very easy for our guests who already possess a US driver’s license.
Today will be a chance to learn more about both Japanese cuisine, and Japanese spirits. However the day will start off with a visit to a mostly unknown place called the ‘Underground Temple’. This place is a massive underground channel for flood waters that prevents the city from being flooded. The scale of which is inconceivably large, and it is one of the most impressive architectural achievements you can witness while here in Japan.
After that for lunch we will head to Asakusa, and the district surrounding Sensou-ji Temple for a short food tour. Asakusa has some of the best and most unique foods in all of Tokyo. Some of the highlights from this tour will be the matcha-flavored gelato (it is the strongest in Japan), yakitori, age-manju, and for the brave you can even try inago tsukudani on this tour.
In the evening, we will make a visit to a sake taste testing center where we can try 100’s of different types of sake, and learn about the sake-making process, and also the different offerings from each region. At night, your guide will take you on a bar crawl of the famous Golden Gai area, that contains 100’s of small bars, all of which have different themes.
Aizu will give everyone a chance to try their hands at Japanese martial arts. We will travel up north to Aizu Wakamatsu, an onsen hot springs town, and stay at a traditional Japanese ryokan. Travel to this location will be done by bullet train! While here, we will have a kendo lesson in a dojo under the tutelage of master of the samurai budo arts.
While here we will also make visits to the historical Tsuruga Castle, the Ouchi-juku postal town, which is a beautiful glimpse into traditional Japan, and also the samurai Bukeyashiki.
On our last day here, before heading off to Shibu Onsen in Nagano, everyone will also have a chance to experience drifting on a professional race track, with a drift racer! There are two options for this event. The first is to sit in the car with the driver as they drift across the circuit. The other option is to drive along the track and learn to drift yourself. Please keep in mind that an IDP is required for the second option, and it is an optional activity, where as the first option is included.
Shibu Onsen is also a hot springs town in one of the best locations for winter travel in Japan. While here we will stay at a ryokan that has private hot springs in your room! Traditional kaiseki meals will be provided here for the first two nights. The Jigokudani monkey hot springs park is also on the itinerary for this leg of the trip. For those who wish, you may even bathe in the hot springs with the monkeys should you wish to do so. Here in this region, we. will also. visit Togakushi Shrine, which with its towering cedar trees is. known as one of Japan’s mysterious ‘power spots’.
In addition to this, the area is home to 9 special hot springs that are said to heal certain ailments, if you bathe in their waters. Visiting all 9 is said to give you super saiyan powers! Not really, but it is said by locals to bestow luck onto you.
We will also visit a snow park here, which is a great place to sled, snowbike, and enjoy. other wintertime activities before moving on to Tsunan.
Tsunan Matsuri only happens once a year. It is one of the largest lantern festivals in the entire country, and there are literally 1000’s of lanterns that are released at night, right on the snow-covered slopes! It makes for a truly beautiful sight to see, and is one of the major highlights of this tour.
During the day, before the lantern release, there will also be a ski and snowboarding trick competition that we will watch, and for those that want to ski or snowboard themselves, we can arrange for equipment rentals (including clothes, if necessary), including the snowboards or skis, so that you don’t have to bring any to Japan. If you would like to ski or snowboard during this leg of the trip, please let us know in advance.
Traveling from Tsunan to Kyoto will take some time, and thus we have only arranged for a few main activities for this day. The first is learning how to taiko drum. Taiko drums are typically used at large traditional festivals, or big competitions. Your teacher will teach all of you how to play together. On this day, wearing something that is comfortable would be best as this is going to be a relatively physically demanding activity.
In the afternoon we will make a visit to Fushimi Inari, the shrine of
At night, we will rent one of the largest, and most accommodating karaoke booths in the entire city. The karaoke booth will be available throughout the night, and drinks are covered.
On this day, we will visit some of Japan’s ancient capitals more traditional spots, including the famous Nijo Castle. Our purpose for visiting is so that you can get a glimpse of one of the city’s most iconic landmarks, but in addition to that, Nijo Castle is known for its plum blossoms that should be in bloom around this time. We will also visit a temple to practice zen meditation, and learn a bit about the purpose and meaning of zen Buddhism. Continuing with the Buddhism theme, we will make a visit to Sanjusangendo, which has only just reopened its doors after decades of being closed for restoration.
In the evening we will make a trip up north of Kyoto to visit a place where you will have one of Kyoto’s seasonal banzai dinners on a beautiful platform that ‘floats’ over the river, in the middle of natural surroundings. This is a Kyoto tradition, and the winter menu is unique and offers you the best foods for this season.
Our last day doesn’t slouch in offerings. Today will give you a chance to build your very own small katana. Called a kogatana, the methods for smithing this are the exact same as those used to build an actual katana. The Japanese master swordsmith who will walk you through the methods for crafting your katana will teach you all that you need to know from beginning to end. They will even engrave your name on the hilt in Japanese.
After that, we will go down the Hozugawa river on a traditional, 3-manned boat to that will lead us to the Arashiyama area, where you’ll be able to make a visit to a majestic bamboo grove, and one of Japan’s treasures, the UNESCO World Heritage site, Tenryu-ji temple. With its amazing well-preserved zen garden, the garden here is magical. There is always something in bloom. The thought that went into planning it, and the beautiful koi pond make this a must-see spot while here.
*Note: the kogatana lesson is an optional activity. Please let us know if you want to us to book this for you, or please choose it when checking out for your tour.