- Do things differently and fly to Japan in winter: hopefully you'll find a white blanket of snow, bright sun and dazzling sky
- See the big sites without the crowds; the ryokan (traditional inn) experience at an onsen
- Tokyo in the footsteps of a local, onsen[/] (hot spring baths, visit to a sake distillery in Kyoto: already included
- Smartphone app, access to our local Concierge, all our usual services
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Winter in Japan
Go against the grain and head to Japan in winter, a season when this hugely diverse and enriching country has a lot to offer. This trip takes you to the more off the beaten track areas, across byways rather than highways and avoiding the crowds. To the east of Hokkaido is the Sea of Okhotsk where drift ice makes for a most striking spectacle; in December in Chichibu (50 miles from Tokyo), the Festival of the Night illuminates the sky with two hours of fireworks; January sees the annual archery competition at the Sanjusangendo temple in Kyoto, the longest wooden building in Japan; and in February the snow in Sapporo is perfect for skiing in the Japanese Alps.
Your TripThis itinerary includes four nights in Tokyo and four in Kyoto; at this time of year when there are far fewer tourists,
Flight to Tokyo
Overnight flight, arriving the next day.
Welcome on arrival, private transfer to the Shibuya district and four nights' accommodation in an understated, contemporary hotel. The beautifully crafted rooms are spread between the ninth and thirteenth floors of a new tower - ideal for enjoying a panoramic view of the city. A storey or so below, two restaurants offer traditional Japanese as well as French cuisine. The surrounding neighbourhood embodies Tokyo's vibe: students rush for coffee or a drink, buzzing restaurants and designer label shops abound. Shibuya is the capital's fashion mecca, and you can see every look imaginable paraded around the district.
The workshop of urban modernity, Tokyo turns heads with its dynamism, its taste for innovation, its imagination, its excesses, and its boldness. The trends are there, the cuisine, the technologies and the entertainment of tomorrow. Looking for a little eccentricity? Head to Harajuku, where lolitas and cosplayers compete with dandies in manga style. If you're looking for a lot of electronics, the Akihabara district has plenty of huge shops. If you want a drink, head to The surviving alleyways of the Golden Gai in Shinjuku house some 200 tiny bars where friends crowd in. Looking for a moment of peaceful reflection? Tokyo residents find it in Rikugi-en and Koishikawa Koraku-en parks. If museums are on your list, The Daimyo Clock Museum, the Japan Toy Museum, the Tabi Museum - try these for a glimpse of traditional Japan. Grab a ticket to a kabuki or noh show, a sumo competition, take a walk in the Yanaka Old Quarter or Meiji-jingu, or visit the Fukugawa Edo Museum. And then hit the heights: the Ferris wheel at Mega Web (Odaiba) is a world record 371ft tall. At night, the harbour twinkles at your feet.
In the itinerary - an expat takes you on a tour of the city. To take the pulse of Japan's capital, there's nothing better than walking around with a local. A few hours of wandering and sharing, the opportunity to discuss Japanese society and everyday life and to glean valuable information for the rest of your journey.
Optional - Fly over Tokyo by helicopter.
Tokyo - Shuzenji
Train to Shuzenji (via Mishima), a charming traditional Japanese hot spring resort founded between the 8th and 12th centuries - the oldest on the Izu Peninsula. Appreciated by Japanese spa enthusiasts but unknown to visitors, the peaceful atmosphere on the Katsuragawa River, with its restaurants and shops, and the generous nature all around. Not far from Shuzenji, Tokko-no-yu's ancient hot spring is sacred and a great starting point for lush nature walks. Overnight in a ryokan (traditional inn) surrounded by a beautiful garden and housed in a 150 year old building, classified as a cultural monument.
Shuzenji - Kyoto
Train to Kyoto (again via Mishima). Four nights in a hotel that couldn't be more central, a few steps from the Imperial Palace. The hotel is comfortable, with spacious, contemporary rooms decorated in minimalist Japanese style and incorporating local artwork. The hotel is appreciated for its quality of service and attentive staff, who always offer good advice.
From the traditional machiya (wooden townhouses) of the beautiful Gion district to the mineral garden of Ryoan-ji Temple to the Kawamichi-ya soba (buckwheat noodle) restaurant; from the terrace of the impressive modern railway station to the admirable Kyomizu-dera temple, each offering a splendid view of the city in a radically different environment, Kyoto is magic in action, combining perfection with poetry, art, and modernity, making us love the past as much as the present and the future.
In the itinerary - A visit to a sake distillery followed by a tasting. Founded in 1726, the Matsui Shuzo Distillery is one of Japan's oldest. It only opens its doors for a few privileged visitors, sharing some of the secrets of making Japan's cherished national tipple using both traditional and modern methods. The tour includes a brewing demonstration as well as a sake and green tea tasting.
Kyoto - Osaka - Return flight
Private transfer to Osaka airport and international flight home.
A la carte
TO EXTEND THE TRIP...
HIKING IN THE MT. FUJI REGION
Almost always covered with clouds, it is in winter that Mount Fuji most often reveals the tip of its summit, under a clear and open sky. Departing from Tokyo, you'll reach the Yamanakako Lake area, one of five lakes at the foot of Mount Fuji - we deliberately avoid Lake Kawaguchiko, which is where the most tourists congregate. Your guide devises the hike(s) best suited to your level (remember, no climbing in winter). Overnight in a chalet.
Optional - Two days/one night, with a private guide
Osaka is warm, contemporary, epicurean and hectic - all at the same time. An ancient merchant city that enjoys eating, having fun and enjoying life, but has not forgotten its historic sites.
What to see, what to do - An introduction to the city with a local, visit the castle, stroll around the popular Tsutenkaku district, watch a performance at the Bunraku Puppet Theatre, stroll along Dotonbori Street in the evening...
Optional - Two days/one night
JAPANESE ALPS & HOKKAIDO
In winter, the Japanese Alps offer great skiing. Powerhounds will find the most enjoyable white stuff in Niseko. From Christmas to spring, the snow falls thick, enveloping the landscape in a sublime, immaculate coat. In the heart of the forest, red-faced snow monkeys bathe in the warm onsen (hot spring) waters. Finally, the island of Hokkaido, the land of the Ainu hunting and fishing people, is another Japan, and the harsh winter suits it well. For the most adventurous, the island's forests, frozen lakes and wild coasts experience much of the same climate as nearby Siberia.
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