Route: Tokyo Kamakura Hakone Kyoto Arashiyama Kyoto Hiroshima Osaka
Group size: 4 – 18
Age range: 18 – 60
Transport: Public transport, including overnight trains
Dates: Range of departures throughout the year
Summary: Our 13-day group tour will give you an insight into the many faces of Japan. With an action-packed itinerary, you’ll see a different side to this fascinating country each day. The contrasts make travelling here completely unique, but our style of travel means you can still see all this on a budget. Explore some of Japan’s major regions, top destinations, epic sites and off the beat adventures.
Not only will you see the main sights in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, but you’ll also be able to immerse yourself in Japanese culture. Try out a karate lesson, a calligraphy class, a visit to the sumo district, an anime masterclass, trips to local bathhouses and – of course – karaoke. The 13 days also give you the opportunity to escape the city, with opportunities to explore Japan’s shrines, temples and endless hiking trails.
You’ll travel around Japan using its excellent public transport system, with some local transfers thrown in too – giving you a real flavour of authentic Japanese life. Stay in the best backpacking hostels and travel with an awesome group of likeminded people – you’ll also be guided by local people who will help you make the most of your time in this incredible country.
Arrive in Tokyo and meet your Adventure Leader in the lobby of the hostel. Listen to your Japan briefing and hear about the itinerary and introduce yourself to the group. Take in the cityscape with an incredible view from atop the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. After lunching in Shinjuku, the first stop is the Asakusa temple. Wander up the shrine and explore the charming streets around it.
Optional: You can either kick back with a drink or relax like a local at nearby bathhouse.
Try some of the freshest sashimi you’ve ever eaten at Tokyo’s iconic Tsukiji fish market. Discover how to make it all yourself with a lesson from a sushi chef, and then sample your produce. In the afternoon, visit Akihabara – Japan’s “electric town” and hub of Anime and Manga culture, and also home to Japan’s most famous J– pop group, AKB48… Try out a “Made in Tokyo” experience at one of Akihabara’s maid cafes. The cost of entry and an order of food and drink is likely to be around 2000 JPY.
Suggested independent activity: Real life Mario Kart! Choose a costume and race through the streets of Tokyo! (6,000 JPY) (PLEASE NOTE: to participate, you must secure an international drivers permit valid in Japan, BEFORE the start of the trip.)
Kick off the morning with a trip to the Imperial Palace’s gardens, and marvel at the grandeur on show. It’s another afternoon of traditional-modern contrast in the Harajuku area of Tokyo. First stop is the Shinto shrine to Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. After that, go to Harajuku, Tokyo’s fashion district, to see the fruits of the transformation started by Meiji. French maids, punks, goths, lolitas, technicolour hair – anything goes in Harajuku. Stand back and watch, or grab some hair dye and get involved!
Walk to Shibuya just in time for rush hour, to see the sheer scale of one the world’s most famous people crossings – featured in Hollywood films like Lost in Translation and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.
First thing in the morning, head to Ryōgoku (sumo district) to discover Tokyo’s fascinating history at the Edo-Tokyo Museum. While in Ryōgoku and with luck on your side, witness a sumo wrestling training session in the morning. For lunch, enjoy a typical sumo wrestler’s lunch. Learn the ancient art of samurai and have the chance to see a sword demonstration in Tokyo’s Samurai Museum.
Optional: Robot Show experience in the evening. (6000 JPY)
After brunch in Tokyo, it’s time to say goodbye to the modern capital and hop on a train to Kamakura – Japan’s medieval capital and home to the first shoguns. Check out some of the town’s many ancient shrines, and then hike over to Kotoku-in temple to marvel at the Great Buddha statue, which stands at nearly 45ft tall and is made of solid bronze. The hostel is moments from the beach and you can relax on the sand or try your hand at surfing. Surfboard rental options close by. (3000 JPY for a day.) There are lots of beachside bars where you can watch the sun go down.
Start off by taking the Hakone Ropeway – an epic cable car journey that drops you at Oowakudani. On a clear day, you can gaze at Mount Fuji in all its glory. There, you can also sample black eggs – a local delicacy coloured by the sulphuric water they’re boiled in. Next up is beautiful Lake Ashi, where you’ll board a pirate ship! From the deck of this triple-decker man-of-war, you’ll cross the lake’s clear-blue waters.
Spend the evening soaking in the sulphuric water of a traditional Japanese outdoor bath, called an onsen. (Please note: those with tattoos cannot enter the onsen.)
Next stop is the station to board your first bullet train – to Kyoto. You’ll zoom across the country, covering around 440km in little more than two hours, leaving plenty of time to experience Kyoto later in the day and at night. In the afternoon, wander the hillside streets to the stunning Kiyomizu temple. The city is famous for its history, temples, shrines and – of course – stunning geishas. It also has a large student population and thriving music scene… Kawaramuchi is a good place to start. There are bars, jazz clubs and plenty of Izakaya pubs. Attend a live geisha performance, which also features a tea ceremony, puppet show, traditional music, flower arranging and more.
For something quintessentially Kyoto, you can wander through Pontocho Alley, full of lanterns and intimate wood-panelled restaurants. Quietly sip on sake and look out for geisha’s wandering past.
Start the day with a two-hour boat trip down the Hozugawa River. In your traditional wooden raft, driven by guides, you’ll cruise through rocky ravines and experience the rush of rapids as you meander through the Arashiyama Hills (weather dependent). Hike in the morning through Arashiyama bamboo forest on the western outskirts of Kyoto. After getting lost in the maze of bamboo paths and shrines, head across to the Arashiyama Monkey Park. It’s a tough climb up, but at the top you can feed monkeys or simply enjoy the panorama of Kyoto below.
Then take a look around the Tenryu-ji temple. It’s the most important of the area’s five great zen temples. The temple’s gardens are the real show-stopper.
In the evening, sing your heart out doing one of Japan’s favourite pastimes – karaoke. As part of the price, you’re able to drink as much as you like, all night! The karaoke comes with a twist, but you’ll have to come on the tour to find out what it is… (3000 JPY)
You have a free day in Kyoto to explore the traditional hub of Japan. From the majestic temples that adorn the Philospher’s Path, to Fushimi Inari Shrine and the Internationaln Manga Museum, there really is so much to do in Kyoto.
It’s an early start to see an iconic image of Kyoto: the Golden Pavilion at Kinkaku-ji temple. Start the day with a slice of meditation. Discover your inner peace with a Buddhist monk taking you on a journey of tranquility in a city temple. Walk around the lake and prepare to be mesmerised by the shimmering golden reflection of the pavilion on the water. Jump on bikes to cycle around to the Imperial Palace, before bidding farewell to this most magical of cities.
Another bullet train will see you venture further west – bound for Hiroshima.
At the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, you will find out how this city came to suffer the consequences of the world’s first atomic bomb, but you will also learn that Hiroshima is now the standard bearer for a peaceful and nuclear-free world. After a short ferry trip to Miyajima Island, you’ll reach the Itsukushima shrine. To avoid angering the gods on the island, the main temple buildings were built on stilts on the shores of the island. Pass through the corridors and look down at the ocean beneath your feet. Just offshore, you will see an enormous torii gate standing in the sea. At low tide, you can walk across the sand to take a closer look.
Get incredible views of the water and city in the background. It is also a lovely walk amidst the forested route atop this visually stunning island.
Another bullet train will take you to Osaka, your final destination before heading back to Tokyo. You’ll arrive in time for lunch in the Nanba or Shinsaibashi area. After enjoying your fill of yakitori, ramen, sushi or whatever takes your fancy, it’s a short train ride to Osaka Castle. Take a stroll around the castle that rises above the enormous moat, and then check out the nine-level donjon. Shenanigans in Shinsaibashi and the Dotonbori riverfront await next… For the ultimate Japanese shopping experience, dive into the covered shopping arcade at Shinsaibashi.
The eating, drinking, gaming and clubbing options around Dotonbori and Shinsaibashi are endless – fill your boots! Why not kick-start your night with a beer on us at the city’s famous Kamikaze bar?
In the evening, you will sleep at a capsule hotel – small, intimate, private and quintessentially Japanese.
Make the most of Osaka’s famous food and share a final brunch together in the morning. Say goodbye to everyone on the trip before catching the bullet train back to Tokyo to finish up or continue on your travels.