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Japan Heartland Tour
Japan Heartland Tour Route

Tokyo to Osaka Tour Map

Duration:   12 nights

Starts in:   Tokyo

Finishes in:   Osaka / Tokyo

Group size:   Max 10

Cost:   Please see date boxes below

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Taking in the futuristic high-rises of Tokyo, the ancient temples of Kyoto and the traditions, food and culture of an intriguing nation, this small group tour in the heartland of Japan is ideal for the first-time visitor or for anyone who wants to capture the essence of the country.
Starting with a bite of the freshest sashimi from Tokyo’s world famous Tsukiji fish market, Heartland follows a rapid trail west on the bullet train to the old capital Kyoto, with its abundance of UNESCO World Heritage sites. As you wind your way along the coast to Hiroshima and the beautiful island of Miyajima, you have the chance to visit the best castle in the country, try the traditional costume of a geisha or samurai, participate in the tea ceremony, enjoy classic gardens and soak in hot springs when you feel the need to relax.
Before closing this tour of Japan in the vibrant city of Osaka, you visit the spiritual home of Buddhism, Mount Koya, and stay in temple lodgings. Heartland gives you the best of Japanese culture, old and new.

Dragonfly’s Japan tours take you right to the beating heart of this fascinating culture.

2017 Tour Dates

Start Date Finish Date Price / Person Availability
1st Jul
2017 (Sat)
13th Jul
2017 (Thu)
GBP £ 2790

2 places left
23rd Sep
2017 (Sat)
5th Oct
2017 (Thu)
GBP £ 2790 Full, please contact us
11th Nov
2017 (Sat)
23rd Nov
2017 (Thu)
GBP £ 2790 Full, please contact us

2018 Tour Dates

Start Date Finish Date Price / Person Availability
30th Jun
2018 (Sat)
12th Jul
2018 (Thu)
GBP £ 2790

10 places left
22nd Sep
2018 (Sat)
4th Oct
2018 (Thu)
GBP £ 2790

10 places left
10th Nov
2018 (Sat)
22nd Nov
2018 (Thu)
GBP £ 2790

10 places left

* The prices stated above are per person

Day Highlights Accommodation
Day 1
Saturday
Group Meal; Walking Tour of Shinjuku and Kabukicho. Tokyo / Hotel
Day 2
Sunday
Asakusa; Sumida River Cruise; Harajuku; Meiji Shrine; Yoyogi Park; Shibuya's Scramble Crossing. Tokyo / Hotel
Day 3
Monday
Tsukiji Fish Market; Bullet Train to Kyoto; Kiyomizudera; Gion Geisha District; Cultural Show. Kyoto / Hotel
Day 4
Tuesday
Ryoanji Zen Garden; Kinkaku-ji (Golden Zen Pavillion); Nijo Castle; Nishiki Market. Kyoto / Hotel
Day 5
Wednesday
Tea Ceremony; Arashiyama; Bamboo Forest; Tenryuji Zen Temple & Garden. Kyoto / Hotel
Day 6
Thursday
Free Day to Shop, Relax and Explore. Kyoto / Hotel
Day 7
Friday
Bullet Train to Hiroshima; Hiroshima Peace Park, A-Bomb Dome and Museum. Miyajima (Hiroshima) / Ryokan*
Day 8
Saturday
Itsukushima Shrine and Floating Gate; Primeval Forest; Mt.Misen; Eternal Flame; Optional Hike. Miyajima (Hiroshima) / Ryokan*
Day 9
Sunday
Korakuen Gardens; Kurashiki Old Edo Quarter. Okayama / Hotel
Day 10
Monday
Day Trip to Himeji, Himeji Castle. Okayama / Hotel
Day 11
Tuesday
Scenic Rail Ride up to Mount Koya, the Buddhist Heartland. Koyasan / Shukubo*
Day 12
Wednesday
Buddhist Monk Chanting; Okunoin Graveyard; Shinsaibashi, Osaka. Osaka / Hotel
Day 13
Thursday
Journey’s end.
If you would like to stay a few extra days in Tokyo or Osaka, we will be happy to help with any arrangements.
 

* Ryokan- Traditional Japanese inn, sleeping on futons in rooms floored with tatami mats.
* Shukubo- Temple lodgings, sleeping on futons in rooms floored with tatami mats.

Notes

We recommend arriving in Japan a day or two before the tour starts to help with acclimatization and overcome any jet lag. We can arrange any additional nights at the hotel and will be pleased to meet you at the airport (up to one week before), making your transition as smooth as possible. We’ll also run through the maps with you, answering all your questions and setting you off on your first adventures, here in one of the world’s greatest metropolises.

Daily Breakdown

Day 1 – Saturday - Tokyo

This evening, to start the Japan Tour, you are invited to a group meal (courtesy of Dragonfly Tours) at a local restaurant. It is a great introduction to Japanese food with a variety of flavours for all tastes. Afterwards, you take a walking tour around Shinjuku and the entertainment district of Kabukicho. It’s Saturday night and the area is buzzing with energy and neon and the streets are packed with people in search of big-city thrills.

Day 2 – Sunday – Tokyo

This morning you head to Asakusa to get a taste of what Edo (the old name for Tokyo) used to be like. It’s a great place to explore, browse around the stalls and sample the local specialty, tempura. But the main attraction is the great Senso-ji temple with its enormous, much-photographed, red lanterns at the gates. From there you take the Sumida River Cruise going under thirteen colourful bridges to Hinode, enjoying Tokyo from a less familiar angle.

In the afternoon witness the powerhouse of the Japanese youth culture in Harajuku. This is the source of Japan’s signature fashions and, today, Sunday, is the best day to see it. The renowned Takeshita Street will be jumping, and in the neighbouring Yoyogi Park you see bands, dance troupes, and exhibitions of skill from jugglers, kung-fu, karate and capoeira experts. Right next door to this, the Meiji shrine housing the deities of the Emperor Meiji and consort stands sublimely in a defiant and very serene manner in contradiction to the loud exhibitions of pop culture.

Before finishing up for the day, we take you to the famous pedestrian crossing in Shibuya so often used in documentaries and films about Japan. From the Megabucks Cafe on the corner, you have a bird’s eye view of the crowds flooding across as the lights turn green.

Day 3 – Monday Kyoto 京都

In the morning, you explore the Tsukiji fish market. Amble through the stalls as traders haggle over 400 types of ocean-dwelling creatures, from the exotic to the downright prehistoric, which are sold onto all corners of the city.

After spending a couple of days in the heart of modern Japan, it is now time to board the bullet train bound for Kyoto. As you shoot westwards at 270km/hr you see, on the right, weather permitting, one of the national symbols, Mt Fuji, in its full glory.

It’s been said many times before but it’s worth saying again — if there is one place you have to visit in Japan then Kyoto is that place. You stay here for four nights and there is a wealth of things to see and do. Kyoto has secured its place in the modern psyche through the treaty on carbon emissions but the ancient capital is still the capital of culture and history — and full of less rarefied delights such as the chance to bathe in the nearby hot springs.

On today’s itinerary is a visit to the must-see sites of Eastern Kyoto including Kiyomizudera, which was nominated in 2007 as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World.

You finish up in the evening with a walk around the atmospheric streets of the Gion district where you have the opportunity to attend a show of traditional performing arts including a bunraku puppet play, kagaku court music, comedy skits and watch a real maiko (apprentice geisha) perform a traditional dance.

The spring Japan tour has been timed so your stay in Kyoto, as with most places in this itinerary, should coincide with the flowering of the cherry blossoms. The streets will be snowing pink. Sakura (cherry blossom) is deeply symbolic and for many people, not least the Japanese, sakura season is essential Japan. Appreciating the sakura is not all solemnity and ceremony as people celebrate with picnics and parties under the pink-laden boughs.

The November Japan tour has been timed so you will experience kouyou — the stunning array of autumn reds and yellows that make for some fantastic hiking.

Day 4 - Tuesday - Kyoto 京都

The day starts with a visit to the UNESCO site of Ryoanji, The Temple of the Dragon at Peace, the most famous of all the Zen gardens. The design is classic Zen minimalism: larger rocks sit in a flowing sea (or cosmos) of fine, raked gravel, consisting of carefully chosen, river-worn stones, and constructed to aid meditation. Famously, only 14 of the 15 rocks in this meditation garden are visible from any one vantage; to see the 15th is to achieve enlightenment.

Just up the road from Ryoanji, you visit the photogenic UNESCO site of Kinkakuji, the golden Zen pavilion said to house sacred relics of the Buddha. The gold-leaf-covered pavilion stands beside a reflecting pond and in the middle of a classically landscaped garden.

After lunch, you visit Nijo castle, also with UNESCO status — more of a palace than a castle, it was built by the legendary Ieyasu Tokugawa, the third of the three unifiers, as a show of might and domination. All the feudal lords in western Japan were required to contribute to the building of Nijo — these donations included the main tower and main gate of another castle.

Day 5 - Wednesday - Kyoto 京都

For a moment of calm and tranquillity, you start the day with a traditional tea ceremony at an authentic teahouse, which has been a home of the art and supplying the highest quality Uji macha (green tea) to the Nishi Honganji temple for generations.

Later, visit the charming district of Arashiyama in western Kyoto, a short train ride away. Walk through the atmospheric bamboo grove to one of Kyoto’s most famous and important Zen temples, Tenryuji. With UNESCO World Heritage status, Tenryuji and its classic Zen garden was founded in 1339 and dedicated to the emperor Go-Daigo by Ashikaga Takauji, the first of the Ashikaga Shogun.

Day 6 - ThursdayKyoto 京都

This is a free day set aside for shopping, relaxing and exploring. There is so much to do in Kyoto and the surrounding area. Your tour leader will offer plenty of suggestions and let you in on a few local secrets to help you make the most of your day. If you’d like to do flower arrangement, play taiko (traditional drums), dress up in a kimono or try a traditional art, please let us know in advance and you try to set it up for you.

This day is also an opportunity to take a trip to one of the neighbouring cities: Nara or Kobe. Nara is another UNESCO trove and a former capital of Japan that predates even Kyoto. Kobe is a fashionable and affluent city with a cosmopolitan tone, derived from its history as one of the first places to admit foreign residents when Japan opened its Chrysanthemum Curtain in the 19th century. Another option in the summer is the beach — which is only an hour away.

Day 7 - FridayHiroshima 広島

You go to Hiroshima today. There is no need to state what happened here on the 6th of August 1945. However, these days the city is an attractive and welcoming place. The only remains of that dreadful event are those that have been preserved as memorials. The analogy of Japan being like a phoenix isn’t hard to grasp. The Peace Park stirs emotions, and the Atomic Bomb Museum, well …

Tonight you stay on the beautiful island of Itsukushima, popularly known as Miyajima. This is a mystical place — sparsely populated, mostly forested, and home to a trove of treasures belonging to Japan’s spiritual history. You stay in a great ryokan with fantastic views and a very relaxed atmosphere. If you are lucky you might even spot a tanuki — a Japanese raccoon said to enjoy the odd bottle of sake and possessing magical powers.

Day 8 - Saturday - Hiroshima 広島

This morning you visit Itsukushima Shrine first built in 593 and famous for its ‘floating torii’ (shrine gate). It’s considered one of the top three most beautiful spots in the country, and has to be one of the most photographed too.

From there you meander through the trees and tame deer to the Mt. Misen cable car where you take the quick and easy route up this sacred mountain above the primeval forest to the summit with its fantastic 360-degree views. You also have the chance to see the eternal flame lit by the monk Kobo Daishi (Kukai) some 1200 years ago amongst an unusual collection of rock formations. From the top it’s an hour or so hike down the mountain, or simply take the cable car back. After a bite to eat in a restaurant in the woods, enjoy browsing through the souvenir shops at your leisure.

During the summer tours a trip to the beach is also a perfect way to wind down before enjoying the beautiful kaiseki meal in the evening served at the ryokan (Japanese inn).

Day 9 - Sunday - Okayama 岡山

In the morning you make the journey to the less visited city of Okayama. After dropping off your bags at the hotel close to the station — and staying with ‘top threes’ — you can stroll around one of the top three landscaped gardens in the country, Koraku-en, situated beside Okayama castle.

Alternatively, you could visit the Bizen area in the outskirts of Okayama city famed for its historical role in sword making and pottery, and where there is a sword museum with an impressive display of swords going back to the Kamakura period. If you are lucky you may even see a master swordsmith working on katana and preserving age-old techniques.

In the afternoon you visit Kurashiki just west of Okayama with its picturesque and atmospheric old Edo quarter with quaint, willow-lined canals and museums full of treasures. The name of Kurashiki is not well known outside Japan, but it was a port, centre of commerce and culture and a scene of some of the many power struggles in Japan’s history. Unlike many modern cites, much of the old town remains. The buildings are distinctively white with black tiling, and willow-lined canals run through the town. Kurashiki is also the home of Japan’s first museum dedicated to Western art, the Ohara museum, a surprising and exciting find in this very Japanese town.

Day 10 - Monday - Okayama 岡山

Today you go to the neighbouring city of Himeji, home to Japan’s finest castle, Himeji castle, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1992. It has survived clan wars, world wars, earthquakes, typhoons and the fiercest enemy, fire, for centuries. Himeji castle, white and majestic stands over the city and its elegance and white colour has earned it the nickname, “the Egret Castle”. The castle was constructed in the busy nation-building period that saw Kyoto’s Nijo Castle go up, and was improved and developed by various warlords over the centuries.

In recent years the structure has undergone extensive repairs and cleaning and the white has been burnished to ever-greater impressiveness.

Day 11 Tuesday Mount Koya 高野

Today you hop up the misty, mystical mountains of Koya, the Buddhist Heartland and a proud National Heritage treasure. You are treated to a glimpse of the spiritual life. However briefly, you become part of the spiritual life of Koya, staying the night in beautiful temple lodgings and rising with the monks for the early morning chanting. You don’t need to be Buddhist or religious to enjoy this experience. In the evening you dine as the monks do in the local vegetarian culinary style, shojin ryori, served in your room, Japanese style.

Another of the highlights here is Okunoin, the graveyard. At over 1000 years old, with ancient paths winding around huge cedar trees, it’s perfect for an atmospheric evening stroll through the mist.

Day 12 Wednesday - Osaka 大阪

Your morning is free to explore more of Koya and then, if you can tear yourself away, you board the train and wind your way down the mountains to Osaka. After dropping off your bags at the hotel, which is conveniently close to the station, you go for a walk through the energy-filled streets of the Dotonbori and Shinsaibashi areas. Browse through the fantastic shopping malls packed with boutiques and electronics stores selling everything from kimono to tools. How about buying a traditional Japanese lantern to hang outside your house? You name it, Osaka has it for sale!

Alternatively, visit the Osaka aquarium housing the biggest fish tank in the world and where you can get nose to fishy nose with thousands of creatures from the Ring of Fire, the Pacific rim.

Day 13 - Thursday - The Journey's End

Unfortunately today is the last day of the tour and there is no itinerary planned. If you wish to extend your stay, we can easily help arrange your accommodation for the extra nights - there is so much more to see and do in the area. Just drop us a line, we’ll be glad to help.

Likewise if you would prefer to return to Tokyo at the end of the tour for your departing flight, it's an easy trip to do by bullet train which will be covered by your JR Rail Pass at no extra expense.

Accommodation

 

Tokyo: Yaesu Terminal Hotel

A comfortable, clean, and efficient business hotel with helpful staff situated in a great location near Tokyo Station and the Imperial Palace. As you would expect for such a prime piece of real estate, the rooms are not so big but it has everything you need and much more.

All rooms have LAN and Wi-Fi.

Breakfast included

Kyoto: Dormy Inn Premium

Comfortable, clean and efficient hotel close to Kyoto station, the hub of the city. The hotel has coin-laundry facilities; computers are available for use in the lobby and it also has an onsen (hot spring bath).

All rooms have LAN and Wi-Fi.

Breakfast included.

Hiroshima: Miyajima Seaside Hotel, Miyajima

Relaxed ryokan (traditional inn) by the beach with a beautiful view of the sunrise. A computer is available in the lobby for free use.

Wi-Fi in the lobby.

Breakfast and delicious traditional Japanese dinners included.

Okayama: Mitsui Garden Hotel

Refurbished hotel in an ideal location near the station and just a walk away from Okayama castle and the gardens. The hotel also has onsen (hot spring) facilities.

All rooms have LAN and Wi-Fi.

Breakfast included.

Koya-san: Jofukuin

A beautiful shukubo (temple lodgings) with Japanese garden. Comfortable and atmospheric rooms with tatami mat flooring and sliding doors. A computer is available in the lobby for free use.

Breakfast and dinner included.

Osaka: Hotel Ichiei, Namba, Osaka

Modern Japanese rooms in a central location with good access to see the sights, situated just across from the station. A computer is available in the lobby for free use.

All rooms have Wi-Fi.

Breakfast included.

Dormy Inn, Kyoto Ichiei, Osaka Jofukuin, Koyasan
Jofukuin room, Koyasan Mitsui Garden Hotel, Okayama Seaside Hotel, Miyajima

Please note that the accommodation above is standard for the Heartland Tour but is at times subject to change to a similar or better hotel.

All hotels have been selected with location and comfort in mind.

Flexibility

 

The itineraries of our Japan Tours are flexible, and do vary occasionally, due to weather or on-going events such as festivals which guests may want to see.

In addition if there is something else you’d like to do or see on your trip please mention this to your tour leader and you try our best to include it.

Age / Requirements / Fitness

 

The Heartland tour is suitable for the ages 12 and upwards, and the tour is ideal for families, couples, and singles alike. All ages are welcome and the eldest guest we’ve had on one of our Small Group Tours, to date, is 87 — and she was one of the fittest members in the group.

Our only requirements are English speaking ability (all tours are conducted in English), and a zest for life!

None of the hikes in the Heartland Tour are compulsory and can easily be missed out. On average we walk around 5 km per day following the itinerary. Steps are involved at some stations and attractions and an extended time is spent on your feet each day. This is not a tour bus holiday!

If at any point you would like to take time off from the itinerary to rest or to stop to catch up with your memoirs with a cup of sake, it is absolutely no problem — it’s your tour and we like to keep things as flexible and relaxed as you need them to be.

Transportation

 

As with all our Small Group Tours we use the extremely efficient, clean, safe and reliable public transportation network — it’s the most efficient way to get around, and by far it’s the best way to experience the country and its people. This is not a tour bus holiday with fixed tourist trap set lunches and carpet sales in the afternoon!

 

Baggage Forwarding

 

If you bring too much luggage with you, or buy too many souvenirs during the tour, we can easily arrange to forward your belongings from hotel to hotel.

 

Minimum Numbers

 

The minimum number of passengers on the Heartland Tour is two — we believe it’s unfair to cancel tours when the numbers are not larger.

 

Single Supplement

 

Because we keep the group size to a maximum of eight, we regret we have to charge a single supplement of £ 350 for individuals travelling alone. For this you are guaranteed to have a room to yourself for the entirety of the tour.

What's included?

 

  • All accommodation. (12 nights)
  • The support of your Tour Leader for the entirety of the tour
  • All transportation from city to city including the shinkansen bullet train
  • Meet & greet at the airport in Tokyo (either Narita or Haneda) on arrival and transfer to the hotel in the city up to one week before the starting date of the tour
  • Tickets for airport transfer at the end of the tour (non-guided)
  • Most local transport (subways / trains / buses) is covered by the various travel passes we issue, but not all, coming to an overall total of around an additional GB£25
  • Authentic Tea Ceremony at a tea house in Kyoto
  • Sumida River Cruise in Tokyo
  • Baggage forwarding for one bag / case, two times (from Kyoto to Okayama and from Okayama to Osaka). If you would like to use the service more than this it can easily be organized
  • Breakfast every morning
  • Group meal on Day 1
  • Dinner on Days 7and 8 (Kaiseki Ryori on Miyajima Island)
  • Dinner on Day 11 (Shojin Ryori at Mount Koya)
  • Tour Info-Pack and tote bag
  • 100% payment protection through the TTA (our membership number is U6165)

What's not included?

 

  • Meals, except for the ones mentioned above
  • Local transportation that is not covered by the various travel passes we issue for the tour. This comes to around GB£25 in total
  • Due to the flexible nature of our tours entrance fees for temples, museums and shows etc are not included. If you visit all the places in the itinerary, the entrance fees will come to a total of around GB£20 for the whole tour
  • Travel Insurance. You must take out travel insurance before travelling to Japan
  • Flights to and from Japan!

Holiday snaps on the Heartland Tour

A few photos from the tour, for more photos click here

Feel free to drop us a line and we’ll be happy to help with any queries or advice.

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