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Japan Ancient Highway Tour
  • Tokyo
  • Kamakura
  • Hakone
  • Kyoto
  • Hiroshima
  • Tokyo
Japan Ancient Highways Tour Map

Duration:  11 nights
Starts in:   Tokyo
Finishes in:   Tokyo
Group Size:   Max 10

Cost:   See date boxes below

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Click here to make a booking

 

The Ancient Highway Tour is a relaxing trip taking in four of the most popular places for travellers to Japan.  The tour starts in the neon and glitz of Tokyo which makes a neat contrast with the next stop, the somewhat more traditional old capital Kamakura.  

From there we move west to Hakone, home to the iconic Mount Fuji.  Over a couple of days in the area you can walk along the ancient Tokaido trail, the old main passageway for shogun and merchants alike.  The route takes in the once feared highway checkpoint that monitored the passage of people and goods in and out of Edo (the old name for Tokyo).  These days you'll get a more friendly welcome and the numerous hot springs in the area make it the perfect place to heal and relax.  From there we follow the trail the modern way - by bullet train - to Kyoto, Japan's cultural capital with a national treasure around every corner. You'll have the chance to participate in sado (the Japanese tea ceremony), watch maiko (apprentice geisha) dance, and see some of the best sights in the land. The last leg of the tour is spent in Hiroshima where the poignant peace park and museum stand out in this vibrant, open city before heading to back in Tokyo with lifelong memories of this intriguing country.

 


2017 Tour Dates

Start Date Finish Date Price / Person Availability
15th Oct
2017 (Sun)
26th Oct
2017 (Thu)
GBP £ 2770

Only 2 places left!
6th Nov
2017 (Mon)
17th Nov
2017 (Fri)
GBP £ 2770

Only 5 places left!

2018 Tour Dates

Start Date Finish Date Price / Person Availability
14th May
2018 (Mon)
25th May
2018 (Fri)
GBP £ 2770

10 places left
3rd Sep
2018 (Mon)
14th Sep
2018 (Fri)
GBP £ 2770

10 places left
15th Oct
2018 (Mon)
26th Oct
2018 (Fri)
GBP £ 2770

10 places left
5th Nov
2018 (Mon)
16th Nov
2018 (Fri)
GBP £ 2770

10 places left

* The prices stated above are per person

Day Highlights Accommodation
Day 1
Group Meal; Walking Tour in Shinjuku and Kabukicho; Tokyo Metropolitan Building. Tokyo / Hotel
Day 2
Tsukiji Fish Market; Kamakura Day Trip; Daibutsu (Great Buddha); Forest Walk; Zen Garden. Tokyo / Hotel
Day 3
Hakone; Samurai Museum; Hot Springs. Hakone (Mt. Fuji) / Hotel
Day 4
Views of Mount Fuji; Hell's Valley; Pirate Ship across Lake Ashi; Old Edo Checkpoint; Cedar Avenue; Walk along the Ancient Highway. Hakone (Mt. Fuji) / Hotel
Day 5
Bullet Train to Kyoto; Kiyomizudera; Gion Geisha District; Culture Performance. Kyoto / Hotel
Day 6
Tea Ceremony; Path of Philosophy; Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion and Zen Garden). Kyoto / Hotel
Day 7
Free Day to Shop, Relax and Explore. Kyoto / Hotel
Day 8
Ryoanji Zen Garden; Kinkakuji (Golden Zen Pavilion); Nijo Castle. Kyoto / Hotel
Day 9
Bullet train to Hiroshima; A-Bomb Dome; Peace Park and Museum; Miyajima Island. Hiroshima (Miyajima) / Ryokan*
Day 10
Itsukushima Shrine and Floating Shrine Gate; Mount Misen; Primeval Forest; Optional Hike. Hiroshima (Miyajima) / Ryokan*
Day 11
Himeji Castle; Bullet Train to Tokyo. Tokyo / Hotel
Day 12
Journey’s end.
If you would like to stay a few extra days, we will be happy to help with any arrangements.
On the May tour, why not go to the sumo tournament today?
 

* Ryokan- Traditional Japanese Inn, sleeping on futons in rooms floored with tatami mats.

Notes

Arriving a day or two before the Japan Ancient Highway tour begins can be a good idea as it gives you some time for acclimatization and to help overcome jet lag. We can arrange your hotel and meet you at the airport (up to one week before the tour begins), making your arrival as smooth as possible. We’ll be happy to help with any extra information that you might require for your warm-up adventures in one of the world’s greatest metropolises.

 

Daily Breakdown

Day 1 – Tokyo

The tour proper will start this evening, after introductions and a tour briefing you are treated to a meal (on us) at a local restaurant. This is a great opportunity to experience some local cuisine and meet the other members of the group.

Later, you go to the Tokyo Metropolitan Building, a skyscraper within the business district, where you head for the 45th floor for panoramic night views over the city. You wrap up the evening with a walking tour of the neon-lit streets of the famously hedonistic Kabuki-cho night-time entertainment district.

 

Day 2 – Tokyo (Kamakura Day Trip) 鎌倉

This morning you visit the fascinating Tsukiji Fish Market. In a country famed for its regimented order, you witness a taste of the local chaos as fish are sold to traders from all over the city. There is an astounding variety of sea creatures here and you can sample some of the freshest and best sashimi you’re ever likely to taste — straight off the boats — at one of the many restaurants around the market.

Then the tour of Japan moves on, boarding the train for Kamakura, an hour away southwest of the capital for a daytrip. Kamakura was Japan’s capital from 1185 to 1333 and many of its sites date back to that time including the serene bamboo Zen Garden of Hokokuji, where you may want to sit down with a bowl of macha (green tea) and contemplate life, the universe and everything.

After lunch visit the famous Great Buddha, an enormous statue of The Amida Buddha, cast in 1252. Originally it was housed within a huge wooden structure but that was washed away in a tsunami in the 15th century, leaving the Buddha open to the elements, as it remains today.

Assuming the weather is on our side you take a forest walk, which ends at 800-hundred-year-old Zeniarai Benten shrine, hidden away in a cave. Bring money — money washed in the spring water of this shrine is said to multiply, which may be why this site is the second most visited in Kamakura after the giant statue of Buddha. This walk is optional. You head back to Tokyo late in the afternoon.

 

Day 3 – Hakone (Mount Fuji) 箱根

You make our way to the region of Hakone, 100km west of Tokyo this morning. Hakone-Yumoto is renowned for its hot springs and you stay here for two nights in a hotel near the main town with fantastic views and traditional onsen (hot spring) facilities dating back to the early Edo era.

There are a number of world-class museums in the region, but in keeping with the theme of the tour, your guide will take you to the Samurai Museum where you can try on real Edo armour. If you prefer you can split off from the group and visit any of the other museums in the area, or simply relax and soak in any of the many hot springs.

 

Day 4 – Hakone (Mount Fuji) 箱根

Today is a fun day and best started soon after breakfast to avoid the day-trippers coming in from Tokyo. You take the cable car up the mountain to Owakudani, “Hell’s Valley”. From this craggy volcano, you should see Mount Fuji in its full majesty. Eggs that have been cooked in the volcanic waters are sold here. The process turns them black and, it is said, for every egg you eat your life will be extended by seven years. Unsurprisingly, the eggs sell very well — how many can you eat? Due to volcanic conditions, visiting Owakudani may not be possible and this part of the circuit will be missed out.

You descend on the other side of the mountain. The hike down to Lake Ashi takes about an hour but, but there’s the option of taking the cable car. At the bottom, the lakeside makes a beautiful place for a stroll, (especially if you didn’t walk down the mountain) before regrouping and getting a bite to eat. After that, you catch the cheesy-but-fun pirate ship across the lake to the reproduction of the Hakone checkpoint, a place of great historical significance. After much research, and built using traditional methods and tools, this re-creation was opened to the public in the spring of 2007. During the Edo era (1603-1868) the Tokugawa shogunate imposed strict regulations monitoring and controlling travellers and merchandise in order to maintain the newly won, but fragile, peace. During the Edo era there had been 52 such checkpoints, but this one is thought to have been the largest and most important.

From here, you walk along a stretch of the ancient highway with huge cedar trees on either side, planted in 1618 to shade the travellers from the winter snows and the intense summer sun. After this stretch you can take a bus back to the hotel or you can continue walking along the ancient highway, some sections of which still have the original paving. Many of the greatest people in Japanese history have walked (or been carried in palanquins) along this road — shogun, armies of samurai, noblemen, writers, artists, peasants, courtesans and disguised ninja all took this route — and it’s a very special thrill to walk in their footsteps.  

 

Day 5 – Kyoto 京都

After breakfast, and perhaps one final soak in the onsen, you board the bullet train bound for Kyoto. Sit back and enjoy your bento (lunch box) as you head westward to the cultural heart of the country at almost 300km/h. This ancient and enchanting city was lucky enough to have been saved from the Second World War bombing, and is more recently known for the treaty on carbon emissions.

Today, you visit the must-see site of Kiyomizudera, the famous stilted temple with UNESCO status on Higashiyama, the Eastern Mountains. It’s the most visited temple in Kyoto and was a runner up in a recent wonders of the world competition. Kiyomizudera and the neighbouring Jishu Shrine have altars where the devout can pray for almost anything, from finding Mr. or Mrs. Right, to soothing the corns on their feet.

From there you stroll through the ancient cobbled streets to the Gion geisha district where, in the evening you have the opportunity to watch, among other things, a koto (Japanese harp) performance and maiko (apprentice geisha) dance. Perhaps you have dreamt of being a maiko or geisha — well, today you have the opportunity to dress up as one, have some pictures taken, and, if you’re feeling confident, even go for a walk around the old streets in full costume. If this is something you are interested in doing please let your tour leader know in advance and get an appointment made for you.

 

Day 6 – Kyoto 京都

The tea ceremony has fascinated visitors to Japan for centuries. Its ritual, its precise choreography, its Zen calm, its mystery, have made it one of the nation’s most famous cultural features. But what is it all about? Now you can find out because on day 6, the tour invites you to participate in the tea ceremony at a venerable teahouse that has been part of Kyoto’s tradition for seven generations.

After the meditative serenity of the tea ceremony, it is appropriate that you next walk Tetsugakku-no-michi (the Path of Philosophy), a path that runs between Nanzenji and Ginkaku-ji, alongside a stream lined with cherry and maple trees through evocatively old neighbourhoods. Influential 20th century philosopher professor Nishida Kitaro is said to have regularly walked this path while mulling the big questions — hence the name of this street.

Your philosophical walk terminates at the UNESCO site of Ginkaku-ji, (the Temple of the Silver Pavilion). This Zen temple feels like the overlooked treasure of Kyoto, often mentioned only after Ryoan-ji, Kinkaku-ji, and Kiyomizudera. Founder Ashikaga Yoshimasa planned to cover the temple in silver leaf but work had not yet begun at his death in 1490, and was never completed. Ginkaku-ji remains as Yoshimasa probably last saw it; simple and unfinished, but today an exemplar of the Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi. Walking into the precincts of the temple takes you into another world. The designs of the garden are intended to evoke land and sea; elegant stone gardens lie next to groves of birch and moss gilds the natural surfaces.

From here you have choices. You may wish to take a short bus ride into the centre of Kyoto or if you’d prefer, join your tour leader for a walk through the local residential area to the Kyoto Handicraft Centre, a popular destination for souvenir hunters.

 

Day 7 – Kyoto 京都

Today you see three of the best UNESCO World Heritage sites in Kyoto, starting with Ryoan-ji and its renowned Zen rock garden. The garden’s 15 stones are cunningly laid out so that only 14 are visible from any one place in the garden. The full 15 are only visible to the enlightened.

Afterwards you go to the nearby Temple of the Golden Pavilion — Kinkaku-ji. This is perhaps the most famous of Kyoto’s sights, and certainly the most photogenic. The three-storey pavilion, covered in gold leaf, as its name suggests stands in classic Muromachi period gardens and next to a pond, which catches the gold reflection in its shimmering surface.

From Kinkaku-ji, the tour goes on to Nijo castle. The castle was built by the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, one of the towering figures in the formation of Japan — and builder of the Hakone checkpoint you visit on day 4. Tokugawa lived in dangerous, turbulent times at the centre of a power struggle that lasted his entire life — and his enemies continually sought his demise. Aware of the constant danger of assassins, the shogun came up with a novel alarm system, which he installed in Nijo castle: “nightingale” floorboards. Not even the stealthiest ninja could sneak around this castle without the floor singing his presence to everyone.

 

Day 8 – Kyoto 京都

This day is 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: Osaka, Nara or Kobe. Nara is another UNESCO trove and a former capital of Japan that predates even Kyoto. Osaka is Kansai’s commercial powerhouse, and centre of more worldly delights in its profusion of restaurants and night spots. 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 9 – Hiroshima (Miyajima) 広島

The Japan tour moves on to Hiroshima. The events of 1945 need no explanation and a visit to the Dome, Peace Park and museum are truly moving experiences. The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have had a huge formative influence on the psyche of the modern nation and time spent at these memorials will help the visitor understand modern Japan. It is powerful experience to stand at ground zero and reflect that you are standing at the centre of one of the most profoundly affective and destructive events in the history of humanity.

However, modern Hiroshima is more than the bomb. The phoenix city offers as much as any other city in Japan in terms of attractions and distractions.

At day’s end you take a short ferry ride to beautiful Miyajima, a forested and historical island in the bay, and the region’s principal attraction after the city itself. Miyajima also has UNESCO status. You spend the night in a traditional ryokan and feast on a classic kaiseki meal that comprises various dishes of seasonal foods prepared in a quintessentially Japanese way.

 

Day 10 – Hiroshima (Miyajima) 広島

You start the day by visiting the main attraction on the island, the magnificent Itsukushima Shrine, perched on stilts over the ocean. The waves lapping gently beneath create a very special atmosphere. In the same bay, welcoming the tide, is the much-photographed “floating torii”, a massive Shinto gate standing in the water, framing the view across the straits and the hills of Hiroshima beyond.

Miyajima is a small island but is home to infinite mysteries. Mt Misen, Miyajima’s dominant peak, is associated with the Buddhist ascetic Kobo Daishi and is dotted with shrines and sites of miracles attributed to him. Among these is the eternal flame, lit by Kobo Daishi himself as part of his rites and which is said to have burned continuously for 1,200 years. The eternal flame ignited the lamp which now burns in the Hiroshima peace park as memorial to the atomic bombing.

A ropeway takes the traveller to a point near the summit of Mt.Misen and provides opportunities for hiking to the summit for more spectacular views of the Seto Inland Sea and the mainland. The full walk would take about two hours, but you tailor your adventure to your own needs. Later treat yourself to fresh oysters from the bay.

As with Nara, deer, messengers of the gods, roam freely with no fear of people. Less godly and full of mischief, the island is home to a large colony of monkeys, who may oblige the lucky traveller with their antics.

 

Day 11 – Tokyo

The tour now returns to Tokyo, but on the way you stop off in Himeji to visit Japan’s most beautiful and renowned castle.

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. Unsurprisingly, Himeji castle has UNESCO World Heritage status. In recent years the structure has undergone extensive repairs and cleaning and the white has been burnished to ever-greater impressiveness.

Once sated on the glory of Himeji, you continue back to Tokyo.

 

Day 12 – The journey's end

Sadly, this is the last day of the tour and there is no itinerary. However, the adventure doesn’t have to end. If you would like to stay longer in Japan, let Dragonfly Tours know, and we will be happy to help you out — arrange hotel bookings and discuss travel ideas with you.

If you are travelling in May, Tokyo’s main sumo tournament will be in progress — a great opportunity to catch the unique spectacle of the big men doing battle.

 

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!
LAN in rooms, Wifi in the lobby.

Breakfast included

Hakone:Ichinoyu Tounosawa Quatre Saisons.

Hotel with large rooms and fantastic views over the river. Traditional Japanese meals, and onsen (hot spring) facilities.
No internet at the moment

Breakfast and delicious dinners included

Kyoto:Dormy Inn Premium.

Comfortable, clean & 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 & Wifi.

Breakfast included.

Hiroshima:Miyajima Seaside Hotel, Miyajima

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

Breakfast and excellent traditional Japanese dinners included.

Please note that the accommodation above is standard for the Ancient Highway 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.

View from Quatre Saison, Hakone. Summer View from Quatre Saison, Hakone. Autumn Quatre Saison
Seaside Hotel, Miyajima Dormy Inn Premium, Kyoto Yaesu Terminal, Tokyo

Flexibility

The itineraries in our tours are flexible, and do vary occasionally, sometimes 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 we’ll try our best to ensure you can do it.

Age / Requirements / Fitness

The Ancient Highway Tour is suitable for the age of 12 and upwards and 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. She was one of the fittest members in the group!

Our only requirements is English speaking ability (all tours are conducted in English), and a zest for life! None of the hikes in the Ancient Highway Tour are compulsory and can easily be missed out. On average we walk around 3 - 5 km per day following the itinerary. Steps are involved at some stations and at some attractions.

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 - absolutely no problem, we like to keep things as flexible and relaxed as possible!

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. The service is cheap and reliable.

Minimum Numbers

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

 

Single Supplement

Because we keep the group size to a maximum of 8, unfortunately we have to charge a single supplement of £ 350 if travelling alone. For this you'll be ensured to have a room to yourself for the entirety of the tour

What is Included?

  • All accommodation (11 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
  • Airport transfer at the end of the tour (non-guided)
  • Most local transport (subways / city buses etc) is covered by the various travel passes we issue, but not all coming to an overall total of around an additional GBP£ 20
  • Authentic Tea Ceremony at a tea house in Kyoto
  • Baggage forwarding for one bag, two times (from Tokyo to Kyoto and back to Tokyo)
  • Breakfast every morning
  • Group meal on Day 1
  • Dinners (Traditional Teishoku) on Days 3 and 4 at Hakone
  • Dinners (Traditional Kaiseki Ryori) on Days 9 and 10 at Miyajima
  • 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 which is not covered by the various travel passes we issue for the tour. This comes to around GBP£ 20 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 GBP£ 50 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 Ancient Highway Tour

A few photos from the Japan Ancient Highways tour, for more photos click here

Japan Ancient Highways Tour Japan Ancient Highways Tour
Japan Ancient Highways Tour Japan Ancient Highways Tour
Japan Ancient Highways Tour
Japan Ancient Highways Tour Japan Ancient Highways Tour
Japan Ancient Highways Tour Japan Ancient Highways Tour
Japan Ancient Highways Tour

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

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