12 days
Asia and the Orient
Level 2 - Moderate

Escorted small group tour exploring Japan

Odyssey's escorted small group tour, Exploring Japan, is one of several programs Odyssey offers that take in this small but glimmering jewel of the East.  This Japan tour introduces you to Japan's mystic and time-honoured history and culture.  Learn about the ancient Japanese religions of Buddhism and Shintoism on visits to world-renowned temples and shrines steeped in legend.  We visit a variety of significant locations, including UNESCO World Heritage sites, with our professional and English speaking guides.  Each location you visit on this holiday of discovery is filled with clues to help you understand the essence of Japan.

Our tour or Japan commences in Kyoto

Our educational small group tour begins in Kyoto.  Here, we learn about Japanese culture and religion while visiting several prominent temples and shrines.  While in Kyoto we also enjoy a walking tour, and visit the historic Heian-jingu Shrine and Golden Pavilion.  By viewing Kyoto's architecture, we learn about the aristocratic heritage of this lovely city.  We explore the traditional alleyways to see the many poetic scenes on offer.  Additionally, if time allows, we have the opportunity to experience Japanese culture hands-on through a tea ceremony, and learn about the tradition of the Kimono.

The ancient city of Kyoto was the home of the Emperor for 11 centuries over 1,200 years ago, and is the "heartland" for many Japanese people.  Its numerous temples and shrines of poignant historical beauty display Japan's refined architecture.  Kyoto's legacy of aristocratic art and culture makes it unique among the cities of Japan.  Consequently, many travellers consider their encounter with this city as an experience of the essence of traditional Japan.

Travelling to Hiroshima

After spending four days exploring Kyoto, we head west by train to Hiroshima.  Here we enjoy a walking tour of the city, and see the moving monuments of the Peace Memorial Park.  A highlight of our three day stay in Hiroshima is our visit to the sacred island of Miyajima.  This sacred island and its floating Torii gate is especially important and is a major shrine for the Japanese.

Visiting Matsue on the coast

Our next destination is the important coastal city of Matsue, the capital city of Shimane Prefecture in southwest Japan.  Known as the “City of Water”, Matsue sits by the Sea of Japan where Lake Shinji and Nakaumi meet, in the middle of the Shimane Peninsula.  Matsue is a castle town crossed by many canals and has one of the twelve remaining original castles in Japan.  As the town is a former feudal stronghold, its buildings and layout therefore reflect its history.  Whilst in Matuse we visit the Adachi art museum and gardens, to gain an understanding of the art of Japan.  For its creator businessman, Adachi Zenko, the Adachi is about finding and appreciating beauty through art.  For Zenko, this is seen through the zen of the garden or the painted world of the Japanese artist.

The mountain resort of Hakone

After Matsue  we take a short flight to Haneda, and travel to the mountain resort of Hakone.  Here we are close to the iconic Mt Fuji.  We spend the day in the Hakone national park, and at the end of the day there is the opportunity to enjoy a traditional spa package in the hot springs.

This Japan tour closes with Tokyo

When we first arrive in Tokyo, we have a full day of sightseeing followed by two free days at your leisure to explore the city.  The metro is accommodating for people of all ages, and the signs are in English and Japanese.  The diversity of places to visit and experience readily fill the last two days of the program.  Your Odyssey program leader and local guides will assist you if needs be with planning these last two days.  Finally, we come together for a farewell dinner to conclude our tour.

For more details about our small group tour Exploring Japan, click the ‘Top 5’ or ‘Itinerary’ buttons above!  If you’re keen to experience this tour, please call or send an email.  Or, to book, simply fill in the form on the right hand side of this page.

Other Japan tours

Each year, Odyssey offers a number of escorted Japan tours particularly tailored for small groups of mature travellers.  Each has a different focus.  Typically they have an educational theme, as well as providing access to the country’s rich cultural and natural wonders.

Our Walking Japan small group tour is perfect for the active, mature traveller, whether travelling solo or as a couple.  Beginning in Tokyo and ending in the ancient capital of Kyoto, professional guides ensure access to the extraordinary.  This tour journeys around the northeast region of Japan, while following in the footsteps of the famous 17th century poet, Matsuo Basho. Recommended for active travelers, highlights include joining a Japanese prayer service on Mt Haguru at sunrise, and visits to temples and museums in both urban and rural locations.  A look at our blog entry on footwear is advised for those interested in this tour.

On Odyssey’s Contemporary Japan small group tour, we explore Japan’s urban wonders, but also enjoy the serenity of its parks and temples.  Time is spent in thriving Tokyo, loading up on architecture and electronics, and touring residential neighbourhoods where most tourists don’t get to go.  We check out its burgeoning contemporary art scene, stroll through serene gardens, and visit museums.  Travelers also visit historic Shimoda on the Pacific Ocean, and spend time exploring ancient Kyoto.

Our Japan History by Rail small group tour passes the breathtaking Mount Fuji as its weaves its way across the country via Japan's world renowned railway system, offering breathtaking views of its natural and urban beauty.

All our tours include an English-speaking guide to introduce you to the mystic cultures of this incredible nation.  Odyssey’s tours of Japan remain very popular, with four scheduled departures in the next year.  Follow their links above to learn more and see their full itineraries!  To read our recent blog on travelling in Japan, "Visiting Japan - a Guide for Mature Travellers", click here.

Tour Notes
  • Itineraries may change if flight schedules, site availability, and other inclusions have to be amended prior to departure.
  • Group size limited to 18.
  • On day 7 our luggage is transported to our Tokyo hotel, therefore you will need an overnight bag for the 2 nights spent in Matsue and Hakone.

PDF of Tour PDF of Reading List

Ride the “Shinkansen” (Bullet Train), the world’s first high speed train.
Discover the icons of Kyoto including the Golden Pavilion and the Heian-Jingu Shrine.
Tour Hiroshima and the monuments of the Peace Memorial Park.
A trip to Nara, where we will see the deer of Nara park, the Todaiji Temple, and Kasuga Taishi Shrine.
A full day tour of Tokyo, including a visit to the Imperial Palace and Tokyo Tower.

Overview: The first day of our tour will begin in Kyoto with a welcome dinner. For those flying into Osaka, we recommend a coach transfer from Osaka to Kyoto. Odyssey welcomes the opportunity to provide recommendations for transfer arrangements to Kyoto upon request.

The ancient city of Kyoto was the home of the Emperor for 11 centuries over 1,200 years ago. Numerous temples and shrines of poignant historical beauty in Kyoto display the refined architecture of Japan. Kyoto’s legacy of aristocratic art and culture makes Kyoto unique among other cities of Japan. A “heartland” for many Japanese people, Kyoto is the place to encounter the finest essence of traditional Japan.

On our second day in Japan, we will enjoy a sightseeing tour by private car.  This includes visits to some beautiful traditional temples, among them the Ryoanji temple, home of a picturesque and famous rock garden, and Kinkakuji Temple, the top two floors of which are covered in gold leaf.

Day three includes a sightseeing tour of Nara, where we visit the stunning Todaiji Temple and the beautiful Kasuga Taisha Shrine.  Along with these exquisite buildings, we spend time at Nara park, a favourite spot in the prefecture populated by hundreds of free-roaming deer.

If time allows while in Kyoto, the group will have the opportunity to participate in an authentic tea ceremony.

Accommodation: 3 nights at New Miyako Hotel or similar

Overview: On the fourth day, after breakfast in Kyoto, we catch a Nozomi train to Hiroshima.

During our stay in Hiroshima, the group will visit Hiroshima Peace Memorial (Genbaku Dome), which memorialises the devastation and lives lost in the atomic attack the city suffered in World War II.  Peace Memorial Park, which is laid out near the hypocenter of the attack, is dedicated to peace.  Here we’ll learn about Hiroshima’s recovery and growth to become a city with a population of 1.2 million citizens.

We then travel by local train and ferry to visit the sacred island of Miyajima, where roaming deer will welcome us.  Miyajima, which means “Shrine Island,” has been worshiped since ancient times.  The main entrance to the floating shrine building takes the form of a huge Torii gate floating on the sea.  This forested island is well-known to the Japanese as one of the Scenic Trio of Japan.

Our visit to Hiroshima also includes a guided sightseeing tour, by private car, that takes us to Shukkei-en Garden (a garden replicating grand scenery in miniature), and the magnificent Hiroshima Castle.

Accommodation: 3 nights at Hiroshima Oriental Hotel or similar

Overview: On the seventh day we travel from Hiroshima to Matsue.

Matsue, which prospered under the feudal lords in the Edo period (1603-1868), is spotted with traditional Samurai houses.  Matsue Castle sits like a tower in the center of a network of waterways including the lake. During the afternoon, we experience the beautifully landscaped garden and carefully curated art collection at the Adachi Museum.  We also visit nearby Izumo, a town steeped in legend and myth about the founding of Japan.  We will learn about the ancient Izumo Taisha shrine, which enshrines the Kami, the deity of Izumo.

Note:  Our luggage will be transported directly to our Tokyo hotel.  You will need to arrange an overnight bag to cater for our two nights (Matsue and Hakone) before our arrival in Tokyo.

Accommodation: 1 night at Matsue Excel Hotel Tokyu or similar

Overview: We fly from Izumo Airport to Haneda, and from there we will take a transfer to the foot of Mt Fuji.

From Mt Fuji, we have the opportunity to see the hot springs of Owakudani, the “valley of great boiling.”  Hakone is a mountainous resort within the Fuji volcanic chain, and was designated as a National Park in 1938.  Soaking in hot springs is a well-loved activity in Japan, and visitors can experience the hot springs in Hakone while enjoying the view of Mt. Fuji, which is considered to be the most beautiful and sacred mountain in Japan.  From the hot springs, we will also enjoy the view of Lake Ashi, which is a typical caldera lake formed between the outer crater ridge and inner volcanoes.

We will return to the our hotel in Hakone to enjoy dinner.

Accommodation: 1 night at Yumoto Fujiya Hotel or similar

Overview: On the ninth day, we travel to Tokyo to for a full sightseeing day.

The capital of Tokyo is the centre of population, politics, finance, and culture in Japan.  Approximately 12 million people reside within Tokyo, and almost one-fourth of Japan’s total population lives within commuting distance of the city.  Historically, Tokyo was the centre of the feudal government of the Tokugawa Shogunate.  Popular Japanese traditions such as Kabuki, Sumo wrestling, and Ukiyoe woodblock prints became popular and flourished in ancient Tokyo.

On a guided tour of  Tokyo, we will see the iconic Tokyo Tower and the Imperial Palace, the Emperor’s residence, as well as having the opportunity to visit the buzzing Nakamise shopping street.

You will have days 10 and 11 of the tour free to explore Tokyo at your leisure, and your Odyssey program leader can show you some of the sights of this amazing city.  On the final evening, the group will enjoy a farewell dinner.

Accommodation: 3 nights at Hotel Unizo Tokyo or similar

Overview: Our tour will end in Tokyo after breakfast.

What’s included in our Tour

  • 10 nights of accommodation.
  • Daily Japanese and/or Western buffet style breakfasts and 3 dinners.
  • 1 internal flight and taxes.
  • Shinkansen (Bullet Train) from Kyoto to Okayama, Okayama to Hiroshima.
  • Transport and field trips as indicated.
  • Applicable entry fees and services of local guides.
  • Touring by comfortable and modern coach (short distance transfers may include be by taxi).
  • Gratuities and service charges.
  • Detailed preparatory material.
  • Services of a tour leader and translator/guide.

What’s not included in our Tour

  • Comprehensive travel insurance.
  • International airfares and taxes.
  • Items of a personal nature, such as telephone calls and laundry.
  • Optional activities that are suggested during free time, such as Kabuki theatre.
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Tour Reviews

April 19, 2018

The tour program worked particularly as we had a small group that allowed some flexibility for the Program Leader, Stephan De Roeck. As Stephen had previously lived in Japan he was quite aware of the Japanese traditions and ways to connect with their culture. This gave us a great experience and we felt a closer relationship with Japan and it’s people as a result.

Participant March 2018

April 19, 2018

All of the accommodation was superior to that we have experienced on previous Odyssey trips. Hotels were located in easily accessible areas.

Participant March 2018

April 23, 2018

This tour exceeded my expectations in learning about the history and culture of Japan. We experienced many things you hear about such as riding on the bullet train, seeing the cherry blossom in full bloom, seeing Mt Fuji, going to the Peace Park in Hiroshima, wearing kimonos and visiting an onsen if you wish. The wonderful gardens, temples and shrines add a sense of peace. The friendliness of the locals made this a very enjoyable experience.

Participant March 2018

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