Itinerary, Insiders Japan

Day 1: Depart U.S. for Tokyo, Japan

Day 2: Tokyo.  Explore the city on our own.

Day 3: Tokyo After a briefing about the journey ahead, we set out to discover a small part of this amazing city that covers a staggering 840 miles. Our sightseeing features the Meiji Shrine, a peaceful enclave of Shinto temples and gardens. We also visit the gallery of preeminent calligrapher Koshun Masunaga, where we learn about this ancient art of artistic writing and browse the collection. Our tour ends in Ginza, Tokyo’s famed shopping, dining, and entertainment district, where we can stay to explore as we wish or return to our hotel for an afternoon at leisure. Tonight, we gather for a welcome dinner at a local restaurant. B,D

Day 4: Tokyo Our tour of Tokyo continues this morning at the Imperial Palace, surrounded by moats and ramparts and home of the Imperial Family. Here we visit the East Gardens, part of the innermost circle of defense of the historic Edo Castle that once stood here. We continue on to the Buddhist Asakusa Kannon, Tokyo’s oldest temple (c. 645 ce), and the adjacent Nakamise shopping arcade, dating to the 17th century. Last, we visit the Tokyo National Museum, housing an extensive collection of art and antiquities from Japan and other Asian countries. This afternoon is free for independent exploration; lunch and dinner are on our own in this city with endless dining options. B

Day 5: Tokyo/Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park/Hakone Japan’s pastoral side is on tap as we leave Tokyo for Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. Here sits imposing Mt. Fuji, a dormant volcano (it last erupted in 1707) with a perfectly ­symmetrical cone that rises to 12,388 feet. The mountain’s majesty is breathtaking, as artists and writers have attested for centuries. We take a coach ride where, weather permitting, we’ll enjoy breathtaking panoramic views; then we descend for a relaxing cruise on scenic Ashi Lake. Leaving the park, we travel to the town of Hakone where we spend the night at a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn where we take off our shoes upon entering, enjoy a Japanese-style Kaisekidinner, and sleep on a futon. B,D

Day 6: Hakone/Takayama Today we travel first by bullet train then by Wide View Hida express train to lovely Takayama in the Japanese Alps, considered one of the country’s most attractive towns with its 16th-century castle and old-style buildings. Our explorations center on three narrow streets in the San-machi-suji district where, in feudal times, merchants lived amidst the authentically preserved small inns, teahouses, and sake breweries. This afternoon we attend a traditional Japanese tea ceremony here, an historic ritual of form, grace, and spirituality. B,D

Day 7: Takayama We pay an early visit to the riverside Miyagawa Morning Market, a blaze of dazzling colors and foodstuffs. Here we meet a local chef to gather ingredients for the lunch we will prepare together at a nearby site. After enjoying the fruits of our labors, we embark on a walking tour, visiting Takayama Jinya, an historic government house; the local sake brewery; and Takayama’s old town, whose well-preserved buildings and homes date to the Edo Period (1600–1868). B,L

Day 8: ­Takayama/Shirakawago/Kanazawa We leave Takayama this morning for the UNESCO World Heritage site of Shirakawago Gassho-zukuri Village. Comprising buildings re­located from authentic villages nearby that were razed for a dam, the village is also a vibrant community whose residents work together to preserve the unique traditional architecture here known as Gassho style. Late this afternoon we reach the castle town of Kanazawa, an alluring coastal city that survived the ravages of World War II. B,L

Day 9: Kanazawa Today’s tour of this culturally rich city features renowned Kenrokuen Garden, a national landmark whose origins date to 1676. We also see Ishikawa Gate, the only remaining section of the town’s original castle; Hakukokan, a museum celebrating the art and craft of gold leaf technology; and the Higashi Chayagai teahouse and geisha area. Our last stop is the Nagamachi Samurai district, where the ruling family’s samuraiwarriors lived. B,D

Day 10: Kanazawa/Kyoto We depart this morning by train for Kyoto, formerly Japan’s Imperial Capital and now the country’s cultural and artistic center, with more than 1,600 temples, hundreds of shrines, artful gardens, and historic architecture. Upon arrival, we visit Kinkaku-ji, the beloved lakeside Temple of the Golden Pavilion set on pillars suspended over the water. Next: Ryoanji, a Zen Buddhist temple whose acclaimed dry garden epitomizes the simplicity of Zen meditation. Our last stop is Unrakugama, a workshop specializing in prized Kiyomizu pottery. B,D

Day 11: Kyoto/Nara Today we travel to Nara, Japan’s 8th-century capital renowned for its shrines and temples. We first visit Todaiji (c. 752 ce), one of the country’s most important temples, whose main hall (c. 1692) is the world’s largest wooden building. We also visit historic Kasugataisha, the Shinto shrine and UNESCO site surrounded by parkland where deer roam free. B

Day 12: Kyoto This morning’s tour reveals more of this city that was spared destruction during World War II. Highlights include Nijo-jo Castle (c. 1603), the extravagant residence and fortifications of the shoguns who ruled Japan for more than 250 years; and Sanjyusangendo Hall (c. 1266), an important Buddhist temple housing 1,000 statues of the Thousand-Armed Kannon deity. From here we venture to the Gion district, where the geishas gather. Then the remainder of the afternoon is at leisure. Tonight, we toast our adventure at a farewell dinner at a local restaurant. B,D

Day 13: Depart Kyoto for Hiroshima
This morning we leave Kyoto by Nozomi bullet train for Hiroshima. Upon arrival at JR Hiroshima Station, we embark on a half-day city tour that includes Peace Memorial Park, home to several memorials dedicated to those that perished during the bombing; and Peace Memorial Museum, displaying photos and belongings left behind by victims of the attacks. This afternoon we enjoy a Western-style buffet lunch at a local restaurant. This evening is free, with dinner on our own in Hiroshima. We may wish to try okonomiyaki, a dish of cabbage, noodles, and egg, fried with meat, cheese, and seafood, for which Hiroshima is renowned.

Day 14: Hiroshima and Miyajima Island
This morning we transfer by local train to Miyajimaguchi. There we board a ferry to Miyajima Island, a sacred location in the Shinto religion. For many centuries, it was illegal for anyone to inhabit this sacred ground. Legend has it that the first Shinto shrine was built here during the 6th century in honor of the goddess of the ocean, the daughter of the goddess who created Japan itself. We tour the island and visit Itsukushima Shrine, built towards the end of the 12th century and renowned for its red gate. This shrine stands on piers above the water in order for visitors to enter by boat without disturbing the land below. Before heading back to Hiroshima, we wander the Omotesando Shopping Street in Miyajima. Once back in Hiroshima, we have the afternoon at leisure to further explore the “City of Peace” as we wish. Options include Hiroshima Castle, built in 1591; Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art, the first Japanese public art museum to specialize in contemporary art; Hijiyama Park, overlooking the city of Hiroshima; or Hondori Street located in downtown Hiroshima, a bustling street lined with shops and restaurants (one of which may be ideal for dinner on our own this evening).

Day 15: Depart Hiroshima for Osaka and then return to USA