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Ditch the guidebook. We’ve wrestled with sumos in Tokyo, trekked across Hakone’s volcanic lands and popped into Kyoto’s best teahouses to bring you this definitive itinerary across Japan. We’ve got affiliate links to our experiential friends at Nemo Travel throughout this article in case you feel inspired to book your trip.
Marrying ancient traditions and a startlingly modern outlook, Japan is a country that defies expectations – and we’ve found the places where you can experience the country at its very best. A feast for the senses, this itinerary takes travellers from futuristic metropoles to the foothills of great mountains via the country’s best restaurants and street food stalls. Weave your way through Tokyo’s neon-lit backstreets, take a dip in Hakone’s hot springs in or dive deep into the cultural mishmash of Kyoto’s centuries-old temples, teahouses and artisanal stores.
Experience the best of Japan
Days 1–3: Tokyo
Start your trip in the capital, where towering skyscrapers give way to lantern-lit bars and small restaurants. Tour Tokyo’s old town of Asakusa, stopping by ancient temples in Sensō-ji before wandering through the cobbled streets of Omotesandō and visiting the Meiji Shrine.
Come lunchtime, make a beeline for Enju and tuck into a kaiseki of locally sourced Japanese produce before heading back out to delve into the city’s culture. As night falls, head to Ueno for an evening spent sampling sake and dining on tapas-style Japanese dishes.
Wake to views across the city through the floor-to-ceiling windows of Aman Tokyo, where mornings are best spent in the spa’s Japanese steam room. After a relaxing start, book into a private rikishi experience to learn about the practice, culture and history of sumo wrestling before giving it a go yourself (if you dare).
Those less inclined to get involved can head to Ginza to spend the day shopping. Round off the trip with dinner at Gonpachi, a traditional izakaya, followed by a private performance at the Noh Theatre.
Days 3–5: Hakone
Take a bullet train from Tokyo to Hakone, darting through craggy hills in the shadow of Mount Fuji. On arrival you’ll be transferred directly to Gora Kadan hotel, where outdoor onsens complete with rock pools and waterfalls provide the ultimate post-journey relaxation. Spend days exploring the national park, taking arts and crafts tours at the Okada Museum of Art and go on a boat ride across Lake Ashinoko. Don’t miss a journey on the world’s second longest cable car up in the Ōwakudani valley for views across hot springs and volcanic landscape.
Days 5–8: Kyoto
From the peaceful panoramas of Hakone, make your way to the bustling streets of Kyoto, the next stop on the itinerary. Set on Honshu, Kyoto is Japan’s ancient capital, surrounded on all sides by lush green mountains, and is the home of traditions and cultures both old and new. Here, stay at The Thousand Kyoto, where manicured gardens and rock pools are offset by minimalist design and Japanese-style interiors.
A morning walking tour through Higashiyama takes trekkers across the foothills of Kyoto’s mountains and visits to ancient buildings such as the Kodaiji Temple and Yasaka Pagoda. Meanwhile afternoons in the Arashiyama district are spent strolling through bamboo groves, Japanese gardens and shrines. Dine at Misoka-an Kawamichi-ya for world-famous soba noodles or Tempura Endo Yasaka for incredible tempura – but the best restaurant is undoubtedly Shigetsu, where traditional vegetarian Buddhist cuisine is served inside Unesco World Heritage-listed Tenryu-ji Temple.
The rest of your time will be consumed by cycling along the Kamo River and through Kyoto’s backstreets, admiring old machiya (wooden townhouses), meeting geishas who seemingly float along narrow streets and popping into the city’s teahouses – Kyoto is the birthplace of the Japanese tea ceremony – to learn about the culture and history of the tradition.
We’ve teamed up with Nemo Travel to help make experiences bookable. They’re a luxury travel company which brings together insider advice with innovative technology. Catering to the modern traveller, its unique itinerary builder gives you the power to design a bespoke trip at a price that suits you. We’re thrilled to be partnering with them to bring you the best in experiential travel at the click of a button.
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