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2020: Enhanced! Japan's Cultural Treasures

Travel Style: Array Full on
Physical Level: All or most of day hiking or biking, hills included. Moderate
Lodging Level: Mid-range budget with accommodations ranging from comfortable lodges, guesthouses, and homestays to three star hotels. Value (3*)
15 days
From: $ 5,095 $ 340 / day
Checking price

Overview

Highlights (Bullets)

  • Explore Japan
  • Visit Asakusa
  • Visit Kinkakuji Temple
  • Visit Buddhist Temple

Short Description

Travel to Japan with O.A.T. and discover the country you’ve always dreamed of. Discover an Asian land both modern and ancient … where a colorful Shinto festival snakes past neon lights and Tokyo skyscrapers … a modern bullet train speeds past a farmer tending his rice paddies … a well-dressed businessman stops in a Buddhist temple to light incense … and majestic Mount Fuji provides an iconic backdrop for Hakone, where locals and travelers alike relax in volcanic hot springs. Our small group allows us to get an intimate glimpse of Japan's distinct culture, which we'll experience alongside the people that know it best—the locals. We'll find a unique fabric of life when our local Trip Experience Leader introduces us to local artisans that specialize in woodwork, a Buddhist monk who will guide us through Zen meditation, and a local family that will show us their traditions. They'll invite us into their markets, homes, and temples to share a piece of their country with us.

Style Small group tour
See all the highlights and popular spots on a classic tour.
Itinerary Focus Classic Highlights
Mid-range budget with accommodations ranging from comfortable lodges, guesthouses, and homestays to three star hotels.
Lodging Level Value (3*)
Flight & Transport Inclusions All internal ground transport
Start City Kyoto
End City Tokyo

Itinerary

Day 1: Depart U.S.

Depart the U.S. today on your overnight flight to Tokyo, Japan.

Day 2: Arrive Tokyo, Japan

Destination: Tokyo

Accommodations: Lotte City Hotel Kinshicho or similar

Afternoon/Evening: An O.A.T. representative will greet us at the Tokyo airport upon arrival—usually between 2:45pm and 8:30pm—and assist with the approximately 1.5-hour transfer to our hotel in Tokyo, where we'll meet our Trip Experience Leader and fellow travelers, including those who took our optional Tokyo pre-trip extension.

Depending on where we stay, our hotel for the next three nights should be located just steps away from a variety of shops, restaurants, as well as the metro. Each of the air-conditioned rooms will likely feature Wireless Internet, a flatscreen TV, and mini-fridge.

Dinner: On your own tonight. This is a great chance to begin getting acquainted with the city, or you may choose to stay in and eat at the hotel and rest after your flight. Feel free to ask your Trip Experience Leader for recommendations.

DAY 3: Tokyo • Meet former sumo wrestler

Destination: Tokyo

Meals: Breakfast and Lunch

Accommodations: Lotte City Hotel Kinshicho or similar

Breakfast: Served at the hotel starting at 7am, featuring a combination of Japanese and Western options.

Morning: We’ll meet with our Trip Experience Leader for a Welcome Briefing at around 9:30am in the hotel. During this briefing, we will introduce ourselves and review our itinerary in more detail (including any changes that may need to occur). Our Trip Experience Leader will also discuss logistics, safety and emergency procedures, and answer any questions we may have.

After the briefing, we’ll board our bus around 10:45am and drive 45 minutes to a restaurant owned by a former sumo wrestler. Upon arrival, we'll witness a demonstration of this iconic sport by two former wrestlers, beginning with a ritual of purification and eventually engaging in combat. Sumo has been the most popular form of sports entertainment in Japan for the last 1,000 years, making it integral to local culture. During an interactive demonstration, which we'll have the opportunity to participate in if we would like, we'll learn about the history of sumo, the rules, as well as its connection to the Shinto religion. Throughout our conversation, we'll have the opportunity to ask questions of these impressive athletes and learn about their own perspectives on the sport.

Lunch: Around 11:45am, we'll hear an explanation on the traditional lunch being prepared for us today: Chanko, a hot pot dish traditionally consumed by sumo wrestlers to maintain their competitive physique. This hearty soup typically features a chicken broth base, large quantities of protein, and vegetables such as daikon and bok choy. To increase the calorie intake, wrestlers typically pair this meal with large quantities of rice. This is a unique opportunity to eat the food of choice for sumo wrestlers right alongside them.

Afternoon: After lunch, we'll sit down with the restaurant's owner to discuss his past experience as a wrestler and to discover sumo traditions—an exclusive O.A.T. feature. We'll even watch a slide show which will illuminate the intense training process, as well as hear about the wrestler's personal reasons for participating in the sport and eventually making the decision to retire.

Around 1:30pm, we'll bid farewell to our hosts and make the 45-minute bus ride back to the hotel. From approximately 2:15pm to 6pm, enjoy free time to explore as you wish. Perhaps you'd like to get a taste of different sections of the city, in which case you may want to join the 14 million Tokyo residents who use the subway and learn to get around like a local. Ask your Trip Experience Leader how you can obtain a pre-paid pass called "Suika" or "Pasmo." Alternatively, you may wish to visit the Meiji Shrine, a Shinto holy place. The shrine was erected in honor of Emperor Meiji, who came into power in the 19th century when the shogunate powers fell. It was under his leadership that Japan adopted modern customs and became a serious world power. For a more relaxed afternoon, perhaps you'd like to learn a few Japanese phrases from your Trip Experience Leader and try them out as you wander in and out of shops. This is a great opportunity to foster casual, impromptu interactions with locals, as well as to bolster your confidence with the new, handy phrases you've learned.

Around 6pm, we'll gather for a 45-minute orientation walk around the vicinity of the hotel. Our Trip Experience Leader will show us where we can find anything we may need, such as an ATM or pharmacy. We will also familiarize ourselves with nearby landmarks and learn about local transportation. Later, we'll also stop by a traditional izakaya, an informal Japanese pub. There, we'll have the opportunity to sample sake, a Japanese rice wine, as well as yakitori, skewered and grilled chicken.

Dinner: On your own this evening. During the orientation walk, this is a wonderful time to get recommendations and directions from your Trip Experience Leader.

Evening: You have the freedom to explore the city on your own, or retire to your room to rest up before another day of discoveries in Tokyo.

Day 4: Subway ride • Taiko drumming experience • Explore Asakusa

Destination: Tokyo

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Accommodations: Lotte City Hotel Kinshicho or similar

Activity Note: Because of limited space, we recommend you pack an overnight bag on Day 4 for the next two nights in Hakone. On Day 5, the rest of your luggage will be transferred to the following hotel in Kanazawa. Ask your Trip Experience Leader for details.

Breakfast: Served at the hotel beginning at 7am, featuring a combination of Japanese and Western options.

Morning: At about 9am, we’ll make the short walk to the subway station, where our Trip Experience Leader will orient us to this popular mode of transport. We'll observe how locals line up at the sliding train car doors, learn about the women-only compartments available at rush hour, and see how to buy a soft drink or snack from the vending machines using our subway card. This is a comprehensive introduction to this major metro system, providing insight into public transportation in a city of over 14 million people.

Using the subway, we'll transfer 30-45 minutes to a taiko studio. Taiko are traditional drums that have been used throughout Japan's history—from setting the beat for marching armies to adding a tempo to boisterous festivals. Upon arrival, we'll remove our shoes and descend into the soundproof studio, where we'll be greeted by the taiko drum master. We'll learn from the master about the significance of this musical instrument in local culture, and later observe a short performance. We'll even get to try our hand at drumming with a short intensive introduction to the art form followed by time to perform patterns and rhythms on our own, as well as within the group. After our immersive musical experience, we'll then hear from the drum master about their personal relationship with drumming, as well as the concerns about keeping this longstanding tradition alive. This intimate dialogue gives us a chance to further understand the value of this practice, as well as to ask questions about it.

Around 11:15am, we'll depart for a 10-minute walk to our lunch spot for the day.

Lunch: Around 11:30am at a local restaurant, where the manager and staff will introduce us to the fermented nature of their menu.

Afternoon: After lunch, we'll walk to the well-known district of Asakusa around 12:30pm. As we explore this part of the city, we'll see where old meets new. While the appearance of Asakusa retains its historical charm, we'll find modern innovations in the district's shopping area. We'll stroll down the streets that host more than 100 shops, which sell everything from kitchen appliances to hand-cut glass. We'll also pass by prominent temples, providing architectural and cultural insight to this ancient country. With the guidance of our Trip Experience Leader, we'll familiarize ourselves with this bustling district, and glean ideas on how to spend our free time for the next 1.5 hours.

For a local specialty, head to a little shop called Suzukien to indulge in its famous, matcha-flavored ice cream. Matcha is a type of green tea, popular in Japan both for drinking as well as an ingredient for a number of recipes. This is a great opportunity to enjoy a traditional delicacy alongside locals as they line up to be served. To enjoy matcha in another form, ask your Trip Experience Leader about arranging a traditional tea ceremony at Kakinuma. The Japanese tea experience is a delicate balance of presentation, preparation, and performance. This is an approximately 1- to 1.5-hour activity and will require advanced notice, should you be interested. Of course, another way to continue enjoying this multi-faceted neighborhood is to explore the streets by foot, such as Festival Street and Sushi Street, allowing you to take in the frenetic pace of activity and observe and interact as you go along. Your Trip Experience Leader can always point you in the direction of particular areas of interest, should you want some ideas.

Around 2pm, you'll have the option to continue exploring Asakusa with your Trip Experience Leader, or return to the hotel by subway or taxi (both modes of transport take between 45 minutes and 1 hour, putting you back at the hotel around 3pm). For a taxi, you can find one at Kokusai Dori or on a number of other main streets in the area. Check with your Trip Experience Leader for more information. Until around 5:45pm, enjoy some additional free time to either relax and freshen up at the hotel before dinner, or continue your discoveries. Check with your Trip Experience Leader for ideas on how to spend your time, whether you'd care to visit one of the many historical shrines and temples in the area or perhaps visit a nearby rice cracker shop and talk with the owner about their business.

Around 5:45pm, we'll depart the hotel for a 15-minute walk to a nearby restaurant for dinner.

Dinner: Around 6pm our group will gather for a Welcome Dinner at a local restaurant, featuring traditional Japanese food such as sashimi (fresh, raw fish), local vegetables, tempura (various foods fried in batter), and more.

Evening: Truly immerse yourself in the local culture with this night in Tokyo. Perhaps you'll venture to Shinjuku, a major commercial and administrative center of Tokyo. One of 23 city wards, this area is rife with entertainment, shopping, and local and global industry. Similarly, you may also want to check out Akihabara, a bustling shopping district famous for its electronic retailers. Here, you can also find a taste of true Japanese culture at a number of the manga (Japanese comics and graphic novels) and anime (hand-drawn and computer-animated Japanese media) stores.

This evening, we also recommend you take some time to pack an overnight bag to bring with you to Hakone for the next two nights. Tomorrow morning, the rest of your luggage will be transferred to Kanazawa for our arrival on Day 7.

Day 5: Tokyo • Overland to Hakone • A Day in the Life of Ashigawa Village

Destination: Hakone

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Accommodations: TKP Hotel & Resort Rekutore Hakone Gora or similar

Activity Note: Total travel time to Hakone is approximately two hours, but we will make a three-hour stop along the way.

Breakfast: Served at the hotel beginning at 7am, featuring a combination of Japanese and Western options.

Morning: We’ll board our motorcoach at around 8:30am and depart for the mountain village of Hakone, located about 55 miles southwest of Tokyo. Along the journey, we'll make a stop, and if weather permits, take photos of Mount Fuji at a scenic outlook in Oishi Park. If the weather is not ideal for this view, we also have an option to stop by a textile museum, showcasing the art of indigo blue dyeing.

Around 10:45am, we’ll continue driving 20 minutes to arrive at Ashigawa Village, and it is here that we stop to enjoy an immersive A Day in the Life experience with local villagers. Japan is an aging society, and we will be especially aware of this in Ashigawa, as the average age of residents is 65. Years ago, the population of this village was around 5,000 people—today it's around 300. Aside from the low birth rate, one major factor that led to the shrinking of villages like Ashigawa is urban migration. Young people, or those simply in search of work, left their homes for the big cities, such as Tokyo, in search of a better life, and they continue to do so today.

We'll begin today's immersive experience with an introductory walk through the village around 11:15am, during which we'll see where locals do their shopping and go about daily life. We'll meet a local woman who lives alone in a 200-year-old home and learn how she maintains it. Then, if it's open, we'll visit a local childcare center, where we'll have the opportunity to interact with the four children cared for here. In a village with so few children, there are only two teachers.

After getting acquainted with this traditional village, we'll walk down a hill toward the main street and board our bus around noon for a short transfer to another 200-year-old home of a local woman. There, we'll be welcomed inside by this resident, as well as one other woman, who will introduce us to the art of making hoto noodles, traditional flat wheat noodles. The women will expertly demonstrate how to make the dough and cut it using a special knife. Then, we'll have an opportunity to join in, and together, we will create a traditional meal which we will later share. We'll also learn how to make onigiri, traditional rice balls. Throughout the preparation, we will get to know our hosts—what it was like growing up in such a village, getting married here, life post-war, child-rearing, and now adjusting to life without their spouses. This intimate conversation will allow us to see the world through our hosts' eyes and better understand the environment in which they were born and lived their whole lives.

Lunch: Around 1pm with our hosts. We'll enjoy the fruits of our labor when we all sit down together to savor the hoto noodles and other traditional dishes. Over the course of our meal, we'll have the opportunity to speak even deeper about social issues, such as learning how the women feel about the evolution of their village and the affects of urban migration. We may also want to ask how life has changed in Ashigawa over the last 50 years.

Afternoon: After lunch, we'll depart our generous host's home around 1:45pm and make our way to the local community shop. There, we'll learn about the produce they sell, as well as handicrafts.

Then around 2:30pm, we'll leave Ashigawa Village to continue our 90-minute drive to Hakone, arriving and checking in to our hotel by approximately 4pm. Depending on where we stay, our hotel for the next two nights should be located at the foothills of Mount Fuji, and feature authentic hot spring baths. Room amenities may include Wireless Internet, flatscreen TV, and mini-fridge.

From about 4pm-6pm, enjoy some free time to relax before dinner. Perhaps you'd like to enjoy the onsite onsen, a traditional Japanese bathing facility featuring hot spring water.

Dinner: Around 6:30pm at the hotel, featuring traditional dishes.

Evening: The evening is free for your own discoveries. Relax at the hotel bar and restaurant for a nightcap, or perhaps take in the scenic surroundings of the countryside with an evening walk.

Freedom to Explore

During your two nights in Hakone, below are a few recommended options for independent explorations:

Day 6:  Hakone • Local interaction with fisherman at Lake Ashi

Destination: Hakone

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Accommodations: TKP Hotel & Resort Rekutore Hakone Gora or similar

Activity Note: Alternative activities may be substituted for some of today’s visits depending on weather conditions and the museum's hours of operation.

Breakfast: Served at the hotel from 7:30am-9am, featuring a combination of Japanese and Western options.

Morning: This morning, we’ll board our bus around 9am for a short ride to Hamamatsuya, a workshop specializing in wooden handicrafts. There, we'll meet with the owner of the shop, who is the fourth generation in his family to carry on this well-established business. We'll see the creation of the elaborate woodwork of Hakone Yosegi Zaiku, a special product of Hakone featuring complex inlaid designs using varying shades of wood. After the demonstration, we'll have the opportunity to ask the owner any questions we may have about this exquisite artistry.

At around 10:45am, we’ll leave the workshop and drive approximately 20 minutes to our next stop at a fisherman's restaurant, where we'll be welcomed by the owner who will tell us about his fishing business. He will also inform us about Lake Ashi, a scenic crater lake situated along a wall of the Mount Hakone caldera. This caldera is a complex volcano which last erupted approximately 1,000 years ago. The lake and surrounding area draw many visitors each year for a number of recreational activities, such as hiking, boating, camping, and of course, fishing. Our generous host will also tell us about important landmarks in the area, such as the sacred Kuzuryu Shrine. This interaction is a wonderful opportunity to get to know a local and glean firsthand insight into the ways of life here, such as how to make a livelihood.

Lunch: Around noon at a fisherman's restaurant with our host, who will explain the traditional menu offerings to us. We'll have choices such as fresh fish from Lake Ashi, gyudon (beef and rice bowl), and katsudon (deep-fried pork cutlet and rice bowl).

Afternoon: Around 1:15pm, we’ll say goodbye to our new friend and have the option to visit either the Okada Museum, Open Air Museum, or Narukawa Museum. Your Trip Experience Leader will coordinate driving arrangements, depending on your choice. Each museum represents a unique aspect of Japan's history and culture.

Then, around 3pm, we'll depart for the 30-minute drive to our hotel, where we'll enjoy free time for the remainder of the afternoon. Check with your Trip Experience Leader for ideas. Of course, you're in the land of hot springs, so should you be interested in a soak, Hakone is a wonderful place to indulge in this relaxing pastime.

Dinner: We’ll regroup for dinner at the hotel restaurant around 6:30pm, featuring a combination of Japanese and Western options. Your Trip Experience Leader will introduce the traditional options, as well as demonstrate how to eat them like locals.

Evening: After dinner, your Trip Experience Leader will provide introductions to Japanese culture through practices such as origami (the art of paper folding), kendama (a traditional toy game), and shuji (Japanese calligraphy).

Day 7: Hakone • Bullet train • Express train to Kanazawa

Destination: Kanazawa

Meals: Breakfast and Dinner

Accommodations: Hotel Kanazawa or similar

Activity Note: Find the rest of your luggage waiting at our hotel in Kanazawa this afternoon.

Breakfast: Served at the hotel beginning at 7:30am, featuring a combination of Japanese and Western options.

Morning: We’ll leave our hotel at about 8:45am, driving 45 minutes to the train station, where shortly after 10am we board a bullet train—the legendary high-speed train service that revolutionized travel in Japan.

The Japanese call this train the shinkansen. It is one of the world's finest quick-transit trains, and still among the fastest trains in the world, traveling at speeds of up to 200 mph. Prior to boarding, you will need to stand at a precise location indicated by your coach and seat accommodations. The train stops exactly where indicated and sure enough, your coach will be right in front of you. We'll board the bullet train in Odawara for the first leg of our journey (approximately 1.5 hours), and then finish our trip to Kanazawa on the Limited Express train (approximately two hours, including our transfer between trains). Along the way, we'll enjoy views of Japan's rolling countryside and modern cityscapes.

Lunch: On your own today at your convenience. We suggest doing as the Japanese do: Buy a packed lunch (called eki-ben) in the station and enjoy it on the train. Eki-ben lunches are one of the attractions of train travel in Japan and usually include rice or noodles, vegetables, and sushi or meat.

Afternoon: We arrive at Kanazawa station around 1:45pm and transfer to our hotel. Depending on where we stay, our hotel will likely be located in the heart of Kanazawa. Hotel amenities may include a restaurant, coffee shop, roof garden, and spa. Room amenities will likely be a mini fridge, tea- and coffee-making facilities, cable TV, Wireless Internet, and private bath with hair dryer.

After checking in, we'll take an orientation walk around 2:30pm. This is a great opportunity to ask your Trip Experience Leader to point out restaurant recommendations and get acquainted with the area surrounding our hotel. Then, the rest of your afternoon is free for your own discoveries.

Around 5:30pm, our group will gather and depart for 30 minutes to our dinner location.

Dinner: Around 6pm at a local restaurant, featuring authentic Japanese cuisine.

Evening: We’ll return to our hotel around 8pm, and you’re free to explore the surrounding area on your own, or relax at the hotel bar, share pictures from your discoveries throughout the day, or simply head back to your room to retire for the night.

Freedom to Explore

During your three nights in Kanazawa, you have the freedom to explore this historic city on your own during your free time. Below are a few recommended options for independent explorations:

Day 8: Kanazawa • Converse with Fukushima evacuee • Meet temple master • Omicho Market

Destination: Kanazawa

Meals: Breakfast and Lunch

Accommodations: Hotel Kanazawa or similar

Breakfast: Served at the hotel beginning at 7am, featuring a combination of Japanese and Western options.

Morning: We begin our exploration of Kanazawa at around 8:30am when we depart by bus for a panoramic tour of this historic city.

Between the 16th and 18th centuries, Kanazawa was a prosperous castle town in the domain of Kaga, ruled by the Maeda Family, and it has been one of the cultural centers of Japan ever since. Located on the coast of the Japan Sea, Kanazawa was spared much of the destruction that World War II brought to the country. It is famous today for its unique architecture, exquisite Kaga-style handcrafts—including silk-dyeing and lacquerware—delicate regional cuisine, and the Kenrokuen Garden, one of the most treasured in Japan. We start our tour with a 1-hour morning visit to this very garden, opened to the public in 1875 and one of the most visited garden spots in all of Japan. Here, we'll have the opportunity to admire garden landmarks such as the mid-18th century Kaisekito Pagoda, the two-legged stone lantern of Kotoki Toro, and the placid waters of Kasumi Pond.

At about 10am, we'll depart Kenrokuen for a short drive to meet with a Fukushima evacuee to hear their firsthand account of the 2011 nuclear disaster, a tragic event which forced almost 500,000 people to flee the destruction and growing threat of radiation exposure. The evacuee will share with us how the disaster changed their life and how it continues to affect life in the area today. This challenging conversation will offer insight into a controversial topic, as well as perspective on traditional methods of energy production.

Around 11:15am, we'll depart for a short ride to our lunch spot for the day.

Lunch: At a local restaurant, around 11:30am.

Afternoon: After lunch, we'll walk around the Higashi Chaya District, known for its teahouses where geishas perform. Geishas are female Japanese entertainers who perform various talents such as singing, dancing, and creating art. Traditionally, they wear kimono, wrapped garments often decorated with different colors and patterns, and oshiroi, makeup in the form of white powder. This afternoon, we'll stop by one of the tea houses to sit down with the owner and hear about the challenges of geisha life, as well as their social status in society. This is a unique opportunity to learn about an iconic practice, as well as to understand the often harsh realities of the geisha experience.

Around 1:15pm, we'll then depart for a 15-minute drive to a local temple where we’ll meet with the temple master to discuss Buddhist views on life and death—an exclusive O.A.T. feature. After introductions, the temple master will show us the prayer hall and demonstrate sutra chanting, a repeated mantra at the heart of Buddhist tradition. We'll also learn about everyday temple life and the challenges of the work-life balance in modern-day Japanese society. Because we are in such a small group, we'll have the opportunity to ask the master any questions we may have.

Later, at about 2:30pm, we'll drive 15 minutes to visit the Omicho Market. This 300-year-old market, known locally as Kanazawa's Kitchen, is a very busy gathering place, and brims with exceptionally fresh vegetables, fruit, and fish offered for sale to households and to private restaurants. By browsing the many stalls here, we can get a good idea of what the local diet is like and see the range of ingredients that comprise the local cuisine. We might see some of the traditional specialties of the region, such as fish pickled in rice bran, fresh crab, Kaga lotus root, seaweed, and a variety of sweet treats.

After strolling through the market, we'll depart around 3:45pm for the 15-minute drive to our hotel, and you have the rest of the afternoon to make your own discoveries. One site you may want to visit for the remainder of the afternoon is 16th-century Kanazawa Castle, the former headquarters of Kaga Domain, a feudal estate in Edo period Japan. The castle is built on the highest ground between the Sai and Asano Rivers, giving it a strategic advantage in times of defense. The main features of the structure are the Hishi Yagura (watch tower), Tsuru-no-maru Dobei (double earthen stone wall), Gijikken Nagaya (multi-sided, two-story turret), and Hashizume-ichi-no-mon (entrance gate).

Dinner: On your own tonight—feel free to ask your Trip Experience Leader for recommendations.

Evening: You’re free to make your own discoveries. Perhaps you’ll observe the local nightlife on an evening stroll, take advantage of the hotel amenities, seek out live music, or retire early to rest up for tomorrow.

Day 9: Kanazawa • Optional Gokayama tour

Optional Tour

Destination: Kanazawa

Meals: Breakfast

Accommodations: Hotel Kanazawa or similar

Breakfast: Served at the hotel beginning at 7am, featuring a combination of Japanese and Western options.

Morning: Today you have the freedom to spend a day in Kanazawa as you wish, making your own discoveries in this historic city. Or you can join us for an optional full-day excursion to Gokayama, a mountain village—and a UNESCO World Heritage Site—in the forested countryside outside of Kanazawa. We’ll depart at around 8:30am for the hour-long drive.

Because of its relative isolation, this area developed independently of Japanese society, resulting in a unique culture and lifestyle. In addition to creating their own dances, festivals, and traditions, residents developed a distinctive architectural style known as gassho-zukuri. Characterized by steeply pitched thatched roofs that are both striking and functional, these dwellings are considered to be some of the most efficient farmhouses in Japan—and we'll discover why as we explore the 20 or so houses of the Ainokura district this morning.

Then around 11am we'll visit a workshop and local community center to see how washi—a thick, fibrous paper made from mulberry bark—is created. This traditional paper is known to last 1,000 years. After learning how it's done, we'll try our hand at creating washi paper postcards, personal creations we'll be able to take home with us. Later, we'll also learn the art of mochitsuki, the traditional ceremony of rice-cake making, using a wooden hammer to achieve the correct texture. Mochi is made of mochigome, a short-grain glutinous rice and can be served in a variety of flavors. Afterward, we'll enjoy our hard work and indulge in this national delicacy.

Around 12:45pm, we'll depart the community center for a short ride to our lunch spot for the day.

Lunch: For those who do not take the Optional Tour, lunch is on your own today. Be sure to check with your Trip Experience Leader beforehand for suggestions. For those who do join the Optional Tour, we'll enjoy a traditional lunch of soba (buckwheat noodles) at a local restaurant around 1pm.

Afternoon: Around 2pm, we'll continue on to Murakami House, which was built in 1578 and is the oldest ghasso-style house in the area. During our visit here, we'll learn more about the history and culture of Gokayama, and enjoy a traditional dance performance called Kokiriko, given by a local family. Our group will be welcomed and encouraged to participate.

We'll depart for our hotel at around 2:45pm, arriving in Kanazawa about 1.5 hours later. The remainder of the day is free for your own discoveries.

Dinner: On your own tonight. Perhaps you’d like to browse the surrounding area to seek out a local specialty.

Evening: You’re free to make your own discoveries, exploring on your own, or relaxing at the hotel bar and restaurant for a nightcap.

Gokayama - $150/person

On this optional tour, we'll discover the unique culture, lifestyle, and architecture of Gokayama, a mountain village—and UNESCO World Heritage Site—in the forested countryside outside of Kanazawa. First, we'll witness the distinctive architectural style known as gassho-zukuri, which is characterized by steeply pitched thatched roofs that are both striking and elegant, as we tour the traditional houses of Ainokura. Then, we visit a workshop in Gokayama to see how washi—a thick, fibrous paper made from mulberry bark—is created. Afterward, we'll learn the art of mochitsuki, or rice-cake making, before we head to Murakami House, which was built in 1578 and is the oldest gassho-style house in the area. During our visit here, we'll learn more about the history and culture of Gokayama, enjoy a traditional dance performance, and savor a traditional lunch of soba (buckwheat noodles) at a local restaurant.

Day 10: Kanazawa • Tea with local family • Train to Kyoto

Destination: Kyoto

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Accommodations: Aranvert Hotel or similar

Breakfast: Served at the hotel beginning at 7am, featuring a combination of Japanese and Western options.

Morning: At about 9am, we'll split into smaller groups and depart for the 20-minute taxi drive to visit with local families who live in various sections of the city. This is a rare opportunity to witness the everyday lives of typical residents of Kanazawa and glimpse authentic Japanese culture. During our enlightening cultural exchange, we'll have the opportunity to browse family photos, learn about our hosts, and converse about various Japanese traditions over a cup of tea, a tradition that is central to Japanese culture. Your hosts may or may not speak some English, but you will find that some forms of communication are universal. Get creative with hand gestures, or perhaps employ some of the new phrases you learned during your time in Japan.

Around 11:30am, we'll bid farewell to our kind hosts and make the short drive back to our hotel, where our group will gather and shortly thereafter depart for the 15-minute drive to Kanazawa train station.

Lunch: Around noon at a local restaurant in the station.

Afternoon: Just before 2pm, we’ll take a 2-hour train ride to Kyoto. Kyoto was Japan's imperial capital from the eighth to 19th centuries. It remains an important cultural center—and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site—and we'll have five full days to explore its many wonders. When we arrive, we’ll transfer to our hotel, where we’ll receive our room assignments and check in around 4:30pm. Depending on where we stay, our hotel should be located near major subway lines, and within walking distance of many shops and restaurants, ideally located for exploring the city. Rooms will likely include a TV, refrigerator, tea-making facilities, and private bath with hair dryer. Hotel amenities should include Western-style and Japanese restaurants, free Internet access, and laundry service.

Around 5:30pm, you may join our Trip Experience Leader for an orientation walk around the hotel’s vicinity. During our explorations, we'll walk to a local restaurant.

Dinner: Around 6pm tonight, in a local restaurant.

Evening: From around 8pm, you’re free to make your own discoveries, exploring the surrounding area on your own, or relaxing at the hotel bar and restaurant for a nightcap.

Freedom to Explore

During your five nights in Kyoto, you have the freedom to explore this eclectic city on your own during your free time. Below are a few recommended options for independent explorations:

Explore Nishiki Market: Referred to as “Kyoto’s Kitchen,” this five-block-long row of shops and restaurants attracts locals and visitors alike with its fresh produce, seafood, cookware, and more.

How to get there: A 15- to 20-minute walk or 5- to 10-minute taxi ride, about $7 USD one way.

Hours: 9am-6pm, daily.

Cost: Free.

Day 11: Kyoto • Kinkakuji • Sushi-making in Kameoka

Destination: Kyoto

Meals: Breakfast and Lunch

Accommodations: Aranvert Hotel or similar

Activity Note: Kinkakuji Temple is typically crowded with tourists. Accommodations in Kyoto are quite small.

Breakfast: Served at the hotel beginning at 7am, featuring a combination of Japanese and Western options.

Morning: We’ll depart around 8:30am by bus for a full day of sightseeing. Among Kyoto's many wonders are some of Japan's most prominent Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. At around 10:15am, we'll depart for the short drive to visit Kinkakuji Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The striking architecture of Kinkakuji, also known as the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, dates from 1397, when it was built by the third shogun (military commander) of the Ashikaga Shogunate. The reflection of the pavilion on the water of the adjacent pond produces an iconic view.

At about 11:45am, we journey by bus approximately 45 minutes to Kameoka, a city in the countryside near Kyoto. There, we'll visit Heki-tei, a 300-year-old house where a famous samurai once lived. The house is now owned by the Heki family, whose ancestors were notable property owners in Kameoka. Along with the owner and the help of local women, we'll don traditional aprons and learn to make sushi rolls together. Sushi is perhaps the most iconic Japanese dish, usually prepared with rice, seaweed, raw fish and various vegetables. While we learn this culinary art form, we'll have an opportunity to get to know our hosts and hear their personal stories about living in Kyoto. This is also a particularly unique interaction in that we'll be able to speak with direct descendants of samurai, giving us the chance to learn in depth about this military nobility which ended 150 years ago.

Lunch: At Heki-tei around 12:30pm, our small group will prepare and eat temarizushi (round sushi) for lunch with the help of local women, who will give us insight into their daily lives as we eat. Afterward, we'll have the opportunity to try on real kimono, rounding out our authentic Japanese experience for the afternoon.

Afternoon: At about 2:30pm, we'll take a 1-hour bus ride back to the hotel. Upon arrival, you’re free to enjoy the rest of the day on your own. One activity that may interest you is heading to Gion, the famous entertainment district and geisha quarter. A great way to experience this area is to stroll through the 17th-century-style streets in the early evening, taking notice of the traditional tea houses and lantern decoration. Check with your Trip Experience Leader for directions and more information.

Dinner: On your own tonight—feel free to ask your Trip Experience Leader for recommendations.

Evening: You’re free to make your own discoveries, exploring the surrounding area on your own, or relaxing at the hotel bar and restaurant for a nightcap.

Day 12: Kyoto • Optional Nara tour

Optional tour

Destination: Kyoto

Meals: Breakafst

Accommodations: Aranvert Hotel or similar

Breakfast: Served at the hotel beginning at 7am, featuring a combination of Japanese and Western options.

Morning: Today is free for you to explore Kyoto on your own. If you have an interest in pottery, you can browse an enormous selection of bowls, vases, sake cups, and other items fired by local potters at the Kyoto Ceramics Center.

Or you can choose to join your Trip Experience Leader on an Optional Tour to Nara, departing around 8:30am by bus. This excursion takes us about 1.5 hours away, to the distinctive city of Nara, which was the capital of Japan before Kyoto and Tokyo. We will visit two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Nara: Todaiji Temple and Kasuga Shinto Shrine.

As we approach Todaiji Temple's Daibutsu-den Hall around 10am, you will perhaps first notice its massive size, as it is the largest wooden building in the world. It is also one of the major historic temples in Japan and contains valuable artifacts. Here, we'll admire the Daibutsu—an impressive 52-foot Buddha statue. As we continue to explore Todaiji, we'll likely notice another unique feature of its park area: its tame, free-roaming deer, which were traditionally regarded as the messengers of the Shinto god Kasuga. If you want a close-up introduction to them, you can purchase shika senbei (special biscuits) to feed them, but be prepared to be very popular with these lovely creatures when you offer them food.

Then around 11am, we’ll visit the Kasuga Shinto Shrine, which dates back to AD 768. Here, we'll stroll along the shrine’s wooded paths, admiring its collection of 3,000 bronze and stone lanterns.

Lunch: For those who choose not to take the Optional Tour, lunch is on your own in Kyoto. At around noon, those of us on the Optional Tour will enjoy an included lunch at a local Japanese restaurant.

Afternoon: Around 3:30pm, travelers on our Optional Tour will make the 30-minute bus ride back to Kyoto, putting us back at the hotel around 4pm. The remainder of your day is free for your own exploration. Check with your Trip Experience Leader for activity ideas.

Dinner: On your own tonight—feel free to ask your Trip Experience Leader for recommendations.

Evening: You’re free to make your own discoveries, exploring the surrounding area on your own, or relaxing at the hotel bar and restaurant for a nightcap.

Nara  - $165/person

This excursion takes us to the distinctive city of Nara, which was the capital of Japan before Kyoto. We’ll begin our discoveries of Nara by visiting Todaiji Temple, stopping to explore its expansive grounds. Here, we may have a chance to meet Nara’s famous residents: its free-roaming deer. Don’t be surprised if these curious creatures approach you with a timid bow, as they’ve learned to lower their heads for their guests in a humble request for food. At Todaiji, we’ll also explore Daibutsu-den Hall, the largest wooden building in the world and the home of Nara’s Great Buddha—a massive 52-foot statue. Later, we continue to Kasuga Shinto Shrine, which dates back to AD 768. We’ll walk along the wooded paths of Kasuga, admiring its many sub-shrines, along with its astounding collection of 3,000 stone lanterns. After lunch at a local restaurant, we’ll return to our hotel.

Day 13: Kyoto • Visit Buddhist Temple • See the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

Foundation Visit

Destination: Kyoto

Meals: Breakfast and Lunch

Accommodations: Aranvert Hotel or similar

Activity Note: This day includes an uphill walk of 200 steps to reach Senkoji Temple. Travelers do not have to participate in this walk. Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is typically crowded with tourists, as it is one of the most popular spots in Kyoto.

Breakfast: Served at the hotel beginning at 7am, featuring a combination of Japanese and Western options.

Morning: Around 8:15am, we'll depart for an approximately 1-hour bus ride to Senkoji Temple, supported in part by funds from Grand Circle Foundation. At this 400-year-old temple, we'll have a chance to practice Zen meditation with a monk.

Zen is a branch of Buddhist thought that is built around the idea that divine wisdom resides in each person; meditation techniques are used to reveal this inner divine nature. Typically meditation consists of simple sitting and breathing practices that are meant to calm the mind and allow the practitioner's focus to shift away from the mundane. We'll be in expert hands for our brief session, under the guidance of a Buddhist monk.

While at the temple, we'll also explore another aspect of Zen influence. Our small group size makes it easier for us to follow along and participate in a simple Japanese tea ceremony, called sado. The monk will teach us how to create the beverage by placing a powdered tea called matcha in a teacup, covering it with hot water, and whipping it with a bamboo whisk until it foams slightly.

Around noon, we'll drive 10 minutes to our lunch location.

Lunch: On your own for about an hour. Ask your Trip Experience Leader for recommendations.

Afternoon: Around 1:30pm, we'll depart on foot for the approximately 1-hour walk through Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, where we'll see massive bamboo stalks. This is one of the most photographed sites in the city, and visitors come from all over the world to be dwarfed by these towering plants.

Then, at about 2:30pm, we'll depart for a 45-minute bus ride back to our hotel, where you'll have the rest of the day free. You may wish to visit Tenryuji Temple, the primary temple of the Rinzai school of Zen. Originally built in 1339, it was destroyed in wars and fires and rebuilt many times. Most of the structures here now date from the late 19th century, but the exquisite Zen garden—which includes a large pond, elevated rock groupings, and delicate cherry trees—is many centuries old.

Dinner: On your own tonight—feel free to ask your Trip Experience Leader for recommendations.

Evening: You’re free to make your own discoveries, exploring the surrounding area on your own, or relaxing at the hotel bar and restaurant for a nightcap.

Day 14: Kyoto • Nijo Castle

Destination: Kyoto

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Accommodations: Aranvert Hotel

Breakfast: Served at the hotel beginning at 7am, featuring a combination of Japanese and Western options.

Morning: At about 9:30am, we’ll depart for Nijo castle, traveling for approximately 30 minutes by local subway. Constructed between 1601 and 1603, the castle, shrines, and temples here are designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Although meant to represent power, it appears more as a royal estate than a military post fortified with weapons. It was built by Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder of the Tokugawa shogunate, and became a meeting place for the shoguns. The largest building on the grounds is Ninomaru Palace, intentionally built with squeaky floors so an intruder would be heard advancing through the room.

Lunch: At a local restaurant around 11:30am.

Afternoon: Around 12:45pm, we'll make the short return to the hotel and you are free to spend the rest of the afternoon on your own. Kyoto is home to a tremendous number of religious sites—nearly 300 Shinto shrines and 1,700 Buddhist temples—for you to discover. Or, for a look at some of the artwork these ancient religions have inspired, you can view Shinto and Buddhist art at the Hosomi Art Museum.

Around 5:45pm, our group will depart the hotel for our final dinner.

Dinner: Tonight around 6pm, we'll celebrate our Japan travel experiences during a Farewell Dinner at a local restaurant.

Evening: You’re free to continue making your own discoveries. Perhaps you want to continue celebrating your adventure with your group, or retire to your room to rest before traveling the following day.

Day 15: Return to U.S. or begin Hiroshima post-trip extension

Meals: Breakfast

Breakfast: Served at the hotel beginning at 7am, featuring a combination of Japanese and Western options.

Morning: Today, you will transfer to the airport in the late morning for your flight home from Osaka.

Or, if you're continuing on our optional post-trip extension to Hiroshima, you'll transfer to this coastal city on an approximately 1.5-hour bullet train ride today shortly before 10am.

Availability

Checking price
Price From $ 5,095
Price Per Day: $ 340 per day

Check Current Availability, prices, specials with Overseas Adventure Travel (O.A.T. Tours).

Prices may vary due to local taxes and trip seasonality. Click "Request Info" to inquire directly with the tour operator for the final trip price.

467 Overseas Adventure Travel (O.A.T. Tours) Travel Reviews & Ratings

99%
4.9 out of 5 (100+ reviews)
Excellent 441
Great 13
Average 8
Disappointing 0
Terrible 5
Value
4.9
Guide
4.9
Activities
4.9
Lodging
4.9
Transportation
4.9
Meals
4.9

2020: Enhanced! Japan's Cultural Treasures

Refund not given after cancelation dur to COVID 19

1.0
Details
Value1.0
Guide1.0
Activities1.0
Lodging1.0
Transportation1.0
Meals1.0
Wife's trip to Japan was scheduled and paid for in April, 2019. Everything on track until her trip was canceled due to COVID19. She has had three calls with OAT including two with supervisors. In each case, she was told that she could travel anytime until 2022 and that her money would not be refunded. During the latest conversation, she was told no refund due to "Force Majeure". My wife has been laid off and OAT has $8,000 of our money that they are refusing to refund. There is no way to plan a trip in 2021 or 2022 and we need the money for our monthly bills. This is unconscionable behavior. I have filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Attorney General's office and the BBB. Using Force Majeure is particularly troubling since this is not a question of them being protected for canceling our trip (which they did), but about getting our money back. Force Majeure clearly protects them from canceling due to acts of God but has nothing to due with giving them the right to keep our money. Check around: many, many reviews are being written with similar issues. This is clearly taking advantage of seniors during a global pandemic. DO NOT DO BUSINESS WITH THESE PEOPLE.
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I thoroughly enjoyed the Enhanced! Japan's Cultural Treasures tour.

5.0
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Value5.0
Guide5.0
Activities5.0
Lodging5.0
Transportation5.0
Meals5.0
I thoroughly enjoyed the Enhanced! Japan's Cultural Treasures tour. Our guide Katy did an excellent job. You see several of the "must-see" sights that attract a lot of tourists; however, most of the trip is devoted to experiences that you cannot have as a tourist on your own. This would include time with sumo wrestlers, a family visit, paper makin Read more aboutg, etc.
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Most Memorable Moment

5.0
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Value5.0
Guide5.0
Activities5.0
Lodging5.0
Transportation5.0
Meals5.0
Trip was great. The guide went over and beyond his dutie. We were able to see things that are only available for a shoet time. Timing is everything.
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A wonderful experience!

5.0
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Value5.0
Guide5.0
Activities5.0
Lodging5.0
Transportation5.0
Meals5.0
I just loved this trip. We saw so many beautiful sites, had many hands-on experiences, met local people and learned a lot. I recommend it highly!
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Great trip

5.0
Details
Value5.0
Guide5.0
Activities5.0
Lodging4.0
Transportation5.0
Meals4.0
Great trip and your guide. Enjoyed traveling with others in group. Japan is a great destination.

Japan's Cultural Treasures Trip

5.0
Details
Value5.0
Guide5.0
Activities5.0
Lodging4.0
Transportation5.0
Meals4.0
The trip certainly included a fully array of the "cultural treasurers of Japan" from Sumo and Taiko drumming to paper making and mochi making in addition to the many sights visited. It has definitely deepened our understanding and appreciation of Japan and its many cultural aspects.
Our guide, Mr. Ikegami Yasuyuki, was very organized and kept Read more about us well-informed. He was always helpful, thoughtful, and responsive.
ONE SUGGESTION: It would enhance the travelers experience so much more if a session could be arranged to meet some young Japanese women and mento learn about the changes of values they face and their views of Japanese cultures.
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Details

Flight & Transport Inclusions

All internal ground transport

Walk over city streets, through gardens and markets, and within temples and shrines in which the ground may be uneven and stairways may lack handrails

Travel by 24-passenger air-conditioned minibus (no toilet on board), shinkansen (bullet train), subway, local train, and 250-passenger boat

Public transportation is used on the trip extensions in Tokyo and Hiroshima, often at subway stations with no escalators or elevators

Group Size

Small Group - 24 max

Maximum Number of People in Group: 16

Accommodations

  • Lotte City Hotel Kinshicho
  • TKP Hotel & Resort Rekutore Hakone Gora
  • Hotel Kanazawa
  • Aranvert Hotel

Cancellation policy

If you need to cancel your trip for any reason, please call us as soon as possible, and follow up in writing. You are also required to return any airline tickets that may have been issued to you. Cancellation refunds will be calculated as of the date we receive your written cancellation. We will issue your refund in the manner in which we received your payment. If you paid your deposit by credit card and your balance by check, your refund will be divided accordingly. Refunds are generated manually by our accounting department to ensure accuracy. Please allow for a 30-day processing period before receiving your refund.

There is a non-refundable, $300 per person processing fee for each trip you cancel, which reflects our costs of administering a reservation. Other cancellation fees depend upon your trip type and time of cancellation.

Additional Information

*Airport transfers are only available for travelers arriving and departing to/from the same airport and on the same arrival/departure dates as the main trip.

Daytime temperatures are typically between 50-60°F in early spring, 85-100°F in summer, and 50-70°F in fall


Trip ID#:

EnhJapOat

Meals Included

13 Breakfasts, 8 Lunches and 6 Dinners

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