Signature Journey Collection Japan Tour Itineraries
Welcome to our Signature Journey Collection, representing some of the most amazing and timeless places that remain off well-trodden paths and encompass fabulously beautiful, interesting and culturally enriching areas throughout Japan. Our shorter duration trips are perfect for travelers in the Asia region, cruise shore excursions and for those passing through Japan seeking a very special experience. These Japan tour itineraries can also be added as extensions to any of our bespoke ‘tailor-made’ tours. Combined with some of the absolute best and eclectic accommodations in the country, our journeys are masterfully crafted to meet the interests and passions of our clients.
From the northern island of Hokkaido and its great outdoors to the spiritual centers of Koyasan and Ise to the art and hot spring rich areas on the Island of Kyushu to remote and untouched islands in Japan, let JapanQuest Journeys offer you the chance to explore Japan’s mysteries and delights undisturbed and in-depth, unlocking thousand year-old secrets one by one.
Remote and Untouched Japan Tour Itinerary (4 Days | 3 Nights)
This Japan tour itinerary takes you from Kagoshima on a hydrofoil journey to the southern island of Yakushima, a World Heritage Site, where nature is abound in ancient cedar forests with trees dating back 7000 years, with monkeys and turtles roaming the dramatic coastline. Enjoy some light trekking and the extraordinary scenery and remoteness of the island known as “The Alps of the Sea”. It is a mountainous subtropical island, part of Kirishima-Yaku National Park, famous for virgin forests of Yaku sugi or cryptomeria that few get to see. While in Yakushima, you will spend two nights at the wonderful hotel and spa.
Revisit the mainland 2-days later when you will take a short flight from Yakushima to Kagoshima Airport from where you will be driven north to Kurokawa Onsen. You will sojourn via Mt. Aso, which embraces five cones of which Mount Naka-dake is the most active and the largest on Earth. Take the Mt. Aso Ropeway to the crater’s edge and experience up close and personal the volcano’s immense power. The fertile volcanic soil has produced lush green meadows and the scenery in the vicinity is superb. You then move onward to Kurokawa Onsen, a hot spring resort nestled in the mountains where you will spend the night in a peaceful ryokan or Japanese inn. Kurokawa is reminiscent of a bygone era with its beautiful wooden structures and earthen walls. The luxury in Kurokawa lies in the sound of the streams and the beauty of the fresh green leaves. A “must-do” when here is outdoor bathing.
Enchanting Kyushu Japan Tour Itinerary (4 Days | 3 Nights)
This Japan tour itinerary explores the island of Kyushu where there are some of the absolute best ryokans and onsens in Japan. If you are a lover of Japanese pottery, we will visit charming villages such as Arita, Karatsu, Imari and Onta – each with their own unique artistic styles, colors and inherent beauty. Your journey begins in Yufuin, a resort town boasting some of the best onsen or hot springs in Japan. Yufuin is located on a flat river basin surrounded by mountains. The most prominent feature of Yufuin’s skyline is the twin peaked Mount Yufu, which hovers over the town and serves as the backdrop for many scenic views. The area is rural and travelers will come across the rice paddies and farmhouses that make up a considerable part of the town shortly after leaving the main walking route. This evening will be spent at one of Yufuin’s fine ryokan or Japanese inns.
Journey to Onta the following morning of day two will bring you back to the stone ages where rustic pottery is made before one’s eyes. A giant mallet fed by a river running through the center of Onta adorns this small village where one can see rocks crushed to make clay in this age-old setting of stone kilns. Moving onward you will travel through central Kyushu to the pottery town of Karatsu located on the Sea of Japan coast where you will spend the evening at a splendid Japanese inn. One of Japan’s world-renowned pottery towns, Karatsu is a must-see for yakimono (pottery or ceramic ware) fans. Already a well-known pottery town, Karatsu’s Korean influences elevated it from useful ceramic ware to art. Karatsu-made vessels are some of the finest in Japan. Spend the night at a lovely Japanese inn that will make you feel right at home.
On day three, you will visit Imari and Arita, the towns from which the styles of Japanese ceramics most well known in the West derives their name. Arita, the cradle of porcelain manufacturing in Japan, is a quiet town among mountains, located in the western part of Saga. Ri Sampei, a potter from Korea, discovered a fine-quality white porcelain mineral in Mt. Arita-Izumi-Yama. This was the beginning of Arita’s development into an internationally known town of porcelain. Imari is most notable because of Imari porcelain, which is the European collectors’ name for Japanese porcelain made in the town of Arita. Visit the magnificent Imaemon Museum of Ceramic Antiques. After a day spent seeing beautiful ceramics, you will journey southward along glistening Omura Bay to the mountain resort of Unzen on the Shimabara Peninsula where you will spend the evening at a lovely inn in the midst of wooded surroundings.
The following morning of day four you will be driven to Nagasaki where you will be introduced to Koshi-byo Confucian Temple, one of the few beautiful shrines dedicated to the Chinese philosopher Confucius in Japan and Nagasaki Peace Park commemorating the atomic bombing of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. A monument around a black pillar marks the atomic explosion’s epicenter in the nearby Hypocenter Park.
The Great Outdoors Japan Tour Itinerary (5 Days | 4 Nights)
This Japan tour itinerary is an in-depth exploration of the scenic beauty of Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island. Day one of your journey will begin with a tour of the port of Hakodate, the gateway to Hokkaido and one of the Japan’s most scenic cities. Visit Hakodate’s colorful morning market, filled with fresh seafood and fresh produce then move onward to Hakodate’s more notable site, the star shaped Goryokaku Fort, a unique Five Corner Fort built to defend against foreign aggression. Depart to Lake Toya where you will spend the next two nights in Toya enjoying a sweeping view of the majestic Lake.
Lake Toya, which is situated in the southwestern part of Hokkaido, belongs to Shikotsu-Toya National Park. The active volcano that stands proudly near the lake with white smoke rising above it is Mt.Usu. Lake Toya is an ice-free lake. The beauty and clarity of the ice-free lake can therefore be admired anytime during the year. There are four big and small islands called Nakajima in the middle of the lake, and on it is the Toyako Forest Museum, which is a part of a sightseeing boat route. The following day select from a variety of activities while enjoying the natural beauty of the Lake Toya area: go trekking, canoeing, horseback riding and/or golfing or spend time relaxing at Mizunouta, a hot springs resort near Lake Shikotsu.
On day three you will pass along the southern coast of Hokkaido before turning northward through bucolic pastureland, rolling hills and horse farms as you head to Tokachikawa Onsen where you will spend the evening in the a wonderful ryokan or Japanese inn with exquisite service and silky soft thermal waters.
Day four will start by traveling through majestic scenery to Daisetsuzan National Park in the heart of Hokkaido and home to Mount Ashi-dake, the island’s highest peak. This area is known for its beautiful valleys, steep cliffs, and spectacular waterfalls, and the Sounkyo hot springs, a European style mountain resort.
Your journey to Sapporo on day five will first take you to Furano where you will encounter colorful and fabulously beautiful fields of lavender (when in season) set against the backdrop of the breathtaking Tokachidake mountain range. You will then move south through rolling hills to Sapporo for a short tour of this delightful city including The Clock Tower built in 1878 that has become a symbol of Sapporo and the Former Hokkaido Government Office Building built in 1888 using the Massachusetts State House as an architectural model. Of special interest to noodle lovers is the Ramen Yokocho in the Susukino area, a narrow lane lined with shops where you can indulge Sapporo’s famous and delicious ramen.
Pure Japan Tour Itinerary (4 Days | 3 Nights)
This Japan tour itinerary explores the stunning beauty of Sado Island off the West Coast of Japan, which can be reached by hydrofoil from Niigata. Sado boasts of spectacular natural beauty, living performing arts traditions and an intriguing history. It has attracted many talented artists, performers, craftsmen and other interesting people to the island. Sado is Japan’s fifth largest island and has a well-preserved appearance including clusters of weathered gray houses surrounded by expanses of rice paddies stretching to the sea. With our special access, you can partake in personal Taiko “drumming” lessons conducted under the auspices of the celebrated Kodo Drummers who are based on Sado Island and have toured the world for over 30 years. Taiko drumming is very rhythmic and awe-inspiring in its power, beat and spirituality. Pure fun to listen and partake. While in Sado you will stay at a Japanese style hotel with hot spring baths.
About one third of the Noh Theatre stages in Japan are found on Sado Island. Here, the local color of Noh is so prosperous that Sado also boasts more types of Noh stage than you will find in any other one place. We will also introduce you to Noh “behind the scenes” in this very artistic environment where stories are often interpreted within a Buddhist framework: karma (destiny) and salvation–escape from attachment to the earthly world. Either on your way to or upon return from Sado via hydrofoil, experience a fabulous ryokan or Japanese inn outside of Niigata.
The Land and Sacred Places Japan Tour Itinerary (4 Days | 3 Nights)
This Japan tour itinerary starts day one in Hakone, a beautiful mountainous area with verdant forests, small lakes and thermal springs approximately a two-hour drive from Tokyo. Visit the Hakone Open-Air Museum whose spectacular grounds are the permanent home for approximately 120 works by well-known modern and contemporary sculptors such as Rodin, Bourdelle, Miro and Moore. You will behold the beautiful red tori gate of Hakone Shrine set along the edge of Lake Ashi and as well as majestic Mt. Fuji, the iconic symbol of Japan. This evening will be spent in Hakone at one of Japan’s premier inns.
The following day, continue south through forests and mountains on a two and half hour drive to Shuzenji on Shizuoka’s Izu Peninsula. It is lovely strolling through the quaint hot-spring village of Shuzenji with its historic buildings and bamboo groves. The mystery of Shuzenji is what you cannot see from the streets—its world-class ryokans and onsens tucked away in perfectly groomed gardens hidden away from view. Frequented by foreign dignitaries, they offer only the finest of Japanese hospitality in a relaxing, refined and quintessential setting. While in Shizuoka, enjoy the beauty of its agricultural landscape of tea plantations, mikans and wasabi fields. Try matcha tea making and harvesting a bit of green tea for yourself. Shizuoka is a leading agricultural producer in Japan and you will experience hands-on learning in this region. The evening will be spent at one of Shuzenji’s beautiful ryokan or Japanese inns.
On day three, travel further south by car and train via Nagoya to Ise where you will visit the most ancient and holiest of Japanese shrines, Ise Jingu. Of Japan’s thousands of Shinto shrines, Ise Jingu is paramount. The area comprises hundreds of subsidiary shrines but the main structures you will see will be the Outer Shrine (Geku dedicated to the goddess of harvests, homes and food) and the Inner Shrine (Naiku dedicated to the sun goddess and mythical ancestor to the emperor and the Japanese race). The inner sanctum of Naiku contains one of the great imperial treasures; the sacred bronze mirror said to have been presented to the first emperor by the sun goddess Amaterasu herself. The shrines are made of fresh hinoki (cypress) wood from the Kiso Mountains. The evening will be spent in Toba an area of stunning beauty near Ise.
The following day four visit Futamigaura, known for its Husband-and Wife Rocks (Meoto-iwa), two curious outcrops standing in the sea connected by a sacred straw rope when they are symbolically wed each year.
The Mountains Japan Tour Itinerary (4 Days | 3 Nights)
This Japan tour itinerary starts from Tokyo on day one with a journey through the Japanese countryside to Matsumoto and Matsumoto-jo, its four hundred year old castle, a national treasure, set against the backdrop of the Japan Alps. Matsumoto-jo ranks as one of Japan’s most magnificent castles and is the finest and most authentic surviving samurai castles in the country. Take a stroll down Nakamachi Dori with its Edo period kura or storehouses, many of which have been converted into restaurants and shops. You will spend the evening at a property that combines the elements of a traditional Japanese inn with amenities of a luxury hotel.
The following day two you will retrace the footsteps of travelers of the Edo-period on a beautiful stretch of the Nakasendo, a road that linked Tokyo to Kyoto during Japan’s feudal period. Visit Tsumago and Magome, evocative Edo-period post towns. Fall back in time in Tsumago, a living museum of old Japan.
On day three of this journey, you will venture on a beautiful sojourn through the stunning Japanese Alps to Takayama, a living museum rich with charm located in the heart of central Japan. Its well-preserved homes and shops allow one to glimpse into the Japan of a bygone era. Takayama is a very quaint town and quintessentially Japan. Takayama is ideal for exploring by foot. Visit nearby Takayama Jinya, Japan’s only existing provincial government office of the Edo Shogunate or heads of Japan’s feudal regime. Sojourn through Takayama’s picturesque Sanmachi Quarter, home to rows of exquisitely preserved merchant houses in which there are a number of sake breweries and stores selling miso or bean paste, products for which Takayama is famous. Takayama also has a plethora of small antique shops to wander around. Enjoy tasting sake at Takayama’s many sake breweries. You may choose to spend this evening in a lovely Japanese inn located in the forest near Takayama or at hotel with a panoramic view of the surrounding mountains.
In the morning of day four, journey first to the colorful morning vegetable and flower market. Afterwards, continue your exploration of Takayama.
The Spiritual Japan Tour Itinerary (3 Days | 2 Nights)
This Japan tour itinerary begins on day one in the Kumano area at southern tip of the fabulous Kii Peninsula in Wakayama Prefecture. Kumano is centered around three shrines, Hongu Taisha, Nachi Taisha and Hayatama Taisha, collectively known as the Kumano Sanzan. Pilgrims have traveled to the Kumano Sanzan via walking trails, called Kumano Kodo, for over 1000 years. The shrines are even older, with mention in Japan’s founding mythology. The region is infused with religious and historical value that emanates from the three shrines. The Shinto sun goddess’ great grandson, Jimmu, came to Kumano to unify the country as Japan’s first Emperor. To further add to the area’s sanctity, Kumano is often called “The Land of the Dead”, in reference to the belief that Shinto spirits and family ancestors dwell here after they die. The triad deities of the Kumano Sanzan became a unique mixture of Shinto and Buddhism and were considered to be the strongest in Japan.
Nachi-no-taki is 133 meters high and 13 meters wide, it is the tallest waterfall in Japan and can been seen from far out on the Pacific Ocean. Nachi-no-taki’s water source is the surrounding broadleaf evergreen primeval forest. It is a sanctuary of Kumano Nachi Taisha and thus has been protected since ancient times and is used for ascetic training by mountain monks who practice Shugendo, a mixed religion of foreign and indigenous beliefs. The backdrop of the waterfall and its mist as one gazes upon the shrine is breathless.
Your pilgrimage this first day will start at Hatayama Taisha. You will then travel to Nachi Taisha where you may elect to climb the pilgrims’ route of 473 steps to the shrine (approximately a forty- minutes walk) or the more modern day convenience of a car to the top. Following your visit to Nachi Taisha you will travel through mountainous landscape to Kumano Hongu Taisha. Here again you may elect the pilgrims’ route of 158 stairs to the shrine (approximately a fifteen-minute walk) or the convenience of a car. Following your pilgrimage, you will move onward to Nanki Shirahama where you will spend the evening at a Japanese style property with wonderful hot springs.
The following day two will start northward through the heart of mountainous Wakayama to Mt. Koya, Japan’s best-known Buddhist mountain retreat. In 2004, UNESCO designated Mt. Koya as a World Heritage Site. Mt. Koya is the heart of Shingon Buddhism and the resting place of the sect’s founder, perhaps Japan’s best-known Buddhist, known as both Kukai and Kobo Daishi.The eight-forested peaks of Mt. Koya reach eight hundred meters into the clouds, surrounding the high plateau with a sense of serenity and boasting over one hundred temple complexes. Kongobuji Temple, erected by the Shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1592 and containing fine Kano School (famous Japanese school of artists from the 14th to 16th centuries) screen doors, is the focal temple. A number of the many temples provide temple-stays or shukubo for travelers. Staying on Mt. Koya is one of the best ways to experience Buddhist life in Japan: bathing before a dinner of traditional shojin-ryori or Buddhist vegetarian meal, and rising with the birds for the morning prayers with the monks. It is an absolutely gorgeous and spiritual setting.
Contemporary Arts, Gardens and The Venice of Japan Tour Itinerary (4 Days | 3 Nights)
This Japan tour itinerary starts on day one at Ritsurin Garden in Takamatsu on the Island of Shikoku and one of Japan’s most beautiful gardens. Created in the seventeenth century, this beautiful stroll garden was once a park attached to a villa built by the Matsudaira lords. Shikoku is also famous for the Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum, which is the fulfillment of Noguchi’s wish that his former studio in Mure-cho, Japan, be an extension of his Museum in New York to inspire artists and scholars. Its collection includes 150 sculptures, many of which are still unfinished, preserving the working atmosphere of his studio.
From Takamatsu you will journey by ferry to Naoshima Island, which has emerged as a center of contemporary art in Japan. On Naoshima you will spend two evenings at Benesse House, designed by famed Japanese architect Tadao Ando as a museum of contemporary art that splendidly blends in with its natural surroundings. Visit the newest museum on Naoshima designed by Tadao Ando which opened in 2010, the Lee Ufan Museum. The museum features works by the Korean contemporary artist Lee Ufan, who was born in Korea but has been working and teaching in Japan. On display are large installations made of stone, concrete and huge slabs of iron, as well as a number of paintings from earlier in his career.
The following day two, take a water taxi on a short ride to the Island of Teshima. On Teshima, rent bikes, choose your route and visit Teshima Art Museum and Les Archives du Coeur. Uniting the creative visions of artist Rei Naito and architect Ryue Nishizawa, Teshima Art Museum stands on a hill on the island of Teshima overlooking the Inland Sea. Shaped like a drop of water, the museum lies in a corner of the spacious grounds surrounded by once-fallow rice terraces that have been restored with help from local residents. “Les Archives du Cœur” compiles recordings of heartbeats from around the world for exhibition, listening, and the creation of an archive. This project is made up of three elements: an installation using recordings of heartbeats, a listening room where visitors are able to listen to archived recordings, and a recording room where their own heartbeats can be recorded. Continue your exploration of Naoshima begun the day before including the Art House Project where artists transform spaces into contemporary artworks while restoring old buildings and shrines. Included in Art House Project are works by artists such as James Turrell and Tatsuo Miyajima. Follow this unique encounter with a must see walk-through of the Chichu Art Museum which is one of the prettiest museums to be encountered anywhere – built specifically to house the works of Claude Monet, Walter De Maria and James Turrell.
From Naoshima on day three, travel on a ferry ride to the Port of Uno where you will travel to Kurashiki where your day will be spent strolling along Kurashiki’s willow lined canals, hump-backed stone bridges and dozens of white washed, black-tiled kura or rice storehouses experiencing its immaculately preserved merchant quarter that dates to the Edo period. Also, visit the Ohara Museum of Art with its wonderful collection of Western art including works by Monet, Renoir, Gauguin and Picasso. With a splendid panoramic view from atop Mt. Tsurugatayama, visit historic Achi Shrine that was built to hold back invading sea tides; in time it became the very heart of prosperous Kurashiki. Relax in a fabulous ryokan in the town center.
On day four, travel to Okayama and Koraku-en Garden where you will sip tea in a garden teahouse while viewing Okayama Castle. Outside of the City is Kibitsu-jinja Shrine, an old shrine with its main sanctuary built in the peculiar Kibitsu-style, which joins the two roofs of the Irimoya-style with a pitch on the two sides on the upper part and on the four sides at the bottom. Meet with a Shinto priest who will bestow private blessings on you in a very sacred room in a ceremony unique to this shrine.