President’s Pick Colorful Japan

My first visit to Japan was almost two decades ago. What amazed me the most was how much potential was here once we got away from standard bus tour activities. This journey represents that potential beginning to be realized. We are challenging the norms that take even some local guides out of their comfort zones to find the Japan most people never see.

Country Information

Japan

President's Pick Colorful Japan President’s Picks

(Countries Visited)

Japan


(Interest Type(s))

Adventure Travel


(Tour Length)

13 Days


Tour Highlights

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  • Discover Kyoto, one of the best-preserved cities in Japan, by bike with your local guide as you cycle through the Miyagawacho and Gion geisha districts and one of Kyoto’s Flower Towns on the bank of Kamo River.
  • Set out to got to Naoshima by both bullet train and local ferry that will take you to the delightful island in the Seto Island Sea known as Art Island. This coastal town is how home to the Art Project,  a collection of abandoned houses, workshops, a temple and a shrine converted into art installations by renowned contemporary artists and architects from Japan and abroad.
  • Explore Hiroshima with its touching Peace Memorial Park, ground zero for the first Atomic Bomb on 6th August 1945.
  • Fukuoka, the largest city on Japan’s Kyushu island, and is recognized for its popular, open-air food stands — yatai, that generally seat about seven or eight people and provide an atmospheric outdoor environment. Some 150 yatai scattered across Fukuoka but the best place to find them is on the southern end of Nakasu Island.
  • Travel to the forest island, Yakushima, a UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Reserve, to hike in this untouched forest is breathtakingly beautiful with rivers, streams, waterfalls and ancient, gnarled trees. It’s one of the largest tracts of existing Nansei Islands subtropical evergreen forests.

Day I: Kyoto, Japan
Welcome to Japan! You are greeted at Kansai International Airport by your driver, who will take you by private vehicle to your hotel in Kyoto. Kyoto is the nation’s former capital and was the residence of the emperor from 794 until 1868. With 2,000 religious buildings, including 1,600 Buddhist temples and 400 Shinto shrines, as well as palaces, gardens and associated architecture, it is one of the best-preserved cities in Japan. It features 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Beyond the skyscrapers and other modern accents, Kyoto represents the Japan of old and can be found in the narrow alleyways where tea houses abound and kimono-clad geisha hurry from elegant function to function. You check into your hotel where the rest of the day is at your leisure. Hyatt Regency Kyoto

Day 2: Kyoto
Today, explore traditional Kyoto by bike. You’ll be picked up by car at your hotel and driven to the cycle terminal. With your local guide, you cycle through the Miyagawacho and Gion geisha districts. Gion is the most popular geisha district and perfectly represents the traditional values of old Kyoto. The geisha district, Miyagawacho is also one of Kyoto’s Flower Towns on the bank of Kamo River. It only occupies two sides of the street. Continue along the Shirakawa Canal lined with weeping willow trees, past traditional Kyoto-style tea houses. Next stop is the Imperial Palace Park with its beautiful gardens.

Cycle back to Kyoto station along the Kamogawa River, where you find that it is a popular for a stroll. In spring, cherry blossoms bloom along the banks of the river, and in summer restaurants open balconies looking out to the river. Your excursion ends, however, if you wish to continue sightseeing on your bike, arrangements can be made for you to keep the bike longer at no charge.  Note: Children under three are allowed, (a child seat will be attached to a parent’s bike). Over 12 years old, the child we have his or her own bike. or above 12 (with their own bike). Children between 4 and 11, or are under 5’ are not permitted.  Hyatt Regency Kyoto (B) 

Day 3: Kyoto – Naoshima Island – Kyoto
Today you set out to got to Naoshima, the famous “art island.” You’ll be picked up by your guide this morning and travel to Uno to get the Shinkansen, bullet train, for the one-hour ride to Okayama, where you are met by a driver, who will transfer you to the ferry that will take you to the island. The car will ride the ferry for a pleasant, exclusive sightseeing. Spend the day exploring the delightful island in the Seto Island Sea known as Art Island. Honmura, a coastal castle town during the century of warring states, is home to the Art House Project, a collection of abandoned houses, workshops, a temple and a shrine converted into art installations and venues for contemporary art by artists and architects from Japan and abroad. The art houses are scattered throughout town, and most of them are unassuming from the street, blending into the surrounding traditional Japanese neighborhood. The interior of each, however, has been given over to artists to convert into whatever suits their artistic vision. The Chichu Art Museum is a unique modern art museum built into a hillside overlooking the southern coast of Naoshima. The museum building, designed by Ando Tadao, is a work of art of its own. This creates a viewing experience where the work and landscape meld together and become inseparable. The outdoor contemporary art installations are nestled throughout the 5.5-square-mile island. Art Island is a superb surprise that was begun by Japanese billionaire Soichiro Fukutake and his Benesse Corporation. The island has become an important venue for large works by some of today’s most prominent contemporary artists such as James Turrel, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Lee Ufan, Walter de Maria, Yves Klein, Cy Twombly, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Yasumasa Morimura, Andy Warhol and Richard Long. Visit the Benesse House Museum before catching the ferry back to Uno, then the train back to Kyoto. Please note: No tours on Mondays as the museums are closed. Hyatt Regency Kyoto (B)

Day 4: Kyoto / Hiroshima
This morning, your car and driver will pick you up at your hotel and transfer you to the Kyoto station, where you get the bullet train for Hiroshima, which takes under two hours. Upon arrival in Hiroshima, you are met by an assistant, who will escort you to your hotel, adjoining to the station. Early afternoon, your guide will meet you at the hotel for a tour by car of Hiroshima. The first stop is at the touching Peace Memorial Park, ground zero for the Atomic Bomb on 6th August 1945. The Memorial Park was created and dedicated to those who lost their lives in the attack. Stroll through the park and discover the many memorials, monuments and statues in the park before heading into the Museum itself. Please note that the Peace Memorial Museum is currently undergoing renovations until Spring 2019, during which time one of the wings will be closed. The other is open wing but features a reduced exhibition. Sheraton Grand Hotel Hiroshima (B)

Day 5: Hiroshima
Today you set out to explore Hiroshima and Saijo by private car with your guide. Start the day with a visit to Shukkeien Garden, "shrunken-scenery garden", which is a good description of the garden itself. Valleys, mountains, and forests are represented in miniature in the garden's landscapes. Through carefully cultivated land and vegetation, the garden mimics a variety of natural formations and scenic views. Shukkeien has a long history dating to 1620, just after the completion of Hiroshima Castle. The garden displays many features of the traditional aesthetics of Japanese gardens. Around the garden's main pond there are tea houses with serene views of the surrounding scenery. The entire garden is connected by a winding path that curves around the pond at the center of the garden. It passes through the progression of Shukkeien's miniaturized sceneries.

A short ride takes you to Saijo, a small town east of Hiroshima. It is known throughout Japan as one of the finest sake-producing cities in the country. The streets near the station, dotted with sake breweries, are collectively called Sakagura-dori or Sake Brewery Street. Explore eight breweries, learning about sake brewing, and do some tastings of this quintessential Japanese beverage. (Sake tasting included). Get a feel for unique, traditional neighborhoods and the atmosphere of the streets of Saijo. You will then travel back to your hotel in Hiroshima. Sheraton Grand Hotel Hiroshima (B)

Day 6: Hiroshima / Fukuoka
Today you travel west to Fukuoka, the largest city on Japan’s Kyushu island. You will be escorted from your hotel to the platform by an assistant and board the Shinkansen to Hakata Station, the main station in Fukuoka. Journey time is just over an hour. Upon arrival, you are met by a driver who will take you to your hotel by private car.

The driver will transfer you to your hotel. This evening, stroll with your local guide through the Nakasu District in Fukuoka city center. Fukuoka's open-air food stands (Yatai) are possibly the city's known symbol. Yatai can generally seat about seven or eight people and provide an atmospheric outdoor environment to enjoy foods that are generally simple and filling. Some 150 yatai scattered across Fukuoka but the best place to find them is on the southern end of Nakasu Island. In middle of the city, Nakasu Island has a row of about 20 yatai that are attractively situated along the water. You can walk while you eat a bowl of tonkotsu ramen. (Bowl of ramen and a drink included). These noodles that are the best-known specialty of the city. These stalls are small and work on a first-come-first served basis, so you might have to wait in line to get seated.*Please note, it may not be possible for the driver to meet you on the platform here in Fukuoka, but it is a station with limited ticket gates, so he will wait for you in front of the Shinkansen ticket gates if not on the platform.  Grand Hyatt Fukuoka (B)

Day 7: Fukuoka
You and your guide will set out by private car for a half day trip to charming Dazaifu, just half an hour outside of Fukuoka. Dazaifu was established in the late seventh century and served as the administrative center of the entire island of Kyushu for more than five centuries. The city was built slightly inland from Hakata, whose port was one of the main points of interaction between Japan and mainland Asia. Although the imperial court ruled the country from the Kansai Region, Dazaifu was pivotal for Japan's diplomatic relations and organizing the country's defenses.

Among the hundreds of Tenmangu Shrines throughout Japan, Dazaifu's is the most important. It is dedicated to the spirit of Sugawara Michizane, a scholar and politician of the Heian Period. Because of his great learning, Michizane has been associated with Tenjin, a Shinto deity of education, and is popular among students. You will then visit the impressive Dazaifu's Kyushu National Museum. During the Nara and Heian Periods (710-1185), Dazaifu was the site of a government office that dealt with diplomatic relations with mainland Asia. The museum recognizes its host city's history by basing its exhibits on the concept of "Understanding Japanese culture from an Asian point of view" and comparing Japan's historical manufacture with that of its neighboring country, recognizing the mutual influences. Grand Hyatt Fukuoka (B)

Day 8: Fukuoka / Kagoshima
This morning you will be picked up from your hotel and driven to Hakata station. Again, your driver may have to bid you farewell at the ticket barrier, but he will ensure you are in the right place for your train and will provide you with tickets from Hakata to Kagoshima-Chuo via the Kyushu Shinkansen. Journey time is around 1hr 40 mins. Upon arrival at Kagoshima-Chuo Station, you’ll be picked up by private car and driven to your hotel. The remainder of the day is at your leisure. Kagoshima Prefecture (also known as the Satsuma Domain) was the center of the territory of the Shimazu clan for many centuries. It was a busy political and commercial port city throughout the medieval period and into the Edo period (1603–1867). It is watched over by the looming Sakurajima, an active volcano that has eruptions over 850 times per year with the more serious eruptions accounting for just 15. The home of near-mythical samurai hero Saigo Takamori, it is full of sites related to the Satsuma Rebellion. The city has Kagoshima Aquarium and the Reimeikan Museum featuring local history and culture. Tsurumaru Castle, once the castle of the Shimazu clan, who governed the Satsuma domain till the Meiji Restoration, but was destroyed during the Satsuma Rebellion. The only parts remaining today are the wall and the moat. Since it's around so many sights and monument around Kagoshima, it's a nice sight to see and it contains the Reimeikan. Or relax and enjoy your hotel, which offers the rejuvenating Satsumanoyu hot spring with views of Sakurajima and Kagoshima city from an outdoor onsen-filled natural hot spring water wells up from 1,000 m/3,281 feet underground. Satsumanoyu's hot spring waters contain minerals that leave you feeling and rejuvenated, or visit Spa Lapis for a relaxing. Shiroyama Kanko Hotel (B)

Day 9: Kagoshima
Enjoy a full day, guided tour of Kagoshima in you private car. First, head to Sengan’en Garden, a landscape garden along the coast north of downtown Kagoshima. One of the garden's most striking feature is its use of Sakurajima and Kagoshima Bay as borrowed scenery. It was constructed in 1658 by the wealthy Shimazu Clan, one of the most powerful feudal clans during the Edo Period (1603-1867). At the center of the garden stands the Iso Residence. The residence was originally built at the same time as the garden. After the end of the feudal age, the Iso Residence became the main residence of the Shimazu family, and its rooms are preserved in the way they were used in the 1890s. After a short walk in the garden, enjoy lunch at the garden’s restaurant.

In the afternoon, board the ferry to Sakurajima Island, home of the volcano, which is the symbol of Kagoshima. The very active volcano smokes constantly, and minor eruptions often take place multiple times per day. It is of course forbidden to approach the crater, but the island is still delightful to visit, thanks to various observation points, foot baths of hot spring water and scenic hiking. Shiroyama Kanko Hotel (B)

Day 10: Kagoshima / Yakushima
This morning, you travel to the forest island, Yakushima, a UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Reserve. Your luggage will be forwarded from Kagoshima to Osaka to allow you to travel light today. Your car will pick you up this morning and drive you to Kagoshima Port, to catch the 10:00 a.m. ferry to Anbo Port on Yakushima, where a driver and car are waiting at the terminal to drive you to your resort. The rest of the day is at your leisure. A stylish dinner is included tonight at your resort. Sankara Resort & Spa (B,D)

Day 11: Yakushima
Today you will be picked up from your hotel by a Yakushima native guide, who will drive you out to a trailhead for a half-day hiking adventure under Yakushima's ancient trees. The drive to the trailhead itself is fantastic, and the vehicle has raised seating to allow for great views. According to the records that can be found, apparently no tree cutting has been recorded in Yakushima's unique remnant of warm/temperate ancient forest. Rain or shine, you hike the Konohana Route today, recommended as an introduction to the island. This green, lush untouched forest is breathtakingly beautiful with rivers, streams, waterfalls and ancient, gnarled trees thick moss. You cross swing bridges, taking in scene after beautiful scene. Take a break to enjoy a boxed lunch. Yakushima contains one of the largest tracts of existing Nansei Islands subtropical evergreen forests, and endangered habitat ecoregion. The only large animals indigenous to the island are red-bottomed macaques and sika deer. Sankara Resort & Spa (B,L boxed, D)

Day 12: Yakushima / Osaka
Your day is at leisure today until your car arrives at your resort to take you to Yakushima Airport to catch a domestic flight to Itami Airport in Osaka. There is only one flight on this route that departs mid-afternoon and lasts a little over an hour. Upon arrival in Osaka, you will be picked up by a driver and transferred to your hotel. The evening is at your leisure. Conrad Hotel Osaka (B)

Day 13: Osaka / Depart
Your day is at leisure until your driver and private car take you to Kansai International Airport to connect with your onward flight.

Land price, per person, double occupancy: Price starts from US$950 per person per day.

 

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