2018 White Christmas Tour of Japan
Ever dreamt of fresh powder snow and perhaps making a snowman on Christmas Day? This tour is designed to travel Japan in the quieter off-season experiencing a peaceful White Christmas as well as the traditional celebrations of the New Year in Japan.
You will be stunned by the streams of beautiful decorations in Japan. Be part of the cultural and traditional rituals leading up to the most important day on the Japanese calendar, the New Year Day.
The White Christmas Tour of Japan is an opportunity for one of the most memorable Christmas holidays you have ever had. With the exception of Ski resorts, generally, Japan is less crowded.
Although Japanese are mostly not Christians, Japan offers much of the traditional spirit associated with Christmas. Snow can set the scene, but the coloured lights and decorations in the streets and shops add greatly to the season. Naturally, because Christmas is not a public holiday, it is more a more peaceful time. The holiday feeling is in the air as the most important holiday in Japan is only a few days away – New Years Day.
The temples and shrines compete with the natural beauty of the countryside at this time of the year and the best food is to be had in the winter months too. It is not surprising then that Japan at this time of the year time makes such a wonderful experience.
Places visited: Tokyo, Shibu Onsen (Snow Monkeys), Karuizawa, Takayama, Mt Koya, Kyoto & Osaka (+ option of Hiroshima and Miyajima)
Group size: Min 4, Max 8
Transport: Bullet train, express & commuter trains, ferry, bus and taxi
Accommodation: Four star hotels and equivalent & Japanese style inns
Fitness level: Moderate (please refer to FAQ)
Everybody's favourite - the Snow Monkeys
Christmas day at Karuizawa
Wonderful 'light-ups' everywhere
The time capsule of Takayama
Option to visit Hiroshima & the Sacred Island of Miyajima
Day 1: Arrival
Welcome to Japan in winter! On arrival at one of Tokyo’s international airports, you will be met by a Journey to the East guide and escorted to your hotel. After a good night’s sleep, you will be ready to start the first full day of your 2018 White Christmas Tour of Japan.
Day 2: Tokyo – Guided tour of Tokyo
Starting with a guided walk , you visit the environs that still retain the charms of Japan in a bygone era, a world away from the images of the advanced technology and modern cities.
After visiting Sensoji Temple in Asakusa, the oldest temple in Tokyo built in 628, we have a group lunch. In the afternoon your guide will take you to a modern commercial district of Tokyo to show you the fascinating contrast.
December is the biggest month for retail in Japan. The beautiful window displays and shop decorations will instantly get you into the mood for this very special holiday!
Day 3: Tokyo with a free afternoon
There is so much to see in Tokyo. This morning your guide will show you more of Tokyo’s magic. Then in the afternoon it is your choice.
Why not visit the Disney Resort where you will see spectacular Christmas illuminations and parades? Or visit museums and art galleries to pursue your personal interests? There are events happening everywhere in Tokyo at this time of the year - its hard to decide which ones to pick. Please talk to us about your afternoon, we have plenty of suggestions, maps etc to choose from.
Day 4: Karuizawa
It is Christmas Eve. You will have a guided tour of Karuizawa after arriving from Tokyo by bullet train. Karuizawa is situated at the foot of Mt. Asama-yama in southeastern Nagano and has unique history and atmosphere in Japan.
The area was first promoted as a mountain resort by Western residents of Japan and it has thrived as a popular resort area since the late 19th century.
Although it is well known as a cooler summer resort, Karuizawa also has its very own appeal to visitors at winter time. Yagasaki Park in Karuizawa hosts a winter festival each year. The park is decorated with colourful Christmas lights and decorations, all adding to the festive feel. There are a lot of small groups at the various events, and the whole town is one big Christmas mood. There is a village feel to this small town and at Christmas time it seems to magnify the spectacle.
Skiing and ice skating can be enjoyed in Karuizawa later in winter, and there are ample restaurants and shopping opportunities.
Day 5: Snow Monkey (Shibu Onsen)
It is Christmas Day – time to see the snow and famous icon of Japan in winter – the Snow Monkey. I wonder what they think of Christmas?
You will enjoy the views of the snow white countryside on your scenic train ride that takes you deeper into the Nagano region. It is a region that boasts natural beauty as well as features of traditional rural lifestyle. This area surrounded by the magnificent snow capped Japan Alps.
On arrival at Yudanaka you will visit the reserve where the Snow Monkeys live. You will see the cute snow monkeys soaking in the hot springs. Tonight’s accommodation is in the atmospheric old onsen town of Shibu near the Snow Monkey reserve.
A favourite pastime of the Japanese people is soaking in an onsen (mineral hot spring spa). Today, you too can enjoy soaking in a hot tub as you take in the beautiful 3,000m class snow-capped mountains.
Day 6: Takayama
We transfer to Takayama via Matsumoto. Over the next couple of days, your guide takes you through this historic playground.
You will feel the nostalgia while ambling through the streets of timber-clad old merchant houses. This time capsule has many things to enjoy from a time long gone including the Takayama Jinya, the oldest remaining original Government branch office from the Edo period.
Takayama is like a time capsule, with old streets with their wooden buildings, interesting old artisans shops, unusual art - an ideal place to wander around and take in the atmosphere.
Winter is a wonderful time to get a feel for the life of the people of that era.
Day 7: Takayama
First thing in the morning you will walk through Takayama’s famous morning market which is believed to have been running for over 200 years. The market has a wide variety of fresh foods some of which you may never have seen before. Moving on from the market your guide will continue to 'paint' the picture for you of this fairy tale city.
The afternoon is set aside for you to venture out on your own to explore more of charming handicraft shops, micro sake breweries and coffee shops housed in the old buildings and more. You will be able to easily slide back in time as you look around Takayama.
Day 8: Shirkawago
Start the day with a bus ride taking you to the UNESCO World Heritage-listed site of Shiakawago. Shirakawago is an original farming village consisting of A-framed thatched roof houses. This farming village is especially beautiful and in winter.
Your guide will walk with you through this truly amazing site and give you some insight into the life of a snowbound winter. As you go into some of the thatched houses you will get a picture the daily life of the villages and the background to the unusual structure of their thatched homes. You guide will explain the curious construction of these farm houses. Be sure to ask about the the varied incomes of the farmers and perhaps their early connection with gunpowder.
You return to Takayama and a free evening to choose your dinner from the wonderful selection of restaurants in Takayama.
Day 9: Kyoto
You couldn’t visit Japan in winter without going to Kyoto. Another scenic train ride will bring you to this famous old capital. Kyoto was once the capital of Japan. Kyoto has become the guardian of the cultural history of the Japanese people
Here you will have a half day guided tour to walk around a couple of the temples and the cobblestone back streets packed with unique sites and specialties such as silk goods and pottery. Enjoy the twilight on a walking tour of Gion where you may spot a geisha or two.
Day 10: Kyoto
Today your guide will show you some of Japan’s ‘must see’ sites – the reason so many people visit this singularly special city. Kyoto radiates it’s own atmosphere and in the snow, it is nothing short of breathtaking.
The flexibility in the itinerary today will enable your guide to select the best that is on offer on the day.
Day 11: Mt Koya
It is New Year’s Eve and in Japan, it is somewhat different to the western culture. It is a day of reflection and typically spent at home with family.
You will head for a very special night atop Mt Koya (Koyasan), the headquarters of Shingonshu Buddhism a sect of Buddhism introduced to Japan in 805. A steep rail track takes you part of the way is an experience in itself, followed by a cable car takes you to the top of this very sacred area. The icicles hanging from the trees create an almost mystical seen around you, and the contrast of the white snow against the red temples leaves an indelible image.
Be sure to visit the cemetery at the top of the mountain. There are 1,000s of tombs and some of them will surprise you.
Tonight you will stay in a working temple (shukobu) and have a Buddhist feast (vegetarian) for dinner.
Day 12: Osaka
You are welcome to watch the monks at your shukobo chanting at the dawn service as they welcome the first day of the new year. It is the biggest day in the Japanese calendar. After that, you will be invited to the special celebratory breakfast with a symbolic sake ritual.
In the afternoon, you will travel down from Mt Koya for another experience in Osaka where the crowds are attending local shrines and praying for their families and friends as well as for their New Year wishes to come true.
Many beautiful kimonos will be on display as the families move from shrine to shine. Why not do what locals do! Stop and get a fortune stick that will foretell your coming year. At the thriving city of Osaka, you are sure to get another glimpse of Japanese life at this special time of the year.
Day 13: Osaka
Today is a free day in Osaka.
Spend your last day in Japan in this vibrant city. It is a fitting place to celebrate the end of your fun-filled white Christmas holiday in Japan. Like many of the big cities in Japan, Osaka has it's own list of things to see and do and we are happy to suggest a few to try.
Some of the 'Osaka' specials include One of Japans best aquariums, the Tempozan Marketplace near the aquarium where there are many restaurants (and a good dose of English), Osaka’s Umeda Sky Building, one of the oldest temples - Shitennoji Temple, Osaka Castle and more
Join together once more for our farewell dinner at the famous entertainment district of Dotonbori under the larger-than-life neon signs.
Day 14: Good-Bye
This morning you will check out of the hotel after breakfast and the 2018 White Christmas Tour of Japan concludes.
We offer a side tour to Hiroshima starting after breakfast on the 14th day. It is available on request.
Day X1: Extension day 1 - Hiroshima
The next two days includes an overnight trip to another pair of iconic sights of Japan, Hiroshima and Miyajima.
The bullet train will race you away to Hiroshima. The first visit is the Peace Memorial Museum and A-Bomb Dome, a symbol of the destruction caused by the World War II. The Museum is very informative and the visit is an extremely moving experience for many. You then take a short train and ferry ride across to Miyajima Island, best known for the floating red gate of the Itsukushima shrine. The Itsukushima shrine was originally constructed by worshipers in 593 and later restored to its current state by Taira no Kiyomori in 1168. The bold and unique structure sits on the water with the sea spread out in front of it. Tonight you will experience staying in a traditional Japanese style inn or ryokan, and enjoy kaiseki cuisine for dinner at the ryokan.
Day X2: Extension day 2 - Miyajima
Spend your morning on the historical and stunningly beautiful Miyajima Island. There are many narrow streets to explore, and snacks such as grilled oysters and famous Momiji Manju (Miyajima speciality sweets) to enjoy. You may like to take the ropeway up Mt. Misen for some spectacular views before you transfer by shinkansen (bullet train) back to Osaka.
The itinerary is indicative only. Actual activities may differ.
- 13 nights accommodation (including 2 nights in traditional inns)
- 13 breakfasts, 2 lunches and 8 dinners
- All local transport (train, bus and taxi)
- Pre-loaded Suica card
- Locally licensed English speaking tour guides
- Cultural activities and attraction entry fees included in itinerary
- Luggage transfers (1 piece per person)
- An electronic copy of Journey to the East Handbook
Does not include:
- International or domestic airfare
- Travel insurance
- Alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages
- Tips and gratuities (not routinely expected in Japan)