2019 Autumn Tour of Japan - Classic Route
This small group tour sets out to stun with the sheer beauty of Japan in Autumn. In just 14 days this well-paced trip creates a whole picture book of lifetime memories.
The 2019 Autumn Tour of Japan - Classic Route is specifically designed to combine Japan’s must-see sights with intense autumn foliage as the season hits its peak in the iconic cities of Kyoto and Tokyo in late November and early December.
We start in Kyoto surrounded in autumn colour, travel to Hiroshima and Miyajima in Japan’s far western reaches, and then head back up to Hakone and Tokyo to catch the autumn leaves as their colour intensifies. This compact 14-day tour takes you to experience Japan's renowned autumn colours in the most classic destinations. Along the way you gain deep insights into Japan’s rich art and cultural traditions, including personal encounters with artisans and a modern-day geisha. This Classic Route tour is an authentic introduction to the country in autumn-time for those who prefer travelling at a more relaxed pace and like some luxury in their accommodation choice.
Places visited: Kyoto, Arashiyama, Hiroshima, Miyajima, Nagoya, Hakone, Tokyo and Kamakura
Group size: Maximum 8
Transport: Bullet and express trains between cities, private minivan for sightseeing
Accommodation: Premium-level (typically 4.5 to 5-star) accommodation including Japanese-style hotels with western beds
Fitness level: Moderate
Tour type: Comfort
Experience Kyoto’s exquisite gardens and temples at autumn’s peak
Take a traditional rickshaw ride through Arashiyama’s bamboo grove
Visit the picturesque sacred Shinto island of Miyajima
Soak in a traditional onsen spa bath in Hakone
Experience the old and ultra-modern in Tokyo
Wander through autumn foliage in contemplative Kamakura
Visit Hiroshima’s reflective peace park
See Nagoya and get some surprises from Japan's industrial Heart
Day 1: Arrival in Kyoto
Welcome to Japan! On arrival at the Kansai International Airport, Osaka Airport or Kyoto Station, you will be met by a Journey to the East guide and escorted to your hotel in Kyoto by private transport. After a good night’s sleep, you will be ready to start the first full day of your 2019 Autumn Tour of Japan - Classic Route. (Please ask us about domestic transfer if you are arriving at a different airport.)
Day 2: Kyoto
After orientation with your guide, you begin your exploration of Kyoto. With 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Kyoto is the cultural heart of Japan and the guardian of many of its ancient traditions. Originally made capital in 794, present-day Kyoto offers an endless range of interests to engage in. It offers traditional craft shops, refined restaurants, ancient temples and Shinto shrines, contemplative gardens, tea-ceremony demonstrations, and performances of traditional noh and kabuki theatre.
Your private minivan will take you to the south-eastern part of Kyoto to visit Tofukuji, a classic Zen temple from the feudal era and most famous for its avenue of vivid red maples.
We then tour one of Kyoto’s most famous shrines, Fushimi-Inari Taisha. A vast shrine complex, it’s best known for the thousands of vermillion-red torii gates that frame the pilgrim paths winding through the woods of Mt Inari.
You couldn't visit Japan without seeing traditional sake-making and we do that in an area at the foot of the sacred Inari mountain. Sake making originally developed due to the pristine quality of its spring waters. We tour the Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum and learn about sake production and the different sake varieties.
During the day we enjoy a yakitori lunch (fine skewered food grilled over hot coals). Over dinner tonight you experience a special performance by a maiko (apprentice geisha), and have the opportunity to learn more about this enigmatic art form and the life of a modern-day geisha.
Day 3: Arashiyama (Kyoto)
In Arashiyama and Sagano, at the foot of the mountains to Kyoto’s west, you visit superb examples of Japanese gardens and bamboo groves of Arashiyama.
An authentic Kyoto rickshaw, a two-passenger wagon pulled by energetic young men in traditional garb, makes getting around the undulating hills that little bit easier. The chance to enjoy the dreamlike beauty of Kyoto in late autumn in this area of natural beauty is a real highlight.
Lunch is a classic Kyoto-style lunch of yudofu, freshly made from local tofu. On the way back to the hotel, we visit Kinkakuji Temple (Kyoto’s famed Golden Pavilion) to see the stunning three-storied pavilion covered in dazzling gold leaf. You return to Kyoto in the evening for a dinner with the group.
Day 4: Kyoto
In the morning, we take a tour of the Suntory Yamazaki Whisky Distillery, an opportunity to learn about the long but little-known history of whisky-making in Japan and to taste some premium single-malts celebrated worldwide.
The afternoon has been set aside to explore Kyoto on your own. You may like to participate in a workshop in paper-making, silk-weaving or indigo-dying. Or consider a cooking or sake-tasting class, alternatively, explore Kyoto’s bustling food and textile markets. Perhaps you prefer to wander around Kyoto’s great range of craft shops and department stores to see the amazing range on offer.
Day 5: Hiroshima
Over the next two days we journey to the western coast of the Japanese archipelago by Japan’s impressive bullet train – the shinkansen – to visit Hiroshima and Miyajima.
After spending a little time at Hiroshima's, Peace Memorial Park we move on to its informative and sobering museum to contemplate the devastating impact of the world’s first atomic bomb attack in August 1945.
Despite this history, present-day Hiroshima remains a very welcoming and vibrant city, characterised by wide boulevards and attractive leafy parks. Dinner tonight is at our hotel.
Day 6: Miyajima
A wonderful day out today starts with a short train and ferry ride to the island of Miyajima, best known for the vermillion-red floating torii gate of Itsukushima Shrine (a UNESCO World Heritage Site).
After admiring the gate, we begin a tour of the shrine. Originally constructed in 593 when Miyajima was designated a sacred island only to be inhabited by the gods, the shrine is also famous for its unique pier-like structure which sits above the tides. We visit pretty Momijidani Park, to see its trademark maple trees ablaze in colour.
Miyajima is also home to several important Buddhist temples and pavilions, as well as a popular shopping street near the waterfront with restaurants and souvenir shops. In the afternoon we return to our hotel in Hiroshima to explore on your own this evening.
Day 7: Nagoya
We leave Hiroshima by shinkansen bullet-train this morning for Nagoya – Japan’s manufacturing heartland.
Noritake Garden is our first visit, where the museum run by Noritake (Japan’s most famous porcelain maker) gives us an insight in to the beauty and fine quality of Japan’s ceramic arts. We enjoy the 'French'-style lunch at the much-lauded restaurant on the site, using the very fine porcelain we’ve just seen being made.
Then comes the fascinating tour the Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry & Technology. As you would guess, it showcases the latest in robotics and automotive technology but what is less known is it also showcases the traditional textile and weaving techniques (which is where the Toyota empire got its start). It’s a very interesting museum for both car and craft-lovers alike, because it provides an unusual insight in to the transition of Japan's transition to a modern nation.
Nagoya is also known for its own regional cuisine and we will sample some tonight.
Day 8: Nagoya
Nagoya may be Japan’s manufacturing heartland, but there is plenty of cultural history here too. Right in the middle of the cit (visible from our hotel). is Nagoya's Castle and this morning we will take the time understand what part it played in history.
This afternoon you can explore Nagoya on your own. You may choose to see another technology marvel on show in Nagoya, the MAGLEV (magnetic levitation) train museum. You will the seeing the progress of this technology that has achieved speeds of 1026 km/h. With simulators at the museum you will have the rare chance to to experience what riding on a MAGLEV train will be like.
On the other hand, you may care to see the totally opposite side of Nagoya and visit the Tokugawa Gardens, right next to the Tokugawa Art Museum. The Japanese style Shirotori gardens are well worth a visit.
Day 9: Hakone
Travelling northwards we head for Hakone, a scenic hot springs resort area located in the mountains near Mt Fuji and renowned for its natural beauty and world-class museums.
Walking through the Hakone Open-Air Museum is very special with its amazing sculptures from the likes of Henry Moore and Rodin, set against a spectacular backdrop of maple and cherry trees covered in autumn colour.
We also visit Narukawa Art Museum for an opportunity to see modern-day Japanese paintings and experience the exquisite view of Mt Fuji across Lake Ashi riding in on no less than a 'viking' ship.
Tonight you will have your first chance to soak in an authentic hot-spring onsen bath (drawn from natural mineral hot springs deep below the earth’s surface) and enjoy an elaborate kaiseki-style banquet.
Our guide will talk you through the rituals of the Japanese bath and explain why a visit to an onsen remains one of the nation’s most popular pastimes.
Day 10: Hakone and Tokyo
After a leisurely morning enjoying Hakone’s relaxed atmosphere, we travel to our final destination – Tokyo, the nation’s vibrant capital. Tokyo offers a captivating mix of the old and the ultra new. It is also steeped in great history and culture, making its mark as the seat of power in 1603 when the new shogun moved here.
We check-in to our Tokyo hotel and enjoy a dinner with the group.
Day 11: Tokyo
Tokyo at this time of the year is at its most splendid. Our private minivan, takes us on a tour of Imperial Palace grounds. Lunch is at Meiji Jingu Gaien, the expansive outer precinct of Tokyo’s most important shrine, and blanketed in golden-yellow gingko leaves at this time of year.
We also visit Rikugien (built in the early 1700s), viewed as one of Tokyo’s best gardens and an exemplary example of the stroll garden style. In late autumn, the maples transform the garden into vivid shades of red.
This evening is set aside for you to enjoy the colours of Tokyo at your leisure
Day 12: Kamakura
A day trip takes us to the historic seaside town of Kamakura, just south of Tokyo’s sprawling metropolis. The Japanese capital for a brief 150 years from 1185, Kamakura retains its strong Buddhist heritage and serene, contemplative atmosphere.
With over 100 temples and shrines dating from that era, including famous giant bronze Buddha constructed in 1252, Kamakura can be pleasantly explored on foot and the trip by its quaint local “Enoden” train is a feature in itself. It winds around numerous hills, temples, and wooden residences on its way to this beach side city.
Kamakura’s popular Komachi Street offers many craft shops and galleries, showcasing some high-quality handmade wares, and we recommend you a wander along the street.
Day 13: Tokyo
Our private minivan takes us to the old Tokyo neighbourhood of Asakusa, once home to the merchant class and artisans who rose to prominence as Edo (old Tokyo) developed.
Asakusa is also home to Tokyo’s oldest temple, the ever-popular Sensoji with its distinctive red Kaminari-mon gate and bustling market stalls.
After lunching at a local tempura restaurant, you have the afternoon free to explore Japan’s vibrant capital on your own. Let us know if you’d like us to arrange something specific. Otherwise, you could spend the afternoon visiting one of the city’s many museums, checking out the latest technology in Akihabara. For cultural 'shock', try café-hopping in fashionable Omotesando and Harajuku or enjoying the urban buzz of Shibuya. You should explore one of Japan’s mega-department stores and check out their impressive basement food halls.
Tonight, we catch-up one more time for a farewell dinner at a restaurant with great night views – a degustation meal of modern Japanese cuisine.
Day 14: Tokyo and Bon Voyage
This morning you will check out of your hotel after breakfast and your 2019 Autumn Tour of Japan - Classic Route concludes. You can depart from Narita or Haneda International Airport, or perhaps linger in Japan a little longer.
Ask Journey to the East to help you plan your personal tour extension.
Please note that there may be slight changes to the itinerary described above to accommodate changes in train timetables, opening hours, and hotel and restaurant availability.
All photographs on this web site are representative and are not a commitment to what may be on view on the day.
- 13 nights accommodation with daily breakfast
- Lunches and dinners as specified
- All public and private transport for the group itinerary
- ICOCA transport IC card pre-loaded with starter credit
- Airport meet & greet and private transfer to hotel upon arrival
- Government qualified English speaking local tour guides
- Cultural activities and entry fees as included in itinerary
- Luggage transfers (1 piece per person)
- International and domestic airfare (unless otherwise stated)
- Travel insurance
- Alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages
- Tips and gratuities (not routinely expected in Japan)
- Transport when not travelling with the group
- Personal expenses (laundry, internet, telephone, coin lockers etc.)
- Visa (if required)
Had a fabulous time with a great group of people. I loved the country, the culture, the people and everything about the tour – hope to do another tour with JTTE – maybe Hokkaido or Kyushu next time
Vivien Hewitt, Western Australia
This was my first trip with JTTE and already I am looking at the program for next year thinking about another one. I liked the fact that it was a small group, the organisation was spot on and the food everywhere was outstanding.
Dee Mason – NSW Australia