2020 Cherry Blossom Tour Central Japan
Experience Japan’s cherry blossoms on this breathtaking journey through Central Japan combining rustic alpine villages and a spectacular local festival with Japan’s big iconic sights – a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
Including the famous Takayama Spring Festival, the 2020 Cherry Blossom Tour – Central Japan is one of our most popular tours. Focusing on the mountain region of Central Japan, this 14-day tour takes you on an exhilarating journey through rustic villages and snow-capped mountains as the region’s cherry blossom trees come to life.
You will visit centuries-old thatched-roof farmhouses in a UNESCO mountain village, explore one of Japan’s oldest castles in Matsumoto, soak in mineral hot springs while catching views of Mt Fuji, and participate in the colour and spectacle of Takayama’s Spring Festival. The tour also introduces you to the sublime grandeur of Kyoto’s Buddhist temples, the refined samurai culture of Kanazawa, and the modern-day vibrancy of Tokyo.
Suited to people who like exploring a destination by foot, this tour takes you to some spectacular parts to experience first-hand the stunning natural beauty of Japan at cherry-blossom time. This tour capped at just 8 participants also provides some free time for you to do some exploring of your own.
Places visited: Tokyo, Kyoto, Shirakawa-go, Takayama (Festival), Kanazawa, Matsumoto and Kawaguchiko
Group size: Min 6, Max 8
Transport: Bullet train, public bus, taxi
Accommodation: 3.5 star hotels in Tokyo, Kyoto, Kanazawa and Matsumoto, Japanese style inns (with futon bed) in Kawaguchiko and Takayama
Fitness level: Average (please refer to FAQ)
Experience the refined beauty of Kyoto at peak cherry-blossom time
Participate in the famous Takayama Spring Festival in the Japan Alps
See the UNESCO-listed mountain village of Shirakawa-go
Soak in an onsen at a traditional inn beneath Mt Fuji
Catch your first cherry blossoms in Japan’s vibrant capital
Visit Kanazawa’s sublime Kenrokuen Garden – one of Japan’s top three Gardens – and its ancient cherry trees
Explore Japan’s oldest wooden castle in pretty Matsumoto
Take a traditional rickshaw ride through Kyoto backstreets
Day 1: Arrival
Welcome to your 2020 Cherry Blossom Tour of Central Japan. 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 by airport bus or train. After a good night’s sleep, you will be ready to start the first full day of your tour!
Day 2: Tokyo
After orientation with your guide, you begin your exploration of Tokyo. A vibrant city of soaring towers and sci-fi streetscapes, Japan’s capital is also steeped in great history, making its mark as the seat of power in 1603 when the new shogun moved here.
Today we travel by subway to the old neighbourhood of Asakusa, home to Tokyo’s oldest temple – the venerable Sensoji. After exploring the temple complex and bustling market stalls we stop for a local meal and then head to Shinjuku for cherry blossom viewing at Shinjuku Gyoen Park.
The vast park is a popular site for Japanese to gather under the cherry blossoms. We wander through the park to participate in this spring-time ritual. We celebrate the first night of our tour with a welcome dinner near our hotel.
Day 3: Tokyo
In the morning we explore the area of Harajuku, where you’ll find the expansive shrine complex of Meiji-jingu surrounded by a peaceful wooded park. For contrast, we wander through the teen pop-culture neighbourhood of Takeshita-dori. A little further on we come to the elegant Omotesando boulevard, it is the home to some of Japan’s most fashionable designer brands.
In the afternoon, Tokyo is yours to explore by yourself. Let us know if you’d like us to arrange something specific, otherwise you could spend the afternoon visiting the city’s many museums, checking out the latest technology in Akihabara, enjoying the urban buzz of Shibuya, or exploring one of Japan’s mega-department stores and their impressive basement food halls. Talk to our guides to arm yourself with some handy maps and tailored recommendations.
Day 4: Kyoto
We leave Tokyo’s bustling capital today by Japan’s super-express shinkansen (bullet train) for Japan’s beautiful old capital of Kyoto. Originally made capital in 794, Kyoto remains the cultural heart of Japan and is home to 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and a wealth of craft shops, museums and delightful cafes.
On arrival, we stop to enjoy a healthy lunch of shojin ryori (traditional vegetarian Buddhist fare), typical of Kyoto. Then it’s on to visit the best places in this former capital to enjoy the cherry blossoms in full bloom against the backdrop of traditional buildings and gardens.
In the evening over dinner, you’ll have the chance to meet a maiko (a geisha-in-training) and learn more about the fascinating life of a modern-day geisha.
Day 5: Kyoto (Arashiyama)
We travel to the lush region of Arashiyama and Sagano today in the mountains to Kyoto’s west.
The area is known for its natural beauty – sublime gardens, traditional villas, rivers and ravines set against a stunning mountain backdrop. It is also the place of many romantic legends and our guide will recount tales of melancholic lovers from days gone by.
Adding to the atmosphere, you’ll take a rickshaw ride (a two-passenger wagon pulled by young men in traditional dress) and travel through groves of thick bamboo.
Day 6: Kyoto (Free Day)
There is so much to see in Kyoto beyond its historical sites. Today is set aside for you to explore the things that interest you. Journey to the East is more than happy to help you sift through all the options and provide you with maps and recommendations.
You may like to participate in a tea-ceremony demonstration or indulge your inner-gourmet at a Japanese cooking classes or sake-tasting workshop. Alternatively, you may like to make a short trip to one of the neighbouring cities of Nara (Japan’s very first capital) or Osaka (a vibrant commercial hub).
Day 7: Takayama
Leaving Kyoto, today we head by express train towards Takayama.
Takayama is a historic playground and you will be transported back in time as we visit Takayama Jinya (once the prefectural office of the Tokugawa shogunate in feudal times) and wander the impossibly photogenic streets of the old merchant district. Some of the original wooden buildings in Takayama have been converted into small museums or boutique sake breweries.
Tonight for dinner you will enjoy another Takayama speciality – succulent marbled Hida beef cooked to perfection!
Day 8: Takayama – The Festival
The day kicks off with a visit to the morning market, which is believed to have been running for more than 200 years.
Our visit to Takayama is timed to coincide with the famous Takayama Spring Festival. Colourful floats are paraded through the town’s old merchant quarter. This afternoon, you are off to see the spectacular Takayama Festival Parade and soak in the atmosphere of this boisterous and colourful local celebration. Read more about the Takayama Spring Festival.
Day 9: Shirakawa-go and Kanazawa
Travelling by a private coach to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Shirakawa-go we spend this morning exploring this charming rural village surrounded by the Japan Alps.
The village’s famous thatched-roof farmhouses known as gassho-tsukuri (meaning “hands clasped together in prayer”) with their steeply-slanted roofs built to withstand the region’s heavy snowfalls are quite a site. We will learn about their construction and the way of life in the village.
Then, another very special location awaits us today as we head north to the Sea of Japan coast to Kanazawa. Kanazawa has historical lineage as a wealthy castle town steeped in samurai culture. It offers an impressive range of cultural attractions and beautifully preserved streetscapes.
Kanazawa is home to the beautiful Kenrokuen Garden. It is a castle garden dating back to the 17th century and regarded as one of three great gardens of Japan and a true highlight of any visit to Japan. We walk in this sublime garden and hope to top it off by catching some of the garden’s cherry trees in full blossom.
Dinner is a delicious meal of wagyu-beef, cooked to perfection on a sizzling hot teppanyaki grill.
Day 10: Kanazawa (Free Day)
This morning we explore the former samurai district to inspect a typical samurai residence and visit a craft centre with its displays of beautiful crafts typical of the region. Then it’s on to the Higashi Geisha District, a well-preserved area of atmospheric narrow streets where Kanazawa’s geisha once entertained wealthy patrons in slatted wooden tea houses.
Kanazawa has plenty to see and this afternoon has been set aside so you can explore this very walkable city at your leisure. You may like to visit the popular Omi-cho Market (a lively working market full of fishmongers and fresh food stalls) , the fascinating Myoruji (or “Ninja Temple”) or the 21st Century Museum of Art which its impressive array of contemporary Japanese and foreign art. Or, perhaps you may just like to wander the scenic backstreets and explore its many galleries and craft shops selling fine kimono fabrics, gilded lacquerware and ceramics.
Day 11: Matsumoto
Aboard the express trains again we head to Matsumoto in Nagano Prefecture, heartland of the Japan Alps. The city’s beginnings go back to the 8th century, later becoming an important castle town ruled by a powerful clan during Japan’s warring period.
Matsumoto’s feudal past is best exemplified today by the magnificent castle that dominates the city’s skyline. This is Japan’s oldest wooden castle and one of the nation’s four castles designated national treasures. We explore the castle’s wooden interior and climb to the top of its distinctive black-and-white turret for panoramic views. The castle garden is also home to a number of cherry trees and their blossoms. We also stroll the charming streets of the former merchant districts of Nakamichi and Nawate that lie at the foot of the castle along the Metoba River.
Day 12: Kawaguchiko & Mt Fuji
We travel north-east on a scenic train journey to the town of Kawaguchiko, located in the lakes district in the foothills of Mt Fuji. Kawaguchiko offers some breathtaking views of the majestic Mt Fuji, and its lakes and spring-time foliage only add to the natural beauty of the area.
Kawagughiko has another special treat at the Itchiku Kubota Art Museum. Here we will see some superb examples of kimono art using the centuries-old “shibori” tie-dyeing technique.
Tonight you stay at traditional Japanese inn, and have the chance to soak in a hot-spring onsen bath with dramatic views of Mt Fuji across the lake (weather permitting of course!). Dinner will be a multi-course Japanese kaiseki banquet and, fully relaxed after an onsen soak, you’ll nod off to sleep on your soft futon – the quintessential Japan experience!
Day 13: Tokyo
This morning you experience a traditional Japanese-style breakfast – a nutritious mix of grilled fish, miso soup, rice and pickles! You have a few more hours exploring Kawaguchiko’s lake and enjoying stunning views of Mt Fuji, before we return to our final destination – Tokyo.
You have time in the afternoon to do some final sightseeing or some last-minute shopping. We come together one last time for a farewell dinner of French-inspired Japanese cuisine in a Tokyo skyscraper with panoramic views of the iconic Tokyo Tower and the city’s night lights.
Day 14: Tokyo & Goodbye
This morning you check out of your hotel after breakfast and your 2020 Cherry Blossom Tour of Central Japan concludes.
(For those who have opted for post-trip extensions, we will liaise with you separately to plan your itinerary.)
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.
- 13 nights accommodation (including traditional inns)
- Lunches & dinners as specified
- Airport meet & greet and hotel transfer by public transport on arrival
- All local transport (train, bus and taxi)
- Pre-loaded Suica card for non JR travel in Tokyo and Kyoto
- Locally licensed English speaking tour guides
- Cultural activities and entry fees included in itinerary
- Luggage transfers (one suitcase per person)
Does not include:
- International airfare
- Travel insurance
- Alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages
- Tips and gratuities (not routinely expected in Japan)