2020 Autumn Colours Spectacular Tour of Japan
Our most comprehensive and popular tour of Japan showcasing the spectacular autumn colours as the name suggests. It is packed with all the must-see sites of Japan, cultural activities and memorable experiences.
The Autumn Colours Spectacular is our most comprehensive autumn tour, and due to popular demand we have created two departures in 2020. It takes you on a 16-day journey to experience the best of the country at autumn’s peak. You explore Japan’s most iconic sights in Tokyo, Kyoto, Nikko and Mt Fuji, travel to Hiroshima and the beautiful island of Miyajima. The alpine regions of Matsumoto and Takayama provide the rural experiences.
For visitors who are looking for the variety and the broadest range of experiences, this tour travels at a reasonable pace with guided excursions in to the back streets on foot. This is a perfect introduction to the country’s diverse landscapes as well as its classic highlights and its many hidden treasures.
This trip incorporates some unique elements exclusive to Journey to the East, such as a private reception with a Buddhist priest and a closed-group tea ceremony with a tea master. The tour gives you some intimate insights into Japan’s most enigmatic of traditions.
One of our most popular trips, this tour offers you a journey of a lifetime at one of the most magical times to visit Japan – autumn!
Places visited: Tokyo, Nikko, Kawaguchiko, Matsumoto, Takayama, Shirakawa-go, Nagoya, Hiroshima, Miyajima and Kyoto
Group size: Maximum 8
Transport: Extensive use of public transport (bullet train, express & commuter trains, ferry, bus and taxi)
Accommodation: Local boutique-style accommodation (similar to 4-star) including Japanese inns
Fitness level: Average (please refer to FAQ)
Tour type: Signature
Explore Nikko’s UNESCO-listed shinto shrine
Soak in an onsen at a traditional inn at the foot of Mt Fuji
Enjoy the tea ceremony in a tea master’s own home
Journey to western Japan to see Hiroshima & Miyajima
Explore Japan’s oldest wooden castle and merchant houses at Matsumoto & Takayama
Interact first-hand with a Japanese Buddhist monk
Visit the UNESCO World Heritage Village of Shirakawa-go
Experience the refined beauty of Kyoto in autumn
Day 1: Arrival in Tokyo
Welcome to 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. After a good night’s sleep, you will be ready to start the first full day of your 2020 Autumn Colours Spectacular Tour of Japan.
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 and culture, making its mark as the seat of power in 1603 when the new shogun moved here.
You will experience Tokyo's super efficient subway on the way to the old Tokyo neighbourhood of Asakusa. It was once home to the merchant class and artisans who rose to prominence as Edo (old Tokyo). 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, we visit the upmarket shopping district of Ginza, the first part of Tokyo to modernise as the country opened up in the late 19th century and began constructing its first western-style buildings.
We take a walking tour through Ginza’s backstreets, passing by tiny galleries, traditional ware shops and the venerable Kabuki-za Theatre. Also on the way we visit a department store’s basement food hall to see the amazing range of Japanese food and confectionery on display.
You have time to explore Tokyo in the late afternoon before we come together for a welcome dinner of modern Japanese degustation cuisine at a restaurant with great night views.
Day 3: Nikko
We make a day-trip to the UNESCO listed site of Nikko today by Japan’s impressive bullet-train – the shinkansen.
Nikko's origins go back as a mountain hermitage for a Buddhist priest in the 8th century. Nikko rose to fame in the 17th century when it was chosen as the site for the mausoleum of powerful Tokugawa Ieyasu, the shogun who unified Japan in 1603.
Upon arrival at Nikko, you will travel in a private mini bus firstly to the Nikko National Park. Nikko is one of Japan's most popular destination to admire the stunning coloured foliage. It is truly beautiful against Chuzenji Lake and Kegon-no-taki with its dramatic 100-metre waterfall. Through the famous Iroha slope, you will arrive at Toshogu Shrine and walk through an impressive avenue of giant cedar trees. The highly decorated shrine honours the Tokugawa shogun. There will be time to explore the extensive complex of shrine buildings enclosed within dense forest before heading back to Tokyo. It is a long day but well worth it.
We return to Tokyo in the evening where the evening is yours to explore Tokyo’s many dining options.
Day 4: Tokyo
Today you take a deep dive into Japanese culture by learning about the “Way of Tea”, the Japanese tea ceremony. You have the unique opportunity to spend a day with a Japanese tea master in her own home in a quiet Tokyo suburb – something only available to Journey to the East travellers.
The tea master will take you through the philosophy behind the tea ceremony ritual and the individual steps and utensils involved in preparing the ultimate bowl of frothy matcha tea. Over a traditional tea-ceremony lunch you can ask all the questions you like about this ancient tradition.
In the afternoon, we take a walking tour through this attractive suburb to get a sense of the everyday life of a Tokyo local. We take time to visit the lovely Inogashira Park, which draws people from all over Tokyo when its trees are covered in autumn colours.
In the evening you have another chance to explore Tokyo a little more on your own.
Day 5: Mt Fuji and Kawaguchi-ko
An express train takes us to Kawaguchi-ko, a town located in the scenic Fuji Five Lakes district in the foothills of Mt Fuji. Kawaguchi-ko offers some breathtaking views of Mt Fuji, with the lakes and autumn foliage of the surrounding area framing Japan’s highest mountain and iconic national symbol.
You also visit Itchiku Kubota Art Museum to see some superb examples of kimono art using the centuries-old “shibori” tie-dyeing technique.
Tonight you have your first chance to stay in a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn, where you can experience an authentic kaiseki-style banquet and a soak in a hot-spring onsen bath with dramatic views of Mt Fuji across the lake (weather permitting of course!). Restored and relaxed after a day of exploration, we think you’ll soon fall asleep on the comfortable futon bedding in your traditional tatami-mat room. Japanese ryokan hospitality at its best!
Day 6: Matsumoto
You start the day with another new experience, a traditional Japanese-style breakfast – a nutritious, protein-charged mix of grilled fish, miso soup, tofu, rice and pickles!
Aboard an express train, we head for Matsumoto in Nagano Prefecture, in the heartland of the Japan Alps. Surrounded by mountains, Matsumoto’s beginnings go back to the 8th century, later becoming an important castle town ruled by a powerful local clan during Japan’s feudal period. Today the city is popular for its cosmopolitan atmosphere, galleries, and stunning alpine setting.
After arriving in Matsumoto, the rest of the afternoon is free. You can walk around the well-preserved old merchant district with the guide, or visit Matsumoto Art Gallery where many of famous contemporary artist, Yayoi Kusama's work are displayed.
Tonight you enjoy fine Italian style fusion cuisine for dinner, prepared from some of Matsumoto’s freshest local produce.
Day 7: Matsumoto and Takayama
A visit to the impressive Matsumoto Castle begins the day. The castle is Japan’s oldest wooden castle and one of the nation’s five castles designated as national treasures. Still in impeccable original condition, you will explore its wooden interiors and climb to the top of its distinctive black-and-white turret.
You then take a coach trip across a spectacular mountain pass to the town of Takayama, the heart of the rugged Hida Region. You will wander back in time through Takayama’s beautifully preserved streets of old timber merchant houses in this most atmospheric and compact of towns – best explored on foot.
Food-wise, Takayama’s specialty is Hida beef and tonight we’ll enjoy a sumptuous meal of local marbled beef for dinner.
Day 8: Takayama and Shirakawa-go
We set out to visit Takayama’s morning market with its heritage goes back some 200 years (!) to check out its farm-fresh produce and handmade crafts.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Shirakawa-go is next on the agenda. We spend a few hours exploring this charming rural village surrounded by mountains and autumn colour. The village’s famous thatched-roof farm houses are known as gassho-zukuri (meaning “hands clasped together in prayer”). Their steeply-slanted roofs are built to withstand the region’s heavy snowfalls. You will learn about their history and unusual construction as you walk through the village.
Back in Takayama you have a few hours of free time to wander around Takayama’s old merchant precinct and visit some boutique sake breweries or craft shops, or stop for a break in one of the town’s delightful cafes. The evening is also free for you to try some of Takayama's fine restaurants.
Day 9: Nagoya
We change pace and focus today by returning to Japan’s eastern coast and visiting the city of Nagoya – Japan’s manufacturing heartland.
We first visit Noritake Garden, a museum run by Noritake (Japan’s most famous porcelain maker), to learn about the beauty and fine quality of Japan’s ceramic arts. The 'French-style' lunch at the much-lauded restaurant on the site is served on the very fine porcelain we’ve just seen being made.
The captivating Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry & Technology surprises all. It showcases not only the latest in robotics and automotive technology but also traditional textile and weaving techniques, where the Toyota empire got its start. It’s a very interesting, hands-on museum for both car and craft lovers alike. You will get a sense of the amazing part this company has played in the Japan you see today.
Dinner is at a local yakitori restaurant (skewered food grilled over hot coals) in Nagoya book-ends the day.
Day 10: Nagoya
We are in store for a very special cultural experience today, it is only available to Journey to the East guests. We visit one of Nagoya’s main temples where we have a private reception with the engaging senior priest. He will provide a rare insight into Japanese Buddhism, past and present, and take you on a private tour of the attached monastery, not normally open to the public.
In the afternoon we journey down the western coast of the Japanese archipelago by shinkansen bullet-train to visit the iconic sites of Hiroshima and island of Miyajima, where we spend the next two days. Before we leave Nagoya Station, we buy some traditional eki-ben (o-bento lunchboxes available at stations across Japan) so we can sample the typical meal consumed by millions of Japanese train travellers as they speed around the country!
Day 11: Hiroshima and Miyajima
In Hiroshima we spend the morning at the Peace Memorial Park and its informative and sobering museum, contemplating the devastating impact of the world’s first atomic bomb attack in 1945.
It is a short train and ferry ride to the island of Miyajima. The island best known for the vermillion-red floating torii gate of Itsukushima Shrine (a UNESCO World Heritage Site).
We tour Itsukushima Shrine which was originally constructed in 593 when the island was designated a sacred island only to be inhabited by the gods. The shrine’s unique pier-like structure (which appears to float above the tides) was restored to its present state in 1168.
We stay on the island overnight, to enjoy the evening quiet after the day-trippers have left and to perhaps capture a photo of the famous torii gate at sunset. Dinner is a kaiseki banquet at our ryokan.
Day 12: Miyajima
You have time to explore Miyajima on your own this morning. You may like to take the ropeway ride to the top of the island for 360-degree panoramic views of the islands of the Seto Inland Sea. You are bound to meet a few of the island’s wild deer as you wander around the peak and the island’s verdant forests.
Miyajima is also home to several important Buddhist temples and pavilions, as well as a popular shopping street, with its restaurants and souvenir shops, near the waterfront.
In the afternoon we head back to the main island of Honshu and catch a shinkansen bullet-train to our final destination – Kyoto, that most iconic of cities.
Day 13: 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 traditional craft shops, refined restaurants. You can't miss the ancient temples and Shinto shrines, contemplative gardens, tea-ceremony demonstrations, and other-worldly performances of noh and kabuki theatre.
Today you will be guided through atmospheric backstreets to discover the best of Japan’s ceramic and textile traditions. You will also visit some of Kyoto’s finest temples and gardens to appreciate their Buddhist aesthetic and magnificent autumn displays. Pausing at one of the delightful street-side cafés along the way always holds its own unique sites and interests.
This evening you will visit Kyoto's Nishiki Market followed by a cooking class to learn to make some popular Japanese dishes.
Day 14: Arashiyama
In Arashiyama and Sagano, at the foot of the mountains to Kyoto’s west, you visit some superb examples of Japanese garden design in autumn’s peak. You’ll also experience a rickshaw ride, a two-passenger wagon pulled by energetic young men in traditional garb, to go through Arashiyama's famous bamboo grove. We take you deeper into Sagano (Okusaga) to explore some hidden Buddhist temples and to fully experience the rustic simplicity and serenity of mountain temples away from the tourist crowds.
For lunch, you sample Kyoto’s traditional tofu cuisine, a local specialty which has its roots in Kyoto’s Buddhist vegetarian past. The chance to experience the dreamlike beauty of Kyoto’s mountains glowing in autumn colour is a real highlight of the day. You return to Kyoto to enjoy the evening at your leisure.
Day 15: Kyoto (Free Day)
Today you have the day to explore this captivating city on your own. You may like to explore more of the parks and gardens in their autumn colours, or participate in a workshop in paper-making, silk-weaving or indigo-dying. How about exploring Kyoto’s bustling food and textile markets? Or you may prefer to wander around Kyoto’s great range of craft shops and department stores for some last-minute shopping. Let us know if you’d like us to arrange anything specific for you.
At our farewell dinner at a shabu shabu restaurant serving wagyu beef, we have a maiko (apprentice geisha) join us for a private performance. You have the unique opportunity to engage with her in person and learn more about this centuries-old art form and the life of a modern-day geisha.
Day 16: Kyoto and Bon Voyage
This morning you will check out of your hotel after breakfast and your 2020 Autumn Colours Spectacular Tour of Japan concludes. You can depart from Osaka’s Kansai International Airport, or travel by train or air to return to Tokyo to fly home. Perhaps you may want to linger in Japan for 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.
- 15 nights accommodation with daily breakfast
- Lunches and dinners as specified
- All public and private transport for the group itinerary
- SUICA transport IC card preloaded with starter credit
- Government qualified English speaking local guides
- Entry fees to the attractions included in the itinerary
- Luggage transfers (1 piece per person)
- International and domestic airfare
- Travel insurance
- Alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages
- Tips and gratuities (not routinely expected in Japan)
- Transport other than JR services and covered by IC card (unless otherwise stated)
- 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