2021 Cherry Blossom Spectacular Tour of Japan
A comprehensive Japan experience taking you on a magical journey across Japan at cherry blossom time, packed full of cultural activities and genuine immersion
Our most comprehensive cherry blossom tour available only to 8 guests, the 2021 Cherry Blossom Spectacular Tour of Japan truly delivers the magic of Japan in spring.
Over 17 days, you follow a route specifically selected to reveal the explosion of colour as the cherry blossom buds burst open. You visit Japan’s most iconic sights in Tokyo and Kyoto, travel down to Hiroshima and the splendid island of Miyajima in the country’s western reaches. The tour also explores Japan’s spectacular alpine regions.
You will walk through the old samurai towns of Matsumoto and Kanazawa and catch views of majestic Mt Fuji while soaking in an onsen spa in Kawaguchiko. For visitors comfortable travelling at a reasonable pace and exploring by foot, this is a perfect introduction to Japan’s diverse landscapes as well as its classic sights and hidden treasures.
Offering a strong focus on discovery and cultural immersion, this tour incorporates some unique elements exclusive to Journey to the East, such as a private reception with a Buddhist priest and closed-group tea ceremony with a tea master. One of our most popular trips, this small-group tour offers you a journey of a lifetime at one of the most magical times to visit Japan!
Places visited: Tokyo, Kamakura, Nagoya, Hiroshima, Miyajima, Kyoto, Kanazawa, Matsumoto and Kawaguchiko
Group size: Min 4, Max 8
Transport: Bullet train, express and commuter trains, ferry, bus and taxi
Accommodation: 4 star hotels and equivalent Japanese style inns
Fitness level: Average (please refer to FAQ)
Catch your first cherry blossoms in Japan’s bustling capital
Soak in an onsen at a traditional inn beneath Mt Fuji
Journey to western Japan to see Hiroshima & Miyajima
Experience the tea ceremony in a tea master’s private home
Experience the refined beauty of Kyoto at peak cherry-blossom time
Interact first-hand with a Japanese Buddhist monk
Explore Japan’s oldest wooden castle in Matsumoto and the feudal castle town of Kanazawa
Gaze at the serene face of Kamakura’s Big Buddha
Day 1: Arrival
Welcome to your 2021 Cherry Blossom Spectacular Tour of Japan. On arrival at one of Tokyo’s international airports, you’ll 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’ll be ready to start the first full day of your tour!
Day 2: Tokyo
Start with a bang, visiting some of the top cherry-blossom viewing spots in Tokyo and learn why the cherry blossom has been cherished by the Japanese for centuries.
Take a subway ride to Asakusa, one of the oldest parts of Tokyo and home to the venerable Sensoji Temple. Stroll through the charming backstreets surrounding the temple complex and stop for lunch at a local tempura restaurant.
Next, take a cruise along the nearby Sumida River to admire the spectacular view of flowering cherry trees along Asakusa’s riverbank. Then it’s off to Ginza for a guided tour of Ginza’s glitzy central boulevard and traditional backstreets.
We’ll also visit the basement food hall of one Ginza’s department stores most noteworthy for the range of beautifully presented food on display.
Tonight’s welcome dinner is at Shiodome, an urban redevelopment zone on Tokyo’s waterfront. Here you’ll enjoy exquisite Japanese cuisine with stunning views of the lights of Tokyo Bay at night.
Day 3: Tokyo
Journey to the East exclusive experience! Today you have the unique opportunity to spend time with a Japanese tea master in their own home to learn about the “Way of Tea”, the Japanese tea ceremony. The tea master will explain the philosophy behind the tea ceremony ritual and the individual steps involved in preparing the ultimate bowl of frothy matcha tea. Over a traditional lunch you will be able to ask all the questions you like about this ancient tradition.
In the afternoon, we take a walking tour through the local suburb to get a sense of the everyday life of a Tokyo local and visit lovely Inokashira Park, which draws people from across the city when its cherry blossoms burst open in spring.
Day 4: Kamakura
We make a day-trip to the historic seaside town of Kamakura today, just south of Tokyo’s sprawling metropolis.
Capital for a brief 150 years from 1185, Kamakura retains its strong Buddhist heritage and contemplative atmosphere. With over 100 temples and shrines dating from that era, including a giant bronze Buddha constructed in 1252, Kamakura can be pleasantly explored on foot and by its quaint local “Enoden” train.
Our guide will take you to a couple of the best temple gardens where you can see some classic examples of flowering cherry trees in full bloom. On the way back to the station, we’ll stop at Kamakura’s popular Komachi Street to check out its numerous craft shops and galleries showcasing some beautiful handmade wares.
After catching the train back to Tokyo you have the evening free to try one of Tokyo’s many fantastic restaurants. You may like to try a ritzy restaurant in Ginza or perhaps a Japanese style pub in Shimbashi. Your guide will help you with the choice.
Day 5: Nagoya
Heading west by shinkansen, we stop in Nagoya to show you the industrial heartland that tells you about another important side of Japan. This is where you will see first hand how Japan grew to be one of the world's manufacturing giants.
Our tour takes us to Noritake Garden, a museum run by Noritake (Japan’s most famous porcelain maker), to learn about Japan’s ceramic arts. We also visit the Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry & Technology which showcases not only the latest in robotics and automotive technology but also traditional textile techniques (which is where the Toyota empire got its start).
Dinner is at a local yakitori restaurant (skewered food grilled over hot coals).
Day 6: Nagoya and Hiroshima
Journey to the East exclusive experience! Our tour today includes a special cultural experience 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 head priest. He will provide a rare insight into Japanese Buddhism and take you on a private tour of the attached monastery, not normally open to the public.
After spending a couple of days in Nagoya, we hop back on board the shinkansen and journey down Japan’s western coast to the iconic sites of Hiroshima and Miyajima. Today you have an opportunity to select one of the beautifully packed obento boxes to eat on a train like Japanese do!
In Hiroshima we visit the Memorial Peace Park and its informative museum, and contemplate the devastating impact of the world’s first atomic bomb dropped over the city in August 1945. Despite its tragic past, present-day Hiroshima remains a very welcoming and vibrant city, characterized by wide boulevards and attractive leafy parks.
Hiroshima is also known for its boisterous night life and we enjoy some of its characteristic cuisine and hearty welcome over dinner tonight.
Day 7: Miyajima
This morning, a short ferry ride takes us to one of Japan’s top scenic sites – Miyajima. This sacred island is best known for the vermillion-red floating torii gate that sits in the sea in front of Itsukushima Shrine (a UNESCO World Heritage Site).
After admiring the gate, we begin a tour of the shrine, which was originally constructed in 593 when the island was designated a sacred island to be inhabited only by the gods. You’ll have time in the afternoon to stroll around Miyajima’s Buddhist temples, or take the rope-way to the top of the island for breathtaking views of the Inland Sea.
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 multi-course kaiseki banquet at a ryokan inn, where you’ll experience traditional Japanese hospitality at its best. Your first chance to enjoy sleeping on comfortable futon on tatami-mat floors!
Day 8: Kyoto
We leave island life and head back to Hiroshima to catch a shinkansen to our next destination – Kyoto, that most iconic of cities.
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.
Nourished by a healthy lunch of shojin ryori (traditional vegetarian Buddhist fare), we head to the best place to enjoy Kyoto’s cherry blossoms in full bloom. Depending on the season, we may head to the vast Heian Jingu Shrine complex with its colourful torii gate and weeping cherry trees. Alternatively, we may stroll along the Path of Philosophy at the foot of the northern Higashiyama mountains and its scenic canal lined by a breathtaking avenue of cherry trees.
Day 9: Kyoto (Arashiyama)
A day trip today is to the lush region of Arashiyama and Sagano 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 love-sick 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 garb) and travel through groves of thick bamboo.
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 10: Kyoto (Free Day)
Kyoto is packed with things to see and do. So we set aside today for you to explore this captivating city on your own.
You may like to participate in a workshop in paper-making, silk-weaving or indigo-dying, or do a cooking or sake-tasting class. Or you may like to explore some of Kyoto’s bustling food and textile markets, or visit some of its many museums and galleries.
We provide recommended plans for our clients (depending on your area of interest), and don’t hesitate to speak to us if you have something specific you’d like to do.
Day 11: Kanazawa
Leaving Kyoto, we head by express train to the city of Kanazawa on the Sea of Japan coast.
With its historical heritage as a wealthy castle town, Kanazawa offers a huge array of cultural attractions. Beautifully preserved and small in scale, Kanazawa is best explored on foot.
Kanazawa is also home to the sublime Kenrokuen Garden, a castle garden dating back to the 17th century and which is regarded as one of the three great gardens of Japan. We visit this garden today and appreciate some of its ancient flowering cherry trees.
The tour will also take you through the Higashi Geisha District, a well-preserved area of narrow streets where immaculately presented geisha once entertained patrons in slatted wooden tea houses.
For dinner, tender wagyu-beef will be plated, cooked to perfection on a sizzling hot teppanyaki grill.
Day 12: Kanazawa
The day starts with a guided tour through the atmospheric streets of the Nagamachi district where samurai lords and their families once resided. The area is so well preserved, you can easily imagine walking along the street with a samurai.
The afternoon is free for you to explore. You may like to wander around the Kanazawa Castle area where you’ll find cherry blossom trees, or explore some of the high-end galleries and craft-shops offering all sorts of exquisite kimono, lacquerware and handmade products typical of the region. There are sake breweries and Kanazawa speciality stores to wander through.
Day 13: Matsumoto
Another train ride and you are in Matsumoto in Nagano Prefecture, heartland of the Japan Alps.
Matsumoto’s beginnings go back to the 8th century, later becoming an important castle town ruled by a powerful clan in the 1600s. Its feudal past is best exemplified today by the impressive castle that dominates the city’s skyline. Enjoy the fresh alpine air and visit some of Japan’s best-preserved merchant-style houses in Matsumoto’s old town precinct, notable for their striking lattice-walled design.
Matsumoto is also popular for its cosmopolitan atmosphere and galleries set amongst a stunning alpine setting. Today we visit the Matsumoto City Museum of Art featuring the avant-garde works of internationally-renowned artist Yayoi Kusama.
Day 14: Matsumoto
Our guide takes us on a tour today of Matsumoto’s castle, Japan’s oldest wooden castle and one of the nation’s four castles designated national treasures. To explore the castle’s wooden interior we climb to the top of its distinctive black-and-white turret. The castle garden is also home to a number of flowering cherry trees, which we hope will be in blossom during our visit.
In the afternoon, we visit a nearby wasabi farm and enjoy the rural setting and the contrast between the green of wasabi and the pink of cherry blossoms.
Day 15: Kawaguchiko (Mt Fuji)
We travel eastward 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.
Tonight you will stay at another 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.
Day 16: Kawaguchiko and Tokyo
This morning you experience a traditional Japanese-style breakfast – a nutritious mix of grilled fish, miso soup, rice and pickles!
Before leaving Kawaguchiko, a visit to Itchiku Kubota Art Museum is a treat, where you see superb examples of kimono art using the centuries-old “shibori” tie-dyeing technique.
After arriving back in Tokyo, 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 17: Goodbye
This morning after breakfast and your 2021 Cherry Blossom Spectacular Tour of Japan concludes. You can return to Tokyo by train or air to fly home, or depart from Osaka’s Kansai International Airport. Perhaps you might like to linger in Japan for a little longer. We will be delighted to plan your personal post-tour extension to show you a different part of Japan.
Note: The cost of an escorted transfer to your departure airport is not included in our Small Group Tours (as we found many guests choose to stay in Japan a bit longer), but we will be happy to arrange your transfer to next destination or to exit airport. Please see our FAQ for more details.
(For those who have opted for pre or 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.
- 16 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
- Locally licensed English speaking tour guides
- Most cultural activities and entry fees included in itinerary
- Luggage transfers (1 piece per person)
Does not include:
- International and domestic airfare (unless otherwise stated)
- Transfer on the last day
- Travel insurance
- Alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages
- Tips and gratuities (not routinely expected in Japan)
- Transport during free time
- Personal expenses (laundry, internet, telephone, coin lockers etc.)
- Visa (if required)