2020 Cherry Blossom Tour of Northern Japan
A special tour to experience the later-blooming cherry blossoms in Northern Japan including Tohoku and Hokkaido. Against the backdrop of the region's stunning nature and rustic towns, they are truly spectacular!
One of Japan’s best-kept secrets is spring in Northern Japan. The Cherry Blossom in Northern Japan (Tohoku) and Hokkaido comes later in the year and it is absolute best and well worth the wait.
From Tokyo we head North to ancient Nikko, magnificent Matsushima, unforgettable Kakunodate and Hirosaki. Take a bullet train under the sea to Hokkaido (Japan’s large northern-most island) to fascinating Hakodate and on to Otaru and Sapporo. Just 8 guests makes this tour very personal.
Traversing the countryside so far north on this distinctive 13-day tour enables you to catch the very short cherry blossom season regardless of an early or late bloom. The culture and sights you will encounter on this tour make it well and truly standout, and are reflected in feedbacks from our past guests.
Places visited: Tokyo, Nikko, Sendai, Matsushima, Kakunodate, Hirosaki, Hakodate and Sapporo
Group size: Min 6, Max 8
Transport: Bullet train, public bus, private minivan and taxi
Accommodation: Average 4 star hotels and equivalent Japanese style inns (with futon bed)
Fitness level: Average (please refer to FAQ)
Experience the old and new in Japan’s vibrant capital
Explore Nikko’s UNESCO-listed Shinto shrine
Visit the northern feudal-era towns of Kakunodate & Hirosaki, famous for their avenues of cherry blossom trees
Cruise the pine-tree covered islands of Matsushima Bay
Admire hand crafted cherry blossom bark goods
Explore the old trading towns of Hokkaido with their European heritage
Walk in character filled cites of Sapporo
Experience the stunning night-time panorama of Hakodate from its summit
Day 1: Arrival
Welcome to your 2020 Cherry Blossom Tour of Northern 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 will be ready to start the first full day of your tour!
Day 2: Tokyo
Your tour starts by exploring Asakusa, one of the oldest parts of Tokyo and home to the venerable Sensoji Temple, originally constructed in 628. Take a stroll through the charming backstreets surrounding the temple complex.
In central Tokyo, the vast Imperial Palace and Marunouchi area with the moats surrounding gardens paint an amazing picture. A stroll of nearby Ginza and its glitzy central boulevard and traditional backstreets is a wonderful experience. The basement food hall of one Ginza’s department stores is the ideal spot to witness the dizzying range of beautifully presented food on display.
This evening, in Asakusa near where our hotel is based, we enjoy a delicious "welcome-to-Japan" meal in one of the local restaurants.
Day 3: Nikko
Waving goodbye to Japan’s bustling capital we board our first shinkansen (bullet train) for Nikko.
With its origins as a Buddhist mountain hermitage in the 8th century, Nikko rose to fame when it became the site of the mausoleum for the shogun (commander-in-chief in feudal Japan) unified Japan in 1603.
Walk with the guide through an impressive avenue of giant cedar trees to the highly decorated Toshogu Shrine which honours the shogun. Explore the extensive complex of shrine buildings enclosed within dense forest. Nikko is packed with history and curious sights.
Tonight offers the experience of traditional Japanese hospitality at a ryokan (Japanese inn). Try a mineral hot spring spa (onsen) and and an authentic kaiseki-style banquet for dinner. Tonight we sleep Japanese style on a soft futon on tatami mat flooring. The quintessential Japan experience!
Day 4: Matsushima
As part of Japan’s ryokan hospitality, breakfast this morning will be a traditional Japanese-style of grilled fish, miso soup, rice and pickles. Both filling and nutritious!
On the shinkansen (bullet train), we head north for the coastal town of Matsushima via the city of Sendai.
At Matsushima you will catch your breath, famous for its wide sweeping bay dotted by over 250 pine tree-covered islands. Its coast is also populated by tracts of cherry blossom trees. The scenery can only be described as unforgettable.
Day 5: Matsushima
Having gazed upon the bay from the cherry trees yesterday, today our guide takes us on a cruise around the islands of stunning Matsushima Bay . Over time, sea-winds have helped shape the pine trees on the small islets, and their twisted trunks silhouetted against rocky island outcrops are quite a sight.
Matsushima is a very pleasing location with much to keep your interest. We stop for a cup of frothy matcha green tea and traditional sweets at a centuries-old tea-house overlooking the beautiful bay. We then explore age-old Godaido and Zuiganji temples and simply stroll through the sights with the guide.
Day 6: Kakunodate
Today we head for the town of Kakunodate in Japan’s Tohoku region marks the start of the day.
Kakunodate is often referred to as “Tohoku’s little Kyoto” due to the cultural traditions. After the samurai era came to an end, they became very adept in fine ceramics, cherry-bark ware and other craft traditions, which you can still see being made in Kakunodate today.
The local feudal-period town is beautiful to stroll and at the peak of the cherry blossom it is almost dream like. Wander through the district with your guide for an enchanting insight into life in the samurai era.
For dinner, we enjoy Akita’s speciality hot pot dish, the hearty Kiritampo nabe.
Day 7: Kakunodate (Free Day)
Our tour today continues at a leisurely pace. Time has been set aside for you to take in the full glory of Kakunodate’s trademark avenues of cherry blossom trees – arguably some of the best cherry blossoms in the whole of Japan. Kakunodate is a stunningly quaint and beautiful little town especially at cherry blossom time.
Be sure to allocate enough time to wander the streets and pause at the little shops and stalls, step into the one-time residences of the lord and the samurai.
Day 8: Hirosaki
Next stop is the beautiful Hirosaki in Aomori Prefecture. Hirosaki originally developed as a castle town in feudal times. With a dominating view of the castle, it is one of the most picturesque spots in Tohoku.
The vibrant town combines a stunning rural setting with beautiful parks, a pretty temple district and a number of hip cafes and boutiques. In spring, the town literally erupts in a sea of soft pink colour as thousands of cherry trees respond to the warming weather. We take time out in this fairy tale town to see the ancient remains of Hirosaki Castle and enjoy a live music performance of Tsugaru shamisen, which is a unique local instrument, at dinner.
Day 9: Hakodate
Finally the shinkansen takes us through the under-sea tunnel to the northern island of Hokkaido and the city of Hakodate.
This historic port city with its 19th century streetscapes has a distinctly European feel. It was designated one of Japan’s two foreign trade ports that could legitimately engage with foreign traders, and that foreign influence and architecture make this city so intriguing.
In the evening we head up Mount Hakodate. From the summit-top restaurant there is a panoramic view of Hakodate all lit-up at night. Simply magnificent!
Day 10: Hakodate
The mix of cultures in this city will surprise you! Visit the Russian Orthodox church, located right next door to the Catholic Church and around the corner from the Episcopal Church. Then there is a Buddhist temple nearby just to help the contrast on the hillside Motomachi district.
You will visit the former British Embassy and tour the heritage Red Brick Warehouse district down on the waterfront to enjoy the beautiful harbour views.
The Ainu Museum included in the tour provides information on the diversity by celebrating the history and culture of Hokkaido’s indigenous people.
Day 11: Sapporo
An express train skirting the vast Uchiura Bay takes us to Sapporo, Hokkaido’s prefectural capital.
Sapporo is a welcoming cosmopolitan city with a lively food scene, fashionable shops and stylish cafes along with its wide boulevards and large public parks to match.
In late April and early May though, the atmosphere is distinctly spring-like, with masses of flowers on display in Odori Koen, the 1.5km-long stretch of public park in the city’s heart. Our guide takes us on a walking tour of central Sapporo, and to wander past buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
If you’re participating in the later departure of the Northern Japan Tours [GSN-20b], then today we also visit some spots in the city where you may see the cherry blossoms in full bloom.
Day 12: Otaru
A quaint little gem is on our agenda at the nearby picturesque town of Otaru. Otaru's special character stems from when the indigenous Ainu people mixed easily with Japanese, Chinese and Russian traders. Many of Otaru's old brick warehouses from the 19th century boom time are now attractive museums, glass workshops, boutique breweries and sake distilleries. Otaru’s charming central canal has a 'chocolate box' appearance with its Victorian-era street lamps. You just couldn't come to Hokkaido without visiting Otaru.
Back in Sapporo we visit the famous Sapporo Beer Museum for some taste-testing and gather tonight one more time for a farewell dinner to share our best memories of our trip.
Day 13: Sapporo & Goodbye
After breakfast your 2020 Cherry Blossom Tour of Northern Japan concludes. Your options include staying a little longer in Hokkaido, returning to Honshu (the main Island) by trains or flight, possibly exploring other parts of Japan, or flying directly to one of Tokyo’s International airports to connect with your outbound international flight. Or even leave Japan from the international airport not far from Sapporo. Do talk to us about each of the options.
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.
- 12 nights accommodation (including traditional inns)
- Lunches & dinners as specified
- All local transport on the group activities (train, bus and private coach)
- Pre-loaded Suica card (for local trains)
- Airport meet & greet and hotel transfer by public transport on arrival
- Locally licensed English speaking tour guides
- Cultural activities and entry fees indicated in the itinerary
- Luggage transfers (one piece per person)
Does not include:
- International or domestic airfares
- Travel insurance
- Alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages
- Tips and gratuities (not routinely expected in Japan)
- Any items not explicitly include in the itinerary