2020 Cherry Blossom Tour of Northern Japan
A special tour to experience the later-blooming cherry blossoms in Northern Japan. Against the backdrop of the region's stunning nature and rustic towns, they are truly spectacular!
Everyone knows one of the best seasons to visit Japan is at cherry blossom time. What they don’t know is one of Japan’s best-kept secrets – spring in Northern Japan is spring at its absolute best and well worth the wait!
This 2020 Cherry Blossom Tour of Northern Japan takes you to Japan’s cooler and less-visited regions: Tohoku (the northern part of the main island) and Hokkaido (Japan’s large northern-most island). This 13-day tour takes you on an exploration of this region, where centuries of isolation have ensured tracts of unspoiled natural beauty, unique traditions, and remarkably well-preserved samurai villages.
You will enjoy the warm hospitality of the people, great local food and sake, and rustic stays in mineral hot-spring towns as winter thaws and the cherry blossoms burst open. This is a perfect tour for people who enjoy the outdoors and exploring by foot, or for repeat visitors keen to discover the Japan that lies beyond the big southern cities. For first-timers, why not combine this authentic Japan trip to experience Japan’s best cherry blossoms with some extra days exploring the more traditionally visited sights of Kyoto?
Please note this tour offers two dates: the first tour date targets cherry blossom time in Tohoku (the towns of Kakunodate and Hirosaki) and the second tour date targets the cherry blossom time in Hokkaido (the cities of Hakodate and Sapporo).
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
Today we explore Asakusa, one of the oldest parts of Tokyo and home to the venerable Sensoji Temple, originally constructed in 628. We stroll through the charming backstreets surrounding the temple complex and stop for lunch at a popular local restaurant.
Then we head back to the Central Tokyo, the Imperial Palace and Marunouchi area and explore the moats surroundings the vast Imperial Palace area. It is also a great location to find the best place to enjoy flowering cherry trees in bloom. If time allows, we then head to nearby Ginza to stroll its glitzy central boulevard and traditional backstreets. 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
Today we leave Japan’s bustling capital by 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 who unified Japan in 1603.
These days you walk through an impressive avenue of giant cedar trees before arriving at the highly decorated Toshogu Shrine which honours the shogun. There will be time to explore the extensive complex of shrine buildings enclosed within dense forest.
Tonight you’ll have your first opportunity to experience traditional Japanese hospitality at a ryokan. A mineral hot spring spa (onsen) is included in our accommodation and we eat 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 breakfast of grilled fish, miso soup, rice and pickles. Both filling and nutritious!
Back onboard the shinkansen, we head north for the coastal town of Matsushima via the city of Sendai.
Matsushima is 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.
Dinner is a kaiseki banquet featuring oyster dishes, Matsushima’s most famous food.
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 Matsushima Bay .
Over time, sea-winds have helped shape the pine trees, and their twisted trunks silhouetted against rocky island outcrops are quite a sight.
Back on land, we stop for a cup of frothy matcha green tea and traditional sweets ( part of the tea ceremony tradition) at a centuries-old tea-house overlooking the beautiful bay. We then explore age-old Godaido and Zuiganji temples.
Day 6: Kakunodate
Journeying further north, we take the shinkansen to the town of Kakunodate in Japan’s Tohoku region.
Kakunodate is often referred to as “Tohoku’s little Kyoto” due to the cultural traditions introduced from the south when the town was designated a vital northern stronghold. The samurai brought with them fine ceramics, cherry-bark ware and other craft traditions, which you can still see being made in Kakunodate today.
The local feudal-period castle was destroyed long ago, however, the old samurai and merchant districts remain remarkably unchanged since the 1600s. Wonder through these districts with your guide for a fascinating insight into life in the samurai era.
For dinner, we enjoy Akita’s speciality hotpot 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 lords and the samurai.
Day 8: Hirosaki
The bullet train will take us further into the remote upper reaches of Japan’s main island. Another beautiful spot is Hirosaki in Aomori Prefecture where we stop for the night. Hirosaki too was originally developed as a castle town in feudal times.
Today, it’s a vibrant town combining 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 to see ancient remains of Hirosaki Castle and enjoy a local live music performance in the evening.
Day 9: Hakodate
This morning we leave Japan’s main Island on the shinkansen (through the undersea tunnel) for 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 is still visible today. The influence of history has left Haodate with stacks of interesting and unusual things to see.
We look around the town’s centre, and come night-time, we head up Mount Hakodate. Here from our summit-top restaurant there is a panoramic view of Hakodate all lit-up at night . Simply magnificent!
Day 10: Hakodate
We continue our tour of Hakodate’s multicultural history today. The variety will surprise you! We visit the Russian Orthodox church, located right next door to the Catholic Church and round the corner from the Episcopal Church. Then there is Buddhist temple nearby just to help the contrast on the hillside Motomachi district.
A visit the former British Embassy and tour the heritage Red Brick Warehouse district down on the waterfront plus the beautiful harbour views bring the whole scene together.
The Ainu Museum included in the tour helps with the diversity by celebrating the history and culture of Hokkaido’s indigenous people.
Day 11: Sapporo
An express train takes us to Sapporo, Hokkaido’s prefectural capital. The train trip skirts vast Uchiura Bay on the way.
With its wide boulevards and large public parks, Sapporo is a welcoming, cosmopolitan city with a lively food scene, fashionable shops and stylish cafes.
In early February, the city’s population swells with the Sapporo Snow Festival, one of the most popular events in Japan. In April 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 we stop to look at the historic Clock Tower built in 1878, and wander past other early buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
(If you’re participating in the later Northern Japan tour [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
Another quaint little gem is on our agenda today at the nearby picturesque town of Otaru.
Once Otaru was a vibrant trading centre where the indigenous Ainu people mixed easily with Japanese, Chinese and Russian traders. Otaru today has converted many of its brick warehouses from the 19th century boom times into 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.
We return to Sapporo to 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 (Main Island) by trains (and possibly exploring other parts of Japan) or flying directly to Tokyo’s Narita International or Haneda airports to connect with your outbound international flight. 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