2021 Snow and Flowers Tour of Japan
February is wonderful time to visit Japan. The countryside is still covered deep in snow like white blanket and the coastal towns are bursting with early spring flowers. It is a little known secret that you can even enjoy beautiful cherry blossom while travelling through relatively less crowded Japan.
2021 Snow and Flowers Tour of Japan allows guests to experience walking on pure white soft snow in the countryside of Japan and catch the early spring flowers including the magnificent early-flowering species of cherry blossoms on one tour! The tour travels in the less crowded season as well as off-the-beaten-track locations such as villages of Nagano and Izu Peninsula.
This 13-day journey includes Japan’s vibrant capital Tokyo, the scenic lakes district for best views of iconic Mt Fuji and the ever-popular ancient capital, Kyoto. However the real highlights of the tour will be the snow covered villages and pilgrimage walks of Nagano region and beautiful coastal villages bursting in pink at Izu Peninsula. These places are less visited by international tourists, especially off-season of February. The villages are filled with local culture, charming shops, small museums and galleries and warm hospitality of local residents.
Along the way, we stay in small, family-run traditional ryokan inn at a few locations and bathe in natural hot springs baths. It is true that February in Japan is cold but soaking in a hot tub looking at the snow covered mountains, Mt Fuji or the Pacific Ocean are the experiences you do not want to miss. You will also witness the first spring flowers of the year such as peonies and plum blossoms.
The tour is limited to only 8 guests, and is well suited to fit and active travellers who enjoy exploring this beautiful country through short walks. This trip is an authentic introduction to Japan and its diverse landscapes, history and culture as the country emerges from winter into early spring-time.
Places visited: Tokyo, Kamakura, Shibu Onsen, Obuse, Nagano, Togakushi, Matsumoto, Mt Fuji & Kawaguchiko, Izu Peninsula and Kyoto
Group size: Max 8
Transport: Bullet train, express & commuter trains, subway, coaches, private minivan and taxi
Accommodation: Three to four-star hotels and equivalent Japanese style inns
Fitness level: Good (please refer to FAQ)
Tour Type: Active
Experience the old and ultra-modern of Tokyo
Marvel at the majesty of Mt Fuji from Kawaguchiko
Ware snow shoes along the Togakushi Kodo pilgrimage walk.
Wtiness the first blush of Japan’s early cherry blossoms
Meet the cute Snow Monkeys in hot springs
Take a coastal walk through the fishing villages of Izu Peninsula
Climb Matsumoto Castle for the magnificent views of Japan Alps
Enjoy a quieter Kyoto in February
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 2021 Snow and Flowers 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.
The subway takes us to the old Tokyo neighbourhood of Asakusa, once home to the merchant class and artisans who rose to prominence as Edo (old Tokyo) developed. Asakusa is also home to Tokyo’s oldest temple, the ever-popular Sensoji with its distinctive red Kaminari-mon gate and bustling market stalls, Nakamise arcade.
Our guide takes us to Ueno where peonies flowers offer a showy display in an old Japanese garden. In the afternoon, you will visit the upmarket district of Ginza. This was 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. Walking tour through the Ginza’s backstreets, we pass by tiny galleries, traditional ware shops and the venerable Kabuki-za Theatre.
A visit to department store's basement food hall will open your eyes to a key part of Japanese culture. On display is an amazing array of Japanese winter food and confectionery.
Tonight our welcome dinner is held at a restaurant with great night views serving modern Japanese degustation cuisine.
Day 3 : Kamakura
A break from bustling Tokyo is ahead of us today as we immerse ourselves in the coastal former capital, Kamakura.
Nestled among rolling hills and the coast of Tokyo Bay, Kamakura is home to some of the country’s best Zen Buddhist temples and a 11.4m high bronze Buddha constructed in 1252. The trip starts aboard the delightful “Enoden” local train which takes us through sleepy backstreets to the beach at Enoshima. We explore some of Kamakura’s best temple gardens.
In the late afternoon we make a stop at Komachi Street, where you can pick up some beautifully crafted gifts or wander through tiny street side galleries. Then it’s back on the train to Tokyo and you are free to explore the night life of Tokyo tonight.
Day 4: Shibu Onsen (Snow Monkey)
This morning we ride the impressive bullet train – the shinkansen, it is time to head for the wilderness of Japan. The next destination is Nagano Prefecture, the heartland of the Japan Alps and blanketed in snow at this time of year.
We are headed to Yudanaka on the 'Snow Monkey Express' to visit the Snow Monkey Park. Walking along a winding path for 30 to 60 minutes (depending on snow conditions) we come to the natural hot spring bath where wild monkeys come to play and bathe in the hot thermal waters to get warm.
Tonight you will stay in the small mountain hot springs village of Shibu Onsen to experience your own onsen bath. Our guide will talk you through the ritual of the Japanese bath and explain why a visit to an onsen remains one of the nation’s most popular pastimes.
Dinner will be traditional kaiseki, a multi-course banquet featuring seasonal foods and regional specialities. Your room will be a traditional tatami-mat room where you can experience sleeping on comfortable futon bedding – Japanese ryokan hospitality at its absolute finest! Rug up and take yourself through this little village after dinner - it is beautiful!
Day 5: Obuse and Nagano
Obuse is a little town tucked away in the countryside of Nagano, and packed with charming shops and galleries. Today your guide will lead you the relaxed ambling of this compact town and feel the atmosphere of snow country. Firstly you will stop at Hokusai Museum of Art where you can view the Hokusai's woodblock print masterpieces. There are some museums to show you the lifestyle of Hokusai era, some sake breweries and chestnut confectionary shops for which the town is famous. We continue onto Nagano City where you will stay tonight.
Day 6: Togakushi
Togakushi is perhaps not so well known to overseas travelers but features strongly in Japanese history. It is a home of the Togakushi Ninja clan to start with, it is also has a spiritual powerspot, Togakushi Kodo. Togakushi Kodo is a pilgrimage route used by mountainous ascetics (self disciplined people) since ancient times. There is lots of remains such as stone statues, signposts and hand laid stone paved paths. This once thriving and important hallowed ground included the training venues of Shinto priests, like Mt Koya and Mt Hiei. Today giant ceder trees line the main avenue creating solemn feel.
This morning we take a snowshoe walk on this avenue towards the main shrine and share the spirituality and fresh air of Togakushi. You can follow the foot prints of wild animals, dive into the fresh snow, and have morning tea on the frozen lake.
After soba lunch, another specalty of the region, you will visit a traditional bamboo craft studio where you can creat your own piece.
Day 7: Matsumoto
An express train will take you to city of Matsumoto, which is surrounded by the magnificent snow capped 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.
Our guide takes us on a tour of Matsumoto Castle, Japan’s oldest wooden castle and one of the nation’s five castles designated national treasures. To explore the castle’s wooden interior we climb to the top of its distinctive black-and-white turret.
Day 8: Mt Fuji and Kawaguchiko
Another train ride will take you to Kawaguchiko, a town located in the Fuji Five Lakes district in the foothills of Mt Fuji.
Kawaguchiko offers the most breathtaking views of Mt Fuji, with the lakes and natural foliage of the surrounding hills framing Japan’s highest mountain and iconic national symbol. A ropeway ride to the Kachi Kachi Yama lookout enables us to better appreciate the stunning views. For lunch, we try Hoto noodles, a local speciality.
Another surprise in store this afternoon is the Itchiku Kubota Art Museum. Apart from the architecture you will be stunned by, the superb examples of the fabulous kimono art using the centuries-old “shibori” tie-dyeing technique.
Our accommodation tonight is another ryokan, to experience an authentic kaiseki style banquet and in particular to soak in a hot-spring onsen bath with dramatic views of Mt Fuji across the lake (weather permitting of course!). For added drama, the annual fireworks of the Kawaguchiko area is currently scheduled for tonight, so we hope you’ll be treated to a very special aerial display.
Day 9: Izu Peninsula
Breakfast is an authentic Japanese-style breakfast, a nutritious, protein-rich mix of grilled fish, miso soup, tofu, rice and pickles!
A private minivan takes you to the coast of the scenic Izu Peninsula, popular for its sandy beaches and hot springs.
The walk along the Jogasaki Kaigan, is a particularly beautiful stretch of coast characterized by rugged lava cliffs, pine forests, hill-top temples and small fishing villages.
Day 10: Izu Peninsula
The small coastal town of Izu Inatori has long celebrated the “Hina Matsuri” festival, commonly known as “Girls Day”. In the weeks leading up to the festival, local families hang colourful, handmade tsurushibina (stuffed ornaments) from ceilings and rafters – a custom started in the town over 150 years ago. Traditional displays of Japanese dolls dressed in ancient kimono attire on tiered platforms are part of the custom honouring young girls and the hope for their healthy and happy future.
Nearby town of Kawazu is one of the main highlights of our trip. Here we walk a couple of kilometres along the bank of the Kawazu River to relish the stunning sight of the dark-pink blossoms of the early-flowering Kawazu-zakura (cherry blossom). These impressive blossoms are the first of the Japanese cherry varieties to bloom each year.
After lunch at a tiny local 'Italian' restaurant, we take a walking tour through the atmospheric cobbled streets of Shimoda, where the first American trading ships dropped anchor in 1854, ending Japan’s long period of self-imposed isolation. We visit the local museum which has exhibits documenting the arrival of the first western ships. They tell a fascinating tale which marked the start of a dramatic change in the nation.
Day 11: Kyoto
After a few days enjoying peninsula life, we jump onboard Japan’s impressive super-express train – the shinkansen – to head westwards to our last destination, 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, superb restaurants, ancient temples and Shinto shrines, and contemplative gardens.
This afternoon, it is your time to explore iconic Kyoto sights such as Kinkakuji Temple, the famed Golden Pavilion with its three-storied pavilion covered in dazzling gold leaf. Pause at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine for plum tea and Japanese traditional sweets in the plum garden (a grove of some 2,000 trees which blossom in late February).
Day 12: Kyoto
A local train to the southern part of Kyoto is where we visit one of Kyoto’s most famous Shinto shrines, Fushimi-Inari Taisha. A vast shrine complex, it’s best known for the thousands of vermillion-red torii gates that line the pilgrim paths winding through the woods of Mt Inari.
You will have some free time this afternoon to finish up shopping and cover off your personal interests such as pottery, antique art and Japanese cooking.
Tonight you will gather one more time for a "Farewell Japan" dinner with your fellow travelers.
Day 13: Bon-voyage
This morning you will check out of your hotel after breakfast and your 2021 Snow and Flowers Tour of Japan concludes. You can return to Tokyo by train or air to fly home, or depart from Osaka’s Kansai International Airport, or perhaps linger in Japan for a little longer.
Ask the Journey to the East team 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.
- 12 nights accommodation with daily breakfast
- Lunches & dinners as specified
- All public and private transport for the group itinerary
- Airport meet & greet and hotel transfer by public transport on arrival
- Locally licensed English speaking tour guides
- Cultural activities and entry fees included in itinerary
- Luggage transfers (1 piece per person)
- International and domestic airfare (unless otherwise stated)
- Travel insurance
- Alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages
- Tips and gratuities (not routinely expected in Japan)
- Transport when not travelling with the group
- 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