2020 Early Spring Walking Tour of Japan
Japan is shaking off winter and now is the time to walk through Japan before the huge crowds arrive! Appreciate the spectacular pink of Japan's first cherry blossom as you wander down the back roads and take in many of the iconic sites. A unique tour full of surprises, both natural and man-made.
2020 Early Spring Walking Tour of Japan catches the magnificent early-flowering species of cherry blossoms. The guides will take you to walk though the best of Japan and do it without the massive crowds or heavy back-packs.
This 12-day journey explores Japan’s ever-vibrant capital Tokyo, and visits the scenic lakes district for Japan's best views of iconic Mt Fuji. We spend time exploring the fishing villages and relaxed coastal vibe of the Izu Peninsula where you enjoy the first of the nation’s early-flowering Kawazu-zakura super pink cherry blossoms.
The next base is in Kyoto for a while, sampling the refined elegance of that ancient city in early spring. Travelling on down to Japan’s far-western reaches we find Hiroshima and the sacred Shinto island of Miyajima. Along the way, we stay in small, family-run traditional ryokan inn and bathe in natural hot springs baths.
The tour is somewhat of a foodies experience and is well suited to fit and active travellers who enjoy exploring this beautiful country through short walks. If you like having some time in the schedule to do your own thing this is a great choice, too. 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, Mt Fuji & Kawaguchiko, Izu Peninsula, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Miyajima and Osaka
Group size: Max 8
Transport: Bullet train, express & commuter trains, ferry, bus and taxi
Accommodation: Three to four-star hotels and equivalent Japanese style inns
Fitness level: Good (please refer to FAQ)
Tour Type: Active
Bathe in natural hot springs in the foothills of Mt Fuji
Experience the first blush of Japan’s early cherry blossoms
Enjoy a dramatic fireworks display above Mt Fuji and Lake Kawaguchiko
Take a coastal walk through the fishing villages of Izu Peninsula
Visit Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park and A-Bomb Museum
Enjoy Kyoto’s refined beauty in early spring
Stay on the sacred UNESCO-listed island of Miyajima
Experience the old and ultra-modern of Tokyo
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 Early Spring Walking 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.
After lunching at a local tempura restaurant, we 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 food and confectionery.
Tonight our welcome dinner is held at a restaurant with great night views serving modern Japanese degustation cuisine.
Day 3: Mt Fuji and Kawaguchiko
The Mt Fuji Scenic Express takes us 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 kimono art using the centuries-old “shibori” tie-dyeing technique.
Our accommodation tonight is a traditional Japanese inn, to experience an authentic kaiseki style banquet and 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. Restored and relaxed after a big day, 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 4: 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 and 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.
Tonight we stay in the historical town of Shimoda, which is where the first American trading ships dropped anchor in 1854, ending Japan’s long period of self-imposed isolation. Located right on a pretty sandy beach, our Japanese-style hotel has stunning ocean views from its rooms and natural hot springs baths.
Dinner will be a kaiseki-style Japanese banquet highlighting Izu's fresh seafood.
Day 5: 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 healthy and happy future.
Near the 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 local 'Italian' restaurant, we take a walking tour through the atmospheric cobbled streets of Shimoda. 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 6: Kyoto
After a few days enjoying peninsula life, we jump onboard Japan’s impressive super-express train – the shinkansen – to head westwards to our next 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.
In the afternoon we tour Kiyomizu Temple, one of Kyoto’s grandest Buddhist temples and set against a lush mountain backdrop of maple and cherry trees. Walking through the narrow lanes leading up to the temple we pass shops selling Kyoto handicrafts and local snacks.
Wandering in the historic geisha precinct of Gion near the Kamo-gawa River we come upon the atmospheric streets lined with traditional tea houses built some 300 years ago. Here we may see a glimpse of a geisha on her way to work.
For dinner, a local restaurant will give us the taste for Kyoto's idea of Japanese comfort food gyoza (Japanese-style dumplings).
Day 7: 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.
The traditional sake-making area at the foot of this sacred mountain is next on the agenda. The quality of the mountain's pristine spring waters is attributed to the origin of this area. We tour the Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum to see sake production and learn about the different sake varieties. Along the way we enjoy a yakitori lunch (charcoal-grilled skewers of chicken and vegetables).
It is time to explore a few more 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).
Dinner is wagyu-beef Sukiyaki with the group back in central Kyoto.
Day 8: Kyoto (Free Day)
Kyoto has so much to explore. Today has been set aside for your to investigate this ancient capital on your own. You may like to spend more time reviewing Kyoto’s temples or take a class in paper-making or indigo-dying. How about a cooking class, sake-tasting or visiting Kyoto’s traditional food and textile markets. Or you may prefer to wander around Kyoto’s great range of craft and specialty shops. Let us know if we can help organise anything specific for you.
Day 9: Hiroshima
Moving on from Japan’s cultural heart, the shinkansen bullet-train whisks us off to the bottom western part of the Japanese archipelago. The iconic sites of Hiroshima and Miyajima await us.
In Hiroshima, we walk through the Peace Memorial Park and its informative and sobering museum, and contemplate the devastating impact of the world’s first atomic bomb attack in August 1945. Despite this history, present-day Hiroshima remains a very welcoming and vibrant city, characterized by wide boulevards and attractive leafy parks.
Lunch has to be Hiroshima’s trademark okonomiyaki savoury pancakes.
In the evening, you have the chance to wander around this friendly city at your leisure. Perhaps you could try one of its fun and boisterous izakaya-pubs for dinner?
Day 10: Miyajima
A short train and ferry ride takes us to the island of Miyajima, best known for the vermillion-red floating torii gate of Itsukushima Shrine (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). Walking on this island is delightful. We start a walk through 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.
The afternoon is yours to enjoy the quintessentially Japanese island of Miyajima at your leisure. Perhaps take the ropeway ride to the top of the island for 360-degree panoramic views of the Seto Inland Sea. You are sure to meet a few of the island’s wild deer as you walk around the peak and the island’s lush forests. Miyajima is also home to several important Buddhist temples as well as a popular shopping street near the waterfront with restaurants and souvenir shops.
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 11: Osaka
This morning we head back to Japan’s main island of Honshu and catch a shinkansen (bullet-train) to our final destination – Osaka. A major economic hub, Osaka’s history is as long as the nation’s itself, eventually becoming an important political base in the 16th century when a new castle was built by the shogun after unifying Japan.
Today we visit this castle, rebuilt in 1931 on the original site, and the castle museum with its exhibits of armour and weapons from its feudal past. We take a walking tour through other parts of this ever old-new city, exploring the space-age architecture of the Umeda Sky Building and the lively entertainment district of Dotombori, famous for its night-time neon and historic canal.
Our farewell dinner tonight is a teppanyaki-style restaurant serving wagyu-beef.
Day 12: Osaka and Bon-voyage
This morning you will check out of your hotel after breakfast and your 2020 Early Spring 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 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.
- 11 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