2020 White Christmas Tour of Japan
Ever dreamt of fresh powder snow and perhaps making a snowman on Christmas Day? This tour is designed to travel Japan in the quieter off-season experiencing a peaceful White Christmas as well as the traditional festive atmosphere towards the New Year in Japan.
The 2020 White Christmas Tour of Japan is an opportunity for one of the most memorable Christmas holidays you have ever had. You will be stunned by the streams of beautiful decorations in Japan. Why not be part of the cultural and traditional rituals leading up to the most important day on the Japanese calendar, the New Year Day.
Although Japanese are mostly not Christians, Japan offers much of the traditional spirit associated with Christmas. Snow can set the scene, but the coloured lights and decorations in the streets and shops add greatly to the season. Naturally, because Christmas is not a public holiday, it is a more peaceful time. The holiday feeling is still in the air as the most important holiday in Japan is only a few days away – New Years Day. The temples and shrines compete for attention with the natural beauty of the countryside at this time of the year. In addition, the best seafood and other festive delicacies are available in the winter months too. It is not surprising Japan at this time of the year makes such a wonderful experience.
Places visited: Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Miyajima, Osaka, Takayama, Shirakawago, Shibu Onsen (Snow Monkeys) and Nagano
Group size: Min 4, 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: Moderate (please refer to FAQ)
Join the lively atmosphere of Tokyo leading up to New Year
Be dazzled by the decoration in Tokyo
Stroll quieter Kyoto in winter
Visit historical Hiroshima & the Sacred Island of Miyajima
Walk through the charming city of Takayama
Learn the traditional life of farming village in Shirakawago
Climb the Matsumoto Castle for a view of the mountains
Meet the Snow Monkeys on Christmas
Day 1: Arrival
Welcome to Japan in winter! 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 White Christmas Tour of Japan.
Day 2: Tokyo
Orientation of Tokyo by your guide preceeds a guided tour at Asakusa along with Sensoji Temple (the oldest temple in Tokyo built in 628) and Nakamise merchant street. This old part of Tokyo retains the charms of Japan of a bygone era - a whole world away from the images of the advanced technology and modern citiy. After a group lunch your guide will take you to a modern commercial district of Tokyo to show you some fascinating contrasts of old and new.
December is the biggest month for retail in Japan. The beautiful window displays and shop decorations will instantly get you into the mood for this very special holiday!
In the evening, we will have a "Welcome Japan" dinner.
Day 3: Kyoto
Hopping on Japan's famous shinkansen (bullet train) you race across the country to Kyoto. Kyoto was once the capital of Japan and has become the guardian of the cultural history of the Japanese people.
The crisp winter air makes everything appear so serene in Kyoto. Here you will have an afternoon guided tour to walk around a couple of iconic sites of Kyoto including Fushimi Inari shrine. You will also have an opportunity to stroll along the back streets packed with unique sites and you will pass specialties such as silk goods and pottery. As Twilight approaches enjoy a walking tour of the Gion where you may spot a geisha or two.
Day 4: Kyoto
Your guide will show you some of Japan’s ‘must see’ sites including Nishiki Market where all the locals come to shop ready for their New Year feast - experience the feeling of celebration in the air as you wander amongst the locals.
The afternoon is set aside for you to continue your own exploration of Kyoto. How about visiting nearby Arashiyama to see the famous towering bamboo groves; go hunting for the just the right piece of Kyoto's quality pottery, art or antiques; or join a cooking class or other cultural workshops. Please talk to Journey to the East staff if you would like us to help arranging.
Day 5: Hiroshima
After a few days exploring Japan’s cultural heart, we take the shinkansen again to the bottom western part of the Japan's main land Honshu to visit the iconic sites of Hiroshima and Miyajima.
We visit 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 is a very welcoming and vibrant city characterized by wide boulevards and attractive leafy parks. For lunch we sample Hiroshima’s trademark okonomiyaki savoury pancakes.
A short ferry ride transfers us to the small island of Miyajima to stay at a traditional Japanese style Inn on the island. Enjoy the tranquilty in the evening after the day-trippers have left. Perhaps capture a photo or two of the famous torii gate - stunning at sunset in winter.
Dinner is a traditional kaiseki banquet at our ryokan.
Day 6: Miyajima
Miyajima is best known for the Itsukushima Shrine and its vermillion-red floating torii gate (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). We tour 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. Meet the island’s wild deer as you wander around this quintessentially Japanese island.
Miyajima is also home to several important Buddhist temples as well as a popular shopping street near the waterfront with restaurants and souvenir shops.
After some free time to enjoy the atmosphere of this special island, we will head to our next destination, Osaka by shinkansen. Here in Osaka, your guide will take you on an evenig guided walk through the ever popular Dotonbori area, especially lively at this time of the year. Dinner tonight is at a fun and boisterous izakaya-pub in the area.
Day 7: Osaka
Today is a free day in Osaka.
Osaka has a movie theme park - Universal Studio Japan, one of Japan's (and world's) best aquariums and of course, the wonderful Osaka Castle. The central part of Osaka also has so much more to see including Umeda Sky Building's amazing ovservatory deck, the foodies paradise of Namba or one of the oldest temples in Japan - Shitennoji Temple.
Talk with our team who will be keen to help you to see the things you will enjoy most.
Day 8: Takayama
We transfer to Takayama by express train today. On the second half of the 2020 White Christmas Tour you will explore the snow country of Japan. At your first stop, Takayama, you will feel the nostalgia while ambling through the streets of timber-clad old merchant houses. The city has many things to enjoy including the Takayama Jinya, the oldest remaining original Government branch office from the Edo period of 300+ years ago.
Takayama is a time capsule with scenes reminiscent of old Japan. It has a multitude of interesting old artisans shops, unusual art, sake breweries and is an ideal place to wander around and take in the atmosphere. Winter is an especially wonderful time to get a feel for the life of the people in this area.
Day 9: Takayama and Shirkawago
We take a walk through Takayama’s famous morning market which is believed to have been running for over 200 years. The market has a wide variety of fresh foods, some of which you may never have seen before.
The UNESCO World Heritage-listed site of Shirakawago is next on the program. Shirakawago was originally a farming village consisting of A-framed thatched roof houses. Winter is the very best time to see these snow covered historic houses and the village. Your guide will walk you through this truly amazing site and give you some insight into the life of a snowbound winter. As you go into some of the thatched houses you will get a picture the daily life of the villages and the background to the unusual structure of their thatched homes.
You return to Takayama and a free evening to choose your dinner from the wonderful selection of restaurants in Takayama.
Day 10: Matsumoto and Shibu Onsen
Today you will enjoy views of the snow white countryside on your scenic coach ride that takes you to the Nagano region. It is a region that boasts natural beauty as well as features of traditional rural lifestyle. The first stop is the city of Matsumoto, which is surrounded by the magnificent snow-capped Japanese 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’s 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.
In the afternoon, we take trains deeper into the snow country to Yudanaka via Nagano.
Tonight’s accommodation is in the atmospheric old onsen town of Shibu near the Snow Monkey reserve. A favourite pastime of the Japanese people is soaking in an onsen (mineral hot spring spa). Today, you too can enjoy soaking in a hot tub as you take in the beautiful 3,000 m class snow-capped mountains.
Day 11: Snow Monkey and Nagano
You wake up in a remote part of Japan and it is Christmas Day! What a different Xmas it is going to be! It is time to see the snow and a famous icon of Japan in winter – the Snow Monkey. I wonder what they think of Christmas?
Nice and early this morning, before day trippers smudge fresh snow, you will encounter the serene beauty of visiting the reserve where the Snow Monkeys live. (Note: you need to walk for around 30 minutes to get to where monkeys play.) You will never forget seeing the cute snow monkeys soaking in the hot springs.
While we are still in the snow country, we will take you on other snow activities such as snow mobile or snow shoe walk.
In the late afternoon, you will hop back on the shinkansen one last time to wizz back to Tokyo, where you will have the last night's farewell dinner with the group.
Day 12: Good-Bye
This morning after breakfast the 2020 White Christmas Tour of Japan concludes. There is so much more to see and do in Tokyo.
Why not extend your trip to visit Tokyo Disneyland for example? Or talk to a Journey to the East travel consultant about a skiing experience before or after the tour. Or just explore Japan a little more. Talk to Journey to the East's consultants - specialists in what to see and do in Japan .
(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.
- 11 nights accommodation (including 2 nights in traditional inns)
- 11 breakfasts, 3 lunches and 7 dinners
- All local transport (train, bus and taxi)
- Pre-loaded Suica card
- Locally licensed English speaking tour guides
- Cultural activities and attraction entry fees included in itinerary
- Luggage transfers (1 piece per person)
- An electronic copy of Journey to the East Handbook
Does not include:
- International or domestic airfare
- Travel insurance
- Alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages
- Tips and gratuities (not routinely expected in Japan)