Japan in May - Spring Tours 2018

Tokyo skyline Kyoto Kyoto Gion

Japan in May 2018 Tours

For May 2017 we ran several tours with one of the more popular ones incorporating many of the famous sights of Japan, the exotic mix of locations ranging from traditional experiences like onsen and ryokan stays through to the modern, industrial Japan of today.  In particular the 2017 edition included the Kumano Koda trails and the beach resort at Shirahama (as well as Tokyo, Kyoto, and the mountain areas of Takayama).  Due to customer interest we are looking are re-running this trip (with a few improvements again in 2018).

The other custom tour we are looking at for the 2018 Spring (May) is a custom tour covering just over two weeks (18 days).  There is a garden theme being included and the schedule still has some scope to add in some special activities or some minor modifications to the route as we travel around the country.  If you would like to join the tour and have some input to the schedule, get in touch.

If you are interested in joining either of these tours of Japan, you can use the contact us form or email us at admin@japancustomtours.co.nz

Schedule - Japan in May 2018 (provisional dates)

Tuesday May 8th Tokyo:  We will meet you at the airport (Narita or Haneda).  After clearing immigration, luggage collection and customs meet us at the exit in the arrivals hall.  We then transfer to our Tokyo hotel in the centre of the city.  Options include seeing some of the city dining out or just sleep if you are jetlagged.

Wednesday May 9th Tokyo: Visit Asukusa Kaminarimon (thunder gate), Hozomon and pagoda. An array of stalls lines the entrance to this shrine selling souvenirs and snacks, a tradition stretching back several hundred years. Also in Asakusa we can arrange a kimono photo-shoot or samurai training for the more adventurous. Either lunch from the food stalls or from a nearby restaurant. In the afternoon, visit one or more of the famous neighbourhood areas of Shinjuku, Shibuya or Ginza. This allows time to see the expansive Shinjuku Gardens or, because we run flexible tours, let us know what you would like to do or see.

Thursday May 10th Tokyo: A visit to Harajuku (a trend setting shopping area for the Tokyo youth), and if desired stroll across to the higher-end stores of Omotesando. For a dose of more traditional culture, the nearby Meiji Shrine is adjacent to Harajuku.  The afternoon is available for visiting one of the many museums around Tokyo including the National Museum next to Ueno Park, experience the "Robot Restaurant" (for the cabaret show, not dinner), or head to the Akasaka Ninja restaurant for an entertaining dinner option.

Friday May 11th Tokyo to Hakone: Transfer from Tokyo to the picturesque Hakone district via Odawara (with an optional visit to the castle).  With two nights there is ample time to explore and enjoy the natural beauty of the area.  There are many museums including a Venetian Glass museum and Open Air art museum.

Saturday May 12th Hakone: A day to undertake the sightseeing loop which includes travelling to Lake Ashi to enjoy a walk along the cedar avenue to the Hakone checkpoint, boat cruise across the lake to Togendai, ropeway and the Tozan cable car with a stop at Owakudani to view the volcanic activity of the area. On a fine day the loop trip around Hakone provides many places to view Mt Fuji including from the lake and the ropeway. (Depending on weather we may take the ropeway and boat cruise on the Friday to take in the views of Fuji-san.)

Sunday 13th May Hakone to Kyoto: Leaving Hakone, head south to Kyoto by shinkansen (bullet train).  After depositing luggage at our hotel, use the afternoon to visit the Fushimi Inari shrine founded in 711AD.  The unique feature are the 10,000 torii gates that line the path from the main shine buildings along the route to the top of Inari mountain (takes around two hours for the hike to the top and back - optional)

Monday 14th May Kyoto: Start the day by visiting the "golden pavilion" Kinkaku-ji in the north east of the city and then Nijo Castle before heading to Kodai-ji temple.  The Kodai-ji complex includes a Zen garden, bamboo forest before heading to Gion via Ishibe Alley. 

Tuesday May 15th Kyoto:  Day trip to the world heritage site at Nara.  At Nara there is both Todai-ji temple (with the world's largest bronze Buddha), and Kagusa Shinto shrine.  There are sacred deer roaming the park and some excellent souvenir shopping options.

Wednesday May 16th Kyoto to Hiroshima: Heading south-west from Kyoto we reach the city of Hiroshima. The Peace Park and Museum are easily accessed the nearby (rebuilt) Hiroshima Castle includes a samurai museum.

Thursday May 17th Hiroshima: A full day in Hiroshima allows time to visit and explore Miyajima  Miyajima Island and Itsukushima Shrine - the location of the famous "floating" torii gate.  Miyajima is accessed by a short local train and ferry ride. Depending on fitness and inclination we can use the ropeway and head to the top of Mount Misen.  The walk back down the mountain provides some excellent scenery and vantage points looking back across the island towards the mainland.

Friday May 18th Hiroshima to the Kumano Kodo Trails: Heading back to Osaka and then south into the Wakayama prefecture by JR limited express onto the Kii Peninsula.  The area is famous for the Kumano Kodo trails, a set of pilgrimage trails in Wakayama Prefecture that have been in use for over 1000 years. The Kodo ("old ways") are a key part of the region's UNESCO designation.

Saturday May 19th Kumano: A day to explore the Kumano Koda trails, and the famous shines of the area (Hongu Taisha or Nachi Taisha).

Sunday May 20th Kumano: A second day for some relaxation and enjoying springtime in Japan, or one of the longer kodo trails.

Monday May 21st Kumano to Takayama:  A travel day as we head back to Osaka and a quick shinkansen ride to Nagoya before boarding the Wideview Hida express to the mountain town of Takayama.  (The journey includes the scenic Kiso Valley.)  At Takayama stay at a traditional Japanese ryokan (inn), complete with onsen (hot springs bath).  

Tuesday May 22nd Takayama: During the morning explore the town's historic buildings, morning market and shops on foot and/or visit the festival floats exhibition hall.  The afternoon is reserved for a day bus tour that visits the World Heritage Site of Shirakawa-go with its old traditional "A-frame" farmhouses.  Dinner time is an ideal opportunity to sample the famous Hida Beef.

Wednesday May 23rd Takayama to Tokyo: Leaving the mountains, complete the journey across the main island of Honshu to Toyama and then catch the shinkansen train back to Tokyo and the necessary transfers to either Narita or Haneda for return flights home.

Schedule - Japan Spring Garden Tour (May 2018)

Monday 7th May Tokyo: We will meet you at the airport (either Haneda or Narita).   Upon arrival, after clearing immigration, luggage collection and customs, you will recognise us as we will have a welcome sign displaying your name and our company logo.

Upon arrival, after clearing Immigration, luggage collection and Customs, we will meet you at the exit of the Arrivals Hall. For Narita arrivals we then take the Narita Express (N Ex) train into the city. For Haneda arrivals we take local trains (which require a single station transfer).

Tuesday 8th May Tokyo: Start the day with a visit to Asukusa Kaminarimon ("Thunder gate"), Hozomon and pagoda. An array of stalls lines Nakamise Street (the entrance to this shrine) providing a wide range of souvenirs and snacks on the approach to Sensoji Temple, the oldest temple in Tokyo.

We then head to Ueno which provides some good options and variety for lunch adjacent to the expansive Ueno Park. The park also contains several museums (including Tokyo National Museum) and Tokyo Zoo (the main attraction of which is a giant panda) and the beautiful Tōshō-gū shine that enshrines the first Shōgun of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

Wednesday 9th May Tokyo: Hakone day trip: Taking the train to Odawara make a brief side trip to Odawara Castle. We then head to Hakone-Yumoto, taking the bus to Lake Ashi (walk along the cedar avenue to the Hakone checkpoint), boat cruise (a pirate ship) across the lake to Togendai, ropeway and the Tozan cable car, Tozan train back to Hakone-Yumoto for the return trip to Tokyo. Hakone provides many places to view Mt Fuji (on a clear day) including from the lake and the ropeway. To make the most of the day we make an early start, and may have a late finish.

Thursday 10th May Tokyo: Additional time in Tokyo of a day trip to Nikko. Taking the bullet train north, and then the local train, visit the famous shrines at Nikko including the lavishly decorated Toshugu shrine and Iemitsu mausoleum. After lunch at a local restaurant and an opportunity to sample yuba (a local speciality) head to the scenic Lake Chuzenji and Kegon Falls.

Friday 11th May Tokyo to Kyoto: Leaving Tokyo we take the shinkansen to Kyoto, which delivers us to the historic old capital of Japan around 1 p.m. During the afternoon we usually visit the very accessible Fushimi Inari Shinto shrine with its famous 10,000 torii gates. The walk to the top of Inari Yama (to see all 10,000!) takes a couple of hours and is definitely optional.

Saturday 12th May Kyoto: Visit Nijo Castle (the palace buildings are one the best surviving examples of castle palace architecture of Japan's feudal era), and then the Golden Pavilion Kinkaku-ji in the north-west of the city.

The afternoon has many options. We can head back towards the centre of the city visit Nishiki Markets and lunch before heading across to Gion. A trip to Heian Shrine and gardens in the afternoon is an option, or head to Kiyomizudera (while the main hall is being renovated there are 16 main buildings that make up the complex).

Sunday 13th May Kyoto: Visit the beautiful Arashiyama district for viewing the autumn leaves and enjoy the view across the Oi River and the nearby Sagano bamboo grove. Visit some of the temples and gardens. The nearby Ryoanji Temple is the site of Japan's most famous rock garden.

Monday 14th May Kyoto: To experience one of the most important cultural and historic places in Japan, we visit Nara, Japan's first capital. At Nara is Todaiji Temple which houses the world's largest bronze Buddha in the world's largest wooden building.

Tuesday 15th May Kyoto: An additional day for sightseeing or relaxing in the historic capital of Japan, or, Hiroshima day trip: with a direct train first thing in the morning, head south to Hiroshima. The highlight is Miyajima Island and Itsukushima Shrine, location of the famous floating torii gate. This requires a short local train and ferry ride. Ferry tickets are covered by our JR passes. There is also time to visit the Peace Park and Museum in Hiroshima city.

Wednesday 16th May Kyoto to Takayama: Travel by Shinkansen and then local train to the onsen (hot spring) mountain town of Takayama. Explore the town's historic buildings and shops on foot. The local specialty is Hida beef, very good quality and we recommend enjoying it at one of the local bbq restaurants. Accommodation at a Japanese ryokan (inn), complete with onsen (hot springs bath) and private shower in each room.

Thursday 17th May Takayama: During the morning explore the town's historic buildings, morning market and shops on foot and/or visit the festival floats exhibition hall. The afternoon is reserved for a day bus tour that visits the World Heritage Site of Shirakawa-go with its old traditional A-frame farmhouses.

Friday 18th May Takayama to Kanazawa: Departing from Takayama we travel along the scenic Miyagawa River to Toyama before a short shinkansen ride to Kanazawa.

The local Omi-cho fresh food market as across the street from the hotel and provides a good option for a fresh sushi/sashimi lunch. After lunch visit the beautiful Kenrokuen Gardens (one of the top three gardens of Japan) and Kanazawa Castle. The city also boasts the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art which is also an option.

Saturday 19th May Kanazawa: A more relaxed day with time set aside to indulge in some craft activities, including silk dying and gold leaf craft at a theme park located near Kanazawa. http://www.yunokuni.jp/mori/en/

Sunday 20th May Kanazawa to Nagano/Togura: Departing from Kanazawa we head along the west coast of Japan by Shinkansen to Nagano. After lunch, visit Zenkoji temple (the founding temple of Nagano) before transferring to a local train bound for Togura (30 minutes) and then check in at Ryokan Kamesei. Have a soak in the ryokan's onsen (hot spring baths) or explore the neighbourhood (and castle behind the inn) before enjoying an especially prepared traditional ryokan dinner. Accommodation here includes breakfast and dinner. We can arrange geisha entertainment (music and dance) as part of the evening meal if desired.

Monday 21st May Togura: After breakfast, we head to Nagano station and take a bus to Jigokudani Monkey Park. Depending on the weather it could be cold (there might still be some snow on the ground). There is an approximately 2km walk to visit these famous "snow monkeys". After a day of activity, a soak in the onsen is a relaxing option.

Tuesday 22nd May Togura to Tokyo: Travelling by shinkansen, head back to Tokyo. The afternoon is available for man activities and options including visits to places like Hamariku gardens that features seawater ponds that change level with the tides, and a teahouse on an island where visitors can rest and enjoy the scenery (including the Tokyo skyscraper skyline) or the Imperial Palace East Gardens.

Wednesday 23rd May Tokyo: Optional Mito day trip: Taking a limited express train an hour north of Tokyo, visit Mito, the capital of Ibaraki Prefecture. Kairakuen Garden is ranked among Japan's three finest landscape gardens. It is most famous for its over three thousand plum trees. Kairakuen also features a bamboo grove, cedar woods and the Kobuntei, a traditional Japanese style building.

Thursday 24th May Tokyo: Free day for either time in Tokyo or a day trip to one of the attractions nearby to Tokyo.

Friday 17th May Tokyo: Final time in Tokyo before heading to the airport for your flight home.

Price Inclusions/exclusions

The price for the sixteen day Japan in May 2018 Tour (accommodation for fifteen nights) is from Y595,000 per person share twin/double.  Shorter or longer duration is also available.

The price for the eighteen day Japan Spring Garden Tour (accommodation for seventeen nights) is from Y760,000 per person share twin/double.  Shorter or longer duration is also available.

Prices include airport transfers to/from Narita or Haneda to Tokyo and 14 day rail pass, entrance fees (shrines/temples/castles/museums) and tour fees.  Breakfast and dinner are included with the ryokan stay in Togura and breakfasts in some other locations based on the hotel choice.  Prices generally exclude meals and incidental costs unless specifically included.

Bookings and Inquiries

If you are interested in joining this tour, please contact us or email us directly at admin@japancustomtours.co.nz.