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 our popular 2017 edition included the historic Kumano Koda pilgrimage trails combined with the coastal Shirahama beach resort.   (The tour also incorporated Tokyo, Kyoto, and the mountain areas of Takayama).  Due to customer interest we are 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 with a schedule covering 17 days with some optional additions at either the start or end of the trip.  With a garden theme the schedule still scope to add in some special interest activities because we run flexible trips and try to include scope for different interests.  This is particularly true of our days in Tokyo where the city of 37 million provides many options and activities for those willing to explore.

Both of the below tours are committed departures. 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

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: : Start the day to Asakusa, and the Amuse Museum (the Textile Culture and Ukiyo-e Art Museum). The route from the local train station takes is past Sensoji Temple (the oldest temple in Tokyo and Nakamise Street, but these are incidental). 

We then head to Ueno to see the beautiful Tōshō-gū shine that enshrines the first Shōgun of the Tokugawa Shogunate. (For those unable to visit the lavishly decorated shrines at the world heritage sites at Nikko, this is a good substitute). Also in Ueno park is the national Museum of Western Art with a variety of sculptures at the entrance (including some Rodin), and the building itself is listed as a world heritage site (designed by the Swiss architect known as Le Corbusier).

In the afternoon we have time to head to Shinjuku to the national gardens (58.3 hectares) including an impressive green house. (Probably not too many cherry blossoms, even for the later varieties.) From the gardens, head to the Golden Gai area of old style bars before seeing Godzilla towering above the night life area of Kabukicho or visiting the small (but interesting) Samurai museum.

Thursday May 10th Tokyo: Our day starts by heading to Harajuku adjacent to Yoyogi Park and the Meiji Shrine (this is our starting point, not the destination). From here we head along Omotesando Dori which features an array of interesting buildings as many high-end brands have flag-ship stores in this area of Tokyo including the Prada Aoyama building designed by Herzog & de Meuron. A short distance further along the street is the Nezu Museum. Also nearby are the Mori Art museum and the National Art Center.

Friday 11th May Tokyo to Togura: Departing from Tokyo we head to the Japanese Alps and the city of Nagano. We have two main options for this day:

Departing Nagano city we take a short local train to the onsen resort town of Togura and our accommodation at a traditional 100 year old inn, Ryokan Kamesei. Before dinner there is time to have a soak in the ryokan’s onsen (hot spring baths) or explore the neighbourhood (including a walk up to the temple and castle behind the inn for a view of the Chikuma River and valley). Dinner is traditional keiseki style (course meal) dinner and we arrange for geisha entertainment (music and dance) as part of the evening meal.

Saturday 12th May Togura: A usual activity in for our stays in Nagano is to head back to Nagano station and then take the bus to Jigokudani Monkey Park. There is an approximately 2km walk through the forest to see the famous "snow monkeys".

Of course, as we are at a ryokan/onsen, after a day of activity, a soak in the onsen is a relaxing option.

Sunday 13th May Togura to Kyoto: Departing Togura we get the Shinano train up to Matsumoto for viewing the large flat-land Matsumoto castle (known as Crow castle because it is black). Departing Matsumoto we complete our journey south to Nagoya before a short shinkansen trip to Kyoto.

Depending on arrival into Kyoto we may have time 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: Head to Kiyomizu Kodai-ji temple early before exploring more of the eastern side of the city via the small streets that link to the Kodai-ji temple complex before heading to Gion via the historic preservation area of Ishibe Alley.  Across the main river (Kamo-gawa) is the central city area. This boasts the 400 year old Nishiki market and 300 year old Teramachi shopping street and provides options for lunch.

For the afternoon a visit to Nijo castle is recommended. (The palace buildings are one the best surviving examples of castle palace architecture of Japan's feudal era.)

Tuesday 15th May Kyoto: Start the day by visiting the "golden pavilion" Kinkaku-ji in the north east of the city before visiting the nearby Ryoan-ji Temple. Ryoan-ji is the site of Japan's most famous rock garden.

From Ryoan-ji we then head to the beautiful Arashiyama district, enjoy the view across the Oi River from the Togetsukyō Bridge. A visit to the Tenryu-ji temple gardens is very nice, and a ride on one of the punt boats on the river can insert a relaxing interlude to the day. Among the famous sights in the area is the Sagano bamboo grove (although the large number of tourists makes it hard to get “travel brochure” photos.)

Wednesday 16th May 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. We visit several temples and shrines across the day with entry to some and viewing others. There are sacred deer roaming the park and some excellent souvenir shopping options.

Thursday 17th May Kyoto to Shirahama: Travelling to the Kii Peninsula, we take the Nanki train to Kii-Katsuura and then on to Shirahama. This option avoids the back-tracking via Osaka and the journey travels along the scenic coast line. As the journey occupies most of the day, the journey is the day’s activity. Also, as noted in the introduction, the detailed schedule for this section is yet to be finalised.

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. For 2017 we used the Shirahama resort as a base in this area - a resort town on the south coast of Japan’s Wakayama prefecture. It’s known for its hot springs and quartz-sand beach.

Friday 18th May Kyoto to Shirahama - Kumano Kodo Trails: A full day to explore the old pilgrimage trails and famous shrines like Hongu Taisha. Access to the Hongu Taisha area is by bus, approximately two hours.

Saturday 19th May Shirahama: A “rest day” – this is optional, but requested.

Sunday 20th May Shirahama - Kumano Kodo Trails: Second day for the exploring the kumano-kodo trails.

Monday 21st May Shirahama to Osaka: Departing the Kii Peninsula we return to Japan’s second largest metropolis as our based for the next two days. Estimated arrival is around mid-day (maybe 1 p.m.) Suggested for the afternoon is to visit the Dotonbori area, the local history museum (near Osaka Castle) and/or free time to explore.

Tuesday 22nd May Friday Osaka: Himeji and Okayama day trip: Take the train south to the castle towns of Himeji and Okayama.

Himeji Castle, the largest castle in Japan (although not the largest donjon), is a spectacular castle due to its size and beauty and castle grounds. Himeji Castle is also known as White Heron Castle due to its elegant, white appearance. It is considered by many to be Japan’s most spectacular castle for its imposing size, beauty and its well preserved, complex castle grounds. It is both a national treasure and a World Heritage Site. Himeji also includes a castle garden; Kokoen is a relatively recently constructed Japanese style garden, which was opened in 1992.

Korakuen at Okayama is a beautiful landscape garden and is ranked as one of Japan’s three best landscape gardens. It is located just beside Okayama Castle. The main building of Okayama Castle is the six story castle keep. The keep’s interior is modern and displays exhibits on the history and development of the castle.

Wednesday 23rd May Osaka to Takayama: Travel by Shinkansen to Nagoya and then local train to the onsen (hot spring) mountain town of Takayama. The journey from Nagoya is through some very scenic valleys and into the mountain regions of central Japan. After arrival, explore the town's historic buildings and shops on foot. The local specialty is Hida beef, very good quality - we recommend enjoying it at one of the local bbq restaurants.

Thursday 24th May Takayama: Explore the town and its easy walking courses; enjoy the local markets or visit one of the several small museums and temples scattered around the town. Takayama is famous for its woodworking and its biannual floats festival (matsuri). A visit to the Festival Floats Exhibition Hall is a recommended stop on our tours.

After lunch we head to the world heritage site of Shirakaga-go (a half day bus trip) with its unique steep thatched-roofed houses. The Hida Folk village provides a different range of historic buildings and could be included in the morning activities.

Friday 25th 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 26th May Kanazawa to Tokyo: Transfer back to Tokyo for either a final day in the city or travel direct to airport for 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. In the afternoon we have time to head to Shinjuku to the national gardens (58.3 hectares) including an impressive green house. (Probably not too many cherry blossoms, even for the later varieties.)

From the gardens, head to the Golden Gai area of old style bars before seeing Godzilla towering above the night life area of Kabukicho or visiting the small (but interesting) Samurai museum.

Wednesday 9th May Tokyo Wednesday - 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.

Thursday 10th May Tokyo to Okayama: Departing from Tokyo we take the shinkansen to Okayama. The afternoon is reserved for visiting Korakuen Japanese garden at Okayama is a beautiful landscape garden and is ranked as one of Japan's three best landscape gardens. It is located just beside Okayama Castle. The main building of Okayama Castle is the six story castle keep. The keep's interior is modern and displays exhibits on the history and development of the castle.

Friday 11th May Okayama - Adachi Museum of Art day trip: Heading across the island towards the city of Matsue we arrive at Yasugi before getting the shuttle to the museum. The museum houses a collection of nearly 1300 twentieth century paintings and artworks, and is famous for its garden which has been named the best garden in Japan annually since 2003.

Saturday 12th May Okayama: 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.

Sunday 13th May Okayama to Kyoto: Leaving Okayama we take the shinkansen to Kyoto, which delivers us to the historic old capital of Japan. On the way we have an opportunity to visit Himeji and their world famous castle, one of the finest examples of Japanese castle architecture including its impressive array of supplementary buildings as well as the large donjon (main castle keep).

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.

Monday 14th May Kyoto: Visit Nijo Castle for the elaborately decorated palace buildings (one the best surviving examples of castle palace architecture of Japan's feudal era), and its beautiful Palace garden. Heading to the eastern side of the city, a trip to Heian Shrine and its strolling garden is a worth-while visit before heading to the silver pavilion. With visits to both the silver and gold pavilion of this tour you have the opportunity to compare the two sites.

Tuesday 15th May Kyoto: Start the day by visiting the "golden pavilion" Kinkaku-ji in the north east of the city before visiting the nearby Ryoan-ji Temple. Ryoan-ji is the site of Japan's most famous rock garden. From Ryoan-ji we then head to the beautiful Arashiyama district, enjoy the view across the Oi River from the Togetsukyō Bridge. A visit to the Tenryu-ji temple gardens is very nice, and a ride on one of the punt boats on the river can insert a relaxing interlude to the day.

Among the famous sights in the area is the Sagano bamboo grove (although the large number of tourists makes it hard to get "travel brochure" photos.)

Wednesday 16th 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.

Thursday 17th May Kyoto: 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 - we recommend enjoying it at one of the local bbq restaurants.

Friday 18th 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 1/2 day bus tour that visits the World Heritage Site of Shirakawa-go with its old traditional "A frame" farmhouses.

Saturday 19th 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.

Sunday 20th 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/ (The entry fee to the park is included in the tour fee, the optional craft experiences within the park are not.)

Monday 21st May Kanazawa to Tokyo: Departing from Kanazawa we travel by shinkansen back to Tokyo. The afternoon is available for visits to the Ashikaga Flower Park.

Other garden options include the Hamariku gardens feature 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.

Tuesday 22nd May 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.

Wednesday 23rd May Tokyo: Final time in Tokyo before heading to the airport for your flight home.

Price Inclusions/exclusions

The price for the nineteen day Japan in May 2018 Tour (accommodation for eighteen nights) is from Y760,000 per person share twin/double.  Shorter or longer duration is also available.

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

The price includes:

Exclusions are generally items such as theatre performances, sporting or other special events, theme parks, lunch and evening meals, snacks/drinks and other incidental costs such as hotel room service/laundry.  

Bookings and Inquiries

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