Japan in May - Spring Tours 2019

Tokyo skyline Kyoto Kyoto Gion

Japan in May 2018 Tours

For May 2017 and 2018 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 and 2018 editions 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). 

The other tour we are looking at for the 2019 springtime is a repeat of our "Best of Japan" tour with its garden theme with a schedule covering just over two weeks.  As with many of our trips there is flexibility and the theme might be some of the beautiful gardens and landscapes of Japan, it is certainly not the only thing we do and see across the two weeks.  There are also optional additions at either the start or end of the trip. 

If you would prefer different dates for either of these two trips, please let us know. 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 2019

Saturday 11th May Tokyo: We will meet you at the airport (either Haneda or Narita).   Upon arrival, after clearing immigration, luggage collection and customs, we transfer into the city and your hotel.

Sunday 12th May Tokyo: Start the day with a visit to Asukusa Kaminarimon ("Thunder gate"), Hozomon and pagoda. An array of stalls lines Nakamise Street and the approach to Sensoji Temple, the oldest temple in Tokyo.

Heading to Ueno provides good options and variety for lunch adjacent to the expansive Ueno Park. The park also contains several museums (including Tokyo National Museum) and the beautiful Tōshō-gū shine that enshrines the first Shōgun of the Tokugawa Shogunate. Finishing our visit in Ueno we include a walk through the old style market of Ameya-Yokocho with its many varied stalls and small shops including many located under the railway tracks.

Monday 13th May Tokyo to Nagano: Departing from Tokyo we head to the Japanese Alps and the city of Nagano. The day is reserved for a trip to the Jigokudani Monkey Park of the famous "snow" monkeys.

Arriving back into Nagano in the mid/late afternoon for check-in at the hotel adjacent to the main train station.  There is time late in the day for a visit to the 7th Zenko-ji temple that the city is based around. Among the interesting features is the passageway beneath the inner chamber and people search for the "key to paradise" and numerous important cultural properties

Tuesday 14th May Nagano to Takayama: Departing Nagano, we combine a short one hour train journey to the castle town of Matsumoto before getting the bus for the direct and scenic route though the Japanese Alps.

Arriving in Takayama the afternoon is available to explore the preserved historic commercial district of old buildings featuring many sake breweries and local craft shops. A visit to the Showa-kan museum is an interesting peak into the 20th century of Japan with many items of nostalgia. 

Optional: The timing for the day introduces an option to spend a few hours in Matsumoto to visit its castle. This would push back the arrival into Takayama to the late afternoon.

Wednesday 15th May Takayama: During the morning visit the river-side morning market and shops on foot and/or visit the festival floats exhibition hall. Nearby to the festival float museum is the Karakuri museum that displays the operation of traditional puppets.  After lunch we head to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Shirakawa-go with its unique steep thatched-roofed houses.

Thursday 16th May Takayama to Kyoto: Departing Takayama the 'Wide View Hida" train travels along the scenic Hida River to Nagoya and then a short shinkansen ride to arrive in the historic capital of Kyoto

With a mid-day arrival the afternoon is for our visit to the Fushimi Inari shrine founded in 711AD. The unique feature are the 10,000 torii gates that line the path to the top of Inari mountain.

Friday 17th 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.
From Kinkaku-ji we head to the beautiful Arashiyama district. We enjoy the view across the Oi River from the Togetsukyō Bridge and a ride on one of the punt boats on the river.  Among the famous sights in the area is the Sagano bamboo grove and we visit the beautiful Tenryu-ji temple gardens.

Saturday 18th 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. Of course, there are also 2,000 deer roaming the Nara Deer Park.

Sunday 19th May Kyoto to Shirahama: Travelling to the Kii Peninsula and the town of Shirahama takes around three hours from Kyoto.  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.

Monday 20th May Shirahama - Kumano Kodo Trails: A full day to explore the old pilgrimage trails and famous shrines like Hongu Taisha.

Tuesday 21st May Shirahama - Kumano Kodo Trails: Second day for the exploring the Kumano Kodo with a visit to the Nachi Falls.  From Shirahama the express train takes us to Kii Katsura and then a by bus to Kumano Nachi Taisha, the falls are a short distance from the shrine.  Optionally this could be a "rest day".

Wednesday 22nd May Shirahama to Hiroshima: Departing the Kii Peninsula we pass through Japan's second largest metropolis (Osaka) for the transfer to the shinkansen to take us south to Hiroshima. With an afternoon arrival time, there is time to visit the Peace Park and Peace Museum.

Thursday 23rd May Hiroshima: With a full day in Hiroshima we have time to explore a couple of different destinations. The main attraction for the day is Miyajima Island and its Itsukushima Shrine. This is the location of the famous "floating" torii gate. Also on the island we can make use of the we can use the ropeway (cable car) and head to the top of Mount Misen for views across the Seto inland sea. If feeling energetic, the walk back down the mountain provides some good viewing and vantage points (otherwise we can get the ropeway back down).

Friday 24th May Hiroshima to Kanazawa: Departing from Hiroshima there is a shinkansen and then express train to arrive in the costal city of Kanazawa.   During the afternoon visit the local Omi-cho fresh food market and a great 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.

Saturday 25th May Kanazawa to Tokyo: Transfer back to Tokyo and a free afternoon to explore the sights of Tokyo including its many parks, gardens, museums or shopping districts, and of course its great variety of food.

Sunday 26th May Tokyo: Final time in Tokyo before airport transfers and flights.

Schedule - Japan Spring Garden Tour (May 2019)

Saturday 11th May Tokyo: We will meet you at the airport (either Haneda or Narita).   Upon arrival, after clearing immigration, luggage collection and customs, we transfer into the city and your hotel.

Sunday 12th May Tokyo: Start the day with a visit to Asukusa Kaminarimon ("Thunder gate"), Hozomon and pagoda. An array of stalls lines Nakamise Street and the approach to Sensoji Temple, the oldest temple in Tokyo.

Heading to Ueno provides good options and variety for lunch adjacent to the expansive Ueno Park. The park also contains several museums (including Tokyo National Museum) and the beautiful Tōshō-gū shine that enshrines the first Shōgun of the Tokugawa Shogunate. Finishing our visit in Ueno we include a walk through the old style market of Ameya-Yokocho with its many varied stalls and small shops including many located under the railway tracks.

Monday 13th May Tokyo - 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 head to the scenic Lake Chuzenji and Kegon Falls.

Tuesday 14th May Tokyo to Hiroshima: From Tokyo we travel to Hiroshima. With an early afternoon arrival time, there is then an opportunity to visit the Peace Park and Museum in Hiroshima city.  There may also be time to visit the Shukkei-en miniature garden or Hiroshima Castle.

Wednesday 15th May Hiroshima: The start of the day is to first visit Iwakuni and the famous Kintai-kyo Bridge. Beyond the bridge is an interesting array of attractions including a cormorant training facility for "ukai" fishing, Kikko shrine and a selection of older style buildings and gardens.

For the afternoon is a trip to Miyajima Island and its Daishoin Temple and Itsukushima Shrine. This is the location of the famous "floating" torii gate. Also on the island we can make use of the we can use the ropeway (cable car) and head to the top of Mount Misen for views across the Seto inland sea.

Thursday 16th May Hiroshima to Okayama: Arriving into 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.

From Okayama there is an option to visit the Adachi Museum of Art near the city of Matsue.  The two hour train journey through the mountains is a scenic ride 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.  Note, the garden is viewed rather one that people are allowed to walk through.

Friday 17th May Okayama: A short trip south of Okayama is the township of Kurashiki and the picturesque canal district. The preserved canal area that dates back to the Edo Period (1603-1867).  Some of the buildings have been converted into museums and includes the Japan Rural Toy Museum displays toys from the 1600s to the 1980s. The Archaeological Museum has artefacts from more ancient cultures, and there is also a natural history museum.

Saturday 18th 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 (and the associated castle garden), 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.

Sunday 19th 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.

Sunday 19th 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.)

Monday 20th 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, and the Nara Deer Park with many deer roaming the precincts.

Tuesday 21st May Kyoto to Takayama: Travel by Shinkansen and then local train alongside the scenic Hida River 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, we recommend enjoying it at one of the local  restaurants.

Wednesday 22nd 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.

Thursday 23rd May Takayama to Kanazawa: Departing from Takayama we travel along the scenic Miyagawa River to Toyama before a short shinkansen ride to Kanazawa.

During the afternoon visit the local Omi-cho fresh food market and a great 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.

Friday 24th May Kanazawa to Tokyo: Departing from Kanazawa we travel by shinkansen back to Tokyo. The afternoon is available for a visit to the Hamariku Gardens.  Hamariku 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).

Saturday 25th May Tokyo: There are many great gardens in and around Tokyo that are worth visiting including the Shinjuku National Gardens or the huge Showa Memorial Gardens in western Tokyo.  As day trips the Kairakuen Garden in Mito is ranked among Japan's three finest landscape gardens, or the Asikaga Flower Garden Park are possible destinations.

Sunday 26th 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 2019 Tour (accommodation for fifteen nights) is from Y695,000 per person share twin/double.  Shorter or longer duration is also available.

The price for the sixteen day Japan Spring Garden Tour (accommodation for fifteen nights) is from Y695,000 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.