Japan Discovery Tour: The Great Capitals

Trip description

From Tokyo, the largest city in the world, extravagant and dynamic, to Kyoto, the former imperial capital, authentic and cultured, this discovery tour of Japan is ideal for sailing between the cities that embody the land of the rising sun. You will also discover their rich surroundings: Kamakura, near Tokyo, another ancient capital, cradle of Japanese Zen Buddhism represented among others by its Great Buddha, while near Kyoto, Nara welcomes the darlings of locals and travellers - deer living in freedom, frolicking around the largest wooden building in the world. Between the two main stages of the stay, Hakone, at the foot of Mount Fuji, will be the occasion for a marriage between exquisite Japanese gastronomy and thermal baths with resourcing properties: what could be better than a tailor-made trip to Japan to experience the real harmony of tradition and modernity?

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Discover the agency :
Au fil du Japon

12 days

From : €2,690*

Day 1: Tokyo, a country on its own

Day 2: Tokyo, titanic and futuristic

Day 3: Tokyo, back to the Edo period

Day 4: Kamakura, former shogunal capital

Day 5: Spiritual and natural getaway in Nikko

Day 6: Hakone, nature getaway in Mount Fuji

Day 7: Kyoto, guardian of millennial traditions

Day 8: Great temples and Zen Walk

Day 9: Treasures of Nara and Shinto deities

Day 10: Shogunal residence and Imperial walk in Arashiyama

Day 11: Sylvester escape from Kibune to Kurama

Day 12: Last moments before the return

Day 1 : Tokyo, a country on its own

©sofi5t - pixabay

Greater Tokyo, with a population of 42 million, is the largest megalopolis in the world. Surprisingly large, it is possible to discover it by strolling through its many neighbourhoods - all of which have their own special atmosphere and attractions.

Originally a small fishing village called Edo, it was the military base of the famous Tokugawa Ieyasu at the end of the 16th century, then its capital when it became shogun and finished unifying Japan. It was only in 1868 that the Emperor regained his powers and decided to move his capital from Kyoto to Edo, which he immediately renamed the capital of the East - in Japanese: Tokyo.

The city opens its arms to its many visitors thanks to its incredible and extremely efficient public transport network. It is pleasant to be captivated by the glass and steel buildings in its lively districts, with their varied atmospheres. Thanks to the Yamanote circular line, it is possible to move easily from one place to another without missing anything of the unmissable places that are the pride of the city.

As soon as you arrive you will be taken care of by a French-speaking guide who will transfer you to your hotel and guide you to the best welcome on Japanese soil. He will provide you with all the necessary documents for your stay and will be available to answer all your questions.

You will then leave the airport by the "Airport Express Train" and a taxi will take you for your first night at the Akasaka Granbell Hotel.

Day 2 : Tokyo, titanic and futuristic

Tokyo, titanic and You will start your discovery of the city by Shinjuku, a central and popular district, a must in the capital. Its train station is the busiest in the world and attracts no less than 4 million passengers a day. The district is itself divided into several distinct zones: to the west the buildings of the large Japanese companies, to the east the department stores and, to the north, Kabuki-cho, more animated in the evening. Then change of atmosphere and direction to the Meiji-jingu shrine, dedicated to the divine souls of Emperor Meiji and his wife. It is located in the centre of a park with more than 170,000 trees of 245 different species - the source of offerings from all over the archipelago.

Leaving the park to the east, you will discover the famous Harajuku, the fashion district. To soak up the atmosphere, you will stroll along the eccentric street of Takeshita-dori where Tokyo's youth gather, then on Tokyo's Champs-Elysées, Omote-Sando.

You can move around freely using the extensive public transport network. 2nd night at Akasaka Granbell Hotel.

Day 3 : Tokyo, back to the Edo period

©cegoh - pixabay

To get a good feel for the capital, it is interesting to go back in time for an introduction to the Edo period. Located in the sumo district of Ryogoku, the Edo-Tokyo museum approaches the history of the city through numerous models, animations and fun activities for a total immersion. You will then continue the immersion, this time in the local life, by joining the popular market of Ameyoko, a big eclectic bazaar of the capital where the shopkeepers are busy the amazed passer-by. Not far away is Asakusa, a traditional district featuring the Senso-ji temple, dedicated to the goddess Kanon, which is reached by the Nakamise-dori shopping alley.

Finally, to the south of the city, the World Trade Center observatory offers from its 40th floor and in a hushed atmosphere a breathtaking 360° view of the sprawling megalopolis. It will be an opportunity to admire the beauty of Tokyo, sparkling with a thousand lights at nightfall.

Night at Akasaka Granbell Hotel

Day 4 : Kamakura, former shogunal capital

©sunisa poy - pixabay

Although Tokyo is full of must-see sights, large neighborhoods and small streets, a Zen escape in the surrounding area is an option not to be neglected on your Japan discovery tour. Not far away, about 45 min from Tokyo, stands Kamakura, a pleasant coastal town much appreciated by Tokyoites in search of nature and calm, which became in the 12th century the first shogunal capital, for more than a century. Among its many temples and sanctuaries, we recommend, in order, the visit of the important Tsurugaoka Hachimangu sanctuary dedicated to the deity of war, Hachiman, then the visit of the Kencho-ji temple, the oldest of the Zen temples of Kamakura and whose discovery takes its visitors back in time. After passing through the town and taking a train ride along the sea, one reaches the Hase-dera temple, dedicated to the goddess Kannon, which offers a magnificent view of Kamakura Bay. Finally, the Kotoku-in temple, a must for the destination, presents by a bronze statue of more than 11 meters high, its great Buddha Amithaba.

Overnight at the Akasaka Granbell Hotel.

Day 5 : Spiritual and natural getaway in Nikko

©kimura2 - pixabay

About two hours from Tokyo is one of the most important sites of the archipelago: Nikko. During the Nara period, in the 8th century, a Buddhist monk began to explore this area north-east of Tokyo where he was born. Mount Nantai reminds him of the mythical residence of the goddess Kannon and he decides to erect several religious buildings in the vicinity, starting with the famous Rinno-ji temple. The multiplication of holy places on these lands attracted people and from there the city of Nikko was founded. Almost a millennium later, the Toshogu Shrine was built, a mausoleum for the founding father of the shogunate that unified and pacified Japan, Tokugawa Ieyasu. These two sites, among others, are inscribed on the World Heritage List.

Rising gracefully over the river, the sacred red vermilion Shinkyo Bridge leads the flow of pilgrims to Nikko. Nearby, but built later, the Villa Tamozawa and its 106 rooms served as a summer residence for the imperial family.

If you stay long enough in the area, you can explore as far as Lake Chuzen-ji, with its beautiful scenery, including the famous Kegon Falls, rising to over 100m high. It is also possible to go to Kinugawa-onsen, to navigate in a traditional flat-bottomed wooden boat through breathtaking gorges in the middle of nature.

Overnight at Akasaka Granbell Hotel

Day 6 : Hakone, nature getaway in Mount Fuji

©12019 - pixabay

Departure by train in the direction of Hakone region. Due to its proximity to Mount Fuji and its many natural hot springs, Hakone is the ideal destination for those who wish to relax and admire the beauty of Japanese landscapes. After a visit to Hakone Shrine, the boat crossing of Lake Ashi offers stunning views of Mount Fuji.  The continuation will be carried out by cable car to reach the fumerolles of Owakudani, without missing also the geo museum, explaining the specifics of the volcanism of the region.  For those who want more to discover Hakone, are recommended to choose, the open-air museum highlighting a harmony between nature and Art, or the complex of baths of Hakone Yunessun, which offers all kinds of baths, some of which flavored.

The evening will be the opportunity to enjoy a well-deserved rest in ryokan, traditional Japanese hostel par excellence, discovering the onsen, hot springs, but also to taste an excellent kaiseki, seasonal dinner, and finally to experience the traditional Japanese sleeping: futons on tatamis for everyone !

Overnight at Hotel Ryokan Hoeiso

Day 7 : Kyoto, guardian of millennial traditions

©UniBay - pixabay

Departure for Kyoto on board the Shinkansen, equivalent of the Japanese TGV. Kyoto, one of the jewels of Japanese history was founded in 794 under the name of Heian (capital of peace) in order to escape the too great Buddhist influence that reigned at the time at the Court of Nara. It will retain its status as imperial capital for more than a millennium, until the emperor decides to transfer the seat of his power to Tokyo. Spared by the bombardments of the Second World War, it has 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites and includes about 1,600 Buddhist temples as well as 400 Shinto shrines.

In order to get acquainted with the city, it is first necessary to focus on some of the must-see sites that have shaped the history of Kyoto, such as the temple of pure water Kiyomizu-dera, which overlooks the city, or the Higashiyama district with its many stalls that scatter through the shopping streets of Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka. Below, the Great Shrine of Yasaka, dedicated to the Shinto deity of the sea, Susano, marks the border with the district of Gion, known for its traditional alleys and geishas, its children of the arts. In the evening, visit the typical Pontocho alley, parallel to the Kamo River, which offers a large selection of excellent traditional restaurants and offers the opportunity for some lucky ones to meet Maikos, the young geisha apprentices of Kyoto.

Day 8 : Great temples and Zen Walk

Kyoto is full of cultural and religious buildings and places, the most important of which are renowned all over the world. The must-see are to explore in the first place, such as the Golden Pavilion or Kinkaku-ji in Japanese. Originally built as the retreat villa of the Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu at the end of the fourteenth century, it was sacralized at his death by his successor and son, Yoshimochi, under the name Rokuon-ji : the Imperial Temple of the deer garden. A few steps away is the Ryoan-ji temple, famous for its dry garden, a masterpiece of zen culture. Its peculiarity is that it presents 15 stones arranged in such a way that the observer, from wherever he is, can never observe them all at once.

To the east of the city, the Silver Pavilion, or Ginkaku-ji in Japanese, was built by Yoshimitsu's grandson Ashikaga Yoshimasa to compete with his ancestor. However, in wartime, it will remain unfinished and will not be dressed in silver. It is by taking the path of philosophy, a small path of about 2km bordered by cherry trees, that we access at the end of the walk to the Nanzen-ji temple, literally temple of the South zen, nestled in full vegetation at the foot of the Eastern Mountain. It is one of the 5 great zen temples of Kyoto and the seat of the Rinzai branch of Buddhism.

Overnight at Hotel Kyoto Granbell.

Day 9 : Treasures of Nara and Shinto deities

Nara, 50 km south of Kyoto, is an ideal destination for a relaxing day : it was one of the first capitals of the archipelago in the eighth century and its monuments are now inscribed on the World Heritage List. Impossible to miss the majestic building of the Great Todai-ji temple, which rises in a park where hundreds of deer live in complete freedom – the Companions of a day. The emperor of the time, Shomu, applied a policy of centralization to strengthen the unity and power of the state, and saw an identical strategy in Buddhist religion by founding this temple, which was to occupy a central place.

Other points of interest include the landscape garden borrowed from Isuien, much more recent since it originated from the Meiji era in the early twentieth century, and the Kasuga-taisha Shrine, guardian of the powerful Fujiwara family that shaped middle-aged Japan by providing numerous regents to Japanese emperors before the shogun era. On the way back to Kyoto, a stop at the place of worship of the Fox deity, the Fushimi-Inari-taisha Shrine, is worth considering. So bewitching, that it transports the traveler in a mystical atmosphere thanks to its thousands of Vermilion porticos arranged across the mountain.

Overnight at Hotel Kyoto granbell.

Day 10 : Shogunal residence and Imperial walk in Arashiyama

©Mariamichelle - pixabay

At the beginning of the seventeenth century, Japan's third unifying shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, whose capital was in Edo (Tokyo), had Nijo Castle built as a fortified residence for the many heirs of his dynasty during their visits to Kyoto. Almost three centuries later, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, the last of the name, returned his powers to Emperor Meiji in the same palace, ending the military dictatorship. To the west of the city extends Arashiyama, which was the favorite promenade destination of the imperial court in the Heian era. The main attraction lies in its bamboo forest, with some trees up to several tens of meters high. Nearby, the Main Street traders immerse passers-by in traditional culinary finesse while leading them to the famous Togetsu-kyo bridge that spans the Hozu River. Along the way, an indispensable stop at Tenryu-ji temple, whose garden is designed to calm the mind and whose hills as a backdrop seem to be its infinite extension.

Overnight at Hotel Kyoto Granbell.

Day 11 : Sylvester escape from Kibune to Kurama

Nestled in the wooded mountains north of Kyoto, these two small picturesque villages are a bucolic parenthesis very close to the city. The immersion begins as soon as the train is installed to Kibune, the village of the "Yellow Boat" where, according to popular belief, a goddess arrived on a journey ... the train is a change of scenery in itself with its seats designed to enjoy the panoramic view and its small size : the landscape passes and the city very quickly gives way to nature. In any season the trip is a delight for the eyes. From the small train station, we reach in a few steps the shrine of Ki-fune whose central alley is lined with scarlet lanterns arranged in order to guide the steps of pilgrims.
A walk of about an hour through this millennial pine forest unfolds under the feet a leaf-lined path leading to the Great Temple of Kurama-dera, with a mystical aura. Perched practically on the top of the hill, it reveals a singular view of the trees below.  From here, The Descent is quieter on this slope, through the trees and altars, towards the small village of Kurama. The highlight of the day will be to immerse your body in its famous onsen, where the natural spring water and the singing of the surrounding nature will soothe you to meditate with ease…

Overnight at Hotel Kyoto Granbell.

Day 12 : Last moments before the return

The day of the return has finally arrived... it is time to leave this archipelago to the harmony of traditions and modernity like nothing else, and leave with the teachings of the must-haves of Japanese civilization. Depending on the time of the flight, you can take advantage of the last moments of travel to find the perfect gift, before heading back to the airport and boarding the plane. Contemplating the beautiful shots taken during the trip, it is not uncommon for a possible return to Japan earlier than expected to cross the minds of travelers…

The price includes


5 nights accommodation in Tokyo, breakfast,
1 Night accommodation in Ryokan in Hakone, dinner and breakfast,
5 nights accommodation in Kyoto, breakfast,

Round-trip transfers from airports to city centres, by public transport (tickets),
Transfers between city centers and accommodation, by taxi, when there is an assistant available (arrival in Tokyo and Kyoto),
A contactless payment card for the use of public transport, preloaded,
A Hakone Free Pass 2 days, for all types of transport to Hakone, from Shinjuku,
Journeys by Shinkansen (TGV nippon), between Hakone (Odawara) and Kyoto, in second class,
On-site Assistance

Francophone reception and assistance upon arrival at Tokyo airport, as well as at Kyoto Station,
The organization and optimization of your tailor-made trip with an advisor based in Japan,
A complete Travel Book (Day-to-day and step-by-step guide for a free trip framed to the maximum, with Japanese translations included if needed),
The rental of a portable Wi-Fi router for the duration of the stay, so that you can stay connected at any time,
Liability insurance in Japan for all our travelers,
Telephone support 24/7 during the trip, with a real French agency at the destination.

The price does not include

International flights and related taxes,
Francophone guidance or assistance, optional,
Francophone assistance to the return airport,
Entrances to tourist sites,
Meals, except those mentioned as included, as well as drinks,
Transport other than those mentioned as included, including transfers between city centres and accommodation when there is no assistance (by public transport or taxi, at your choice),
Shipments of luggage by private carrier between different stages (recommended, about 2,000 yen / item),
Tourist tourist tax, about 100 ~ 500 yen per night per person, collected only on the spot, for the cities of Tokyo, Kyoto,
The thermal tax, about 150 yen per night per person, collected only on site in cities with Official Hot Springs (Hakone),
Your personal expenses,
Tips (guides, assistants),
Insurance (repatriation, cancellation).

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