The Edo period was undoubtedly the time of pilgrims and great travelers of all kinds: samurai, merchants, and even shoguns ... It is in their footsteps that this stay in Japan will take you off the beaten track of the Imperial Roads, centered around short hikes, among other things.
Even in Tokyo: the possibilities of excursions are legion and it will be possible to discover the buildings of the ancient capital from the other side of the bay - a breathtaking panorama in Nokogiri that will prefigure the rest of your trip to Japan: Mount Fuji and the Japanese Alps revealing a contrasting and authentic Japan. Around Kyoto and its thousand temples, history will take you to Nara, with its architectural wonders, but also to Mount Koya, the holy place of Japanese Buddhism.
You will start your trip by visiting the Japanese capital, the largest city in the world. With its 42 million inhabitants, Tokyo will never cease to amaze you by its immoderation, you will discover it by strolling through its many districts which present a completely different atmosphere and very exotic attractions.
Tokyo was originally a small fishing village called Edo, it became the capital when the famous Tokugawa Ieyasu at the end of the 16th century, became shogun and finished unifying Japan. It was renamed in 1868 as the capital of the East, Tokyo in Japanese at the restoration of power to the emperor.
You will discover a unique public transport network in the world, which will allow you to stroll through the lively districts and discover the effervescence of the Japanese capital. 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 get off the plane, you will be picked up by a French-speaking guide who will accompany 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.
Explore Shinjuku, one of the most popular districts, a must in Tokyo and the ideal place to start your discovery of the Japanese capital. Its train station is the busiest in the world and attracts no less than 4 million passengers a day. The district is divided into several zones: to the west the buildings, to the east the department stores and to the north Kabuki-cho, more animated in the evening.
You will also visit the Meiji-jingu shrine, dedicated to the divine souls of Emperor Meiji and his wife. Located in the heart of a park with more than 170,000 trees of 245 different species, a must stop on your tour of the city.
Leaving the park to the east, the famous Harajuku, the fashion district, appears. In order to soak up its atmosphere, you will stroll along the eccentric street of Takeshita-dori where Tokyo's youth gather, then on Tokyo's Champs-Elysees, Omote-Sando.
Overnight at the Akasaka Granbell Hotel.
A Zen escape in the Tokyo area is an option not to be neglected in your discovery of Japan off the beaten track.
About 45 min from Tokyo, Kamakura is a popular stopover for Tokyoites in search of serenity, a pleasant coastal town that 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 Kencho-ji temple, the oldest of Kamakura's Zen temples, whose discovery takes visitors back in time.
After a walk in the town and a train ride along the sea, one reaches the Hase-dera temple, dedicated to the goddess Kannon, which offers a magnificent view of the Kamakura bay. Finally, the Kotoku-in temple, a must in the destination, presents by a bronze statue of more than 11 meters high, its great Buddha Amithaba.
Overnight at the Akasaka Granbell Hotel.
A short distance from Tokyo, on the other side of the bay, Mount Nokogiri, a respectable mountain that has been nibbled and carved over the ages by men who coveted its soft stone to build Edo on the opposite shore. This new topography gave it its contemporary name, the "saw-toothed mountain". In the south of the Boso peninsula, 2 hours from Tokyo by train and ferry, the mountain keeps a stone guard who watches over the bay. Sitting facing the sea, it is the highest sculpted Buddha in Japan, culminating at more than 30 meters.
To discover it and let yourself be carried away by the infinite horizon that opens up at its summit, take advantage of an immersive hike along the old quarry paths. The slope is steep and the stairs follow one another across the mountain... More than 1,500 statues of small Buddhas accompany the ascent to the Nihon-ji temple. The most daring will dare to approach the gaze of hell, Jigoku nozoki: this natural advance unveils Tokyo Bay as far as the eye can see.
At the end of the day, the natural hot springs will relax your muscles before taking the ferry back to Tokyo.
Overnight at the Akasaka Granbell Hotel.
Stretching north of Mount Fuji, Lake Kawaguchi-ko borders the eponymous town, famous in particular for being one of the best observation points of the volcano with its perfectly conical harmony. Inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013, Japan's highest point is one of Japan's favourite destinations. The fittest will be able to plan to cycle around the lake for about 20 kilometres in search of the best shot, or to climb the 400 steps leading up to the Chureito pagoda and its splendid view, while others will prefer to gain height with the cable car to Mount Kachi-Kachi.
Also not to be missed on site is a visit to the Ichiku Kubota Kimono Art Museum, presenting the ultimate works of the master, who devoted his life to recreating the ancient kimono dyeing technique known as Tsujigahana, all presented in a house with amazing architecture and a marvelous natural setting, which extends into the surrounding woods.
Further on, the village of Oshino-Hakkai, with its few traditional houses displaying farmers' tools and samurai armour, will offer a pleasant atmosphere with the majestic Mount Fuji as a backdrop.
Overnight at Ryokan Konansou Hotel.
In a valley framed by the highest snow-capped peaks in the Japanese Alps, Matsumoto is a charming town with a relaxed atmosphere, culture and charming streets. Its castle, which sits proudly in the centre, is nicknamed "The Black Crow". It exhibits typical 15th century architecture and is home to the oldest wooden dungeon in Japan. In the surrounding area of Nakamachi, two main alleys stretch out lined with old 19th century warehouses and the advance in time can be seen in the tiles and thick walls, decorated with white and black latticework. Most of them have been transformed into cafés, local restaurants, chic boutiques or galleries.
Art lovers will be invited to visit the Ukiyo-e Museum to discover more than 100,000 prints that are part of the famous floating world art movement of the Edo period.
The Koboyama Park, located on an ancestral Kofun-type tomb further south, will offer a natural paradise, especially during the cherry blossom season, unless the most curious prefer to visit the archipelago's largest wasabi farm, where crops grow on no less than 15 hectares permanently irrigated by spring water from the mountains.
Overnight at the Kagetsu Hotel.
In the Edo period of the Tokugawa shogunate, two major roads linked the capital, Edo, to Kyoto, the ancient capital. One, the Tokaido, ran along the Pacific coast, while the other, the Nakasendo, passed through the mountains in the centre of the country. The second road, 542 km long, followed the valley of the Kiso River and reached the capital in about two weeks. It had 69 stages, but nowadays only a few original plots of land remain.
It is from Tsumago, an old relay village with wooden houses, embedded in the mountains, that the Nakasendo road goes under the foliage of cypresses and passes by small waterfalls, as well as flowered hamlets in the summer season.
It takes about three hours on foot to reach the next stage, Magome. Located on a hillside, the village stretches along a beautiful sloping cobbled street lined with souvenir shops, restaurants and traditional inns, the minshuku, whose restored architecture skillfully recreates the atmosphere of the Edo period.
Overnight at Ryokan Hanasara Hotel.
Kyoto, a true wonder of the archipelago was founded in 1794 under the name of Heian, capital of peace. It retained its status as capital until 1868, when the emperor chose to move it to Tokyo. Fortunately, it was spared the bombing during the Second World War, and today there are no less than 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites, around 1600 Buddhist temples and 400 Shinto shrines.
You can start your visit with the must-see sites that have shaped the city's history, such as the Kiyomizu-dera temple of pure water, which overlooks the city, or the Higashiyama district and its many shops that are scattered throughout the shopping streets of Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka. Further down, the great sanctuary of Yasaka, dedicated to the Shinto sea deity Susano, marks the border with the Gion district, known for its traditional alleys, geishas and children of the arts.
In the evening, visit the typical alleyway of Pontocho, parallel to the Kamo River, which offers a wide choice of excellent traditional restaurants and offers the opportunity to some lucky people to meet maikos, the young apprentice geishas of Kyoto.
Overnight at the Kyoto Granbell Hotel
For your second day in Kyoto, discover the splendid temples and cultural or religious places which make its fame. You will visit the Golden Pavilion or Kinkaku-ji in Japanese, a must. Formerly built as the retirement villa of shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu at the end of the 14th century, it was made sacred at his death by his successor and son, Yoshimochi, under the name of 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 particularity is that it has 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 rival his ancestor. However, in times of war, it will remain unfinished and will not be dressed in silver. It is by taking the path of philosophy, a small path of about 2 km lined with cherry trees, that one reaches at the end of the walk the Nanzen-ji temple, literally temple of southern Zen, nestled in full vegetation at the foot of the mountain in the east. It is one of the 5 great Zen temples of Kyoto and the seat of the Rinzai branch of Buddhism.
Overnight at Kyoto Granbell Hotel
An essential stopover to enjoy a bit of relaxation and nature, Nara, 50 km south of Kyoto, was one of the first capitals of the archipelago in the 8th century and its monuments are now part of the World Heritage of Humanity. Impossible to miss the majestic building of the great Todai-ji temple, which rises in a park where hundreds of deer live in total freedom, you will be able to approach them in complete freedom. The emperor of the time, Shomu, applied a policy of centralization to strengthen the unity and power of the state, and saw a similar strategy in the Buddhist religion in founding this temple which was to occupy a central place.
Other points of interest are the garden with its landscape borrowed from Isuien, which is much more recent as it originated in the Meiji era at the beginning of the 20th century, and the Kasuga-taisha Shrine, the guardian of the powerful Fujiwara family who shaped medieval Japan by providing many regents to Japanese emperors before the Shogun era.
On the way back to Kyoto, a stop at the place of worship of the Fox divinity, the Fushimi-Inari-taisha Shrine, should be considered. So bewitching, that it transports the traveller into a mystical atmosphere thanks to its thousands of vermilion porticoes arranged across the mountain.
Night at the Kyoto Granbell Hotel
Heading towards the wooded mountains north of Kyoto, these two small picturesque villages are an essential stopover outside the city. A change of scenery is guaranteed as soon as you board the train to Kibune, the village of the "yellow boat" where, according to popular belief, a goddess docked while travelling. The train journey is a delight for the eyes, with its seats designed to enjoy the panoramic view and its small size: the landscape passes by and the city very quickly gives way to nature.
From the small train station, you can quickly walk to the sanctuary of Ki-fune, whose central aisle is lined with scarlet lanterns arranged to guide the steps of the pilgrims.
A journey of about an hour through a forest of thousand-year-old pines will lead you to the great temple of Kurama-dera, with its mystical aura. Perched practically on the top of the hill, you will be able to linger on the panorama that stretches before your eyes. From here, the descent is quieter on this slope, through the trees and altars, towards the small village of Kurama.
And why not end your day with a relaxing break by plunging your body into the famous onsen, where the natural spring water and the song of the surrounding nature will soothe you to meditate in all simplicity.
Overnight at Kyoto Granbell Hotel
Direction Mount Koya, a mystical place with 117 Buddhist temples that welcomes thousands of pilgrims every year. Its founder, the famous monk Kukai, obtained the Emperor's permission in the 9th century to establish the Shingon school of Buddhism there. The place, a high plateau surrounded by 8 mountains, was chosen by the monk in relation to the spiritual connection with the 8 lotus petals on which Buddha sits.
The main monument is the Kongobu-ji temple, built much later by the shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi at the death of his mother. It is now the seat of the religion, which offers to contemplation its dry garden of 140 stones, the Banryutei. The site also offers the discovery of the necropolis of Oku-no-in, gathering more than 200,000 graves lost in the mist, under a forest of cryptomers several hundred years old.
The ancient Ladies' Way, which today is a pleasant 7 km long hike in the middle of nature and takes about 2.5 hours to complete, was in fact the path that women banished from the city for a long time because they were considered impure.
Overnight at the Shukubo Eko-in Hotel.
Capital of the Kansai region, Osaka is the 3rd largest city in the country behind Tokyo and Yokohama. It is often contrasted with Tokyo: here, the locals are more relaxed, playful and fun! Very affected by the bombings of the Second World War, its rapid reconstruction shows a rather disorganized urbanism.
Its main attraction lies in its glittering golden castle, built by the second unifying shogun of Japan, Toyotomi Hideyoshi. It also houses a museum reconstructing the battle of his siege, which had an unfortunate outcome for his descendants. In the north of the city, one can discover the fashion district of Umeda, overhung by a building with an astonishing skeleton, the Umeda Sky Building, whose summit can be reached for a bird's eye view of the city.
But it is especially at nightfall that Osaka surprises and one can see its effervescence that animates some of the festive districts of the city. Thus, Shinsekai, a popular post-war district, or Namba and its Dotombori Street, night-time and modern districts around the canal, will be the ideal places for an immersion in this rebellious and electric culture for which Osaka is famous.
Overnight at Cordia Osaka Hotel
The day of return has finally arrived! Enjoy your last hours in the Japanese capital for some shopping, some pictures and why not a last typical Japanese restaurant.
Make the most of your last moments of your trip before heading back to the airport and boarding the plane. You will come back with memories of this harmony of traditions and this unparalleled modernity, so characteristic of Japan.
The price includes :
4 nights accommodation in Tokyo, breakfast
1 night accommodation in ryokan in Kawaguchi-ko, dinner and breakfast
1 night accommodation in Matsumoto, breakfast
1 night accommodation in ryokan at Magome, dinner and breakfast
4 nights accommodation in Kyoto, breakfast
1 night shukubo accommodation at Mount Koya, dinner and breakfast
1 night accommodation in Osaka, breakfast
Return transfers from airports to city centres by public transport (tickets)
Transfers between city centres and accommodation, by taxi, when an assistant is available (arrival in Tokyo),
A contactless payment card for the use of public transport, pre-loaded
The bus trip between Tokyo (Shinjuku) and Kawaguchi-ko
Train and shinkansen trips between Otsuki - Matsumoto, Matsumoto - Nagiso, Nakatsugawa - Kyoto, and Kyoto - Osaka, second class.
Mount Koya World Heritage Pass, for transport to Mount Koya from Osaka (Namba)
French-speaking reception and assistance on arrival at Tokyo airport
The organization and optimization of your tailor-made trip with a consultant based in Japan
A complete travel diary (day-to-day and step-by-step guidance for a trip in freedom with maximum supervision, with Japanese translations included if necessary)
The rental of a portable Wi-Fi router for the duration of your stay, so that you can stay connected at all times.
Liability insurance in Japan for all our travelers
24/7 telephone assistance during the trip, with a real French agency at the destination.
The price does not include :
International flights and related taxes
French-speaking guidance or assistance, as an option
French-speaking assistance to the return airport
Local bus trips between Kawaguchi-ko - Otsuki, Nagiso - Tsumago and Magome - Nakatsugawa, payment only on the spot, allow about 1,740 yen per person.
Entries to tourist sites
Meals, with the exception of those mentioned as included, as well as beverages
Transport other than that mentioned as included, including transfers between city centres and accommodation when no assistance is available (either by public transport or taxi)
Luggage shipments by private carrier between the different stages (recommended, about 2,000 yen/item)
Tourist tax, about 100 ~ 500 yen per night per person, collected only on the spot, for the cities of Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka,
Your personal expenses
Tips (guides, assistants)
Insurance (repatriation, cancellation).