Mountains, nature, sea and spirituality: the must-sees of Japan for an unforgettable trip to the four corners of the main island of the Archipelago, Honshu. From the titanic Tokyo, you will head west, making a detour through the Japanese Alps to admire some of the most beautiful panoramas of Japan. Arriving in Osaka for an evening of madness in its colourful districts, you will leave the next day for Mount Koya, which will be the occasion for a memorable spiritual retreat. Your visit will continue with a trip back in time to Hiroshima and Miyajima, and finally your trip to Japan will end in beauty in the former imperial capital, Kyoto, a true jewel of history and architecture.
With its 42 million inhabitants, Tokyo is the largest city in the world. The numerous districts of the megalopolis will make you discover the richness of Japanese culture, all in an atmosphere combining Zen and the effervescence of the capital.
Hard to imagine that it was originally a small fishing village called Edo, became the military base of the famous Tokugawa Ieyasu at the end of the 16th century, then its capital when it became shogun during the unification of the country. In 1868, when the Emperor was restored, the city was already one of the most populated in the world and was renamed the capital of the East - in Japanese: Tokyo.
Today the city has an incredible and unique public transport network. Thanks to the Yamanote circular line, you can easily go from one place to another without missing any of the must-see places that are the pride of the city. You will be delighted to start your trip to Japan with a visit to the city and its lively districts. 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.
Your visit will start in Shinjuku, a central and popular district, a must in the capital. You will discover the excesses of the largest city in the world. The district is itself divided into several distinct zones: to the west the buildings of the big Japanese companies, to the east the department stores and, to the north, Kabuki-cho, more animated in the evening. You will continue your discovery of the city with the Meiji-jingu shrine, dedicated to the divine souls of Emperor Meiji and his wife. You will be able to stroll through the site's park with more than 170,000 trees of 245 different species.
Back to the hustle and bustle of the city, as you leave the park to the east, head to the Harajuku, the fashion district, to soak up the atmosphere, then stroll down the eccentric street of Takeshita-dori, a gathering place for Tokyo's youth, and then on Tokyo's Champs-Elysées, Omote-Sando.
You can move around freely using the extensive public transport network. Stay at the Akasaka Granbell Hotel for the second night.
Explore the history of the Japanese capital dating back to the Edo period. Located in the sumo district of Ryogoku, the Edo-Tokyo museum approaches the history of the city through numerous animations and fun activities for a total immersion. You will then join the popular market of Ameyoko, a large eclectic bazaar of the capital where the shopkeepers are crowded with astonished passers-by. Nearby is Asakusa, a traditional district with the Senso-ji temple, dedicated to the goddess Kanon, which is reached by the shopping alley of Nakamise-dori.
Then to the south of the city, the observatory of the World Trade Center offers from its 40th floor a breathtaking 360° view of the sprawling megalopolis. It will be the occasion to admire the beauty of Tokyo, sparkling with a thousand lights at nightfall.
Night at the Akasaka Granbell Hotel.
Departure for Kanazawa aboard one of the most beautiful trains in the world, the Shinkansen. Kanazawa was one of the richest and most populated cities of Japan's feudal era: it rivaled Kyoto. Originally a small peasant kingdom, it became the stronghold of the powerful samurai family of the Maeda clan, first under the shogunate of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, then under that of his successor Tokugawa Ieyasu. In the 18th century, Lord Toshitsune preferred to invest his fortune in the development of crafts and arts and crafts (calligraphy, lacquer...) rather than in war. The important cultural wealth resulting from this will make the city famous throughout the archipelago.
In addition, following a great fire, he ordered that large pipes be dug to supply the city with water, which will also contribute to the creation of the Kenroku-en garden, whose ponds provide an additional emergency supply. The samurai quarter of Nagamachi is unmistakable, including the Nomura residence, a powerful samurai family under the Maeda. A visit to the Omicho market, which offers seafood and fish from the Sea of Japan, is recommended before reaching the Higashi-Chaya district, a traditional-looking neighbourhood with authentic tea houses.
Return to your hotel, Mystays Premier, for your night in Kanazawa.
Departure by coach to discover the most beautiful panoramas of Japan. Located in the heart of the Japanese Alps in the Shirakawa-go region, the bucolic village of Ogimachi offers a splendid setting. Here, it is the traditional houses, listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites, that are the pride of the inhabitants: their thatched roofs are designed to withstand the abundant snowfalls and their construction evokes the tied hands of Buddhist prayers - all elements that contribute to making these bicentenary dwellings nestled in the very heart of the mountains atypical.
The local economy was based mainly on the cultivation of silkworms, a practice housed on the top floors of these large thatched cottages, but also on the Ensho factory, one of the materials used to make gunpowder. During the visit, you should not miss the home of the Wada family, whose treasure was undoubtedly the marketing licence for Ensho.
Discovery of Takayama, between tradition and gastronomy
Takayama is considered the little Kyoto of the Alps. Unable to pay the imperial tax on rice because of the climate that affected their production, the inhabitants of the region had to participate in the construction of the ancient capitals of Nara and Kyoto and became the most famous carpenters in Japan. On their return, they decided to reproduce the same works in their native region. Thus, Takayama enjoys an important heritage of historical monuments, starting with the Jinya residence, where the governor of the region exercised his functions under the orders of the shogun. The traditional and commercial district of Sannomachi offers visitors an authentic and gastronomic atmosphere.
The town offers visitors the opportunity to sample some of the local specialties, such as the famous Hida beef, which, although not as well known as the Kobe beef, is still one of the best in the archipelago. It will be savored with a hint of sake from one of the city's many artisanal distilleries.
Return to your hotel, the Ryokan Asunaro.
To fully appreciate Takayama, you need to take a few moments to participate in local life by exploring, for example, the Miyagawa morning market on the riverbank. If some old merchants' houses are worth a visit, especially the Kusakabe house, don't forget also the exhibition hall of the festival floats! Finally, the Temple Trail, which winds its way through Higashiyama Mountain and leads to the ruins of Takayama Castle, will offer a stroll to recharge your batteries.
In order to further explore this beautiful region and get off the beaten track, why not visit the nearby town of Hida-Furukawa in the summer? We recommend renting a bike there to wander through its typical narrow streets with canals and to wander through the Satoyama countryside and its rice fields. In winter, it is worthwhile to visit Hirayu-onsen, famous for its Hirayu-no-Mori onsen complex, but also to visit the large Hida Cave and its impressive ice waterfall.
Discovering Osaka, its castle and nightlife
Direction Osaka aboard the Shinkansen. Third largest city in the country behind Tokyo and Yokohama, the locals may seem a little more relaxed than in the capital! Having largely suffered from the bombings of the Second World War, its rapid reconstruction shows a rather atypical urbanism. Its main attraction lies in its glittering golden castle, built by Japan's second unifying shogun, 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.
Return to the hotel le Cordia Osaka.
A mystical place and monastic city with 117 Buddhist temples, Mount Koya 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 petals of the lotus on which Buddha sits. The most important 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 religion, which offers to contemplation its dry garden of 140 stones, the Banryutei. The other main attraction is the necropolis of Oku-no-in, with more than 200,000 graves lost in the mist, under a forest of centuries-old cryptomers.
For a long time, women were banished from the holy city because they were considered impure. They then had to go around it by the old Ladies' Way, which is now a pleasant 7km long hike in the middle of nature and takes about 2h30 to complete.
You will spend a very quiet night at the Jokjin Monastery.
On the way to the majestic Himeji Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, you will discover one of the best-preserved feudal buildings - thanks in particular to the expert maintenance of Japanese craftsmen with their cross-generational know-how.
Its brilliant white colour is comparable to the beauty of a white heron spreading its wings.
Inherited from the period of the Ashikaga shoguns who ruled Japan from the 14th to the 16th century, this one presents a particular defensive architecture by the maze which allows to reduce singularly the access to the dungeon.
Return to your hotel the Monterey Himeji.
Direction Hiroshima aboard the Shinkansen. Preconceived ideas imagine it to be sinister, but the green city of Hiroshima has now largely surpassed its status as a martyr city. If the traces of the past remind us of the events that struck it in the previous century, it is above all in the context of a humble and precious work of memory that this beautiful city, which today has more than a million inhabitants, has metamorphosed, resolutely turned towards the future and modernity. To visit Hiroshima is to discover poignant testimonies of its history through the visit of the Peace Memorial, the Peace Museum and the impressive dome of the atomic bomb (Genbaku dome).
It is difficult to remain indifferent in front of these places and not to feel the emotion growing while observing the Flame of Peace, supposed to burn until the sincere wish of the Japanese to see one day the abolition of atomic weapons comes true.
Discovery of Mount Misen and the lanes of Miyajima
The sacred island of Miyajima, located in Hiroshima Bay, is considered one of the 3 most beautiful panoramas in Japan, thanks in particular to the magnificent contrast of the vermilion red characteristic of Itsukushima Shrine with the blue of the sea, on which the religious building seems to float at high tide. This one dates back to the 6th century and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Not far away is the Daisho-in Temple, an atypical temple in Japan, founded in 806 by the famous Buddhist monk Kukai and which was designated by the emperor of the time as a place of prayer for the peace and security of the nation.
In order to immerse yourself in the atmosphere of this island, we invite you to stroll through its many small streets. Finally, take the cable car to the top of the Misen mountain, which overlooks the inland sea and offers a splendid view.
Overnight at the Ryokan Iwaso Hotel.
Discover Kyoto, founded in 794 under the name of Heian (Capital of Peace) in order to escape the excessive Buddhist influence that reigned at the court of Nara at that time. It retained its status as imperial capital for more than a millennium until the emperor decided to transfer the seat of his power to Tokyo. Difficult to choose among the 1600 Buddhist temples and 400 Shinto shrines to visit on the spot, Kyoto has 17 sites listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, some of which remain unmissable.
You can start your walk at the Kiyomizu-dera pure water temple, overlooking the city, or the Higashiyama district and its many shops scattered across the shopping streets of Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka. You will continue your visit by the great sanctuary of Yasaka, dedicated to the Shintoist deity of the sea, Susano, which marks the border with the district of Gion, known for its traditional alleys and the geishas, its children of the arts. In the evening, you can stroll through the typical alleyway of Pontocho, parallel to the Kamo River, which offers a wide choice of excellent traditional restaurants and the lucky ones may have the opportunity to meet maikos, Kyoto's young apprentice geishas.
Overnight at the Kyoto Granbell Hotel.
Discover the city's must-see cultural and religious buildings and places, such as the Golden Pavilion or Kinkaku-ji in Japanese. 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 little further on 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, 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 2km 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.
Nara, 50 km south of Kyoto, is an ideal destination for a relaxing day out: it 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. It is 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 - 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 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 since it dates back to 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.
Last moments of your trip to Japan, you can enjoy your possible free time depending on the time of the flight for a bit of shopping to find the perfect gift. The landscapes and wonders of the archipelago will remain engraved in your memory. Thinking back on these beautiful escapades, it is not uncommon that an eventual return to Japan earlier than expected may cross the minds of travelers...
The price includes
3 nights accommodation in Tokyo, breakfast,
1 night accommodation in Kanazawa, breakfast,
2 nights ryokan accommodation in Takayama, breakfast,
1 night accommodation in Osaka, breakfast,
1 night accommodation in monastery in Koya-san, dinner and breakfast,
1 night accommodation in Himeji, breakfast,
1 night accommodation in Hiroshima, breakfast,
1 night ryokan accommodation in Miyajima, dinner and breakfast,
3 nights accommodation in Kyoto, breakfast,
Return transfers from airports to city centres by public transport (tickets),
Transfers between city centres and accommodation, by taxi, when there is an assistant available (arrival in Tokyo),
A contactless payment card for the use of public transport, pre-loaded,
A JR Pass valid for 7 days, in second class, for journeys by JR train and Shinkansen (Japanese TGV) between the different stages (please note: seat reservation on arrival only: to be avoided in high season),
The bus trip between Kanazawa, Shirakawa-go and Takayama,
Mount Koya World Heritage Pass, for trips 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 fully supervised free trip, 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 is optional,
French-speaking assistance to the return airport,
Entrances to tourist sites,
Meals, with the exception of those mentioned as included, as well as drinks,
Transport other than that mentioned as included, including transfers between town centres and accommodation when there is no assistance (by public transport or taxi, as desired),
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 Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Kanazawa,
The thermal tax, about 150 yen per night per person, collected only on the spot in cities with official hot springs (Hakone, Takayama, Miyajima),
Your personal expenses,
Tips (guides, assistants),
Insurance (repatriation, cancellation).