Four main islands, Hokkaido, Honshu, Kyushu and Shikoku, along with nearly seven thousand small islands, make up the Japanese archipelago. They comprise an area roughly the same as New Zealand or the United Kingdom. With a rich culture that dates back thousands of years, vibrant cities that are a heady mix of ancient and modern, and vast stretches of uninhabited, mountainous landscapes, Japan is a fascinating country to explore. A small group tour is a great way to absorb as much as possible, led by expert tour leaders who know the language and are passionate about the destination.
The northern-most main island of Japan is Hokkaido, which although the second-largest, remains unvisited by most international travellers. Its rare wildlife, rugged sweeping plains, volcanic landscapes and amazing snow festival make it a great place to begin a winter experience like no other. Take an icebreaker cruise among the ice floes of the Okhostk Sea, admire the giant snow sculptures of the world-renowned Yuki Matsuri (snow festival), and relax on a train journey through the vast, windswept snowscapes. Further south, journey into the Japanese Alps for a soak in the natural hot springs of a traditional onsen and visit the famed snow monkeys of Yukanaka.
When spring comes to Japan, the snow melts away and the cherry trees flower in their thousands, creating a stunning setting that’s just one of many reasons to visit during this season. It’s a wonderful time to see the many beautiful temples and gardens throughout the country, including Hamarikyu Garden in Tokyo, Kenrokuen Garden in Kanazawa and Kotokuin Temple in Kamakura, where a giant bronze statue of Buddha that dates back to the thirteenth century gazes down at you. From attending a performance of the spring geisha dances in Kyoto, to soaking up the stunning scenery, dotted with traditional thatched farmhouses, in the Japanese Alps or wandering among the sculptures of Hakone’s open-air art museum, spring is a wonderful time to visit.
If you would like to get away from the crowds and explore a region of Japan that’s rich in history and brimming with myths and legends, all set in some of the most beautiful scenery in the country, a tour that takes you far from the major cities is a great option. Travel by train through stunning countryside, spend a night in remote temple lodgings on Mount Mitoku and experience the thrill of tōgyu, also known as bull sumo on the remote Oki Islands. Along the way, you may like to try your hand at various arts and crafts, take a cooking class or even dress in traditional, handmade samurai armour.
From soba noodle-making classes to taiko drumming, from boat rides to pottery, and from traditional Japanese ryokan inns to ultra-modern Tokyo, Japan offers plenty of experiences that are completely unique. Make (and sample) traditional pickles at a wasabi farm (and try the wasabi ice cream), try your hand at pottery-making and roketsu cloth-dyeing in Kyoto and learn the art of taiko drumming in Tokyo. Whether it’s learning about the strictly-regimented and spiritual world of sumo or being entertained by a maiko (apprentice geisha) in Kyoto, Japan offers plenty of opportunities to step outside your comfort zone and try something new.
Whether you’re looking for a tour that gives you a taste of everything Japan has to offer, or you prefer to specialise in a particular area of interest, your personal travel manager can help you choose a small group tour to suit.