Day 1 – Arrival in Kansai – On arriving at Kansai International Airport (KIX), our local guide will introduce themselves and a shared shuttle van will be awaiting to handle your transfer to your hotel in Kyoto. The remainder of the day is at your leisure.
Suggested Self-Guide Itinerary:
In the evening, we suggest going to Gion for a walk through the so-called “geisha district.” This area is one of Kyoto’s hanamachi (flower town), the place where Geisha’s live and work and where visitors can find shops, restaurants, and ochaya (teahouses) inside well-preserved machiya (old houses). Don’t miss Hanami-koji, known to be the most popular street in Gion because of its lavish ochaya lining up the old street. Stop by one of the restaurants to sample kyo-ryori (traditional Kyoto multi-course cuisine). While in Gion, more observant travellers may see a maiko (apprentice geisha) as she tries to catch her next appointment.
Day 2 – Day touring to Nara and Uji – Enjoy breakfast at your hotel before meeting your guide for a day of touring to Uji in Kyoto and Ikaruga in Nara. Beginning in Uji, the tea capital of Japan, the World Heritage-listed Byodo-in, one of the most impressive Jodo sect temples in the country, is the first sight to be unveiled. The temple used to have many sub-temples and halls, but during the war many of these buildings were destroyed. What remains is the Phoenix Hall, which can be found pictured on the back of the 10-yen coin. Continue to Taiho-an, an ochaya (teahouse) located near the temple. Witness a traditional Japanese tea ceremony and enjoy the authentic taste of Uji’s matcha (green tea). At noon board a train destined for Ikaruga in Nara. During the 8th century, Nara was Japan’s capital for 74 years, and most of the period’s temples and shrines are still standing today. In this small town, a visit will be made to Horyu-ji, a designated UNESCO World Heritage site and one of Nara’s Seven Great Temples. What’s incredible about this temple is that it houses some of the world’s oldest surviving wooden structures – the main hall and the five-story pagoda, which are both located in the western wing of the temple.
After the tour, return back to the hotel. (B)
Note: Taiho-an is open from January 10th to December 20th. On the days when it’s closed, we can offer alternative visits to Nara Park and Todaiji Temple in Nara.
Day 3 – Kyoto to Kobe
Today is a self-guided day.
Today is the last day in Kyoto before leaving on an early afternoon train to the nearby harbour city of Kobe. Below is our recommended morning walking tour, which takes visitors slightly off the beaten path through the districts of Higashiyama and Yoshida.
Suggested Self-Guide Itinerary:
Visit Nanzen-ji, one of the largest and the most important Zen temples in Japan. It’s vast grounds are free to the public and can be especially beautiful during spring and autumn. Just a short walk from Nanzen-ji is Zenrin-ji, the temple more commonly known as “Eikando.” It was named after the popular head priest, Eikan, who discovered the unique statue of Amida Buddha, the main object of worship in the temple. Zenrin-ji is also famous for its foliage during the autumn season as the vibrant colours of the leaves in the temple are indeed one of the reasons it joins the most popular in Kyoto. Located north of Zenrin-ji is the infamous Philosopher’s Path (Tetsugaku-no-michi), which is lined with sakura (cherry) trees on both sides and follows a tranquil canal. After a short stroll head west to Yoshida-yama, a hill that is home to two of the loveliest and least visited temples in Kyoto – Kurodani Temple and Shinnyodo Temple. After exploring these temples and their atmospheric graveyards, climb to the top of Yoshida-yama, and wander through the greenery to admire the views from Yoshida Park. Afterwards, descend the hillside to Yoshida Shrine, a fascinating complex of shrines surrounded by a lovely forest.
Note: The total distance covered in this itinerary is approx. 5km.
Kobe lies just a one-hour train ride from Kyoto, and during the Meiji period, the city was established as one of the 2 major trading ports for foreign commerce in Japan, serving as the import and export base for wool, cotton, and other raw materials. Because of this, foreign culture has flourished in Kobe, making the city the home to one of the first foreign settlements in the country. After arriving in the city, the remainder of the day is spent at leisure.
Suggested Self-Guide Itinerary:
Head to Kobe’s Chinatown (Nankin-machi), the centre of the Chinese community in the Kansai region and one of only 3 Chinatowns in Japan. Explore the wide array of Chinese dishes, sweets, and other merchandise spread across its one hundred or so restaurants and shops. Less than a kilometre from Nankin-machi is Meriken Park, a waterfront park that houses two famous landmarks embodying the local modern architecture – the Kobe Port Tower and the Kobe Maritime Museum. Existing alongside these remarkable man-made creations is a small section of a damaged waterfront that remains untouched. This memorial commemorates the many victims of the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake and reminds us of the immense power of nature. (B)
Day 4 – Kobe and Hemji – At the completion of breakfast at your hotel meet with your local guide in the hotel foyer for a day of sightseeing. Traveling by train to Himeji, one of the most frequented cities in the Hyogo Prefecture, is a relaxing start to the day before visiting Himeji Castle, one of Japan’s most famed landmarks. It is one of the top 3 castles in Japan because of its architectural design and history. Also known as “Shirasagi-jo” (the White Heron Castle) or “Hakuro-jo” (the White Egret Castle) by some locals. Himeji Castle resembles a white bird in flight due to its white exterior and distinctive roof design. Next visit is Koko Garden, built in 1992 as a commemoration for the 100th anniversary of the establishment of Himeji municipality. Deriving it’s name from the provincial school founded by the last lord of Himeji from the Sakai Family. Upon return back to Kobe the tour continues to the Ikuta Shrine, a quiet Shinto shrine in the heart of Kobe City. Believed to be built around 3rd century AD and probably one of the oldest shrines in the world, this shrine has indeed witnessed a number of unforgettable events in the history of Japan such as the Genpei War, WWII air raids on Kobe, and the Great Hanshin Earthquake. Just a short walk from the shrine is Kitano-cho, where it is possible to see the architecture of some of the so-called ijinkan houses, where Kobe’s first foreign residents had lived. Enjoy a short train journey to Akashi Kaikyo Bridge, the longest suspension bridge in Japan. Located 50m above sea level is the Maiko Marine Promenade, a set of observatory hallways beneath the bridge’s platform. (B)
Day 5 – Kobe to Osaka – Departing Kobe, the final destination of Osaka approaches. Japan’s third largest city, Osaka’s flamboyance, fun-loving people, and amazing food make up for what it lacks in tourist spots. Led by your local guide, a cycling excursion in the afternoon offers a range of fresh discoveries. The tour will start at the JR Fukushima Station, located at the centre of Osaka (transfer to/from the meeting place at own expense), and just one stop away from the central Hankyu Umeda and JR Osaka stations. Passing through the backstreets of Fukushima eventually emerges at Nakanoshima Park, a waterfront park nestled between 2 rivers. Continue with a visit to the Ogawa River in Sakuranomiya. This area is famous for Kema-Sakuranomiya Park, a park that stretches over 4 kilometres and has more than 5,000 sakura (cherry blossom) trees. It is indeed one of the best spots in Osaka during hanami (cherry blossom viewing) but doesn’t get as crowded as Osaka Castle. Your next visit is to the home of the Japan Mint, where Japanese Yen coins are produced. The one-way street that stretches from the north gate to the south is also a famous hanami spot in Osaka, featuring around 300 trees of over 100 varieties. Continuing on the circuit leads to the Osaka Castle, arguably Osaka’s most famous landmark and a popular sightseeing spot. The castle has been painstakingly rebuilt after falling into disrepair, but the steep, 30-meter high walls are the originals, standing since the 1600’s. These walls and the grand gates and turrets along the outer moat, surrounding the illuminated main tower, make for a grand sight that can be matched by no other castle in Japan. Returning to Fukushima Station, the outing will continue through Utsubo Park in Osaka’s office district. This park is well-visited for its rose garden, the oldest in the city and is also known to be the former airbase of the United States Army, which explains why it’s shaped like a runway. During the Edo period, well until the 1930s, Utsubo Park became one of the busiest fish markets in Osaka. The day will come to an end outside Fukushima Station, and the evening may be spent at your leisure. (B)
Day 6 – Departure from Osaka – After enjoying breakfast this morning at your hotel, meet your driver in the hotel foyer who will provide the transfer to the import for your onward flight. (B)
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