World Heritage Japan

This 14-day itinerary will give you a tantalising glimpse of Japanese culture and a tour of the country’s UNESCO sites. Explore the famed geisha-filled streets of Kyoto, visit the grass houses of Shirakawago, visit internationally acclaimed gardens, participate in traditional customs in one of the world’s most fascinating destinations.

Best time to visit Japan: Spring (March to May) and Autumn (September to November)

Touring Style: Travel by train independently with a private local guide for some of the day tours.

Japan experiences dramatic pricing fluctuations based on Festivals, domestic holidays and in some instances on weekends. Please ask us for an individual quote.

  • Explore a selection of Kyoto’s 17 UNESCO sites. Partake in a traditional tea ceremony to gain insight into Japanese culture.
  • Visit a samurai district and witness monks’ morning chants
  • Learn about traditional Japanese landscaping at two of the country’s most famous spaces, Ryoan-ji Zen’s rock garden and Kenroku Garden
World Heritage Japan at a glance
  • Day 1: Arrival at Tokyo
  • Day 2: Highlights of Tokyo
  • Day 3: Head to Nikko
  • Day 4: Take the bullet train to Takayama
  • Day 5: Take a trip to Shirakawa-go
  • Day 6: Take the scenic bus to Kanazawa
  • Day 7: Head to Kyoto
  • Day 8: Highlights of Kyoto
  • Day 9: Immerse in Japanese culture
  • Day 10: Day trip to Nara
  • Day 11: Pilgrimage to Koyasan
  • Day 12: Travel to the sacred island of Miyajima
  • Day 13: Highlights of Miyajima and Hiroshima
  • Day 14: Walking tour of Osaka
  • Day 15: Departure
World Heritage Japan Image 1

Day 1: Arrival at Tokyo

Upon arrival at Tokyo’s airport, an Eastravel representative will be waiting to assist with transport to the hotel.

This afternoon, we suggest a self-guided tour of the exquisite Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden.

Overnight in Tokyo.

Distance and journey times:

Narita International Airport (NRT) to Central Tokyo: 1.5 h
Haneda International Airport (HND) to Central Tokyo: 50 min

World Heritage Japan Image 2

Day 2: Highlights of Tokyo

Meet your guide this morning at the hotel for the trip to Hamarikyu, a Japanese garden that once served as a private villa of a powerful feudal lord during the Edo period. Its wide collection of seasonal flowers makes it one of the most visited gardens in Tokyo, however its most attractive aspect is its teahouse called Nakajima-no-Ochaya.

From the park, take a scenic river cruise to Asakusa, a part of Tokyo’s shitamachi or old town. Asakusa is the city’s oldest Geisha district and also home to Senso-ji, Tokyo’s oldest Buddhist temple. The streets around Senso-ji feature many traditional shops and are a delight to wander through.

The tour ends with a visit to Meiji Jingu, Tokyo’s most famous shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji and a popular venue for traditional Shinto weddings.
Overnight in Tokyo

World Heritage Japan Image 3

Day 3: Head to Nikko

Take the journey into the mountains of Nikko, to visit a couple of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Upon arrival at JR Nikko Station, meet up with the local guide and head to some of the famous places in Nikko, including the following:

Toshogu Shrine Complex. The shrine was built as a mausoleum for Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate who ruled Japan for over 250 years. This lavishly decorated shrine complex consists of more than a dozen Shinto and Buddhist buildings located in a beautiful forest setting.

Tamozawa Imperial Villa. This lovely villa once served as the summer house of the Imperial Family before WWII. Take note of the intricate interior design of the house, with some parts transferred all the way from Tokyo. There will also be a chance to walk through the gardens and see the house from the outside. The beauty of the garden does not disappoint, for it remains breath-taking no matter the season.

Afterwards, head back to the station to catch the train back to Tokyo.

Overnight in Tokyo

Distance and journey time: Tokyo Station to Nikko Station: 2 h

World Heritage Japan Image 4

Day 4: Take the bullet train to Takayama

Depart for the journey to Takayama, a small town nestled high in the Hida Alpine region of Gifu Prefecture.
The first leg of the trip will be on a bullet train that can reach speeds of up to 260 kph. Next is on the limited express train Wide View, which offers one of the most scenic train journeys in Japan.

Suggested Self-Guided Itinerary:
We recommend strolling in Takayama’s shitamachi, where the streets are lined with century-old merchants’ homes and sake breweries. Stop by one of the breweries for a taste of the local drop or queue for the famous Hida beef sushi in one of the special food stalls.
In Takayama, experience a stay in a ryokan, the traditional Japanese-style inn furnished with low tables and chairs, sliding shoji doors, and tatami flooring.

Overnight in Takayama

Distance and Journey time: Tokyo Station to Takayama Station: 4.5 h

World Heritage Japan Image 5

Day 5: Take a trip to Shirakawa-go

Enjoy some time exploring the food shops of Takayama with a knowledgeable local guide. Learn about the town’s colourful history and treat the taste buds with some local delicacies. The walking tour includes visits to a tofu seller, a rakugan shop (traditional Japanese candies) and even a sake brewery (some stores may close on certain days). Food and sake tastings are also included.

Around 12:00, travel by bus to Shirakawago, a UNESCO World Heritage Site famous for its gassho-zukuri farmhouses.
While these houses are private homes, some are open to the public. One of these homes is the Wada House, a legacy left behind by the Wada Family who used to be the richest family and village leader in Ogimachi.

While in Shirakawago, experience a stay in a minshuku, the traditional Japanese-style inn usually owned and run by families.

Overnight in Shirakawago

Takayama Bus Terminal to Shirakawago Bus Stop: 50 min

World Heritage Japan Image 6

Day 6: Take the scenic bus to Kanazawa

Start early and hop on the bus to Kanazawa, the castle town that thrived as the centre for culture and the arts in the 17th century.

Suggested Self-Guided Itinerary:

Start with the pristine Kenroku-en Garden, which is ranked as one of Japan’s top three gardens. Discover the oldest water fountain in the country, a couple of teahouses and a large villa that used to be the retirement home of one of the richest clans in Kanazawa.

Adjacent to the garden is Kanazawa Castle, easily accessed through the Ishikawa-mon Gate, a designated Important National Cultural Asset.
If time permits, enjoy lunch in one of the local restaurants in Omicho Market, known throughout Japan for its fresh seafood and fine sushi.

Overnight in Kanazawa

Shirakawago Bus Stop to Kanazawa Eki-mae Bus Terminal: 75 min

World Heritage Japan Image 7

Day 7: Head to Kyoto

Suggested Self-Guided Itinerary:
:
21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art
This museum is known for its progressive architecture and ever-changing exhibits. One of the permanent artworks in the museum is Leandro Erlich’s “Swimming Pool,” a pool wherein people can enter and appear as if they are underwater.

Old Town of Higashi Chaya District
One of the three, well-preserved chaya districts in Kanazawa. A “chaya” (teahouse) was where Geishas used to entertain their guests with a song or a dance. Higashi Chaya has several artisan shops, including Hakuza, a specialized store that sells gold leaf products and features a tearoom covered in gold.

In the afternoon, travel by limited express train to Kyoto, Japan’s cultural capital and home to around 2,000 shrines and temples, including 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Overnight in Kyoto

Kanazawa Station to Kyoto Station: 2 h 15 min

World Heritage Japan Image 8

Day 8: Highlights of Kyoto

Today’s tour starts with a visit to Nijo Castle, an ornamental castle that was originally built to serve as the private villa of a powerful feudal lord. The main building was completed in the early 1600s and has since then been known for its Momoyama-style architecture, decorated sliding doors, and “chirping nightingale” floors.

Next on the list is the serene Ryoan-ji Temple, which is famous for its well-maintained rock garden and known to be the Myoshinji School of the Rinzai Buddhist sect.

Just a short distance from Ryoan-ji is the stunning golden pavilion collectively known as Kinkaku-ji Temple. The temple grounds are relatively smaller than that of most temples and shrines in Kyoto but what is undoubtedly impressive is the pavilion that is completely covered in handmade gold leaves.

A visit to Kiyomizu-dera Temple follows later in the day. The view from the 13-meter high building is indeed breathtaking and the fact that this veranda was built without using any nails or joiners is quite unbelievable.

The tour ends with a stroll along the busy streets of Higashiyama district, a collection of narrow alleyways lined with local stores, souvenir shops, small eateries, and even pottery centres.

Overnight in Kyoto

World Heritage Japan Image 9

Day 9: Immerse in Japanese culture

This half-day tour offers a unique and unforgettable chance to learn about Japanese culture in a machiya, or a traditional Kyoto-style wooden townhouse that has been beautifully restored.

Begin with a short tour of the house, getting some insight into its architecture before trying on a traditional kimono, the iconic Japanese garment.
While wearing the kimono, take part in a tea ceremony led by a tea master, a quintessential part of Japanese culture. This experience offers the chance to learn about every aspect of the Japanese tea culture, from making the tea to the movements involved in serving it.

This cultural experience ends with a choice of two options:
Option A:
A walk through the old neighbourhood and a visit to a nearby sake brewery, with a chance to try the local brew.

Option B:
A short introduction to origami, the Japanese art of paper folding.

Overnight in Kyoto

World Heritage Japan Image 10

Day 10: Day trip to Nara

In the afternoon, head out of town and travel to Nara with the Japan Rail Pass. For 74 years during the 8th century, Nara was Japan’s capital and many of the temples and shrines built at that time still remain.

Nara is just a small town, with most of its main tourist spots located around Nara Park, which is home to a great number of tame deer. Visit Todaiji Temple, the world’s largest wooden building and home to Japan’s largest Buddha, or Kasuga Taisha, Nara’s most celebrated shrine.

Overnight in Kyoto
Kyoto Station to Nara Station: 45 min

World Heritage Japan Image 11

Day 11: Pilgrimage to Koyasan

Home to over 100 temples, Koyasan has been the centre of Shingon Buddhism, an important Buddhist sect, for over 1,200 years. Koyasan, and its vicinity, is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site.

The journey to Koyasan is one of the highlights of the visit. The final ascent of the journey via cable car offers one of the most scenic journeys in Japan, as it winds its way up to the mountains.

Meet the guide at Koyasan Station and spend the afternoon exploring a couple of popular sites providing some insight into Japanese Buddhism.

Visit Kongobu-ji, the head temple of Shingon Buddhism and home to Japan’s largest rock garden. Continue on to Okuno-in, Japan’s largest cemetery that holds the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi. The classic approach starts from Ichinohashi Bridge and stretches up to 2km, filled with more than 200,000 tombstones that belong to feudal lords, prominent monks, and even well-known Japanese companies. Gokusho Offering Hall, Torodo Hall of Lanterns, and Kobo Daishi’s Mausoleum are located at the end of the trail.

Afterwards, the guide will provide an escort to the shukubo (temple lodge), where Buddhist cuisine is served.

Overnight at Koyasan

Kyoto Station to Koyasan Station: 3 h

World Heritage Japan Image 12

Day 12: Travel to the sacred island of Miyajima

Participate in the Morning Prayer, which usually starts at 06:00. Be immersed in the calming chants of the monks inside the prayer hall. Afterwards, proceed to the dining room for a shojin ryori breakfast.

Check out and start the long journey to Miyajima, a small sacred island located in the Seto Inland Sea.

Overnight in Miyajima

Koyasan Station to Miyajima-guchi Station: 5 h

Miyajima-guchi Port to Miyajima Port: 10 min

World Heritage Japan Image 13

Day 13: Highlights of Miyajima and Hiroshima

Together with the guide, explore the island and sample some local delicacies like oysters, saltwater eel, and maple leaf-shaped cakes.
Start with Itsukushima Shrine, declared as one of Japan’s three most beautiful views. The shrine is designed in a pier-like structure and dates back to the 6th century. Its huge vermillion o-torii gate seems to be floating in the water during high tide.

Walk towards the mountain to visit Daisho-in, the most visited Buddhist temple on the island. Along the stairs is a row of spinning sutras that lead up to the main hall. It is believed that anyone who spins these sutras will be blessed.

Early in the afternoon head to Hiroshima to visit Peace Memorial Park and Museum. There is also the heart-rending A-Bomb Dome and the Children’s Peace Monument.

Overnight in Miyajima

World Heritage Japan Image 14

Day 14: Walking tour of Osaka

Suggested Self-Guided Itinerary:
From Namba Station, walk through Osaka’s liveliest and most colourful shopping and dining streets, starting with Doguyasuji. A unique market that sells anything related to food, Doguyasuji is known for its plastic food models, which are often used in restaurant displays.

Just nearby is Sennichimae, a lane filled with small eateries that serve all the Osakan delicacies such as takoyaki, okonomiyaki and the famed fugu (blowfish). Aside from the local restaurants, Sennichimae also hosts a couple of game centres and the vibrant Namba Grand Kagetsu Theater, the headquarters of the nationwide Japanese comedy brand, Yoshimoto.

Before reaching the end of Sennichimae, make a quick left turn in one of the narrow alleys to see Hozen-ji Temple, a small village temple dedicated to one of the Five Wisdom Buddhas. After offering coins, worshippers splash water on the statue of the deity before praying as a sign of respect.
Right outside the temple grounds and just across the humble yet historical Kamagata Ukiyo-e Museum is Hozenji Yokocho, a short, narrow lane lined with expensive restaurants.

From here, emerge to the very busy Dotonbori, a restaurant mecca that has long been referred to as Osaka’s former entertainment and pleasure district. A short walk from this street leads to the touristy Ebisubashi with the famous billboard of the Glico Running Man and a view of the Dotonbori River.

Overnight in Osaka

Miyajima Port to Miyajima-guchi Port: 10 mins

Miyajima-guchi Station to Shin-Osaka Station: 2 h

Day 15: Departure

The rest of the day is at leisure until the scheduled transfer by train to Kansai International Airport.
Namba Station to Kansai Airport: 45 min

Not quite right? This itinerary is just to give you an idea of what is possible. Need some more inspiration? Please get in touch at 01473 214305 or email sales@eastravel.co.uk.   We welcome your questions. We're here to help!

Highlights

Hiroshima and Miyajima

Miyajima, a small wooded island offshore from Hiroshima is the setting for one of Japan’s most ethereal and photographed images, the Floating Gate of Torii. The shrine, pier like in structure and dating to the 6th Century, appears to float on the surface.

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Kanazawa: City of Crafts and Folk Art

The delightful town of Kanazawa is set on the north coast of Honshu, looking out over the Sea of Japan, and is rich in history, culture and natural beauty.

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Kyoto: Shrines and Temples

Kyoto is home to an astonishing 2000 shrines and temples, including 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

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Mt Koya: centre of Shingon Buddhism

Located within the Koya-Ryujin Quasi-National Park, in Wakayama Prefecture, Mt Koya is both culturally important, and a place of stunning natural beauty.

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Nara: Ancient temples and Shrines

The ancient city of Nara is celebrated for its fine art and architecture, natural beauty, and wonderfully preserved ancient wooden structures.

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Nikko: World Heritage Site

Located along Japan’s celebrated Romantic Road, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Nikko, and the surrounding national park, is rich in culture and natural beauty.

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Osaka: Historic city and Castle

Sheltered on three sides by mountains, the historic city, the second most populous after Tokyo, looks out over the broad crescent of Osaka Bay.

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Shirakawago: UNESCO World Heritage Site

Set at the foot of Mt Haku-san, among picturesque rice fields bisected by a winding river, the pretty mountain village of Shirakawa-go is home each autumn to the celebrated Doburoku Festival, and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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Takayama: Museums and Festivals

Located on the edge of Hakusan National Park, Takayama is a historic and picturesque town famed for its traditions of artistry and craftsmanship, celebrated at the bi-annual Takayama Festival.

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Tokyo: Bustling capital

Japan’s capital is a place of wondrous contrast. A cruise through Tokyo on the Sumida Gawa River reveals Hamarikyu-tien, the fabulous private garden of an Edo lord set now within a canyon of glittering skyscrapers.

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Accommodation

Hiroshima, Superior Class
Hotel Granvia Hiroshima

Located adjacent to the Shinkansen (Bullet Train) station, the hotel is an easy walk to Hiroshima Castle, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Hiroshima Toshogu, and Shukkeien, and a short tram ride to the Hiroshima Memorial Peace Park.

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Kanazawa, Deluxe Class
Hotel Nikko Kanazawa

Located directly facing the train station, this elegant, 30 storey tower offers unrivalled views across the city towards the mountains and sea.

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Koyasan, Shukubo
Souji-in

One among many monasteries and temples on the slopes of Mt Koya, the Souji-in shukubo, or Buddhist overnight lodging house of Koyasan enjoys an idyllic and stunning setting.

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Koyasan, Shukubo
Eko-in Shukubo

Located inside the walls of the 11th Century temple, the guestrooms are wonderfully evocative of the spirituality and tradition that underpins Japanese culture and belief.

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Kyoto, Luxury Boutique
The Screen Hotel

Located on historic Teramachi Street just 3 minutes’ walk from Kyoto’s Imperial Palace, and close to the Kamo River, this boutique property is also conveniently placed in terms of public transport.

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Osaka, Superior Class
Hotel Granvia Osaka

Set within the commercial district of Umeda, this stylish, luxury hotel is located conveniently with regard to transport links, and the city’s main attractions.

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Takayama, Ryokan
Sumiyoshi Ryokan Hida

Located a short walk from the colourful and vibrant Miyagawa morning market, the ryokan is a former historic townhouse enjoying a charming riverside setting.

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Tokyo, Superior Class
Hotel Gracery Shinjuku

Located on the site of the old Shinjuku Koma Theatre, the hotel is only steps away from Shinjuku Station’s east exit.

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