Many people's image of Japan is bustling, neon-lit streets, soaring skyscrapers and all things technological. However get away from the city streets and discover a wealth of history and tradition alongside rural landscapes worthy of exploration. Witness a sumo training session which offers a unique insight into this ancient sport and try your hand at sweet making in historic Kanazawa. Explore picturesque Hakusan National Park with its Japanese thatched-roof farmhouses and take a bicycle ride through rice fields and villages in Takayama with the impressive Hida Mountain Range as a backdrop. Hike the Nakasendo Trail in the Kiso Valley passing through tree-lined landscapes and stroll the elegant Gion district in Kyoto to learn about the fascinating Geiko and Meiko culture.
Land Tokyo. Here you will be met and taken by shuttle bus to a city centre hotel, a scenic journey via the elevated highways and a great introduction to the sheer scale of the city. The remainder of the day is at leisure.
Explore bustling Tokyo on a private tour with a professional English-speaking guide. The choice of destinations is yours, there will be chance to discuss your points of interest with the guide before heading out. The day will make use of Tokyo's impressive public transport network which is also a great way to familiarise yourself with the subway for future independent exploration. (B)
This morning will be spent at a local sumo heya, or stable, where the wrestlers eat, sleep and train for their fights. An English-speaking guide will escort you via subway to the stable to watch a training session and will be on hand to answer any questions you may have. After the fascinating sumo experience the remainder of the day is available to explore at your own pace. Why not head to Senso-ji Temple in the old town Asakusa area or partake in a spot of shopping in Ginza district. This evening you may want to head to Roppongi district to simply marvel at the number of people who congregate to 'see and be seen'. (B)
Using the directions provided in your documents head to the railway station and board your first Shinkansen bullet train of the holiday. The journey to Kanazawa takes approx 2.5 hours and covers 285 miles. Arrive Kanazawa, a fabulously well-preserved city and spend the remainder of the day exploring at leisure. (B)
This morning join others on a small group experience learning the art of wagashi sweet making in a historic sweet shop in the centre of the city. Wagashi are traditionally enjoyed alongside a cup of matcha green tea. The remainder of the day is free to explore - we recommend discovering the historic samurai quarter and the fabulous landscaped gardens of Kenrokuen. (B)
Board a highway bus and journey to the beautiful traditional villages of Shirakawago. The pine covered mountains sit along the banks of the scenic Shokawa River and in the heart of the Hakusan National Park. Explore the Japanese 'gassho-zukuri' thatched-roof farmhouses which were built between 200 and 300 years ago. In the afternoon take another bus from Shrikawago to the mountain town of Takayama. Tonight will be spent in a traditional ryokan where you will also enjoy a set Japanese dinner prepared by ryokan staff. (B/D)
Head deeper into rural Japan on a small group cycling tour through rice fields and rural villages set against a backdrop of the picturesque Hida Mountains. En-route visit a natural spring, a local temple and traditional wooden farmhouses called Minka. There should also be the possibility of meeting local residents along the way. After your cycling adventure spend the afternoon exploring the delightful town of Takayama which is famous for its well preserved inns, tea houses and shops characteristic of the Edo period. (B)
Take an express bus from Takayama to Matsumoto. This scenic journey climbs to pass over the stunning mountains where temperatures will drop before descending into Matsumoto which sits nestled on the other side of the Japanese Alps. Arrive into Matsumoto which is flanked by the towering peaks of the Japanese Alps and check in to the hotel. Spend the afternoon exploring the town which is famous for being home to one of the only original castles in Japan which gives a real sense of how ancient samurai used to live. (B)
Another chance to display your culinary skills today on a small group soba noodle making class. Matsumoto is famous for producing much sought after soba buckwheat noodles so the lesson shows you how to prepare the noodles from scratch - and also how to enjoy eating them! Enjoy the remainder of the day exploring. The noodle making course is located near the castle but there are also sake breweries to discover hidden away in the backstreets along with a Ukiyoe woodblock print museum and the town is full of restaurants offering soba noodle dishes for you to sample further. (B)
This morning use your Japan Rail Pass to take an express train from Matsumoto to Nakatsugawa, gateway station for the villages of Magome and Tsumago in the lush Kiso Valley. The journey passes through pretty mountain scenery so be sure to keep your eyes open! From Nakatsugawa jump on a local bus to Magome before the walk to Tsumago. This gentle 8km hike starts from the small and pretty post town of Magome and takes around 2 hours passing stunning forest landscapes. The path is well sign posted with rest stops along the way. The hike ends at Tsumago with a night in a small Japanese inn. (B/D)
Make your own way to Nagiso station either by public transport or via the Nakasendo hiking trail (which will take about an hour) and board a train from Nagiso to Nagoya. Change to a Shinkansen bullet train and journey for approx 2 hours to historic Kyoto. The afternoon is at leisure before an evening exploration of the geisha district of Gion. Take a private tour with an English-speaking guide and walk through narrow lanes and hidden alleyways to discover the secrets of Geikos and Meikos. There is often the chance to catch a glimpse of a Geiko or Meiko shly flitting between appointments. (B)
Spend today with an English-speaking guide discovering the delights of Kyoto. Using the efficient public transport system along with a few well placed taxis will allow you to explore more of the city. What you see and where you go is entirely up to you but it may be worth considering visiting the Imperial Palace Park, the Buddhist temple of Kinkaku-ji which is also called the Golden Pavilion and the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove to immerse yourself in the lush bamboo groves. The Nishiki Market is also a great place to discover the weird and wonderful selling everything from seafood to fresh tofu, tea, wagashi and much, much more. (B)
Today is free to further explore on your own. Options for further touring include using the Japan Rail Pass to head 40 minutes south to nearby Nara, ancient capital of Japan around AD 700 and home to the impressive Todai-ji temple and a host of sacred deer grazing the parklands. If further city exploration is preferable then Osaka is a mere 30 minutes away and offers a host of excellent dining potential or why not travel to Kobe, a nearby port town famous for their fine local beef. The castle town of Himeji is a mere 45 minutes away or the original castle at Hikone sits looking out over Lake Biwa. (B)
From Kyoto take your final Shinkansen of the trip back to the hubbub of Tokyo staying in the Shinjku district. Enjoy the remainder of your time in the city discovering a few final sites or maybe enjoy a spot of shopping. (B)
Transfer by shared shuttle bus to Tokyo airport for your onward or return flight. (B)