Luxury Japan October 2007

Jidai Matsuri Kyoto Japan

Detailed itinerary description

Day Schedule

Sunday 21st Oct

Arrival in Japan
Stay at Kyoto Hotel

We meet you on arrival in Japan and advise you according to your schedule until the tour begins. Normally you would arrive at the hotel in Kyoto by the evening so you can relax and get to know other members of the group over dinner. We will brief you about the important points of the tour.

Monday 22nd Oct

Jidai Matsuri
Kurama Fire Festival
Stay at Kyoto Hotel

On our first morning in Kyoto, we visit Gion with its traditional wooden buildings, cobbled streets and renowned Geisha. You may even be lucky enough to see them, shuffl ing along in their kimono and clogs. From Gion, a short walk takes us to Maruyama Park and its complex of temples, in the foothills of the mountains east of Kyoto. This is a good opportunity to take part in some temple traditions like throwing a coin and ringing the bell at the temple entrance. The gods will welcome you inside - as long as you take your shoes off! We stroll from temple to shrine, pausing for lunch, before viewing two of Japan?s most renowned festivals.

The Jidai Matsuri dates from 1868 when the Imperial Court moved to Tokyo. It begins with the shrines of the first and last Kyoto emperors being carried to the Old Imperial Palace where they are joined by a procession of about 2000 people in traditional costume. It then embarks on a 5-hour walk to the Heian Shrine. The costumes represent periods from Kyoto's history, beginning with Meiji era (1868) and going back as far as the Heian era when the capital was first established in Kyoto.

In the evening, we head north for the second spectacular festival. The origins of the Kurama Fire Festival are traced to an ancient ritual using fire to banish the gods of the underworld. Giant flaming torches are carried through the streets by young men in loincloths. The festival finishes with a huge bonfire at Yuki Shrine. Festivals in Japan can be quite extreme and even the more reserved salarymen let their hair down and join the frenzied atmosphere in an annual release of stress! A small village, crowded with fires and festival goers, is an amazing sight to behold and not for the faint-hearted!

Tuesday 23rd Oct

Golden Temple
Kiyomizu Temple
Stay in Kyoto Hotel

We head for the northwest and the world famous Golden Pavilion and Ryoanji temples. As with Christianity, Buddhism has many denominations and each famous temple is often the seat of one particular sect. More religious Japanese people may consider it a personal pilgrimage to visit such temples. The glittering Kinkaku-ji Temple is a three-storey structure overlaid with gold leaf, which was restored in 1988. The stone garden at Ryoan-ji Temple represents Zen philosophy, consisting of fifteen stones of different sizes placed in white sand representing an image of islands and an expanding sea. The simple beauty of Zen inspired rock gardens is intended to give people a blank space in which to imagine their own landscape. The garden is also referred to as "The Crossing of Tiger Cubs" as it resembles a mother tiger carrying her cubs across dangerous river torrents.

After lunch we go to east to follow the gradual uphill route to another Kyoto icon - Kiyomizu. The main temple rests against the hill slope with 20 metre high wooden stilts supporting it. From here, there are fantastic views over the whole city and you can try the 'love walk' — finding a path from one ancient boulder to another with eyes closed. Superstition states that if you make it, you will be lucky in love but if you don't, there are always plenty of good luck charms to buy instead! As the day comes to an end, we walk back to the hotel or take a taxi for comfort.

Wednesday 24th Oct

Stay in Kyoto Hotel

We take the hour-long train journey to Nara following an ancient route through the countryside between Japan's two former capitals. When we arrive at Nara we visit the huge Deer Park which, in addition to the more popular temples and giant buddhas, has many quieter areas of natural beauty. There are also opportunities to try Japanese snacks from traditional food stalls, watch turtles in the ponds and walk in the hills for views over the parkland. As the name suggests, the park is home to many deer - visitors need to be brave to feed them as they are likely to be buffeted from all sides by the greedier ones! For your own meal, you can choose from a traditional bento (lunch box) in the park or a restaurant lunch.

We finally make our way back to the station via the main arcade. Even if shopping is not your idea of fun, it is well worth wandering through shopping areas to see how Japanese people live day to day - it is quite different from the average UK high street. We arrive back at the hotel in Kyoto in time to rest before dinner.

Thursday 25th Oct

Stay at Beppu Ryokan

We experience the shinkansen on its fastest stretch, travelling west from Kyoto and on to Beppu. We enjoy a bento lunch on the train, reaching Beppu in the early afternoon. The city was founded on 1st April 1924 and is famous for its thousands of sacred onsen (hot springs). Beppu is Japan's onsen capital, containing nine major pools sometimes referred to as the 'Nine Hells of Beppu'. It is a beautiful setting - the sea to one side and mountains on the other with onsen always evident by their columns of rising steam. Most people walking around Beppu wear traditional yukata (kimono-style cotton robes) provided by their Ryokan (Japanese Inn). It is very comfortable and makes a picturesque scene as people potter through the town trying the different baths. We guide you to the various hot baths and the ?devils pools? to see bubbling, boiling mud. We then leave you to relax and sample them if you wish before we try some elaborate traditional cuisine in our ryokan (Japanese inn).

Friday 26th Oct

Mount Aso
Stay at Beppu Ryokan

We enjoy a traditional ryokan breakfast before visiting the active volcano, Mount Aso. Soon after leaving Beppu, you get a sense of the volcanos crater as the coach climbs up to the valley that enters from the east side. As the view opens out before you, the scale is immediately clear as the towering volcano stands in the centre of a vast caldera. The coach winds to the top of Mount Aso and we make two stops to take in the views and walk up to the boiling mud cauldron. The volcano was so powerful that the gases here are noxious and constantly monitored to protect visitors.

After lunch, we travel back down into the crater and up one side to enjoy more panoramic views. The floor of the crater is almost perfectly flat and very fertile making it ideal for the rice fields and other crops which give it a stunning patchwork appearance.

Saturday 27th Oct

Peace Park
Atomic Dome
Stay at Hiroshima Hotel

We enjoy another traditional breakfast before travelling east by train towards Hiroshima. We arrive late morning and as Hiroshima is famous for its Okonomiyaki, a dish somewhere between a pancake and an omelette, we head straight for lunch.

We then spend the afternoon visiting the Atomic Dome and Peace Park. The Heiwa Kinen Shiryokan (Peace Memorial Museum) documents the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima on 6th August 1945 and its aftermath, with exhibits demonstrating the tragic destruction of the city and its people and the events leading up to it.

Sunday 28th Oct

Stay at Hiroshima Hotel

We reach Miyajima island by ferry from Hiroshima. The temple on the shoreline and the red torii (temple gate) at high and low tides deserves a full day on any schedule. The inland sea swells around the temple stilts at high tide and the torii appears to float magically on the water. At low tide you can stroll across the sand to the huge gate. The village has lots of interesting shops and the park surrounding the area is populated by placid deer patiently waiting for food. We then take the cable car to the island summit for great views or, for the more energetic, there is time for a gentle hike if you don’t mind being joined by a few of the local monkeys!

Monday 29th Oct

Stay in Hakone Hotel

A short journey by Shinkansen takes us to Okayama where we see one of Japan's three famous walking gardens, Korakuen. Completed in the 17th century, the name means “Garden of Pleasure After”, referring to a Confucian quote stating that a wise ruler must attend to his subjects' needs first and only then attend to his own. The first impression may be that of a giant lawn, crisscrossed with wide paths and the occasional teahouse but as you explore you find waterfalls, tiny shrines, miniature maple forests, a lotus pond, and traditional red bridges creating many different but very Japanese landscapes. After lunch, we travel on to Hakone and our first views of Mount Fuji.

Tuesday 30th Oct

Mount Fuji
Stay in Hakone Hotel

The Hakone checkpoint on the historic Tokaido (east sea) road marks the edge of the Kanto region. While Hakone has its fair share of hot springs and health resorts, the main attractions are the views of Mount Fuji and Lake Ashinoko. Closer inspection reveals that ‘Fuji-san’ is not quite as perfect as it appears as there are several volcanic craters on its slopes.

The area known as Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park is still volcanically active and its Great Boiling Valley is full of sulphurous springs. We spend a day enjoying the Mount Fuji including a cable car ride, a cruise on the lake and a visit to Hakone Shrine.

Wednesday 31st Oct

Stay at Tokyo Hotel

Kamakura, surrounded by mountains and the open water of Sagami Bay, is a natural fortress. Consequently, during the Heian period, it was the chief city of the Kanto region and from 12th to 14th centuries, the Minamoto Shoguns ruled Japan from here. Kamakura is now famous for its temples and shrines - Kotokuin, with its monumental bronze Amida Buddha, being the most famous. A tsunami destroyed the temple housing the Great Buddha in the 15th century but the statue survived and has weathered the elements ever since. Kamakura's other sites include the magnificent Zen temples of Kenchoji and Enkakuji, the Tokeiji - a nunnery that was a refuge for women who wanted to divorce their husbands, the Tsurugaoka Hachiman Shrine and the Hase Kannon Temple.

Thursday 1st Nov

Imperial Palace
Stay at Tokyo Hotel

We start the day in Asakusa visiting the Asakusa Kannon Temple. This is the oldest in Tokyo and you may recognise the colossal lantern at the entrance. There is also an avenue leading up to Senso-ji temple, lined with traditional souvenir stalls. We journey on to the Imperial Palace Gardens, home of the Japanese royal family. They are more protected and detached from mainstream society than the British monarchy and it is likely to be many years before it is possible to enter the Palace proper.

We end the day by visiting some of the mesmerising shopping districts. This could be considered sightseeing in itself and it is certainly fun to marvel at the flashing lights and electronic gadgets on display in Akihabara known as 'Electric Town'. The more serious shopper will have a chance to continue bargain hunting the following day.

Friday 2nd Nov

Tsukiji Fish Market
Free time
Stay at Tokyo Hotel

We make an early start, before breakfast, to visit Tsukiji Fish Market. With an area approximately the size of 30 football pitches and 15,000 people working there, it is not hard to believe that this one of the world’s largest markets.

After breakfast, we visit Shibuya, a visually amazing district and one of the centres of Japan’s youth fashion. We also visit Yoyogi Park, one of the main locations for the 1964 Olympics and now a favourite for buskers. After lunch, we take you to other areas of interest or leave you explore.

Saturday 3rd Nov

Return home

After breakfast at the hotel we escort you to Narita Airport according to your flight schedule or assist you with your ongoing arrangements.

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