Japan delights in contrasts—flashing neon lights and serene bamboo forests, ornate temples and bustling fish markets, the frenetic energy of modern Tokyo and the traditional charms of ancient Kyoto. Navigate old and new Japan with a private guide, discovering how the country’s layered history defines its fascinating culture. Get a glimpse into the beguiling world of geishas in old Tokyo, stay at a ryokan in Hakone, and dig into the bold food scene of Osaka.
Pick out fresh tuna and wasabi and learn to roll sushi like a master chef at Tokyo’s Tsukiji—the world’s largest fish market.
Bike around old Kyoto, home to 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites, and learn about Zen Buddhism while taking part in an exclusive Japanese tea ceremony.
Take in the soaring summit of Mount Fuji on a private tour of Fuji Hakone-Izu National Park, and then stroll the modern sculpture gardens at the Hakone Open Air Museum.
Eat your way through Osaka on a guided gastronomy tour, tasting regional specialties such as takoyaki, or octopus snack, and okonomiyaki—savory pancakes.
Itinerary - 10 Days
Day 1 — Arrive Tokyo, Japan
Land in Tokyo and transfer to your hotel in the heart of the capital. Meet your guide at the hotel for a brief orientation, then explore the city on your own this evening.
Day 2 — Tokyo
After breakfast, join your guide for a private tour of old Tokyo, with its traditional houses and narrow shopping lanes. Explore Asakusa, the oldest Geisha district in the city, and pass through the iconic gate of the seventh-century Senso-ji Temple, Tokyo’s oldest Buddhist temple. Peruse the food stalls, artisan shops, and teahouses of the Yanaka neighborhood; and learn about Fumio Asakura, known as the father of modern Japanese sculpture, at his former workshop—now a museum. This afternoon, explore Tokyo at your leisure. For an additional cost, wield a samurai sword during a private lesson with the Japanese fight performer who choreographed Uma Thurman in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill.
Park Hotel (B)
Day 3 — Nikko
Join your guide on a private excursion to Nikko National Park in the sacred hills north of Tokyo. Begin at the Tosho-gu shrine complex, a UNESCO World Heritage site built as a mausoleum for Tokugawa Ieyasu, who founded the long-ruling Tokugawa shogunate. Explore lavishly decorated Shinto and Buddhist buildings nestled in an old-growth forest; and then drive through stunning Oku-Nikko, an area rich in waterfalls, lakes, and hot springs. Stop at Lake Yu and soak up the majesty of the fan-shaped Yutaki Falls as it crashes onto volcanic rock.
Park Hotel (B)
Day 4 — Tokyo/Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park
Rise early for a visit to Tsukiji, the world’s largest and busiest fish market. Pick out some fresh tuna and wasabi, then head to the onsite cooking classroom to learn how to roll and prepare sushi. Sample your creations for lunch, and then transfer to Fuji Hakone-Izu National Park—a sprawling natural wonderland of hot springs, lakes, volcanic islands, and soaring peaks. Tonight, stay in a Japanese inn, or ryokan, and enjoy a multi-course kaiseki dinner featuring seasonal ingredients.
Aura Tachibana (B, L, D)
Day 5 — Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park
Set out on a private tour of Hakone, an important security checkpoint in securing Edo—now Tokyo—during the feudal era. Learn about the active volcano that once towered where hot springs and steam vents now gurgle; and, on clear days, enjoy stunning views of Mount Fuji. Ride a cable car up Mount Komagatake, a lava dome created by an eruption some 20,000 years ago, and then continue on to Togendai. Cruise Lake Ashinoko on a replica pirate ship, and visit the Hakone Open Air Museum and its sculpture garden.
Aura Tachibana (B, D)
Day 6 — Kyoto
Hop on a bullet train for the ride to Kyoto, which served as Japan’s imperial capital for more than a thousand years. All together, 17 of the city’s temples and shrines have been designated UNESCO World Heritage sites. Settle into your hotel, and then join a private guide at Heian Jingu, a Shinto shrine. Later, participate in an exclusive Japanese tea ceremony at Korin-in temple, learning about the beverage’s connection to Zen Buddhism as you sip green tea brewed by a tea master.
Hotel Granvia (B)
Day 7 — Kyoto
Today, you’ll discover Kyoto by bicycle. Ride to the Nishi Honganji Temple and take in its elaborately carved, cypress-thatched gate. Cycle to the ornamental Nijo Castle, a World Heritage site known for its opulent Momoyama architecture and “chirping” nightingale floors. Continue to the Shogun retirement villa turned Zen Buddhist temple of Kinkaku-ji, famously called the Golden Pavilion. After lunch, venture farther north to the Zen rock garden of Ryoan-ji and the otherworldly bamboo groves of Arashiyama. Cap off your tour at the landmark Togetsukyo Bridge, a wooden span in the shadow of Arashiyama Mountain. Spend the afternoon at your leisure.
Hotel Granvia (B, L)
Day 8 — Nara
Join a private guide on a daylong exploration of nearby Nara, which reigned as Japan’s capital in the eighth century. Stroll the enchanting Isui-en Garden; then walk to Todai-ji Temple, once the head Buddhist temple in Japan. Step into the Todai-ji temple and peer up at the 50-foot-tall bronze Buddha inside. Pass through Nara Park, inhabited by herds of freely roaming deer, on your way to discover the bronze and stone lanterns at Kasuga Taisha, a celebrated Shinto shrine. Before returning to Kyoto, get a feel for bygone Japan among the shops, traditional inns, and cafés of the historic merchant district of Naramachi.
Hotel Granvia (B)
Day 9 — Osaka
Transfer to Osaka, one of Japan’s culinary capitals. Visit the tiered Osaka castle, and then eat your way down Dontonbori Street on a guided gastronomy tour. Taste regional specialties such as takoyaki (octopus snack) and okonomiyaki (savory pancakes) and marvel at the colorful neon signs and creative storefront displays. Stroll stone-paved Hozenji Alley, lined with traditional shops and restaurants, before returning to your hotel in the evening.
Swissotel Nankai (B)
Day 10 — Osaka/Depart
Transfer to the airport for your flight home.
About Private Expeditions
National Geographic Private Expeditions are specially crafted itineraries designed for independent travelers that combine guided excursions, fascinating insights into culture and wildlife, and top accommodations. Simply select a trip and decide whom you'd like to travel with and when you want to travel. We'll take care of the rest.
2017 & 2018 January - February June - August December
2017 & 2018 March - May September - November
Prices are per person, double occupancy and are subject to availability. Single traveler prices are available upon request.
International airfare to Tokyo and return from Osaka is not included in the expedition cost.
A holiday surcharge may apply to certain travel dates based upon international or local holidays, as well as local events and festivals.
Travelers should be in good health and comfortable walking or standing for extended periods of time. Daily activities may include city walking tours, visits to sites, game drives on bumpy roads, or easy hikes.
Click here for a description of all activity levels.