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Neon-lit cityscapes, ancient temples clinging to forested hillsides and markets brimming with exotic ingredients: Japan is a feast for the senses. Experience an intriguing combination of cutting-edge modernity and time-honored tradition as we explore dazzling Tokyo, elegant Kyoto and ancient Nara. Wander through exquisite shrines and palaces where nobles once lingered, go hiking in a steaming volcanic valley near Mount Fuji. Speed aboard a bullet train to explore the timeless mountain town of Takayama, and don a kimono to discover the intricate art of the Japanese tea ceremony.
Explore the fabled geisha neighborhoods of Kyoto by bicycle, and meet our pen pals in Tokyo for a taiko drumming lesson.
Discover the wonders of Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, and see a remarkable collection of Picasso’s works at the renowned Hakone Open-Air Museum.
Try your hand at Japanese calligraphy and handicrafts; and put on a kimono to take part in an authentic tea ceremony.
Stay at a traditional ryokan in Takayama, and visit Hida Folk Village to learn about life in the Japanese countryside.
Itinerary - 9 Days
Day 1 — Tokyo, Japan
Welcome to Japan! Arrive in Tokyo—one of the world’s most cutting-edge capitals and transfer to our hotel. Gather tonight for a welcome dinner at a renowned restaurant, enjoying home-style Japanese cuisine. Hotel New Otani (D)
Day 2 — Tokyo
Experience the fascinating contrasts of Tokyo where neon-lit skyscrapers reside alongside sprawling parks and ancient temples. Visit the serene Meiji Jingu Shrine, Tokyo’s most important Shinto shrine dedicated to the spirit of Emperor Meiji. Travel by private boat along the Sumida River to Asakusa, enjoying lunch on board. Upon arrival, explore the seventh-century Senso Ji—the city’s
oldest temple. Later, get to know our pen pals during a taiko drum lesson. Discover the ancient roots of taiko in Japanese religion and folklore and pick up a pair of bachi (wooden sticks) to try your hand at drumming. Hotel New Otani (B,L,D)
Day 3 — Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park
Situated on the shores of Lake Ashi within Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, the town of Hakone is famous for its hot springs and spectacular views of nearby Mount Fuji. Visit the famous Hakone Open-Air
Museum which encompasses many beautiful
acres of pathways, gardens and ponds. Discover
an array of modern and contemporary sculptures—including masterpieces by Auguste Rodin,
Henry Moore and an impressive collection of Pablo Picasso’s works. Explore amid interactive installations and cap off your visit
by soaking your feet in a soothing hot spring bath.
Return to Tokyo for dinner this evening. Hotel New Otani (B,L)
Day 4 — Tokyo/Takayama
Board one of Japan’s iconic bullet trains for an unforgettable ride by way of Nagoya and through the
Hida mountains to the charming 17th-century town
of Takayama. Our home for the next two nights is a traditional Japanese inn, or ryokan, where hot spring baths and delicious food offer an opportunity to relax and refresh. Honjin Hiranoya Bekkan (B,L,D)
Day 5 — Takayama
Explore Takayama’s lively market along the Miya River and meander through the narrow Edo-style streets of the historic district, passing wooden merchant houses and sake breweries. Later, travel to Hida Folk Village, an open-air museum featuring traditional farmhouses and buildings from the region. Watch demonstrations of Japanese handicrafts and make your own sarubobo, or “monkey baby”—Takayama’s mascot. Sit down to a traditional multi-course kaiseki dinner at our ryokan. Honjin Hiranoya Bekkan (B,L,D)
Days 6 & 7 — Kyoto/Nara
Ride the bullet train to Kyoto which served as the imperial capital for more than a thousand years. Explore the temples of the Higashiyama neighborhood, including the impressive Kiyomizu-dera, which clings to a steep, waterfall-laced hillside. Test your musical skills during a festive evening of karaoke. The next day, spend the morning discovering ancient Nara. Visit the Todai-ji temple and Kasuga Taisha, Nara’s most celebrated shrine. Wander amid the gardens of Nara Park, home to herds of freely roaming deer. Hotel Granvia Kyoto or Kyotu Tokyu Hotel (Day 6: B,L,D: Day 7: B,L)
Day 8 — Kyoto
Explore Kyoto by bicycle or on a guided walk visiting two of its
geisha districts. Visit the Imperial Palace and
its gardens where nobles once strolled. Don a
kimono for a Japanese tea ceremony, then take
part in a calligraphy lesson with a local calligrapher.
Enjoy some leisure time in the city, followed
by a farewell dinner. Hotel Granvia Kyoto (B,L,D)
Day 9 — Kyoto
After breakfast, transfer to the airport for your flight home. (B)
Prices are per person, double occupancy. For a single room, add $800 in 2017 and $1,250 in 2018. International airfare to Tokyo and return from Osaka is not included in the expedition cost.
About this Expedition
We tap into National Geographic’s vast network to design unique travel experiences for the whole family, filled with hands-on activities and memorable moments. A special aspect of this expedition is the Kid-to-Kid Connection, which links every young traveler with a pen pal of similar age in Japan. Meet our pen pals for a taiko drumming lesson in Tokyo. Discover the ancient roots of taiko in Japanese religion and folklore, and watch a lively demonstration by expert percussionists. Then pick up a pair of bachi (wooden sticks) to try your hand at drumming. Learn how to keep the beat while creating big, bold sounds alongside our new friends.
Our dynamic Expedition Leaders enrich each experience with their insights, knowledge, and energy, and a Young Explorer Leader joins every group to facilitate fun activities that help kids get the most out of the places we go. As we travel, we’ll also meet up with fascinating people doing meaningful work in the field.