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Japan Alps Explorer

12 Days | 11 Nights

From $ 4,150

Japan
Tokyo - Matsumoto - Kamikochi - Tsumago - Takayama - Shirakawago - Kanazawa - Kyoto

Tour Highlights

Japan Alps Explorer
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Itinerary in detail

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Welcome to TOKYO! You will be met upon arrival at Tokyo Narita Airport and escorted by shuttle bus to your hotel in the city. Look out for some great views as you ride the elevated highways into town, and spend the rest of the day exploring the city at your own leisure.

Perhaps take a walk down Shinjuku’s Memory Lane. This crowded alley of busy restaurants and bar stalls started in the 1940s and quickly gained infamy as a black market drinking quarter. Today, it is still one of the best spots to try some of Tokyo’s famed ‘fast food’ dishes.

Overnight in Tokyo.
Today we explore the capital. Taking the subway to Asakusa we visit the lively Sensoji Temple district, which is home to Tokyo’s first temple and scores of interesting souvenir and craft stalls. Nearby is the Nakamise Shopping Street famous for it's large variety of traditional souvenirs and interesting craft stalls which we have time to explore before lunch.

In the afternoon we head to Harajuku, which is a magnet for young and fashionable Tokyoites with its hip shops and cafes. Here we’ll visit the impressive Meiji Shrine where the emperor Meiji and his wife are enshrined. Yoyogi Park beside the shrine is a popular hangout for locals and there is always a lot going on especially on Sundays with bands playing, drum circles, dancers and busking.

Our final stop is the buzzing Shibuya crossing perhaps the busiest intersections in the world. The famed intersection is a junction of no less than 7 pedestrian crossings and when the lights turn red, all 7 turn red simultaneously. The traffic stops completely and pedestrians surge into the intersection from all sides. Known as 'the scramble' its an amazing spectacle which we'll watch from the second floor Starbucks located directly opposite.

Overnight in Tokyo.
MEALS
Breakfast
Today journey southwest of Nagano on a 3-hour train to the alpine city of MATSUMOTO, a small castle town surrounded by rice fields, vineyards, wasabi farms and the great Japan Alps.

Visit the Matsumoto Castle is one of the only twelve original castles in Japan. Built in 1593, when covered in snow, this beautiful wooden structure allows us to imagine we have returned to the pre-modern world of the Samurai. It is well-distinguished for its black exterior, red arch bridge and a view of Japan’s Alps in the background.

Right outside the castle grounds is Nakamachi-dori, a historical merchant district line with well-preserved old buildings, including some storehouses characterized by their thick, white-painted walls. The city also boasts a number of sake breweries, hidden in the backstreets amongst the traditional buildings, a good museum of Ukiyoe woodblock prints, and is the home of the best Soba noodles in Japan, the local speciality which is particularly delicious.

You can also try some of the city's other local delicacy ‐ raw horse! The city has a really relaxed atmosphere and a cosmopolitan feel befitting of a city renowned for its musicians and authors. The famous violin teacher, Suzuki (of the Suzuki method) originated from Matsumoto and you will find a commemorative statue on the street opposite the station.

Overnight in Matsumoto.
MEALS
Breakfast
Make an early start and travel to KAMIKOCHI, a popular nature trail in the valleys of Matsumoto. Firstly, we catch a 30-minute train to Shimashima station. Exit the Shimashima Station, we embark on a 1-hour bus to Taisho-ike. Kamikochi is known for the pristine Azusa-gawa River and the surrounding Japanese Alps.

Start from Taisho-ike Pond, with its mirror-like waters reflecting the Hotaka Mountain Range and Mount Yakedake, an active volcano that stands at 2,455 meters above sea level. Continue walking towards the bus terminal, passing by Tashiro Marsh, to secure a seats on the bus.

Just nearby is Kappabashi Bridge, one of the places in Kamikochi that offers the most picturesque views of the area. From this point, another hour of trekking heads to Myojin-bashi Bridge, the gateway to Hotaka-jinja Shrine and Myojin-ike Pond. There is a small dining place here called Kamonjigoya that serves grilled freshwater fish and soba. The trail from Myojin area back to the opposite side of Kappa-bashi is another hour of nature trekking that wanders through the serene woods of this well-protected national park.

NOTE: Kamikochi is only open from mid-April to mid-November, when the roads are not closed due to heavy snow.

Overnight in Matsumoto.
MEALS
Breakfast
Today make your way to Tsumago, the jewel of the Kiso Valley, which was once a post town on the old Nakasendo highway linking the ancient capital of Kyoto with Matsumoto. After the breakfast at your hotel, embark on a 1.5-hour train from Matsumoto Station to Nakatsugawa Station.

Upon arrival, exit the Nakatsugawa station and catch the local 30-minute bus to Magome, one of the post towns that flourished in the Edo Period. The trail that runs from MAGOME to Tsumago is perhaps the most popular section of Nakasendo. From Magome Bus Stop to Tsumago, the ancient trail can be completed in about 3 hours, including some quick breaks (i.e. restroom, tea/coffee). Around 2 hours in, emerge to the well-preserved post town of Tsumago.

Just like Magome, TSUMAGO was in its Golden Era during the time when merchants and other noble and prominent people frequently passed through for trade and other formal appointments. In the latter part of 1970, this small town was classified as a National Designated Architectural Preservation Site, thanks to the collective effort of its locals to preserve most of the remaining historical buildings. Today, Tsumago is loved for the residents’ efforts to preserve the town’s Edo Period ambiance. Power lines are hidden away and cars banned from the main roads during the daytime so that the beautiful, traditional buildings and flag‐stone streets can be seen in their true glory.

A stay in Tsumago is to step back in time and experience old Japan; a world away from the robots, gadgets and gizmos that many associate with modern Japanese cities. The walk along the old samurai trail from the neighbouring village of Magome through Tsumago and on to Nagiso is highly recommended.

Overnight in Tsumago.
MEALS
Breakfast, Dinner
Today marks the journey to TAKAYAMA, a small town nestled high in the Hida Alpine region of Gifu Prefecture. Wave goodbye to Tsumago, then catch a 10-minute bus to Nagiso Bus Stop. From here, embark on a 4.5-hour train to Takayama Station, transiting in Kiso Valley station. Arrive in Takayama within approximately 5 hours (one stop).

On arrival you’ll stop into one of the region's prized sake breweries for a tasting. The alpine climate and crystal clear mountain waters are perfect for creating this signature drop. While on a food and culture walk tour in Takayama, keep an eye out for some of these popular regional dishes – mitarashi dango (rice dumplings roasted in soy sauce), houba miso (miso vegetables cooked in magnolia leaf) and chuka soba (Hida's favourite noodle dish).

For the next two evenings you will stay in a traditional ryokan (Japanese inn). Rooms are equipped with thin futon mattresses that are spread on tatami mats for a comfortable night's sleep. Over the next two evenings you will dine on regional Takayama delicacies, including hida beef.

Overnight in a ryokan in Takayama.
MEALS
Breakfast, Dinner
The Gifu prefecture is known to produce excellent high altitude vegetables and that is reason we put this place in our Japan Food Tour. Explore the morning markets that date back 600 years and browse the stalls of seasonal produce brought in from the surrounding countryside. Stalls are set up by local farm women from 6am every morning. Look out for the unique local style of pickles, the bags of miso wrapped in leaves, Genkotsu ame (soy bean candy), preserved fish, spices, and the delicious marshmallow treat of owara tamaten.

Later, take a 15-minute train to Hida, then visit the nearby Hida Folk Village, an outdoor museum where the traditional thatched-roof architecture unique to the area has been recreated in a delightful mountain setting. Discover the techniques used to build farmhouses that could withstand fierce winters and long periods of isolation due to snow-closed roads. The thick thatching kept in warmth and the roofs were angled so as to minimise snow build-up. Each house is like it’s own self-contained museum, with displays of personal items and traditional tools.

Around noon, take the 1-hour bus to SHIRAKAWAGO, a UNESCO World Heritage Site famous for its gassho-zukuri farmhouses. Gassho-zukuri means "constructed like hands in prayer," which is represented through the farmhouses' steep thatched roofs. This architectural style developed over many generations – the roofs were constructed without any nails and are intricately designed to withstand large amounts of snow. These houses are private homes of the locals but some are open to the public, such as 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. The amenities are basic but the experience is sure to be one of a kind.

Overnight in Shirakawago.
MEALS
Breakfast, Dinner
Start early and hop on the 75-minute bus to KANAZAWA, the castle town that thrived as the center for culture and the arts in the 17th century.

Start with the pristine Kenroku-en Garden, which is ranked as one of Japan’s top three gardens. Once part of the feudal lord's garden, Kenroku-en is regarded as one of the best places to see the country's famous cherry blossoms - hopefully in full bloom. In Kanazawa the cherry blossom trees are due to bloom in late March/early April. When in bloom, these delicate soft pink flowers can be seen lining the streets and filling the parks and gardens all over the city.

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

We’ll also visit the Higashi Chaya district, to visit the traditional Chaya’s (traditional teahouses, where geishas entertain guests with playing traditional music and dancing) which have been here as far back as the Edo period. To end our sightseeing tour, we cycle through the former samurai district passing the remaining houses, narrow lanes and water canals. If time permits, make an excursion to the Ninja Temple, formally known as Myoryu-ji Temple and not actually associated with Ninja but rather for the its deceptive defences and escape routes.

Overnight in ryokan in Kanazawa.
MEALS
Breakfast, Dinner
Take one last soak in the onsen at the ryokan before starting the 4-hour journey by train to KYOTO, Japan’s cultural capital and home to around 2,000 shrines and temples, including 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The beautiful city was originally founded as Heian-kyo (literally “tranquillity and peace capital”) by Emperor Kammu in 794 and had its golden age during the imperial court's heyday from 794 to 1185.

We spend the afternoon wandering through the quaint hillside streets before heading to one of the most photogenic spots in Kyoto, Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine. Famous for the thousands of scarlet torii (square archways) along the path, this shrine is dedicated to Inari – the god of rice. Because foxes do his bidding, there are also plenty of fox statues along the way, ranging from the cute to the creepy. Spend the rest of the day at your own exploration.

OPTIONAL: This evening, attend a live geisha performance in the famous Gion district before spending the rest of the evening at leisure. Walk down the dimly lit Pontocho alley, and sup on some sake in one of the bars overlooking the river and watch the world go by.

Overnight in Kyoto.
MEALS
Breakfast
This morning we offer a guided tour of Nijo Castle, one of the city’s most impressive UNESCO sites. Built by the first Tokugawa shogun in 1603, the exquisite Nijo Castle is a wonderful example of Momoyama architecture.

Next on the list is the serene Ryoan-ji Temple, which is famous for its well-maintained rock garden and is home to the Myoshinji School of the Rinzai Buddhist sect. Just a short distance from the 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 Kiyomizudera 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 centers.

Overnight in Kyoto.
MEALS
Breakfast
Today we soak up Kyoto’s stunning landscapes in traditional wooden rafts along the Hozugawa River, which was originally used to transport many of the supplies that built many of Osaka and Kyoto’s famous temples and castles. We then hike through a maze of bamboo paths in Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, until we reach monkey park where we have the opportunity to feed these amazing creatures from the safety of our own cage while they roam free in their natural environment.

Our afternoon finds us visiting the Tenryu-ji Temple, the most important of the city’s five zen temples. The buildings themselves were lost in fires and wars over centuries, whereas the gardens survived and have remained in pristine condition and in their original form. Take some time to walk around the central pond surrounded by the Arashiyama forest or visit the Dharma Hall and marvel at the dragon’s eyes on the ceiling that follow you everywhere.

The rest of the afternoon is at leisure to continue exploring Kyoto. You may be interested in heading to the Noshiki Market and stroll through ‘Kyoto’s Kitchen’. It’s the perfect introduction to Kyoto's regional specialties – from pickled vegetables hidden beneath layers of fermented rice to delicious and ornate Kyo-wagashi (Kyoto sweets), and other local produce.

Overnight in Kyoto.
MEALS
Breakfast
Today your Japan Alps Explorer adventure in Japan comes to an end. A departure transfer by shuttle bus will take you to Kansai Airport for your onward travel.
MEALS
Breakfast

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When to Go

See estimated monthly temperature and rainfall for this itinerary
JAN FEB MAR APR MAY JUN JUL AUG SEP OCT NOV DEC





Place
Place
Daily Max Temperature
Monthly Rainfall

Tokyo
9ºC
47mm

Matsumoto
4ºC
40mm

Kamikochi
0ºC
35mm

Tsumago
1ºC
51mm

Takayama
2ºC
112mm

Shirakawago
6ºC
84mm

Kanazawa
5ºC
291mm

Kyoto
8ºC
76mm
Place
Place
Daily Max Temperature
Monthly Rainfall

Tokyo
10ºC
62mm

Matsumoto
5ºC
49mm

Kamikochi
1ºC
50mm

Tsumago
2ºC
56mm

Takayama
3ºC
93mm

Shirakawago
8ºC
88mm

Kanazawa
6ºC
193mm

Kyoto
8ºC
82mm
Place
Place
Daily Max Temperature
Monthly Rainfall

Tokyo
13ºC
101mm

Matsumoto
10ºC
72mm

Kamikochi
4ºC
72mm

Tsumago
5ºC
70mm

Takayama
8ºC
120mm

Shirakawago
12ºC
144mm

Kanazawa
10ºC
159mm

Kyoto
12ºC
118mm
Place
Place
Daily Max Temperature
Monthly Rainfall

Tokyo
18ºC
122mm

Matsumoto
17ºC
89mm

Kamikochi
10ºC
85mm

Tsumago
13ºC
91mm

Takayama
15ºC
138mm

Shirakawago
18ºC
189mm

Kanazawa
17ºC
148mm

Kyoto
18ºC
146mm
Place
Place
Daily Max Temperature
Monthly Rainfall

Tokyo
22ºC
139mm

Matsumoto
22ºC
96mm

Kamikochi
16ºC
97mm

Tsumago
18ºC
114mm

Takayama
21ºC
137mm

Shirakawago
23ºC
187mm

Kanazawa
21ºC
149mm

Kyoto
23ºC
159mm
Place
Place
Daily Max Temperature
Monthly Rainfall

Tokyo
25ºC
185mm

Matsumoto
25ºC
156mm

Kamikochi
19ºC
156mm

Tsumago
20ºC
177mm

Takayama
24ºC
240mm

Shirakawago
26ºC
282mm

Kanazawa
24ºC
205mm

Kyoto
26ºC
240mm
Place
Place
Daily Max Temperature
Monthly Rainfall

Tokyo
28ºC
132mm

Matsumoto
29ºC
141mm

Kamikochi
24ºC
140mm

Tsumago
24ºC
188mm

Takayama
28ºC
242mm

Shirakawago
30ºC
297mm

Kanazawa
29ºC
246mm

Kyoto
30ºC
243mm
Place
Place
Daily Max Temperature
Monthly Rainfall

Tokyo
30ºC
148mm

Matsumoto
30ºC
96mm

Kamikochi
25ºC
95mm

Tsumago
25ºC
170mm

Takayama
29ºC
177mm

Shirakawago
31ºC
250mm

Kanazawa
30ºC
173mm

Kyoto
32ºC
181mm
Place
Place
Daily Max Temperature
Monthly Rainfall

Tokyo
26ºC
185mm

Matsumoto
25ºC
151mm

Kamikochi
20ºC
151mm

Tsumago
20ºC
175mm

Takayama
24ºC
233mm

Shirakawago
27ºC
286mm

Kanazawa
26ºC
249mm

Kyoto
27ºC
209mm
Place
Place
Daily Max Temperature
Monthly Rainfall

Tokyo
21ºC
174mm

Matsumoto
18ºC
98mm

Kamikochi
13ºC
98mm

Tsumago
15ºC
136mm

Takayama
18ºC
147mm

Shirakawago
21ºC
151mm

Kanazawa
20ºC
192mm

Kyoto
21ºC
123mm
Place
Place
Daily Max Temperature
Monthly Rainfall

Tokyo
16ºC
90mm

Matsumoto
13ºC
56mm

Kamikochi
7ºC
56mm

Tsumago
10ºC
65mm

Takayama
12ºC
98mm

Shirakawago
15ºC
99mm

Kanazawa
15ºC
235mm

Kyoto
16ºC
86mm
Place
Place
Daily Max Temperature
Monthly Rainfall

Tokyo
11ºC
50mm

Matsumoto
7ºC
38mm

Kamikochi
2ºC
35mm

Tsumago
4ºC
52mm

Takayama
5ºC
103mm

Shirakawago
9ºC
84mm

Kanazawa
9ºC
304mm

Kyoto
11ºC
67mm

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