2023 International Japan by Rail - a Cherry Blossom Spectacular

$11950 per person
17 Days
More than 1

Japan by Rail - a Cherry Blossom Spectacular

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Some Details

Tour Leader(s)
Scott McGregor and Friends
Tour Date
12 Apr 2023 - 27 Apr 2023
Price: $11950 Single Supplement: $2795
  • Tour Plan
Tour Plan

Day 1 • Wednesday:


Most flights arrive early in the morning. As we can’t formally check in to our hotel until early afternoon, we’ve instead arranged the option of breakfast at the hotel and a morning tour of a few of Tokyo’s iconic sites. 

The hotel is only five minutes walk from Shinagawa Station with a direct connection to the airport, so it’s an easy introduction to getting around Tokyo. Drop your bags, freshen up and enjoy a hearty breakfast at the hotel’s signature restaurant before we head out. 

Our morning tour kicks off with a visit to Tokyo’s most significant Shinto monument – the Meiji Shrine. This monument dedicated to the memory of Emperor Meiji who ruled Japan in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, oozes the dignified grandeur of history.

Adjacent to the Meiji Shrine is one of the fascinating microcosms of modern Tokyo – the Harajuku neighbourhood – Tokyo’s fashion crucible and the home of some of the world’s wackiest fashion trends. The tour will culminate with a visit to Tokyo’s newest highlight, the Olympic Stadium, totally rebuilt for the 2020/1 Olympics on the site of the 1964 Olympic Stadium adjacent to Harajuku, to a design by Japan’s rock-star architect of the moment, Kengo Kuma (*). Afterwards, we’ll have our first get-together and briefing of the journey, in a private area over a re-energising pasta lunch, before checking in to the hotel and an afternoon of relaxation.

We’ll re-group in the evening to take a short subway ride to the setting of our celebratory welcome dinner, a Japanese barbecue with views across the Tokyo evening skyline.

(*) The Olympic Stadium may close to visitors in case of other events taking place – final confirmation of this visit will be communicated during February 2023.

Overnight: The Strings Intercontinental Hotel, Shinagawa (B, L, D)

Day 2 • Thursday:


Our exploration today will contrast the old and new cities of Tokyo. To see it all, we’ll of course use the city’s incomparable rail network.  We’ll start by visiting the 634 m tall Tokyo Sky Tree, recognised by Guinness World Records as the world’s tallest tower. Taking the high-speed elevator to the observation platform, we’ll enjoy a panorama that shows the sheer scale of Tokyo.

We’ll then get straight to the city’s roots by visiting Asakusa, the original village of Edo from which modern-day Tokyo has grown over the past 400-plus years. Next up is a visit to Sensoji, the city’s oldest Buddhist temple, followed by a stroll along Nakamise Arcade, the market street connecting the temple to its famed Kaminari Gate.

After a sumo wrestler-style lunch, and a Sumo-Demo, we continue our introduction to Japan’s unique culture with an afternoon visit to the Sumida Hokusai Museum, celebrating the uniquely Japanese art of woodblock printing, and its most famous practitioner, Katsushika Hokusai, a man credited with influencing not only Vincent Van Gogh but the whole Impressionist movement.

(The Edo Tokyo Museum is closed for major renovation until 2025)

In the evening, you may wish to join Scott and other fellow travellers for an informal social dinner close by in the heart of Shinagawa.

Overnight: The Strings Intercontinental Hotel, Shinagawa (B, L)

Day 3 • Friday:


We have arranged separate luggage transport so for today, please pack an overnight bag as your main luggage will be sent by overnight secure transport to Hiroshima.

Today you have a few options. You can have a day exploring more of the city on your own or you may wish to join our guide for a trip to Ueno Park, originally a royal hunting park now home to many of Tokyo’s major museums including the National Museum of Japan and several stunning Art Museums. Alternately you can take a tour of Japan’s National Railway Museum in the city of Saitama. This extensive museum presents the history of Japan’s railways with an impressive collection of interactive displays, cultural history, and a huge array of locomotives and carriages, from the steam, diesel, and, of course, the bullet train eras. This stunning building is built in the shape of a Bullet Train and the view from the roof is spectacular.

In the evening, you’re free to enjoy the many delights of the city, easily accessible from the hotel’s handy location. 

Overnight: The Strings Intercontinental Hotel, Shinagawa (B)

Day 4 • Saturday:


After breakfast this morning, we depart Tokyo and travel by bullet train to Hiroshima via Himeji. Travelling South-West on the Tokaido line past Mt Fuji, which will be in view if the weather permits, and Osaka before stopping at Himeji, a small city west of Kobe famous as the home of Japan’s finest castle. At Himeji Station, we board a coach for the spectacular Himeji Castle, affectionately known as ‘White Heron Castle’ for its elegance and particularly dazzling whiteness. Both a national treasure and World Heritage Site, it’s a rarity among Japanese castles in remaining in its original form. It has not been rebuilt since it was first erected in the Middle Ages, taking 200 years to complete. Recent restoration work has made it even more spectacular.

We then continue to Hiroshima an hour further down the line and check into our hotel located conveniently beside the railway station. Dinner this evening has a particular local theme: the regional delicacy of Okonomiyaki.

Overnight: Sheraton Grand Hiroshima Hotel (B, L, D)

Day 5 • Sunday:


Following breakfast at the hotel, we’ll take the train to the city of Iwakuni to visit the city’s most famous landmark (and another of Japan’s glorious little-known highlights), the Kintaikyo Bridge, a unique five-span edifice across the Nishiki River — a truly amazing piece of timber architecture. We’ll follow this with a local lunch of giant grilled chicken and humungous rice balls at another uniquely Japanese exemplar, Irori Sanzoku Restaurant. After lunch, we’ll drive to the charming town of Tsuwano, another of Japan`s ‘off-the-beaten-track’ gems. Famous for its historical architecture, the white walls and red-tiled roofs add splashes of vibrant colour to the peaceful and unspoiled townscape. Keep an eye out for the carp swimming in the aqueducts flowing alongside the main street. At Tsuwano Station, we board SL Yamaguchi, a C–571 model steam engine that originally entered service in 1937. It has been lovingly restored to operate on the two-hour journey between Tsuwano and the coastal city of Yamaguchi, passing through classic Japanese country vistas en route.

We return to our hotel in Hiroshima later in the afternoon and enjoy a free evening. 

Overnight: Sheraton Grand Hiroshima Hotel (B, L)

Day 6 • Monday:


We check out of our hotel after breakfast this morning and begin our day by taking a local train and ferry to the island of Miyajima. Here another of the country’s iconic images will greet us: the ‘shrine in the sea’. The main shrine includes a picturesque pagoda, and the island’s main street is a charming mishmash of bustling shops and restaurants. You have time to explore the captivating atmosphere of this sacred and ancient World Heritage-listed island shrine. 

Overnight: Sheraton Grand Hiroshima Hotel (B, L)

Day 7 • Tuesday:


This morning after breakfast at the hotel we stroll down to the station to board the Bullet Train for the two-hour speed run to Kyoto. Our tour of Kyoto kicks off with a visit to Nijo Castle in the heart of the city to see the seat of power for the Shoguns who dominated Japan for centuries. From here we switch focus back to railways, to visit the newly opened Kyoto Railway Museum on the site of the city’s famous Umekoji Railway Park. The Museum’s core theme is ‘railways revitalizing local communities and it has been created to balance historical rail exhibits with a variety of interactive areas aimed not only to demonstrate but educate visitors on advances in technology and safety. We’ll see one of these, the 300sqm-plus Diorama, being operated. After lunch, at a traditional merchant’s house, we then head to the north of the city to the famed Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion), beautifully embodying many of the principles of traditional Japanese architecture. Back at the hotel, the evening is free to explore the many delights of Kyoto. In the late afternoon, we check into our hotel in the heart of the city.

Overnight: Hotel Granvia, Kyoto (B, L)

Day 8 • Wednesday:


This morning we venture out to the west of Kyoto, to see the part of the city most beloved by Kyotoites themselves, Arashiyama. The visit will start with a local train ride, followed by a scenic train journey on the Sagano Forest Railway along the Hozu River Valley. Walking up from the station, after a brief stop at a shrine dedicated to hairdressers, we’ll drop into the Okochi Sanso Villa, the one-time home of one of Japan’s most famous film stars of the early 20th Century, Denjirō Ōkōchi, a veritable Japanese Charlie Chaplin.  Here, we’ll enjoy green tea and Japanese cake in the tea house of the superb gardens. 

Then, we’ll continue our stroll through the region’s star attraction, the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove – the scale of which is genuinely breathtaking. Later, we return to our hotel by train and have the rest of the afternoon free to relax.

Overnight: Hotel Granvia, Kyoto (B)

Day 9 • Thursday:


We’ll take a morning bullet train from Kyoto to the town of Kanaya, where we’ll travel by local train to the departure point of the Oikawa steam train. We’ll pass by vast green tea fields along the Oikawa River as it flows from the Southern Alps, while we listen to the soothing click-clack of the wheels of the carriage and may even catch glimpses of mighty Mount Fuji in the distance. Cherry Trees line the route and if the climate is kind, the display of blossoms along the route of our vintage train is a treat.

Later in the afternoon, we’ll continue to the town of Hakone where we check in to our spa hotel. Relax in the superb natural hot-spring baths before a full-course Japanese dinner in the blissful peace of the Fuji-Hakone National Park. This evening, enjoy the cuisine and theatre of a Teppanyaki dinner.

Overnight: Indigo Gora, Hakone (B, D)

Day 10 • Friday:


This morning we take taxis to the famous Owakudani (Great Boiling Valley) area, where volcanic geysers fill the air 1,000m above sea level. After a walk along the mountainside, where we can enjoy dramatic views of Mt Fuji (weather permitting), we take the Hakone Ropeway even higher over the very peak of Mount Kamiyama – part of the large Hakone Volcano, the eruption of which created the dramatic beauty of the place.

From here we jump straight onto the Hakone cable car and then the Tozan Mountain Railway, as we make our way to the Hakone Open Air Museum. With the area’s breathtaking natural beauty as a backdrop, the museum houses an expansive and impressive collection of sculpture and art, highlighted by the remarkable Picasso Pavilion, with more than 100 pieces by the 20th century’s most iconic artist. After returning to our hotel for a break, you have an evening at leisure.

Overnight: Indigo Gora, Hakone (B)

Day 11 • Saturday:


Once again we have arranged separate luggage transport so today, please pack an overnight bag as your main luggage will be sent by overnight secure transport to Tsuroka.

After breakfast this morning, we’ll travel by coach through the countryside of the Chichibu area towards Mount Fuji for a visit to Japan’s best-kept railway secret, the Maglev Linear Motor Car Centre. Here we’ll see the next generation of bullet trains, operating at twice the speed of the current generation, and due to come into operation in 2027. We can also see one of the daily test runs of the current prototype at the centre. Following this, we’ll head onto Fussa for lunch at a Sake Brewery. Our train travel continues in the afternoon via Omiya and the Yamagata Mini-Shinkansen line to Tsuruoka to settle into the extraordinary hotel, Suiden Terrace, a creation of one of Japan’s top modern architects, Shigeru Ban. Later we enjoy dinner at Le Luna upstairs, an atmospheric former rice storehouse. 

Overnight: Suiden Terrace, Tsuroka (B, L, D)

Day 12 • Sunday:


After breakfast at the hotel, we head out on a tour of the Tsuruoka area of Yamagata, including a visit to the famous 5-story pagoda on Mt. Haguro, one of the three Holy Mountains of Dewa.  We will also enjoy the areas stunning nature, incorporating a waterfall, tall pine forest, and the wild river.  There’s ample time to stroll the avenues of cherry blossoms at Tsuruoka Park before heading back to the hotel to relax and freshen up before the chance to join Scott for an optional dinner in Tsuruoka.

Overnight: Suiden Terrace Hotel, Tsuruoka (B)

Day 13 • Monday:


Please pack an overnight bag as your main luggage will be sent by overnight secure transport to Sendai.We take a morning train to the historic city of Akita, where there is a short opportunity to buy lunch and stroll to the nearby Castle Park, well-endowed with cherry trees.

Then, in the afternoon, we continue our northward journey along the Gono Line, a coastal railway generally regarded as one of Japan’s most scenic. This takes us to Aomori, the city at the northern tip of Japan’s main island, Honshu, and on arrival there we’ll take a short walk to our hotel. Tonight, we will be treated to a Chinese buffet.

Overnight: Hotel JAL City, Aomori, (B, D)

Day 14 • Tuesday:


Check out and depart by train to Hirosaki, just a short ride south of Aomori.  There, we board a coach to visit the Tsugaru Nebuta Village, focused on the Nebuta Culture which particularly defines the Northern area of Honshu. Explore the village here, and then see the majestic Hirosaki Castle and its famous Cherry Blossoms. Return to Aomori by coach and visit a local market for time at leisure to find your own lunch. In the afternoon we travel by Bullet Train to Sendai and check in at the hotel. Dinner is at leisure tonight. 

Overnight: Westin Hotel, Sendai, (B)

Day 15 • Wednesday:


While Sendai is very much a commercial hub connecting northern and central Japan, it is also the gateway to another of Japan’s little-known jewels – the magnificent Matsushima Bay. And, like all bays, there is no better way to discover it than from the water. So, this morning, after a short train journey, we’ll cruise among the more than 200 small, pine tree-covered islands dotting the bay and enjoy views that have been celebrated for centuries as some of Japan’s most scenic and visit the incredible Zuiganji Temple that dates from the eighth century.

Later in the evening, we’ll enjoy a special farewell dinner at Palinka with our friend, Yoseki San, ‘The Singing Chef’, and celebrate the end of our adventure.

Overnight: The Westin, Sendai (B, D)

Day 16 • Thursday:


This morning we have the option of a late checkout (midday) and free time in Sendai before returning to Tokyo in the early afternoon by bullet train, where we have the option to enjoy another night in this iconic city or transfer directly via Tokyo to the airport for your flight home or onwards for other travels. For those staying in Tokyo, tonight will be an evening at leisure. 




Overnight: The Strings Intercontinental Hotel, Shinagawa (B)

DAY 17 • Friday:



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    Japan by Rail - a Cherry Blossom Spectacular

    $11950 per person
    17 Days
    More than 1

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