Japan by Rail
Highlights of Honshu for the Colours of Autumn
INCLUDING FUKUOKA, MT FUJI, ARASHIAMA, HIMEJI CASTLE, AND TSUWANO
- Tour Map
- 15 nights accommodation in comfortable, centrally located hotels
- All excursions and entrance fees to attractions, as listed in the itinerary
- Breakfast daily, 8 lunches, and 7 dinners
- Chartered coach throughout the tour
- Comprehensive sightseeing with your hosts and local guides
- Drinks included with welcome and farewell dinners
- Separate luggage transport on many sections of the tour
- Airport transfers at the start and end of the tour (if not on a Railway Adventures suggested Qantas or ANA flight)
- All other personal expenses such as drinks, phone calls, laundry services, camera fees where applicable
- Excursions mentioned as optional in the itinerary
- Meals and services not mentioned in itinerary
- Tour Plan
Day 1 • Wednesday 8 November:
Some flights arrive in the early morning so we are catering for this with the option of a hearty breakfast at the hotel and a morning tour of a few iconic sites of Tokyo before your early afternoon check-in to the hotel for the next two nights.
Your hotel is located three minutes from the station and makes an easy first port of call from your flight arrival. You can drop your bag off for later check-in, freshen up and enjoy a hearty breakfast in the hotel’s signature restaurant. Our morning coach tour will take us to Tokyo’s most significant Shinto monument. The Meiji Shrine displays the dignified grandeur of Japanese history, dedicated to the memory of the Emperor Meiji who ruled during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Right next door, and in stark contrast to the majestic Meiji Shrine, lies Harajuku, Tokyo’s fashion crucible and the home to some of the world’s wackiest fashion trends. Lady Gaga and Gwen Stefani are among those who find fashion inspiration here. In addition to the back-street boutiques, venture onto the wide avenue where many of the world’s most famous brands are at hand. Relax over a lovely tempura lunch just a short walk from the hotel where you can relax for the afternoon.
We will regroup in the evening for the short walk to a local Micro-Brewery Restaurant for our welcome dinner.
Overnight: Strings Intercontinental Hotel, Shinagawa (B, L, D)
Day 2 • Thursday 9 November:
Our exploration of Tokyo today will contrast the old and new city, and to see it all we will be using the city’s incomparable rail network. We’ll start by visiting the 634m Tokyo Sky Tree, one of the world’s tallest towers. After a high-speed elevator ride to the observation platform, you’ll enjoy a breathtaking panorama and a clear view of the sheer scale of the city of Tokyo.
We will then jump straight into this city’s roots by visiting Asakusa, the original village of Edo from which modern-day Tokyo has grown over the past 400-plus years. Then, 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’s-style lunch, you’ll have a number of options for the afternoon. Choose whether to take in a little more culture with a visit to the Hokusai Museum, showcasing the works of the most famous ‘ukiyoe’ wood-block print artist in history; alternatively, take the train a couple of stops to vibrant Akihabara and take-in a little of Tokyo’s subculture. You might also like to head back to the hotel to relax. The rest of the evening is at your leisure.
Overnight: Strings Intercontinental Hotel, Shinagawa (B, L)
Day 3 • Friday 10 November:
TOKYO – TOYAMA – SHIRAKAWAGO – KANAZAWA
This morning we deposit our luggage for separate transport to Kanazawa and embark on the next leg of our journey, heading north-west into the Japanese Alps on the Hokuriku Bullet-Train “Kagayaki”, on which we travel just over 2 hours to Toyama. Boarding a coach, we will head an hour south into Japan’s rural heartlands, exemplified by the village of Gokayama, the less crowded, less-developed sibling of the now-famous Shirakawa-go settlement. Here, after enjoying a local lunch, there will be opportunities to see traditional thatched-roofed ‘Gassho’ houses, and to visit a ‘washi’ Japanese-paper making atelier in charming Ainokura, and there experience the traditional craft of paper-making.
After a liberal immersion in the sights and sounds of rural Japan, we’ll head to our next home-away-from-home, the medieval Samurai city of Kanazawa.
Overnight: Hyatt Centric, Kanazawa (B, L, D) (*an overnight pack is required for this evening)
Day 4 • Saturday 11 November:
KANAZAWA – NOTO PENINSULA – KANAZAWA
While Kanazawa is a beautiful city in itself, it is also the entrance to one of rural Japan’s best-kept secrets, the Noto Peninsula. So, rather than simply staying in Kanazawa, we’ll spend today exploring this region, starting with a journey aboard the ‘Hanayome Noren’, one of Japan’s unfailingly charming locally themed trains. The ‘Bride’s Curtain’, the train’s interior and exterior are inspired by the local crafts. Disembarking at Nanao, a vibrant fishing port, we’ll visit the bustling Fish Market, and have time for lunch before a short cruise across the harbour.
After lunch, dive further into Japanese culture at the waterfront hot-spring resort of Wakura Onsen, famed as the home of Japan’s most prestigious ryokan. Here, enjoy a traditional tea ceremony and one of Japan’s favourite forms of relaxation, a foot-bath, before ending the day with the unforgettable experience of a drive along the beach – the Chirihama Nagisa Driveway! We will head back to our hotel in Kanazawa later for an evening at leisure.
Overnight: Hyatt Centric, Kanazawa (B)
Day 5 • Sunday 12 November:
Kanazawa is a charmingly walkable city, and so this morning we’ll take a single taxi journey to Kenrokuen Gardens, and there embark on a Garden and Kanazawa Castle and Park walk, followed by a city tour on foot, taking in the Higashi Chaya and Nagamachi Samurai Quarters.
The city tour will end before lunchtime, allowing the opportunity to eat and stay longer in the city centre or to return to the hotel for a relaxing afternoon and evening at your leisure.
Overnight: Hyatt Centric, Kanazawa (B)
Day 6 • Monday 13 November:
KANAZAWA – KYOTO
After checking out of our hotel we take a morning Thunderbird Express train to Kyoto where we will head straight into a city tour. Our first stop is the 400 year-old Nijo Castle, built as the Tokyo Shogun’s home in the Imperial Capital of Kyoto, and suitably ostentatious and eye-catching, in comparison to the much more discreet, almost subdued, Imperial Palace and Gardens just to its north. Discover some of the secrets of medieval Japanese architecture and enjoy the castle’s splendid gardens.
After lunch in a restaurant converted from traditional Kyoto ‘machiya’ houses, we continue to the historical part of the city for an afternoon walking through its charming old-world streets and enjoying its stunning temple architecture. We finish our tour of Kyoto’s highlights with the ultimate must-see attraction, visiting Rokuonji Temple in the north of the city to see the famed Kinkakuji Golden pavilion, beautifully embodying many of the principles of traditional Japanese architecture. From there, we switch focus back to railways for our last stop of the tour, a visit to Kyoto Railway Museum, opened in April 2016 on the site of the city’s famous Umekoji Railway Park. The museum’s core theme is ‘railways revitalising 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. After a long day, enjoy dinner at the hotel’s Italian restaurant.
Overnight: Hotel Granvia, Kyoto (B, L, D)
Day 7 • Tuesday 14 November:
This morning we venture to the west of Kyoto to see the part of the city most beloved by Kyoto’s residents, Arashiyama. Our visit will start with a local train ride, followed by a scenic train journey on the Sagano Forest Railway back and forth 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, a veritable Japanese Charlie Chaplin. Here, we’ll enjoy green tea and Japanese cake in the teahouse of the superb gardens. Then we’ll continue to stroll through an enchanting bamboo grove, whose scale is genuinely breathtaking. Later on we’ll return to our hotel by train and enjoy the rest of the afternoon and evening at leisure.
Overnight: Hotel Granvia, Kyoto (B)
Day 8 • Wednesday 15 November:
KYOTO – HIMEJI – HIROSHIMA
Today our luggage will be transported separately and starts with a walk from our hotel in Kyoto through the station complex to the bullet train platforms for a one-hour ride to Himeji, a small city west of Kobe, famous as the home of Japan’s finest castle.
At Himeji Station we board our coach for the day’s visits, starting at the aforementioned castle, affectionately known as ‘the White Heron’ for its elegance and dazzling white facades. Both a national treasure and World Heritage Site, it is a rarity among Japanese castles in remaining in its original form. It took 200 years to erect in the middle ages and has not been rebuilt since, however it has undergone extensive renovations in the past five years. In the afternoon, we’ll continue by Shinkansen to Hiroshima and check in to our centrally-located hotel for the next four nights. Dinner this evening has a particular local theme: the regional delicacy, Okonomiyaki!
Overnight: Sheraton, Hiroshima (B, D) (*an overnight pack is required for this evening)
Day 9 • Thursday 16 November:
This morning we travel on a special private vintage tram charter along some of Hiroshima’s extensive tram network and learn more about this important city with our guide. Arriving at the heart of the city, the rest of the morning will be dedicated to learning about Hiroshima’s unique place in global history as the first in the world to experience an atomic explosion. Learn about that tragic event, its aftermath and the city’s resurrection back to life into the vibrant, modern location it is today. We will then continue on foot through the Peace Park to see other monuments including the Peace Bell, the Children’s Peace Monument, and the A-Bomb Memorial Mound. Each is individually moving, but all together they represent one of the most emotionally-challenging testimonials to human tragedy and resilience one can experience.
After a buffet lunch we take the ferry from central Hiroshima to the sacred island of Miyajima for a deer-dodging walk through the island’s central streets to see the stunning Itsukushima Shrine. It is a truly unique structure perched on the waterfront, whose famous red ‘torii’ gates sit in the sea just off the island. We’ll also enjoy a walk through the lesser-known but equally impressive Daishoin Temple. Perched on the side of Mount Misen, the steep peak which dominates Miyajima, this temple is where the current Dalai Lama resided for almost a week during his visit to Japan to celebrate the temple’s 1,200th anniversary in autumn, 2006. We return to our hotel in the afternoon and the evening is free to enjoy the many delights of the city and its surrounds.
Overnight: Sheraton, Hiroshima (B, L)
Day 10 • Friday 17 November:
HIROSHIMA – FUKUOKA – HIROSHIMA
Today we switch the focus from railways to a totally different element of Japanese Culture, its original national sport of Sumo. After a leisurely free morning, we will head to the westernmost point of our visit, taking the Shinkansen to Hakata, the local name used for Fukuoka Central Station. Here we’ll attend the Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament, a unique opportunity to enjoy and participate in the centuries-old ceremony of official Sumo Tournaments. We’ll enjoy the pageant of the Ring-circling Ceremony, the carefully defined pre-fight protocol, and the sudden explosive action of the actual bouts, some of which last only for the blink of an eye. After seeing the top wrestlers fight in the final bouts, we’ll head back to the station and return to Hiroshima by bullet train, enjoying a Bento-box dinner on board.
Overnight: Sheraton, Hiroshima (B, D)
Day 11 • Saturday 18 November:
HIROSHIMA (SL YAMAGUCHI)
Today we’ll take the train to Iwakuni, where we board our private coach to visit the city’s landmark (and another of Japan’s glorious undiscovered highlights), the Kintaikyo Bridge. This unique five-span edifice across the Nishiki River is a truly amazing piece of timber architecture. We’ll follow this with a local lunch of grilled chicken and enormous rice-balls at another uniquely Japanese eatery, Irori Sanzoku Restaurant.
After lunch, we’ll drive to an “off-the-beaten-track” gem, the charming town of Tsuwano. The town’s white walls and red-tiled roofs add splashes of vibrant colour to the peaceful and unspoiled townscape. Keep an eye out for 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. The engine has been lovingly restored to operate on the two-hour journey between Tsuwano and the coastal city of Yamaguchi, passing through stunning country vistas en route. We take the short return trip to Hiroshima in the early evening by Bullet Train and the rest of the evening is free.
Overnight: Sheraton, Hiroshima (B, L) (*an overnight pack is required for this evening)
Day 12 • Sunday 19 November:
HIROSHIMA – HAKONE
Today we begin our journey back towards Tokyo, and while we will cover close to 800 kms, we will also turn our attention to another famous element of Japanese cuisine, Kobe Beef. On the way to Kobe we’ll visit a small but fascinating museum introducing the history and a host of fascinating facts relating to Kobe Beef before enjoying a Kobe Beef Lunch.
Following this we’ll continue on to Mishima by Bullet Train, where we then take a coach up into the foothills and glorious lakes surrounding Mount Fuji, where we’ll enjoy 2 nights in accommodation which combines the relaxation and atmosphere of a ryokan with the comfort of top international hotels which includes a special Japanese dining experience.
Overnight: Hotel Indigo Hakone Gora, Hakone (B, L, D)
Day 13 • Monday 20 November:
This morning we’ll take the Hakone Cable Car and Hakone Ropeway still higher, over the very peak of Mount Kamiyama, part of the large Hakone Volcano whose massive eruption created the stunning physical beauty of this area. We’ll make a stop at the famous Great Boiling Valley in the Owakudani area, 1000m above sea level, where volcanic geysers fill the air with pungent sulphur. After a walk along the mountainside we’ll continue down the Ropeway to Togendai, and from there enjoy a cruise on Lake Ashi. After a stop for lunch, it’s time to make the most of the scenic countryside with a walk along the cedar-lined forest path to Moto-Hakone.
From here, we’ll jump into taxis and continue on to the Hakone Open Air Museum, a breathtaking combination of the area’s natural beauty as backdrop for an expansive and high-quality collection of sculpture and art, highlighted by the remarkable Picasso Pavilion, which houses more than 100 pieces by the 20th Century’s most iconic artist. After a visit to this charming and impressive collection, it’s a three minute ride on the Hakone Mountain Railway back to our hotel for an evening at leisure.
Overnight: Hotel Indigo Hakone Gora, Hakone (B, L)
Day 14 • Tuesday 21 November:
HAKONE – PALEO EXPRESS – TOKYO
Today we make the final leg of our journey back to Tokyo, incorporating a glimpse of the future and a steam locomotive ride along one of the Kanto regions most beautiful river valleys. The day starts with a transfer and visit to the Yamanashi Maglev Exhibition Centre and an opportunity to catch a glimpse of Japan’s next generation of high-speed trains, the 600-kmh Linear Motor Cars due to go into operation in 2027. Then, we slow the pace a little, driving into the beautiful countryside of Chichibu to enjoy an SL-powered ride along the Arakawa-River gorge through the area’s beautiful mountains. This journey ends at Kumagaya, where we’ll connect onto a Shinkansen for the one hour journey into Tokyo.
On arrival in Tokyo, we’ll walk a short way into the original Tokyo Central Station. This grand building, a survivor of many catastrophes, is now a fine hotel and our home for the next two nights.
Overnight: Marunouchi Hotel, Tokyo (B)
Day 15 • Wednesday 22 November:
Today you have a number of activities to choose from. You may like to stay in Tokyo for a mix of culture and technology, starting with a morning in Ueno, Tokyo’s cultural cradle, where most of the city’s major museums can be found around the boundaries of the famous Ueno Park. In the afternoon there is a chance to ride the popular monorail that runs across the Rainbow Bridge to the new vibrant area of Odaiba. It is renowned for its museums and cultural hubs including the iconic Fuji Television Building, the Science and Technology museum, Toyota’s Megaweb Showcase and the Panasonic Centre.
Alternatively, venture south from Tokyo on a local express to the Pacific Coast, where the old political capital, Kamakura, sits proudly on the waterfront. After visiting the city’s famous Hachiman Shrine and strolling along charming Komachi Street, we’ll start a journey on the enchanting local Enoden Railway, stopping to visit the famous Great Buddha statue, before continuing along the Pacific Waterfront to the island promontory of Enoshima. Here we change to the wonderfully anachronistic Shonan Monorail for a 20 minute mid-air glide north to Ofuna Station, and then it’s a 40-minute express ride back to the hotel.
Alternatively, you can have a free day to make the most of your location at the very centre of the city, a short walk to the Imperial Gardens, the fashionable Ginza district and right beside a myriad of destinations available on the extraordinary Tokyo Subway system.
Tonight, the final night of our tour, we’ll enjoy a special farewell dinner and drinks together.
Overnight: Marunouchi Hotel, Tokyo (B, D)
Day 16 • Thursday 23 November:
Enjoy a free day today and the last day to make use of your JR pass as you continue to explore the city or beyond before boarding your flight home in the evening.
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