Tokyo – Mt. Fuji – Hakone – Kanazawa – Takayama – Shirakawa-go – Kyoto – Nara – Osaka – Busan – Gyeongju – Seoul
This meticulously crafted itinerary showcases the best of the Land of the Rising Sun and the Land of Morning Calm. Designed for discerning travellers, this premium small-group tour has an unusual emphasis on history, culture and good food. Talk to one of our Japan & Korea experts today to learn more about this tour.
- Expert guides.
- Small group size – 20 maximum.
- Premium accommodations.
- Quality and authentic local cuisine.
- Tips for local guides and drivers included.
- No forced shopping stops of any kind.
- Sushi making lesson.
- Cultural shows.
Meal Code: B = breakfast / L = lunch / D = dinner
Scroll down for dates, prices, hotel list and documentation requirements.
Day 1/Thu: Departing Home City
Your trip to Japan begins with transpacific flight departing from a city of your choice. You’ll lose a day upon crossing the International Date Line.
Day 2/Fri: Arrival in Tokyo
Welcome to Tokyo!
If you arrive via Narita Airport, please make your way to the hotel on your own by Airport Limousine Bus (3,100 Japanese Yen per adult, about 30 US dollars) or JR N’EX Airport Express Train (3,020 Yen in Ordinary Class). If you take the train, you’ll need a taxi upon arrival at Tokyo Station and the cab fare to the hotel is approximately 1,500 Yen or 15 US dollars.
The transfer cost for guests arriving via Haneda Airport is much lower. Contact us for detailed advice.
All local payments must be made in Japanese Yen only. You can use a debit card to get local currency from ATMs located throughout the arrival hall or buy Yen from a bank operated currency exchange outlets – we advise against buying from other currency dealers. You may also use a credit card to pay for the train or limousine ticket.
You’ll join the group at the hotel after checking in under your own name.
Day 3/Sat: Tokyo (B/L/D)
Tokyo, literally meaning Eastern Capital and officially known as Tokyo Metropolis, is one of the 47 prefectures of Japan and one of the most populous mega-cities in the world with 13.5 million living in the prefecture and close to 38 million in the Tokyo-Yokohama region. Formerly known as Edo, the city has been the de facto seat of government since 1603 when Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu made the city his headquarter – Shoguns, although appointed by the emperor, were the de facto rulers of Japan during the shogunate period from 1192 to 1867. The city was renamed Tokyo after Emperor Meiji moved his seat here from Kyoto in 1868. Covering an area of 2, 188 square kilometres, Tokyo Metropolis was formed in 1943 from the merger of the former Tokyo Prefecture and the city of Tokyo.
Our full-day sightseeing begins with a stroll through the plaza outside the Imperial Palace (the palace itself is not open to tourists). This is followed by a visit to tranquil Meiji Jingu – a Shinto shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his wife.
We then drive through ritzy Ginza shopping district on our way to Nakamise-Dori in Asakusa. Nakamise-Dori is a vibrant promenade lined with food stands and souvenir shops. The street connects the famous Asakusa sightseeing spots of Kaminarimon (Thunder Gate) and Asakusa Kannon Temple (also known as Senso-ji Temple), the oldest temple in Tokyo dating back to 628 AD.
We spend the rest of the day exploring the history of Tokyo at Edo-Tokyo Museum. The main features of the permanent exhibitions are the life-size replica of the Nihonbashi bridge, the Nakamuraza theatre and scale models of towns and buildings from the Edo, Meiji and Showa periods.
If time allows, we will also go up to Tokyo Tower for a bird’s eye view of the city.
Day 4/Sun: Tokyo – Mt. Fuji – Hakone – Tokyo (B/L)
We depart at 7:30 AM to embark on a full-day excursion to Mt Fuji and Hakone.
Mt. Fuji, the highest mountain (3,776 m) in Japan, is a two-hour drive from Tokyo. We stop by the Fuji Visitor Center to view the summit as well as learn the history, formation and ecology of Mt. Fuji through exhibits and films. It is a matter of luck whether the summit is visible as Mt. Fuji is often shrouded in clouds. In case you wonder, our schedule does not include hiking the mountain not only because it opens to hikers only from July to early September but also because it takes at least six hours to complete the hike even if you start from the highest station – the Fifth Station located at 2,305 metres above sea level.
We then proceed to Lake Ashi in Hakone for a short cruise across the lake. This is followed by a breathtaking ride of the Hakone Ropeway, which, on a clear day, offers stunning views of Mt. Fuji and surrounding mountain slopes dotted with lakes. At the end of the ride is the Owakudani Geothermal Valley where we spend about half an hour before returning to Tokyo.
Day 5/Mon: Tokyo – Kanazawa (B/D)
Free morning to explore on your own. Feel free to ask your guide for recommendations in advance.
This afternoon we ride the bullet train to Kanazawa. The 2.5-hour journey is a perfect way to enjoy the beautiful scenery of Japan. On arrival, we walk across the station to our centrally located hotel. In Japan, a train station is generally located in the heart of a city.
Kanazawa is a jewel of Japanese tourism often bypassed by foreign tourists due to its relatively remote location. However, Japanese themselves come here in droves. Travellers visiting here are richly rewarded with a best preserved Edo-period city where the Samurai, merchants, Geisha and the Daimyo (lords) all left their marks. Kanazawa is part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network as a City of Crafts and Folk Art. Its cuisine is famous throughout Japan.
Day 6/Tue: Kanazawa (B/L)
Morning sightseeing begins at Kenroku-en Garden. One of the Three Great Gardens of Japan (Koraku-en in Okayama and Kairaku-en in Mito being the other two), Kenroku-en was developed from the 1620s to the 1840s by the Maeda clan, the daimyo who ruled the former Kaga Domain. Kenroku-en means “garden which combines six characteristics” – the six aspects considered important in the notion of an ideal garden: spaciousness, serenity, venerability, scenic views, subtle design, and coolness.
From the garden we walk across the road to Kanazawa Castle, to which Kenroku-en Garden used to be part of. The restored castle was first built in 1580 for Maeda Toshiie, the fourth son of a minor samurai family who entered the service of a powerful daimyo at the age of 15 and quickly rose through the ranks. The castle was reconstructed multiple times mostly due to fire damages. The last time the castle was destroyed by fire was in 1881. The Hishi Yagura turret, Gojikken Nagaya warehouse, and Hashizume-mon Tsuzuki Yagura turret were faithfully restored in 2001 to their 1809 form, using traditional construction methods. Today’s pillars are Japanese Hinoki Cypress with massive American cypress as ceiling beams. The castle’s distinctive, whitish roof tiles are made of lead.
We then proceed to our sushi making class for a session filled with fun and laughter. You’ll have to be careful with what you make because that will become your own lunch! Sushi is a native to Japan and consists of cooked rice mixed with a small amount of vinegar and combined with ingredients such as raw seafood, vegetables and sometimes tropical fruits. Ingredients and forms of sushi presentation vary widely but rice is always part of it. Raw seafood served without rice is called sashimi.
Our first stop after lunch is Nomura Samurai Residence located in a historical preservation area where people actually live and go about their daily lives. A highlight of the restored house is the small but supremely exquisite traditional garden.
Afterwards, we visit a preserved district called Higashi Chaya Street. Higashi and chaya respectively mean eastern and tea house. During the Edo Period, chaya were found in designated entertainment districts where geisha entertained male patrons with dance and music. Today, like Kyoto’s Gion district, Higashi Chaya Street is a popular attraction with almost all of the businesses here serving the needs of tourists (souvenirs, refreshments etc).
Day 7/Wed: Kanazawa – Takayama – Shirakawa-go – Kanazawa (B/L)
Today we embark on a full-day excursion by coach to Takayama and Shirakawa-go.
Famous for its inns, sake breweries, food festivals and local folk art, Takayama, 118 km southeast of Kanazawa, is a delightful town nestled among the Japanese Alps. Our sightseeing takes in an open-air market, Sanno-machi Historic District and a sake brewery.
We return to Kanazawa in the afternoon and visit Shirakawa-go en route. Sitting at 400 meters above sea level, Shirakawa-go is part of the Historic Villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama – a World Heritage Site inscribed by UNESCO in 1995. Located in a mountainous region that was cut off from the rest of the world for a long period of time, these villages with their Gassho-style houses subsisted on the cultivation of mulberry trees and the rearing of silkworms. The Gassho-style large houses with their steeply pitched thatched roofs here are the only examples of their kind in Japan.
Day 8/Thu: Kanazawa – Kyoto (B/L/D)
After breakfast, we walk across the street to the train station and board the high-speed train (2.5 hours) to Kyoto.
Afternoon sightseeing in Kyoto starts at Kiyomizu Temple, whose massive veranda provides stunning views of the city; the temple represents the best of classical Japanese garden making.
We then spend the rest of the day exploring Gion Preserved District where we’ll attend a live performance incorporating traditional Japanese tea ceremony and Kyo-mai dance.
Day 9/Fri: Kyoto (B/L)
Nicknamed City of Ten Thousand Shrines, Kyoto (literally: capital city) served as Japan’s capital for more than one thousand years before the imperial court moved to Tokyo in 1868 AD, at the beginning of Meiji Restoration (1868 to 1912 – a historical period responsible for the emergence of Japan as a modernized nation in the early 20th century). Kyoto is a scaled replica of China’s Chang’an (present-day Xi’an), Chinese capital during the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD). With a population of 1.5 million, Kyoto forms a major part of the Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe metropolitan area.
We begin this morning with an excursion to Arashiyama (Storm Mountain), a nationally-designated Historic Site and Place of Scenic Beauty. Sites to visit here include the Togetsukyo Bridge and the Bamboo Forest.
Afternoon schedule takes in Ryoanji Temple and Kinkakuji Temple. Ryoanji literally means temple of dragon at peace. The garden inside is considered one of the finest surviving examples of kare-sansui or dry landscape, a refined type of Japanese Zen temple garden design generally featuring distinctive larger rock formations arranged amidst a sweep of smooth pebbles raked into linear patterns that facilitate meditation. The temple and its gardens are listed as one of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto, and as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Kinkaku-ji, meaning Temple of Golden Pavilion, is a Zen Buddhist temple and one of the 17 locations comprising the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto World Heritage Site. The official name of the temple is actually Rokuon-ji (Deer Garden Temple) but is widely known as Golden Pavilion Temple because of the three-story building on the grounds of the temple. The top two stories of the pavilion are covered with pure gold leaf.
Day 10/Sat: Kyoto (B)
Day 11/Sun: Kyoto – Nara – Osaka (B/L)
After breakfast we drive to Nara where we visit Nara Park (where 1,200 wild sika deer roam free) and Todai-ji Temple (Great Image Buddha). Nara is the capital city of Nara Prefecture and a former capital of Japan (710-794). With a population of roughly 370,000 and an area of 280 square kilometers, the city occupies the northern part of Nara Prefecture. Eight temples, shrines and ruins together with Kasugayama Primeval Forest collectively form “the Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara” – a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
After lunch we continue on to Osaka. Situated at the mouth of the Yodo River on Osaka Bay, Osaka is Japan’s third largest city by population after Tokyo and Yokohama, and serves as a major economic hub. Osaka was once known as the “nation’s kitchen” because of its role as Japan’s rice trading centre during the Edo period. Our schedule in Osaka includes Osaka Castle and a short river cruise through the busy Dotonbori District.
Day 12/Mon: Osaka (B)
Free day to explore on your own.
Optional Day Tour to Hiroshima
If enough guests show interest, we may offer an optional day tour to Hiroshima by bullet train (Sakura), which takes 1 hour and 32 minutes one way.
Hiroshima, literally meaning “broad island”, is the capital of Hiroshima Prefecture and the largest city in the Chugoku region with a population of 1.2 million (2016). Hiroshima is best known as the first city in history to be targeted by a nuclear weapon when the United States Army Air Forces dropped an atomic bomb on the city (and later on Nagasaki) at 8:15 a.m. on August 6, 1945, near the end of World War II.
The highlight in Hiroshima, understandably but sadly, is the Peace Memorial Park which includes the Peace Memorial Museum, and the Atomic Bomb Dome that once served as the industrial promotion hall for the local prefect.
Day 13/Tue: Osaka – Busan (B/D)
Transfer to Kansai Airport or Osaka Itami International airport for mid-day flight to Busan (1hr 30min). Meet the local guide and transfer to the hotel.
Busan is Korea’s second largest city. Bursting with mountains and beaches, hot springs and seafood, South Korea’s second-largest city is a rollicking port town with tonnes to offer. Later today we visit the Haedong Yonggungsa Temple, a seaside Buddhist temple built in 1376.
Tonight we enjoy a delicious Korean seafood hotpot dinner.
Day 14/Wed: Busan (B/L)
Today we visit the bustling Jagalchi fish market, Gujesijang market and Yongdusan Park.
Day 15/Thu – Busan – Gyeongju (B/L)
Following breakfast we drive 100 kilometres northeast to Gyeongju. After dropping off bags at the hotel, we driver another 16km northbound to Yangdong Folk Village – a UNESCO World Heritage site from the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1897).
Day 16/Fri: Gyeongju (B/L)
Gyeongju is a city on South Korea’s southeast coast. It was the capital of the 1,000-year-long Silla dynasty and is known for its extensive historical remains.
We begin the morning sightseeing at Bulguksa Temple. Inscribed by the UNESCO in 1995 as a World Heritage Site, the Buddhist temple, first founded in the 8th-century, features twin stone pagodas, a series of wooden staircases and a large bronze Buddha. We then proceed to the nearby Seokguram Grotto, which houses a towering seated Buddha and offers panoramic views of the sun rising over the Sea of Japan.
We spend the afternoon exploring a group of royal burial mounds and the National Gyeongju Museum.
Day 17/Sat: Gyeongju – Seoul (B/L)
We travel to Seoul by express train (2 hours, 300 km) this morning. Capital of South Korea, Seoul is a huge metropolis where modern skyscrapers, high-tech subways and pop culture meet Buddhist temples, palaces and street markets. Notable attractions include futuristic Dongdaemun Design Plaza, a convention hall with curving architecture and a rooftop park; Gyeongbokgung Palace, which once had more than 7,000 rooms; and Jogyesa Temple, site of ancient locust and pine trees.
Our sightseeing after lunch includes Gyengbokgung Palace, Myeong-dong district (fashion, market, churches) and N Seoul Tower.
Day 18/Sun: Seoul – DMZ – Seoul (B/L/D)
Today we go on a full-day excursion to the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) and the Joint Security Area (JSA) within the village of Panmunjom. The DMZ divides North Korea and South Korea and is one of the last remnants of the Cold War. The DMZ runs across the Korean Peninsula and roughly follows the 38th parallel north (popular name given to latitude 38° N) on an angle, with the west end of the DMZ lying south of the parallel and the east end lying north of it. With over a million soldiers on watch each day, this stretch of land measuring 250 kilometres (160 miles) long and about 4 kilometres (2.5 miles) wide is the most fortified border in the world. Our itinerary also includes Freedom Bridge and the 3rd Infiltration Tunnel and observing life on the other side from the Dora Observatory.
Our farewell dinner featuring famous Korean dishes is at a restaurant within walking distance of the hotel.
Day 19/Mon: Seoul – Home City
Your memorable Japan and South Korea tour ends this morning. Transfer to Incheon International Airport, 50km west of Seoul, on your own. Taxi costs between 70,000 and 100,000 Korean Won ($65-$90 USD) including expressway toll charge, but most travellers prefer the Airport Railroad Express which costs 14,800 Won ($12.50) one way per person. The guide will escort you to the train station and help you buy ticket.
Contact us for printer-friendly PDF version of the itinerary
|Tokyo||3||Grand Palace Hotel||first class|
|Kanazawa||3||Hotel Nikko Kanazawa||first class|
|Kyoto||3||Hotel Nikko Princess Kyoto||first class|
|Osaka||2||Hotel Nikko Osaka||first class|
|Busan||2||Lotte Hotel Busan||luxury|
|Gyeongju||2||Hyundai Hotel Gyeongju||luxury|
|Seoul||2||Lotte Hotel Seoul||luxury|
|The above hotels are subject to change without notice.
2019 Dates and Prices
Scroll down for discount schedule.
|Monday departures||Return Friday|
* Land tour price does not include international airfare except for the flight from Osaka to Busan.
** The single supplement can be dramatically reduced if you accept a single room truly intended for singles (18 square meters or smaller with a single or double bed).
|What the tour price includes:
||What the tour price excludes:
Visa is not required of visitors from Western countries. Check with us if you are not sure about this.
When dealing with Laurus Travel, you don’t need to worry about hidden charges because there are none!
See Terms & Conditions for more information.
♦ You may also be interested in the 12-day Best of South Korea
A passport with at least one (1) blank visa page and six (6) months validity at the end of the tour is required.
Visa is not required of nationals from Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and a host of Western countries if the stay is within 90 days or 180 days in the case of Canadians.
You are not required of any inoculation certificate to enter Japan. However, we do suggest you visit your family physician or a travel medicine clinic to determine what precautions you should take. We recommend inoculation shots for hepatitis A and suggest that you check out advice provided by the US CDC and Health Canada.
Tap water in Japan and South Korea is potable. Sometimes the taste of chlorine may be a bit too strong but you can get rid of it by boiling the water. If you have no problem eating sashimi or sushi containing raw fish back home, then you should be doing fine eating in Japan. When you travel to another country, stomach upset may be an issue even though the food is clean and cooked. This is because your stomach is still adapting to the ingredients or minerals in the local food.
Always carry a roll of toilet paper and a bottle of hand sanitizer containing more than 60% of alcohol, no matter where you go.
Japan and South Korea Tour by Train
Since the inter-city travel is mostly by train, it’s crucial that you limit yourself to one suitcase and one carry-on with a combined weight of 15 kilograms (33 lbs) or less. Your suitcase should have wheels and not be bulky. The carry-on should be a backpack so that you’ll have a hand free at all time. Navigating train stations in Japan and Korea means lots of walking and riding up and down on narrow escalators. If your bag is too heavy or even worse you come with two pieces, not only will you struggle to catch up with the group but you will have a hard time finding storage space on the train.