“Ultimate, Intimate & Authentic Japan”
Tokyo, Hakone, Kobe, Kyoto, Osaka.
Oct 16-26, 2024 New AFS small group
Sake, Sumo, Sushi and oodles of noodles. Add in Bullet trains, Mt Fiji, Monkeys, and Kobe beef and you have a thrilling 9-day vacation to dazzle your senses! Japan is rich in scenic beauty of nature, millennia-old traditions and fascinating culture. It’s a country that will ignite your wanderlust because it’s a place like no other on the planet. You asked us for this and it’s finally on. Our past groups loved this Land of the Rising Sun. Our new exclusive adventure is extra special for the discerning traveler with fine hotels in new sites. Japan was virtually closed for three years. Now open, 2024 makes it the hottest destination in all Asia!
We delve deep into the best places. You will discover a kaleidoscope of fun enticements in uber-modern Tokyo, like dinner with the Sumo. In Hakone National Park, visit Owakadani Geothermal World and its open-air museum. Experience a stay in a Japanese ryokan with your own open-air bath under the majestic beauty of Mt Fuji.
Glorious Kyoto reveals its Zen with countless temples, pagodas and shrines. You may even glance at a geisha here in Gion. Delight in Nara Park, Japan’s treasure with over 900 tame deer. We even add the trendy Instagram walk in Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, then to Monkey Park to see snow monkeys roaming freely.
In the seaside town of Kobe, visit the famous Sake brewery and taste the priceless Wagyu beef. Finally, on to incredibly vibrant Osaka. Japanese are food-obsessed so this is the culinary capital for our foodie walking tour and Yakatori dinner.
At 200 mph, high-speed bullet trains will whisk us to cities faster than you can say “Sayonara”. Autumn is actually high season here for its brilliant fall foliage. But as expensive as it is to visit now, we found you a great price on our best Japan escape ever. Air is easy from the USA, no internal flights, no visa, and so much is included in our carefully crafted cultural odyssey.
This is the lunar “ Year of the Dragon”, symbolizing a philosophy of ‘enthusiastic energy’. This AFS trip will provide enough enthusiasm for lifelong impressions. It’s so extraordinary that you really have to see it to believe it. Grab your chopsticks and join us. “Ikuzo!”… Let’s go and let your travel dreams begin.
Here are 5 reasons why you should consider visiting Tokyo, Hakone, Kobe, Kyoto, and Osaka are all incredible destinations in Japan that offer unique experiences in each city…
1. Cultural Richness: Each of these cities showcases the rich and diverse culture of Japan in its own unique way. From Tokyo’s mix of traditional and modern influences to Kyoto’s ancient temples and shrines, you will immerse yourself in centuries-old traditions and customs that are sure to leave a lasting impression.
2. Culinary Delights: Japan is renowned for its delicious cuisine, and these cities are no exception. Tokyo, being the culinary capital, offers an extensive range of world-class dining options, including Michelin-starred restaurants and street food delights. Hakone and Osaka are known for their mouthwatering local specialties, such as hot springs delicacies and Osaka-style street food. Your taste buds will be in for an unforgettable treat.
3. Stunning Landscapes: Whether you are seeking vibrant cityscapes or serene natural beauty, these cities have it all. Tokyo‘s skyline, with its towering skyscrapers and iconic landmarks like Tokyo Tower and Skytree, offers breathtaking views. Hakone is famous for its picturesque hot springs, majestic Mount Fuji, and tranquil lakes. Kobe, nestled between mountains and the sea, boasts stunning coastal scenery. Kyoto‘s enchanting bamboo groves and Zen gardens provide a sense of tranquility, while Osaka’s vibrant cityscape is adorned with stunning architecture.
4. History and Tradition: These cities are steeped in history, offering a glimpse into Japan’s rich past. Kyoto, with its numerous UNESCO World Heritage Sites, is a living museum of ancient Japan’s architectural wonders. Tokyo’s Edo-Tokyo Museum and Asakusa’s Senso-ji Temple provide insights into the capital’s enduring traditions. Explore Kobe’s preserved historical district or Osaka’s majestic Osaka Castle to delve deeper into the country’s captivating history.
5. Vibrant Entertainment: Tokyo, Osaka, and Kobe are vibrant cities that never sleep, offering a plethora of entertainment options. Tokyo’s bustling districts like Shinjuku and Shibuya offer everything from vibrant nightlife to world-class theaters and music venues. Osaka’s famous Dotonbori district is a paradise for food lovers and entertainment seekers, while Kobe’s nightlife scene along its waterfront is equally enticing. No matter where you go, there will always be something exciting to see and do.
Our Glorious AFS Itinerary
Click here for the Trip Tips
Oct 16 / 17 – Fly USA to Tokyo. (air details coming in trip tips) going to Asia, you cross the international date line and lose a day but gain it back at trips end. Just know that the land portion starts in Tokyo on October 18 so flying out the 16 will work.
Tokyo: One of the World’s most cutting-edge capitals, Tokyo is a city of contrasts, famous for its cutting-edge modernity, neon-lit landscape and towering skyscrapers, it is also home to sprawling parkland, peaceful shrines and temples and lovingly tended gardens. Despite its love affair with manga pop culture, fashion, high-tech trends and conspicuous consumption, below the surface is a city that has its roots in an ancient heritage. Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples stand close to skyscrapers as a reminder of a more contemplative time and at the heart of the hyperactive center lies the serene Imperial Palace, the home of the ruling emperor that provides a tangible link to the city’s historical past.
Oct 18 – Welcome to Japan!
Arrival at Narita Airport. With all arriving on different flights at different times nowadays, no common group transfer. Click here to schedule a transfer
For individual arrival, it is super easy to go the Narita Airport Limousine bus counter in arrival hall and purchase your bus ticket to Shinagawa area ( specify Grand Prince Shin Takanawa hotel) – currently 3,200 yen per person ( about US $25 ) – depending on traffic, takes about 90 minutes to your hotel. The remainder of your day is at leisure. Time to rest and then explore the surroundings from our fabulous hotel in the heart of the city.
Overnight TOKYO 3 NIGHTS at 4* Grand Prince Hotel Shin Takanawa (Superior Mordan Twin) with daily breakfast
Located in the lush greenery of Takanawa, this hotel features 908 bright, spacious rooms each equipped with balconies offering a spectacular view. The Japanese Garden provides a tranquil respite from the hustle bustle of Tokyo city. The hotel is centrally located in Shinagawa, a 10minute walk to train station, easily connected to Ginza, Shinjuku and Shibuya.
Oct 19 – Tantalizing Tokyo Tour
After breakfast, meet our guide in the hotel lobby to board our private coach. Begin your exploration of Tokyo with a visit to the world’s largest fish market, Tsukiji Market, handling about 2,888 tons of marine products a day worth about 2.8 billion yen (US$20million). Some 450 kinds of fish are received – from penny-per-piece sardines to golden brown dried sea slug caviar, a bargain at US$473 a pound. Some of the giant tuna sold for well over 1,000,000JPY each (US$8000).
*Please note that this tour focuses on the outer market open to the public at Tsukiji and not the new inner market located at Toyosu for wholesalers.
Next, you’ll visit the Imperial Palace, located on the former site of Edo Castle, a large park area surrounded by moats and massive stone walls in the center of Tokyo, and the residence of Japan’s Imperial Family. Although the Palace is not open to the public, from Kokyo Gaien, the large plaza in front of the Imperial Palace, you can view the Nijubashi, two bridges that form an entrance to the inner palace grounds. The stone bridge in front is called Meganebashi (Eyeglass Bridge) for its looks. Afterwards, visit Meiji Shrine, a shrine dedicated to the deified spirit of Emperor Meiji and a popular place for traditional Japanese weddings.
Free time – After visiting the shrine, you will be on your own to explore Harajuku, Omotesando Street, or take train to see the Shibuya Crossing. Our guide will direct you to great places like the glitzy Ginza district. You may want to walk to Harajuku, which is the center of Japan’s most extreme teenage cultures and fashion styles, made famous by the so-called “Harajuku Girls.” The tree-lined Omotesando Street is often called the Champ Elysees with many name brand stores, new Tokyo designers’ boutiques, antiques shops, trendy cafes and Western restaurants. My favorite place of all here is Takeshita or Candy Street with a visit to the famous Totti Cotton Candy Factory. Our past groups also loved visiting the pet cafés for tea and cuddles. Tokyo has 19, from owls to penguins. The best is Hedgehog Café.
The Shibuya Crossing, busiest train station in the world, is a must-see. The sprawling scramble intersection just outside Shibuya Station is an embodiment of Tokyo itself: action in all directions. Three huge television screens mounted on the buildings facing the intersection flash all day, while the rest of the area is covered with lights, advertisements, and more lights. The intersection is a popular location for movies and media taking place in Tokyo. It has appeared in the films Lost in Translation and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. The surrounding area of Shibuya is a lively, popular destination for people of all walks of life. It is a popular nightlife spot filled with bars, clubs and izakaya. One of Japan’s unofficial landmarks, the Hachiko statue in Shibuya is a homage to the faithful Akita dog which waited at Shibuya Station every day for his master, even after his death. Today, it’s one of the most popular meeting places in Tokyo.
*Return to the hotel on your own. *
Overnight in Tokyo. B
Oct 20 – Tokyo Temples & Sumo Tour
Morning at leisure. Our past groups loved Tokyo’s pet cafés for tea and snacks with owls to penguins. Our fave is the Hedgehog Café. The fantastic Team Lab Digital Museum in the Mori Building is not to be missed. Futuristic immersion experience like no other in the world.
AFTERNOON CITY TOUR AND WELCOME DINNER
First stop is Asakusa, Tokyo’s Old Town where you can soak up the atmosphere of what Tokyo must have been like hundreds of years
ago. Visit Sensoji, also known as Asakusa Kannon and Tokyo’s oldest temple. The Broadway leading up to the Temple is called Nakamise and this shopping street has been providing temple visitors with a variety of traditional, local snacks and souvenirs for centuries.
The Tokyo Skytree is a new television broadcasting tower and landmark of Tokyo. With a height of 634 meters, it is the tallest building in Japan. A large shopping complex is located at its base. Enjoy the spectacular Tokyo view from the observation deck, the highest of its kind in Japan for great panoramic photos.
After visiting Skytree, enjoy a Sumo Fighting Demonstration acted out by former professional sumo wrestlers. Learn all about Japan’s most peculiar and fascinating sport. Our visit includes a delicious Japanese dining experience where we can get to know our fellow AFS Travelers.
Nightlife here is nonstop. Consider a visit to the crazy fun robot bars or head to World Noodles Road and choose from a dozen Ramen noodle cafés, one even has a Michelin star!
Overnight in Tokyo. B,D
Oct 21- TOKYO – HAKONE
Hakone is part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, less than 62miles from Tokyo, famous for hot springs, natural beauty and the view across Lake Ashinoko of nearby Mount Fuji. It is also the best place to experience a hot spring ryokan ( Japanese Inn).
(Luggage will be transferred to the hotel in Kyoto separately. Please prepare an overnight bag for 2 nights in Hakone. Details later.)
Breakfast and check-out at hotel. Meet your guide at the hotel for a departure to the town of Hakone by private coach. Everyone loves the resort town of Hakone, Japan’s most famous national park. The volcanic active area centers around lake Ashi and is famous for the Onsen hot springs and views of Mt Fuji. (Weather permitting).
First stop in Hakone will be the Hakone shrine. This Shinto shrine was very popular among Samurai during the twelfth century and is hidden away in a dense forest. In fact, the shrine is so well hidden that it would be easy to miss were it not for its magnificent torii gates.
Enjoy a delightful cruise on Lake Ashi aboard a sightseeing pirate ship over to Togendai. The scenic region of lakes and volcanic peaks was carved by an enormous crater 3000 years ago. From here we take the high Hokane Ropeway up to Mt Sounzan for spectacular views of Mt Fuji and the valley below. This is the world’s longest aerial lift. Halfway up the mountain, we stopped to visit “Hell Valley” in Owakudani Geothermal Valley. Smell the sulfur coming from this active volcano. Walk the promenade to get close up views to steaming vents and bubbling pools. Eat an egg. The eggs they sell here are boiled in the hot springs and said to prolong your life by 7 years! Continue the aerial cable way down for sweeping views.
Last stop is the Hakone Open Air Museum, which creates a harmonic balance of nature and art by exhibiting various sculptures on its grounds in combination with views of the surrounding valley. Over 100 exhibits are displayed in the expansive space overlooking the mountains. Its Picasso exhibition hall showcases two floors of paintings, sculptures and ceramics by the artist
Tonight, we stay in a traditional Japanese ryokan, sleeping in a Japanese style room with futons laid out on tatami mats, delicious meals and access to onsen; baths that use healing mineral water from naturally heated springs. You’ll be fully briefed by the staff on the protocols and traditions here. Meals included here. Note that our group dinner starts at 5:30 PM sharp.
HAKONE 2 nights at Hakone Kowakien Ten-yu ( Ryokan- Japanese Inn) – Superior room with Open Air Bath, breakfast and dinner.
The traditional Ryokan, Hakone Kowakien Ten-yu, is a true sanctuary facing magnificent mountain in Hakone.
The concept of our ryokan is the harmony of authentic Japanese hospitality and the nature. You can watch the sunrising sky while bathing in our enormous open-air onsen with infinite horizon view. In addition, all rooms come with its own private open-air bath. In the evening, get excited for the beautifully presented delicious Japanese cuisine at your table. Enjoy the heavenly experience of the true Japanese service throughout your stay. Hakone Gora Park is only 6-minute bus ride from Hakone Kowakien Ten-yu. Chisuji Falls is 13-minute walk away.
Royokan B, D
Oct 22 – Free at Last at Ryokan!
This is your downtime to chill and relax in our properties Onsen baths and hot springs which are part of Japanese culture.
For those feeling fit, thousands of visitors come here for the excellent hikes and nature walks. There are many trails of different lengths and levels with maps to beautiful natural sites. The Old Tokaido Road offers important sites from the Edo period. Or proceed to Genbegawa World Heritage Site water area at Mishima, setting for the epic novel ‘Shogun.’ You can also visit a green tea farm with tastings nearby or rent a bike to explore town. Dinner served at 5:30pm.
Overnight Ryokan. B,D
Oct 23 – Bullet Train – ODAWARA – KOBE
Kobe is a port city west of Osaka and is one of Japan’s most pleasant cities to visit, with a laid-back cosmopolitan feel. Now completely rebuilt after the devastating earthquake of 1995, Kobe’s dramatic location, sandwiched on a narrow strip of land between mountains and sea, is known for its great food such as the famous Kobe beef, sake breweries and lively nightlife. It’s back to 1868 with old wood houses and now with the great art and music scene. It is famous for specialty foods from tempura eel to succulent Wagyu beef.
Breakfast at hotel and check-out. Meet with your guide in the hotel lobby for a departure to Odawara station by private coach. At Odawara station you will board a high-speed bullet train bound for Shin-Kobe. (3hours)
Upon arriving at Shin-Kobe station, guide will meet you and take you to a memorable lunch at Teppanyaki restaurant.
At teppanyaki restaurant, the chef cooks meat, seafood and vegetables on a large iron teppan right in front of customers surrounding the teppan. It is a popular place to enjoy premium Japanese beef (wagyu) such as Kobe Beef.
After lunch, proceed to Nada Sake Brewery for sake-making tour and tasting.
Kobe’s Nada district is Japan’s top sake producing area. It has long been famous for sake-producing due to its high-quality rice, suitable water, favorable weather conditions and its proximity to Kobe Port. Imbibe sake as you like.
A private coach will take you to a hotel in nearby Kyoto for check-in.
Overnight in Kyoto. B,L
KYOTO – 3 NIGHTS ACCOMMODATION AT RHIGA GRAN KYOTO ( Superior twin) with daily breakfast
The RIHGA Gran Kyoto is a new RIHGA Royal Hotels Group hotel. Ideally located, free Wi-Fi, spacious rooms. The “Shikisai-bako” (“Four Seasons Box”) breakfast, made with a bountiful selection of local ingredients such as local vegetables from the Kyoto area, creates a delicate impression of refinement. It also has a large communal hot bath to enjoy at the end of a busy day of sightseeing. When you stay at Rihga Gran Kyoto, you’ll be just a 5-minute drive from Kiyomizu Temple and Fushimi Inari Shrine. Also, Kawaramachi Street and Nishiki Market.
Oct 24 – Kyoto Tour and Nara
Kyoto – This is a must-see destination in Japan. Kyoto is the nation’s former capital and was the residence of the emperor from 794 until 1868. It is Japan’s seventh largest metropolis with a population of around 1.4 million and a city of culture that offers a plethora of temples, shrines and other historically priceless structures that still survive today. With 2,000 religious buildings, including 1,600 Buddhist temples and 400 Shinto shrines, as well as palaces, gardens and associated architecture, it is one of the best-preserved cities in Japan and has been awarded UNESCO World Heritage status. The Gion district is known for its iconic teahouses, kabuki and geishas.
Nara is the capital of Japan’s Nara Prefecture, in south-central Honshu. The city has significant temples and artwork dating to the 8th century, when it was Japan’s capital. Deer roam in Nara Park, site of Tōdai-ji temple. Daibutsu, Tōdai-ji’s 15m-high bronze Buddha, is displayed in a large wooden hall. On the park’s east side is the Shinto shrine Kasuga Taisha, which dates to 768 A.D. and more than 3,000 lanterns.
After breakfast meet with your guide in the hotel lobby for a departure to Kinkakuji. Kinkakuji, also known as the Golden Pavilion, was originally built as a retirement villa for the Shogun. After the death of Shogun Yoshimitsu, it became a Buddhist Temple at his request. It is now one of Kyoto’s most famous temples, with its top two floors completely covered in gold-leaf. Visit beautiful Nijo Castle was built in 1622 by the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate as the Kyoto residence of the Shogun and is surrounded by stunning gardens. The ornamental building was completed in 1603 and is well-known for its Momoyama architecture, decorated sliding doors, and ‘chirping’ nightingale floors.
Head by coach to Nara. During the 8th century Nara was Japan’s capital for 74 years and many of the temples and shrines built at that time still stand today. Visit Todaiji Temple, one of the world’s largest wooden structures and home to Japan’s largest Great Buddha, largest bronze statue in Japan. The park surrounding the temple is called Nara Park but is referred to by many as “Deer Park” due to the large population of more than one thousand tame deer who freely roam the streets and will bow their heads in exchange for a treat. Great photo opts. Stop will be made for a quick noodle lunch.
Next stop is Nara’s most celebrated shrine, Kasuga Taisha. Established in 768 AD the shrine is dedicated to the deity tasked with the protection of the city and is famous for its hundreds of bronze and stone lanterns which have been donated by worshipers over the years. After our day tour, return to Kyoto. Free time to hit explore Gion. Wander around 6 PM in Gion Corner and see the Geishas and Maikos (apprentices) on the way to their appointments.
Overnite in Kyoto. B
Oct 25 – Kyoto Tour – Bamboo Forrest – Osaka!
After breakfast meet with your guide in the hotel lobby for a departure to Arashiyama .Arashiyama is a popular destination since the Heian Period (794-1185), when nobles would enjoy its natural setting. Take a walk through the famous Bamboo Forest, which are particularly attractive when there is a light wind and the tall bamboo stalks sway gently back and forth. Bamboo has been used to manufacture various products, such as baskets, cups, boxes, and mats at local workshops for centuries. Great photos of you in a world of green!
Next we visit Kyoto’s best shrines. Nonomiya shrine is a Shinto shrine where in ancient times, unmarried imperial princesses stayed for a year or more to purify themselves. Then visit Tenryuji which is ranked among Kyoto’s five great Zen temples and the largest and most impressive temple in Arashiyama. Founded in 1339 at the beginning of the Muromachi Period (1338-1573), the temple is one of Kyoto’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In addition to its temple buildings, there are attractive gardens with walking paths.
We then head to Monkey Park. After hiking uphill for about fifteen minutes, you will find an open area with over a hundred monkeys roaming freely. These are the same famous snow monkeys found in the north, a delightful place to visit.
After lunch on your own, we drive about one hour to the lively city of Osaka for our afternoon foodie tour. Osaka is one of Japan’s most vibrant cities, and especially known for its lively people – and its food. Your guide will introduce you to the splendors of Osaka’s casual cuisine, venturing into the epicenter of street food culture in Osaka: Dotonbori. Local slogan here is “Kuidaore” or eat ‘til you drop. Dotonbori is a famous pedestrian-only restaurant street in Osaka’s boisterous Namba district. Famous for its vast array of culinary options. Its known as a food paradise throughout Japan. This is where Kansai people come to celebrate! Colorful eateries and bars line the neon-filled streets: hole-in-the-wall takoyaki stands and street-side ramen bars rub shoulders with upscale eateries serving the finest wagyu beef – and everywhere, people – young and old – out to enjoy the culinary pleasures of the nation’s most famous restaurant district. You’ll have the chance to sample a variety of local foods, including the famous and ubiquitous takoyaki (commonly known as “octopus balls” and kushikatsu (skewered meats and vegetables) or something else.
Afterwards our guide will take you to Yakitori (Japanese Chicken BBQ) Restaurant for our AFS group Farewell Dinner to toast each other goodbye from a journey well done.
Overnight in Kyoto. B,D
(For those returning to Tokyo at trips end, luggage will be transferred to Narita international airport tonight. All details later.)
Oct. 26 – KYOTO –HANEDA/ NARITA (TOKYO) AIRPORTS– USA
Breakfast at hotel and check-out. Make your own way to KIX Osaka International airport or take the bullet train back to Tokyo to transfer to Narita Express to NRT Tokyo Narita Airport. (Japan has two major airports served by a dozen airlines. You can either choose to fly round trip to Narita or into NRT and out of Osaka. Air details later.)
It is very easy to take the KIX ( Osaka) airport limousine bus from Kyoto train station to the airport. About 2,600 Japanese yen ( About US$20 per person), depending on traffic, takes about 90 minutes.
Land Price: $4295 PP twin occupancy. Based on 20 participants. 50% 2nd payment due June 7, final payment due July 7.
Includes – all daily guided tours with entrance fees, private coach, and meals (listed as B,L,D) stated in the itinerary.
Not included – international air. Gratuities for guides and drivers will be added to your invoice later for ease of distribution.