Arashiyama Bamboo Forest in Kyoto, Japan
Trip Ideas

7 Tours of Japan You Need to Take

Planning a trip to Japan can be overwhelming. There’s so much to see and do, from Tokyo’s glitzy Shinjuku neighborhood to Kyoto’s historic Gion. To get a crash course in the country, opt for these themed Japan tours — be it an eating marathon (think sushi, soba, and sake galore) or a scenic hike around the country’s mountains and coastlines.

Chelsea is Brooklyn-based travel writer, editor, and photographer. When not home eating her way through NYC, she's gallivanting across the globe, sailing the coast of Croatia or hiking the peaks of Peru. Her superpowers include booking flight deals and sleeping in small plane seats.

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Arashiyama Bamboo Forest in Kyoto, Japan
temple, REI Adventures Japan Hiking – Kumano Kodo and Nakasendo
Close up of Japanese onsen
woman on top of mountain, REI Adventures Japan Hiking – Kumano Kodo & Nakasendo

Hike the Kumano Kodo and Nakasendo, REI

Although Japan has some of the glitziest, most futuristic cities in the world, the country is also home to some stunning scenery. Check it out for yourself on REI’s brand-new 11-day hike. Starting in Kyoto, you’ll pass by misty forests, thundering waterfalls, and shrines along the Kumano Kodo—a famous pilgrimage path that stretches across Kii Hantō, the largest peninsula of Japan. From there, it’s off to the Nakasendo trail, an ancient trading route that winds through charming post towns in the Central Alps. Along the way, you’ll stay at traditional ryokans with onsen mineral baths to soothe your weary muscles. The journey ends in Tokyo, with a tour of the capital’s Edo period architecture.

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Hakata style Tonkotsu Ramen
process to cooking takoyaki
chef making soba noodles

Japan Real Food Adventure, Intrepid Travel

One of the best parts about Japan is its cuisine. Feast your face off on Intrepid Travel’s 12-day food tour through Tokyo, Takayama, Kanazawa, Osaka, and Kyoto. In addition to ramen and sushi, you'll have a chance to try traditional Japanese delicacies like takoyaki (Osaka octopus balls) and yakitori (sizzling chicken skewers). Other highlights include a soba noodle-making class, a tour of Tokyo’s famous Tsukiji Fish Market, a home-cooked obanzai dinner in Kyoto, and a traditional shōjin ryōri (vegetarian Buddhist meal) at a remote mountain monastery. By the end of the trip, you're sure to have mastered all the chopstick skills.

RELATED: The Best Time to Visit Japan: A Month-by-Month Guide

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Exterior of a cute shop in Japan
Cherry blossom on mount yoshino in the morning at nara japan
biking by a temple in Japan
green tea field

Japan Bike Tour, DuVine Cycling + Adventure Co.

Interested in seeing the country on two wheels? DuVine Cycling + Adventure Co. just debuted a Japan cycling trip—its first tour in Asia—starting in September. The week-long journey will take you by tea fields, cobalt lakes, and bamboo groves around Kyoto, Nara, and Koyasan. Pedal past the Uji River, Tōdai-ji (one of the most iconic Buddhist temples in Nara), and Mount Yoshino, where you’ll climb cedar-shaded switchbacks, soak in outdoor onsens, and explore the limestone caves in Tenkawa. One of the most memorable stops is in Koyasan, where you’ll stay in a shukubo—a monastic ryokan on top of the holiest peak in Japan.

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Beautiful natural indigo tie dye fabric with garden view in background.
Stormy waves along the coast with islands in the background of Naoshima, Japan
Ceramic pottery in shades of blue
Artist painting in a traditional Japanese technique Sumi-e with Suiteki Water Dropper and sudzuri ink stone
pottery tea set on market stall for sale.

Art of Japan, Artisans of Leisure

Culture vultures will love the Artisans of Leisure tour of Japan’s historic craft scene. In Tokyo, there’s the Mori Art Museum, Edo-Tokyo Museum, and the Mingeikan (Japan Folk Crafts Museum). In Kanazawa, you’ll visit the Ishikawa Museum of Traditional Products and Crafts as well as pottery kilns. In Yamanaka Onsen, you’ll relax in hot-spring resorts and meet with artisans who specialize in washi paper designs. Naoshima is a highlight: the Seto Inland Sea island is a contemporary art destination featuring Tadao Ando–designed buildings, site-specific sculptures by Yayoi Kusama, and the mountaintop Chichu Art Museum (where you can see works by Claude Monet and James Turrell). Along the way, you'll be able to take private classes to learn calligraphy, ikebana (flower arranging), indigo dyeing, or manga drawing. We suggest opting for the visit to a master swordsmith to learn the centuries-old art of making a nihontō.

RELATED: The JS Guide to Japanese Style

Garinko number of drift ice icebreaker
Two Japanese red crown cranes leaping and dancing performing their mating courtship ritual in the snow in Winter
Road Passing Through Snowy Forest
Biei in Hokkaido,Japan.

Japan Winter Discovery, Insider Journeys

Although winter may not sound like the best time to explore Japan, it’s actually the peak season in Hokkaido, the nation's northernmost island. Insider Journeys hosts a two-week escorted Japan tour to see the snow sculptures in Sapporo, explore wasabi farms, hike to a frozen canyon, stay in a castle town in the Japanese Alps, and ride an icebreaker ship in the Okhotsk Sea. Nature photographers should bring their best cameras to snap pictures of rare tancho cranes and macaque snow monkeys, who like to bathe in the local hot springs. You also won’t go thirsty: sake breweries, beer museums, and tea tours are included in the itinerary.

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people making sake in japan
people eating dinner and drinking sake in japan
chef making soba noodles
beautiful japanese pottery sake set

Sake Brewery, Sake Tours

Sake Tours' hands-on excursions—available in Akita, Kochi, Kyushu, and Niigata—will let you meet the masters, visit breweries, and see how Japan's most famous rice wine is made. The tours aren't just about drinking, however: you’ll also learn about Japan’s culinary culture through a soba class, a ramen crawl, a fugu (blowfish) barbecue, and a visit to an artisanal salt maker in the seaside town of Itoshima. The Kyushu tour even brings you to an art studio in Karatsu (a famous pottery region), where you can buy intricate ceramic and glass sake sets as a souvenir.

RELATED: 6 Must-Visit Hidden Gems in Japan

traditional water buffalo ride at taketomi island, japan
person kayaking through mangroves in Japan
beach in Okinawa, Japan

Island Hopping, Inside Japan Tours

If you’re more of a beach seeker than a city slicker, head south to Okinawa. From here, you can island-hop via Inside Japan Tours to some of the smaller subtropical inlets in the Yaeyama archipelago. Picture white-sand beaches, crystal-clear water, and fresh sashimi all day long. You’ll snorkel or scuba dive around the coral reefs on Ishigaki, get a water buffalo carriage ride on Taketomi, kayak through mangroves, hike up rainforest waterfalls on Iriomote, and see migrating humpback whales on Tokashiki.

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