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 a themed tour—be it an eating marathon (think sushi, soba, and sake galore) or a scenic hike around the country’s mountains and coastlines. Here, seven of our favorites.
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.
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 local 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.
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 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.
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.
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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 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.
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.
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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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