SPRING SAKURA TOUR 2020

People enjoying a traditional Japanese lunch in Shirakawago, Japan

Spring Sakura, a beautiful journey of awakening

  "The perfect blossom is a rare thing. You could spend your entire life looking for one, and it 

  would not be a wasted life" (Moritsugu Katsumoto).

  The cherry blossoms, known in Japan as "sakura", are only usually in full bloom for around one

  week each year. After the period of full bloom, the small, round shaped flowers start to flutter

  gracefully from their trees. The blossoms are said to be the most beautiful in this final stage as

  the white and pink petals float to the ground. The timing of the Spring Sakura Tour will allow

  you to experience the various different stages of the life of the cherry blossom. On this small

  group tour we will view cherry blossoms and other spring flowers at some of the most famous

  gardens, temples, shrines, and nature spots in Japan. We will also join the historic "Takayama

  Festival" and the absolutely stunning "Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Festival". Join Craig in trying

  to find "the perfect blossom".

 Tour Highlights

 Enjoy spectacular cherry blossoms throughout Japan

 Experience all the excitement of the "Takayama Festival"

 Visit the remote villages of Shirakawago and Gokayama

 Enjoy a leisurely day trip to Mt. Fuji and Lake Kawaguchi

 Visit the amazing star-shaped Goryokaku Fort in Hakodate

 Enjoy a relaxing night at a traditional hot spring inn

 Visit the historic Nijo Castle in the ancient capital of Kyoto

 Enjoy the beautiful "Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Festival"

Inclusions

Airport-hotel transfers in Japan

Transport and entry to all places described in the itinerary

13 nights accommodation in carefully selected hotels/inns

13 breakfasts

2 dinners (welcome dinner and farewell dinner)

The services of Craig Campbell (tour guide/interpreter)

*Please note that tour prices do not include airfares to and from Japan

Lake Kawaguchi with Mt. Fuji in the background during our Spring Sakura small group tour of Japan.
Night cherry blossom in Tokyo, Japan during our Spring Sakura small group tour of Japan.
The UNESCO World Heritage listed Gokayama Village in the middle of spring

Spring Sakura Tour Itinerary

Day 1 (Apr 12th, 2020) Kyoto

Travel to Osaka by Sunday April 12th, 2020.

Arrive at Kansai or Itami Airport by own arrangements.

Craig will meet you at the airport and assist you with the transfer to your hotel in central Kyoto. Once you have checked in to your hotel you will have free time to relax,

or enjoy some local sightseeing, shopping, dinner, etc.


Day 2 (Apr 13th, 2020) Kyoto

Spend the day taking in the sights of this traditional city in the middle of spring. We will visit the historic Nijo Castle, Yasaka Shrine, Gion (Geisha District), and the spectacular Kiyomizu-dera Temple.

Our first stop on our full day tour of Kyoto is Nijo Castle. This historic castle was first constructed in 1603, and was the Kyoto residence of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun

of the Edo Period (1603-1867). The castle's buildings are widely considered to be the best surviving examples of

castle palace architecture from Japan's feudal era.

Next we will take a stroll through Yasaka Shrine, one of Kyoto's most famous Shinto Shrines. This shrine is well known for hosting one of Japan's most famous festivals,

the Gion Matsuri. This festival is held every year in July,

and dates back over a thousand years.

From Yasaka Shrine we will then walk through the back streets of Kyoto up to Kiyomizu-dera Temple. On the way we will pass through the preserved districts of "Ninen-zaka" and "Sannen-zaka", two of Kyoto's most attractive streets. Kiyomizu-dera Temple (literally meaning Pure Water Temple) was built without the use of nails in 780 A.D. and

is one of the most celebrated Buddhist temples in all of Japan. We finish the day by walking through the beautiful streets of Gion, Kyoto's world famous Geisha District.

If we are lucky we might even get to see a real Geisha as

we stroll through the streets.
At night we will enjoy a lovely welcome dinner together

at an izakaya (Japanese-style pub).

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Day 3 (Apr 14th, 2020) Gero Onsen

Travel from Kyoto to Gero Onsen by limited express train taking in magnificent springtime views on the way.

Once we arrive in Gero Onsen we will then explore this traditional hot spring town together before settling in for

a relaxing stay at a traditional hot spring inn (ryokan).

Gero Onsen is a small hot spring town located along the crystal clear Hida River in Gifu Prefecture. It has been a popular hot spring destination since the 10th century, and

has also been recognized as one of Japan's "three most famous hot spring towns".

At night you will have the unique experience of staying at

a traditional ryokan (Japanese style inn)

Ryokan are not just places to sleep, they are also a great opportunity to experience traditional Japanese culture, lifestyle, and hospitality. Ryokan are popular with both Japanese and foreign guests because they incorporate elements such as tatami floors, sliding paper doors, futon beds, Japanese style baths, and local cuisine. Ryokan have been part of Japanese culture for more than a thousand

years. One of the oldest recorded ryokan, "Hoshi Ryokan", was founded in 718 A.D.

 

Day 4 (Apr 15th, 2020) Takayama
Travel from Gero Onsen to Takayama by limited express train taking in
magnificent springtime views on the way.
Once we arrive in Takayama we will join the rest of the crowd in enjoying all the excitement of the famous Takayama Festival, one of the biggest festivals in Japan.

The Takayama Festival is ranked as one of Japan's "three most beautiful festivals" alongside Kyoto's Gion Matsuri (mentioned above), and the Chichibu Night Festival (which we visit on our Shades of Autumn Tour). This beautiful festival is held annually on April 14th and 15th, with 12 magnificent festival floats being paraded through the

streets displaying their gorgeous appearance for the many eager spectators. Hundreds of people dressed in traditional attire participate in the festival parade itself, walking

around a designated route with performers providing spectators with an unforgettable show.

Day 5 (Apr 16th, 2020) Takayama

Enjoy an amazing day trip to the historic villages of "Ainokura" and "Suganuma" in the Gokayama region and "Ogimachi" in the Shirakawa-go region. These three small villages were declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1995, and are famous for their traditional "gassho-zukuri" architecture. Some of the buildings in these historic

villages are more than 250 years old, and their unique designs and beautiful natural surroundings have made

them some of the most photographed buildings in all of Japan. At this time of the year the beautiful cherry blossoms which fill each village are in full bloom, making for the photo opportunity of a lifetime!

Day 6 (Apr 17th, 2020) Tokyo

Travel from Takayama to Tokyo by shinkansen.
Once we arrive in Tokyo we will visit some of this amazing city's most famous and iconic places, including Harajuku, Meiji Shrine, Shibuya, and Shinjuku.

Our first stop is Harajuku, the center for Japan's most extreme teenage cultures and fashion styles. The focal point of Harajuku is undoubtedly Takeshita Street and its side streets. These streets are lined with trendy shops, fashion boutiques, used clothes stores, crepe stands, and restaurants.

In stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of Harajuku is our next destination, Meiji Shrine, one of Tokyo's most famous Shinto shrines. It was built to enshrine the spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife Empress Shoken in 1920. Unlike many other flashy places of worship throughout Asia, Meiji

Shrine is a quiet, serene place of worship surrounded by a dense forest of over 120,000 trees. Similar to Central Park

in New York City, Meiji Shrine and its surrounding grounds are like a natural oasis in the middle of a concrete jungle.

To end our tour of Tokyo we will visit two of its most popular shopping and entertainment districts, Shibuya and Shinjuku. In Shibuya we will visit the "Hachiko Statue"

and cross the world famous "Scramble Crossing". In Shinjuku we will walk through the streets of Kabuki-cho, perhaps Tokyo's most full on district, and explore the

narrow streets of "Omoide Yokocho" and "Golden Gai".

Day 7 (Apr 18th, 2020) Tokyo

Enjoy an unforgettable day trip to Mt. Fuji and Lake Kawaguchi by private vehicle.

Mt. Fuji and Lake Kawaguchi are located about 140 km southwest of Tokyo. Enjoy a relaxing drive taking in beautiful springtime scenery as we go.

Our first stop is the stunning Lake Kawaguchi, the second largest of the Fuji Five Lakes in terms of surface area. You will not only take in amazing springtime views of Mt. Fuji from the lake's northern shores, but also have plenty of free time to enjoy Lake Kawaguchi in your way. Enjoy a

lakeside walk, a pleasure cruise out to the middle of the

lake, or even a ride on the Lake Kawaguchi Mt. Tenjo Ropeway.

Next is the highlight of the day, a drive up to the 5th Station of Mt. Fuji. At 2300 meters above sea level, the 5th Station offers commanding views of Mt. Fuji and the Fuji Five Lakes area below. *Please note that depending on weather conditions the road up to the 5th Station may be closed. In this case we will visit the Narusawa Ice Cave and Lake Yamanaka instead.

 

Day 8 (Apr 19th, 2020) Sendai
Enjoy some free time in Tokyo in the morning for local sightseeing, shopping, etc. before traveling to Sendai by shinkansen.
Once we arrive in Sendai we will head to Tsutsujigaoka

Park in central Sendai to enjoy “hanami” together. Hanami (cherry blossom viewing) is a long standing Japanese tradition of welcoming spring. We will join the many Japanese who gather under blooming cherry blossoms to enjoy food, drinks, and the beauty of sakura (cherry blossoms). With a variety of different Somei Yoshino and weeping cherry trees planted along its paved lanes, Tsutsujigaoka Park is the perfect place to enjoy hanami!


Day 9 (Apr 20th, 2020) Sendai
Enjoy a day trip to the historic town of Kakunodate.

Kakunodate is a former castle town and samurai stronghold located in Akita Prefecture. It is famous for its hundreds of beautiful weeping cherry blossom tress and its samurai district, which is considered to be one of the best examples of samurai architecture and housing in Japan. Kakunodate's special combination of beautiful pink cherry blossoms and historic samurai homes make it one of the most popular cherry blossom viewing places in northern Japan, and one

of the highlights of our Spring Sakura Tour.


Day 10 (Apr 21st, 2020) Sendai
Enjoy a slow-paced day trip to Matsushima Bay.

We will make the short journey from Sendai to Matsushima Bay by local train, taking in beautiful springtime views on the way. Once we arrive in Matsushima Bay we will enjoy

a relaxing 50 minute cruise around the bay taking in its

most famous and beautiful islands, including "Bell Island" and "Niojima Island". Matsushima Bay is dotted with hundreds of pine clad islets, and has been ranked as

one of Japan’s "three most scenic views" for centuries.

After enjoying the beauty of Matsushima Bay from the water, we will then walk to a couple of islands and explore black and red pine forests and ancient temples and shrines.


Day 11 (Apr 22nd, 2020) Aomori

Travel from Sendai to Aomori by shinkansen.
Once we arrive in Aomori we will then make the short trip

to Hirosaki, where will enjoy the beautiful Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Festival. This festival is held around the classic Hirosaki Castle, widely considered to be one of the best cherry blossom viewing sites in all of Japan. Hirosaki
Castle is a three-story castle built in 1611 by the Tsugaru clan. Hirosaki Park, which surrounds Hirosaki Castle, has

an abundance of more than 2500 trees, cherry blossom tunnels, petal filled moats, a number of pleasant picnic

areas, rental rowing boats, many different varieties of

cherry trees, and illuminations in the evenings.

Day 12 (Apr 23rd, 2020) Aomori
Enjoy a day trip to the beautiful Oirase Gorge.

Today we will journey deep into the amazing Oirase Gorge.

The Oirase Gorge in Aomori Prefecture is widely

considered to be one of the most beautiful river valleys in

all of Japan. Its crystal clear mountain stream, picturesque waterfalls and rapids, and magnificent natural surroundings make it a must see when visiting northern Japan. This beautiful gorge runs for more than 14 kilometers between Yakeyama at the foot of Mt. Hakkoda and Nenokuchi on

the shore of Lake Towada. Many of the waterfalls and

rapids have been given some rather interesting names, including the "Two Dragon Waterfall", the "Happy

Marriage Waterfall", the "Nine Stairs Waterfall", and the "White Silk Waterfall". At this time of the year the trees

that line the river are covered in fresh green leaves. This is natural Japan at its very best!
 
Day 13 (Apr 24th, 2020) Hakodate

Travel from Aomori to Hakodate by shinkansen.

Once we arrive in Hakodate we will travel through the streets of this beautiful port city by streetcar until we reach the historic Goryokaku Fort. This massive, star shaped, western style fort was built approximately 150 years ago

and was the first of its kind in Japan. It is now designated

as a "special historic site" due to its historical significance.

In the late afternoon we will make our way to the very top

of Mt. Hakodate by an aerial ropeway gondola to enjoy the sunset and stunning night views. The view from Mt. Hakodate is highly acclaimed, gaining the highest possible three-star rating in the "Michelin Green Guide Japan".
At night we will enjoy a lovely farewell dinner together at an izakaya (Japanese-style pub).


Day 14 (Apr 25th, 2020)

Relax in Hakodate before transferring to Hakodate

Airport for your return flight. Alternatively, you can travel

to New Chitose Airport by limited express train (included

in the price of the tour) and fly out from there if it is more convenient.

Depending on your flight time you may be able to explore the famous Hakodate Morning Market, or enjoy some

last minute local sightseeing or shopping in Hakodate.