- Sapporo - Experience the annual snow festival in the capital of Hokkaido, Japan's northern island. Odori Park is home to huge snow sculptures and dramatic ice carvings
- Otaru Lantern Festival - Stroll along the banks of the canal, lit by thousands of tiny candles and snow lanterns
- Tokyo - Explore the neon bright capital city, gateway to Japan
- Bullet Train - Whizz across the country in comfort at an average speed of 300 kilometres an hour
- Kyoto - See the traditional side of Japan, stunning temples, immaculate Zen gardens and the geisha district of Gion
- Snow Monkeys - Visit the bathing beauties making the most of the hot springs at Yudanaka Onsen
This exciting journey takes us to the far north of Japan where we make the most of the winter temperatures, taking an ice-breaker cruise in the Sea of Okhotsk before spending time admiring the incredible snow sculptures at the annual Sapporo Snow Festival. We also explore ultra-modern Tokyo, discover tranquil Zen gardens in ancient Kyoto and visit the snow monkeys at Yudanaka.
Odori Park - Home to huge snow sculptures and dramatic ice carvings
Otaru Lantern Festival - Stroll along the banks of the canal, lit by thousands of tiny candles and snow lanterns
Kyoto - See the traditional side of Japan, stunning temples and immaculate Zen gardens
Day 1 Join tour in Tokyo
The trip begins in Japan's action-packed capital city of Tokyo. For those arriving on time our Leader plans to meet you in the hotel reception at 6.30pm for the welcome meeting. There are no other activities planned today, so you are free to arrive in Tokyo at any time. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you'll need to arrive into Haneda Airport (HND) or Narita Airport (NRT). The city centre is around an hour away from Haneda Airport and an hour and a half from Narita. Should you miss the welcome meeting, your Leader will inform you of any essential information as soon as you catch up. If your flight arrives earlier in the day, we recommend taking the train one stop or walking along the Sumida River and then crossing over to see the Edo Tokyo Museum (it takes approximately 20 minutes to get here). This fascinating architectural structure gives a great history of Japan's capital and it is next to the sumo stadium so there is the chance to spot a sumo wrestler in the area. Also nearby is the Hokusai Museum which displays woodblock prints of Japan's most famous artist. Alternatively you can wander around the Asakusa area and explore the back streets. You will find sword shops, street food, goldfish scooping, rickshaws and plenty more just a few minutes' walk from the hotel.
Day 2 Visit ancient Asakusa Temple and modern Harajuku
It is said that over one quarter of Japanese live within a 50 km radius of the centre of Tokyo. The result is a bustling and exciting city, the economic powerhouse of Asia. Our first introduction to this unique culture is when we take a walking tour of the city highlights. We visit the Meiji shrine and Shinjuku area, where the latest electronic gadgets can be seen in neon-fronted shops before making our way to the traditionally styled Hamarikyu gardens. The gardens are located in central Toyko and feature several seawater ponds which change levels as the tides rise and fall. We then board a boat for a short journey along the Sumida-gawa river to the Asakusa Temple, Tokyo's oldest temple. This journey offers a totally different perspective of Tokyo, as we sail past high rise apartments, secluded gardens and busy warehouses.
Day 3 Fly to Abashiri; discover the Meiji-era Prison Museum
This morning we leave the capital and after a short transfer we take a flight to Abashiri, located on the Okhotsk Coast. The town is most famous for the Kangoku, a prison opened in 1892 with a fearsome reputation for harsh winter conditions. Nowadays the prison has been transformed in to an interesting museum which we will visit, with chance to test out the cells if only for a few minutes.
Day 4 Cruise on the Sea of Okhotsk; scenic train to Sapporo
Abashiri is Japan's northern most major city located at 44 degrees north latitude. From mid-January to late March the waters here are covered in drift ice and we will be taking a cruise through the Sea of Okhotsk to get to the main drift ice areas. A variety of wild animals can be seen including seals and sea eagles resting on the ice. From the ship you can sometimes spot fox and deer on the coast. The boat ride takes about one hour in total depending on ice conditions. We take the afternoon train to Sapporo, a scenic route with views across the snow covered landscape.
Day 5 View snow sculptures at Sapporo's annual festival
We spend the full day exploring the annual Snow and Ice festival. The festival first began in 1950 but gained worldwide recognition in 1972 when Sapporo hosted the winter Olympic Games. We will see all of the main venues that have snow statues and ice sculptures including Odori Park, Tsudome dome and the main street in Susukino, Sapporo's entertainment quarter. We will also take time to stop at one of the many ice bars that pop up during the festival. In the evening there is an option to visit the Sapporo Brewery for a tour.
Day 6 Explore the beautiful seaside town of Otaru
This morning we have some free time to further enjoy Sapporo and its surroundings. A great option is to take a bus to the Hill of the Buddha, a striking shrine which features and 13.5 metre high statue of the Buddha which is surrounded by an artificial hill which is covered with Lavender plants. In the late afternoon we take the train to Otaru, a small town set along the Otaru Canal. The town is best known for the Snow Light Path festival when the snow-covered streets are decorated with small snow statues adorned with lights, particularly alongside the canal, and often there are small floating candles in the water. The festival usually coincides with the Sapporo Snow Festival but a walk around the down is delightful at any time. If our visit does not coincide with the festival we'll visit one of Otaru's famous beer halls, returning to Sapporo by train in the late evening.
Day 7 Take the train to old trading port of Hakodate
Leaving Sapporo we take the train to Hakodate located on the south-west corner of Hokkaido Island. Hakodate was one of the first ports to open to foreign trade and as such has a distinct blend of Japanese and Western architecture. We wander through Motomachi which gives an insight in to how the traders lived and how the cultures merged. In the evening we take a trip to Mount Hakodate for spectacular views down across the city.
Day 8 Discover the morning market; flight and train to Kyoto
We rise early this morning to visit the Hakodate morning market. Starting at 6am in the winter the traders sell fresh seafood including crabs (kani) and sea urchins (uni) as well as fresh fruit and vegetables. There are plenty of opportunities to snack as we wander through the stalls. After the market we make our way back to the airport for the short flight to Osaka and then travel on to Kyoto, the old Imperial capital. Kyoto is the cradle of all things uniquely Japanese and the only large city to escape bombing in WWII. It was the Imperial capital for more than 1000 years and was at the heart of the events that shaped Japan's destiny. Signs of the past are visible throughout the city in its grand temples and palaces and also the many traditional shops selling wares that have been produced for centuries. This afternoon we visit the Kiyomizudera Temple and the Gion Geisha district.
Day 9 Walk through the temples and zen gardens of Kyoto
Kyoto is regarded as the place to see everything you expect to experience in Japan, with more than 2000 temples and shrines, many set in manicured landscaped gardens. But it is also a modern city. We spend a full day exploring including a visit to the temple of the Golden Pavillion, Arashiyama Bamboo grove and the nearby Ryonji temple with its beautiful zen gardens.
Day 10 Free day to explore Kyoto. Option to visit nearby Nara
Today is a free day to explore Kyoto at your leisure. You may wish to take a trip to nearby Nara, home to the Todaji Temple, Big Buddha and the Kasuga Shrine. Your Tour Leader will be on hand to give you tips on where to visit and make the best of your time in this beautiful city.
Day 11 Take the bullet train to Nagano
Today we take our first journey on the Shinkansen, Japan's bullet train. Travelling at speeds of up to 300km per hour, with quiet carriages and departures running to a strict timetable this is the ultimate in train travel. We combine this with a slightly slower local train as we make our way to Nagano.
Day 12 Reflect at Zenkoji Temple before meeting Yudanaka's snow monkeys. Take the bullet train to Tokyo
After breakfast we pay a visit to the nearby 7th century Zenko-ji temple complex. We can experience the daily workings of temple life, with a chance to watch the monks taking their morning prayers. After a stop for lunch we head to Yudanaka, home to the famous 'snow monkeys'. During the cold winter months these clever simians take to the hot springs to keep warm. There are plenty of onsens (shared baths) which we can try out as well, all monkey free. In the late afternoon we board the Shinkansen and make our way back to Tokyo for our last night in this incredible country.
Day 13 Tour ends in Tokyo
The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Tokyo. There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Tokyo at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel, while you head out for some last minute shopping or sightseeing. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you need to depart from Haneda Airport (HND) or Narita Airport (NRT).
- 12 Hotel
From hold-your-breath experiences, to small and unscripted moments of joy; our small group adventures create stories to tell for a lifetime…