Nowhere on Earth is that old trope more apt; Japan is a true country of contrasts. Tokyo shines bright in neon brashness and Hiroshima glows anew as bullet-train futurism links some of the world’s finest historical treasures. Bay islands host floating shrines, feudal thatched villages and the samurai’s castles are still hidden among the Japanese Alps and, in Kyoto, thousands of Buddhist temples line riversides and are tucked away among bamboo groves. You’ll explore it all with private, tailor-made tours, soaks in onsen hot springs, traditional multi-course banquets and invite-only visits to geisha teahouses and sumo stables. It’s linked by stays in some of the country’s finest hotels from movie-star skyscrapers to an erstwhile emperor’s national-park ryokan retreat.
Begin your trip with a private chauffeur transfer to the airport, where you’ll relax in a premium lounge before your overnight flight.
Watch as the Japanese capital’s skyscrapers loom large on the horizon as your private transfer brings you to your ultra-luxury hotel. Here, designer chic and moat-side dining rival the elegance of its esteemed overlook – the Imperial Palace itself. During your stay in Tokyo, you’ll have use of an IC Pass, to take advantage of the world-famous public transport, along with the services of a private guide. Your local expert will tailor a tour to your tastes, whether it’s locals-only sushi counters, Meiji-era park shrines or Shinjuku’s technicolour commotion. You’ll also be treated to an exclusive look into the fiercely traditional world of sumo with a visit to a stable where wrestlers live, train and fight.
Although you might want to linger in Tokyo longer – perhaps to explore Akihabara’s rabbit warren of look-at-me arcades – we recommend getting out into its surrounds. Head to the coast for sleepy Kamakura whose shrines, temples and giant bronze Buddha remember its 12th-century heyday as the country’s capital. Alternatively, join the pilgrimage to Nikko whose astounding array of Shinto shrines date back some 500 years and are framed by mountainside waterfalls and dense forests that are even older. Lastly, for some rural respite, make your way to Mt. Takao for hikes and cable-car rides that pass hidden temples to reach citywide views over Tokyo.
Bookend your train trip to Hakone with private transfers, arriving at your accommodation – Gora Kadan. As the former imperial retreat, this is Japan’s most luxurious ryokan. Each room features its own traditional garden and onsen hot spring while guests are treated to kaiseki banquets for lunch and dinner. This degustation tradition balances delicate flavours, textures and even colours over near never-ending courses. You’ll have to remind yourself to head out and explore Hakone’s national park, where waterside shrines and shimmering forest-ringed lakes are the foreground to shy Mt. Fuji.
Breakfast & Dinner included
Your first bullet train trip will shoot you down Japan’s eastern seaboard to Kyoto. This ancient city showcases the very origins of Japanese culture across dozens of UNESCO-listed sites, hundreds of Shinto shrines and thousands of Buddhist temples. Staying on the banks of the Kamogawa River, panoramic windows invite in views of the city – helping you pick out the sites you want to visit on your tailor-made tour. There’s everything from palatial gardens to endless tunnels of torii gates. We’ve also included a separate trip to an exclusive teahouse in the city’s geisha district, Gion. Here, a meiko apprentice will induct you into this secretive world with a traditional tea ceremony and all its performance accompaniments.
Your next Shinkansen bullet will then shuttle you to Hiroshima where a private guide will again tailor a tour to your interests. Memorialise the city’s haunted past in the ribcage ruins of the Peace Park and Museum before turning to its buoyant present in its teahouse-dotted gardens and its restored castle, curving skywards in timber tiers. Your guide will then bring you on a ferry trip to Miyajima – ‘Shrine Island’. Passing its famous floating torii gate, you’ll arrive at Itsukushima – a vermillion-red shrine that perches serenely on the water itself. Checking in to your delightful ryokan for rooftop onsen soaks and further included kaiseki-dinner indulgence on day nine, you’ll have the next day free to explore. Coastal cycle paths bring you to white-sand beaches while cable car rides and hikes take you past hillside temples and friendly dear for stunning panoramas.
Successive train rides will see you skirt Lake Biwa to arrive at Kanazawa – perhaps the best preserved of Japan’s historic cities. Here, the walled residences of the samurai quarter, the timber teahouses of the geisha district and such still-practised crafts as gold leaf work, lacquerware and dyeing recall all the romance of feudal Japan. Contrast it all with your ultra-modern hotel – the tallest on the Japan Sea – with some free time to explore. Don’t miss out on Kenrokuen; ranked among Japan’s Three Great Gardens, its glassy carp-filled ponds are spanned by curved bridges and ringed by cherry blossoms and stone lanterns.
Stay: Nikko Hotel Kanazawa
Tucked away among a mountainous valley is a UNESCO-listed village formed of 250-year-old farmhouses – Shirakawago. These traditional gassho buildings are built as hands in prayer with their thatched roofs rising into a steep apex. It makes for a truly evocative visit before you continue on, via private transfer, to Takayama. Framed by the majestic Hida Mountains of the Japanese Alps, the narrow streets of this 16th-century castle town are lined with latticed merchant houses, Edo-period teahouses and stunning Buddhist temples. Return after each day at leisure to your luxurious ryokan inn to be welcomed by your kimono-wearing host, private outdoors hot-spring bath and, yes, kaiseki dining.
Breakfast & Dinner included
Your scenic train trip back to the Japanese capital will be sandwiched between two private transfers, bringing you to that skyscraper of Lost in Translation fame – the Park Hyatt Tokyo. Take in the views of Yoyogi Park’s green oasis from your room as its restaurants host sunset views over the entire city. Alternatively, head out for one last night of exploration; immerse yourself in the city’s neon nightlife or perhaps head to gritty Golden Gai’s evocative labyrinth of back-alley sake bars and ramen joints.
Park Hyatt Tokyo
A private transfer will bring you back to Narita Airport for your overnight flight home. On arrival, you’ll be greeted by your private chauffeur to see you to your door.
"This is Japan at its very best. When planning this itinerary, we thought about how the bright lights of Tokyo would contrast with the samurai castles in the Japanese Alps, and how to include ryokan stays alongside city hotels to give an authentic Japanese hotel experience. For me, though, the real highlights are the exclusive invitation to take tea with a geisha and the incredibly rare glimpse into the life of a sumo wrestler."
Low Season from: £9,555 pp
High Season from: £11,600 pp