Itinerary in brief:
- 2 nights Tokyo
- 2 nights Shibu Onsen
- 1 night Tokyo
- 1 night Lake Kawaguchi
- 2 nights Tokyo
Day 1: Arrive Tokyo
On arrival in Tokyo, you will be met at the airport and driven into the city by shared minibus. When you arrive at your hotel, you will check in for two nights.
Day 2: Tokyo
In winter, Tokyo is awash with sparkling lights and snow drifts, making it a magical time to visit this city. Spend your first day exploring the main temples of the city – Senso-ji and Meiji-jingu - and learning about Japanese religion, art and history. For lunch, grab some sushi at the Tsukiji Market, where you can taste fresh sashimi and sake with the smell of salt in the air. Tokyo also hosts a big sumo tournament every January, so winter is a great time to visit if you want to see a match in action. You can even see Mount Fuji from Tokyo on a clear day, but don’t worry if you don’t spot it, you’ll be heading to the mysterious mountain later in your trip.
Day 3: Tokyo to Shibu Onsen
Today you’ll travel out to Nagano, taking the Hokuriku bullet train that reaches speeds of up to 260kph. On arrival in Nagano, you’ll hop on the express train to Tudanaka station, where a shuttle bus will take you to the ryokan. A ryokan is a traditional Japanese-style hotel and the one you are staying at, Kokuya, dates back over 400 years. Its present owner is the 16th generation to run the ryokan, which features six different hot springs, all rich in natural minerals to benefit your muscles, joints and skin.
The ryokan is situated on the Shibu Onsen “Spa Street”, which has nine public onsen open for general use. You will see people strolling down the street in their light robes, heading for a dip in the warm waters. In the evening, you will enjoy a kaiseki, a traditional Japanese meal comprised of nine or more dishes, all made from fresh and local Nagano ingredients.
Day 4: Shibu Onsen
After breakfast, you have a free day to explore the area. We very strongly recommend a visit to Jigokudani Park, home of the famous Snow Monkeys – it’s magic. Jigokudani literally means “hell’s valley” due to the steam and boiling water that bubble out of small crevices in the frozen ground. These hot springs form perfect baths for the resident Japanese Macaques take to soak and stay warm.
In the afternoon, you could head to the nearby charming town of Obuse, a small town with several traditional houses and little shops. The locals often participate in an ‘Open Garden’ event, so if you see a sign outside a house, you can enter at your leisure and enjoy the gardens. It’s a great way to gain insight into Japanese homes. Obuse was home to Hokusai, the famous woodblock artist, and it’s also the base of Masuichi-Ichimura, a local sake brewery, making it a great place to explore. Back in Shibu Onsen, you’ll enjoy another delicious dinner tonight at your ryokan.
Day 5: Shibu Onsen to Tokyo
Today, you’ll head back to Tokyo by train. You can spend the afternoon and evening exploring the city a little further, stopping into local ramen bars, hiring bicycle s or wandering through one of the huge parks. Tonight, you’ll stay in Tokyo before heading to see Mount Fuji tomorrow.
Day 6: Tokyo to Kawaguchiko
After breakfast, you’ll take an early bus to Lake Kawaguchi, one of the five lakes that sit at the foot of Mount Fuji. You’ll spend the day exploring this pretty area, either visiting the Kubota Itchiku Museum, the Kawaguchiko Museum of Art or Saiko Iyashi, a tiny village of thatched cottages with traditional craft studios and local cafés. Afterwards, you can choose to take a boat out on the lake for views over Mount Fuji, which is much more likely to be seen during the clear winter days.
Day 7: Kawaguchiko to Tokyo
Take one last soak in the onsen this morning or head to Chureito Pagoda for the famous view past its deep red temple towards Mount Fuji. After a morning enjoying the area, head back to Tokyo on the bus and check into your hotel for two nights. You’ll spend the afternoon at your leisure, perhaps heading to one of Tokyo’s bizarre cafés for dinner or finding a rooftop bar for views over the twinkling city.
Day 8: Tokyo
Take it from us - you won’t run out of things to do in Tokyo. If you want to discover the food of Japan a little further, we can book you a cooking class or a street food tour – if you want to add this, just ask! Alternatively, you can explore further afield, heading up to Nikko to admire the ancient architecture or over to Kamakura, a small seaside town full of shrines, temples and surfers.
Day 9: Depart Tokyo
You’ll spend the morning at your leisure, before taking a shared minibus back to the airport in time for your onward flight.