CHERRY BLOSSOMS 2016
JAPAN BY RAIL
Experience the beauty of Japanese nature and culture
Join one of our most popular tours to Japan.
Visit the 3 main islands from Hokkaido in the north to Kyushu in the south.
Travel first class on the high speed 'Shinkansen' trains – making your journey very comfortable. Enjoy special scenic rail journeys – the steam hauled SL Hitoyoshi along the Kuma River, the open-air carriages around the volcanic Mt Aso, the premium luxury express along the Honshu coast. Experience coastal ferry journeys, river boat rides and more.
Our tour is fully escorted by our Japanese speaking tour leader Takako Ishige, and Owen Johnstone-Donnet who has planned this tour.
We are proud and passionate about our tours - we make it possible to experience the real Japan, visiting not only iconic cities and sights, but also ‘off the beaten track’ small villages, meeting local people.
Experience a range of accommodation styles - city hotels, business hotels and luxury Japanese traditional ryokans with private onsen (hot springs). Taste local cuisine at ‘Izakaya’ restaurants and fine traditional (Kaiseki) dinners featuring local produce.
You also have the flexibility to visit other special places (which we will arrange) depending upon your interest, in art, culture, nature etc., and to explore new places if you have visited Japan before.
Date : Sunday 27 March – Wednesday 20 April 2016
(Sun 27 Mar)
* Booking commence now.
* The tour is limited to 24 guests.
* Fully booked- See you next time
Discover our last Japan tour
Daylight flight to Tokyo
Daylight flight with JAL to Tokyo’s Narita Airport. You can also depart on an overnight flight with Qantas to Haneda Airport (Tokyo). We’ll advise on the best flight for you.
A relaxing evening in Tokyo to begin sightseeing tomorrow. Overnight Tokyo.
Day 2 - 3
(28 - 29 Mar)
We’ll visit the best places to view cherry blossoms, we’ll select the best for our day of sightseeing
– our day may include visits to the Imperial Palace East Gardens, and Chidorigafuchi, which features more than one thousand cherry trees planted along the edge of the moat of the palace. The pedestrian path will be covered with the blossoms, and a gorgeous tunnel of flowers creates an especially magical atmosphere.
We head to Asakusa, where we enjoy the atmosphere of the Tokyo of past decades and we enjoy a beautiful spring day from a boat cruise on Sumida River to a man made island in Tokyo Bay - ‘Odaiba’. We have organised a picnic on the boat – ‘Onigiri’ ( a rice ball which is like a sandwich for us). Around the sunset time we head back to the mainland of Tokyo by ‘Yurikamome’ - first fully automated transit system, controlled entirely by computers with no drivers.
The first dinner will be a group dinner at a restaurant which uses fresh ingredients from Akita Prefecture – vegetables, fish and meat with local drinks.
On the next day, we will stroll around Omotesando and Aoyama area and enjoy the stylish environment. Enjoy lunch at a posh café and popular shop for young people in Harajuku. Then we visit the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku. You will enjoy the panoramic views of Tokyo and beyond. Around sunset we will visit Tokyo's most beautiful Japanese landscape garden - ‘Rikugien’. There is a huge cherry trees lit up in the evenings and many locals will visit for this annual spring celebration. Two nights in Tokyo.
Day 4 - 6
(30 Mar - 1 Apr)
Tsukiji Fish Market (O) and to Kyoto, and sightseeing in Kyoto and Uji
For the early risers there is the option to visit the famous Tsukiji Market - best known as one of the world's largest fish markets, handling over 2,000 tons of marine products per day. For those who choose to rise at a more civilised hour we commence our rail experiences with the 500km journey from Tokyo to Kyoto in just over two and half hours aboard the excellent Japanese ‘Shinkansen’ service. Running at speeds of up to 320 km/h, the Shinkansen is known for punctuality (most trains depart on time to the second), comfort, safety and efficiency.
Around lunch time we will arrive in Kyoto, the world famous ancient capital city of Japan since the 8th century.
For the first time visitor to Kyoto, we will take you to Kinkakuji Temple (Golden Pavilion), which is a symbol of Kyoto and one of the historic buildings most representative of Japan. For those who have visited the Golden Pavilion, you may enjoy to visit nearby Ninnaji Temple or Ryoanji Temple. Ninnaji Temple - also known as Omuro Imperial Palace as a member of the Imperial Family used to serve as Ninnaji's head priest - has 200 cherry blossom trees in the precincts of the temple. Ryoanji Temple is known as Japan's most famous ‘rock garden’ consisting of a rectangular plot of pebbles surrounded by low earthen walls, with 15 rocks laid out in small groups on patches of moss. The contrast between the grey stones and the pink blossoms is striking.
On the second day we visit to the Arashiyama district on the western outskirts of Kyoto. Enjoy the relaxing walk in the bamboo forest and the picturesque bridge that crosses the Hozugawa River. Then we head to the world famous national treasure of Kiyomizudera Temple - literally "Pure Water Temple", which is one of the most celebrated temples of Japan because of its wooden stage supported by 139 giant pillars without the use of nails, and positioned 13 metres above the hillside below. Enjoy the spectacular view of the numerous cherry trees below that erupt in a sea of colour in spring, as well as of the city of Kyoto in the distance. In the evening we head for Gion district and Ponto-cho which is the most famous geisha district. If you are lucky you may spot Geiko and Maiko on the way to work. Enjoy the evening stroll along the Kamo River and you can dine at one of the restaurants which has an open air terrace over the river.
On the last day in Kyoto, travel south to Uji, situated between Kyoto and Nara – the two ancient capitals in Japan.
We visit Byodoin Temple Phoenix Hall – the design on the Japanese 10 yen coin. The reflection of the spectacular symmetry construction on the water is striking and attracts many visitors.
For morning tea we enjoy green tea produced in Uji, as it is also famous for its fine quality green tea since the 1100s. Then we return to Kyoto and visit Nishijin Kimono Textile Centre, where you can see a beautiful Kimono show or learn about the Nishijin-ori belt, which are high-quality brocades, manufactured in Kyoto. For a souvenir from Japan, join us to visit the craft centre where you can purchase both books about Japan, as well as traditional art work at reasonable prices and of a high quality. Three nights in Kyoto.
(2 - 3 Apr)
Day 7 - 8
Fisherman’s village Kii Nagashima and Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Road
After bustling cities, we head off the beaten track. The small fisherman’s village of Kii Nagashima in Mie prefecture, where you can see and experience Japan more deeply. The local community will show us their daily life and extend hospitality. We visit an old residential house for refreshments, and then experience strawberry picking - a popular activity for Japanese in spring time – we believe they will be the sweetest strawberries you’ve ever eaten. In the afternoon we explore the fisherman’s district guided by locals. We will see the fishermen’s house, a shrine which is respected as a guardian god by fishermen, and their community hall. Enjoy afternoon tea listening to their story being passed from generation to generation with its handmade shadowgraph display.
Dinner tonight is a seafood BBQ with locals, admiring the sunset in front of the fish market. We will enjoy their hospitality and build friendships with them.
Next day we visit the impressive Kumono Kodo Centre which is made from more than 6,500 Owase Hinoki (Japanese cypress) and houses a permanent exhibition on the nature, history and culture of the area. We then visit the shop/factory of Owase Wappa, the Japanese traditional Bento box made from high quality Japanese cypress growing in this area. The shaved and boiled cypress are carefully bent and tied with bark from cherry blossoms and then finished with lacquer. We visit one of the sacred pilgrimage routes through Kumono Kodo forest.
For lunch today enjoy a simple Japanese bento luncheon prepared by our new friends. Experience a thrilling drum and musical performance by the local community with young and old alike performing just for us.
Enjoy a traditional Japanese bath overlooking the sea and the fine meal using the freshest local ingredients.
Two nights in a lovely ryokan on the water’s edge.
to Toba, Mikimoto Pearl Island and to Okayama
After breakfast (an experience in itself - you can pick and cook fresh mountain mushrooms), we head to Okayama by luxury Limited Express Shimakaze via Toba - home of Mikimoto Pearls. We visit Mikimoto Pearl Island - an excellent museum about these famous Japanese pearls. Watch a demonstration by female pearl divers, known as Ama (literally "sea women"), who have traditionally planted and harvested oysters. And then the Shinkansen to Okayama.
Four nights in Okayama.
Peace Park in Hiroshima, Miyajima, Mazda Museum
Today we explore Hiroshima. For those who’ve not visited Hiroshima before, the Peace Park and atomic bomb site will be our initial destination - there are about 300 cherry trees planted around the park especially along the river – they stand as a testament to world peace. In contrast, we then head to Miyajima Island to see this stand out attraction – with its famed red Tori Gate floating on the inland sea.
For those who’ve visited Hiroshima or Miyajima before, the morning offers a visit to the Mazda Museum in Hiroshima - the museum offers an overview of Mazda's history, a look into the technology of its automobiles and the prospects for its future developments. The tour passes through an actual vehicle assembly line, where you can see a variety of different car models being produced.
Iwakuni, Kintaikyo Bridge, Bizen-yaki ware or crossing the Inland Sea
Visit Kintaikyo Bridge, Iwakuni's most distinguished landmark. Completely made of wood and without the use of any nails, the bridge makes five bold arches onto massive stone pillars as it crosses over the Nishiki River. Whilst beautiful throughout the year, the bridge is particularly attractive during the cherry blossom season in early April. We’ll join a Sakurabune (Japanese-style cruise boat) for a short cruise on the Nishiki River to admire the cherry blossoms and bridge.
In the afternoon, visit the home of Bizen-yaki - the old-fashioned art of hand-kneaded ceramic making - which uses neither glazing nor painting. Bizen-yaki is the oldest of the six types of ancient Japanese pottery styles, dating back more than 1,000 years. As Bizen-yaki uses fire (not electricity) the flames in the kiln change the patterns on this simple pottery, and no two pieces are alike. It has been known that Bizen-yaki is so strong that it will not break even though you drop it. It also functions to purify water so flowers in Bizen-yaki last longer, and water tastes more pure.
Alternatively join a group to cross the grand Seto-Ohashi Bridge over the inland sea at sunset. The Grand Seto-ohashi Bridge is a collective term for the six bridges that connect Kojima on Honshu and Sakaide on Shikoku, spanning five islands in the Seto Inland Sea. They are the essence of all available bridge-building technologies, and are beautiful.
Himeji Castle, Kurashiki Historical Quarter, Korakuen
Visit Himeji Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Japanese National Treasure, open after five years of restoration. And then we will wander Kurashiki’s Bikan Historical Quarter that retains the warehouses and residences of wealthy merchants. This area is also endowed with cultural gems such as the Ohara Museum of Art (O). Beautiful rows of houses and streets form a townscape with traditional atmosphere.
Or explore Korakuen Garden – one of the ‘three best in Japan.’ Located just beside Okayama Castle which can be seen from the garden as "borrowed scenery".
to Kagoshima, Satsuma Kiriko, Senganen Garden
Journey south to Kagoshima by Kyushu shinkansen. Then visit Satsuma Kiriko museum and factory, Shoko-Shuseikan Museum exhibiting the culture and maritime activities of the Shimazu clan when Japan began exposure to western society. and the beautiful Senganen Garden with views over Sakurajima Bay. Board a ferry to Sakurajima island for sunset views over the bay and city. Three nights in Kagoshima.
Aso Crater, Takamori by Minami-Aso Railway, Kumamolto Castle Illumination
Today visit the scenic countryside around Aso crater, with an enjoyable ride on two special trains that climb into and through the crater itself. One, privately operated, and we plan to ride on their special open sided tourist train on this small private railway journey along a scenic stretch of track to the centre of Kyushu at Tateno.
Lunch in the small town of Takamori, and then we return to Kumamoto. If the cherry blossoms are good, you may like to enjoy the illuminations at Kumamoto Castle, specially arranged for cherry blossom viewing.
Kirishima Mountain National Park by tourist and steam trains
A day exploring the mountains, rivers and hopefully cherry blossoms around Kagoshima and Hitoyoshi – enjoying Kirishima’s rich greenery. This morning we join the Hayato no Kaze Limited Express and travel along the edge of Kagoshima Bay before climbing into the mountains to Hayato and Yoshimatsu. Here we change to the Shinpei Limited Express and enjoy spectacular views of the Kirishima mountain range as we experience the magnificent ascent through the steep pass, around a spiral loop and over switchbacks. A key attraction of these journeys is not only the spectacular scenery, but the interesting stops en route where you can alight briefly from the train to meet locals on the stations with local produce to taste and for sale. To inspect the old rail stations and steam locomotives on the route. In Hitoyoshi you can have lunch in an historic restaurant that has served fresh eel for over 100 years. We then join the restored steam train ‘SL Hitoyoshi' for a journey along the scenic Hisatsu Line to Kumamoto. At Kumamoto we board the Kyushu Shinkansen and return to Kagoshima.
(11 -12 Apr)
Day 16 - 17
Ibusuki, Chiran & ryokan sand bath
After breakfast we join the Limited Express Ibusuki no Tamatebako - the train’s name comes from the legend of an undersea kingdom called Ryugu which has been handed down to Ibusuki. We enjoy a one-hour coastal journey with grand views of Sakurajima Island and Kinko Bay. Ibusuki is famous as an onsen town that is known for its hot sand baths, where bathers are buried in naturally heated sand. A simple but excellent Italian luncheon is enjoyed in the Satsuma Denshokan - a spectacularly designed museum that introduces the history of Satsuma (modern day Kagoshima) around the beginning of the Meiji Period (1868-1912) with a focus on local ceramics.
Next day visit the town of Chiran. Noted for its traditional samurai houses and gardens, with a preserved quarter we will explore. Then to the kamikaze pilots memorial museum to understand this aspect of Japanese history. Then to the Flower Park Kagoshima – located near the southern tip of the Satsuma Peninsula, about a kilometre north of Cape Nagasakibana. It is a large, attractive park with about half a million plants of more than 2 to 400 different varieties. We enjoy luncheon here and explore, before returning mid afternoon to the ryokan to relax and enjoy the traditional Japanese accommodation.
Our accommodation in Ibusuki is at an excellent local ryokan, with traditional rooms and fine food. Ibusuki is surrounded by sunshine, sea and land, and is a treasure trove of rich sea and mountain food. Our meal is a seasonal taste of the surrounding local foods – after a refreshing sand bath (O)Two nights in Ibusuki.
( 13- 14 Apr)
Day 18 - 19
to Nagoya and overnight ferry to Hokkaido
We check out of the hotel and we leave the island of Kyushu for Nagoya. In Nagoya we visit the Noritake Garden, built on the former factory grounds. The Craft Centre allows you to observe the delicate creation process of porcelain, and the museum exhibits exceptional, old Noritake pieces.
Opened in 2011, the SCMAGLEV and Railway Park is the railway museum of Central Japan Railways. The museum seeks to educate visitors on the advances in high speed rail in Japan and displays a number of actual trains including historic steam locomotives, world record setting experimental shinkansen and the latest magnetic levitating trains (maglev). For those interested in commerce and technology, the Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology is an excellent museum to inspect both the historic and the current engineering excellence of Japanese industry.
In the mid afternoon we join a shinkansen for the journey to Sendai, where we join the Taiheiyo Ferry for the overnight sea journey from Sendai to Tomakomai in Hokkaido. Enjoy dinner aboard, and overnight in a private cabin, with ensuite. Don’t miss the opportunity to enjoy the Grand Bath - soothe yourself at the end of the day with a soak in the Grand Bath where you can enjoy watching the ocean while taking a bath. If you are an early riser, you may also watch the sunrise from the bath. One night in Nagoya and then overnight aboard on ferry.
(15 - 16 Apr)
Day 20 - 21
Noboribetsu Onsen and Ainu Culture
After we arrive at Tomakomai port, we transfer by train to Noboribetsu Onsen - Hokkaido's famous hot spring resort. We explore the town and spectacular "Hell Valley", which displays hot steam vents, sulphurous streams and other volcanic activity. It is a main source of Noboribetsu's hot spring waters. From here, we’ll take one of the attractive walking trails through the wooded hills for about 20 to 30 minutes to Oyunuma, a sulphurous pond. Flowing out of Oyunuma is the Oyunumagawa river. Still hot, the river flows through the forest, making for an out-of-this-world sight. We’ll follow the river for several hundred metres and there’s the opportunity to enjoy a natural foot bath along the way.
Next day we’ll head to the Porotokotan (meaning large lakeside village) to learn different aspects of Ainu - the indigenous people of northern Japan - culture and lifestyle. We’ll experience traditional Ainu folk dances, songs and mouth harp demonstrations. One of these folk dances, which is performed to send off the spirits of dead bears, was designated a UNESCO intangible cultural property in 2009 ! We return to Noboribetsu and this afternoon have a quiet time to enjoy the town or relax at our hotel. Two nights in Noboribetsu.
(17 -18 Apr)
Day 22 - 23
to Owani Onsen through the Seikan tunnel and Hirosaki and Tsugaru Jyamisen performance
A mid morning departure south to Hakodate, where we change trains for the undersea crossing to Honshu, through the 53.85km Seikan Tunnel. We transfer to our beautiful resort for the next two nights – the Hoshino property of KAI Tsugaru - a traditional Japanese ryokan, boasts soothing hot springs and Japanese-style interiors. Enter an authentic world of ryokan and experience the spirit of this country’s omotenashi or traditional hospitality. KAI Tsugaru overlooks Mt. Iwaki, known as the Mt. Fuji of Tsugaru, and is surrounded by bountiful nature, including fuji apple orchards.
Next day we travel the short distance to visit the nearby castle town of Hirosaki. We visit "Neputa Village" introduces Hirosaki's famous festival 'Neputa festival' and the city's other cultural specialties. The Neputa Festival takes place annually and features floats with large painted screens that depict beautiful women, mythological warriors and other themes, and are illuminated from within when paraded through the streets. Several such floats and screens are on display in the Neputa Village.
You can also experience the drumming that accompanies the procession, and see traditional handicrafts being made. We walk through the historic quarter, through the castle park and grounds, and then return to our ryokan.
After dinner experience a Tsugaru Jyamisen Guitar performance at the ryokan - the shamisen is a lute-like musical instrument unique to Japan. Enjoy a relaxing onsen experience, another excellent dinner is included.
Two nights in Owani Onsen.
(19 -20 Mar)
Day 24- 25
to Tokyo and arrive Australia
By Shinkansen to Tokyo and the next morning arrival back in Australia. The conclusion of our wonderful winter festivals tour of Japan by Rail.
$11,880 (person (twin share), plus airfares from Australia)
$ 2,265 single supplement for hotels
Tour fare includes:
24 day escorted tour
23 nights accommodation in 4 star standard hotels
and 5 star ryokan
Breakfast included every morning
11 dinners and 6 lunches
First class rail travel
Limited to 24 guests
Fully booked- See you next time
For booking, any further details or information,
use the "BOOKING AND ENQUIRY" buttoms above or call us on