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The Speedy Samurai
On Day 1, you'll board your overnight flight to Tokyo ready to explore the intriguing country of Japan. Prepare to be enchanted by this compact country that's packed with character.
You'll be met at the airport and set up with a PASMO card – Japan's popular smart card that allows you to easily pay for travel and more. You'll then enjoy a comfortable shared transfer to the four-star Park Hotel in Minato City – a vibrant sector of Tokyo. The rest of the day can be spent at your leisure, so whether you want to rest after your journey or get straight out exploring, there are plenty of options. Selected as one of the best 55 spas in the world by Conde Nast, the hotel's THANN sanctuary is the perfect place to relax. Or you might choose to jump into the local culture (and nature) with a visit to Rikugi-en – an elegant garden complete with shaded walkways and traditional teahouses which was completed in 1702.
You've got two further days to really get under the skin of this cosmopolitan yet inherently Japanese city. On Day 3 you'll head out after breakfast on a half-day tour with an experienced local guide, who will take you first to view the Imperial Palace – home to Japan's Imperial family. Next, you get to step back in time as you explore the streets of Tokyo's ancient old town, Asakusa. This excursion into the past continues as you visit Senso-Ji, Tokyo's oldest temple and home to various festivals and carnivals throughout the year. You'll stroll down the nearby shopping street of Nakamise where you can peruse local snacks and colorful souvenirs. A trip on the city's subway system will then take you to Meiji Shrine – a famous spot for Japanese weddings, so if you're lucky you might see some local couples all dressed up for their big day!
You have the next day to yourself to explore some more of what this bustling city has to offer. A visit to the Tsukiji fish market is an opportunity to see where your sushi starts out, and an early start may mean you get to watch as huge tuna are filleted by master fishmongers. If you live for a good view, why not visit the Tokyo Skytree? It's the world's tallest tower and stands at a whopping 634 meters tall – visitors can see Tokyo from a whole new angle from the 450-meter-high galleria. No visit to Tokyo would quite be complete without a trip to the Harajuku area of the city – known worldwide for its "Harajuku girls" this is the place to be inspired by some outlandish fashion! In the evening you'll be heading out on a gourmet food tour to experience local cuisine, beginning with a beer and skewered meats at Yakitori restaurant, a place popular with local businessmen. Next, in the area of Tsukishima, you'll dine in one of the fun retro restaurants and sample Monjayki, a traditional fried vegetable dish. With your appetite satisfied, you'll have the option to be dropped by your guide at one of the many lively bars in the area or head back to the hotel to bed – the choice is yours!
On Day 5, you'll get the opportunity to experience a journey on one of Japan's famous bullet trains, which travel an average of 155mph! Leaving Tokyo behind, the Shinkansen bullet train will take you to Japan's old capital, the city of Kyoto. On arrival, you'll make your way to the elegant four-star Granvia Kyoto Hotel, your home for the next three nights. Part of the JR Kyoto Station complex, under the same roof as the hotel you'll find a host of shopping, eating and cultural options including even a musical theatre and museum. In the evening, a local guide will take you on a walking tour of the Gion district – an area well known for Geisha. You'll get an insight into the history of this distinctively Japanese tradition, and you may even spot a modern-day Geisha also taking a walk in the streets.
The next day is yours to explore, and there are many beautiful and historical sights to choose from when deciding your itinerary over breakfast at the hotel. You might choose to visit Kinkaku-Ji Golden Pavilion, an impressive zen temple with two floors covered completely in gold leaf, or the Fushimi Inari Shrine, which was dedicated to the god of rice and sake, and features over 5,000 bright orange-red torii gates that follow a path winding through the hills. Or perhaps, if you want to see a feat of ancient Japanese architecture, you might take a trip to Kiyomizu-Dera Temple – a Buddhist temple with over 1,200 years of history and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
On your last full day in Kyoto, your local guide will travel with you on public transport to Nara, home to Japan's largest buddha found at the Todaiji temple. After visiting the temple you'll be taken to the shrine of Kasuga-Taisha, which dates back to 768 AD and is again part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It's famous for its hundreds of ornate brass lanterns donated by worshippers. Finish the day with a stroll through Nara Park – referred to as Deer Park by locals due to the fact it's home to over a thousand tame deer!
After a restful night at your hotel and a rejuvenating breakfast, you will be taken to Kansai International Airport for your flight home. Take the chance to reflect upon the sights you've seen, the exotic dishes you've eaten, and new experiences you've had, as you leave Japan with a zen-like calm and some unforgettable memories.