Day 1: Tokyo (D)
Arrive in Tokyo and check in to your hotel any time before an orientation at 4pm. During your introductory meeting, inform your private guide if you’d like to participate in any optional activities while in Tokyo, including a visit to a sword museum or a lesson in Ikebana (flower arrangement) or aikido.
Afterward, follow your guide on a two-hour walking tour of Tokyo at night. Soak up the amazing atmosphere of Shinjuku and Shibuya, two of Tokyo’s popular neighborhoods, where you’ll find Japan’s youth culture out and about. Experience the local nightlife, including great bars – strike up a conversation with city residents or try some local snacks and beer (own expense).
Head to the 45th floor of the Shinjuku Skyscraper for an excellent panoramic view of Tokyo at night before stepping foot inside the Karaoke Kan, a local karaoke bar (venue may change, subject to availability). Enjoy your own private room with your fellow traveler(s), singing your heart out and sipping from a set number of drinks (karaoke and drinks at own expense). Stay for one hour – or longer at your request.
Complete your fun-filled night in Tokyo with a delicious Izakaya dinner at a nearby local restaurant, Wara Wara (restaurant may change, subject to availability). Experience Japanese culture while seated on tatami mats at low tables, and dine family-style as you enjoy an abundance of Japanese foods.
The following dishes from a sample menu are meant to be shared:
- Yakitori – grilled chicken skewers
- Kushiyaki – grilled meat or vegetable skewers
- Sashimi – slices of raw fish
- Karaage – bite-sized fried chicken
- Edamame – boiled and salted soybean pods
- Hiyayakko – chilled silken tofu with toppings
- Agedashi tofu – deep-fried tofu in broth
- Tsukemono – pickles
Enjoy rice dishes, such as ochazuke, and noodle dishes like yakisoba, sometimes eaten at the end of the meal to round off a drinking session. (Note: Generally, the Japanese do not eat rice or noodles, considered shushoku – staple food – at the same time as they drink alcohol. Sake, a drink brewed from rice, traditionally takes the place of rice in a meal.)
Overnight: Sakura Ryokan in Tokyo
Day 2: Tokyo – Nagano (B, L, D)
In the morning, follow your private guide on a walk to the Tsukiji Market, the world’s largest wholesale fish and seafood market, for a delicious sushi breakfast. Be seated at a counter facing the chefs to watch how they prepare your food. Enjoy sublime local sushi like maguro (yellowfin tuna), ikura (salmon roe), ika (squid) and more!
After your filling breakfast, embark on a guided private tour of the market. Wander through the labyrinth of some 1,700 stalls, watching buyers peruse rows of seafood as you learn about Japan’s fascinating market culture from your guide.
Afterward, head to Tokyo Station and board the bullet train for an approximate 1.5-hour ride to Nagano with your guide, who will offer an informal calligraphy lesson. (Your lesson may be given over breakfast, before the train ride or aboard the train, depending on time constraints.) Learn the proper tools and techniques of Japanese calligraphy – long practiced by aristocrats, Samurai and Buddhist monks – and try your hand at a masterpiece that you can take home with you.
When you arrive in Nagano, your guide will accompany you on a public bus to Yamanouchi to visit the Jigokudani Monkey Park on foot, famous for the large population of Japanese macaques, or snow monkeys. Along the way, pick up a Japanese bento box from a local restaurant for a later lunch. Enjoy a privately guided tour of the park for two to three hours, watching snow monkeys descend from the steep cliffs and forest to sit in the warm waters of the onsen – a great photo opportunity!
Next, you’ll be transferred by private vehicle to your accommodation at a local ryokan, where you can enjoy a warm dip in the lovely onsen baths. (Please note: Japanese onsen baths are typically taken without swimsuits). After a relaxing dip, head to the dining quarters and enjoy a tasty dinner of local Japanese delicacies.
Please let your guide know if you’re interested in any optional activities while in Nagano, such as a sunrise walk at dawn or a lesson in Japanese archery or traditional woodblock printing.
Overnight: Wakakiya Ryokan (or similar) in Nagano
Day 3: Nagano – Tokyo (B, L)
Enjoy an early-morning dip in your ryokan’s natural springs, relaxing at your leisure before consuming a Japanese-style breakfast. Delight in several delicious dishes, including the following:
- Plain steamed rice or easy-to-digest okayu (rice porridge)
- Miso soup with chopped green onion, wakame (seaweed) and aburaage (deep-fried tofu)
- Tamagoyaki (rolled omelet) with grated daikon radish served on the side
- Broiled salted salmon or dried mackerel
- Natto (fermented soy beans) seasoned with soy sauce and various toppings
- Seasoned nori (dried seaweed) dipped in soy sauce and rolled with rice
- Tsukemono (pickles) and umeboshi (pickled ume plums)
- Salad and more!
After breakfast, you’ll be transferred to the train station for an approximate 45-minute train ride back to Nagano. Here, visit the Zenkoji Temple, a Buddhist temple established in the late 1800s. Explore the compound with your guide for about 1.5 hours and admire the many historically significant buildings.
See Niomon Gate with its two impressive Nio guardians, the Rokujizo that features the statues of six Bodhisattvas and the Zenko-ji Hondo, the temple’s main hall. Enter the Zenkoji History Museum with your guide to see a large collection of intricately carved statues of different Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.
Enjoy a bento box picnic lunch before transport to the train station to ride the bullet train back to Tokyo’s Ueno Station, where your tour of Japan concludes.