Day 1 Tokyo
Konnichiwa! Welcome to Tokyo, Japan's dynamic capital. Make your way to your first night's accommodation and check in. Your adventure begins with an important welcome meeting at 5pm in the hotel lobby, where you'll meet your leader and be introduced to the other families. Afterwards, consider joining the group for an optional dinner at a local restaurant.
Day 2 Tokyo
Kick things off with a visit to Sensoji in Asakusa, Tokyo's oldest Buddhist temple (some 1300 years old!) set on the banks of the Sumida River. Nearby you will discover a great shopping street, where you can find a quirky Japanese souvenir or sample some traditional snacks. Later, you and your family will be treated to a traditional calligraphy lesson. Learn to write your name in Japanese (and maybe learn to say a few words!) with the help of a local teacher. There might also be the chance to visit a manga (Japanese comic and cartoon) market, located in Akihabara. You'll have some free time this afternoon so you might like to head across town to Shinjuku, central Tokyo's most vibrant district. Here you'll find the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building which offers panoramic city views from its 202m high observation deck, as well as the giant Godzilla statue. Afterwards you could try a classic Tokyo meal of sushi or yakitori (grilled skewered chicken) and, for that quintessential Japan experience, perhaps even some karaoke!
Day 3 Tokyo
This morning your tour leader will take you for a walk around the famous Tsukiji Outer Market, where fresh seafood from Tokyo's largest wholesale fish market (recently moved from Tsukiji to a new site at Toyosu) is delivered daily. Wander the narrow aisles of this atmospheric marketplace to find all sorts of delicious and uniquely Japanese food – from fish and shellfish to barrels of green tea, dried seaweed and all manner of pickles and other tasty morsels. Afterwards, pop into one of the many sushi restaurants nearby for the freshest lunch you could hope for! Then head to expansive Yoyogi Park, and wander down Takeshita Dori and Omotesando to people watch your way through Harajuku, a neighbourhood simultaneously known for its eccentric tribes and teen pop culture. Sample one of Harajuku’s famous crepes or try some of its 3D latte art, said to be the best in Tokyo! Tonight head out for a fun meal of okonomiyaki (a non-sweet pancake with cabbage, seafood or meat) cooked on a sizzling hot plate while aboard a boat on Tokyo Bay, surrounded by the sparkling lights of the city.
Day 4 Hakone
Bid farewell to Tokyo and catch your first shinkansen bullet-train, which travels at speeds up to 285 km/hour, to Hakone. You will see that it's astonishingly easy to travel by train in Japan. Trains operate with amazing precision, and the sight of a white-gloved guard bowing to a carriage full of travellers is something the kids are sure to remember! Part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, Hakone is a place of staggering natural beauty. It's also a veritable playground with a long list of holiday activities on offer – soaking in hot spring onsens, going on bush walks, chilling out by peaceful lakes, taking in beautiful views of Mt Fuji (if you’re blessed with good weather!), or even exploring an open-air modern art museum. Tonight you’ll experience Japanese ryokan (traditional inn) hospitality – sleeping on futon in a tatami mat room, wearing yukata (a light kimono-style robe) and enjoying Japan’s amazing onsen culture.
Day 5 Hakone
Renowned as an excellent resort area since the Meiji period, Hakone and its natural onsens make a great place to relax and unwind with the family. Today we take a ropeway and cable car up to the top of Owakudani (Geothermal Valley) and hopefully catch views of Mt Fuji, up close and personal. We then head on to Lake Ashinoko, a natural caldera formed after a major volcanic explosion some 3000 years ago, and take a cruise onboard a unique pirate boat. Back on land, we pay a visit to the Karakuri Secret Box Museum – try to open these beautifully hand-crafted boxes which originated in Hakone or purchase a unique Japanese gift to take home. We might stroll along Hakone’s ancient cedar avenue which in samurai times was part of the old Tokyo-Kyoto highway. In your free time in the afternoon, you might like to hike through the rare grasslands area of Sengokura or thoroughly pamper yourself at Hakone’s large hot spring theme park which has an amazing variety of baths ranging from the traditional to cave baths and water slides!
Day 6 Hiroshima
Back on the bullet-train, we make the journey down the east coast of the Japanese archipelago to the city of Hiroshima. A visit to Hiroshima is sobering, but the tragedy that happened here is an important part of history to confront. In the afternoon, we visit the Genbaku (A-Bomb) Dome and the Peace Memorial Park and Museum, both of which stand as an emotional testament to the fateful day in August 1945 when Hiroshima became the first target for nuclear attack. The dome was just metres from where the bomb detonated and managed to retain its shape, eerily standing exactly how it was prior to the attack. These days it stands as both a symbolic reminder and a monument to peace. In the evening you might like to seek out the savoury pancake okonomiyaki – also a signature Hiroshima dish with its own particular twist. There are lots of casual places to try it in this very friendly and welcoming Japanese city.
Day 7 Hiroshima
This morning we head for the beautiful island of Miyajima, just a short ferry ride across the Inland Sea. The island is home to the venerable Shinto shrine of Itsukushima, famous for its huge bright orange gate (torii) which is absolutely stunning when the tide is high. Maybe take a stroll through the lovely Momiji Park (known as Maple Valley), or consider a walk or the cable car up to the top of Mt Misen (keeping an eye out for the hungry deer that roam the island) for panoramic views of the expansive Inland Sea and its many islands. If there’s time on your return to Hiroshima in the afternoon, you might like to visit five-storied Hiroshima Castle, which originally dates from the 1590s, though it was destroyed by the bomb and reconstructed in all its glory after the war. Or, in the season, you might like to watch an evening baseball match – one of Japan’s most popular sports and a fun experience shared with enthusiastic Japanese baseball fans and local families.
Day 8 Kyoto
We jump onboard the bullet train to Kyoto, arguably the most stunning city in Japan. On the way there, make a stop at Himeji Castle, Japan's most impressive samurai castle. The building, which has survived earthquakes and war since the mid-16th century, was restored to its full glory in 2015 and is now UNESCO listed. The moats, towers and walled alleyways were ingeniously designed to trick attackers. We explore the castle that was once home to over 10,000 samurai families and look out over the city far below. We reach Kyoto after another hour’s journey on the bullet-train. The charms of Kyoto, the former imperial capital, are subtle and profound. While you're here, you'll see some of the finest temples, shrines, palaces and gardens in the country, with a nice mix of included activities and free time. In the afternoon visit Nishiki-Koji Market in the heart of Kyoto’s downtown area to see what goes into Kyoto’s famed “Kyo-ryori” (or Kyoto cuisine). Then spend early evening wandering the Gion district with your leader, seeing if you can spot geiko (geisha) or maiko (apprentice geisha) dressed in elaborate kimonos and make-up on their way to events and functions.
Day 9 Kyoto
Kyoto was originally founded as Heian-kyo in 794 and enjoyed a golden age during the imperial court’s heyday up until 1185. The city’s current name literally means ‘Capital City’, even though the Emperor and the government now reside in Tokyo. Today we’ll head to Kyoto’s famed Fushimi Inari Shrine – known throughout the world as the ‘Path of the Red Gates.’ If we are feeling fit we’ll walk further than most visitors, allowing us to experience both the well-known part of the shrine, as well as taking time to appreciate the quieter corners and stunning city views from the shrine’s ‘half-way point.’ After that, your leader will take you to another one of Kyoto’s UNESCO-listed temples or shrines (there’s 17 at this point of time!) which will give you an insight into Kyoto’s history as the seat of imperial power for over 1,000 years and its equally long Buddhist heritage. In the afternoon you have time to do your own exploring – you might like to catch a maiko cultural performance, participate in a tea ceremony demonstration or do an obanzai (Kyoto-style) cooking class.
Day 10 Kyoto
Explore more of this delightful city. This morning you'll enjoy a boat cruise down the scenic Hozu River in the Arashiyama area in the hills west of Kyoto. Look along the banks for Japanese maples in autumn or plum or cherry blossoms at springtime. At the end of the ride you will visit Tenryu-ji Temple which is right near an incredible bamboo grove. This bamboo forest is one of the most photographed sights in the city, and you'll see why. It's like stepping into another dimension. In your free time, you might like to consider taking the family on a fun rickshaw ride (two-wheeled wagons pulled by fit young men in traditional garb) around the Arashiyama area. Or you may like to pay a visit to the nearby Toei Kyoto Studio Park – a theme park used for the shooting of period dramas (jidaigeki films) set in the Edo period. You can soak up the atmosphere of feudal Japan and perhaps enjoy a ninja show or visit one of the studios used for filming. Back in central Kyoto, you could also experience a performance of traditional swordplay.
Day 11 Kyoto
Today is yours to enjoy Kyoto however you please. There are plenty of optional activities to choose from. Perhaps head out with the family and explore on a bike. This is definitely one of the best ways to navigate the city, and one of the most popular routes is following the delightful Kamo River from the northern outskirts of Kyoto down through the city’s heart, stopping for a bento box lunch along the way. Kyoto is regularly voted one of the best bicycle cities in Asia, and for good reason. The city is largely flat and the roads are well maintained. Or if cycling is not your thing, you could check out Kyoto’s Manga Museum or visit the Kyoto Railway Museum, which even houses one of Japan’s first bullet trains, or try your hand at making your own bowl of ramen. Alternatively, consider a complete kimono makeover and transform yourself into a maiko, samurai lord or ninja for the day!
Day 12 Kyoto
Your family adventure comes to an end today. There are no further activities planned and check out is around 10am.