1st day: Departure from London
You take on a flight from London or other European cities via Frankfurt via Tokyo to Sapporo.
2nd day: Welcome to Japan
After the arrival in Sapporo, the biggest city on Japan’s most northern main island Hokkaido, you get transferred from the airport to the hotel (Time difference CET +8h).
3rd day: Hokkaido’s main town Sapporo
The day starts early with a cozy walk across the well-known fish market Nijo in the centre of Sapporo. Here you have the choice within a diverse panoply of seafood products that qualify for fresh Japanese sushi. So how about a sea breakfast in a small sushi restaurant in between the shops?
After this delicious start you visit Sapporo’s emblem, the 1878 built Clock Tower. Next stop is Odori park which divides the city into a northern and a southern part. This 105m wide and 1.5km long boulevard is decorated with numerous flowers. It brings you closer to nature right in the centre of a busy city.
To get a good overview of the city you climb on the 90m high observation deck of the 1957 built Sapporo’s TV tower. Enjoy the 360 degree view where you will get new impressions of the city.
Next stop is the Hokkaido Jingu Shrine which is located in the middle of the forested area of Maruyama. It was inaugurated in 1869, even two years before the end of its construction in 1871 by the emperor Meiji. There are four shrine deities that are supposed to protect the island Hokkaido and its inhabitants. It is the biggest and most important shrine not only of Sapporo but of whole Hokkaido.
Japan’s first beer
After catching a breeze of this town’s atmosphere, you will visit Japan’s first brewery, the Sapporo beer museum, where you get introduced into the history of beer and the brewing process. Of course you can also taste some of it if you wish to.
Today’s last destination is Mt. Moiwa, a 531m high mountain that allows a beautiful panoramic view onto the city especially in the evening. You can already take a look during the cable car ride to the top. We guarantee that you won’t be disappointed.
4th day: Rock paintings from the late Jomon period
In the morning you will drive to the small town of Yoichi where the exceptional Fugoppe cave is located. The uniqueness of it consists of the fact that it is one out of two caves in Japan where more than 1500 year old picture writings were found. The cave that was found in 1950 by accident is threatened by erosion that is why ample measures were taken to protect it. The Fugoppe cave is part of the Japanese cultural heritage.
Otaru - walk alongside the canal
After exploring the cave thoroughly you leave Yoichi for the harbour town Otaru in the direction of Sapporo.
Until the 1950s Otaru was the town with the most inhabitants in Hokkaido and the most important trading and fishing harbour of the region but eventually Sapporo took its place. At that time fishing was the most important industry, but it was replaced by glass industry in the 1950s.
On a walk along the canal you will pass different artists presenting their works as well as former warehousing nowadays occupied by different shops, restaurants and museums nowadays. In this area is also located the Otaru Municipal Museum where the local history, culture and fauna is shown and explained.
Just outside of Otaru is the "Herring Mansion" which is definitely worth a visit. It is an estate that was built by rich fishermen and served them as residence and for the processing of the herrings.
Entertainment quarter Susukino
In the evening you will drive back to Sapporo where an excursion to the local entertainment district Susukino awaits you. It is the biggest entertainment quarter in the north of Tokyo. On site you will find about 5000 restaurants and pubs but also countless shops, Karaoke bars and Pachinko arcades.
For Japanese noodles enthusiasts this place is very interesting because the Ramen noodles allegedly originate from here. Ramen Yokocho is an alley where there are only Ramen restaurants that serve you this traditional Japanese noodle dish or the noodle soup.
5th day: The magnificent Shikotsu-Toya National park
Today’s all-day excursion leads you to Shikotsu-Toya national park. The park that was named after the two lakes in it, has a surface of 100,000 hectares (approx. 250,000 acres).
The park that was opened in 1949 has a beautiful countryside to offer. The crater lake Shikotsu-ko is the second deepest lake in Japan. It was made by the eruption of the volcano and the filling of the crater with rainwater and groundwater.
In Shikotsu Kohan, a small town by the lake, sightseeing boats that ride on the clear water of the Shikotsu-ko, debark on a regular schedule.
After you have explored the national park and the crater lake we want to take you on a hike. The hiking route begins right here and leads us up to Mt. Tarumae, the 1041 m high active volcano. It is one of the mountains surrounding Shikotsu-ko. During the hike you can get closer to nature and enjoy a far-reaching and impressive view onto the environment.
In the afternoon you will drive to Tomakomai for an overnight stay.
6th day: Ainu culture
In the morning you set off to the neighbouring town Shiraoi. You visit the Ainu museum Poroto Kotan and get an insight into the Ainu culture.
„Ainu“ means „human being“ in the Ainu language. This population group settled once not only in Hokkaido but also in Sakhalin, the Kuril Islands and in northern Honshu, the Japanese main island where the Ainu got ousted from. Since 2008 the Ainu, or Utari (companion), like they call themselves also, are officially recognized as an ethnic minority and aboriginal people, but the handling of that matter is still difficult in contemporary Japan.
Just outside the museum you will find a reconstruction of an Ainu village. Plus there are interesting presentations of traditional Ainu dances. Another interesting point is that the museum staffs let you participate in the traditional Ainu ceremonies to show you the impalpable aspects of their culture.
Relaxation Japanese style
Subsequently we will drive with you to the spa in Noboribetsu where a relaxing bath awaits you. You have the choice between many different types of bath depending on your liking: indoor or outdoor bath, sauna, whirlpool, with or without a waterfall or the traditional one. Furthermore you have the choice between 11 different types of water. Pick one at will and relax Japanese style.
But take into account the proper Onsen etiquette! Clothes including bathing suits are usually undesired inside the Onsen. On top of that you have to wash thoroughly before stepping into the hot water. The washing is supposed to be done in sitting position on a small bench in the washing room. Most Onsen baths provide gender-separated basins. Many Onsen have a relaxation room open for men and women where you can enjoy a nice conversation and a cup of tea after the bath in the Yukata
7th day: Hakodate harbour & Mt. Hakodate
In the morning you take the train to Hakodate, one of Hokkaido’s traffic hubs. Just a couple of steps away from the station where you get off the train from Tomakomai is the marketplace. Here you can stock up with fish and other fresh food like fruit for example. A healthy start in the day!
Then we walk towards the harbour which goes by the name of Motomachi district. This port is one of the first Japanese that was open to international trade with the so-called „western states“, even before Meiji Restoration in 1868. You can see this arising international influence of the 19th century in Hakodate during a walk through the town when looking at the architecture. This includes among other things the Russian-orthodox church and the British consulate. In the following you also visit Motomachi Park.
Motomachi lies at the foot of Mt. Hakodate. You take the cable car which brings you to the top of the 334 m high mountain in a couple of minutes. The view from the observation deck onto the city and the bay is fantastic on clear days.
In the late afternoon you take the Seikan tunnel, the world longest tunnel with its 54km. It has the second longest underwater tunnel section. Construction took 17 years. On the other side, Honshu, Japan’s biggest main island welcomes you. After two hours drive you arrive in Aomori, the administrative centre of the Aomori prefecture.
8th day: Osore-zan - Hiking to the entrance to the afterworld
On this day of your Japan travel we want to take you on an all-day trip to 879m high Mt. Osore. It is located on Shimokita peninsula, the most north-eastern point of the main island Honshu.
Osore-zan is considered to be one of three holy mountains in Japan and it is worshipped by Buddhists as well as shamans. The two other holy mountains are Hiei-zan and Koya-san. Mount Osore is not your typical tourist object of interest; the reason may be the almost eerie atmosphere around it. It is believed that the souls of the dead gather here, that is why people preferably come here to make contact with the dead. It is not for nothing that Osore-zan classes among Japan’s three ghost mountains. Parents above all come to this place to commemorate their deceased children - that is why you will see so many Jizo statues along the way. Jizo is considered primarily as children’s tutelary deity, particularly for children who die before their parents. But Jizo, the bare monk statue, is in general also considered as an escort for the souls into the underworld. Show this sacred mountain your respect and proceed toward an unusual trip to the gate to the afterworld.
After wandering around Osore-zan, you visit Bodaiji Temple (or Entsuji Temple) on the sulphuric crater lake Usori. Take this unique atmosphere in before going back to your hotel in Aomori in the evening.
9th day: Evidence from the Jomon period: Sannai Maruyama
At first you have the possibility to discover the town of Aomori. Since the majority of the town was destroyed by bombings during the Second World War, you will realize that the town is characterized by a rather modern architecture.
After a short stroll, you drive with us to the excavation site Sannai Maruyama where findings from the Jomon period, the Japanese prehistory (approx. 10,000 BC - 300 BC), are exhibited. By the way, the name Jomon means string pattern and refers to decorations on ceramic items that were typical for this era. The open-air museum is an ideal opportunity to dive in a long gone era of Japanese history, the era of hunters and gatherers. In the afternoon we drive to the the city where we are going to stay the night, Miyako.
10th day: caves and beaches
The 10th day of your Northern Japan tour is all about nature.
The first stop is cave Ryusendo, one of the biggest dripstone caves in Japan. Inside the cave, there is a lake with a depth of 120m whose water is crystal-clear and emerald green. A truly befuddling sight!
After admiring this unique natural spectacle, it continues with a stop at Jodogahama beach, the most popular bathing resort of the region. There are white sandy beaches as well as rough, jagged rocky landscapes. Lean back on a sightseeing boat and enjoy the ride and the breathtaking countryside.
Back on land we suggest a walk through Rikuchu-Kaigan national park which includes Jodogahama beach and Miyako. You will get a beautiful panoramic view onto the sea and Northern Japan’s nature. Have a look around and memorize this fantastic scenery before getting back to the hotel in Miyako.
11th day: Tono - home of the Kappa
In the early morning you set off to Tono. It is a small town with about 30,000 citizens. The town is known for its folklore, Tono is namely home to the Kappa. Those are froglike mythical creatures living in lakes, rivers and ponds that basically can not be considered either good or bad. The rural population in particular worships them as tutelary deities and tries to appease them with sacrificial offering.
In the urban environment you will also find a lot of Kappa statues everywhere. At Tono City Museum and in Mukashibanashi Mura you will be able to learn more about this mystic creature, the traditional life of people and the art of this region. The town became famous in whole Japan because of the Tono Monogatari by Yanagita Kunio (narrations from Tono).
Furthermore you visit the well-liked Jokenji Temple. Its popularity is based on people’s belief that rubbing an ill body part against the Obinzuru-sama statue would heal them. At the very back of the temple is Kappa-buchi, a mystical piece of land by the river with a particular tradition.
In the evening we will drive on Ichinoseki where we will stay the night.
12th day: Hiking at Genbikei gorge
First of all you visit the Genbikei gorge near Ichinoseki. Along the river Iwai is situated a beautiful landscape that is ideal for a hike. The gorge is not easy to cross on some spots, but still the excursion is definitely worth it. You do not have to bring any victuals because we will have the unique opportunity to get supplied via Kakko-Dango. It works as follows: You put money in a basket that is linked by a cord with the other side of the river. The basket gets to the other side with the aid of a rope. The stores there send you food and green tea back over the river. Experience this alternative hiking trip!
Later on you drive to Hiraizumi where the cultural part of the day awaits you.
The first stop is Chusonji Temple, the most famous attraction of the city. It was built in 850 AD as a temple of the Buddhist Tendai School. Chusonji was rebuilt at the beginning of the 11th century by the Fujiwara family that moved to the town in the late 11th century. Consequently there are graves of three Fujiwara family members in the Golden Hall of the temple complex. The special thing about the Golden Hall, like the name suggests, is the golden ornamentation on the inside as well as on the outside. In the 12th century the region around Hiraizumi was leading in gold production and this lead to an upswing for the local aristocracy. In 1337 a fire destroyed all building on the compound - except the Golden Hall. Thus the edifice that you will see is in its original shape.
The Takadachi Gikeido Monument commemorates a tragic incident. It is dedicated to Minamoto Yoshitsune who committed suicide. He fled from his brother who wanted to eliminate him as a rival and came to Hiraizumi where the local Fujiwara lord betrayed him. Inside the monument there is a wooden statue of the tragic hero.
Besides you can enjoy one of the finest panoramic views from the hill where the monument stands.
In the late afternoon we drive with you to Sendai, the biggest town in the Tohoku region. You can already take a look around on a short walk through the city before the program continues on the next day.
13th day: Pine island Matsushima
On the all-day excursion to Matsushima you get initially the chance to relax on the boat ride in Matsushima bay and enjoy one of the so-called „three most beautiful countrysides in Japan“. There are over 200 tiny islands that are covered with pine trees in the bay.
As soon as you leave the boat you visit Godaigo. This small temple that is Matsushima’s emblem stands directly by the pier. Inside the temple are located 5 statues of Buddhist deities that are accessible to the public only every 33 years. The last opening was in 2006.
But the spiritual part of the day is not over. Next stop is Zuiganji, the 828 AD built Zen temple. It was reconstructed in 1606 and is nowadays one of the most important of the Tohoku region.
Afterwards we go on visit to Kanrantei garden. In the late 16th century it was dedicated to the Date family by Toyotomi Hideyoshi and later used for tea ceremonies among other things. Even today visitors can enjoy a cup of Macha and marvel at relicts from the Date family in the museum that is on site.
Today’s final chapter is devoted to the island of Oshima to which you get by a bridge. This pine covered island that served priests as a safe haven in the past, encourages us to make a stroll in the green.
Back in Sendai, we can recall the day during a joint dinner in a Gyutan restaurant.
Gyutan is a specialty from Sendai, thinly cut meat from a cow tongue. Bon appétit!
14th day: Sendai - The city of the 1000 generations
In the morning we get to know more closely the metropolis Sendai. You visit the spot where the Aoba castle was located before it was destroyed. It was built in 1600 by feudal landowner Date Masamune on higher ground than the city for strategic reasons. In the course of time it was broadly destroyed in the anti-feudal meiji period and by a conflagration in 1882 as well as during 1945’s bombardments. However this spot offers an interesting view onto the city. There is also a museum on the compound that tells the story of the Aoba castle. Later on we continue the tour and drive to Aizu-Wakamatsu.
The Aizu Clan’s capital
Once arrived in Aizu-Wakamatsu, we are going to visit Suehiro Sake brewery. It was founded in 1850 and is still one the most famous Sake producers in Tohoku. The sake produced here is very well-known in whole Japan. On a tour through the brewery the guide will explain us the preparation process. In the small appertaining museum you will be able to get some further information about the history of the brewery and the sake production in general. If you like to you can naturally taste some of Suehiro Sake.
After this introduction you head to the Oyakuen, a garden that served the members of the Aizu clan as a retreat. We invite you to on a promenade through the lush green of the garden passing the pond. There is a tea house in the garden where you can relax and enjoy a cup of green tea.
15th day: Discovering the Bandai plateau
This day of your Northern Japan travel is dedicated to excursion to the Bandai plateau. It is Japan’s second biggest national park and comprises the volcano Bandai. This volcano was considered inactive until it erupted again suddenly in 1888 and killed more than 400 people. At the same time it changed landscape like you will see with your own eyes. This volcanic region is nowadays a popular area for skiing and excursions. Its ultimate height is 1819 m.
In addition there are many lakes on the Bandai plateau. The three main lakes are called Hibara, Onogawa and Akimoto but there are also many smaller lakes you can marvel at. This region is very suitable for hiking and discovering the northern Japanese nature.
The overnight stay takes place in Aizu-Wakamatsu.
16th day: Welcome to the capital
In the morning you drive to Tokyo, Japan’s capital and biggest city.
The first stop there is Odaiba, an artificially built island in the Tokyo bay. The Japanese word „Daiba“ means fortress and refers to the original purpose of Odaiba in the 19th century. It was opened in 1996 as a new city district that attracts, among others, a lot of young people by its many attractions. In Odaiba you will go to the TV station Fuji TV - current market leader regarding Japanese TV ratings. The futuristic building offers an observation deck at the 25th floor, from where you can even see Fuji-san on clear days.
Subsequently we want to show you Tokyo Big Sight, Japan’s biggest exhibition and congress hall.
On the way back to the station we stop at „Venus Fort“, a roofed shopping mall that imitates the Renaissance style of Italian or southern European towns.
17th day: Tokyo national museum
The day starts with a walk through Asakusa leading you to Sensoji, the oldest and most important of Tokyo. To get to Sensoji you have to pass through Kaminari-Mon, which means „Thundergate“. On the way to the temple you can stroll on Nakamise market street where many stands offer souvenirs, Obento, temple supplies and many more.
In the following we take you to the national museum, the biggest and oldest of Japan’s musea. The 1872 founded museum is situated at Ueno Park. Here you find Japanese exhibition pieces and also ones from other Asian states. Get enchanted by the magnificent Asian art!
In Harajuku, the young, hip fashion quarter you will get an impression of Japanese youth culture - fancy and unique!
The afternoon is at your free disposal, do whatever you like.
18th day: Flight back to London
Today it is time to say „Sayonara“
You will be transferred from your hotel to the airport Narita.
After a day flight you will land at your domestic airport in the evening.