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Empire of the Sun - Overland Trip

2 weeks: to (IMT-AAES)

Intro

Japan is an exciting destination, with a wonderful blend of ancient history and modern technology, but can be expensive for visitors. This tour includes all the essentials for your visit to Japan without adding expensive frills. We look after the travel and accommodation and you need only think about how best to enjoy your time.

Included

Tour leader, accommodation, meals, transportation, and sightseeing excursions as per itinerary.

Itineraries

Day 1 - Tokyo

Arrival day.

PLEASE NOTE: it is important you arrive on Day 1 in order to enable the Tour Leader to get the rail passes validated and collect the train tickets on Day 2.

Tokyo
The capital of Japan, Tokyo has to be one of the most modern cities in the world. It seems that every person on the streets has the latest version of everything. Ginza is full of department stores selling the latest fashions, Akihabara is the place to try the latest new gadgets before they become available in the West, and Shinjuku is the fast paced night club area. However, if you look under the surface, Tokyo is still very traditional. You will still see the ladies wearing kimonos around town. People go to temples like Senso-ji to say a few prayers on their way to work. Couples get married in their traditional wedding gowns in the beautiful grounds around the Meiji Shrine. In spring, couples, families and friends sit beneath trees sipping sake admiring the cherry blossoms. Here you can catch a performance of the traditional Kabuki plays or if you are fortunate enough, you may be able to see the Sumo wrestlers throw each other out of the ring during one of the few ‘Bashos’ held each year.

Day 2 - Tokyo

Morning orientation tour.

Free afternoon to explore this multi-faceted city. Perhaps visit Yoyogi Park to view the amazingly vibrant street scenes, temples, pagodas, and shrines of Tokyo. In the evening there is the opportunity to visit a Kabuki theatre.


Rail Pass Validation
This morning your tour leader will assist you in validating your rail pass which you will use on your tour. Please ensure you carry your passport with you. A photocopy is not acceptable.


Orientation Tour
Your Tour Leader will take you to the area near the Imperial Palace, which is generally considered to be the city centre, and brief you on the various areas of interest in town. The Imperial Palace, home of the Emperor, is unfortunately not open to the public but can be glimpsed through the trees from one vantage point. Nearby, the Ginza is the main shopping street and the equivalent of Oxford Street in London. A metro ride then takes you across town to Tokyo's major religious site, the Meiji Shrine. This is located in a large park area. Although a reconstruction of the original, it exhibits all the original features of a Shinto Shrine. Other sights to visit are Ueno Park and Asakusa Temple.

A visit to Yoyogi Park is a real experience on a Sunday afternoon, when the rebellious youth display avant garde art, music, and various other forms of untraditional culture to keep you entertained. In the evening there is the chance to see a Kabuki play. Traditional Kabuki theatre is a great way to spend an evening. This is a larger than life play, of dramatic colour and sound and is taken very seriously by both the actors and audience alike. It can be seen as a whole show or simply act by act. If you have extra time in Tokyo, you may want to make a day trip to nearby Kamakura to see the Daibutsu (Great Buddha) which is cast in bronze and stands over eleven metres tall.

Day 3 - Takayama

Board the famous ‘Bullet train’ for the first time and maybe catch a glimpse of Mount Fuji before we disembark in Nagoya and journey into the Japan Alps, far from the modern life of Tokyo.

Optional, (but unmissable), early morning visit to the Tsukiji fish market. The highlight for some is the theatrical bidding at the tuna auction! Afterwards take the bullet train for the first time. Perhaps take a ‘Bento' box for lunch on the train. Transfer at Nagoya and journey into the Japan Alps. In the afternoon we arrive in Takayama, far from the modern life of Tokyo. Approx. 2 hr bullet train journey to Nagoya, approx 2 hr train journey to Takayama.

Day 4 - Takayama

A full day to explore this beautiful landscape. Discover traces of a feudal past of thatched houses and rice fields. Optional bike ride.

Takayama
Nestled in the Japan Alps, Takayama earned the nickname of ‘Little Tokyo’ because of its skilled craftspeople who built houses and temples for the Emperors in Kyoto. Takayama is home to many old wooden houses which are unique in their design as they were built to withstand the harshness of the climate and terrain here. Takayama has something for everyone; you can visit the ‘Praying hand’ houses at the Hida Folk Village or the Festival Floats at Yatai Kaikan, or you can simply walk around the houses and stop for a cup of sake at one of the local breweries. Plus, for those who want a bit more exercise, there is the lovely forest walk past numerous small shrines.

Day 5 - Kyoto

Depart early for Kyoto, former Imperial Capital of Japan and home of the country’s most treasured remnants of Japanese imperial life.

Approx. 2 hr express train journey, approx 1 hr bullet train journey.


Kyoto
As the Imperial capital, Kyoto is an essential part of any visit to Japan. Kyoto has some of the most magnificent temples in Japan which date back centuries. There are said to be 2,000 temples, shrines, palaces, museums and traditional gardens in Kyoto. You can wander past huge wooden structures and multi-storied pagodas, all linked with famous walkways and marvel at the huge temples of the Hongan-ji sect or the beautiful Golden Pavilion. Take time out to enjoy the Zen gardens like Ryoan-ji and the Silver Pavilion, take a leisurely stroll down the lovely Philosopher’s path to Nanzen-ji or just walk around Gion and perhaps catch a glimpse of a Geisha going from tea house to tea house.

Day 6 - Kyoto

You have a full free day to discover the Zen gardens, huge wooden temples, pagodas and shrines.

Day 7 - Himeji - Nagasaki

In the morning we visit the impressive Himeji Castle. Continue to Nagasaki for the night.

Approx. 6 hours train journey

Himeji
Himeji Castle is also known as the ‘White Egret’ and it is regarded as the most spectacular castle in Japan as its white walls make it so distinctive. The castle was constructed in several stages. It was first built as a fort in 1333 by the ruler of the Harima district, but over the years local rulers continued to add to the structure until it was finally completed in 1618. From the castle, rulers controlled much of central Japan and had an exceptional base from which to begin campaigns to wrestle control from Western and Eastern Japan. Today, the Castle is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Day 8 - Nagasaki

A full day to explore this exciting city. Opportunity to visit the Glover Gardens, Dutch Museum, Chinatown or take a harbour cruise.

Nagasaki
To the vast majority of non-Japanese, Nagasaki is known only as the target of the second atomic bomb that brought WWII to a close. However there is much more to this city. For many centuries, during the years of self imposed Japanese isolation from the rest of the world, Nagasaki acted as the only port trading with the outside. The legacy of this can still be seen, both in the exciting China town (Japan’s largest) and the Dutch port, clearly reflecting the most successful traders of the period. Nagasaki is also a natural harbour and a cruise around it is recommended. On the hills surrounding the city you will find the pleasant Glover Gardens and Mt Inasa offers great views of the city.

Day 9 - Kyushu Hot Springs

We travel across Kyushu to the hot spring resorts of the east coast. There are plenty of interesting walks, including an ascent of Mt. Yufu for the more energetic. Approx. 4 hour train journey.

Yufuin
Yufuin is a small town at the foot of Mt Yufu. The town is famous for its natural hot springs and many Japanese visitors come here just to soak in the soothing waters. The town has many small art museums, craft shops and small rivers which you can stroll alongside, however one of the best things to do is have a soak in the onsen after your climb up Mt Yufu.


Mt Yufu
Yufu-dake is an extinct volcano that last erupted over 300 years ago. The volcano has two separate peaks due to a very violent eruption that blew some of the crater away. From the top there are excellent views over the village of Yufuin and also to the sea.

Climbing Yufuin
Yufu San is 1,584m high and it is an easy hike to the top.Normally it takes about 2 hours to reach the summit. For most of the walk, you will be shielded from the elements by tree cover. Footing can be treacherous so you will need to bring light hiking boots with ankle support. You will need to bring a small daypack to carry water, snacks and your camera.

Day 10 - Yufuin

Optional mountain walks in the stunning scenery around Mt. Yufuin.

Day 11 - Hiroshima - Miyajima

Travel by train to Hiroshima for a morning visit. Continue by ferry to Miyajima, a lovely small island which is ideal for walking or cycling. See the famous ‘floating’ Tori Gate.

Approx. 5 hours train journey.

Hiroshima
Perhaps more than any city in the world, Hiroshima is famous for one moment in history. On 6 August 1945, it became the first target of an atomic bomb. Unlike most Japanese cities Hiroshima is full of wide boulevards and is fundamentally an industrial city. The large Peace Park in the centre of the city is an extremely moving place dotted with memorials of those known to have been killed in the explosion and those that died as a result. At the heart of the park are the remnants of Gembaku Dome. It was directly above this building that the bomb exploded, decimating all but the Dome immediately below. A burning flame waits in the park to be extinguished when all nuclear weapons in the world have been destroyed.


Miyajima
In the Inland Sea, not far from the coast near Hiroshima, you will find perhaps the most photographed shrine in Japan - The Tori Gate. The shrine itself dates back to the 6th century and is designed in a pier like structure, as mere 'commoners' were not allowed to set foot on this holy place. Miyajima is busy place with many Japanese tourists visiting during the day, however the island is much more relaxing in the evening.

Day 12 - Miyajima - Mt Fuji

Travel to the Mount Fuji region.

Head off in the morning to Shin-Fuji at the base of the mountain. Approx. 4 hours on trains.

Day 13 - Mt Fuji

Today we commence our climb of Mt. Fuji. We break the trek by spending the night on the mountain at the 7th station. (The climb is dependent upon weather conditions.)

Approx. 2½ hour bus journey.


Mt Fuji
It is said that a wise man climbs Mt. Fuji once; only a fool climbs it twice. At 3,776m, Fuji-San is by far the highest mountain in Japan. But what makes it unique, and so beautiful, is its perfect volcanic cone shape.


Climbing Mt Fuji
The trek included in this trip is graded B – moderate. It is not that the climb to the top of Fuji is difficult - every year pilgrims, families and school groups all make the ascent. This grading is because the of rapid ascent to altitude can affect some people, and the pre-dawn start means that we encounter some rough patches with only torchlight to guide us. It is also inexorably upwards. There are several routes to the summit, each a well-designated path. The mountain is divided into 10 stations and like most people we begin our ascent at one of the 5th stations. Fujinomiya, at an altitude of 2,380m, is our preferred 5th station start point, and the 1,396m to the summit takes 5-6 hours in total. We choose to break the climb by stopping overnight at the 8th station.

Accommodation on the mountain is a basic dormitory style hut with few facilities. In the early hours of the morning we continue our hike to the summit where we will hopefully view a beautiful goraiko (sunrise). After exploring the crater rim we then descend and make our trip back to busy Tokyo. Footing can be treacherous and we recommend that you bring light hiking boots with ankle support. Your main luggage pack will be left in storage while you climb the mountain so you will need a daypack to carry water bottles, other personal items and a torch (or better still, a headtorch) for the early morning climb to the top. We recommend that you plan to take only essential items - after all you will have to carry these yourself! And don't forget to allow space for snack items.

Note: Our ascent of the mountain is subject to weather conditions.

Day 14 - Mt. Fuji (3,776m) – Tokyo

Continue to the summit of Mt. Fuji and then return to Tokyo.

Approx 2 hour bus journey, approx 1½ train journey.

Day 15 - Tokyo

Tour ends.
Homeward flights should not be booked for departure before 10.00 to allow time to reach the airport once the morning trains commence their daily timetable.

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