2023 October 14 to 23
Prices listed are per person:
Shared Room: $7498
Private Room: $9598
“This was a spectacular trip to a fascinating and beautiful country. The tour leader was extremely knowledgeable and sensitive to group interests and needs.” – William F., Los Angeles, CA
“I really enjoyed the balance that this trip achieved–between contemporary & traditional Japanese culture, and between the country’s art & history & spiritual traditions. As always, I also appreciated HE’s attention to details–such as providing a hot spot for train travel, the availability of a local phone if needed, the flexible & nearly spontaneous adjustment of the itinerary when it rained or when the group was tired, etc.” – Howard C., Chicago, IL
“Very well thought out itinerary where I can leave all the planning to HE Travel and all I have to do is go along and have a great time.” – Jim H., San Francisco, CA
Explore Japan’s bustling capital city of Tokyo.
Relax in the traditional mountain village of Takayama
Stroll through Kyoto, one of the most beautiful cities in all of Japan.
See the famous Golden Pavillion at the Kinkakuji Temple.
Meditate in the Tenryuji Temple garden.
Climb up to the tower of Himeji Castle, the best-preserved samurai castle in Japan.
Visit Naoshima Island, home of the renowned Benesse Art Site, perhaps Japan’s leading home of modern art.
Contemplate the historic significance of Hiroshima, then tour Miyajima Island whose Shinto gate is at sea or on land, depending on the tide on our Extension.
Enjoy the Culture and Natural Beauty of Japan
Let us show you authentic corners of Japan that reflect the diversity of that proud and ancient land, both ancient and modern, both urban and surrounded by nature. From colorful kimonos to delicate calligraphy, glorious temples to perfectly prim gardens, indelible images of Japan will remain imprinted in your memory once you experience the real Japan. We’ll explore lively Tokyo, visit the traditional Japanese mountain village of Takayama, enjoy Kyoto’s abundance of history, and on our Extension relax on Naoshima Island surrounded by sublime art, and contemplate what Hiroshima means to the people who live there.
Day 1: Welcome to Tokyo
Passengers from North America will cross the International Dateline and arrive in Japan a day after departure from home. After the long flight, the rest of the day is at leisure but our HE Travel tour director will offer suggestions for those who arrive early. The upcoming days will be very exciting.
Days 2-3: Tokyo Touring
Tokyo is one of the most interesting and most complicated cities in the world. Over two days we will enjoy guided tours including imperial gardens, museums, and ancient shrines. Our Welcome Dinner will be at a restaurant highlighting traditional Japanese cuisine. In either Tokyo or Kyoto we will be entertained by a professional geisha (and perhaps even one of the few male geishas in Japan!).
Days 4-6: Samurai Mountain Village of Takayama
Today we use Japan’s amazing rail system to go to the mountain village of Takayama, with warehouses that date to Samurai times.
We will stay at a Japanese ryokan, with western beds or futons in tatami mat rooms. Relax in the hot springs pools of our hotel. Later, put on your yukata robe for our special kaiseki dinner, highlighting the vegetables and beef from this mountain region.
Later we will depart for Kyoto, Japan’s classic capital city, by a mix of local and bullet trains. Upon arrival, we’ll check into our deluxe hotel for the next four nights, and our guide will give an orientation to what we’ll see in Kyoto.
Day 6: Arashiyama and Kinkakuji in Western Kyoto
Today is a full day of sightseeing, starting in Arashiyama in western Kyoto, a fascinating part of the city missed by most Western visitors.
NOTE: The locations listed are our planned stops. However, we may substitute other stops based on weather, congestion, and other local factors.
We start our touring with a boat ride through the pristine forest and mild rapids of Hozugawa Canyon. Our ride finishes near Tenryuji Temple. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is famous for its gardens, thought to be the oldest in Kyoto, dating to the 14th Century. Their stylish restaurant offers delicious vegetarian meals, so we’ll stop there for lunch.
After lunch, we’ll take a rickshaw ride around the temple precincts and through a lush bamboo grove.
Today’s tour concludes at Kinkakuji Temple, a stunning gold-covered pavilion originally built-in 1393. A great photo opportunity is the image of the Golden Pavilion reflected in the tranquil waters of the lake. It was made famous in the book Temple of the Golden Pavilion by gay Japanese writer Yukio Mishima. He wrote of rivalries among monks, including one who burned down the temple.
Day 7: Miho Museum
Today we head north of Kyoto to the exquisite Miho Museum. The building was commissioned by a Japanese religious group and designed by I.M. Pei. The museum blends into the surrounding forest by being built mostly inside a mountain. One approaches the museum through a graceful pedestrian tunnel and an extraordinary suspension bridge.
The museum displays a permanent collection of statues and artifacts from ancient civilizations, along with seasonal exhibits of Japanese art. Following our visit to the Miho Museum, we will return to Kyoto. The rest of the day will be free to explore additional temples and castles, take a train up into the mountains, or enjoy the amenities of our deluxe hotel.
Day 8: Higashiyama District of Kyoto
After two days of savoring a great variety of sights, we will tour the Eastern Hills or Higashiyama area of Kyoto, then offer free time to explore Kyoto at your leisure. You can sample everything from quaint shops to ultramodern department stores to see the blend of tradition and progress.
We will have the farewell dinner of our main tour in a traditional building nestled in the hills.
Day 9: Farewell to Japan or Begin Himeji-Benesse-Hiroshima Extension
Today, those joining just the main tour will catch flights from one of Osaka’s airports to begin the journey home. For those with more time, see the Extensions tab for information about our 4-night extension to Himeji Castle, the Benesse Art Site, and Hiroshima. Following that extension our Koyasan Extension offers one-night in a zen monastery on Koya-san, followed by a night in Osaka.
Price includes: Land transportation within Japan; Deluxe hotel rooms (futon on tatami mat floors for one night), in double occupancy; A limited number of single rooms are available; Breakfast each day and other meals as shown in the itinerary; Guided tours of Tokyo and Kyoto; Shipment of one piece of luggage between hotels (NOTE: luggage will be picked up one day before each travel day); Services of a knowledgeable HE Travel tour host (with a minimum number of participants); Hotel services charges, taxes, and gratuities for included meals. HE Travel provides complimentary Medical & Evacuation Insurance for every US Resident on our group tours who does not have other coverage.
Not included: Airfare; Transfers between airports and hotels at start and end of the tour (but with recommendations for efficient and inexpensive transfers); Meals not described as being included in the itinerary; Personal items including alcoholic beverages, snacks, laundry, and telephone calls. Gratuities to local guides and HE Travel tour director.
Himeji, Benesse & Hiroshima Extension
$2790 per person in a shared room
$3290 in a private room (for solo travelers who wish to enjoy a private bedroom and bathroom)
Price includes: bus, train, and ferry transportation; two hotel nights in Okayama (or one night in Okayama and one night at Benesse if available), and two nights in Hiroshima, including breakfast; two lunches and one dinner; guide and admission fees for tours of Himeji Castle, Benesse Art Site. Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and Miyajima.
Price does not include: two lunches and three dinners; gratuities to guides; personal expenses such as souvenirs and beverages.
Koyosan Monastery Extension
$1590 per person in a shared room
$1690 per person sharing a Japanese-style room at Koya-san and with a private room in Osaka
$1890 in a private room (for solo travelers who wish to enjoy a private bedroom and bathroom)
Price includes: land transportation from Hiroshima to Koyasan and back to Osaka; bus pass for Koyasan; one night in Japanese-style room at Koyasan monastery including dinner and breakfast; one night at the hotel in central Osaka including breakfast; guide and admission fees for Koyasan touring.
Price does not include: two lunches and one dinner; gratuities to guides; personal expenses such as souvenirs and beverages.
We strongly recommend the purchase of Trip Cancellation and Interruption insurance to protect your vacation investment in case of unforeseen circumstances such as flight delay, illness, or injury. Click Here to learn more about our Insurance partner.
Four-Night Himeji Castle, Benesse Art Site & Hiroshima Extension – October 23 to 27, 2023
Day 9: Himeji Castle
We will drive from Kyoto to Himeji Castle, considered the finest samurai castle still standing in Japan. In the afternoon, we will head to Okayama, where we will spend the night.
Day 10: Benesse Art Site on Naoshima Island
This morning we will take a train and ferry to the Benesse Art Site on Naoshima Island. We will spend the day exploring this amazing mecca of traditional and modern Japanese art.
According to the President of Benesse Art Site, “Because contemporary society is overflowing with products and information, I wanted to create a site removed from the noise of the city; a place where people could truly reflect on the meaning of living well.”
Part museum, part park, part experiment, part hotel, Benesse offers everything from the unusual to the sublime. Charming giant sculptures, special architecture, and quiet spaces make this site a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Read more about Benesse in a 2011 The New York Times travel article and this 2016 American Express Departures travel article.
One stop is the Chichu Art Museum, which was designed by Takeo Ando as a work of art, and built into a hillside. There are only 8 works of art on display, including Monet Water Lilies in a setting with only filtered natural light.
In the main village of Naoshima are several “Art Houses”, each designed by an artist who has turned a house or decommissioned temple into a work of art.
This night will be at the Park Hotel-Art Museum on Naoshima if available, or we will return to our Okayama hotel.
Day 11: Hiroshima Peace Park
This morning, we’ll take a short bullet train ride from Okayama to Hiroshima. Once there, we will transfer to our deluxe hotel for a 2-night stay.
In the afternoon, we will have a reflective tour of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. We will see school children presenting “1000-crane” origami displays which have long symbolized hope and healing. Along the river is the Atomic Bomb Dome, an exhibition hall until the bomb fell. It is retained as a memorial to those who lost their lives on that fateful day. We will visit the Peace Park Museum at our own pace, as well as an origami museum.
Day 12: Miyajima
This day offers a contrasting setting of the region’s natural beauty and religious heritage on nearby Miyajima Island. The island is most famous for the massive “torii” gate of the Itsukushima Shinto Shrine. At low tide, the gate is connected by mudflats to the rest of the island, but at high tide, the gate rises majestically out of the sea. The native population of small deer wanders around the entire village.
Time and weather permitting, we will take the Miyajima Ropeway up to Mount Misen, from which we can get panoramic views of the Inland Sea. Mount Misen is honored by devout Buddhists, since Kobo Daishi, founder of Koyasan, established a monastery there in 806 AD.
We will take a boat back to our hotel, and the evening is on our own.
Day 13: Departure or Begin Koyasan Extension
This day is at leisure until time to transfer to Hiroshima Airport or the train station to start home. Those with more time can join us for the Koyasan Monastery Extension.
Two-Night Koyosan Monastery Extension – October 27 to 29, 2023
This extension follows the Himeji, Benesse, and Hiroshima Extension. Our visit to the sacred Buddhist mountain of Koyasan begins with trains and a funicular from Hiroshima to Koyasan. We will drop our bags at the monastery where we will stay in comfortable rooms with tatami mats. In the afternoon, we will walk through Okunoin Cemetery to see the mausoleum of the founder of Shingon Buddhism, who died in 835 AD.
We’ll have a special vegetarian dinner at our monastery, and in the morning, an invitation to observe ceremonies led by the monks of our temple. After breakfast, we will visit two of the most picturesque temple complexes of this sacred mountain setting, likely with autumn leaves at their peak!
After lunch at a Koyasan restaurant, we will return to Osaka for one night before flights home.
- What if I am traveling alone?
- Most of our trips draw more single travelers than couples. When couples do join us, it’s usually because they’re looking forward to interacting with a gay group; if they wanted a holiday by themselves, they wouldn’t have signed up to travel with us. Furthermore, the activities included with our trips serve as natural ice-breakers. Within a day, you’ll be traveling with friends. You don’t need to pay the single supplement if you’re traveling alone. We’ll be happy to match you with a roommate. Pay the single supplement only if you want a bedroom to yourself. For selected trips, including cruises, we will charge half the single supplement if you request a roommate but we can’t match you with someone.
- What is the physical activity level of this tour?
Physical Activity Level
Traveling in Japan requires some stamina for walking on uneven surfaces and occasionally up and down hills. Gardens, pathways, and temple steps are usually well maintained.
- Where does the tour start and end?
- This tour starts in Tokyo and ends in Kyoto, Japan (flying out of either Osaka airport). The first extension ends in Hiroshima, and the Koya-san extension ends in Osaka.
- What will the hotels be like?
- We stay in deluxe lodgings throughout this tour. In Tokyo we stay in a modern centrally located hotel next to a traditional Shinto shrine, offering greenery right outside the breakfast room windows. In Takayama we stay in a traditional Japanese inn called a ryokan, where we sleep on futons laid out on tatami straw mats (please advise if you have mobility issues such that sleeping on a futon will be a problem). Our Kyoto hotel is in a great location for our group touring, and also perfect for any walking or subway exploration on your own. In Naoshima our hotel doubles as an art museum, surrounded by amazing outdoor sculptures and views of the Inland Sea. On our Koya-san extension, we spend a night in a rustic room in a monastery of Koya-san, a mountain of monasteries, and finish with a night in a central Osaka hotel. Our Hiroshima extension hotel is a modern hotel near the center city.
- HE Travel owner Phil Sheldon designed this tour, in conjunction with his tour mentor, a professional tour director who specializes in Japanese tours. Phil was an AFS high school exchange student in Japan, and majored in East Asian Studies at Harvard. He later worked for IBM Japan and has led multiple tours to various corners of the country. Phil is excited to introduce more travelers to this beautiful land that holds a very dear place in his heart.
- Additional Questions
- For answers to your additional questions, please email email@example.com or call 305-294-8174