16 DAYS AND 13 NIGHTS FROM LOS ANGLES -- Tokyo (4N) Hakone (1N) Toba (1N) Kyoto (3N) Hiroshima (1N) Kurashiki (1N) Osaka (2N) -- Plus Optional Kyushu Extension (4N)
Depart on widebody jet for Tokyo, crossing the International Date Line.
Arrival into Narita airport of Tokyo, capital of this fascinating, complex and sometimes elusive country whose symbol on the national flag is the red orb they call "hi no maru" or "rising sun," symbol of Nippon or Nihon, meaning "origin of the sun." These islands -- the largest of which are Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu -- are the first area of Asia lit by the sun each morning. Rest of day free.
A sprawling city (pop.12 million, total metropolitan area over 800 square miles) rebuilt twice within a quarter-century (after 1923 earthquake and devastating 1944 bombing), Tokyo today strikingly juxtaposes old and new, indigenous and foreign: Noh theaters and Nintendo arcades, Shinto shrines and karaoke bars, baseball games and bullet trains. Afternoon tour includes Imperial Palace plaza with East Garden and Kitanomaru park, Asakusa Kannon (Goddess of Mercy) Temple with its 5 storied pagoda, Nakamise arcade and Ginza shopping district along glittering Chuo-dori street. A Sumida river boatride is followed by a visit to Tasaki Pearl Gallery and you also observe the exquisite tea ceremony known as chanoyu.
Free day in Tokyo or optional day trip north to Nikko and its national park, site of the magnificent 17th century Toshogu shrine, mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542-1616), founder of the Tokugawa shogunate, with its Niomon Gate, Sacred Stable depicting the 3 monkeys ("Hear, Speak and See No Evil") and the fabulousYomeimon Gate. Visit Futarasan Shrine where Shinto Kagura dance is performed then journey by motorcoach up the scenic hairpin turns of Irohazaka drive to view splendid Kegon waterfall and Lake Chuzenji.
Japanese world leadership in electronics products is well known; the same precision and beauty is characteristic of craftsmanship in pottery, wood, laquerware and silk goods. Free day to shop -- exploring the vast major department stores in the Ginza, Nihonbashi and Shinjuku districts is a cultural experience in itself, but beware of "sticker shock." Optional city tours such as: Tokyo Tower observatory for panoramic overview of city, Tokyo bay cruise, "Industrial Tokyo" (Toshiba Science Institute, Kirin Beer Village, Isuzu Motors Factory) or Village Life and Crafts (traditional dolls, wooden furniture, bonsai garden). Evening offerings of Kabuki theater or elite Geisha show with cocktails at Blue Sky Lounge.
En route to Hakone by motorcoach, stop at lovely beach resort of Kamakura where the shogunate ruled 1192-1333. Kamakura is famous for its vermilion painted Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine (site of archery on horseback contests) and above all the immense 13th century bronze Daibutsu or Great Buddha statue.
Hakone is a beautiful lake and wooded region surmounted by the serene silhouette of Mt Fuji, the locus historically of many devotional sentiments. Set amidst pine-clad mountains, Hakone boasts a restorative atmosphere and nearly 100 hot springs bath houses (often with attractive restaurants attached) offering rest and reinvigoration for body and soul under the onsen's healing waters.
Morning drive from Hakone through Hakone mountains to Odawara to board a bullet train to travel via the castle town of Nagoya (the splendid castle there, featuring a 5-storied donjon, dates originally from the year 1612) to Toba, a thriving port known for its so called "wedded rocks" -- islets connected by a great Shinto rope. In the afternoon you visit the Toba Aquarium.
Morning visit to Mikimoto's pearl island to observe the fascinating techniques of pearl cultivation and diving. Afternoon drive to Ise to visit the Ise Grand Shrines, the most venerated of all Japan's Shinto shrines, set among the memorable seascapes of Ise-Shima national park. Then by train to Kyoto, Japan's ancient capital and cultural center for over 10 centuries -- spared US bombing in World War II, its cultural treasures are lovingly preserved even as mounting real estate values and construction pressures seem to build with each passing year, threatening increasingly to bring unsightly alteration of the city's low, chaste, classical skyline.
Day excursion to Nara, the first 8th century capital from 710 to 784 and precious cradle of art and culture where fully one-third the buildings are designated with the coveted official honorific title of "National Treasure." Visit the massively majestic Todaiji Temple and its colossal Buddha, the world's largest bronze Buddha -- housed in the world's largest wooden structure. Also see the harmonious Kasuga Shinto shrine with its avenue of 3000 stone and bronze lanterns utilized for the unforgettably luminous Lantern Festival, the charming Deer Park, with over a thousand of the gentle, quite tame creatures -- always a favorite with children -- and Kofukuji Temple and its Treasure House and lovely Sarusawa pond.
Morning tour of Kyoto's marvels: Old Imperial Palace, graceful Ginkakugi Temple or Silver Pavilion along the Old Canal, Kinkakuji Temple or Golden Pavilion with its shimmering gold-leaf roof and the iris-filled Heian Shrine gardens, so gorgeous at cherry blossom time in the spring. Admire the lofty roof and ingenious "nightingale floors" of Nijo castle, where the Tokugawa shogun stayed on visits. Afternoon free to explore more sights like Higashi-Honganji and Nishi-Honganji temples, enter the Zen tranquility of the Ryoanji Temple's classic rock and white sand garden or shop for such exquisite crafts as Nishijin silk weaving, Yuzen dying, Kiyomizuyaki ceramic ware, Kyoto dolls and lacquer ware
Train to Hiroshima , the major city of Chugoku (western Honshu), where you visit the somber beauty of the Peace Memorial Park with its museum and Flame of Peace commemorating the victims of the sudden, overwhelming devastation of one 20-kiloton atomic bomb dropped at 33,000 feet from a US B-29 named "Enola Gay" on the morning of August 6 1945. The A-Bomb Dome marks the only building whose framework survived the explosion. Later you take a brief train and boat ride to lovely Miyajima Island and its Shinto Itsukushima shrine with its strong, shapely bright red torii gate seeming to sprout so naturally and gracefully a full 53 feet up out of the sea.
Day's visit by train to Kurashiki, a picturesque town of tile-roofed houses and canals lined by willow trees facing the shimmering emerald waters and 600 islands of Japan's fabled Inland Sea. Kurashiki is a fascinating old merchants' rice shipping port with a folkcraft museum and the amazing Ohara Art Gallery of western masterpieces .
Arrive by train today in Osaka, Japan's third largest city, a powerful industrial and commercial hub of western Japan and a lively cultural and shopping center with strong theater traditions. Visit Osaka Castle
with its magnificent donjon and huge stone walls, Temmangu shrine, favored by students praying before their "examination hell"; then for lively shopping and entertainment, explore Umeda district with its famous extensive underground shopping arcades plus Hankyu and Hanshin department stores, and Namba district, often referred to as the city's most enjoyable and fun-filled pleasure quarter of Osaka, thanks to the Sennichimae and Dotombori amusement centers.
Day free for last minute shopping in such venues as Hankyu Sambangai Arcade with its man-made river , visit Dotombori amusement center to try your luck in a pachinko parlour or attend one of the city's classic Kabuki dramas or Bunraku puppet plays in this, the home of the Bunraku (both of these impressive, colorful dramatic forms date back to the 17th century) and for which the city is famous and justly proud.
Fly from Osaka, arriving the same day due to recrossing the International Date Line.
Transfer to Kyoto station for Bullet train ride across southwestern Honshu and through underwater tunnel to Fukuoka, old trading port and modern gateway city to the southernmost island, Kyushu, popular for its sunshine, subtropical scenery and historical sites recording economic and cultural intercouse with China and the West. Afternoon visit to Hakata Textile Factory (Hakata-ori silk textiles are renowned) and ancient Dazaifu Temmangu shrine.
Morning drive to Beppu, the prominent spa town, en route visiting Onta ware kiln. Afternoon city toiur to Mt. Takasaki (Monkey Mountain) with its simian inhabitants, Marine Palace Aquarium and lively "Jigoku" or "hells" -- bubbling, boiling mud ponds of variously colored water some of which even "spit" mud into the air which are a prime attraction for Japanese as well as foreign tourists.
Morning drive along Yamanami (Mountain Waves) Highway to view Mt. Aso's awesome -- and still active -- volcanic crater -- a reminder that three-quarters of Japan is mountainous, and most of this terrain is volcanic in origin. (Near Shimabara which you visit tomorrow are many small islands created by a mountain's collapse only 170 years ago.) Continue on to Kumamoto, an old castle town , to view the important monument Kumamoto Castle (erected 1562-1611, restored 1960).
In the morning, visit Suizenji Park, an amazing and fantastical 300-year-old example of Japanese landscape gardening depicting native topography (Mt Fuji, Lake Biwa etc.) in miniature. Then drive across the 5 graceful Amakusa "Pearl Line" Bridges to Amakusa island, take the ferry to Shimabara -- the local castle displays the records of the Christian missionaries' last stand hereabouts in 1638 -- and proceed through the seasonally changing flowers, foliage and mountains of Unzen National Park (Japan's first such), en route to Nagasaki.
Morning tour of Nagasaki, the historically unique Japanese city opened to foreign trade, technology and cultural influences after 1571 and which remained the sole such conduit, however limited, for over 2 centuries after such contact was banned elsewhere in 1633 by the powerful shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu. See Glover Mansion, called "House of Madama Butterfly" in memory of Puccini's tragic heroine;17th century Dutch trading firm; and Peace Park with its massive statue marking the atomic bombing of August 9 1945 Return by train to Osaka for return flight to USA.
(NB: THIS FIVE DAY KYUSHU EXTENSION CAN BE EITHER A SUBSTITUTE OF LAST FIVE DAYS OF LAND OF THE RISING SUN TOUR, THAT IS SKIPPING HIROSHIMA, KURASHIKI ETC., OR YOU MAY COMPLETE THE ORIGINAL TOUR THROUGH DAY FOURTEEN AND THEN ADD ON KYUSHU EXTENSION FOR AN EXTRA FIVE DAYS)
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Copyright 1996 DIA International Travel, Incorporated