Ultimate Japan Ryokan Tour

... the soft swish of a shoji screen gently closing you into your own private world ....

 

… after carefully placing the third course of your kaiseki meal ‘just so’, in front of you, your personal attendant carefully kneels on the fresh tatami mat and bows as she exits the room ….

The most traditional of Japanese accommodations is called a “ryokan”. It is said that its origin dates back to the Nara period (710-794). The styles and services of ryokans have been changing as time goes by. The history of the modern style ryokan started during the Edo period (1603-1867) with the marriage of Hatago (inns for ordinary people) and Honjin (inns for lords). In ryokans, you can experience the Japanese culture and lifestyle, such as changing into a Yukata (robe) after enjoying a dip in a public Onsen (hot-spring bath), sitting back on Tatami (straw mat) flooring, and enjoying traditional snacks and meals served on individual trays designed for entertaining guests.  The most deluxe of the ryokans affords you an opportunity to relax in the splendor of old Japan.

 

Day 1  Depart US

 

Day 2  Arrive Tokyo Narita Airport. Transfer by private car to your hotel, which is a small, boutique hotel, a quiet oasis in the midst of one of the most exciting cities in the world.  Rest, relax and refresh yourself before the start of your journey deep into the heart of Japan.

Overnight: Four Seasons Marunouchi.

Day 3 Hakone Transfer via private car to Hakone, the gateway to the Mt. Fuji area.  Here you will stay at the world-renowned Gora Kadan, one of the premier ryokan properties in Japan.  Gora Kadan exemplifies a fusion of tradition and custom with captivating oriental charm. A perfect union of past and present, this magnificent property is set in the stunning context of the National Park of Hakone. Once a retreat for the Kaninnomiya Imperial family, this noble estate can be considered one of the area’s most coveted treasures. In addition to the relaxing baths and in-room kaiseki meal, you can also avail yourself of the excellent spa services.

Overnight Gora Kadan. Breakfast and dinner included.

Day 4  Hakone Hakone is the gateway to the Mt. Fuji National Park and is historically important as one of the “checkpoints” along the Tokaido Road during the Edo Period.  Spend the morning exploring the Hakone area doing the Hakone “circuit” of cable car, gondola ride, boat ride and exploring a reconstructed Tokaido road checkpoint.  Or you can visit the Hakone Open Air Museum of contemporary art installations.

Overnight Gora Kadan.  Breakfast included.

 

Day 5  Matsumoto Travel by train to your next stop.  Nestled within a deep valley and surrounded by the mountains of the Yatsugatake National Park you will find Myojinkan Ryokan. While Myojinkan is only a 30-minute drive from the famous castle town of Matsumoto, one feels much more distant from the city here. The narrow, winding road to Myojinkan passes rice paddies, vegetable fields, and gives way to the verdant tree covered mountains of one of Japan’s most beautiful protected forests.  Tour on your own with Esprit’s suggestions.

Overnight Myojinkin.  Breakfast and dinner included.

 

Day 6  Matsumoto Tour this nearby castle town on your own with Esprit’s suggestions.  We especially recommend the Ukiyo-e museum for those who have an interest in the history of the woodblock prints.  This museum, whose exhibit changes regularly, has one of the largest collection of Ukiyo-e in Japan.

Overnight Myojinkin.  Breakfast and dinner included.

 

Day 7  Takayama. Transfer via private car to Takayama to visit a traditional wooden Japanese town in pristine condition.  Explore this delightful town on your own with Esprit’s suggestions before retiring to your inn. There’s something magical about taking the train through the mountains of Hida-Takayama and catering your first glimpse of the Wanosato’s quaint and majestic 160 year-old minka (house of the people) with ‘Gassho-zukuri’ roof construction, which literally means ‘praying hands style’. Expect to indulge in Wansato’s local foods including ‘sansai'(mountain vegetables), ‘wasakana’ (river fish) as well as Hida beef and locally distilled sake.

Overnight Wanosato. Breakfast and dinner included.

Day 8  Takayama Tour the town on your own with Esprit’s suggestions.  Hida Takayama (or simply “Takayama”) is located high in the Hida Mountains in Gifu Prefecture. Founded in the 16 century, Takayama borrowed from the cultural centers of Kyoto and Tokyo and developed its own arts and crafts, cuisine, and architecture. San-Machi Suji is the historical district of Takayama, and strolling through this area is like taking a journey in time to 18 century Japan. Indeed, the entire town is full of character which begs to be explored. Take your time and enjoy the lovely shops, outdoor market, wonderful museums, and the famous Hida Minzoku Mura Folk Village.

Overnight Wanosato. Breakfast and dinner included.

Day 9  Kanazawa Travel via private car from Takayama to Kanazawa with a stop en route at Shirakawa-go, the UNESCO World Heritage site of the gassho thatched-roof houses.   Once in Kanazawa, you can take a walk around the Higashi Chaya district, an area with many splendid examples of well-preserved Edo style architecture. Other options include a visit Shima Chaya House, an elegant former geisha house that is open from 9:00-6:00.  The crafts Kanazawa is best known for are Kutani pottery, lacquerware and Yuzen dyed silk.  Your inn tonight yields a special surprise – Asadaya is more than 140 years old and the most famous ryokan, or traditional Japanese inn in Kanazawa.  It has only 5 elaborate rooms for guests in order to provide perfect services in accordance with the “sukiya” style of simplicity.  Traditional Kaga cuisine is an unforgettable dining experience combining traditional local cuisine, seasonal fish and produce with refined dinner-ware. Asadaya Ryokan is similar to a history and art museum. It has a breathtaking collection of sword guards from the Edo period. They were the status symbols of Samurai, or warrior, engraved with their family crests or Japanese flora and fauna.

Overnight: Asadaya Ryokan.  Breakfast and dinner included.

 

Day 10   Yamanaka Tour the town of Kanazawa on your own this morning before traveling a short distance south for a stay at the small hot springs village of Yamanaka in Ishikawa prefecture. The village remains much the same as it has for many years, seemingly untouched by time. The inn is surrounded by majestic trees and lovingly nurtured gardens encircled by thickly forested hills.

Overnight Kayoutei Kyoto. Breakfast and dinner included.

Day 11   Kyoto A morning train will take you to the cultural treasure of Japan – it’s ancient capital of Kyoto.  Today you will tour on your own with Esprit’s suggestions.  For your time in Kyoto a stay at the contemporary, five-star Hyatt Regency Kyoto will break up the ryokan stays and allow you to sample some of the superb cuisine available throughout the city.

Overnight Hyatt Regency Kyoto. Breakfast included.

Day 12   Kyoto Today you will tour with a local staff guide and learn your way around Kyoto, including Daitokuji Monastery and the way of tea, Koto-in Temple, Izu-sen for lunch, and a special afternoon visit to an artisan. On one of the mornings during your stay in Kyoto, you may wish to attend a full, esoteric Shingon Buddhist service, with 40 chanting monks and a fire ceremony.  The service starts at 6:00am.

Overnight Hyatt Regency Kyoto. Breakfast included.

Day 13  Kyoto Tour with your staff guide.  We’ll visit the gardens of one of Kyoto’s magical imperial villas, available only by special appointment.  The afternoon will be organized by your guide to suit any special sights or interests you would like to explore.

Overnight Hyatt Regency Kyoto. Breakfast included.

Day 14  Kyoto Today you will take a day trip with your guide outside of Kyoto to studios of well-known potters in Shigaraki pottery village and a visit to the Miho Museum, designed by IM Pei.  Return to town for a last night of exploring on your own, perhaps the Gion district or Ponchiko.

Overnight Hyatt Regency Kyoto. Breakfast included.

 

Day 15 Hagi Travel via train and private taxi to the ceramics center town of Hagi on the western shore of Yamaguchi prefecture.  Tonight you will stay at Tomoe, an authentic Japanese-style hot spring inn. From any corner of the property you can feel its 80 year history and quietly immerse yourself in Japanese tradition and beauty colored by a sense of season. The stone-paved corridor in the center of the building is the symbol of Tomoe. The main garden and the courtyard in the “dry garden” style (“Karesansui”) are located next to the corridor, surrounded by guestrooms and spot gardens.

Overnight Tomoe Ryokan. Breakfast and dinner included.

 

Day 16  Hagi Tour with one of Esprit’s specialty guides in Hagi who will introduce you to some of the potters in the famous ceramics center.  Hagi-Yaki pottery is considered Japan’s next best style of ceramics after Kyoto’s Raku-yaki. Today it is highly appreciated due to its traditional workmanship accentuated by a modern sense of the original art, and one can hardly wander anywhere without seeing it on display.

Overnight Tomoe Ryokan. Breakfast and dinner included.

 

Day 17  Yufuin Travel via train to the onsen town of Yufuin on Kyushu Island at the base of Mount Yufu.  The area is famous for its efforts to preserve the past—not only historic buildings but also traditions and lifestyles. Ryokan Kamenoi Besso was originally built as a ‘Besso’ (country house) of a great merchant Aburaya Kumahachi of Beppu in 1921. A natural forest that ranges to the Yuhu and Kuju mountains is dotted with the main building and one of the 15 separate Japanese private house style rooms where you will stay.

Overnight Kamenoi Besso. Breakfast and dinner included.

 

Day 18 Yufuin Tour the nearby city of Beppu with one of Esprit’s specialty guides who will introduce you to some of the artisans in this famous basketry center.

Overnight Kamenoi Besso. Breakfast and dinner included.

 

Day 19 Depart from Fukuoka Airport with connections to US.

A reserved car will take you to the airport.

Breakfast included.