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Kyoto – Nara – Koyasan – Osaka (5 Days/4Nights)
Kyoto, Nara, and Osaka, the region now known as Kansai, has long been central to the history and culture of Japan.
All of Japan’s original capitals were established around the Nara area between the 3rd to the 8th centuries. Indeed, the first “permanent” capital was established here in 710 and remained until it’s relocation to present day Kyoto in 794, where it remained until 1869. The heaving metropolis of Osaka also far out-weighed the relatively new city of Edo, (current Tokyo), in its commercial, cultural & entertainment activities during the 16th _ 19th centuries.
Buddhism was introduced to Nara in the 6th century and immediately flourished, resulting in an explosion and evolution of various sects of Buddhist temples as well as pilgrimages to the sacred mountains of Mt. Yoshino and Mt. Koya for study, training, and reflection.
On this 5 Day/4 Night journey, we explore and experience the rich cultural heritage of the Kansai region, and delve into the spiritual heartland of Japan.
Min 2 / Max 6
KONNICHIWA and welcome to the ancient capital of KYOTO!
Our adventure begins with the all important “Welcome Meeting”, conveniently held at your Kyoto hotel from 2pm (JST). Here you will meet your Tour Manager and fellow travellers, followed by a visit to the stunning World Heritage listed Nanzenji Temple.
Although this spectacular temple often escapes the attention of many foreign visitors, it is ranked number one among all Zen temples in Japan. With it’s impressive “samon” gate, European style brick aqueduct, and exsquisite zen garden, it truly deserves the respect and place reserved in every Japanese person’s heart.
As the sun sets, your Tour Manager will accompany you on a leisurely walk around the beautifully preserved area of Gion, Kyoto’s most famous geisha district, and learn about the history of geisha culture as you explore old wooden teahouses and exclusive restaurants. You may spot Geikos (geishas), or Maikos (apprentice geishas) with their elaborate dress and make up on their way to their various appointments.
Our first day in Kyoto will end with a superb “Kaiseki” dinner, a highly elaborate and beautifully presented “course-style” meal of seasonal dishes prepared with local ingredients. This special style of cuisine grew out of 16th-century Buddhist tea ceremonies before being introduced to the Emperor’s court right here in Kyoto. The presentation of each dish is truly spectacular, offering a very unique Kyoto experience.
It’s very important that you attend the welcome meeting as we will be collecting important insurance details, proof of Covid-19 vaccination, and next of kin information at this time. If you are going to be late please let your travel agent, hotel reception or your “Two Streets Back” Japan representative know. Ask reception or look for a note in the lobby for more information on where the meeting will take place.
This morning, after a relaxing breakfast, your Tour Manager will forward your luggage to our final destination of Osaka, before we make our way to Kyoto’s spectacular central train station for our 1 hour journey to Nara, Japan’s first permanent capital city, established in 710AD.
Upon arrival in Nara, we will visit the World Heritage listed Horyuji Temple. This sublime temple was founded in 607AD and is one of the country’s original Buddhist strong holds. If this isn’t special enough, it has one of the world’s oldest surviving wooden structures. Take time to contemplate the view of Japan as it existed more than 1,300 years ago.
In the afternoon, we stroll around the delightfully preserved Naramachi district, a former merchant area of Nara, and explore it’s narrow laneways lined with boutiques, shops, cafes, and restaurants.
Of course, no time spent in Nara would be complete without a visit to the World Heritage listed Todaiji Temple. Originally built in 749AD, this spectacular temple is located inside Nara Park and, along with many thousands of free roaming deer, houses the world’s largest bronze statue of Buddha.
For dinner we will be heading to one of the local Izakaya’s to see what’s in season, and to try some local produce.
This morning, after a hearty breakfast, we will be tracing the ancient pilgrimage routes to Mt Yoshino and the much revered Mt Koya (or Koyasan). Both these mountains, as well as the nearby Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trail, have all been designated as World Heritage Sites.
Although Mt. Yoshino is undoubtedly one of Japan’s premier cherry blossom viewing spots, it also offers a rich and interesting glimpse into the country’s long history. For many centuries it has been an important centre for Shinto-Buddhist followers devoted to ascetic practices and mountain worship.
Enjoy the awe-inspiring views of the surrounding mountains, while strolling traditional streets lined with well-preserved houses, shops, and restaurants offering local specialties such as “Kakinohazushi”, (marinated sushi wrapped in persimmon leaves).
In the afternoon we will be leaving Mt Yoshino and make our way by train, ropeway and bus to the epicentre of religious life in Japan, the spectacular Mount Koya (or Koyasan).
Koyasan is the very centre of the Shingon sect of Buddhism. This secluded and atmospheric temple town is located more than 800 meters above sea level. It has existed on this mountain for more than 1200 years, making it one of the premier places to experience a working monk’s lifestyle.
Upon arrival, your knowledgeable Tour Manager will take you to the famous “Okunoin”, a vast Buddhist cemetery and arguably the most sacred place in Koyasan if not in all of Japan.
After our walk we will make our way to our traditional temple lodgings, where monks will set out your bed before welcoming you with a delicious vegetarian dinner.
Temple lodgings typically offer simple but traditional Japanese rooms with tatami floors, sliding doors (fusuma) and shared bathrooms. Bedding is provided in the form of futons that are spread on the tatami floor during the night. During winter gas heaters provide warmth. Please note that western style bedding is not option.
Before breakfast is offered at our temple lodgings, you are invited to join the monks for their morning prayers. Although optional, this activity does require getting up before sunrise, offering you a unique opportunity to experience this most sacred of Buddhist rituals.
After breakfast you will have free time to enjoy the serenity, or just explore this beautiful temple town before we make our way to the heaving metropolis that is Osaka, Japan’s second largest city.
What an absolute contrast this will be to the sacred serenity of Koyasan! Although Osaka is without doubt a mega-city, it’s greatest charm is its down-to-earth attitude and the welcoming spirit of its people. Together we’ll explore the city’s iconic Dotonbori area by cruising the canal and wandering through the labyrinth of neighbouring alleyways, tasting some of the street food Osaka is famous for.
In the evening, let’s celebrate the end of our adventure with great conversation and delicious food at one of Osaka’s famous Izakayas.
There are no activities planned for today, so after breakfast you’re free to depart the hotel at your leisure. Check out time is 10am, however if you’re departing later, we are happy to arrange luggage storage for you at the hotel. Your Tour Manager will be delighted to help plan your post-tour itinerary or advise you on your onward journey.
SAYONARA! ……. and safe travels. Thank you for choosing to spend some of your vacation time with us, we truly hope you enjoy the remainder of your time in Japan, and look forward to welcoming you again when next you visit our country.
Please Note – given the theme of our itinerary, a visit to Osaka Castle is not included in this tour. If you haven’t visited this castle in the past, you may like to add this popular site to your post-tour itinerary while in Osaka. Your Tour Manager will be happy to point you in the right direction.