Tokyo and Tohoku - Japanspecialist
Mountain temples, lakes, forests, and historical villages take a journey into the unknown natural and cultural wonders of northern Honshu.
While Japan has become a premier travel destination, one of the best parts about exploring this fascinating country is its diverse and untouched nature and culture. Tohoku has it all, from lush green mountains, fascinating temples, traditional towns, and stunning sea views.
The ideal period to make this trip will be late spring - when the iconic cherry blossoms are in full bloom, but any time of year, it's spectacular. You will travel around with a 21-day Japan Rail Pass and stay at hotels in city areas; however, the itinerary below will also suggest more remote and picturesque destinations if you choose to travel by rent-a-car from day six.
You'll depart from Europe to Tokyo on an overnight flight, so get ready for your great Japan adventure ahead.
You'll arrive in Tokyo and transfer to your central hotel location. On this arrival day, head out to the bustling area Shinjuku in the western-central part of Tokyo, where you could visit the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building and enjoy the superb city view from the top-floor observatory.
Afterwards, head to the nearby Roppongi Hills complex for dinner at one of the many good restaurants (Japanese or Western-style), then enjoy a 360-degree panoramic night view from the Tokyo City View observation floor.
This is a full day for you to explore Tokyo in more depth. Start the day with a visit to the Edo-Tokyo Museum in the central Ryogoku area to learn about the city's history.
Next, visit Asakusa, the most well-known historical part of Tokyo, where you should visit Senso-ji, one of central Tokyo's oldest, largest, and most atmospheric Buddhist temples.
After lunch, continue to the high-end area of Ginza, and enjoy some shopping at one of the famous department stores and stroll down the grand boulevards.
Finally, head out to Hamarikyu, one of Tokyo's finest landscape gardens, idyllically perched between Tokyo Bay and the skyscrapers of the central Tokyo business district.
Today you will leave behind the hustle and bustle of Tokyo and set off on your discovery tour of Nikko, in Tochigi prefecture. Nikko is home to the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Toshogu Shrine, a mausoleum for shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, the great military leader (and country unifier) of the early 17th century. You will also find Futarasan Shrine, dedicated to Nikko's mountains, and Rinno-ji, Nikko's most prominent Buddhist temple in the same area.
Today, take the bus and make a day trip to picturesque Lake Chuzenji, adjacent Kegon Falls and Mt. Hangetsu.
Alternatively, if you are a fan of spa and wellness, discover the hot spring town Kinugawa Onsen, close to Nikko. Kinugawa is a resort town with a scenic location along the Kinugawa River, it is centred around the large collection of ryokan (Japanese style inns) lining the riverbank, and nearby there is Nikko Edomura, a theme park that recreates the atmosphere and culture of the Edo period, 1600-1868.
You will continue your journey in the northern direction towards Sendai, the capital city of Miyagi prefecture.
If you travel by car, make sure to take the scenic route via Lake Inawashiro and Mt. Bandai in Fukushima prefecture. Japan's fourth-largest freshwater lake, Lake Inawashiro (also known as the 'Heavenly Mirror Lake'), is situated in Bandai Asahi National Park.
While in this region, make a stop in the historic samurai town of Aizu Wakamatsu, famous for its historical houses and sake breweries. Close the day with a local Sendai delicacy that is well-known throughout northern Japan: gyuutan (fried beef tongue).
On this full day in Sendai, take the train/car to Matsushima, a seaside town famous for its bay, which is dotted by many pine clad islets. A great way to admire the islets is to take a sightseeing boat from Matsushima Bay.
Another place worth visiting in Matsushima would be Zuiganji, one of the best Zen temples in the Tohoku region. It's famous for its beautifully gilded and painted sliding doors (known as fusuma).
Today you'll travel to Naruko Onsen, still located in Miyagi prefecture. Situated near Naruko-kyo Gorge – a large ravine more than 100 metres deep - and surrounded by mountain scenery, the views are spectacular.
Tonight, you will stay at a centrally located ryokan, so you will be able to fully immerse yourself in Naruko Onsen's hot spring culture and enjoy a delicious traditional Japanese dinner.
Today you will travel 160-170 kilometres further north into Iwate prefecture, to the capital of Morioka, a beautiful city surrounded by mountains on three sides and with multiple rivers flowing through the city centre.
One of the main attractions in the city is Morioka Castle Ruins Park, built on the foundations of the demolished Morioka castle, a lovely place to spend the afternoon.
If you are a hot spring fan, head south to Hanamaki, 40 kilometres from Morioka. Nestled in the mountains, Hanamaki is one of the most gorgeous onsen towns in Japan. Around Hanamaki, there is some incredible nature such as Mt. Hayachine (the highest peak in the region) and the Kamabuchi waterfall.
You'll continue your journey north, 180-200 kilometres to Aomori city, the capital of Tohoku's most northern prefecture Aomori. If you travel by car, make a slight detour to Hirosaki, one of the northern Tohoku region's most interesting towns, home to a beautiful castle and samurai culture.
Aomori is known as the home of one of the most colourful, interesting, and exciting summer festivals that Japan has to offer, the Nebuta Festival (held annually in early August). The highlight of the festival is the daily parade of enormous, electrifying lantern floats, large taiko drums, dancers, and musicians. You can learn about the festival with a visit to Nebuta Museum WA RASSE.
You can also visit the Sanai Maruyama Archeological Site, the largest and one of the most complete and best-preserved prehistoric villages from the Jomon period (13000 – 300 B.C.), located a 20-minute bus ride from Aomori station.
Today, take a day trip to Towada Hachimantai National Park region. The park stretches along Aomori, Akita and Iwate prefectures, and it offers green mountains, lakes, hiking trails and hot spring towns.
The highlight, however, is Lake Towada, the largest caldera lake on Honshu, located on the border between Aomori and Akita prefectures. If you're here in October, you should take a sightseeing boat trip on the lake to immerse yourself in the spectacular autumn coloured panorama surrounding the lake.
After reaching the most northern point of your Tohoku journey, it is now time to travel southwest towards Akita city (the capital city of Akita prefecture).
If you're travelling by train, the most efficient way is to take the bullet train back to Morioka and then change to the Akita bullet train. If you're travelling by car, visit Shirakami Sanchi, an extensive mountain range stretching along the border between Aomori and Akita prefectures.
Akita city lies at the Sea of Japan, and it is best known for hosting the Kanto Matsuri, a large festival in the beginning of August in which revellers balance long bamboo poles with dozens of paper lanterns attached to the end. If you have time, visit the Akita Museum of Art.
On this full day in Akita take a day trip to Kakunodate, in the eastern part of the prefecture.
Kakunodate is a former castle town, which has remarkably managed to keep its 17th-century atmosphere and traditions alive! Although Kakunodate's castle no longer exists, there are still many interesting things to see in the town's merchant district and samurai quarter, which was once home to 80 families and still has some of the best examples of samurai architecture in all of Japan.
About 20 kilometres northeast of Kakunodate, you will find Lake Tazawa, another scenic caldera lake that, at a depth of 423 metres, is the deepest caldera lake in Japan!
You'll travel further, 200 kilometres in the southern direction, to another mountainous prefecture, Yamagata. On the way to Yamagata city, make sure to visit one of Dewa Sanzan, the Three Sacred Mountains of Dewa, each with a Shinto shrine on or near its peak. Dewa Sanzan is a centre of Shugendo, a folk religion based on mountain worship and a fascinating mix of Buddhist and Shinto traditions.
If you're feeling adventurous, head to Ginzan Onsen, a secluded hot spring town nestled in the mountains of northern Yamagata prefecture (55 kilometres from Yamagata city). Ginzan literally means "silver mountain", as it was originally developed as a silver mine. Today, it is one of Japan's most delightful hot spring towns, with historic ryokan lined up along the river.
Today you'll visit Yamadera, a scenic Buddhist temple located in the mountains to the northeast of Yamagata City. The temple grounds extend high up a steep mountainside, from where there are splendid views down onto the valley.
If you would like to skip Yamagata city and instead try another overnight stay at a Japanese Inn (ryokan), then highly recommended is a Zao Onsen. In winter, Zao Onsen also serves as one of Japan's leading ski regions. Zao's soothing waters can be enjoyed at a variety of public bathhouses around town.
Today, you will leave Yamagata city and the Tohoku region and travel back to Tokyo by bullet train. In Tokyo, head out to Shibuya and Harajuku, two of the most exciting areas in the western part of central
Tokyo. Stroll through the grand Yoyogi Park, visit the impressive Meiji Jingu Shrine, and then spend the rest of the afternoon shopping for souvenirs in Shibuya. Try one of the area's cosy izakaya (Japanese pubs) for dinner.
This is the end of your Tohoku region discovery tour; you'll transfer to the airport and fly home. We hope this has been a life-changing adventure you won't forget.
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