Tokyo, Kyoto and Kyushu Self-drive - Japanspecialist
Experience the lesser-known Japan on this self-driven tour around the beautiful southern island of Kyushu.
Kyushu is a land dotted with volcanoes, waterfalls and hot springs, and on this trip, you'll experience it all on this tour specially curated for those who want to get away from the tourist areas and go deep into nature.
This trip is packed with hiking opportunities, touching areas like Kirishima, Takachiho and Yakushima (supplement package available). If you appreciate a little luxury, you'll be set with the tour also featuring four nights at a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn with spas and gourmet food.
The trip also includes stays in Tokyo and Kyoto, and driving in Japan is safe and easy with GPS included.
We recommend that you extend your trip with two extra days on the UNESCO-heritage island of Yakushima, whose rainforest has some of the oldest trees in the world. We also offer three extra days focusing on Japan's history and visits to Kumamoto, Shimabara and Nagasaki.
Get ready for your Japan adventure. You'll depart from Europe to Tokyo on an overnight flight.
You'll arrive in Tokyo and continue by airport transfer bus to central Tokyo, where your hotel is located. Before you can check-in, take a walk and explore the area around your hotel. If you have time, visit the station or metro to exchange your JR voucher for the JR Rail Pass.
Before you start your first full day sightseeing, we suggest two or three neighbourhood to explore in-depth. Two must-visit destinations are the Imperial Garden and Ginza, which you can explore on foot from Tokyo Station.
Late afternoon, take the metro to Shibuya to see the famous crossing and soak up panoramic views of Tokyo (and Mt. Fuji) from the top of Shibuya Sky.
We recommend a day trip to either Nikko, one of the most beautiful shrines of the first Shogun of Tokugawa or to Hakone and Mt. Fuji.
Alternatively, you could also explore the neighbouring town of Kamakura, a coastal town less than an hour south of Tokyo, which was once a political centre of Japan. Today it's a popular tourist destination and offers numerous temples, shrines, and the great bronze statue of Buddha.
In the morning, you'll board the high-speed train shinkansen to Kyoto. Enjoy the view while you speed by at almost 300 kilometres an hour.
Kyoto is the centre of Japanese culture. It was the capital of Japan from 794 to 1868. The city has over 1600 temples and 400 Shinto shrines, so hop on a bike or use the metro to begin exploring the city.
The absolute must-see sights in Kyoto are the Golden Pavilion, Nijo Castle and Imperial Garden. All of which can be seen in one day, either on your own or with a guided tour. You can spend the afternoon wandering around the exciting Nishiki market, which offers plenty of local specialities.
End the day with a gentle stroll in the Gion area by crossing the Kamo River to the eastern part of Kyoto. Here you will find the famous Geisha district and luxurious shops and restaurants.
Today, we suggest you visit the western part of Kyoto, home to the Arashiyama area, to see the Bamboo groves and the beautiful Hozu River.
Take the train back to Kyoto station, and if you have time, head to Nara. It only takes 45 minutes. From Nara Station, walk to Todai-ji Temple, where you can see the world's largest bronze Buddha, and take a stroll in Nara Park.
From Kyoto, you will travel by Shinkansen across the southern part of the country to the city of Kagoshima. It is a journey of 950 kilometres - longer than from Paris to Barcelona - but it takes only four and a half hours on the shinkansen. Buy a packed lunch (ekiben) and some tea at the station before departure and enjoy the journey.
In Kagoshima, the weather is mild, and the scenery spectacular. The prefecture is also home to the very active volcano Sakurajima, pumping clouds of smoke into the air all day long.
In the morning, take the local bus to Shiroyama Park and the observatory to witness a spectacular view of Kagoshima, the bay and Sakurajima. Also, visit the Sengan-en – a Japanese garden located along the coast. Remember to taste the luxurious local speciality 'kurobuta,' essentially a pork version of Kobe beef.
You have the possibility to extend your trip with two nights on the subtropical island of Yakushima, whose stunning rainforest was the inspiration for Hayao Miyazaki's 'Princess Mononoke.' Here you'll see 7,000-year old cedar trees, some of the world's oldest. If you choose to visit Yakushima, we will include a three-day car rental (but with no English GPS) and two nights in a ryokan with hot springs.
The island offers many hiking opportunities for all levels. Finally, we recommend driving along the island's beautiful coastline – but do it in the daylight because at night, the local monkeys are out in force.
Today, your car adventure on Kyushu starts. If you are coming from Yakushima, you drive to Yakushima Airport, drop off your car and take a short flight to Kagoshima.
At Kagoshima Airport, you will pick up your other car and drive the short trip to Kirishima. If you're coming from Kagoshima City, you will pick up your car in the city centre and drive from there to Kirishima.
Kirishima is famous for its amazing nature and its many volcanoes. Visit Kirishima Geopark or Ebinokogen Highlands for a myriad of opportunities for hiking of all levels. Between moss and tree-clad mountains to lush wetlands and mirror-shiny lakes, the scenery is spectacular. You'll have two nights at a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn, where you will experience Japanese hospitality at its best and soak in the soothing hot spring baths.
After breakfast, drive out in the fascinating landscape that is Ebinokogen Highlands and spend your day on one of the many different hikes.
In the evening, you will be served a traditional kaiseki dinner, with its many different dishes made from the finest ingredients of the season, all of which are like miniature works of art.
Today, you drive to the small but spiritually significant town of Takachiho, which according to legend, was the playground of the gods. The Japanese sun goddess Amaterasu, one of the most important gods of the Japanese Shinto religion, hid in a cave here and created eternal night. Visit the Amano Iwato Shrine, from where you can see the cave. Also, do not miss the Takachiho Gorge, where you can rent a rowing boat and sail down between waterfalls.
You'll head deeper into central Kyushu, where you can make a stop at Japan's most active volcano, Mt. Aso, and reach the volcano's crater top. Be aware that access to the top can be limited if gas levels are too high or in bad weather.
After Mt. Aso, drive to nearby Kurokawa Onsen, where you will stay. Kurokawa Onsen is an idyllic town famous for its hot springs. You'll spend the night again at a ryokan with its hot springs with natural hot water, heated by the local volcanoes. Enjoy the baths and afterwards walk around the town wearing a yukata. In the evening and the morning, your ryokan will serve delicious Japanese cuisine.
You can extend your trip with three nights in the historic cities of Kumamoto and Nagasaki. Kumamoto has one of Japan's most beautiful castles (currently under renovation after an earthquake in 2016) and a famous garden representing a miniature version of Japan.
From Kumamoto, you'll take a short ferry ride with your car to Shimabara. From there, you can drive across the beautiful landscape of Shimabara Peninsula to the city of Nagasaki, where you have two nights.
In Nagasaki, a visit to the museum and the park in memory of the atomic bomb is a must, but the city has much more to offer, including a charming Chinatown and Dutch area. You can also take a day trip to Gunkanjima, an abandoned island that used to be a coal mine but today resembles an abandoned battleship.
Today, you drive to the last stop of your trip, Fukuoka. Fukuoka is Kyushu's largest city and the perfect place to end your adventures in Japan.
You'll drop off your car in a central location and spend two nights in this vibrant city. Try tonkotsu ramen (noodles in a flavourful pork-based broth) with the locals, and afterwards, take a walk through the sparkling entertainment district of Tenjin.
You could spend the last day shopping or taking a trip to the Dazaifu Shrine, also called Tenmangu, in the small town of Dazaifu (about 30 mins from the city centre by metro and train). Here you'll also find the Komyozenji Temple, which has two beautiful rock gardens, and a beautiful National Museum, which opened in 2005. In the evening, you can end your trip with a gourmet dinner at one of the city's many fine restaurants and perhaps an evening stroll along Hakata Bay
It's time to say "matanee" (see you again) to Japan. You can take a short metro or taxi ride to the airport, located very close to the city and hop on your return flight to Europe. We hope this deep and diverse exploration of Japan has been an inspiring and enriching adventure.
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