Tokyo, Kyoto and Shikoku Self-drive - Japanspecialist
Experience Shikoku's spectacular nature and sacred sites in this self-drive tour.
Shikoku, Japan's fourth-largest island, is best known for its 88 temple pilgrimage, untouched nature, and unique culture.
On this tour, you will visit the best of what the island has to offer, from Iya Valley's unspoiled nature and Matsuyama's impressive castle to Takamatsu's Ritsurin Garden. This tour combines travel through Shikoku with time in Tokyo and Kyoto to get the best of modern and historical Japan.
Driving in Japan is a safe and stress-free experience. The Japanese road system is very organized, and with an English GPS, it is easy to find your way around.
The tour departs from Europe to Tokyo on an overnight flight.
You're arriving in Tokyo and continue by airport bus transfer to Tokyo city center.
The city combines Japan's deep traditions and strong culture with innovative design, niche stores, and Michelin-starred restaurants. Tokyo has something for everyone.
Your hotel is located in one of Tokyo's vibrant hubs with easy access to the metro and train so that you can reach all of Tokyo's sights and attractions easily. You will also find countless bars, restaurants, shopping malls, niche shops, and cafes in the immediate area.
To get an impression of the different areas of this big city, hop on the Yamanote Line, Tokyo's city loop train. If you're in Shinjuku, visit the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building observation deck for a breathtaking view of the city, entry is free.
On the northwest side of the station is a small network of alleyways called Omoide Yokocho. Here you'll find tiny eateries serving culinary staples like yakitori, ramen, and soba noodles.
Start your first full day in Tokyo by grabbing a metro card and heading to the Shibuya area to see the famous crossing. While you're here, don't miss panoramic views of Tokyo (and Mt. Fuji) from the top Shibuya Sky.
Walk over to Yoyogi park, where you can enjoy your lunch among the locals. After lunch, take a stroll through the lush grounds of the adjacent Meiji-Jingu Shrine.
In the afternoon, visit the Harajuku area on the other side of the station to explore the candy-coloured world of this teenager haven.
After breakfast, head to Asakusa. Here you will find the Nakamise shopping street, which leads you through a promenade with small shops to the famous and oldest Sensoji Buddhist temple in Tokyo.
Asakusa is full of small restaurants that offer inexpensive teishoku (set menus), making it an excellent place for lunch.
In the afternoon, visit the nearby Tokyo Skytree to enjoy the full view of Tokyo from the 450-metre high observation deck. After, take a boat ride down Sumida River, where you can admire the city from the waterfront.
For dinner, we recommend you take a guided tour around inner-Tokyo, visiting some tiny izakaya (Japanese pubs), to enjoy excellent cuisine and sake.
Today you start your car adventure. You'll transfer to Haneda Airport in Tokyo in the morning and fly to Hiroshima.
At Hiroshima Airport, you pick up your car and visit the first stop Tomonoura, a scenic port town by the Inland Sea. Take a walk in the cosy old streets and look out over the expansive sea. The city was featured in the blockbuster film 'Wolverine' and was also the inspiration for the anime 'Ponyo.' You'll spend the night at a ryokan with hot springs. Your traditional Japanese dinner and breakfast are included in your stay.
Today you'll drive to Shikoku along the idyllic Shimanami Kaido route, a road that connects the main islands of Honshu and Shikoku via bridges between six smaller islands. The road is also called the Nishiseto Expressway. Note that you will have to pay a toll fee, which is standard for highways and bridges in Japan.
Your final destination is Matsuyama, and the whole trip is 130 km long and takes around two and a half hours in one stretch. However, there are many beautiful sights along the way, so we recommend making time for a few stops. You have two nights in a central, western hotel in Matsuyama, the largest city on Shikoku.
Late afternoon, visit the ancient spa Dogo Onsen, which was the inspiration behind Hayao Miyazaki's animated film "Spirited Away".
Matsuyama is a city that has managed to retain plenty of old-world charm. Trams run through the city, and the atmosphere is more relaxed than in other major Japanese cities. Today you can visit Matsuyama Castle, one of Japan's most well-preserved castles, located on a steep hill in the city centre. From the top of the castle, you have a beautiful view of the city and the Inland Sea.
If you feel like heading out of the city, visit Ozu and Uchiko. Uchiko is a picturesque town with traditional houses, and Ozu has a lovely little castle, which is especially beautiful when the cherry trees are in bloom. You can visit both cities on a day trip from Matsuyama.
From Matsuyama, you'll head deeper into the heart of Shikoku. After a 130 kilometre long journey, you'll reach the idyllic Iya valley.
Historically, the valley was isolated; as a result, the locals have managed to maintain their traditional culture.
The most famous landmark is the Kazurabashi Bridge, made of wood and rope, which runs 45 metres long across the Iya River at a staggering height of 14 metres.
The Oboke Gorge is another key attraction, best experienced by boat. The crystal clear water and steep cliffs are spectacular. You'll spend the night at a ryokan with hot springs and gourmet dishes, where you can feel the ambience of this stunning destination.
After a delicious breakfast, you'll drive approximately 80 kilometres to the city of Takamatsu, located by the Inland Sea. While in the area, you should also taste the local speciality "sanuki udon", a type of wheat noodles.
We recommend a drive to Kotohira Shrine, better known as Kompirasan. The shrine itself is located on a mountain and can only be reached by going up 1368 stone steps. It's an important destination on the Shikoku pilgrimage and offers terrific views.
Start today with a visit to Ritsurin Garden - one of Japan's most beautiful gardens, built by local samurai chiefs back in the late 17th century. Not far from the city is the Yashima Temple, which sits on the mountain summit. It offers excellent views of Takamatsu and the Seto Inland Sea.
Back in the city centre, a visit the shopping arcade, which claims to be the longest covered shopping arcade in Japan with a combined length of nearly 2.7 kilometres and runs between Takamatsu castle and Ritsurin Koen.
Today you could take the car on the ferry to the exciting island of Naoshima, famous for its modern museums, architecture and art exhibitions. The most famous is the Benesse Art Site, designed by iconic Japanese architect Tadao Ando. It's a modern art museum and a hotel showcasing groundbreaking pieces from Japan and abroad.
A short walk from Benesse is Yayoi Kusama's iconic dotted pumpkin. Many of the smaller museums are also very interesting for contemporary art lovers. Some museums are closed Mondays.
To reach Honshu, you cross Seto Ohashi bridge, one of the world's longest bridges to reach Kurashiki, once an important trading city. Here are many beautiful warehouses, which today have been converted into museums, shops and cafes.
After you drop off your car in central Kurashiki, stroll in the cosy streets by the canal. We also recommend visiting the Ohara Museum, which is probably the city's most impressive museum and the oldest museum of Western art in all of Japan.
You'll spend the night in a traditional ryokan in the heart of the canal area.
Today you board the high-speed train Shinkansen to Kyoto. Kyoto was the capital of Japan from 794 to 1868, and the entire city is UNESCO-protected due to its enormously well-preserved culture. The city has more than 1600 temples and 400 Shinto shrines and the centre of cultural experiences.
Start your visit in the Kawaramachi area, the main street running from the north to south – a little west of the Kamo River. In the evening, try a teppenyaki dinner which includes the very tender and tasteful wagyu meat (Kobe beef).
In the morning, you could go to the Golden Paillon (Kinkaku-ji) and Ryoan-ji before spending the afternoon exploring Nijo-jo castle. The garden surrounding the castle is an excellent example of Japanese garden architecture.
In the evening, visit the Gion district, where you might be lucky enough to spot a geisha as you wander the small streets populated by cosy restaurants.
On your last full day, we suggest you take the train from Kyoto station to Japan's first-ever capital Nara (45 minutes) to see the world's largest bronze Buddha in the giant Todai-ji temple, the outskirts of the temple and the nearby park is populated by friendly local deer.
In the afternoon, take the train back to Kyoto for your last dinner in Japan. Try one of the restaurants in the most atmospheric dining areas, Pontocho, where the restaurants offer a wide range of dining options from inexpensive yakitori to traditional and modern Kyoto cuisine.
It's time to say "Sayonara" (goodbye) to Japan. You will be picked up at the hotel in Kyoto and driven to Osaka airport (approximately one hour), where you will have your return flight to Europe. We hope the experience has been enriching, and we hope you come back soon.
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