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Japan ‘Symphony of Light’ Tour 14 Days / 13 Nights

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Join our Expert Tour Lecturer on a journey through the heartland of Japan.

Taking inspiration from the renowned textile artist, Itchiku Kubota’s grand series of kimonos that depict the ‘grandeur of the universe’, the Japan ‘Symphony of Light’ Tour provides a panoramic tapestry of the art, history and culture of Japan, from its earliest beginnings to its present day and beyond.

As you travel through Central and Western Honshu taking in Osaka, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Takayama, Nara and Mount Fuji before concluding your tour in the awesome metropolis that is Tokyo, you will discover Japan’s kaleidoscope of colour, its ancient traditions and its thirst for modernity.

Taking in no less than four UNESCO World Heritage Sites along the way, you will saviour enchanting landscapes, picturesque rural villages, ancient Japanese castles and Shinto and Buddhist shrines and temples. 

You will find peace and tranquillity at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and the thrill of high speed rail travelling in a Japanese Bullet train; learn the way of the samurai from a Kendo master; experience Kabuki traditional theatre and enjoy an otherworldly experience as you stroll through the bamboo groves of Kyoto.

Japanese art and design, its philosophy, complex dyeing and block printing techniques will all be revealed with visits to some of Japan’s most important galleries and museums, including the Itchiku Kubota Art Museum by Lake Kawaguchi (close to Mount Fuji).

With talks and lectures on a wide variety of Japanese art, history and cultural themes throughout and special arrangements that include an invitation to the beautiful roof garden at the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo, the Japan ‘Symphony of Light’ Tour promises to be a once-in-a-lifetime travel experience.

With high quality Japanese (as well as western) food and drink at traditional and modern establishments and a tour of a sake brewery, you will you enjoy a variety of authentic Japanese cuisine, whilst western style meal options are available.

Hand-picked 4-star accommodation throughout, including a stay at a Ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn.


Tour Highlights

  • Visit Osaka, Hiroshima, Kyoto, Nara, Takayama, Shirakawgo, Hakone, Tokyo and Nikko travelling through Central and Western Honshu

  • Visit Himeji Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site followed by Bullet train to Hiroshima to visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial and Museum

  • Visit sacred Miyajima Island and see the floating Torri Gate (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), designated as one of Japan’s ‘3 Most Beautiful Views’

  • Enjoy a guided tour of Heian Shrine, Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion) and the Ryoanji Zen Temple, the site of Japan’s most famous rock garden

  • Visit Tenryuji, one of Japan’s five great Zen temples and the most impressive temple in Arashiyama, then walk through the famous bamboo groves

  • Learn about the samurai during a fully immersive samurai lesson from a Kenbu (literary “sword dance”) master

  • Visit Kawai Kanjuro’s House, the residence of the famous ceramics artist followed by a visit to Kiyomizu (pure water) temple

  • Stroll through atmospheric Higashiyama and Gion district, where busy lanes are filled with quaint shops and Geisha and Meika can be seen enjoying an evening walk

  • Visit Todaiji temple the world’s largest wooden building and the Kasuga Taisha temple in Nara, once the capital of Japan in the 8th century. Enjoy a stroll in Nara Park, where 1,000 tame deer roam freely

  • Visit Fushimi Inari Shrine which was featured in the movie “Memoirs of a Geisha”. After your visit quench your thirst during a tour of a local sake brewery

  • Travel by Bullet train from Kyoto to Nagoya before a private coach transfer to Takayama and the Festival Floats museum. Wander through the beautiful old town of Takayma

  • Browse local crafts and produce at Miyagawa morning market and visit Takayama Jinya the historical government house of Takayama, once the seat of government of a Shogunate

  • Wander through the village of Shirakawa-go, famous for its traditional gassho-zukuri farmhouses, some of which are more than 250 years old

  • Enjoy a unique and panoramic view of Mount Fuji from the Mishima Skywalk

  • Stay in a traditional Japanese ryokan (Japanese inn) with delicious meals and piping hot onsen (hot springs) baths

  • Visit the Itchiku Kubota Art Museum by Lake Kawaguchi, and see the Symphony of Light kimonos among many other works by the artist who has devoted the rest of his life to recreating and mastering the labour intensive silk dyeing technique

  • Experience a guided tour of the Edo-Tokyo Museum in Tokyo which charts the rise of Tokyo from a small fishing village called Edo to a thriving metropolis that we see today

  • Enjoy a visit to Akihabara. Once famous for its electronics shops, Akihabara has now gain recognition as the centre of Japan’s otaku (diehard fan) culture with many shops and establishments devoted to anime and manga. Next visit the Sony building and enjoy an aperitif on the roof top garden of the Canadian Embassy*. Lastly take in the beauty of Tokyo’s skyline from the Sky Deck observatory on top of Roppongi Hills

  • Visit the village of Nikko, centre of Shinto and Buddhist mountain worship for centuries and situated within a national park. Walk through the Toshugu Shrine complex (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) which consists of more than a dozen Shinto and Buddhist buildings in a beautiful forest setting

  • Also you will visit Tamozawa Imperial Villa, a National Cultural Treasure, featuring architecture that spans the Edo, Meiji and Taisho perios and a beautiful garden.

  • Last stop is Kirifuri Falls, one of Nikko’s three famous waterfalls.



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Day 1 Osaka

Evening | Welcome Reception Drink* with Introduction to Tour by Your Expert in Private Conference Room at Hotel | Welcome Dinner at Hotel

The tour starts with a Welcome Drink and Introduction to the Japan 'Symphony of Light' Tour by your Expert Lecturer followed by a Welcome Dinner at the Hotel.

Overnight | in Osaka

Meals included: D

*Please advise your Grand Cultural Tours Travel Adviser at time of booking if you require a transfer from the airport to the hotel.

Day 2 Osaka - Hiroshima

Morning | Check-out* After Breakfast | Transfer to Himeji Castle

Transfer to Himeji by private coach.

Enjoy a visit of Himeji Castle, arguably Japan's most spectacular castle and a UNESCO world heritage Site. Nicknamed “Shirasagi-jo” (meaning “Castle of the white heron”), the castle escaped destruction by war, earthquake or fire and is one of the country's twelve original castles.

Afternoon | Bullet Train to Hiroshima with Lunch On Board | Visit Hiroshima's Peace Memorial Park and Museum

Transfer by Bullet train from Himeji to Hiroshima. Enjoy lunch on board.

Located in the centre of the city, Hiroshima's Peace Memorial Park (Genbaku Dome), is a stark and powerful symbol of the achievement of world peace for more than half a century. With trees, lawns, and walking pathsit covers an asrea of 120,000 square metres. Stroll through the park and discover many memorials, monuments and statues, before heading into the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

Visit Hiroshima's Peace Memorial Museum. The museum surveys the history of Hiroshima and the advent of the nuclear bomb. Its main focus is on the events of the 6th August 1945; the dropping of the bomb and the consequent human suffering.

Evening | at Leisure

Overnight | in Hiroshima

Meals included: B, L

*Luggage will be transferred to the hotel in Kyoto separately. Please prepare your overnight bag for staying in Hiroshima.


Day 3 Hiroshima - Kyoto

Full Day | Short Coach and Ferry Ride to Miyajima Island and The Floating Torii Gate

From Hiroshima, a short coach and a ferry ride will take you to Miyajima Island.  A small sacred island located in the Inland Sea, it's been a holy place of Shintoism for centuries. Here you will find perhaps the most photographed site in Japan; The Floating Torii Gate. Designated as one of Japan's '3 Most Beautiful Views', the shrine dates from the 6th century with the present structure dating back to the 12th century. The harmoniously arranged buildings reveal great artistic and technical skill, and have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Mere 'commoners' were not allowed to set foot on this holy place, and even now it is forbidden to give birth or die on the island! You will have time to explore the island and its many shrines and temples, sample local food like maple leaf shaped cakes before your transfer to Hiroshima station.

Lunch where?

Evening | Transfer to Kyoto by Bullet Train | Dinner where?

Overnight | in Kyoto

Meals included: B, L


Day 4 Kyoto

Morning | Guided Tour of Heian Shrine, Kinkakuji, (Golden Pavilion), Rock Gardens of Ryoanji Zen Temple

Start the day with a guided tour of the Heian Shrine  1895. Built in 1895 to celebrate the 1,100th anniversary of the capital's foundation it is dedicated to the spirits of city's first and last emperors; Emperor Kammu (737-806) and Emperor Komei (1831-1867).

Next visit Kinkakuji, (Golden Pavilion) which was originally built as a retirement villa for the Shogun (a feudal commander-in-chief). After his death it became a Buddhist Temple and is now one of Kyoto’s most famous temples. Continu to Ryoanji Zen Temple, the site of Japan's most famous rock garden. Originally an aristocrat's villa during the Heian period, the site was converted into a Zen temple in 1450. The garden consists of a rectangular plot of pebbles surrounded by low earthen walls, with 15 rocks laid out in small groups on patches of moss. An interesting feature of the garden's design is that from any vantage point, at least one of the rocks is always hidden from the viewer. 

Afternoon | Lunch at Local Restaurant | Guided Tour of Tenryuji Zen Temples and Walk Through Arashiyama Bamboo Groves

Ranked among Kyoto's five great Zen temples, Tenryuji is the largest and most impressive temple in Arashiyama. Founded in 1339 at the beginning of the Muromachi period (1338-1573), the temple is one of Kyoto's UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In addition to its temple buildings, there are attractive gardens with walking paths. Next walk through Arashiyama’s famous bamboo groves, which are particularly attractive when there is a light wind and the tall bamboo stalks sway gently back and forth. The bamboo has been used to manufacture various products, such as baskets, cups, boxes and mats at local workshops for centuries. There is a bamboo product shop in Arashiyama, so you may be able to see how the products are made if you are lucky.

Evening | at Leisure

Overnight | in Kyoto

Meals included: B, L


Day 5 Kyoto

Morning | Time at Leisure or Optional* Samurai Lesson From a Kenbu Master

This morning, you will take a samurai lesson and learn more about the legendary samurai warriors. Wearing a samurai costume, learn about the lifestyle and etiquette of the samurai and take the sword and learn the basics of kenbu. A highly stylized sword dance, Kenbu was used by samurai for training and to improve concentration. This immersive experience will enable you to learn about this cultural heritage of Japan. The instructors are skilled Kenbu masters and fluent in English. A photo and a souvenir of your time in the kenbu dojo (training hall) are included in the tour.

Afternoon | Lunch at a Local Restaurant | Visit Kawai Kanjiro’s House | Guided Visit of Kiyomizu (Pure Water) Temple

After lunch, you will visit Kawai Kanjiro’s House The residence of ceramic artist Kanjiro Kawai was converted into the Kawai Kanjiro's House. Built like an old private home, the first floor is equipped with a hearth. Exhibited on the first floor are ceramics created by Kanjiro, along with chairs, cupboards and other furnishings. In the courtyard are Kanjiro's ceramics studio and kiln just as they were when he used them. Then you visit Kiyomizu (Pure water) temple. From the 13m high veranda jutting out from the Main Hall you can enjoy amazing views of the whole of Kyoto, whilst pondering the fact that both the Main Hall and veranda were built without the use of nails or any kind of joiners.

Evening | Stroll through the Higashiyama & Gion District | Dinner at Leisure

Stroll through the atmospheric Higashiyama & Gion district, the city’s most famous geisha and entertainment district and the centre of its traditional arts.

Overnight | in Kyoto

Meals included: B, L

*Not included in tour price. Please ask your Grand Cultural Tours Travel Adviser for pricing.


Day 6 Kyoto - Nara - Kyoto

Morning | Transfer to Nara | Visit Todaiji Temple | Kasuga Taisha  | Stroll Through Nara "Deer" Park 

This morning you will be transferred private coach to Nara.

For 74 years, during the 8th century, Nara was Japan’s capital and many of the temples and shrines built at that time still remain. Visit Todaiji temple, the world’s largest wooden building and home to Japan’s largest Buddha. Next stop is Nara’s most celebrated shrine, Kasuga Taisha, established in 768 AD and famous for its hundreds of bronze and stone lanterns which have been donated by worshipers.

Take a wander through Nara Park, called Deer Park by locals due to the large population of more than 1,000 tame deer living there.

Afternoon | Lunch at a Local Restaurant | Visit Fushimi Inari Shrine | Guided Tour of Sake Brewery

On the way back from Nara, visit Fushimi Inari Shrine by private coach. Recently featured in the movie Memoirs of a Geisha, it is home to over 10,000 red tori gates, which form a path up the mountain behind the temple. After visiting the shrine, quench your thirst at a local sake brewery. During a guided tour of the brewery you will learn about the traditional brewing process and sample the different varieties of sake.

Evening | at Leisure

Overnight | in Kyoto

Meals included: B, L


Day 7 Kyoto - Takayama

Morning | Bullet Train to Nagoya, Express Train to Takayama

After check out, you will be transfered* to Kyoto Station by private coach.

Take a bullet train from Kyoto to Nagoya and then change onto a limited express train for Takayama.

Afternoon | Lunch On Board Bullet Train | Visit Takayama Festival Floats Museum

On arrival in Takayama Station you will be transferd to the Takayama Festival Floats museum, which displays floats from the famous Takayama festival, or you can simply wander through the beautifully preserved old town.

Transfer to hotel.

Evening | at Leisure

Overnight | in Takayama

Meals included: B, L

*Luggage will be transferred to the hotel in Hakone separately. Please prepare your overnight bag for staying in Takayama.


Day 8 Takayama - Shirakawago - Takayama

Morning | Visit Miyagawa Morning Market | Takayama Jinya Historical Government House

This morning travel to the Miyagawa morning market with stalls selling local crafts and produce. This is an opportunity to try some of the region’s delicious fruit and vegetables. Next visit Takayama Jinya, also known as the Historical Government House, a former government outpost established to bring the Hida Province under the direct control of the Shogunate (Edo Bakufu). It is the only surviving government office building from the Edo period (1615 - 1868) and the entire complex now serves as a museum where you can see well-preserved meeting and conference rooms with old tatami floors and historical artefacts and office supplies.

Afternoon | Lunch at Local Restaurant | Visit the Traditional Village of Shirakawa-go its Gassho-Zukuri Farmhouses

After lunch in a local restaurant, you will head to the Shirakawa-go village, famous for its traditional gassho-zukuri farmhouses, some of which are more than 250 years old. Gassho-zukkuri translates as ‘praying hands’, as the farmhouses' steep thatched roofs resemble the hands of Buddhist monks pressed together in prayer. The roos are designed to withstand the heavy snows which fall in the region.

Evening | at Leisure

Overnight | in Takayama

Meals included: B, L


Day 9 Takayama - Hakone

Morning | Check-out | Express Train, Bullet Train and Coach Transfer to Mishima Skywalk for Panoramic Views of Mount Fuji, Izu Mountains and Suruga Bay

After check out, transfer to Takayama Station.

You will take the Limited Express train and change onto a Bullet train for Mishima. On arrival transfer by private coach to the Mishima Skywalk; Japan’s longest pedestrian suspension bridge. After enjoying a unique and panoramic view of Mount Fuji, the Izu Mountains and Suruga Bay, you will be transfered to Hakone, a mountainous town famous for its hot springs (onsen) and views of the iconic volcano Mount Fuji.

Afternoon | Check-in to Japanese Ryokan | Lunch at Leisure | Piping Hot Onsen (hot spring baths)

Evening | Dinner in Ryokan

Tonight you will stay in a traditional Japanese ryokan, sleeping on futons* laid out on tatami mats with delicious meals.

Overnight | in Hakone

Meals included: B,D

*Please advise your Grand Cultural Tours Travel Adviser at time of booking if you require a western style bed.


Day 10 Hakone - Tokyo

Morning | Check-out | Guided Tour of Kubota Art Museum

After check out, you will visit Itchiku Kubota Art Museum by Lake Kawaguchi. The artist, Itchiku Kubota, revived the lost art of Tsujigahana silk dyeing, used to decorate elaborate kimono during the Muromachi period (1333-1573). In his early twenties he was so inspired by a fragment of Tsujigahana textile exhibited at the Tokyo National Museum, that he devoted the rest of his life to recreating and mastering this labor intensive silk dyeing technique.

The Symphony of Light is Itchiku Kubota's master series and lifetime work. He designed the 80 works to represent the four seasons. The series comprises 36 kimonos which highlight the beauty and changes of nature and the universe. It's breadth of ambition, beauty and meticulous attention to detail has been the inspiration for your tour.

Afternoon | Lunch at Local Restaurant | Transfer to Tokyo

After lunch, transfer to Tokyo by private coach.

Evening | at Leisure

Overnight | in Tokyo

Meals included: B, L


Day 11 Tokyo

Morning | Visit the Edo-Tokyo Museum 

This morning you will visit the Edo-Tokyo Museum, one of Tokyo’s premier museums which charts the rise of Tokyo from a small fishing village named Edo, through to the thriving metropolis that we see today. It is housed in a space-age building, and exhibits a wide range of historical artifacts, including collections of ukiyoe woodblock prints, kimono and scale models of towns and buildings from the Edo, Meiji and Shōwa periods.

Afternoon | Lunch at Local Restaurant | Tour of Akihabara, Sony Building and Canadian Embassy | Enjoy Panoramic Views from the Sky Deck Observatory/Roppongi Hills

After lunch, you will visit Akihabara which was originally famous for its many electronics shops. However in more recent years, Akihabara has gained recognition as the center of Japan's otaku (diehard fan) culture, and many shops and establishments devoted to anime and manga are now dispersed among the electronic stores in the district. You will also stop at the Sony Building in Ginza and pass by the Canadian Embassy. Lastly, you will take in the beauty of the Tokyo skyline from the Sky Deck observatory on top of Roppongi Hills. From 270 m above sea level, the view is one of the best in Tokyo.

Evening | at Leisure

Overnight | in Tokyo

Meals included: B, L


Day 12 Tokyo - Nikko - Tokyo

Morning | Transfer to Nikko Village | Visit Toshugu Shrine 

An early start this morning with a 2 hours bus ride to the village of Nikko, the centre of Shinto and Buddhist mountain worship for many centuries and now located in a protected national park.

Start with a visit of the Toshugu Shrine complex.  Built as a mausoleum for Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate which ruled Japan for over 250 years, this lavishly decorated shrine complex consists of more than a dozen Shinto and Buddhist buildings in a beautiful forest setting and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Your guide will introduce you the charms of Toshogu through interesting stories about the history and religions of Nikko, the birth of the shrine, the effort of maintenance and others.

Afternoon | Lunch at a Local Restaurant

You will also visit Tamozawa Imperial Villa, a National Cultural Treasure, featuring architecture that spans three different periods -- Edo, Meiji, and Taisho -- as well as a beautiful garden. Last stop is Kirifuri Falls is one of Nikko's three famous waterfalls.

Evening |

Overnight | in Tokyo

Meals included: B, L, D


Day 13 Tokyo

All Day | at Leisure

Evening | Farewell Dinner at a Local Restaurant

Overnight | in Tokyo

Meals included: B


Day 14 Tokyo

Morning | Tour Ends after Breakfast 

End of Tour*.

Meals included: B

*Please advise your Grand Cultural Tours Travel Adviser at time of booking if you require an extension to your stay or a transfer to the airport.

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  • 14 nights in 4 star hotel accommodation with breakfast

  • 10 x Lunches and 3 x Dinners

  • All land transportation by private air-conditioned vehicles

  • Services of a Trip Scholar throughout including 6 x pre-dinner talks

  • 6 x rental of conference room for pre-dinner talks

  • English speaking local guides throughout

  • Bullet train travel costs

  • All entrance fees

  • All activities/experiences

Not included

  • Flights

  • Travel insurance


Local Expert Guides

Local Expert Guides

Our Local Expert Guides are experienced licenced tour guides with special access to museums, art galleries and other cultural institutions. 

Professional and gifted communicators with unparalleled local knowledge, each one specialises in bringing the past to life. 

For more information about our Expert Guides, please contact us on 020 8877 2883 to speak with a Grand Cultural Tours representative.




Passports and Visas

If you have a ‘British Citizen’ or ‘British National (Overseas)’ passport, you can enter Japan as a visitor for up to 90 days without a visa.  

Please refer to the Foreign Office website for general Visa information.


Foreign Office Travel Advice including Health & Safety Information

Click here for Foreign Office travel advice (for UK nationals). 



Japan is extremely well serviced by almost every major airline.


Time Zone

Japan is GMT +9 hours and does not operate on a daylight-savings system.


Travel Insurance

Travel insurance is a pre-requisite for participating on a Grand Cultural Tour. If you do not currently have travel insurance and would like to contact our partner travel insurance company, please click here for more details.



The official currency of Japan is the yen (JPY).

Click here for Foreign Office money advice.


Credit Cards

It is important to note that Japan is very much a cash society, and credit cards are not as widely used as in Western countries. Credit cards are mainly accepted in urban areas in top end restaurants, shops, and hotels. However, it is not advisable to rely entirely on credit cards, as inexpensive restaurants, neighborhood shops, and some Japanese inns, especially in rural areas, often do not accept credit cards.



Japan has mostly a mild climate, but since it's an archipelago stretching some 1,800 miles (3,000 km) from north to south, there are extremes in the weather. The northern end of Japan is subarctic, while the southern end is subtropical.

  • Springtime is one of the most glorious times to visit Japan, when the trees burst into blossom, beginning with plum trees in March and continuing through to May, when the last cherry blossoms drift to the ground in northern Japan.

  • The Japanese summer begins in June with the rainy season, which lasts about three weeks. Although it doesn't rain every day, rains can be heavy and umbrellas are a must.

  • When the rainy season ends, much of Japan becomes hot and humid. 

  • September signals typhoon season, although storms hit Japan's coast only occasionally.

  • October brings pleasant, crisper temperatures and magnificent fall colors ranging from crimson to gold. This is the time of harvest, as rice is cut, baled and stacked in neat rows.

  • Except for the extreme north, winter in Japan is not severe, especially on the Pacific coast, where the climate is generally dry and the skies are often blue. The southern regions of Japan, including Kyushu, enjoy mild and even warm weather, while the northern regions like Hokkaido and the mountain ranges of central Japan become very cold with abundant snowfall. 

Click here for the BBC's Tokyo weather page and here for weather in Kyoto.



The official language of Japan is Japanese. 



Lighter clothing in the summer time is best in Japan and warmer clothes in the winter (especially if you are in the Alpine regions). Travelling in the spring requires warmer clothes, as the temperature does drop at night.

Easy to slip on/slip off shoes are essential when visiting temples, staying in ryokans etc. 

Whilst Japan is less strict than other Buddhist countries about what to wear when visiting temples, it is always polite to cover shoulders.



Japan is not just a land of sushi! Whilst fish is in abundance, Japan has a huge variety of food types to cater for even the fussiest eater. Rice is the main staple dish, and noodles such as ramen, soba and udon with various toppings are common.



The electric current used throughout Japan is 100 volts, A.C. However, there are two kinds of frequencies (or cycles): 50 Hertz in eastern Japan (including Tokyo and regions northeast of the capital) and 60 Hertz in western Japan (including Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, and other points southwest).

At major hotels, two outlets for both 110 and 220 volts are installed for electric razors, hair dryers, travel irons and other small appliances. Japan uses 2-flat-pin plugs (as in the U.S.) and cannot accommodate columnar-shaped plugs or 3-pin plugs, which will need a plug adaptor.


Reading list

All items on the reading list are selected to add to the pleasure of the tour. None of the books selected are essential reading and no prior knowledge of China is required to enjoy the tour.

Dates & Prices

Start Date(s) Price excluding flights* Single supplement

* Please click here for more information regarding flights for this tour.

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