Japan - WAITING LIST!
With optional add-ons to Vietnam & Cambodia

2 - 16 Apr 2024

Japan is an intriguing blend of ancient traditions and modern imperatives. It is the world's third biggest economy with 125 million very proud and nationalistic inhabitants occupying a spectacularly beautiful country about half the size of New South Wales.

Our tour will introduce us to an amazingly polite and hospitable population and an extremely orderly and industrious economy. Japan is one of our 'top 3' trading partners and imports around $3 to $4 billion worth of Australian farm products each year – and has an agriculture which enjoys some of the highest levels of government assistance and tariff protection on the planet.

Our 2024 tour will be led by Greenmount's Lloyd O'Connell in conjunction with Australian-based and self-confessed Japanophile, Geoff Martin. From his student exchange days of the 1980s, Geoff's professional and personal life has involved regular contact with Japanese companies, colleagues and friends. Being very familar with Japanese customs and fluent in their language – including a smattering of regional dialects – makes Geoff an invaluable member of the touring group.

To visit Japan is to enjoy an unforgettable insight into how this nation has blended traditional values with modern growth. With an early April departure, we will also enjoy the splendour of cherry blossoms on full display.

Most Japanese farms are small, but the many farmers are well organised into co-operatives with a lot of marketing and political influence. Think Japanese farming and think rice, noodles and Wagyu cattle. Australia has a long history of association with Japanese agriculture, from exporting noodles and beef, to importing Wagyu genetics.

Our tour will cover the best farming regions and will take you to some of the unspoilt, authentic areas such as Hokkaido, Japan's most northern main island where 25% of the nation's arable land can be found. But we won't be missing out on the ‘must-see’ sights and cultural experiences. Just some of the tour highlights include:

  • Bullet (Shinkansen) trains – the fastest, most comfortable way to travel. The Japanese train system is so good, if you are waiting on a platform and think the train is late, you are probably on the wrong platform.
  • Mount Fuji – not just a mountain but a sacred symbol to the Japanese of everything good about their country.
  • Onsen (hot springs) – you will find onsons everywhere in Japan, some mixed and some segregated, but another great local custom.
  • Sakura (cherry blossoms) are not just for the tourists. When the flowers are at their best, the locals organise parties (Hanami) to sit under the trees and enjoy the view. Take a bottle of sake and you may be able to join them.
  • Kaiseki dinners – traditional Japanese banquet of many small courses of delicate and often intricate dishes served in the traditional manner by a geisha or maiko (trainee).
  • Toyota manufacturing plant & Museum.

And lots more. Japan is a truly fascinating place to visit and there's plenty to see on a very relaxed 15-day tour with the added attraction of Vietnam and Cambodia being add-on options. 

Vietnam 16 - 27 Apr 2024Cambodia 27 Apr - 2 May 2024

Itinerary

View or Print Itinerary
Date
Activity
Overnight

Day 1

Tue 2 Apr
D

Depart various Australian airports for Tokyo. On arrival you will be met and and transferred to our Ginza (central Tokyo) hotel.

When everyone has arrived, we will enjoy an informal welcome reception at the hotel.

Japan

Solaria Nishitetsu Hotel Ginza
4 Chome-9-2 Ginza Tokyo +81 3-6731-5555 view website

Day 2

Wed 3 Apr
B L

We enjoy a guided city tour today to gain some appreciation of the merging of the modern with the traditional – a hallmark of the Japanese nation. At 8.30 am our local guide and bus will collect us from the hotel to take us to our first stop, the Tokyo Tower, for a bird's eye view of one the world's biggest cities. Then we cross the Rainbow Bridge and travel to the north into the Asakusa district where an atmosphere of the Tokyo of past decades survives. Lunch is a magnificent smorgasbord at Musashi overlooking the Sumida River and the Sensoji Buddhist Temple. After lunch, and if we have our seasonal timing right, we will enjoy the cherry blossoms at their peak in Ueno Park, famous for its more than 1000 cherry trees. The park becomes one of the country's most popular spots for hanami (cherry blossom viewing) parties. Our final stop will be at the Imperial Palace and a chance to enjoy more beautifully kept gardens, and if you prefer, a leisurely stroll back to our hotel.

Tokyo has many different centres, often with their own specialty – Ginza for high class shopping, Roppongi for nightlife, Akihabara (aka Akiba) for electronic geekery etc. Most shops, specialty and department stores are open until 8 pm.

Free evening tonight to do your own exploration of one of the world's most vibrant cities.

Solaria Nishitetsu Hotel Ginza
Tokyo

Day 3

Thu 4 Apr
B L D

We board our private charter coach this morning and travel to the west and into Yamanashi Prefecture (ie. state), often dubbed the food-bowl of Japan.

Not only famous for its food production, much of which takes place in the Kofu Basin, the Prefecture boasts highlands, hot springs, the Five Lakes and a natural beauty encouraging many outdoor activities. And there is of course Mt Fuji – the nation's natural, and often very shy, icon.

Yamanashi also has an intriguing history of war-lords, feudal battles, samurai and various shogunates (military governments). Shogunates essentially ruled Japan for 700 years before the 'Meiji Restoration' – whereby control of the country returned to the Emperor Meiji. This set the political scene and a concerted drive to modernise the nation's industry from 1868 through to the end of WWII.

We will visit farms and other sights during our time in Yamanashi.

This is the area where Geoff Martin, the tour group's resident translator, has spent much of his time during his school and later years. We will get to meet some of Geoff's long-standing friends and secret Yamanashi haunts.

Day 4

Fri 5 Apr
B L D

From 1945 onwards, agricultural land reforms significantly increased the number of individual farms and promoted agriculture throughout Yamanashi. Small scale manufacturing industries and commerce also grew at rapid speed during the expansion of the post-war Japanese economy.

More farms and other visits in the region.

Dormy Inn Kofu
Kofu

Day 5

Sat 6 Apr
B D

We travel south this morning through the highlands, with one more chance to view Mt Fuji, before joining our bullet train to Hiroshima. Lunch is on board the train (own arrangements) before arrival about 3 hours (and 700 km!) later. After check into our downtown hotel, this afternoon we will visit the Peace Park and the A-bomb museum, both built around the 'A-bomb dome' which is the skeletal remains of the former Industrial Promotion Hall.

The Hall was one of the very few buildings near the centre of Hiroshima which was left at least partially standing after the first atomic bomb blast on the morning of August 6, 1945.

The Peace Park is a fitting memorial to the horrors of nuclear war.

Day 6

Sun 7 Apr
B L D

Later this morning we board our bullet train to Kyoto. About an hour and a half later (and 400 km!) we arrive in central Kyoto. Up until 1868, when the then Emperor re-located to Edo (now Tokyo), Kyoto had been the Japanese capital for over 1000 years.

We are met at the station by our two local guides and escorted to lunch at our nearby hotel.

After lunch we enjoy an orientation tour of this beautiful city.

Over the centuries, Kyoto was destroyed by many wars and fires, but due to its exceptional historic value, the city was dropped from the list of target cities for the atomic bomb and escaped destruction during World War II. Countless historically priceless structures survive in the city today.

Day 7

Mon 8 Apr
B L

More guided touring around Kyoto this morning. After lunch we then have a free afternoon with plenty of options.

One suggestion is a visit to the famous Nishiki Market, a narrow, five-block long shopping street known as "Kyoto's Kitchen". The market specialises in fresh food and produce and all things related, including knives and cookware.

Or you might like to prepare your own meal (under expert guidance) in a typical Kyoto-family home. An old friend of Greenmount Travel's, Taro Saeki, with his excellent English skills, opens his home to small groups to introduce them to Japanese cooking and an insight into the everyday life of Japanese people.

Maybe a traditional Kaiseki dinner would appeal or perhaps a Maiko (apprentice geisha girl) dance performance.

There are also a number of fantastic museums – from fine and traditional arts through to bullet trains – as well as great restaurants and plenty of nightlife options, particularly in the Gion area.

Hotel Granvia Kyoto
Kyoto

Day 8

Tue 9 Apr
B L D

This morning we board a regional train and head north towards the beautiful coastal town of Tsuruga. We journey past Lake Biwa, the largest fresh-water lake in Japan and the site of intensive rice production. The 7-km long Lake Biwa Canal to Kyoto was constructed between 1885 and 1890 and provided transportation, irrigation and fire fighting water to the city. It also powered Japan’s first (small) hydroelectric power station. At the time, the project was seen as a symbol of Japan’s rising industrial might as it was the first such project to be completed without the input of foreign engineers.

On arrival in Tsuruga we are met by our private charter coach and we take the very scenic road north, along the shores of Tsuruga Bay, to the farming region of Echizen. This is a famous buckwheat production area. We will visit an operation where the local buckwheat is manufactured into soba noodles – a regional delicacy.

The Echizen area is also famous for its 700 plus years knife and sword-making tradition. During the 1970s, when Japan was enjoying rapid economic growth and the trappings of modern 'stainless steel' living were pushing many traditions aside, the young craftsmen of Echizen were worried about their future. After many meetings and a fortuitous meeting with designer Kazuo Kawasaki, they were the subsequent founders of Takefu Knife Village where their unique craft and tradition now lives on.

If you have an interest in beautifully hand-crafted knives, and would like to take one home, this is the place to make your investment.

We then get back on board our coach and continue north for about 100 km to Kanazawa, a very historic town recognised for its great cultural achievements, in its day, rivalling Tokyo and Kyoto.

In fact during World War II, Kanazawa was Japan's second largest city (after Kyoto) to escape destruction by air raids. Consequently, parts of the old castle town, such as the Nagamachi samurai district and chaya entertainment districts, have survived in pretty good condition.

We overnight in Kanazawa.

Day 9

Wed 10 Apr
B L D

Kanazawa is an important city in its region and serves as the capital of Ishikawa Prefecture. The city boasts many historical attractions, restored residences and regions as well as modern museums. But Kanazawa's unchallenged main attraction is Kenrokuen, one of Japan's best landscape gardens and considered by many to be the most beautiful of them all.

We take in a few of the main sights, as well as a peaceful wander through Kenrokuen gardens, before boarding our coach and heading southeast into Gifu Prefecture and the traditional farming village of Shirakawa-go, about an hour's drive through some spectacular Japanese Alps scenery.

This timeless village is famous for 'gasshou-style' wooden farmhouses. We'll visit the Tenshukaku Observatory for an unforgettable bird’s eye view of the village. We'll also meet some of the locals who have Shirakawa-go family connections (and farming methods) dating back many centuries.

You might also get the chance to try another local delicacy – goheimochi – a sticky mashed rice grilled with soysauce and seaweed and then served on a stick. Many say its sublime taste suits the scenery.

We overnight in this beautiful village.

Day 10

Thu 11 Apr
B L

We board our coach later this morning for a beautiful drive to the east and into the mountainous Hida region and the city of Takayama. Takayama retains a traditional touch and has a beautifully preserved old town.

Takayama gained importance as a source of high-quality timber and highly skilled carpenters during the feudal ages. For these important resources, the city was put under direct control of the shogun and enjoyed quite a bit of prosperity considering its remote mountain location.

Hida cattle from Gifu produce a very popular marbled beef for both domestic and export consumption. Hida beef has gained a reputation as a luxury brand, alongside Kobe beef.

Since the modernisation of Japan beginning around 150 years ago, the Japanese Black breed of cattle has been gradually improved, and the cattle are now collectively known as wagyu - meaning “Japanese beef.”

Today, around 90 per cent of wagyu is of the Japanese Black breed and its hybrids. There are over 200 brands of wagyu beef with different names based on production area and methods used for raising the cattle.

We will meet with some Hida beef producers while in the Takayama area – and of course sample the sublime product at one of Takayama's famous beef-themed restaurants, Suzuya.

It's then a free afternoon and evening to explore this beautiful town.

Day 11

Fri 12 Apr
B L

Some more free time this morning before boarding our express train to Nagoya. On arrival in Nagoya, group members have the option of doing a (private) guided tour of the downtown area with plenty of time for shopping and/or enjoying a restaurant or two. Or you can choose to continue on to the town of Toyota where many of the town's namesake vehicles are manufactured. Since Covid, plant tours continue to be suspended but you can visit the Kaikan Museum where Toyota's new models and technologies (and robot shows) are displayed.

Later in the afternoon, the group then re-unites and travels south along the shores of Ise Bay towards Tokoname and the Central Japan International Airport for our flight to Hokkaido tomorrow morning.

Dinner is at your own arrangements this evening with numerous options within 5 minutes of our hotel.

Day 12

Sat 13 Apr
B L D

This morning we are a short in-door stroll from our hotel to the check-in desks for our 8.20 am direct flight to Sapporo (Chitose) on the island of Hokkaido. A breakfast buffet opens at 6.00 am at the hotel so early risers can grab something to eat before heading to the check-in counters. Alternatively, you could find a cafe once you have gone through security. There are no meals served on domestic flights in Japan.

Hokkaido is Japan’s most northern main island and one of the agricultural hubs of the nation. Often called Japan’s frontier, Hokkaido is the least densely populated part of Japan, has beautiful national parks and a large area of suitable soils making it the premier food production region. With 1.2 million hectares of arable land, Hokkaido lays claim to 25 per cent of the entire nation’s cultivated farmlands.

At about 43 degrees north, Hokkaido has long and cool summer days with a large swing between daytime and nighttime temperatures. Farming faces many environmental challenges including severe cold and water-logging. There are also some very difficult peat and heavy clay soils.

Our flight arrives at the New Chitose Airport at 10 am where we are met by our charter coach and local guide. We then take the scenic route, along Hokkaido’s south-eastern coastline, to Obihiro.

We will visit farms and meet with farmers while in the Obihiro area.

Day 13

Sun 14 Apr
B L

We enjoy farm and other visits in the region including lunch at Oono Farm Cow Cow Cafe, run by a local farmer. The farm raises cattle with non-genetically modified, antibiotic-free feed. The cafe serves beef and locally grown produce from this fertile region. Later in the afternoon we return to Obihiro for a free evening.

Richmond Hotel Obihiro Ekimae

Day 14

Mon 15 Apr
B L D

This morning we enjoy some more local visits before continuing to the east through glorious mountain and farmland scenery and onto the beautiful Lake Shikotsu, one of the deepest and clearest lakes in Japan. It is also Japan’s most northerly open water lake.

Surrounded by beautiful mountains such as Mount Eniwadake, Mount Fuppushidake and Mount Tarumaezan, the lake has some stunning backdrops.

We enjoy a special farewell dinner tonight at our luxury international hotel which is part of the New Chitose Airport precinct.

Day 15

Tue 16 Apr
B

Both the domestic and international terminals of the airport are connected to our hotel by covered-in sky bridges. This makes checking in for your flight (to home or Hanoi) a very simple and relaxed procedure.

For those with afternoon flights, there are various activities on offer at the hotel including traditional tea ceremonies as well as an excellent art gallery/museum. Check-out is at 11 am but you are welcome to use the hotels excellent facilities after that time.

For the more adventurous, several top-class golf courses are located close to the airport and offer a good way to either relax or punish yourself for a few hours before your flight.

IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN CONTINUING ON TO VIETNAM (AND MAYBE CAMBODIA), SEE THE SEPARATE VIETNAM ITINERARY ON THIS WEBSITE FOR MORE INFORMATION. DATES HAVE BEEN ARRANGED TO ENSURE A SEAMLESS CONNECTION BETWEEN THE TOURS.

Vietnam 16 - 27 Apr 2024Cambodia 27 Apr - 2 May 2024