Visit Japan in autumn 2019 and you'll have the chance to witness an extraordinary spectacle. No, not the splendid autumn foliage, although we agree that's a great reason to go. We're talking about the Rugby World Cup, which will take over Japan towards the end of September next year.
We'd hate to pass up an opportunity to give you the advantage, and we do try to tackle things head on, so our resident flanker Stephen has tailored an exclusive RWC itinerary, based around the England Group Games with plenty of world class sight-seeing in between. And if England's not your team, we can tailor an itinerary around any of the other games. Don't leave it too long to book, though - the hotels will be busy, so pack your ruck-sack and get ahead of the scrum...
Give yourself a little time to get your feet on the ground after the longhaul flight and explore Tokyo before you catch the bullet train to Hokkaido for a few days exploring before the first game. Hokkaido is an island a couple of hours north from Tokyo on the bullet train (which is absolutely the best way to get there). Arriving a couple of days before the first game will give you time to explore, including a cable-car trip up the mountain that overlooks the city, a hike around Onuma Quasi National Park with its dormant volcano, and a visit to the Sapporo brewery.
After England v Tonga, fly south to Fukuoka, which has a reputation for excellent streetfood - in particular ramen noodles, which are sold across Japan but particularly special here. Over the following days you'll be making your way north along the coast. First stop is Hiroshima, now as famous for arts and culture as it is for promoting world peace, and spend time exploring this all too famous city. The Peace Memorial Museum is a sobering must-visit for most - its Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site, containing the museum, cenotaphs, peace bells, and ruined buildings that survived the blast.
Having explored Hiroshima, head north to Kobe to see England play the USA, stopping off en route for a stroll around Naoshima Art Island, famous for its huge sculptures and innovative architecture. Kobe is synonymous with extraordinary beef steak, a local delicacy known the world over for its flavour and tenderness. If you're a meat-lover, let us make you a reservation! Our expert local guides can advise on the best restaurants to try it.
From Kobe, head to Osaka for some urban R&R. Osaka's reputation for fun is not exaggerated, and it's the perfect place to spend a couple of light-hearted days & nights, fortifying yourself with delicious soulfood, and perhaps a couple of craft beers. We can organise a private street-food tour with an expert local guide, who will show you exactly where to find the lushest dumplings and most relaxing local bars. To continue the sports theme, take in a baseball game - local fans are infamous for their fanatic behaviour, so it should be quite an experience!
Continue your journey up the coast with a night in the Mie prefecture to visit the Ise Grand Shrine. This 7th century Shinto shrine is one of Japan's most revered sites, and is set amongst a network of pilgrim paths that weave through the forest. Mie is also famous for its pearls, which are harvested just offshore. We can arrange for you to meet with some of the women who still free-dive to collect the oysters in the traditional manner.
Japan's hot spring culture is one of our favourite aspects of this sophisticated country, and Hakone is one of the country's best known onsen resorts. Each onsen is built around its own hot spring, and visitors spend time relaxing and bathing in the mineral-rich waters. There's a bit of onsen etiquette to learn, and (because of the tattoo's association with Japanese organised crime) you probably won't be allowed in if you have large tattoos. However, if neither of those is a problem, we heartily recommend this unique form of relaxation! You'll be staying in a ryokan - a traditional Japanese inn which serves a hearty local feast each night.
Hakone is only an hour or so by train from Tokyo, so it's easy enough to get to the capital in time for some prime sightseeing before the England v Argentina game. Tokyo is one of the world's most remarkable cities, and the first thing you should do on arrival - once you've closed your jaw - is eat, which is easy enough thanks to the Japanese preference for displaying menus in the form of life-sized models of food. We especially love monjayaki, filled pancakes that are cooked on a hotplate at your table. Then head to a sky-bar for an impressive sunset view across the city - with a bit of luck (and correct positioning) you'll see Mount Fuji on the horizon. One of our Destination Specialists can give you ideas that are tailored to your interests, but we do enjoy a good food tour, visiting some of the city's impressive temples, and soaking up the extraordinary sensations of daily life in this astonishing metropolis.
Kyoto is the place to experience traditional Japan, with hundreds of ancient temples and old wooden buildings. You might spot a geisha flitting between appointments at one of the tea houses, where we can arrange for you to have a formal dinner with an apprentice geisha to learn more about this much misunderstood artform. Explore Kyoto by bike, or hike up into the surrounding hillsides for beautiful views of the city. We can also organise experiences such as a private tea ceremony or learning the art of dressing in a real kimono.
From Kyoto, it's an hour or so on the bullet train to Kanazawa, a cultural hotspot on Japan's north coast, which was once a samurai warlord's outpost. You can still visit his castle, the 'ninja' temple designed to thwart him, and the old samurai quarter that once housed his warriors. These days you're more likely to do battle with a plate of sushi than a samurai - Kanazawa is famous for its excellent local seafood.
The route back to Tokyo from Kanazawa goes via Shirakawa-go and Takayama. Shirakawa-go is a living history village and UNESCO World Heritage Site famous for its collection of traditional wooden gassho-zukuri farmhouses, some of which are more than 250 years old. Having explored the village, head through the scenic alpine landscape to Takayama, a beautifully preserved old town known for its beautifully carved wooden buildings. The town used to be entirely cut off from the rest of Japan due to its historically inaccessible location, nestled high on the Hida Alpine region.
Having brushed up on your samurai history in Japan's historic towns, it's time to get back to Tokyo for the showdown between England and France. Catch the bullet train through the Japanese Alps (literally through - they built a tunnel) in time for a couple more nights in the city before the game on October 12th at International Stadium Yokohama, near Tokyo Bay. Give yourself a day or two to recover before departing - hopefully victorious! - for home.
22nd September 2019: England v Tonga – Sapporo Dome
26th September: England v USA - Kobe Misaki Stadium
5th October: England v Argentina – Tokyo Stadium
12th October: England v France – International Stadium Yokohama