There’ll be time for one last soak in the onsen this morning before you board the shinkansen for the two and a half hour high-speed train journey from Hakone to Japan’s cultural capital, Kyoto.
For lunch, we recommend trying eki-ben, the convenient and fun lunch boxes traditionally sold at every shinkansen station.
On arrival in Kyoto, make your way to your accommodation.
Kyoto is home to an astonishing 2,000 shrines and temples, including seventeen UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The oldest was established in the 6th century AD, before the freewheeling Emperor Kanmu relocated to the fertile valley with his household - and all the attendant drama of imperial Japan. For miles around the central imperial estate, you can find soaring pagodas (one, at Toji temple, is the tallest wooden structure in Japan), the superbly decorated shogunate Nijo Castle, and markets selling well-made traditional crafts and decent antiques.
Once you’ve checked in to your hotel and freshened up, meet your guide for a string of hands-on cultural experiences, each carefully designed to introduce all your senses to some of Japan’s most refined and rarified traditions.
You will be taken to a beautifully restored machiya - a style of wooden townhouse that dates all the way back to Japan’s Heian period (794-1185), when Kyoto was capital. Machiya are especially typical of historic Kyoto, although they can be found across Japan - in rapidly dwindling numbers, being difficult and expensive to maintain. These properties housed artisans and merchants, and would usually incorporate a shop facing onto the street, whilst tranquil private gardens and living quarters stretched far back behind the public frontage.
Enjoy a concise tour of the house with expert insight into its architecture, before spending some time being wrapped in a kimono (literal translation - ‘thing to wear’) and obi (the sash of ornate fabric that holds the kimono in place). This traditional garment first came into fashion during the 8th century, and hasn’t changed much since the 18th. Although some people still wear kimono on a daily basis, the garment is now seen as formal attire, and is most often worn at weddings and tea ceremonies.
Unfortunately we can’t guarantee an invitation to a Japanese wedding during your stay, but we can arrange a tea ceremony, and this will be your next experience - once you’re suitably dressed!
The Japanese tea ceremony goes much deeper than brewing the perfect cuppa - it’s deeply intertwined with Zen Buddhism, and involves a sequence of distinct gestures, each with its own meaning. Your tea master will teach you about each movement, and of course share some wisdom about making and serving the best tea.
After your tea ceremony, choose between a walk through the old neighborhood, a visit to a nearby sake brewery (where you’ll have a chance to try the local brew), or a short introduction to origami, the Japanese art of paper folding before returning to your hotel.
Overnight in Kyoto
Today, you'll explore the former imperial capital with a knowledgeable local guide, utilizing Kyoto’s comprehensive bus and subway system to visit some of the city’s World Heritage Sites.
Start your exploration with a visit to Nijo Castle. This ornamental structure is surrounded by stunning gardens, and was built by the founder of the Edo Shogunate as his Kyoto residence. The main building was completed in 1603 and is well-known for its distinctive Momoyama architecture, decorated sliding doors, and chirping ‘nightingale’ floors, probably designed to warn residents of unwanted visitors.
Continue on to Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion, which was originally built as a retirement villa for the Shogun. After his death, it became a Buddhist Temple at his request and is now one of Kyoto’s most famous temples.
You will also visit Ryoan-ji, the site of Japan's most famous Zen garden, considered to be one of the finest surviving examples of its type - you may see it referred to as a ‘rock garden’, but it’s a far cry from the pile of stones and alpine plants that Western gardeners might imagine from such a description! Originally serving as an aristocrat's villa during the Heian Period, the site was later converted into a Zen Buddhist temple in the year 1450. Now, it belongs to the Myoshinji School of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism, and serves as a perfect spot for a zazen meditation.
Later, your guide will take you to the picturesque district of Arashiyama, a nationally designated ‘Historic Site’ and ‘Place of Scenic Beauty’, known for its striking bamboo forest and elegant shrines and a popular destination since the 8th century. Begin your visit at Togetsukyo (‘Moon Crossing’) Bridge, which spans the tranquil Katsura River and is one of Arashiyama’s most recognizable landmarks, and make your way to the bamboo forest path on the west side of the river, where you may well hear the bamboo creaking as it sways in the light winds that stir the ‘treetops’.
Overnight in Kyoto
Today is at leisure for you to explore Kyoto's surroundings. Your Selective Asia consultant can help create your ideal self-guided day.
One suggestion would be to take the short 45-minute train ride to Nara, which became Japan’s first permanent capital during the 8th century. Although the nation’s powerbase shifted elsewhere after just 74 years, the city kept its prestigious legacy - a collection of prestigious wooden temples and shrines that are now a protected UNESCO Heritage Site.
We recommend visiting Todaiji Temple, the world’s largest wooden building, and home to one of Japan’s largest Buddha statues. We also like the red-painted Kasuga Taisha complex, which is Nara’s most celebrated Shinto shrine, and famous for its many ornate lanterns, donated by centuries of worshippers and lit only on special occasions.
You will also have time to wander through Nara Park, known as ‘deer park’ by the locals due to its large population of deer, which are considered in Shinto to be messengers of the gods, and are thus well taken care of - they have become very tame, and often approach visitors in hope of the special deer-snacks that are available to buy for a small fee.
On your return to Kyoto, you can stop at Fushimi Inari, one of the most unusual Shinto shrines in Japan, being composed of thousands of vermilion torii gates that form tunnel-like trails through the forests of Mount Inari.
The Shrine, which was featured in ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’, is very famous for the impressive contrast and mystical atmosphere created by the brightly coloured torii and the natural environment that surrounds them.
Overnight in Kyoto
Your day is at leisure until your transfer to Kansai Airport for your onward flight.