Japan guided tours in 2024: which one is right for you?

Like this post? Help us by sharing it!

For lots of people, Japan is a once-in-a-lifetime destination, and that means you want to get it absolutely rightBut how do you know what right” is for you? There are so many incredible places, from the very northern tip of Hokkaido to the scattered islands of the south. There’s endless fascinating culture, from traditional Buddhist temples to cutting-edge contemporary art. What’s more, each season shows the country in a completely new light. How do you choose? 

Luckily for you, we’ve spent over 20 years helping people do just that. This is our at-a-glance guide to each of our small group tours, and who will love them. 

Still have questions at the end? Just email [email protected] and we’ll be glad to answer them. 

Smiling travelers stare at the camera from their bicycles on a cycling tour in Japan Unmasked
Kibutsuhiko Shrine, one of the stops on the Kibi Plains cycling route

Japan Unmasked 

Combining Japan’s must-see destinations with a few little surprises, Japan Unmasked is perfect for those who want to travel at a brisk pace and discover as many only-in-Japan experiences as possible – without breaking the bank. You’ll take in big names such as Tokyo and Kyoto and enjoy classic experiences such as hot-spring bathing and a traditional ryokan stay — but you’ll also sample some more unusual fare: sleeping at a temple lodging in Nagano; wandering the willow-lined canals of Kurashiki; cycling across the Kibi Plains. You’ll need to be comfortable with non-stop action and staying in basic (but comfortable) accommodationbut if that sounds like you, Japan Unmasked is a fabulous introduction to Japan at really fantastic value. 

Essential info: 13 nights – Find out more about Japan Unmasked.

A multi-colored pirate ship cruises on Lake Ashi, with lush forests in the background
Cross Lake Ashi on a pirate ship

Tokaido Trail 

If you have limited time and budget but you want to see the best of Japan, this is the one for you. Combining three classic “Golden Route” destinations (Tokyo, Kyoto and Hakone) with a bit of off-road exploration at lesser-known Lake Biwa, this tour moves fast and packs in the experiences. Get an in-depth introduction to Kyoto’s geisha district with a local expert, explore the stunning surroundings of Mount Fuji, soak up the electric buzz of Tokyo, then get off the beaten path to visit an island temple unknown to most visitors to Japan. Got more than 10 days? Find your “Japan feet” with an expert tour leader, then set off on your own independent adventure. We can even plan that for you too. 

Essential info: 9 nights – find out more about Tokaido Trail.

The wooden structure of Ginkaku-ji temple contrasts against a backdrop of red autumn leaves in Kyoto
Ginkaku-ji temple in Kyoto

Hidden Japan 

If you want to see a side of Japan that most visitors zoom past on the bullet train, Hidden Japan should be at the top of your list. Though it dips into famous cities such as Kyoto and Hiroshima, Hidden Japan focuses primarily on rural or unusual destinations, such as the serene temple community of Mount Koya and the “art island” of Naoshima. This means it’s super-popular with second-time visitors who want to dig a little deeper into Japan, but it’s also fantastic for first-timers who aren’t fussed about ticking off “must-sees”. If you do want to spend more time in Kyoto or Tokyo, it’s easily extended, too. If you have an adventurous spirit and a curiosity to see what Japan is like away from the glitz and glamour of the big-name sights, you’re going to absolutely love Hidden Japan 

Essential info: 12 nights – find out more about Hidden Japan.

Cars transit in the famous Shibuya crossing, under the light of neon signs

J-Pop & Go 

J-Pop & Go is the tour for those who want to experience Japan “now”, without ignoring Japan “then”. A crash-course in modern Japanese pop culture, it’ll immerse you in an eye-popping wonderland of manga, anime, neon sign-covered alleyways, crazy fashions and even crazier gadgetry — but it’ll also introduce you to Zen meditation at the temples of Kyoto, traditional life on the island of Miyajima, and beautiful scenery surrounding Mount Fuji in Hakone. Though many J-Pop & Go travellers are card-carrying J-culture devotees, you don’t have to know your Ghibli from your Gundam Wing to enjoy this tour; the balance of youth culture experiences with classic destinations makes this a superb Japan introduction for curious people of all ages. 

Essential info: 10 nights – find out more about J-Pop & Go.

A canopy of cherry blossoms cover a stone bridge over a small canal in Kyoto's Gion district
Cherry blossoms in Kyoto

Majestic Japan 

Japan Enchantment travellers are looking for more than just cultural immersion — they’re looking for a real treat. Think champagne by the fireside in Hakone, meeting an apprentice geisha in Kyoto, a sumptuous kaiseki feast in Nikko, and deep-dive cultural experiences led by expert local guides in classic destinations. This is the kind of tour where you’ll never have to worry about catching a train because your private bus will be waiting at your door, and where getting back to your plush hotel room in the evening is as exciting as leaving it in the morning. Of course, a premium experience means a higher price tag, and Majestic Japan is for those who want to splash out — butrust us, you won’t regret a penny. 

Essential info: 14 nights – find out more about Majestic Japan.

Red bridge over river in Nikko, with red autumn colors in the forest
Nikko’s beautiful Shinkyo Bridge

A Northern Soul 

Like Hidden Japan, A Northern Soul is the tour for those who want to get truly off the beaten track. Whether you’ve been to Japan before and want to experience something new, or you’re visiting for the first time and want to avoid the usual tourist trail — this is a real adventure in a rugged, beautiful, and endlessly beguiling part of Japan. Expect incredible World Heritage Sites devoid of crowds, cosmopolitan cities where foreigners are still a novelty, and rural towns thriving despite the devastation of the 2011 tsunami. You’ll need to be prepared for traditional-style futons and limited access to Western food, but the pay-off is a real immersion in a side of Japan as-yet untouched by mass tourism, where the scenery is spectacular, the crowds are non-existent, and the welcomes unfailingly warm. 

Essential info: 14 nights – find out more about A Northern Soul.

Sea eagles perch atop the ice pack in Rausu harbour
Spot Steller’s sea eagles on a drift ice cruise from the harbour at Rausu

Winter Highlights 

Unlike most of our itineraries, Winter Highlights attracts a very specific type of person: outdoors-loving, animal-mad, and definitely not averse to cold fingers and toes! Heading north into snowy Hokkaido, this tour will have you spotting Steller’s sea eagles from an icebreaker cruise, watching red-crowned cranes perform their mating dance in the snow of Tsurui, and visiting the onsen-bathing “snow monkeys” in the mountains of Yudanaka. Though wildlife is the focus of the trip, there’s plenty of culture thrown in too — including temple-hopping in Kyoto, and the incredible ice sculptures of the Sapporo Snow Festival. It may not suitable for kids or sun-seekers, but beyond that, all you need to enjoy Winter Highlights is a love of nature and a sense of adventure. 

Essential info:  14 nights – find out more about Winter Highlights.

Crowds walk toward the big red gate of Senso-ji, Tokyo's oldest temple
Senso-ji, Tokyo’s oldest temple

Classic Japan 

If you wanted to encapsulate Japan — with all its contrasts and contradictions —  in a single two-week trip, Classic Japan would be it. Of course, you could never do such a thing, but this tour’s perfect balance of rural and urban, activity and relaxation, history and modernity, is as fine an introduction to this complex country as we can imagine. Contrast the frenetic energy of Tokyo with leisurely hikes in idyllic Kamikochi, hop from izakaya parties in Osaka to iconic Fuji views in Hakone, then round it all off with some of the world’s most magnificent temples in storied Kyoto. First-timers, return visitors, young kids, solo travellers, older couples… We rarely say that a tour has something for everyone, but in this case it’s true. 

Essential info: 13 nights – find out more about Classic Japan.

Young woman in kimono smiles at the camera with cherry blossoms behind her
Spring in Gion, Kyoto

Spring Elegance 

Japan’s cherry blossom is one of the world’s ultimate travel experiences, and this is the ultimate cherry blossom tour. Of course, nature has its whims — Japan’s cherry trees bloom at a slightly different time every year — but Spring Elegance will give you the very best chance of experiencing the sakura at its peak. That means visiting destinations at different elevations, where the cherry trees bloom at different times, and touring some of the most beautiful landscaped gardens in Japan to see the blossoms at their finest. Itinerary-wise, you could call it “Golden Route meets Best of the Japan Alps”, so you’re guaranteed a fantastic introduction to the country’s classic destinations, too. If you dream of visiting Japan at its most beautiful and joyful, joining in picnics beneath the trees and seeing classic destinations against a canopy of pink, Spring Elegance is the tour for you. 

Essential info: 13 nights – find out more about Spring Elegance.

Western tourists copy the moves of a teacher when practicing Taiko drumming
Try your hand at traditional Taiko drumming

All-In Japan 

Forget what you think you know about all-inclusive holidays, because All-In Japan is different. You might call it the ultimate in curated travelIt has all the stress-busting benefits of a traditional package tour, and yet it also has the unique flair of an expertly designed and tailored trip. Every single experience, every guide, every hotel and every meal is a highlight, carefully selected out of thousands of possible options. Where other all-inclusive tours might hustle you to buffet restaurants and staged experiences, we’ll take you to specially selected restaurants and have you taking part in authentic, hands-on cultural workshops. The culmination of our 20 years exploring Japan, this tour is for those who want to sit back, hand the reins to the experts, and find out why this is our favourite country in the world. 

Essential info: 12 nights – find out more about All-In Japan.

Like this post? Help us by sharing it!