Japan, is landing on our Journey requests more often – we’ve designed numerous ski trips, Sakura Seasons and art visits to Tokyo and Kyoto. One of our creative clients even contributed her amazing photos and her trip descriptions to our blog posts.
Prudent advice – begin early to achieve the best hotel and guiding. We literally have our local teams decline if advance planning isn’t involved.
This particular itinerary was requested by a long time client who is interested in off the radar destinations – when I told him tourists don’t visit these islands, he mentioned that’s what you said when I suggested the Faroe Islands and that was one of our top five trips you organized! Even our local Japan resources demurred; No, is not in my vocabulary, so we began curating what ultimately resulted in another top five Journey!
Welcome to Hokkaido, Japan This journey will take you off the beaten path through Japan’s most northern island, Hokkaido. It is the second largest of Japan’s four main islands and remains “off the beaten track” even for most Japanese. Hokkaido is known also as Ezochi, this is the home of Japan’s indigenous people, the Ainu, who have a culture and lineage completely distinct from that of mainland.
With its rugged landscape, rolling hills, wide open spaces, lakes, rivers, volcanoes, marshlands and nature reserves, Hokkaido is a haven for wildlife and natural scenery.
We cover as much of the best in cuisine this incredible destination has to offer from great local spots and even Michelin star dining. Hokkaido offers those who make the journey north, a unique experience of Japan. We explore quite a few regions and areas in Central, Eastern and Northern Hokkaido. Sapporo-Niseko-Otaru-Yoichi-Shikotsu Toya National Park – Noboribetsu-Nibutani-Date City- Wakkanai-Rishiri Island. Having a private jet helped enormously with limited public transportation challenges.
Ahead is an encapsulated version of their itinerary: Arrive New Chitose airport and transfer to Zaborin Ryokan. Enjoy a traditional “Matcha” green tea and Japanese sweets in your villa or at the Chanoza alcove. Accommodation: Zaborin Ryokan. Zaborin is nestled in the quiet of a private forest in Hanazono, with an overall remote tranquil presence. It is an intimate ryokan of only 15 private villas. Zaborin (坐忘林) combines all the best of Japanese tradition, nature, cuisine and contemporary architecture and style, creating a refuge of simplicity and serenity. Dress code: None, most guests prefer to relax in the samue outfits provided in your Villas for you. You will be provided with slippers as well.
DAY 1 Otaru & Yoichi Meet your guide in the hotel lobby and start private tour in a chartered van.
Otaru Explore and walk around the city of Otaru formerly known as the North Wall Street of Hokkaido. See the Otaru canal houses many warehouses along the water that were transformed into glass shops, pottery stores and the Music box museum. The Sakai town main street has been the center of the mercantile city of Otaru and offers a pleasant local experience for simple shopping and local life.
Visit Kitaichi Glass, a famous glass shop with a variety of Western & Japanese glass & crystal ware and view some glass making/blowing. Otaru is also famous for delicious sweets and desserts, your guide will be happy to escort you to the best stores.
The Art of Making Sushi Enjoy a private sushi making class at a sushi restaurant in Otaru. Your sushi master will give you a hands-on private lesson for how to make and serve sushi. He will be pleased to answer your questions. You will make about 10 pieces of sushi and enjoy it as your lunch. Otaru is best known for its high quality sushi.
Drive to Yoichi (approx. 35-40mins) Nikka Whisky Distillery An afternoon visit to a Japanese whisky distillery, established in 1934. Thanks to clear air and quality wheat production in the area similar to Scotland, which is the home of whiskey, Yoichi is an ideal place to produce quality whiskey. Since then, the distillery has been producing it in the same process. Tour the distillery followed by some whisky tasting.
In 2015, Nikka’s “Taketsuru 17-year pure malt” received a W.W.A (World Whisky Award) in 2015 and won The World’s best-blended malt (pure malt) award.
Dinner at local restaurant Sobadokoro Rakuichi. 2 hours needed for dinner at least at this small 12-seater soba house in Niseko. They only serve a Soba Kaiseki course (a Multi-Course Meal) for dinner. It includes fish, meat, tempura and soba dishes. Counter seating, its intimate! Restaurant Sobadokoro Rakuichi is owned by Tatsuru Rai, a Soba Master, the difference between eating Soba noodles here and anywhere else, is that you may actually experience the soba being made right in front of you. One of the hardest places to get a reservation at and worth the wait for some, which is up to 2 months for some.
DAY 2 Lake Toya, Mt. Usu, Noboribetsu & The Swordsmith in Date City Check out of Zaborin Ryokan. Your guide awaits you at your ryokan. Enjoy the day by chartered van.
Move to Lake Toya. Lake Toya is part of the Shikotsu-Toya National Park. This caldera lake is nearly circular, being 11 kilometers in diameter from East West and 9 kilometers from North-South, and measuring 43 kilometers all around. It also happens to be the location for the G8 summit hosted by Japan in July 2008.
You will be escorted to the observation deck for magnificent views of the national park, the caldera lake, the Nakajima isles to name a few.
Lake Toya seen from space. Nakajima Island is at the center of the lake, and Usu (partly covered by cloud) is just below it. The water in the bottom-left is the Pacific Ocean.
A Local Farm Located on a small hill overlooking Lake Toya. Stop for a refreshing gelato freshly made from Hokkaido’s freshest ingredients. Take in the beautiful scenery at this quaint picturesque farm as well as the gorgeous views of Mt. Yotei and more.
Lunch at Michel Bras Toya Japon Lunch at this unique 2-star Michelin restaurant. French-inspired restaurant with breathtaking sweeping views of volcanic Lake Toya. Located on the top floor of The Windsor Hotel, Toya which kisses the skies sitting proudly overlooking a lake, there lies another culinary expression of the Bras philosophy. Opened in 2002, the restaurant offers a different interpretation of this ‘cuisine of the moment’, still based on the same principles as the Bras philosophy in all four of their restaurants: the use of local produce, deference towards traditions and a profound respect for nature. Two countries, two styles of cuisine, guided by one concept and one standard of excellence, which enables Sébastien Bras to build culinary bridges between Laguiole, France and Toya, Japan based on wonderful encounters and discoveries.
Mt. Usu Volcano Museum This Volcano Science Museum is a learning facility of Mt. Usu, which has been erupting repeatedly since prehistoric times. Learn about the history and the mechanism of these volcanic eruptions. After the museum, we visit a park where the remains of the damaged buildings are preserved.
Private & Exclusive Visit – Japanese Sword studio of Hokkaido artisan, Mr. Korehira Watanabe. Mr. Watanabe is one of last remaining sword smiths in Japan, who has dedicated his life to the swords creation for over 40 years. You will be escorted to his studio and observe him in his workshop. He focuses on recreating the Koto sword. The Koto sword dates back to the Heian and Kamakura periods from 8th to 14th century. After observing him create his works, you’ll have some time to talk with him.
Arrive at your ryokan, Shikotsuko Tsuruga Resort and Spa. This resort hotel is located in a deep forest on the shores of Lake Shikotsu. Located by the Shikotsu-Toya National Park, guests will enjoy a relaxing stay surrounded by nature. Under the concept “the healing power of water”, the hotel offers the ultimate health and beauty experience with its hot spring, spa, fine dining and so on. Your rooms are equipped with an open-air hot spring bath facing the forest of Lake Shikotsu.
DAY 3 Lake Shikotsu and Nibutani Village Canoeing at Lake Shikotsu or Chitose River Start your day on great note; your personal guide will take you to canoe along with a nature guide at Lake Shikotsu or the Chitose river, close to the lake. Your nature guide decides the best spot for you after taking into consideration the weather conditions on the day. During the day, you’ll stop for a short break with something sweet and something to drink.
After local lunch- Move on to Nibutani The Nibutani Ainu Village. Everything you need to know about the indigenous people of Japan, the Ainu. We visit the Nibutani Culture Museum, which exhibits artifacts related to their way of life, such as, clothes, hunting tools, art, religion etc. A traditional dance will be performed just for you. The local people will be teaching you how to do the same as well.
Also, learn how to play a traditional musical instrument, called the Mukkuri. Outside of the museum, there is a village where traditional Ainu-style houses called “Chise” are preserved as Important Cultural Landscapes. In these houses, you will be able to see local artisans making traditional woodcarving and fabrics. Your guide will escort you to the traditional craft shop after.
DAY 4 New Chitose Airport to Wakkanai & Rishiri Island Early morning check-out of Shikotsu Tsurugu Resort and depart to Wakkanai Airport. Limited ferry service- timing is essential. Ferry from Wakkanai port to Rishiri island – Private Room Reserved (approx. 2hrs) First class seats are sometimes available, second class floor seats are not possible to be booked in advance. We reserved a private room onboard this ferry our small group of travelers. Enjoy the great views and the 2‐hour journey together in privacy.
Welcome to Rishiri Island (利尻島, Rishiritō), which belongs to the Rishiri-Rebun-Sarobetsu National Park. Rishiri is a remote, small island about 20 kilometers off the northern tip of Hokkaido, with a circumference of about 60 kilometers and Mount Rishiri, a dormant volcano, at its center. Many of the island’s 6000 inhabitants make a living from tourism and fishing and Kombu seaweed.
On this trip we cycle and pass by fishing villages along the coastal bike road. We catch sea urchin with a local fisherman, taste local delicacies; we walk the streets of the town. We trek, hike, cycle and drive from the Northern to the Southern parts of Rishiri Island covering marshes, trails of alpine flowers and simply indulge in the natural near untouched beauty of Rishiri Island. Cycling in Rishiri Pick up some bikes at the hotel and enjoy a pleasant and casual cycle on Rishiri Island taking in the beautiful scenery, greenery and Mt. Rishiri. You will be escorted to a bike path, which stretches over 20km of the island’s 60km circumference. You won’t be cycling the whole route but you will be making your way over to your next destination. Catching Sea Urchin Learn how local fishermen catch Sea Urchin, then, try catching two sea urchins on your own. Enjoy tasting sea urchin you caught. The fishing boats and catching sea urchin are very near to shore and you will be staying in the wharf.
Kombu Seaweed Rishiri is famous for its Kombu seaweed with top quality in Japan. Using dried Kombu sea weed, try making products such as for soup stock and actually for a snack.
Cycle back to your hotel. You’ll arrive at your hotel, a basic 3-star inn, The Island Inn Rishiri. This is a standard class hotel near Kutsugata port which is located in the west part of Rishiri Island. This port is one of the two main ports of Rishiri Island. For your dinner and breakfast, a buffet meal utilizing local specialties such as fresh seafood, vegetables and so on. Since your travel date falls in the Sea Urchin season, fresh sea urchin and boiled hair crab will be served for dinner.
DAY 5 Explore Rishiri Island & Move to Wakkanai. Transfer to the start point of your trekking (approx.45 mins) Trekking with a Local guide (approx. 4hrs) Enjoy trekking tour with a local guide for about 4 hours. During the tour, you will hike Mt. Pon (Pon Yama), Kanro sensui (mineral water spring) and Hime pond. You can enjoy seeing the prolific wild flowers along the hiking path.
Move to Otatomari Pond, and enjoy Hiking around Otatomari Pond. This is a beautiful pond located in the south of the island. You will be able to enjoy the view of Mt. Rishiri. You will also be escorted to the observatory deck near hiking road. Not only the pond, but also Mt. Rishiri and Sea of Japan can be seen.
Hiking in Minamihama Marshland. You will be able to enjoy the seasonal flowers during hiking such as Marsh tea, small cranberry, and plantain lily. Arrive at Oshidomari port.
Leave Rishiri island by ferry to Wakkanai port. Arrive at your hotel. Check-in. Overnight. The ANA Crowne Plaza Wakkanai is the only recommended accommodation in this area. The hotel is located in the center of Wakkanai city; close to Wakkanai station the port. This is probably the most convenient hotel to look around Wakkanai and Rishiri/Rebun.
Day 6 Wakkanai ‐ Fly to Tokyo (Domestic Private Flight). Welcome to the capital of Japan, Tokyo. This metropolis is home to over 35 million people. The pulsing heart in the center of the Kanto region. One of the world’s most dynamic and bustling cities, incredibly “adorned” with contrasts of concrete jungle skyscrapers and tranquil oasis of perfect Japanese gardens and hidden gems throughout, yet its individual districts each retain their own identity that is uniquely Japanese.
Upon your arrival at Haneda Airport your ground handler will escort you to meet your personal guide. Private transfer to The Peninsula Tokyo Hotel in the city. Exclusive Suite reserved.We also love the new Aman Hotel, but we have an exclusive suite frequently available to our guests at The Peninsula, consisting of over 5000 sq feet.
Skyscrapers & Hidden Gardens: Tokyo Garden Tour. Meet your personal guide in your hotel lobby and start your day by private chartered vehicle in Tokyo, exploring the city’s most stunning Japanese gardens and neighborhoods which lay hidden well off the beaten path among Tokyo’s skyscrapers. Based on time and how you feel you can stop for a refresher in one of the gardens or along the route. You’ll start with a stop at the Imperial Palace.
Imperial Palace The grand residence of the Emperor family, located in a large park area surrounded by moats and massive stone walls. From the large plaza in front of the Imperial Palace, view the Nijubashi, two bridges that form an entrance to the inner palace grounds. Even though the actual palace cannot be entered for security reasons, you will be escorted to the East Garden where the Edo castle can still be seen.
Kiyosumi Garden Explore this Japanese-style landscape garden established by a wealthy merchant. In the stroll-type garden, uniquely shaped rocks and stones, ponds with large carps and well-trimmed pine trees can be enjoyed. Wild birds and seasonal flowers may also be observed in the garden.
Happoen Happoen is a traditional and privately-owned garden with a 300-year-old history. It was originally a Samurai’s residence in the Edo period. The term Happo in Japanese means “eight directions”. The garden was named “Happoen” after the fact that the beautiful views of garden can be enjoyed from every direction.
Alternative Options: Tokyo also has other beautiful gardens of different styles. The guide will have info to help you decide which ones you prefer; there are a few other gems such as the Korakuen and Chinzanso gardens and the Nezu museum. If time permits we can stop by the Senso-ji temple, founded in AD628. The guide is flexible and will escort you according to your interest and based on the time you have.
THE ARTS OF JAPAN – Aesthetics of Japanese Paper: Tokyo Paper Tour. In the morning you will be met by your private guide and driver, and will devote most of your day to the art of Japanese paper and craftsmanship. Explore specialized shops scattered throughout Tokyo– being led to hidden gems dedicated to Japanese paper and traditional craftsmanship. Japanese and beautiful “Washi” paper for you to take home as well. Step into their 12-story store building, 8 floors of only paper products, the rest has so many interesting items. If you need to quench your thirst or appetite visit their indoor organic farm or the “Drink” café for a refreshing lemonade.
Private Origami Class You will be escorted to a gallery which exhibits various kinds of Origami craft. After that, enjoy an Origami art experience. An instructor will assist you creating various shapes from one single square sheets of paper and will show you from basic to advanced techniques according to your request. Make use of your creative skill and make unique shape!
Paper and stationery stores in Ginza If you love paper and stationery, then this is the place for you. Also known to some as the Tokyo’s greatest paper store. Itoya is an experience. Established in 1904, Ginza Itoya offers ideas to enrich everyday life through beautiful stationery. What sticks out the most is the beautiful quality. Itoya have a great collection of traditional papers.
Kyukyodo While Itoya is a collection of unique and innovative stationary from Japan and all over the world, another store, Kyukyodo, specializes in traditional Japanese paper goods. The store does not simply sell only postcards, envelopes etc., they can also find craft arts and aroma goods made of traditional paper called Washi, ink brushes for calligraphy etc.
We will take you to a traditional craft gallery in Aoyama, if you like, which exhibits crafts from all over Japan such as pottery, Japanese lacquer ware, fabrics, glassware, and more.
Aesthetics of Japanese Art: Tokyo Sake & Swords Tour. In the morning you will be met by your private guide, and head out via private car to some of Tokyo’s most refined districts. You will visit some gems in the city, small antique shops, specializing in historic and antique Japanese swords- items you won’t find anywhere else in the world. Later you learn more about sake with your specialist sake guide who will be your guide for the day and tastings of some traditional Japanese sake at local flagship stores of local well known breweries. Personal Note: your guide is also a distinguished sake specialist, one of the best in Japan, we are very pleased she is able to guide you on this day.
Antique Japanese Sword Stores & Collections Firstly, you will be escorted to an established Japanese antique shop specializing in Japanese swords, armor, sword-guards and other Japanese sword fittings. The shop has a history of over 100 years and the current owner is the fourth generation. After the Meiji restoration, the founder resigned as a samurai and started this antique shop.
Japanese Armor If this antique shop stirs your interest in Japanese armor, your guide will escort you to a specialty shop with a focus on Japanese armor. This shop is the flagship store of an armor studio in Kyushu Island which nowadays produces more than 90% of Japanese armor. The armor is hand-made with the traditional techniques preserved for centuries. In Japanese armor, helmets are uniquely ornamented with decorations, such as animal horns, miniature shrines, Chinese characters, and even human hair. All these ornaments represent a unique story, personality and philosophy of each samurai warrior. If you would like, you can customize your own Japanese armor in this shop. If you are in the mood for more and if time permits, stop for a visit to an acclaimed Japanese sword shop which treats antique swords, sword-guards, training swords, and also antique guns. The shop exhibits more than 200 swords.
Sake In ancient times, Japan was known as “the land of abundant reed plains and fresh ears of rice.” Water and rice are at the very heart of Japanese culture. Nurtured over a long history in a beautiful land, Japanese sake, made from these simple ingredients, merges timeless wisdom with sophisticated craft. Your guide is a distinguished sake specialist in Japan. She has been appointed as a “Sake Samurai” by the Japan Sake Brewers Association Junior Council in appreciation for her contribution to the Sake brewing industry by organizing Sake Brewery Tours.
She will escort you to both flagship shops of famed sake breweries and specialty shops with a variety of selected sake from all over Japan. She will tell you all you need to know about this special drink and the difference between various sake’s and sake brewers. Sake tastings are most certainly on the agenda.
This was a specialized touring schedule based on the unique interests of the client and their friends. With advance planning, we can satisfy all requests for exclusive hidden gems in Japan!