Fire ritual in temple

Our favourite Japan tours and excursions

Japan is where it all began for us. We led our first tour here in the year 2000, and we’ve spent the years since building a network of the very best guides, tour leaders, hoteliers, inn owners, enthusiasts and experts across Japan.

Over the years, we’ve learned that a trip to Kyoto isn’t just about ticking off the top ten temples. It’s about peeling back the layers of history with one of our favourite Kyotoites, Kiyono-san, whose passion for traditional culture will bring the city to life. Likewise, a visit to Miyajima isn’t just about seeing the stunning World Heritage shrine, it’s about staying at the tiny inn run by Shinko-san and her son, who’ve known us for over two decades and will serve you the best baked oysters in the whole world.

Our guided tours and excursions cover everything from tea ceremony to cycling tours, and from traditional festivals to kitschy theme parks. Some of them are things you could do without a guide, and some are things you couldn't — but what makes them all special is the people. These are people we’ve known for years, who’ve been on this journey with us and who are passionate about taking you beneath the surface of Japanese culture, and that’s something you won’t find anywhere else.

Our top picks

You won't want to miss out on these must-dos hand-picked by our expert team

Playing drinking games with a maiko in a yellow room in Kyoto

Maiko afternoon tea experience


Geisha are among Japan’s most recognisable icons, but they’re also among its most mysterious and misunderstood. No matter how much you’ve read, meeting one is something special.

Being a geisha isn’t a job, and it’s certainly not a costume. It’s a way of life. Kyoto is the centre of geisha culture, and yet most Kyotoites will never meet one — that’s how elusive and exclusive they are. Take tea with a geisha and you’re taking tea with a living work of art. You’ll soon realise it’s not just about looking pretty and learning to sing and dance. She’s an effortless conversationalist, a master game-player, and she knows how to put you at ease while remaining somehow otherworldly and remote. It’s hard to explain, but meeting a geisha feels a bit like meeting someone from a different time (which, in a way, it is). It’s one of the most unforgettable experiences you can have in Japan.

Hands are shaping clay on a pottery wheel, cast in a warm light

Traditional craft class and workshop visit


Gone are the days when the only Japanese arts and crafts the West had heard were origami and ikebana flower-arranging.

In Japan, there is no hierarchy between art and craft. Origami and ikebana are just two drops in a deep ocean, and each of these myriad techniques and practices is treated as an art form. These range from (to name a few) dyeing, weaving and embroidery to ceramics, paper-making, lacquerware, printing, metalworking and calligraphy. Running through much of Japanese craft is a philosophy that imperfections can be beautiful. For instance, in the art of kintsugi, broken pottery is repaired with powdered gold or silver, while sashiko is a type of decorative embroidery used to mend and reinforce fabric. We can arrange one-off workshops in almost any craft imaginable, or, if you’re a real enthusiast, we can organise a deeper dive into a craft, including guided visits to ateliers and even whole trips themed around your passion.

Hands holding cup of green tea

Japanese tea ceremony


Developed and refined over centuries, tea ceremony is intrinsically linked to Japanese concepts of aesthetics, spirituality, nature, the seasons (actually, pretty much everything).

In fact, the precepts behind tea ceremony run so deep that some Japanese spend a lifetime training to master them — a fact that’s sometimes lost in the myriad tourist “experiences” out there today. A good tea ceremony experience won’t just take you through the motions, it’ll help you understand why. Why a certain utensil is used in a certain season; why the ideal teahouse is rustic and simple; why each movement must be performed just so. Tea ceremony isn’t just a ritual, it’s a meditation on life, and beginning to understand it is the first step towards understanding Japanese culture. One thing’s for sure, you’ll never look at a cuppa the same way again.

Group learning taiko drumming in Tokyo

Taiko drumming


Japanese taiko drumming is an all-sensory experience that’ll have your brain and your body racing to keep up.

Forget marching bands and driving rock beats, taiko is an all-kicking, all-dancing, all-jumping-around endeavour, with tightly choreographed performances including shouts and calls, sweeping arm movements, and other musical accompaniments. Taiko is competitive (Japan’s professional groups perform all over the world), but it’s also incredibly accessible. Join a taiko lesson (dressed in traditional garb) and you’ll find yourself letting loose in no time, throwing in all manner of lunges and flourishes as you get the hang of the basic rhythms. It’s a super-fun way to dive into Japanese culture without feeling like you’re being educated, and it’s particularly great for families.

Lady assisting Japanese swordsmith banging metal

Visit a Japanese swordsmith


More than a weapon, the Japanese sword is the symbol of loyalty between a warrior and his warlord, the ceremonial tool used in religious rites, and the physical manifestation of the owner’s soul.

Visit a Japanese swordsmith today and you’ll see one of a dwindling number of masters of this art making katana as they have been for centuries. Watch as he folds and welds the layers of tamahagane steel to yield both strength and flexibility, then curves and polishes the blade — a process that can take weeks. Through an interpreter, you’ll be able to ask about this meticulous operation, the significance of the sword in Japanese culture, and how to tell a katana’s quality. Depending on the stage of the process, you might even get to try your hand yourself. Sword enthusiast or not, it’s hard not to be impressed by such supreme skill and dedication to a centuries-old art that might not survive much longer.

Sumo wrestlers standing in circle at sumo tournament



A sport, an art form and a religious ritual all in one, sumo wrestling is far, far more interesting than the comedic stereotype that made it to the West.

Did you know, for instance, that sumo wrestlers are not allowed to drive cars, or to wear Western-style clothes? Or that a sumo match is also a religious ritual dating back 1,500 years? Pay a visit to a sumo “stable” — where the wrestlers live and train — with us and you’ll get a glimpse into this strictly regimented way of life. Training begins early in the morning, but wrestlers are also expected to cook, clean and serve their superiors, and to be self-effacing and softly spoken in public. Have us book you a seat at a tournament and you’ll have great fun even if you know nothing of the sport, but go with a guide to keep you up to speed and it’s completely enthralling.