History and Hydrangeas, Chubu




Experience an explosion of colour this summer with a leisurely private driving tour through the ancient religious heartland of Japan.


This self-guided tour has been designed for lovers of nature, history and hot summers. June in Japan is typified by the gorgeous colours of the hydrangeas (known locally as ‘ajisai’) that fill the countryside at this time of year. A minimum of two people will travel privately in rented cars to match the new, post-covid style of sightseeing.

NARA AND IGA: Home of the Ninja

One night

KYOTO: The Imperial Capital

Two nights

KANAZAWA: City of Samurai

One night

ISHIKAWA: Nature in Bloom

One night

TOYAMA: Gateway to the Alps

One night

TAKAYAMA: The Hidden City

One night

TOKYO: The Dazzling Metropolis

Three nights


12 days / 10 nights


Fly into Tokyo’s Haneda Airport, connecting to Kansai International (Osaka)


Depart from Haneda Airport

Perfect For

Those who want to experience a deeper and more fulfilling side of Japan, discovering the historic region of Chubu – the home of Japanese Buddhism, the Japanese Alps and the first ninja clans.

When to Visit

This trip is designed for June, when the hydrangea flowers are out in full bloom, though the same itinerary is available from July onwards.


Tour fee:

From €2148 / £1801 per person (singles supplement €1372 / £1150 per person)

*Minimum two people, departing on 15th June 2022.


• Board: 10 nights at three- or four-star hotels

• Meals: 10 hotel breakfasts, four evening meals

• Bullet Train ticket: One journey in reserved second-class seats (Ueda to Tokyo)

• ICOCA card: ¥5,000 (€39 / £32) pre-loaded

• Car rental: As listed in the itinerary

• Local transport: Private car, sightseeing bus and train all per itinerary

• English speaking assistant: Per itinerary


• International and domestic flights

• Drinks

• Certain meals, per itinerary

• Personal expenses

• Car parking fees

• Car expenses, including highway fees and petrol

• Entrance tickets to the following sightseeing spots (roughly ¥7,000 = €54 / £45):

• Great Buddha of Todai-ji

• Kasuga-taisha

• Iga Ueno Castle

• Ninja Museum of Igaryu, including ninja show and shuriken workshop

• Mimuroto-ji Temple

• Byodo-in Temple

• Kenroku-en

• Nagamachi Samurai District

• Byodo (Ajisai) Temple

• Gassho-zukuri farmhouse

• Matsumoto Castle

• Additional costs related to any sightseeing spots mentioned in the itinerary

• Other items not mentioned in the itinerary

Please send us inquiry for other departure date for 2022 to 2023

Day 1: Outward Bound

Your first day begins as you board your international flight at London Heathrow, heading to Tokyo. Biostays will be able to help you arrange the flight that best suits your needs, a flight that arrives around mid-morning is recommended, giving you the chance to get your bearings and start sightseeing. Your meals will be served onboard the flight.

Day 2: Historic Nara

  • After an in-flight breakfast, you will arrive at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport and catch a short domestic flight to Kansai International Airport in Osaka. After you collect your luggage, you’ll meet an English-speaking travel representative in the arrivals lobby.
  • They will explain and confirm your itinerary in full detail, and hand over important documents. You will also receive your JR Rail tickets and ICOCA card, a contactless payment card used on the local train networks, just like the Oyster card in London, with ¥5,000 already loaded. You will also collect your rental car and be shown how to set up the sat-nav system. You’re now all ready for your Chubu adventure!
  • Your first stop is Nara, the ancient capital of Japan, which is a 90-minute drive from the airport. Don't forget to take a stroll around Nara Park to meet the many deer who roam the grounds. They are considered to be sacred messengers of the gods, but they’re very friendly for divine souls, and they love to come up and meet strangers. Some have even learned to bow in exchange for the deer crackers you can buy in stalls around the park!
  • Nara is bursting with historic buildings, but there are two must-visit attractions above all others. The first is the Great Buddha of Todai-ji Temple, which at 15m tall is one of the largest bronze Buddhist statues in the world. The second is Kasuga- taisha, a 1,300-year-old Shinto shrine that welcomes guests with hundreds of bronze lanterns dangling from the rafters.
  • You’ll eat your first lunch in Japan at the park, which has plenty of delicious eateries dotted throughout. That evening, you’ll drive for another 60 minutes to Iga Ueno, the birthplace of Matsuo Basho, one of the greatest-ever Haiku poets. Iga is also known around the world, as the home of the ninja, Japan’s iconic medieval spies. Tonight you’ll be checking in at the Nipponia Hotel Igaueno Jokamachi. This three-star hotel shows you the authentic ninja lifestyle, with period architecture and simple amenities. You’ll be treated to a well-deserved welcome dinner here tonight.

Day 3: The Land of the Ninja

  • After leisurely hotel breakfast, the day begins with a 10-minute walk to Iga Ueno Castle, which is better known as the White Phoenix Castle. First built nearly 450 years ago, this gorgeous castle was the seat of the rebellious Toyotomi clan, who were eradicated in 1615 by the powerful Tokugawa Shogunate shortly before the full unification of Japan. Your next stop is the Ninja Museum of Igaryu, which is just a short walk away. The historic ninja was slightly different to how everyone knows them from today’s film and TV, but this museum explains how the people of Iga shaped Japan during its war-torn centuries. You'll also have the chance to see an acrobatic ninja show or even get a hands-on demonstration on how to use their signature weapons: shurikens and short swords!
  • After lunch, you’ll drive to the 1,200 years old Mimuroto-ji Temple in Uji, near Kyoto. Its renowned Ajisai Garden is a delight, containing thousands of hydrangeas from more than 50 species.
  • From there you’ll drive to the gorgeous Byodo-in Temple, which is so beautiful and religiously significant that it has been one of Japan’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites for nearly 30 years. The spectacular central Phoenix Hall appears on the ¥10 coin, and the whole sprawling temple complex has been a key site for Japanese Buddhism for very nearly 1,000 years.
  • After depositing your rental car at a facility in nearby Yamashina, you’ll head into Kyoto itself on local train service. Your hotel for the next two nights is the four-star Miyako Hotel Kyoto Hachijo (or another hotel of similar quality). It’s two minutes walk from Kyoto Station, making it very convenient for exploring both the traditional and modern parts of this delightful city. Tonight’s evening meal is up to you, but the hotel staff will be only too pleased to make excellent local recommendations to suit any palate.

Day 4: Imperial Kyoto

  • Kyoto was Japan’s capital city for more than 800 years, and the seat of the imperial family for longer than that, so it’s packed with incredible historic sites. From Tokugawa’s Palace and its nightingale floors in the centre of the city to the Golden Pavilion, the Fushimi Inari Shrine and many others on the outskirts, there are 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kyoto and its immediate vicinity.
  • The whole day is for you to explore the riches of Kyoto at your pace today, after a hotel breakfast as usual. You can use your ICOCA card to get around, and ¥5,000 should be enough to see as much of the city as you like, but you can top the card up at any of Kyoto’s stations. It can also be used in certain taxis and to pay at certain stores. You’ll be responsible for your lunch and dinner today, and Kyoto has more than its share of excellent restaurants, including near the major historic locations.

Day 5: Samurai, Geisha and Seafood

  • After breakfast, you’ll walk to Kyoto Station and board Thunderbird 9, a local express train service. It’s a two-hour journey to Kanazawa, and the scenery is magnificent throughout. Once you arrive, you’ll walk to your hotel and deposit your luggage with the concierge, before heading out for a lunch of your choice. Kanazawa is one of the most beautiful and historic cities in all of Chubu, and an excellent sightseeing itinerary is prepared for you. Once you’ve eaten, you’ll link up with your taxi driver at the hotel, and your first stop is the famous Kenroku-en Gardens on the grounds of Kanazawa Castle. Entrance fees for the Kenroku-en Gardens are not included.
  • This is officially one of Japan’s three most beautiful landscape gardens, meticulously planned and cultivated for hundreds of years, and home to a variety of flowering trees giving it a completely different appearance each season. You’ll then stroll through Higashi Chaya, a well-preserved historic district in which geishas still entertain guests according to classical principles to this day. Look out for the traditional tea houses and shops selling the local Kanazawa gold-leaf crafts – and of course, the geishas themselves, heading to their engagements.
  • Then you’ll head over to Omicho Market, an authentic food market that dates back to the Edo Period (1603 to 1867) with around 200 shops and stalls. It’s a great place to discover – and sample – the many local specialities at this foodie paradise.
  • The day’s final sightseeing spot is the Nagamachi Samurai District, another beautifully preserved area where samurai families lived in former times. Entrance fees for the Nagamachi Samurai District are not included. It’s at the foot of Kanazawa Castle, and with its earthen walls, private gates, narrow lanes and old canals, this is the perfect place to gaze back through history. Some of the samurai houses and their gardens are even open for public viewing.
  • Your driver will then escort you to the popular Shigeno (or another local sushi restaurant), where you can use your "hyakumangoku" meal coupon. Meaning "one million koku of rice", refers to the way wealth was measured in the samurai era (one koku is about 150kg) – making this is a rather luxurious meal. After a warm goodbye to your driver, you’ll walk back to your hotel, either Hotel Nikko Kanazawa or ANA Crowne Plaza Hotel Kanazawa, where you’ll pick up your luggage and check-in for a well-deserved rest. Both hotels are near Kanazawa Station, and both have four stars.

Day 6: Ishikawa – Harmony in Nature

  • After breakfast at your hotel, you’ll walk to the station to pick up your rental car ahead of a leisurely two-hour drive to Wajima on the Noto Peninsula, which is a hospitable rural area jutting out into the Sea of Japan. Do not forget to visit the “asaichi”, the morning market. With more than 200 stalls, locals have sold fish, vegetables and woodwork here for more than a millennium.
  • You’ll then drive to the 1,000 years old Byodo-ji Temple in Noto-cho. Known both for the beauty and vibrancy of its hydrangea gardens and for its historic “13 Buddhas”, the temple gardens pack in 130 species of hydrangeas, and perhaps 4,000 plants in all shades. After a lunch of your choice, you’ll hop back in the car and head for Shiroyone Senmaida, a stunning area known for its 1,004 rice paddies that nestle up its steep seaside slopes. This is a very traditional – and very beautiful – form of agriculture, and the contrast of the bright green of the rice with the deep blue of the sea is a sight to behold. Your hotel for the evening is Wakura Onsen, a spa resort that’s been in operation for 1,200 years. You’ll be staying at the four-star AenoKaze Hotel, which has private hot spring baths of its own. A nice long soak after a long day is highly recommended on the road. Dinner will be at the hotel, which boasts traditional shows while you eat.

Day 7: Kurobe Gorge by Train

  • After breakfast, you'll have a free morning to explore the beautiful local area – or perhaps just soak some more in the hotel baths! After lunch on your own, you'll drive to the Unazuki Onsen Entaijiso Hotel in Unazuki. You’ll then stroll to Unazuki Station and board a vintage sightseeing train to Kurobe Gorge. The Kurobe Gorge Railway takes a breathtaking route across the area’s stunningly rugged terrain. The route encompasses more than 40 tunnels and 20 bridges, and there’s no better way to see the area’s dramatic natural topography.
  • You’ll be heading for Keyakidaira, a hiking beauty spot that is worth exploring, especially for Hitokui Iwa, the “people-eating crag”, a rock formation that looks as though the very cliff is trying to devour you. Your hotel for the evening is the Entaijiso, a “ryokan” or Japanese travellers’ inn founded in 1883. It has superb views of the Kurobe River and Gorge, and 100% naturally sourced hot spring baths. Dinner will be served at the ryokan, whipped up from fresh, healthy local produce.

Day 8: Like Hands in Prayer

  • You’ve got a full day of sightseeing in your rental car ahead of you today, with a two-hour trip to some remote mountain villages of special historic significance. After breakfast, you’ll drive up to Shirakawa- go, a UNESCO World Heritage Site noted for its traditional “gassho-zukuri” farmhouses, which means “constructed like hands in prayer”. Many of these are more than 250 years old and still in use. You'll eat a lunch of your choice here, before heading to Takayama, a hidden castle town full of fine examples of Edo-period architecture.
  • The Sanmachi district of Takayama has some of the best-preserved medieval streets in all of Japan, and there’s plenty to see and explore in this secluded mountain town. You’ll check-in for the evening at the four-star Hotel Associa Takayama Resort, a modern establishment with six restaurants and bars, and 10 outdoor hot spring baths with spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. Dinner is up to you tonight; you can either eat at the hotel or venture out into the city to see what takes your fancy.

Day 9: Diving into History

This morning, you’ll head to Matsumoto after breakfast at your hotel. Matsumoto Castle is known as the Crow Castle due to its unusual black exterior. Dating back to the 16th century, it is one of only 12 remaining original castles in all of Japan. These days it’s more of a museum than a fortress, and it displays historic arms and armour from times past. You can even meet ninja and samurai from the hospitality squad in the gardens, while there are plenty of lunch options available in the vicinity. It’s then time for the last leg of your grand tour. Once you’ve returned your rental car, you’ll transfer to Ueda Station and board the Bullet Train to Tokyo Station, where you’ll be met by a private car whisking you to the three-star Shinagawa Prince Hotel, your home for the next three nights. This hotel has a full complement of facilities, including restaurants, a movie theatre, an aquarium and even a bowling alley! You may eat your evening meal at the hotel this evening, or venture out into Tokyo to find a restaurant on your own – there are more than enough to choose from.

Day 10: Grand Tour of Tokyo

  • After breakfast at your hotel, as usual, you’ll board Tokyo’s famous public transportation heading back to Tokyo Station. There you’ll board a double-decker sightseeing bus for a panoramic tour through the incredible city. This tour takes in famous landmarks including Hibiya Park, Kasumigaseki, the National Parliament Building, the Toranomon Hills, Tokyo Tower, the Rainbow Bridge, the artificial island of Odaiba, Tsukiji Market, the historic Kabuki-za Theatre and Ginza.
  • That’s a lot to see, but Tokyo is one of the world’s largest and most impressive capital cities and there are plenty more landmarks, museums and historical sites to enjoy. This afternoon is free for you to explore the city at your own pace, and your friendly hotel staff will be only too happy to make recommendations. Both meals are up to you today, but you can barely move to Tokyo without finding yet another great restaurant to suit any budget.

Day 11: Exploring the Metropolis

After breakfast at the hotel, another free day is allotted for you to investigate Tokyo however you like. There are far too many incredible things left for us to describe here, but the Meiji Shrine, Senso-ji Temple, and the National Museum are all fabulous options. Lunch and dinner will both be up to you today.

Day 12: The Return

Breakfast will be at the hotel as usual, before a private car journey to Haneda Airport, where you’ll catch your pre-arranged flight home to the UK


  • GO CENTRAL JAPAN TOURISM ASSOCIATION is a "DMO officially recognized by the Japanese government" aiming for regional revitalization through the sustainable tourism in the nine central prefectures (Toyama, Ishikawa, Fukui, Nagano, Gifu, Shizuoka, Aichi, Mie, Shiga).
  • We operate the "Japan Travel Navigator" platform, which focuses on tourism content rooted in nature, culture, and experiences unique to Japan, and promote the hotel quality certification system "Sakura Quality." In 2022, Sakura Quality “An ESG Practice” is recognized as an internal set of standards by the GSTC. We will promote educational activities on "accommodations that practice SDGs initiatives".
  • https://shoryudo.go-centraljapan.jp/en/
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