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10 Days in Japan

A captivating blend of old-world tradition and new-world innovation, get ready to experience the seamless fusion of ancient cultural treasures and cutting-edge technology that is Japan. Picture bright cherry blossoms in spring and vibrant leaves in autumn, hot springs at the base of beautiful mountains, serene temples, historic castles, and of course the neon lights of modern mega-cities Tokyo and Osaka too.

Our journey spans the diversity of Japan's main island of Honshu, beginning in one of the largest cities in the world, Tokyo, where we'll gather together to begin our adventure together before heading into the scenic region of Nagano, famous for its mountainous terrain, hot springs, and iconic snow monkeys.  From Nagano, we'll bullet-train our way to the cultural treasure of Kyoto with 3 days to explore and take in its historic temples and traditional tea houses before heading to the Japanese culinary capital of Osaka for a couple days of city adventures and even a visit to the famous bowing deer of Nara too!

We'll use Japan's efficient train systems to seamlessly connect our off-the-beaten-track adventures to the sprawling big cities because, especially in Japan, time spent on an impressive train is much more enjoyable than time spent on a big coach bus.

Check out all the details of this journey through the heart of the rising sun below and, as always, if you've got any questions, reach out to us any time.

Days 1 and 2 - TOKYO

Japan's bustling capital is a dynamic metropolis with skyscrapers towering above historic temples and neon-lit streets pulsing with energy. Renowned for cutting-edge technology, fashion, and cuisine, Tokyo is a global economic and cultural hub. Its efficient public transport and orderly chaos make it a captivating destination, offering a unique blend of tradition and innovation.

This is where we'll begin our Japanese adventure together at 4:00pm on day 1 at our group hotel among the bright lights of the Shinjuku neighborhood.  You're welcome to arrive this day, although most people choose to arrive at least 1 night early to give themselves time to rest a bit before meeting the group.  If you'd like Detours to arrange an extra night of hotel for you, just let us know.

Our first evening together will be spent getting to know each other and allowing the trip leader to share a bunch of important trip info before we head to a local Izakaya (like a Japanese-style pub) for our included welcome dinner.  The following day we'll spend with a local guide as we visit the city's highlights including Meiji Shrine, Yoyogi Park, Harajuku district, Takeshita street, Shibuya, and the iconic scrambling crossing.  It's a fascinating city with plenty to explore together as we get comfortable in our home for the coming 10 days.

Days 3 and 4 - NAGANO

The Nagano region, located in central Japan, is renowned for its picturesque mountain landscapes, historic sites, natural hot springs and the iconic snow monkeys too! Home to the 1998 Winter Olympics, Nagano boasts popular ski resorts,  the iconic Matsumoto Castle, traditional ryokan inns, and the serene Zenkoji Temple, a significant pilgrimage site.

We'll travel from Tokyo by modern trains to the small town of Yudanaka, located among Japan's central Alps, where our ryokan accommodation awaits us.  A ryokan is a Japanese-style inn where travelers can experience authentic Japanese culture.  It's in this small-town setting, in our slippers and robes, enjoying the hot springs of its in-house Onsen, that we'll really connect with each other and the traditions of Japan.

When we're not enjoying our small town wandering or soaking in the hot pools, we'll take a short walk through Jigokudani (literally translated as “hell valley”) to see the famous Snow Monkeys.  These monkeys are macaques who descend from the steep cliffs and forest to sit in the warm waters of the hot springs - a really unique sight to see!

We always love to include some off-the-beaten track parts of our itineraries, places to really connect with locals, away from crowds, where we experience the authentic life in our destination.  Our time here in the Nagano region is one of those unique places that we're confident you're going to love as much as we do.

Days 5, 6 and 7 - KYOTO

Our scenic journey on day 5 takes us from Japan's central Alps, down through valleys, along rivers, past tiny farming towns, and into the heart of the country's historic past.  Kyoto, Japan's cultural jewel, captivates with its ancient temples, traditional tea houses, and serene gardens. Kyoto preserves its imperial past, housing stunning shrines like Fushimi Inari and the iconic Kinkaku-ji. The city's charm lies in its picturesque landscapes, cherry blossoms, and a profound cultural legacy.

We'll have 3 nights here to take it all in, starting with a half-day bicycle tour with a local Japanese guide.  Don't worry, the terrain is very flat and easy to navigate by bicycle.  There are plenty of unique stops to make through the city as we learn more about Japan's past in a beautiful setting.

This is also where we'll visit a local sake brewery too!  Whether you're a fan of their strong fermented rice wine or not, you'll enjoy learning about how their national drink is made as you taste a few to see which one is your favorite.

Days 8, 9 and 10 - OSAKA

Day 8 is a very short travel day as it's less than 1 hour from Kyoto to the next, and final, stop of our itinerary together, in Japan's second largest city of Osaka!  While this is a large city, it's quite different from Tokyo.  It has earned itself several nicknames, one of which is "Venice of the East" due to its extensive waterways, canals, and network of bridges.  Another is "Tenka no Daidokoro" ("the nation's kitchen"), which used to refer to it being a rice-trade hub, but now refers to its reputation as the country's most vibrant culinary destination.

We'll check out the nooks and crannies of this modern city with a local guide during the morning of our 9th day together, then we'll have the afternoon to visit the famously polite bowing deer of Nara nearby, or maybe take in a cooking class, or one of the many more options available in the big city.

Our time together comes to an end here in Osaka on the 10th day and you're welcome to depart any time on this day whether you're headed home, onwards to the South Korea Extension, or some other fabulous destination.  There are many international flights from Osaka to cities around the world so, while you'll want to book your flight into Tokyo as you enter Japan, you'll want to book your departure from Osaka as you exit.  If you've got any questions, feel free to reach out.

EXTENSION OPTION - South Korea

Want to take in more of this unique part of the world?  Extend your trip with a self-guided (no Detours trip leader) 3-night extension to South Korea including time in the big city of Seoul and the DMZ area near the northern border of North Korea.  Check out the full details of the optional extension package here.

We don't like staying in smelly shacks on our vacations and we're pretty sure you don't either! You work hard to go on vacation and we believe you deserve an enjoyable, comfortable place to wind down at the end of each day. We put a LOT of time into finding the perfect accommodation for your trip. After rigorous Wi-fi signal testing, fluffing pillows, and taking a shower or two, we've narrowed down our favorite properties. Check out our approved accommodation to see where we've stayed in the past and where we'll likely be staying on your trip.

TOKYO: Groove Shinjuku

In the heart of Tokyo's trendy Shinjuku neighborhood, among the bright lights of one of the largest cities in the world, this hotel is perfectly situated to explore the city during the day and night.  The hotel is modern and comfortable and many rooms have views over the city below.  The on-site restaurant serves up a great breakfast each morning too!

 NAGANO - Ryokan Biyunoyado

Traditional, but with all the modern amenities and comforts, our Ryokan experience is located in the small town of Yudanaka, among the mountains of the central Alps.  Public and private onsens available in addition to their sleek modern lobby and restaurant serving traditional kaiseki cuisine.

KYOTO: Dhawa Yura Kyoto

Perfectly situated near the temples and most popular sites of Kyoto's historic area, this is a beautiful upscale hotel with an on-site restaurant and fitness centre in addition to their comfortable rooms with rainfall showers.

 

OSAKA: Hankyu Respire

Set in the center of the action in downtown Osaka, this modern hotel features both convenience and comfort.  A great restaurant on-site and just a short walking distance of all the town's main sites.

*Please note that due to availability, these exact hotels may not all be available during all Detours trips. However, we will always replace these with similar hotels.

The Climate

Weather can certainly be unpredictable these days so it's a good idea to be prepared for anything.  However, we operate all of our Japan trips in what most would consider the best months to be in Japan.  The areas we visit have warm, drier springs and autumns, and hot and very humid summers, meaning the best months to visit to avoid high heat/humidity and snow are March-May and September-November.  Historically, in these periods you can expect daily highs in the range of 60F / 16C to 75F / 24C and average lows around 50F / 10C to 60F / 16C (depending on the month - check out more details here).  July and August are the warmest months in this area, with temperatures dropping as you get further from these months.

Based on this, your bag should be packed with warm outfits for some periods of cool weather, as well as some shorts and t-shirts for some warmer days.  It's a good idea to bring some just-in-case rain gear too.

The People and LGBTQ+ friendliness

In Japan, the LGBTQ+ community has gained visibility, yet still faces challenges. While Tokyo hosts vibrant Pride events, societal attitudes can be conservative, hindering progress in areas like same-sex marriage recognition. The concept of "coming out" remains complex due to familial expectations. Despite these hurdles, advocacy groups and legal reforms are slowly fostering greater acceptance and understanding across Japanese society.

While progress has been slow in Japan, you shouldn't expect any outright hostility, violence, or any feelings of being unwelcome.

Tokyo and Osaka both have vibrant unique gay nightlife scenes, but you shouldn't expect to find any in the smaller areas that we'll visit.

The Cuisine

Japanese cuisine is renowned for its delicate flavors, meticulous preparation, and aesthetic presentation. With a focus on fresh, seasonal ingredients, traditional Japanese dishes like sushi, sashimi, tempura, and ramen have gained global popularity. The cuisine also encompasses a variety of regional specialties, such as Kyoto's kaiseki, Osaka's okonomiyaki, and Hokkaido's seafood delights. Japanese cooking techniques like grilling (yakitori), simmering (nimono), and pickling (tsukemono) contribute to its diverse culinary landscape.

The cuisine is unique for many visitors but, don't worry, if your tastebuds are not up for trying new things, there are plenty of international options available.

What to Bring

Our advice is simple. Pack your bag, then take half of those things out and leave them back home. It’s common to hear people wishing they’d packed less stuff, but we’ve never heard anyone complain that they didn’t bring enough. Even if you realize you forget to pack some crucial item you can always pick up a replacement once you arrive in Tokyo.  Just make sure to review the climate section above and remember that our trips are run in a casual style so you can leave your tuxedos at home. We'll include some trip-specific packing advice based on expected weather as part of our update email to you, sent 10 days prior to your trip.

Money

Most major credit cards are accepted for purchases in larger stores and restaurants. However, be aware that shrines and other locations in rural areas might only take cash.  It can sometimes be challenging to use large-denomination bills at shops and restaurants, so we encourage you to request small denomination bills when getting cash prior to your trip.

If possible, it's always a good idea to travel internationally with a credit card that doesn't charge foreign transaction fees.  The savings will add up over the course of your trip and may end up being worth the work of getting a new card prior to your trip.  Once you're overseas, if presented with the option to pay in the local currency or your home currency, we suggest always choosing the local currency to further avoid fees.

Tipping

Contrary to many other places in the world, those who work in the service industry in Japan do not rely on tips for their livlihood and tipping is not expected or common in most circumstances, including restaurants.  The service culture in Japan is such that they always have high expectations of service and are not incentivized by the expectation of tips.  While still not expected, a couple of exceptions to this can be with local guides and at Ryokan accommodation where you may tip your nakai-san around 1,000 JPY.  If you choose to reward good service with a tip in Japan, it's customary to place the tip in an envelope (or a folded piece of paper, and present this with both hands to the recipient.

Accommodation

We have pretty high standards when it comes to choosing our accommodations, and trust us, we’ve done plenty of room-sniffing, pillow-patting, and bathroom inspections to make sure we stay at quality spots. To be approved as a Detours accommodations provider, a guesthouse must be in an amazing location, AND be gay-owned or gay-friendly. We won't be staying in 5-star Ritz-Carltons but we also won't subject you to anything we wouldn't want to stay in ourselves.  Around 4-ish star quality is what we stick to. Clean, comfortable, well-located spots that'll put a smile on your face, you can count on that!

Trip Leaders

All Detours trips are led by one of our own Detours trip leaders.  They're there with you every day and their job is to help ensure that this is your trip of a lifetime by taking the hassle out of your trip and enabling you to experience everything you came to Japan for.  Consider them like a friendly concierge that's traveling along with you.  All of our trip leaders are gay and all are well-traveled and experienced in the destination they're leading in, so they'll be a great part of your experience!  In addition to your Detours trip leader, you'll also be joined by local guides along the way, who will be there to give you an even more in-depth understanding of the place you're visiting.

Your Group

Our Detours groups are run with a maximum of 16 travelers. Ages of group members vary but around 80% of our travelers are in their 40's and 50's. Whatever the age of the guys on our trips everyone's already got something in common, an exciting new experience in a new country! Each group is led by a Detours trip leader who is there to ensure everything goes off without a hitch, allowing you to focus on having the time of your life!

Solo Travelers

No problem! Don’t worry, around 60% of our travelers come solo and our trip will provide plenty of chances to meet great people both inside and outside of our group, including other solos. As far as your accommodations go, you’ve got two choices. We can either pair you up with another solo group member in a two-bed room for no extra charge, or you can have your own room for a reasonable surcharge.

Electrical Outlets

Japan uses a "type A" and "type B" plug, the same as North America and several other places in the world. The voltage is 100V with 60 Hz frequency. These days, the majority of items that are plugged into an outlet are built to handle varying voltage and frequency levels, but just to be sure, we suggest checking your item for its accetable range.

Staying Connected

To ensure you don't lose connection along the way, your cell phone provider likely has several roaming options available.  We suggest reaching out to them prior to the trip to find out which package is right for you as it will depend on how much you intend to use your phone while traveling.  Keep in mind that all accommodation and most restaurants have free WiFi available as well.

What's included? • All taxes • Accommodations for your 10-day Detours experience • All full breakfasts •  All bus and train transfers between itinerary stops • Sake brewery tour in Kyoto • 24hr subway pass and walking tour of central Tokyo with local guide • Walking tour of central Osaka with local guide • Visit to Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park in Nagano • Bicycle rental and tour with local guide in Kyoto • Izakaya welcome dinner in Tokyo • Knowledgeable and fun Detours trip leader • 

What isn't included? • Meals and drinks outside of those listed above • Activities outside of the those listed above • International Airfare • Arrival/departure airport transfers • Optional gratuities •

Additional spending budget?  Your big-ticket items are included through the trip, but you'll want to budget for additional spending such as additional meals, drinks, shopping, activities, etc. These costs can vary dramatically with differing personal habits but we suggest expecting to spend an additional $900 USD at the lower end for the more budget-conscious and $1300 USD at the higher end for the splurgers.  We suggest arriving with some local cash, approximately the equivilant of $300 USD in Japanese Yen.

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A serene pathway lined by towering bamboo on either side.
Two japanese macaques sitting in a hot spring.
Torii gates line a path at fushimi inari shrine in kyoto, japan, with inscriptions on the vermilion pillars.
A row of glowing red paper lanterns with japanese characters hanging in a dim setting.
Vibrant and crowded shopping street in japan at night with neon signage.
A bowl of assorted sashimi served with soy sauce and wasabi.
Traditional japanese temple with intricate wooden architecture surrounded by lush greenery.
Three individuals in traditional japanese kimonos walking past a display of lanterns.
Traditional japanese pavilion surrounded by lush greenery and a tranquil pond.


Trip Reviews

Matt R. - USA

October 18, 2023

We recently completed the Portugal-Morocco tour as our first Detours Travel adventure and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The tour is a great mix of planned activity and free time that you can manage as you choose. We were fortunate to have two fantastic Detours trip leaders (Ollie and Shane) who both made the trip fun and inclusive. The excitement of exploring new places is combined with the fun of meeting new friends. Highly recommend!

Matt R. - USA

October 18, 2023

We recently completed the Portugal-Morocco tour as our first Detours Travel adventure and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The tour is a great mix of planned activity and free time that you can manage as you choose. We were fortunate to have two fantastic Detours trip leaders (Ollie and Shane) who both made the trip fun and inclusive. The excitement of exploring new places is combined with the fun of meeting new friends. Highly recommend!

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