Rail tours are a fantastic way of covering Japan’s city highlights and rural jewels all in the same trip, with the added bonus of having the travel and accommodation arrangements taken care of. Rail travel is befitting of a Japanese adventure, taking you through scenery and terrain you may never otherwise have managed to explore. Cherry blossom, mountains, castles and lakes are beautifully contrasted with the dynamic modern cities of Tokyo and Hiroshima.
Beginning in Tokyo, our tour included a guided walking tour. Expert insight on history, culture and politics were offered. Tokyo is a vibrant city with almost futuristic entertainment and shopping complexes and displays of quirky pop culture images. On the other hand, the Imperial Palace epitomises classic images of Japan, the tiered building with traditional sloping roofs and surrounded by Japanese flora. Residence of the Emperor and Empress, the palace is surrounded by a moat and the extensive gardens are a tranquil retreat from the city bustle. The Meiji Shrine is another Tokyo highlight, the leading road lit by cherry blossoms in spring.
Mt Fuji towers from the Five Lakes District, and is a distinctive conical volcano capped with snow. The Lake District is an area of outstanding natural beauty, the scenery reflecting perfectly off the placed lakes. Nearby Matsumoto is a town outside of time, the essence of Japan captured in its castle, bridges and traditional architecture. Japan’s national drink is sake, and the brewery here conducts insightful tours and tastings of this distinctive rice wine.
Trains wind through the passes of the snow capped Japanese Alps to the hill town of Takayama. Here there is an incredible open air museum set in ancient forest. Antique houses have been relocated to its grounds and showcase the iconic architecture of Japan through the centuries. Farmhouses with steep, thatched roofs are among the most unique examples. Production of traditional crafts and the demonstration of ancient traditions bring rural life of the 18th and 19th centuries to life. Takayama itself has wonderful flower and fruit markets.
Samurai and geisha districts still stand in Kanazawa, a short ride away. The historic streets are characterised by classic sloping roofs and earth walls evoking the Japan has captured western imagination in films and books. Castle and gardens are the main attractions, and the streets have a timeless feel which give an insight into the romance and elegance of Japanese tradition.
At the end of the tour is the city of Hiroshima, a tranquil, leafy city with a complex story to tell. Miyajima Island is a highlight, reached by ferry. At high tide, the gate to the shrine appears to be floating on the waves and provides one of Japan’s most magnificent views. The shrine itself dates back to the 12th century, and is built upon a pier like structure so that commoners could worship at the shrine from boats. The island is also adorned with temples, traditional pavilions and mountains.