By Scott Gilman
July 31, 2018
Yakushiji and umbrella in Nara Prefecture
Credit: Getty Images

Scott Gilman is a member of Travel + Leisure’s A-List, a collection of the top travel advisors in the world, and can help plan your perfect getaway. Below is an example of the type of itineraries he creates. To work with Scott, contact him at

Day 1: Arrive in Tokyo

From little known neighborhood restaurants serving exquisite Japanese cuisine, to world-renowned French and Italian restaurants, Japan offers the finest selection of indigenous and international dining experiences in the world. Access to the smaller, quintessential local restaurants — which often serve the finest Japanese food and sake — is often difficult (if not impossible) unless one speaks Japanese. Our wealth of experience in Japan however has provided us with a network of restaurants, where chefs will treat our customers as if they are regular clientele — thereby allowing you to experience Japanese cuisine at its finest.

Stay: Aman Tokyo

Day 2: Tokyo

Waking up early, you will be driven to a Sumo stable, or beya, to watch up close the wrestlers practice. Afterward, visit Tsukiji, the largest fish market in the world.

Head to the marketplace in the Asakusa district and and Senso-ji Temple, in the very heart of Shitamachi, Tokyo’s old merchant district. Asakusa remains Tokyo’s most colorful and traditional neighborhood, with a fun atmosphere and many food stalls preparing senbei, traditional and delicious rice crackers, and many varieties of Japanese sweets.

Explore Kappabashi-Dori, a shopping street between Ueno and Asakusa, where you can find the wares that supply over 80,000 restaurants in Tokyo.Then, head to Ginza, Tokyo’s equivalent of New York’s Fifth Avenue (and, at one time, the most expensive parcel of real estate in the world). A favorite stop is the food floor, or depachika, in Mitsukoshi Department Store.

Stay: Aman Tokyo

Day 3: Tokyo

This morning, stroll through the beautiful wooded grounds of Meiji Shrine, Tokyo’s premier Shinto shrine.

Venture to Harajuku, a mecca of youth culture and avant-garde shopping, and then take the short walk to the Aoyama district and Omotesando, a broad, tree-lined avenue sometimes referred to as Tokyo's Champs-Elysees. Omotesando is a prime location for haute couture brands and architecturally ambitious buildings.

Near Omotesando lies one of the city’s unique treasures, Nezu Art Museum, with its vast rotating collection of Japanese and East Asian art. Explore its exquisite Japanese garden, replete with stepping stones, tea houses, and an extensive collection of stone lanterns.

Last, enjoy an exclusive private experience with our sake expert, who will take you to visit a liquor store in downtown Tokyo. There, you can take part in the tradition of kaku-uchi— sampling different types of sake while casually chatting and enjoying the lively local atmosphere. Our expert will provide you with essential knowledge and help you find your next favorite type of sake.

Stay: Aman Tokyo

Day 4: Kanazawa and Yamanaka Onsen

Take the Shinkansen, Japan's bullet train, for a 2.5-hour ride to Kanazawa (literally, "marsh of gold") in Western Japan. Once governed by the Maeda clan, great patrons of the arts, Kanazawa developed a rich heritage that is reflected in its well-preserved geisha and samurai quarters, beautiful gardens, and its distinctive arts, including pottery and lacquerware.

Meander through one of Japan’s few remaining samurai neighborhoods, Nagamachi, and visit the Nagamachi Samurai Residence. Visit Kanazawa’s renowned Omicho Market and shops that specialize in fabulous Wajima lacquerware. Wander through Kenroku-en Garden, one of the most beautiful stroll gardens in Japan, before visiting the majestic Seisonkaku Villa.

End your day in Higashi Chaya, the largest of Kanazawa’s remaining geisha districts, to visit a historic ochaya (tea house). Afterward, you will be driven forty minutes to your ryokan in Yamanaka Onsen.

​​​​Stay: Kayotei

Day 5: Yamanaka Onsen and Shirakawa-go

Enjoy some time at your ryokan's hot spring baths, then visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Shirakawa-go, a cluster of hamlets over 800 years old. Stop in Ogimachi with its nearly sixty gassho tsukuri, or thatched roof farmhouses, standing amid vegetable gardens and paddy fields. After, enjoy an exclusive private visit to one of the world’s most famous taiko drum makers where you can see how these magnificent instruments are crafted. You may also see a professional taiko drummer rehearsing, and will have an opportunity to try beating the mighty drums yourselves.

​​​​Stay: Kayotei

Day 6: Kyoto

Take a two-hour train to Kyoto, Japan’s former capital. Upon arrival, explore the fun and colorful area around Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka, a pair of pedestrian-only lanes that make for some of the most atmospheric strolling in the whole city. Then, take a short walk to a private temple where you will enjoy a private tea ceremony.

Stroll through the Shijo-Kawaramachi District and its traditional shops selling local foods and crafts. Your walk will end at Yasaka Shrine, located at epicenter of Gion, the city’s Geisha district. Continue onward to Kennin-ji Temple; the oldest Zen temple in Kyoto, Kennin-ji is an oasis of calm on the edge of Gion with a superb Zen garden.

​​​​Stay: The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto

Day 7: Kyoto

Visit Nijo Castle, a magnificent early Edo castle constructed in 1603. Outside of the castle extends the Ninomaru Garden, a traditional Japanese landscape garden with a large pond, ornamental stones and manicured pine trees. Participate in a private Zen session with a Buddhist monk while contemplating a beautiful and tranquil Zen garden, followed by a private walk-through of the temple.

Head to Kinkakuji, the famous Temple of the Golden Pavilion. Experience Ryoanji — a beautiful and tranquil fifteenth century rock garden, before exploring Nishiki-koji Market. Hundreds of vendors have their stalls in this market street to sell anything and everything. Taste special Japanese delicacies, vegetables, fresh fish, dry goods, pickles, and sweets.

​​​​Stay: The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto

Day 8: Kyoto

Head to northwest Kyoto to visit Arashiyama, including the Sagano Bamboo Forest. Visit Tenryu-ji (Heavenly Dragon Temple) and its splendid garden designed by Muso Kokushi in 1340. A park with dozens of cherry trees is located next to the bridge.

Experience Otagi Nenbutsuji Temple, with its wonderful display of 1,200 carved stone figures of Rakan, the disciples of Buddha. Visit a Kyoto-based micro-brewery to learn how sake is made—you will also have the opportunity to sample some of their delicious products in a private tasting.

This evening, enjoy a unique evening at a Japanese ochaya for a private dinner with geisha entertainment. An ochaya only accepts guests through an introduction from its trusted clients. This experience will take you back in time, and is so special that most Japanese will not even have the opportunity to try it.

​​​​Stay: The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto

Day 9: Nara

Journey approximately one hour to Nara, Japan’s first permanent capital established in 710. Your sojourn begins at Nara Park, where deer, considered to be messengers of the Shinto gods, roam free as they have done since ancient times.

Nara can be easily traversed on foot, and most of your day here will be spent walking. After visiting Todaiji Temple, which contains a nearly 50-foot tall great Buddha completed in 752, visit Kasuga Taisha, an 8th century Shinto shrine, and Kofuku-ji. In rural Nara, experience Murou-ji Temple, where you can climb 700 steps to reach its impressive five storied pagoda.

This evening, stay at Sasayuri-Ann, a unique thatched roof luxurious rice terraced villa in a gorgeous and rural area of Nara. Dinner will be prepared by a Michelin-starred chef.

​​​​Stay: Rice Terrace Villa Sasayuri-Ann

Day 10: Nara

Before breakfast, enjoy hiking in Akame (where ninja began), a beautiful and forested area with 48 waterfalls. Visit the house of a 25th generation craftsman whose family has made tea whisks for the Japanese tea ceremony for over 500 years. He will do a private bamboo carving demonstration.

Sasayuri-Ann offers some really fun and special experiences in an intimate setting, including private yoga lessons, farming and local fruit picking excursions, music workshops, guided hikes, and a nighttime fire ceremony.

Stay: Rice Terrace Villa Sasayuri-Ann

Day 11: Naoshima

Transfer to Shin-Osaka Station and take a one-hour train to Okayama Station. Transfer to the Port of Uno to board a private water taxi for a 15-minute ride to the island of Naoshima, a center of contemporary art in Japan.

This afternoon, take a walk-through of the must see Chichu Art Museum — built specifically to house the works of Claude Monet, Walter De Maria, and James Turrell. Visit the newest museum on Naoshima, Lee Ufan Museum, designed by Tadao Ando. It features works by the contemporary artist Lee Ufan, who was born in Korea but has been working and teaching in Japan.

Transfer to your accommodation at Benesse House, a museum hotel also designed by Tadao Ando, and explore its beautiful grounds.

Stay: Benesse House

Day 12: Naoshima and Teshima

Take a private water taxi to the Island of Teshima. Visit Teshima Yokoo House, Teshima Art Museum, and Les Archives du Coeur. Upon your return to Naoshima, explore the Art House Project, a set of seven locations in which artists take over empty houses in residential areas and turn the spaces themselves into works of art. A truly organic project that changes day-to-day, it has evolved to present a new model of community, characterized by positive interaction between urban and rural, young and old, resident and visitor.

Stay: Benesse House

Day 13: Mure, Takamatsu, and Tokyo

Depart Naoshima via private water taxi across the Inland Sea to Shirobana Koen on the island of Shikoku. Visit the village of Mure and the Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum, which houses 150 sculptures — many of which are still unfinished, preserving the working atmosphere of Noguchi's studio.

Stop at Ritsurin Garden, one of Japan’s most beautiful gardens. Created in the seventeenth century, this beautiful stroll garden was once a park attached to the villa of the Matsudaira lords. It took more than a century to complete.

Continue onward to Kinashi Bonsai, the largest Bonsai village in Japan, with a history of growing Bonsai for over 250 years. Fly to Tokyo, and transfer by private vehicle to your hotel and enjoy your final evening in Japan.

Stay: Aman Tokyo

Day 14: Depart Tokyo

Depending on your flight time, you will be picked up at your hotel and driven to Tokyo’s Haneda International Airport or Narita International Airport for your flight home. Our representative will assist you with checking in at the airport.