Our gay Japan tour starts in modern Tokyo, then pauses at a traditional lodge that’s a short walk from the snow monkeys of the Japanese Alps. Next is Kyoto, with its abundance of temples and gardens and a visit to an art museum built into a hillside. Our unique Extension visits Himeji Castle, the world-renowned Benesse Art Site on Naoshima Island and Hiroshima to see both the solemn Peace Park and beautiful Miyajima Island.
Enjoy the Culture and Natural Beauty of Japan
Let us show you authentic corners of Japan that reflect the diversity of that proud and ancient land, both ancient and modern, both urban and surrounded by nature. From colorful kimonos to delicate calligraphy, glorious temples to perfectly prim gardens, indelible images of Japan will remain imprinted in your memory once you experience the real Japan. We’ll explore lively Tokyo, visit the Japanese Alps home of the snow monkeys, enjoy Kyoto’s abundance of history, and on our Extension relax on Naoshima Island surrounded by sublime art, and contemplate what Hiroshima means to the people who live there.
November 01 to 09 – $6798.00 USD
Duration: 9 Days
Starts In: Tokyo, Japan
Ends In: Kyoto, Japan
Deposit: $1000 USD
Land transportation within Japan; Deluxe hotel rooms (futon on tatami mat floors for one night), in double occupancy; A limited number of single rooms are available; Breakfast each day and other meals as shown in itinerary; Guided tours of Tokyo and Kyoto; Permits to walk to hot springs used by snow monkeys; Shipment of one piece of luggage between hotels (NOTE: luggage will be picked up one day before each travel day); Services of a knowledgeable HE Travel tour host (with a minimum number of participants); Hotel services charges, taxes and gratuities for included meals. HE Travel provides complimentary Medical & Evacuation Insurance for every US Resident on our group tours who does not have other coverage.
Airfare; Transfers between airports and hotels at start and end of the tour (but with recommendations for efficient and inexpensive transfers); Meals not described as being included in the itinerary; Personal items including alcoholic beverages, snacks, laundry, and telephone calls. Gratuities to local guides and HE Travel tour director.
We will spend the night at a Japanese ryokan, with western beds or futons in tatami mat rooms. Relax in the hot springs pools of our hotel. Later, put on your yukata robe for our special kaiseki dinner, highlighting the vegetables and beef from this mountain region.
The following morning, early risers can make a second visit to see the monkeys. Later we will depart for Kyoto, Japan’s classic capital city, by a mix of local and bullet trains. Upon arrival, we’ll check into our deluxe hotel for the next four nights, and our guide will give an orientation to what we’ll see in Kyoto.
NOTE: The locations listed are our planned stops. However, we may substitute other stops based on weather, congestion and other local factors.
We start our touring with a boat ride through the pristine forest and mild rapids of Hozugawa Canyon. Our ride finishes near Tenryuji Temple. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is famous for its gardens, thought to be the oldest in Kyoto, dating to the 14th Century. Their stylish restaurant offers delicious vegetarian meals, so we’ll stop there for lunch.
After lunch, we’ll take a rickshaw ride around the temple precincts and through a lush bamboo grove.
Today’s tour concludes at Kinkakuji Temple, a stunning gold-covered pavilion originally built-in 1393. A great photo opportunity is the image of the Golden Pavilion reflected in the tranquil waters of the lake. It was made famous in the book Temple of the Golden Pavilion by gay Japanese writer Yukio Mishima. He wrote of rivalries among monks, including one who burned down the temple.
The museum displays a permanent collection of statues and artifacts from ancient civilizations, along with seasonal exhibits of Japanese art. Following our visit to the Miho Museum, we will return to Kyoto. The rest of the day will be free to explore additional temples and castles, take a train up into the mountains, or enjoy the amenities of our deluxe hotel.
We will have the farewell dinner of our main tour in a traditional building nestled in the hills.
Day 9: Himeji Castle and Kurashiki
We will drive from Kyoto to Himeji Castle, considered the finest samurai castle still standing in Japan. In the afternoon, we will visit Kurashiki, a historic town known for its restored warehouses lining picturesque canals. From there we will make the short drive to Okayama, where we will spend the night.
Day 10: Benesse Art Site on Naoshima Island
tranquil naoshima island on the HE Travel gay japan tour
This morning we will take a train and ferry to the Benesse Art Site on Naoshima Island. We will spend the day exploring this amazing mecca of traditional and modern Japanese art.
According to the President of Benesse Art Site, “Because contemporary society is overflowing with products and information, I wanted to create a site removed from the noise of the city; a place where people could truly reflect on the meaning of living well.”
Part museum, part park, part experiment, part hotel, Benesse offers everything from the unusual to the sublime. Charming giant sculptures, special architecture and quiet spaces make this site a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Read more about Benesse in a 2011 The New York Times travel article.
One-stop is the Chichu Art Museum, which was designed by Takeo Ando as a work of art, built into a hillside. There are only 8 works of art on display, including Monet Water Lilies in a setting with only filtered natural light.
In the main village of Naoshima are several “Art Houses”, each designed by an artist who has turned a house or decommissioned temple into a work of art.
Day 11: Hiroshima Peace Park
This morning, we’ll take a short bullet train ride from Okayama to Hiroshima. Once there, we will transfer to our deluxe hotel for a 2-night stay.
In the afternoon, we will have a reflective tour of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. We will see school children presenting “1000-crane” origami displays which have long symbolized hope and healing. Along the river is the Atomic Bomb Dome, an exhibition hall until the bomb fell. It is retained as a memorial to those who lost their lives on that fateful day. We will visit the Peace Park Museum at our own pace, as well as an origami museum.
Day 12: Miyajima
This day offers the contrasting setting of the region’s natural beauty and religious heritage on nearby Miyajima Island. The island is most famous for the massive “torii” gate of the Itsukushima Shinto Shrine. At low tide, the gate is connected by mudflats to the rest of the island, but at high tide, the gate rises majestically out of the sea. The native population of small deer wanders around the entire village.
Time and weather permitting, we will take the Miyajima Ropeway up to Mount Misen, from which we can get panoramic views of the Inland Sea. Mount Misen is honored by devout Buddhists, since Kobo Daishi, founder of Koyasan, established a monastery there in 806 AD.
We will take a boat back to our hotel, and the evening is on our own.
Day 13: Departure or Begin Koyasan Extension
This day is at leisure until time to transfer to Hiroshima Airport or the train station to start home. Those with more time can join us for the Koyasan Monastery Extension.
Two-Night Koyosan Monastery Extension
This extension follows the Himeji, Benesse and Hiroshima Extension. Our visit to the sacred Buddhist mountain of Koyasan, begins with trains and a funicular from Hiroshima to Koyasan. We will drop our bags at the monastery where we will stay in comfortable rooms with tatami mats. In the afternoon, we will walk through Okunoin Cemetery to see the mausoleum of the founder of Shingon Buddhism, who died in 835 AD.
We’ll have a special vegetarian dinner at our monastery, and in the morning, an invitation to observe ceremonies led by the monks of our temple. After breakfast, we will visit two of the most picturesque temple complexes of this sacred mountain setting, likely with autumn leaves at their peak!
After lunch at a Koyasan restaurant, we will return to Osaka for one night before flights home.
What if I am traveling alone?
Most of our trips draw more single travelers than couples. When couples do join us, it’s usually because they’re looking forward to interacting with a gay group; if they wanted a holiday by themselves, they wouldn’t have signed up to travel with us. Furthermore, the activities included with our trips serve as natural ice-breakers. Within a day, you’ll be traveling with friends. You don’t need to pay the single supplement if you’re traveling alone. We’ll be happy to match you with a roommate. Pay the single supplement only if you want a bedroom to yourself.
For selected trips, including cruises, we will charge half the single supplement if you request a roommate but we can’t match you with someone.
Where does the tour start and end?
This tour starts in Tokyo and ends in Kyoto, Japan, with the Extensions ending in Hiroshima and Osaka.
What is the Activity Level of This Tour?
Traveling in Japan requires some stamina for walking on uneven surfaces and occasionally up and down hills. Gardens, pathways, and temple steps are usually well maintained.
What will the hotels be like?
We stay in deluxe lodgings throughout this tour. In Tokyo we stay in a modern centrally located hotel next to a traditional Shinto shrine, offering greenery right outside the breakfast room windows. In the Japanese Alps, we stay in a traditional Japanese inn called a ryokan, where we sleep on futons laid out on tatami straw mats (please advise if you have mobility issues such that sleeping on a futon will be a problem). Our Kyoto hotel is in a great location for our group tours, and also perfect for any walking or subway exploration on your own.
On our Extensions, our Okayama hotel adjoins the train station, offering numerous dining options, and our Hiroshima hotel is a short walk from Hiroshima Castle and the Peace Park. On our Koya-san extension, we spend a night in a rustic room in a monastery of Koya-san, a mountain of monasteries, and finish with a night in a central Osaka hotel.
HE Travel owner Phil Sheldon designed this tour, in conjunction with his tour mentor, a professional tour director who specializes in Japanese tours. Phil was an AFS high school exchange student in Japan and majored in East Asian Studies at Harvard. He later worked for IBM Japan and has led multiple tours to various corners of the country. Phil is excited to introduce more travelers to this beautiful land that holds a very dear place in his heart.
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