Join us on a trip to Japan and South Korea! The Japanese archipelago and the Korean Peninsula share many cultural features and largely have an intertwined common history. Our trip goes first to Japan and then on by boat to South Korea, whose exciting capital Seoul is a true metropolis with a rich cultural offer and a lively commerce. The journey begins in Tokyo, Japan’s vibrant capital. We visit the scenic Hakone and head to the sacred mountain Fuji. We travel with the Shinkansen, Japan’s high-speed train, and experience the ancient capital of Kyoto with its world-famous Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. We also visit Hiroshima, which was wiped out on August 6, 1945, when the world’s first atomic bomb was dropped on the city. From Fukuoka we take a hydrofoil boat over to Busan. In South Korea, we visit, among other things, the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).
Day 1. Travel to South Korea
Flights to the South Korean capital Seoul. Meals are included on the long-haul flight.
Day 2. Seoul
We land in Seoul in the morning. We start the day with a city tour of Seoul that has more than 20 million inhabitants. At Gwanghwamun Plaza we get a first introduction to the history of Korea. In the square stand statues of national heroes King Sejong the Great and Admiral Yi Sunsin. King Sejong introduced the Korean alphabet, Hangul, and he also made Confucianism the dominant discipline in the empire during the 15th century. Admiral Yi Sunsin repulsed arch-enemy Japan in a series of famous naval battles in the late 16th century. We also visit the Gyeongbokgung Palace, built in 1395, known for its fine architecture, arched gates and beautiful gardens. The palace was the most important of the royal palaces during the long Joseon dynasty (1392-1910) and has become an important symbol of Korea’s independence. Finally, we visit the charming Insa-dong area with a large selection of galleries, antique shops, boutiques, cafes and much more. Here you can find everything from antiques and handicrafts to modern art. In the evening we enjoy a welcome dinner with traditional Korean food. (Lunch and dinner)
Day 3. DMZ / JSA
Today we make an excursion north to the demilitarized zone (DMZ) at 38 degrees latitude. The zone has served as a buffer zone between North and South since 1953 when the Korean War ended. We stop at Imjingak Park with its monuments to the Korean War. Not far away is the Freedom Bridge, an old railway bridge that 13,000 prisoners of war crossed after the end of the war on their way to freedom in the South. Another memorial is a locomotive pierced by bullets and grenades. We continue to the border with North Korea and the DMZ. Tensions between South and North are always high and there are thousands of soldiers on both sides of the border. We have to go through a thorough passport control after which our opportunities to photograph are limited. South Korean military personnel inform us about the situation and we get to see a film describing the situation at DMZ. In 1978, the South Korean military discovered a tunnel building 70 meters below the ground in a north-south direction. It is one of several discovered tunnels dug by the North Koreans to be used in surprise attacks on the South. It is estimated that 30,000 soldiers per hour could have passed the 1635 meter long tunnel in such an attack. Those who wish can take part in an exciting hike along a few hundred meters of the tunnel. However, we stop before we cross the border into North Korea! For those who do not want to come along, there is a showroom and shopping opportunities. At the Dora lookout point, we can get an overview of the border area and even see far into North Korea. Dorosan Station is the last railway station before the North Korean border. For a year, from 2007 to 2008, freight trains actually rolled here from South Korea to North Korea, but North Korea soon shut down traffic and the possibility of further contact between the countries. Now only heavily armed soldiers remain and a sign stating that it is 56 km to Seoul and 205 km to Pyongyang. We continue to the JSA (Joint Security Area). Located within the Korean DMZ (Demilitarized Zone), the JSA is also known as Panmunjom’s standstill village, and here Koreans from both sides can meet and continue their negotiations. Overnight in Seoul (Breakfast and lunch)
* As ongoing talks between North Korea and South Korea, the JSA is often closed due to military activities.
Day 4. Seoul – Andong – Gyeongju
In the morning, our journey heads south towards the picturesque city of Andong, the cradle of Korean Confucianism. In the afternoon we visit the village of Hahoe which is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Here we experience Korean traditional culture as it once took shape in the countryside. In the village there are 130 typical clan houses that have been inherited over the generations. We then continue towards Gyeongju. Overnight in Gyeongju. (Breakfast)
Day 5. Gyeongju
Gyeongju was the capital of the Kingdom of Silla (57 BC – 935 AD). During its heyday, the empire covered about two-thirds of the Korean Peninsula. With its background, the city has a rich treasure of archeological sites and historical relics and is therefore called “the museum without walls”. After a visit to the Gyeongju National Museum, we walk in Tumuli Park and view the Herring Kings’ grassy burial mounds. During the walk we also see the beautiful Anapji pond where the Herring Kings and their company are said to have spent much of their free time. Today’s sights also include Cheomseongdae, one of the world’s oldest observatories. In the afternoon we visit some magnificent temples that are on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Seokguram is located inside a cave and is considered one of Asia’s finest Buddhist shrines. It belongs to the Bulguksa temple complex, built in 528 during the Silla dynasty. The temple area is beautifully situated on the slopes of Mount Tohamsan. Overnight in Gyeongju. (Breakfast)
Day 6: Gyeongju – Busan – Fukuoka
We go to the big port city of Busan from where we take a submarine boat to the Japanese port city of Fukuoka on Kyushu, one of the main Japanese islands. The boat trip takes about two hours and we arrive in the afternoon. Overnight in Fukuoka. (Breakfast)
Day 7. Fukuoka – Hiroshima
After breakfast we leave Fukuoka and take a bus to Hiroshima. Hiroshima is, of course, associated with the first atomic bomb dropped on the city on August 6, 1945. The bomb detonated over the city’s political and commercial center. After the war, it was decided that the area would not be rebuilt. Instead, a peace park was built, but the skeleton of what remained of the city’s industrial and trade exhibition building (Genbaku Dome) was left as a monument to the near-total devastation that struck Hiroshima. The ruin has been granted UNESCO World Heritage status. We visit the Peace Park with the Genbaku Dome, the Peace Monuments and the Hiroshima Peace Museum. Overnight in Hiroshima. (Breakfast)
Day 8. Hiroshima – Kyoto
In the morning we head to the holy island of Miyajima. After a short boat ride, we visit what is surely one of Japan’s most photographed objects – the Shinto shrine Itsukushima Jinja which is located in a bay and looks like it is floating on the water. The view is considered to be one of the most beautiful in all of Japan. The shrine is one of the most important in the native Shinto religion and if we are a little lucky we may be able to witness a traditional wedding ceremony or some religious ceremony during our visit. After lunch we take the bus to Kyoto. On the way we visit Himejijo, one of Japan’s most beautiful castles. The castle, which is on the UNESCO World Heritage List, has been closed for restoration for a few years but is now open again. The dazzling white castle is built on top of a high mountain and is often called “the white heron” because the main building with its annexes is reminiscent of a white heron on the run. Overnight in Kyoto. (Breakfast and lunch)
Day 9. Kyoto
Today we visit the Shinto shrine Fushimi Inari Taisha known for its red lacquered torii portals. A torii symbolizes the boundary between this world and the divine. Next to the strange shrine, thousands of torii form a suggestive passage, almost like a red avenue, which winds its way up a sacred mountain. Fushimi Inari Taisha is dedicated to the god of rice, sake and merchandise and the torii portals are mostly donated by various Japanese companies and businessmen. Adjacent to the sanctuary are also numerous stone statues depicting foxes – the messenger of the rice god.
In the morning we also visit Sanjusangendo, perhaps one of the most spectacular Buddhist temples in Kyoto. The temple was built in the 12th century and the long wooden building houses more than 1000 wooden statues, most of which represent the bodhisattva Kannon of Mercy. The gilded wooden statues all differ slightly from each other and together they give a powerful but somewhat enigmatic impression in the large and dark building where they have been lined up for centuries. The temple, as well as the next one, are both on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The Kiyomizu Temple dates from the end of the eighth century and is located on the slopes of Higashiyama in eastern Kyoto. It is especially known for its huge wooden veranda where pilgrims used to gather. Kiyomizu means “the clear water” and alludes to the source adjacent to the temple. The spring water that many of the temple visitors stand in line to drink from is said to have miraculous properties. We then walk at a slow pace along the beautiful slopes of Higashiyama and follow the small alleys Sannenzaka, Ninenzaka and Ishibe-koji down to the Yasaka Shrine where the famous geisha district of Gion is located. The promenade is certainly one of the most beautiful in all of Japan and goes through cultural heritage sites with small boutiques and lanes with discreet tea houses. We arrive in Gion in the late afternoon when the geishas set out to entertain their guests at one of the more exclusive tea houses. With a little luck, it is possible that we will meet one of them. Overnight in Kyoto. (Breakfast)
Day 10. Kyoto – Hakone
Today we visit some more fascinating places that are on the UNESCO World Heritage List. We start the day by visiting the Ryoanji Zen Temple with its famous stone garden. The carefully composed stone arrangements lie like islands in a sea of raked gravel and are meant to be viewed during quiet contemplation. Therefore, we go there in the morning when it is still relatively empty. We then go to the nearby Kinkakuji Temple (the Golden Pavilion), probably Kyoto’s most famous temple. Most of Kinkakuji is covered in gold leaf and the three floors of the temple all have their own distinctive architectural style. Cloudless days, Kinkakuji is reflected crystal clear in the surrounding water and the associated promenade garden is created to blend harmoniously into the underlying landscape. Before leaving Kyoto, we also take the opportunity to visit the Nijo Castle, built in the early 17th century to serve as the residence of the shogun (Japan’s military dictator) on the occasions he visited Kyoto. We admire the castle’s magnificent wooden gate with richly decorated and colorful details and visit the castle’s rock garden. As a security measure, a “nightingale floor” was laid in the castle’s passages, the planks of which whistle when you step on it. The idea was that the sound would reveal nocturnal intruders with the task of assassinating the shogun. In the afternoon we take the Shinkansen towards Hakone, a small town located in Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, about 100 km from Tokyo. The Hakone area is known for its hot springs, beautiful nature and magnificent views, not least the one over Mount Fuji. Overnight in Hakone. (Breakfast and dinner)
Day 11. Hakone – Fuji – Tokyo
In the morning we start with a short boat trip on the crater lake Ashinoko and then visit Owakudani – “the boiling valley”. When the weather is nice, you can usually get a very beautiful view of Mount Fuji from here. Owakudani is a sulfur-long crater area with boiling springs that has been more volcanically active than usual recently. After lunch we start our journey towards Japan’s legendary mountain Fuji. With its height of 3,776 meters, it is Japan’s highest mountain and something of a national symbol. Fuji is an active volcano, but the most recent eruption is quite far back in time (1708). It is perhaps not so surprising that this almost perfectly cone-shaped volcano has long been considered sacred. Fuji has long attracted tourists from all corners of the world and in 2013 gained status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Weather permitting, we will reach the fifth station from where many pilgrims and tourists begin their climb to the top during the summer months when this is possible. Late in the afternoon we take a bus to Japan’s modern capital Tokyo. Then we pay a short visit to the Imperial Palace. As the palace is seldom open to visitors, we have to content ourselves with viewing it at a proper distance. Overnight in Tokyo. (Breakfast)
Day 12. Akihabara, Ueno and Shinjuku
During days 12 and 13 we walk and travel with Tokyo’s excellent public transport and thus get an insight into the everyday life of Tokyo residents
We then head to the electronics district of Akihabara, which offers a large selection of cheap electronics and tax-free goods. Akihabara has also become something of a heaven for so-called otaku. An otaku is a person who has an extreme interest in, for example, manga (Japanese comics), anime (animated film) or computer games. In Akihabara, there are plenty of cafes and different kinds of shops that focus on this rather special target group. We walk from here to the Ueno district along the Ameyoko dori market street which offers everything from clothes to dried fish. There are a large number of food stalls selling various Asian delicacies and on the many side streets there are small shops and boutiques. After lunch in Ueno, there is time to discover the district on your own. If you want, you can for example go for a walk in the nearby Ueno Park where many Tokyo residents seek for a moment of rest. After meeting again, we take Tokyo’s Yamanote ring line to Shinjuku. Here we visit the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. From the skyscraper you get a magnificent view of the megametropolis Tokyo. We go on a city walk in Shinjuku and pass one of the world’s busiest stations – Shinjuku station. Every day, more than 3.5 million people pass this traffic hub. During rush hour, you can see a never-ending stream of commuters on their way to or from work. Shinjuku with its tall buildings, huge TV screens and neon signs is an amazing sight! (Breakfast and lunch) We go on a city walk in Shinjuku and pass one of the world’s busiest stations – Shinjuku station. Every day, more than 3.5 million people pass this traffic hub. During rush hour, you can see a never-ending stream of commuters on their way to or from work. Shinjuku with its tall buildings, huge TV screens and neon signs is an amazing sight! (Breakfast and lunch)
Day 13. Asakusa, Meiji jingu, Harajuku and Shibuya
After breakfast we head to the Asakusa district and Sensoji Temple, perhaps Tokyo’s most famous Buddhist temple. In ancient Japan, marketplaces sprang up adjacent to major temples as visiting pilgrims wanted to sample local delicacies and buy something to take home to loved ones. Even today, many of the larger temples in Japan are home to a lively commerce. Those who want to spend a while at Nakamise dori, a promenade next to the temple buildings lined with small shops and stalls. Here you can buy typical Japanese souvenirs or maybe taste Japanese snacks and goodies. We then visit Meiji jingu, a shrine erected in memory of Emperor Meiji (1852 – 1912) and his wife Empress Shoken (1869-1912). In Japan, Emperor Meiji is associated with the modernization process that began in the latter half of the 19th century. From having previously been cut off from the outside world in almost total self-isolation, Japan developed during Emperor Meiji’s reign to become an Asian superpower. Meiji jingu is therefore a symbol of Japan’s transformation into a modern nation under the care of the Meiji emperor. The sanctuary is also a place where elements of the imperial cult that once surrounded the Japanese emperor are expressed. We then head to the nearby Harajuku district, which has become something of a center for youth culture and fashion, and then take a few stops along the Yamanote line to the Shibuya district, which is known for its huge pedestrian crossing in front of the station building. When it turns green, the pedestrian crossing is filled with streams of crossing crowds from all directions. (Breakfast and lunch)
Day 14. Tokyo
All day for your own walks. Feel free to ask the tour guide for excursion or shopping tips. Overnight in Tokyo. (Breakfast)
Day 15. Return from Tokyo Transfer to the airport and return to the boarding place. Meals are included on board the long-haul flight.