On June 12, we'll board Singapore Airlines, at LAX, bound for Narita International Airport near Tokyo! (Singapore Airlines is famous for their service and cool stewardess outfits. The food is good too – I'm not a vegetarian, but I always get the Indian vegetarian option.) We'll soar over the International Date Line and arrive at Narita on the evening of the 13th and hop on a coach into the heart of the city to our hotel, the Mark City Excel a few steps away from Shibuya Station and its world-famous “scramble” intersection.
We're going to jump right in! First thing in the morning we'll head to historic Tokyo Station to visit Tokyo Character Street, a new underground shopping arcade dedicated to character brands from Sanrio and Studio Ghibli to Shonen Jump and even Winnie the Pooh!
It's off to Odaiba's “Big Sight” convention center for the Tokyo Toy Show, where Japan's toymakers big and small show off their cool, crazy, classic and weird new ideas for the year. This is also where you can find lots of character mascots to take pictures with.
It's street fashion day! We'll tour Shibuya, hitting all the hot spots – Shibuya 109, Parco and more – plus some landmarks for music and vinyl toy fans. Then it's Harajuku, the capital of Japanese street fashion, for more cool clothes and a trip to a Tokyo institution, the toy shop Kiddyland. We'll be joined by a professional photographer, who'll be taking shots of your outfits for our own Japanese-style custom fashion mag, which you'll get to keep as a souvenir when the tour ends!
It's time for Puroland, the Sanrio theme park, with rides, exhibits and shopping you'll find nowhere else! We're getting all-day passports, so you can hang out as long as you want.
Enjoy a free day in Tokyo! If you have special plans or even just a general idea of what you'd like to spend this day doing, we're happy to help you figure it out, so just ask! Tokyo Disney is a popular destination that day.
Our last day for the Tokyo-Only group starts at Hayao Miyazaki's Ghibli Museum in beautiful Inokashira Park. Its theater shows short films that can be seen nowhere else, its exhibits and cafe are playful and fascinating, and its gift shop is a great chance for some final souvenir shopping. In the afternoon, we step back in time in Asakusa, Tokyo's old pleasure district, with its temples, shrines and old-fashioned sweets.
On this day we'll have to say goodbye to our Tokyo-Only guests, but if you signed up for the Kyoto/Osaka option, the tour's just getting started! We'll hop on the shinkansen bullet train for the picturesque journey down the old Tokaido route to Japan's second city, Osaka, at a slick 165 miles per hour. Once we arrive we'll drop our stuff at the Granvia Hotel inside Osaka Station, then head for the cool shopping in Amerika-mura and end the evening as one should – gorging on street food on the Dotombori canal!
It's been called one of the few world cities everyone should see before they die. Kyoto, the imperial capital of Japan for more than a thousand years, was also the only major city not heavily bombed during World War II (it was spared an atomic bomb blast only because Secretary of War Henry Stimson had spent his honeymoon there and knew its cultural value). Full of old temples, shrines, geisha houses, monuments and old machiya homes, the old capital is totally unique.
This will either be a free day, OR you can join us and head to Takarazuka, a small suburb of Osaka famous for two things: as the hometown of Osamu Tezuka, the creator of Astro Boy and the founder of modern anime and manga, and as the base of the world-famous Takarazuka theater troupe, which puts on spectacular, romantic musical performances in which all the roles, male and female, are played by women. We'll visit the Osamu Tezuka Manga Museum...
At last, the time has come. We'll take the shinkansen back to Tokyo, board Singapore Airlines back to LA, and start dreaming of our next visit to this weird, wonderful land...