Japan is a bucket list destination for many people, but language barriers can make independent travel difficult. You don’t have to let that stop you, though. Many of the world’s top guided tour operators offer Japan tours that simplify the process of planning trips to Japan and make your vacation time in Japan easy and more enjoyable than going it alone. No matter your interests, there’s a small group tour of Japan to suit your needs.
2024’s Best Small Group Guided Tours of Japan
Whether you want to join a Japan small group tour or an independent tour of Japan with local assistance and backup, this year’s best Japan tours will take you to all of top destinations without having to figure out things like accommodations, public transportation, meals, activities, or travel insurance on your own. Here are my picks for the best Japan tour packages to consider in 2024.
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1. Eternal Japan Tour
Over 13 days, you’ll see some of Japan’s most popular highlights on the Eternal Japan tour from Smithsonian Journeys. Starting in Tokyo, you’ll be visit the gallery of Koshun Masunaga, one of Japan’s highlighted calligraphers; as well as see the Imperial Palace and have free time in Ginza, Tokyo’s bustling shopping and entertainment district. Those who love nature will enjoy time at Mt. Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, and setting sail on Ashi Lake for views of the iconic mountain.
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Other activities on this trip include attending a traditional tea ceremony, going to a local sake brewery, and seeing the Kofuku-ji, a Buddhist temple with a five-story pagoda. One thing to note about this Japan group tour is that since the flights are included in the cost and the itinerary, the actual sightseeing doesn’t start until day three (and it also helps to explain the price tag of this Japan trip).
- Length: 13 days
- Starting price: $7,195
- Average group size: 16 to 24 people
2. Cultural Treasures of Japan Tour
Like many other Japan tours, the Cultural Treasures of Japan tour from Collette starts in Tokyo. While in the iconic city, you’ll explore Asakusa, Tokyo’s oldest Geisha district; participate in a traditional tea ceremony; and have some free time on the oldest shopping street in Japan, the Nakamise Shopping Arcade. After Tokyo, the tour makes stops in seven more Japanese cities, towns and villages.
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In Takayama, you can take a walk through a 600-year-old open-air market along the Miyagawa River in search of tasty treats and local treasures. In Kanazawa, you’ll visit the Samurai district for a tour of a former home of a wealthy samurai family, tour a fish market, and spend time in one of Japan’s most beautiful gardens. Foodies will enjoy a sushi-making class in Kyoto, while movie buffs will love seeing the shrine of Inari, which you may recognize from the movie Memoirs of a Geisha. Note that this Collette trip also uses the first day of the itinerary as a travel day to Japan, so sightseeing doesn’t begin until Day 2.
- Length: 14 days
- Starting price: $4,499
- Average group size: 16 people
3. Walk the Kumano Kodo Tour (Self-Guided)
Self-guided active Japan holidays don’t come any better in 2024 than the 11-day Walk the Kumano Kodo tour from Exodus Travels. The tour starts in Kyoto and ends in Osaka, and packs in plenty of exciting places to explore along the way. After a day of sightseeing around Kyoto, the walk to Kumano Kodo begins in Takijiri. Days four and five are walking days, during which you’ll see small villages and some Oji shrines along the way to Yunomine Osen for a rest day.
The final leg of the walk takes place on days seven and eight, where you can choose your own adventure to ascend the Kogumotorigoe path or walk a section closer to Hongu to see the valley. The walk ends with a view from the Ogumotorigoe Pass, where you can see the Pacific Ocean and the Nachi-taki waterfall. Though this tour is self-guided, it includes all your accommodations, luggage transfers between accommodations along the trail, all breakfasts and six dinners, train transfers, and some in-country support.
- Length: 11 days
- Starting price: $5,200
- Average group size: Self-guided (no group)
4. Cherry Blossoms in Japan: Tokyo to Kyoto Tour
EF Go Ahead Tours
Seeing the cherry blossoms blooming in Japan is a dream trip for many people, and with the Cherry Blossoms in Japan: Tokyo to Kyoto tour from EF Go Ahead Tours, you can see the beautiful blooms (and more) with ease. The 10-day tour starts in Tokyo, where you get to experience Yoyogi Park and the Meiji Shrine before going through the Harajuku neighborhood. The afternoon is spent in Ueno Park and exploring Tokyo on your own. After Tokyo, everyone will make their way to Hake, which is known for its hot springs and impressive views of Mount Fuji.
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The Japan tour includes three days in Kyoto. In this vibrant city, you’ll see the Golden Pavilion—one of Japan’s most famous temples—as well as take a guided Zen meditation class. The tour has plenty of built-in free time, including two completely free days during which you can explore on your own. The tour guides will have plenty of suggestions for making the most of your free time, or you can join an organized (add-on) excursion like a trip to the Nishiki Market or visiting Kamakura.
- Length: 10 days
- Starting price: $4,319
- Average group size: 15 to 35 people
5. Japan with Adventures by Disney
Adventures by Disney
If your travel group includes kids, consider the Adventures by Disney Japan tour. This family-friendly group tour is best suited for families with kids that are six years old or older because of the long days and some strenuous walking. The trip starts in Kyoto, where you’ll enjoy a morning rickshaw tour through Arashiyama and the Bamboo Forest. During dinner one evening, you’ll enjoy a performance by a Maiko, a Geisha in training.
After, you’ll head to the train station and travel by rail to Hiroshima and visit the deeply affecting Hiroshima Peace Park and the accompanying museum dedicated to the atomic bomb victims and World War II. Other highlights of the tour include a hands-on demonstration of Taiko drumming, seeing a live Sumo wrestling demonstration, a countryside bike ride, and trying to cross the busiest intersection in the world, Shibuya Crossing. Adventures by Disney has built in plenty of downtime on this trip, allowing you to explore cities and villages on your own as well as with the group. And the knowledgeable Adventure Guides are always available to answer questions or give suggestions about things to do as well.
- Length: 10 days
- Starting price: $10,999
- Average group size: 35 to 44 people
6. Splendours of Japan Tour
The Splendours of Japan tour from Trafalgar spans 13 days and includes visits to some of Japan’s most beloved cities. The tour starts in Tokyo to see the Sensoji Buddhist Temple, the oldest temple site in the city. You also have the opportunity to be dressed in a traditional kimono by a professional stylist. The tour continues to the Japanese Alps where you’ll see Mount Fuji and stay in Takayama.
Later in the journey, you’ll visit the Nagamachi District to learn about samurai life, take part in a traditional tea ceremony, and see the Fushimi Inari Shrine. There’s also a day spent at Miyajima Island, where there is a torii gate in the sea near the shore.
- Length: 13 days
- Starting price: $6,475
- Average group size: 40 people
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7. Independent Tokyo, Kyoto, and Hiroshima City Stays
If you’re the kind of traveler who wants a tour that’s completely planned out but limited to just the family and friends you want to include, the Tokyo, Kyoto and Hiroshima City Stays tour from Globus is just what you need. The tour includes private guided sightseeing to the Samurai Museum, the Meiji Shrine, and the Asakusa Kannon Temple. Your guided tour of the city also includes a trip to the Tokyo Skytree, where you can go up to the 450th floor to see panoramic views of the city.
Halfway through the trip, you’ll travel via bullet train to Kyoto, and once in the new city, you’ll have a private tour of the Temple of the Gold Pavilion, the Sanjusangendo Temple, and a walking tour of Gion, Kyoto’s most famous geisha district. On the final full day of the trip, your group will be taken to Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, and to Miyajima Island to see the Itsukushima Shrine. With built-in free days, there’s also plenty of opportunity to explore on your own, see some of the other temples in each city, or travel through local markets to try traditional Japanese foods.
- Length: 9 days
- Starting price: $4,749
- Average group size: Self-guided (no group)
8. Classic Japan Tour
Abercrombie & Kent
If you’re looking for a luxury small group Japan tour, the deluxe (and pricey) Classic Japan tour from Abercrombie & Kent may fit the bill. With just 18 people on each tour, you’ll get personalized experiences and even more immersion into Japanese culture. The trip starts in Tokyo, where you’ll learn how to play taiko, Japanese drums, and then explore the Tokyo National Museum and the Meiji Shrine. Foodies will love day three when everyone starts at a local fish market and then gets a hands-on sushi-making lesson. In Hakone, the group will indulge in a Kobe beef lunch too.
Other trip highlights include a walking tour of the Dotonbori District in Osaka, a visit to Nara Park to feed deer by hand, and experiencing a Shinto ceremony at the Kasuga Taisha Shrine. Depending on what time of year you plan to travel to Japan, you may see the blooming cherry blossoms of spring or fall’s red maple leaves.
- Length: 9 days
- Starting price: $12,995
- Average group size:18 people
9. Premium Japan Tour
Intrepid Travel’s Premium Japan tour is a good choice for couples or for families with older teenagers. These small 12-person group tours have a minimum age of 15 and take you from Tokyo to Kyoto. Besides visiting the temples of Tokyo, you also have the opportunity to visit Nakamise dori shopping street and a popular depachika underground food hall.
The trip includes two days in Takayama, a city known for its traditional inns and sake breweries. Here you’ll go on a walking tour of the city and a stop at a pop culture museum, the Takayama Showa-kan Museum. Your Japan tour ends in Kyoto, where the group visits the samurai castle at Himeji, takes a meditation class, marvels at the Fushimi Inari Shrine, and learns about sake making at the Gekkei-kan Sake Brewery.
- Length: 12 days
- Starting price: $6,656
- Average group size: 12 people
10. Coastal Japan: Imperial Dynasties and Modern Culture Tour
National Geographic Expeditions
It’s definitely not cheap, but if you want the ultimate tour of Japan, you won’t find a more impressive itinerary of Japan’s coastal regions than from National Geographic Expeditions. The Coastal Japan: Imperial Dynasties and Modern Culture tour starts with a day and a half of land-based touring in Tokyo, and then the group boards the National Geographic Resolution for an expedition cruise around the Sea of Japan.
One of the first stops is Kanazawa, where you’ll see the geisha and teahouse district of Higashi Chaya Machi. Throughout the rest of the sailing, you’ll stop at the castle town of Hagi, explore Nagasaki Peace Park in Nagasaki, hike through the forest on Yakushima Island, and see Himeji Castle in Kobe. Your group will be joined by National Geographic experts who share their knowledge of the region and answer questions along the way.
- Length: 16 days
- Starting price: $26,670
- Average group size: 102 people