Japan is one of the most amazing experiences you can have as a traveller, and China Eastern Airlines has just released two spectacular 10-day itineraries that showcase the very best Japan has to offer – at an incredible price.
Both itineraries include superlative service aboard China Eastern Airlines flights from Australia, travel around Japan using the country's superb high-speed rail network and three-star hotel accommodation – the perfect springboard for an unforgettable journey.
Traditional Japan by Rail is a self-guided rail journey that travels in a giant loop from Tokyo to take in Nikko, Kanazawa, Takayama and Nagoya.
From your Australian departure city, the itinerary begins with a flight to Tokyo via Shanghai. The day of arrival and the following day are yours free to explore Tokyo, and what an incredible city this is.
Take in the wild and weird fashion scene in the Harajuku district, the venerable Senso-ji, Tokyo's oldest temple, and the nearby Asakusa Shrine, one of the most famous Shinto shrines in Tokyo. The surrounding streets are packed with temple souvenirs that you won't find in other cities. In the evening head for the Shibuya Crossing outside Shibuya Station, where the brilliant neon displays have made this a favourite for movie makers.
Tokyo's food scene is sensational. This is food as art, whether it's a bento box bought from a railway station kiosk, the local soba shop or a five-star restaurant. The gold-plated experience in the Japanese dining repertoire is the multi-course kaiseki meal, the Japanese version of a degustation menu. Shinjuku and Shibuya, Tokyo's buzzy nightlife neighbourhoods, are good places to start.
The following day continue to explore Tokyo, or take an optional guided tour to Nikko, a World Heritage site and site of the Toshogu Shrine, dedicated to the founder of the dynasty that ruled Japan for over 250 years. The nearby Nikko National Park offers mountain landscapes, lakes, waterfalls, hot springs and hiking trails.
Next day you'll travel to Kanazawa, home of the illustrious Kenrokuen Garden, one of the most beautiful in all of Japan. Plan several hours here, the sprawling garden is a heart-stopping delight. Kanazawa also has one of the best-preserved samurai districts in the country. Winding lanes take you on a journey to the past in this historic quarter of the city, where immaculately preserved homes are tucked away behind bamboo fences and shaded by cedar trees.
The following day you'll travel to Takayama, set in a valley surrounded by the evergreen forests of the Japan Alps. A tree-lined canal wraps an arm around the eastern side of the city and every morning Miyagawa Market brings colour and fragrant smells to the walking path along the river that gallops through Takayama's heart. On the city's outskirts the Higashiyama Walking Trail wanders through a dozen neighbouring Buddhist temples constructed by the lords of Takayama, each a work of art.
From here you'll travel to the southern city of Nagoya, where the Tokugawa Art Museum houses one of the country's finest collections of samurai armour and swords, tea making utensils, noh masks and outstanding examples of calligraphy and painting. Next to the museum, Tokugawa-en is a serene garden with a large pond as its focus, ringed by tea pavilions and bridges.
The following day, your 10-day Traditional Japan by Rail journey ends with a train ride to Osaka's Kansai Airport before boarding your flight home to Australia.
China Eastern Airline's second sensational Japan itinerary is Tokyo, Kyoto and Hiroshima by Rail another 10-day self-guided trip. After time spent exploring Tokyo you'll board one of Japan's legendary bullet trains to Kyoto, passing Mount Fuji on the way.
Kyoto is where the flower of Japanese culture blossoms. The capital for more than 10 centuries, it is here that the Japanese styles of painting, architecture, gardening, literature, calligraphy and such mysterious arts as moon-viewing, tea ceremonies, flower arranging and noh and kabuki theatres find their roots.
It was also here in Kyoto that the Zen garden took shape, and the place to see this miracle of Japanese style is at Daitokuji Temple, in the north-west corner of the city. Surrounding the main temple is a sprawling complex of 23 sub-temples within walled gardens, each one a miniature delight. The most illustrious is Daisen-in, where a 16th century Zen monk created a garden using rocks, gravel and sand, a model that became the benchmark for the so-called "dry" garden.
Ginkaku-ji is one of the city's most famous temples, but it's the surrounding gardens Zen that send visitors into a camera-clicking frenzy. This is a classic, a complex of ponds, bridges, tea pavilions and raked gardens against a backdrop of maples, azaleas and cedar trees.
The name "geisha" means "arts person", a woman trained in the traditional arts of dancing, singing and playing the three-stringed shamisen, and Kyoto's old Gion district is the only survivor of the city's five traditional geisha districts. It's an area of delectable charm. Walking the back streets of Gion conjures up the geishas, tea houses and tree-lined streams depicted in Arthur S. Golden's novel Memoirs of a Geisha.
After a second free day in Kyoto, continue to Hiroshima, where the Peace Memorial Park and the Atomic Bomb Dome are essential viewing, leaving a powerful impression. An optional tour from Hiroshima will take you to Miyajima, where the tori gate of Itsukushima Shrine, set in the sea, is a favourite Japanese icon and one of the country's most photographed sights.
On the bullet train from Hiroshoma to Tokyo be sure to stop off to visit Himeji Castle, a World Cultural Heritage site, also known as White Heron castle for its upswept roofs which resemble heron's wings.
There's free time on the final day for sightseeing and shopping in Tokyo before boarding your flight back home.
Both these itineraries include return flights with China Eastern Airlines departing from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, a 7-day JR Rail Pass, 7 nights in centrally-located standard 3-star accommodation and daily breakfast, at an unbelievable price of $1,999 per person on a twin-share basis. Passengers travelling from Adelaide and Perth can purchase the same itinerary for a surcharge of $300 per person.