The third biggest of Japan's four main islands, Kyushu is a little-visited oasis filled with steaming volcanoes, bubbling hot springs, lush rainforests and sandy beaches. Not only is its countryside some of Japan's finest, but Kyushu's cities have plenty of cosmopolitan charm - without the crowds that Tokyo is famous for!
Day 01: Arrive in Osaka - Transfer to Kyoto
Welcome to Japan! Your tour begins at the futuristic Kansai International Airport, a man-made floating island in Osaka Bay. We will provide tickets for a shared taxi transfer, which will take you to your hotel in Kyoto for you to settle in to Japanese life. On arrival you will check into your Hotel for two nights.
Day 02: Kyoto
This day you will have the option of taking a tour of Kyoto with your tour leader. As Japan's imperial capital from 794 until 1869, Kyoto is an incredible repository of cultural and historical treasures - including a staggering 17 World Heritage Sites. There are so many beautiful and fascinating sights to see in Kyoto that you will certainly not have time to see them all, but some highlights will probably include the spectacular Golden Pavilion at Kinkaku-ji; the hilltop temple of Kiyomizu; and the traditional Gion district - where you may be lucky enough to spot one of the city's elusive geisha.
Days 03-04: Nagasaki
On day three of your tour you'll be hopping aboard Japan's famous bullet train, or Shinkansen. Having just reached its fiftieth birthday, the bullet train is an exciting experience in itself - reaching top speeds of up to 320 kph (200 mph) on some sections of track!
A further journey on a limited express train will bring you to Nagasaki on Japan's Kyushu Island. On arrival you will check into your Hotel. Nagasaki is most famous as the second city to have been hit by an atomic bomb in World War II, and today you'll catch the tram to ground zero for a sobering visit to the Peace Memorial Park and museum.
Nagasaki today has moved on from the tragic events of 1945 and on your second day here you'll have the chance to enjoy some of the city's other offerings. Today you'll nearby Glover Garden - containing Japan's oldest surviving western-style residence.
Day 05: Nagasaki - Unzen Onsen
On day five you'll take the bus along some lovely winding mountain roads from Nagasaki to Unzen Onsen, a national park area known for its Mars-like landscapes, billowing clouds of sulphurous gases and bubbling hot springs - also known as "hells". This afternoon you'll take a walk around the area and ascend the Fugendake peak, which last erupted in 1991, before retiring to your traditional ryokan inn for the evening, where you'll have a delicious included dinner made up of many small dishes, including plenty of seasonal produce and local specialities.
As Unzen is a renowned hot spring area, no trip would be complete without a nice, long soak in your ryokan's onsen bath before bed tonight.
Day 06: Unzen - Kumamoto
After breakfast you'll continue your journey to Kumamoto, another of Kyushu's exciting cities. Kumamoto is home to one of the few remaining original Samurai castles in Japan. This afternoon you'll be exploring its ancient wooden corridors and scaling its narrow staircase for great views of the city.
Another attraction that we highly recommend visiting in Kumamoto is Suizenji Garden, a beautiful landscape garden featuring a miniature Mount Fuji and representations of all the stations on the old Tokaido Highway trade route. This is a "strolling" style garden, meaning that it is intended to be enjoyed whilst walking along a circular pathway around the central lake.
Days 07-08: Kumamoto - Mount Aso
On day seven you will travel by limited express train to Mount Aso, where you will be spending two nights at a lovely Ryokan (Japanese-style inn). The journey itself is thoroughly enjoyable, with beautiful views of the passing scenery as you travel deep into the heart of the mountains. On arrival you will have a chance to relax in your ryokan's onsen hot spring baths before another fabulous feast at your accommodation tonight.
On day eight you will have the opportunity to explore Mount Aso by private bus with your tour leader. Mount Aso is the largest volcano in Japan and amongst the largest volcanoes in the world. Its last eruption, taking place around 90,000 years ago, scattered ash and debris over the whole of Kyushu - but this is not something that you'll have to worry about on your trip!
The day's excursion will include a cable car ride up to view the caldera lake of Nakadake Peak from its crater rim, which may be visible or obscured by clouds of gases, and a visit to the local museum. The scenery around this area is spectacular, so don't forget to bring your camera.
Days 09-10: Mt. Aso - Kagoshima
Today you'll travel to Kagoshima, Japan's southernmost major city, which is sometimes known as Japan's Naples for its similar climate, palm tree-lined streets, hot-tempered inhabitants and Sakurajima - Japan's Vesuvius. The afternoon will be free for you to begin exploring the city at your own pace, and your tour leader will have plenty of great suggestions as to how to spend your time.
After a good night's sleep at your conveniently located western-style hotel, on day ten of your itinerary you will be joined by a private local guide who will be able to show you some of Kagoshima's superb attractions as well as give you extensive background information on the area.
Some highlights of today might include the fantastic Meiji Restoration Museum, where the history of Japan's dismantling of the samurai class and assimilation into the global community is told through animatronic displays; the beautiful Senganen Gardens; and the Shiroyama Viewpoint, from where you'll enjoy fabulous views across the city with Sakurajima volcano across the bay in the distance.
Days 11-12: Kagoshima - Yakushima
Today you will board a Jetfoil ferry for the journey from Kagoshima to Yakushima, a subtropical island that was the inspiration for animator Hayao Miyazaki's masterpiece Princess Mononoke.
Yakushima is mountainous and almost entirely covered in primeval forest, which contains Japan's oldest living trees. Jomon Sugi, the oldest of them all, is thought to be between 2,000 and 7,200 years old - perhaps even the oldest tree on the planet. The island is also famous for its thriving population of deer and monkeys, which are said to number more than humans.
After a night in your hotel, where you'll enjoy a delicious meal, day twelve of your tour will be a full-day tour of Yakushima by private bus with your tour leader and an expert local guide. Some highlights today may include a visit to a tea farm, a two-hour walk through Yakusugi Land (a nature park full of ancient cedar trees), and some of the island's beautiful waterfalls and beaches. Please be aware that the Yakusugi course weaves through the forest on a mixture of paved and unpaved paths, which are uneven at times. There is also a lot of rain in the area, so the course may be slippery in places. Lunch will also be included as part of the tour.
Tonight you will return to your hotel for another delicious meal, followed by a chance to relax and soak in the wonderful hot spring baths at your accommodation.
Days 13-14: Kyoto - Depart Osaka
Today you will make the long journey by ferry, train and Shinkansen back to Kyoto for one final night on Japan's main island. This will be a chance for you to toast the end of a great trip and say farewell to your group with an optional final-night meal at one of the city's superb restaurants.
On day 14 it's time to pack your bags and make your way by shared taxi from your hotel to Kansai Airport in Osaka for your flight home.