Day 1 – Meet in Kyoto
Meet at the tour hotel in central Kyoto in the evening. There will be a Welcome Dinner at a local restaurant.
Overnight: Hotel. Welcome Dinner
Day 2 – Kyoto Sight-Seeing
Enjoy a day exploring on of Kyoto’s most beautiful areas on foot.
Today travel with your guide to the Kiyotaki area into the northern precincts of Arashiyama, replete with temples and shrines. You visit one of these, Adashino Nenbutsuji Temple along your way with its hundreds of statues of disciples of Buddha. The walk also takes you past gorges, small local craft shops, temple precincts, and through Arashiyama’s famed bamboo grove, and eventually brings you to Tenryu-ji, Arashiyama’s most significant Zen temple. Enjoy time to explore the beautiful gardens of the temple as well as its prayer halls.
In the afternoon, return to Kyoto by private vehicle for a special treat – lunch with a Geiko or Maiko (Geisha or apprentice geisha). Enjoy a dance performance and a chance to ask questions about their lives of training in traditional Japanese arts, and the dedication demanded from a young age for those entering into this valued profession.
Following your special lunch, enjoy a walking tour of the Gion district, home to beautiful wooden machiya and traditional buildings, a number of which are tea houses where maiko and geisha entertain their patrons with skillfully executed traditional Japanese dances and music.
The remainder of the day is at leisure for you to make your own discoveries of Kyoto.
Tonight, your evening is free. Your guide will be happy to assist with recommendations.
Overnight: Hotel. (B / L) (Walking Distance: aprox 6.6km. 2.5 hours)
Day 3 – Travel to the Kii Peninsula
You travel south along the coast by train to Tanabe (about 3 hours), then transfer by local bus (about 40 minutes) to Takijiri, at the beginning of the Nakahechi, part of the network of ancient pilgrimage trails known as the Kumano Kodo, or Kumano Ancient Trail.
Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Kumano Kodo became popular from the 11th century as a place of pilgrimage from Kyoto by Emperors. The Kii Peninsula, which extends south from Nara and Osaka, has long been considered sacred in Japan, the entrance to the land of Yomi, the mythical afterworld. It is also the site of the three sacred shrines of Kumano, the Kumano Sanzan.
The power and majesty of the route remains unchanged, with trees stretching to the heavens, and at times, an otherworldly mist across the land. Your hike today is a steep steady ascent of 2 hours to the hilltop village of Takahara. Enjoy the views over the valleys below before your first tranquil evening on the trail.
Your accommodation is a delightful Japanese-style Ryokan built by local craftsmen in wood with rooms affording spectacular views over the surrounding mountains. There are hot-spring baths and the sumptuous evening meal is made with organic locally-sourced ingredients.
Walking distance: 4.5 km / 2.8 miles
Elevation gain: 370m/1,200 feet ascent, 175m/575 feet descent
Time required: about 2 hours
Overnight: Ryokan – Travelers Inn (B / D)
Day 4 – Hike Takahara to Chikatsuyu
Today you hike scenic sections of the Kumano Kodo trail, passing ridge-top villages and oji shrines. Nobles would rest at these sub-shrines to refresh themselves and compose poems.
You travel to Hosshinmon-oji by local bus and descend to Hongu Grand Shrine. The symbol of the shrine is the mythological three-legged raven, representing the Hongu, Nachi, and Hayatama shrines – the same motif as the one used by the Japan Football Association. The three-legged crow was in mythology sent to guide Emperor Jimmu, on his journey from Kumano to the Yamato Plain.
After visiting the shrine and Hongu World Heritage Museum, you transfer by local bus (15 minutes) to Yunomine Hot Spring, one of the oldest in Japan. You stay overnight in a comfortable ryokan with its own rock-built outdoor hot spring bath or ‘rotenburo’. Traditionally, the hot springs waters were considered to have miraculous healing powers. After a hike, you can certainly enjoy some of their soothing warmth!
Walking distance: 7km / 4 miles
Elevation gain: 120m/395 feet ascent, 360m/1,180 feet descent
Time required: 3 hours
Overnight: Ryokan – Travelers Inn (B / D)
Day 5 – Boat ride on the Kumano River & Nachi Falls
*This morning, you send your luggage ahead to meet you once more in Agematsu.
Transfer by local bus to the Kumano River. Board a traditional wooden flat-bottomed boat to take you on a gentle 1.5 ride along the Kumano River to the Hayatama Taisha Shrine, just as Imperial pilgrims did in olden times. Then, walk to the Daimonzaka approach to Nachi Shrine. This approach is one of the most sacred, leading to both the towering Nachi waterfall, the stunning pagoda of Seiganto-ji, and ultimately, the third of the Kumano shrines of Pilgrimage, Nachi Taisha.
You then continue on to your accommodation at an inn near the sea.
Overnight in a comfortable Ryokan with its own hot spring bath or ‘rotemburo’.
Walking distance: 2.7 miles
Elevation gain: 232m/760 feet ascent; 202m/660 feet descent
Time required: 2 hours
Overnight: Hot Spring Ryokan. (B / D)
Day 6 – Train to the Japanese Alps & Hike to Edo era Post Town
This morning you follow the coast by train before making your way inland to the Japanese Alps to begin your hike of the Nakasendo. En-route, you dine on an ekiben, a train station bento. Ekiben are highly prized by the Japanese as they provide an opportunity to try local specialties while on the move.
Arrive at your starting point for the Nakasendo Trail. This ancient pathway in the Kiso Valley became a major transport route in the Edo period of the 17th to 19th centuries, and was travelled by lords, their retinues, and samurai. Those of high rank stayed in specially designated inns along the trail and the passage of people on the route was tightly controlled. With the rise of modern locomotives and the development of rail travel in Japan, the world bypassed these beautiful mountain villages, and until a concerted conservation effort began, the towns were at risk of fading away into obscurity. Local residents have a fierce pride in their rich and fascinating culture and history.
Following your arrival in the post town of Nakatsugawa in the midafternoon, you have a chance to stretch your legs, visiting the old town, and walk along a paved portion with traditional ishidatami paving stones en route to Ochiai.
You spend the evening at an inn in the Nakatsugawa area.
Overnight: Onsen Ryokan – Hot-spring Travellers Inn. (B / Bento Lunch / D)
Day 7 – Hike to Nachi Grand Shrine and Waterfall
Today you spend some time in the morning to visit Magome.
As you ascent through the town you can appreciated the beautiful inns, residences, and woodworkers’ shops that line the stone paved streets. This juku or post-town is known as the birthplace of Japanese author Shimazaki Toson.
As you leave the village, you see the old rule board for those entering the town from Tsumago and can look out at the viewpoint at the valley below before you start your ascent from hamlet to hamlet and past shrines to reach the Magome pass. Once you reach the pass, enjoy a gentle descent through the trees, along rivers and waterfalls, and stands of bamboo before arriving in the post town of Tsumago. Here you have free time to enjoy the town, and perhaps to try the local snack – gohei mochi – a pounded rice cake that is covered in a sweet and savory nutty sauce and grilled.
You then walk a short distance further to Nagiso. You are picked up by your inn for the evening, located in the post town of Kiso Fukushima, or in Agematsu, which was once a trading center for the prized Kiso Hinoki or cypress.
Walking distance: 8.3km / 5.2 miles
Elevation gain: 326m/1069 feet ascent; 430m/1410 feet descent
Time required: 3 hours
Overnight: Onsen Ryokan – Hot-spring Travellers Inn. (B / D)
Day 8 – Kiso Fukushima & hike the Torii Toge Pass to Narai
This morning, you take a shuttle to the regional hub of Kiso Fukushima. Here you have some time in Kiso Fukushima to visit the Sekisho, or checkpoint here in the town. In the Edo period, the Nakasendo was one of the routes travelled by lords or daimyo from the new capital of Edo. Some had to leave family members in Edo as hostages, such as wives of heirs. The checkpoints played an important role in controlling the passage of people and goods through this area. You also learn about the powerful Yamamura family – Local Governors who ruled over this area.
Travel onward by train the short distance from Kiso Fukushima to Yabuhara, where you begin your hike of the Torii Pass to Narai. The Torii pass takes its name from that for a Shinto shrine gate. It is said that a local samurai prayed for a victory in battle in the 15th century here, hoping to seek the favor of the guides at Mt. Ontake. After his success, he built a torii gate and Ontake shrine with gratitude to the spirit of the mountain. You hike into the town of Narai, which was one of the most prosperous of the post-towns on the trail.
Walking distance: 6.2km / 3.9 miles
Elevation gain: 344m/1128 feet ascent; 270m/885 feet descent
Time required: 3 hours
Overnight: Minshuku (family-run inn) (B / D)
Day 9 – Matsumoto Castle , Miso Maker & Tokyo
Today you leave behind the Edo period.
First you travel by train to Matsumoto. Here you have an opportunity to visit Matsumoto Castle, often known as the ‘crow’ castle due to its dark imposing feel.
You also visit a miso maker and learn about this important component of Japanese food. The miso producer is the 6th generation producer and creates small-batch artisanal miso that is made the traditional way – aged three years for a mellow smoothness. As a fermented food, miso is not only healthy but tasty..
Then board the train and head to Tokyo – crossing not just distance, but leaping from the Edo period to this hyper-modern city.
Your evening is free so you can try one of the many restaurants available in the city. If you need a recommendation, your guide will be happy to help.
Accommodation: Hotel (B / Lunch)
Day 10 – Tokyo – The Modern Capital
Today, you discover two sides of the capital – old Edo and modern Tokyo.
Begin by exploring Hama Rikyu gardens – traditional gardens located on Tokyo Bay that were once duck hunting grounds for local lords. Then you take a boat for a journey up the Sumida river to Asakusa. Here you can see that while Tokyo is a capital, it is still very assuredly a working port.
Asakusa is home to Sensoji Temple and the traditional shops and arcades of Nakamise Dori and the surrounding shotengai or shopping arcades. The shops here make a magnificent place to purchase a last-minute souvenir or snack.
You then catapult forward to the modern age with a visit to Omotesando and Harajuku, source of many cutting-edge fashion trends as well as cutting edge architecture. Finish with a walk to the bright lights of Shibuya, and see the famed Shibuya scramble before your farewell dinner this evening.
Accommodation: Hotel (B / Farewell Dinner)
Day 11 – Tour Ends
Your journey through Japan ends in Tokyo this morning.
If you are departing today, your guide can advise transfer options to your departure airport, or which of the nearby subway or rail stations would best for you to continue your onward travels.