Season: Spring

Imperial Pilgrimage Route

This was the first tour we ran in 2003, and has always been very popular. We have continuously improved the itinerary, concentrating on the very best bits; looking for better walking routes, better places to eat and to stay, and new opportunities for cultural experiences. We honestly believe this is is one of the best tours of its type in Japan today.

Although less dramatic than the Japan Alps, the forested mountains of the Kii Peninsula, south of Nara, have for centuries been regarded as sacred. We’ll hike a pilgrimage route to Kumano Sanzan shrines as well as doing other walks, stay at wonderful onsen, enjoy delicious food, and explore Yoshino, Asuka, Nara, and Kyoto.

Highlights

The Kii Peninsula and the many sites in it are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Historically and culturally as important as anywhere in Japan, the mountains have long been considered sacred.
Several onsen, including one of the very oldest in Japan.
Pilgrimage routes connect Mount Koya, Kumano, Yoshino, and other temples, including the 88 temple pilgirimage route in the Kansai.
Japanese food culture is a highlight of this tour.
Lively Osaka and cosmopolitan Kyoto.
Day 1

Meet at Osaka city centre hotel in the early evening. Your guide will join you and give some insights on the journey ahead. Dinner at a local restaurant.

Overnight hotel.

 

Day 2

Transfer to Mount Koya monastery by train. Afternoon walk the Nyonin no Michi around the rim of low hills surrounding the many temples. This is as close as women could approach to the centre of what is seen as a lotus flower whose petals are the surrounding peaks.

Overnight temple on Mount Koya.

Day 3

Guided walking tour of Mount Koya. After lunch we’ll drive south from Mount Koya, along the Koya-Ryujin Skyline, to an historic ryokan in Ryujin Onsen. Delicious seasonal delicacies will

be served for dinner.

Overnight ryokan.

Day 4

Start of hike along the old Nakaheji pilgrimage path through the mountains to Kumano. Wayside shrines encourage regular rest stops. The small shrine at Chikatsuyu marks the end of the first day of the walk. Stay at hot spring inn.

Overnight ryokan.

Day 5

The walk along the Nakaheji continues to Kumano Hongu, the first of the Three Grand Shrines of Kumano.

Overnight ryokan.

Day 6

Today we’ll travel to Nachi and walk to the temple and shrine overlooking the highest waterfall in Japan.

Overnight hotel

Day 7

We’ll drive north today, heading for the Odaigahara Plateau, an important conservation area in the UNESCO Mount Odaigahara, Mount Omine and Osugidani Biosphere Reserve.

We’ll have a hike in the afternoon before continuing on to Yoshinoyama and our family-run inn.

Overnight ryokan

Day 8

A day exploring the ridge-top village, including the Zaodo Hall at Kinpusenji Temple, the head temple of the Shugendo School of ascetic mountain priests. Delicious lunch featuring noodles made using the fine local kuzu starch.

Overnight Ryokan

Day 9

A short drive to Asuka. Asuka gives an idea of what the countryside looked like before many of the modern developments which changed the face of Japan.

We’ll explore the village and surrounding countryside, hiring either bicycles or small electric vehicles. En route there’ll an opportunity to experience the meditative practice of sutra copying, tracing Japanese characters in the peace of a temple. Sites visited will include some of the oldest archaeological remains excavated in Japan, and a modern centre where one can learn more about the culture in which the Manyoshu, an important poetry collection, was compiled.

Wonderful dinner at our lodging.

Modern inn.

Day 10

Today we’ll hike the Yamanobe no Michi (literally ‘the road beside the mountains’), a 12km route through undulating countryside and farmland. The path passes many large imperial mounds of the type which are dotted all over this part of the Nara Prefecture, most of which remain unopened.

From the shrine at the end of the walk we’ll go the short distance by road to Nara.

Overnight hotel.

 

Day 11

A day gaining insights into Nara, its important culture and history, with a local expert. We’ll also experience the tea ceremony, and have a sushi-making session. A fascinating day!

Overnight hotel.

Day 12

After breakfast, we’ll travel by local train to Kyoto. We’ll take advantage of any special seasonal events or highlights, as well as the interests of members, when planning what we do today and tomorrow in Kyoto itinerary.

Overnight hotel.

 

Day 13

A second, full day in and around Kyoto. Avoiding the worst of the crowds, we’ll explorer the quieter, often more interesting, parts of the city.

Farewell celebration dinner.

Overnight hotel

Day 14

The tour ends after breakfast. Onward travel.

Book this tour

  • Date Format: MM slash DD slash YYYY
  • Date Format: MM slash DD slash YYYY

Reviews

"Quest Japan pride themselves on taking smaller groups, enabling them to source a more intimate experience than one might expect ... What a privilege to get so close to day to day living, one that would certainly not be available to larger tour groups." - Steven, England

Have a question?

We’re here to help

Get in touch

National Park Trails in Kyushu

An 11-night trip featuring hiking in Kyushu and the Kirishima Yaku National Park. Although not as high as the North or South Alps, the warmer southern island of Kyushu, and the Yakushima island, have opportunities for great hiking. With delicious food and drink, and warm people, the islands are highly recommend if you want to see another side of Japan and get well off-the-beaten track.

Highlights

Some of the best hiking routes on the southern island of Kyushu
Plenty of hot springs baths to soak away aches after walking!
Kyushu is renowned for its excellent local produce.
Beautiful, contrasting lush and volcanic landscapes in and around the Mount Aso caldera.
Day 1

Meet Osaka. Bullet train to Kumamoto in Kysuhu. Travel by road to Mount Aso area. Stroll before dinner at onsen ryokan.

Overnight Japanese-style mountain inn.

Day 2

Climb Takadake peak on Mount Aso (1,592m). A 5-hour hike around the volcanic formations at the centre of the world’s largest caldera.

Overnight Japanese-style mountain inn.

Day 3

Famous for its azaleas and hot springs, Kuju-san is a cluster of forested volcanic peaks. Start our 2-day hike. Hike to Hokke-in Onsen mountain hut with the highest onsen hot spring baths in Kysuhu.

Overnight mountain hut.

Day 4

Continue hike to Makinoto Pass on the Yamanami Highway. From the end of the hike we’ll transfer by road south to our comfortable inn in Kirishima.

Overnight Japanese-style inn.

Day 5

A pleasant day hike, just 9km, on Ebino Kogen, with crater lakes, steaming vents, and old growth forest along the route.

From the finish of the hike we’ll transfer to Kagoshima.

Overnight hotel.

Day 6

A day in around this pleasant city situated at the southern end of Kyushu on Kagoshima Bay. We’ll take a trip down to Ibusuki where we’ll get shovelled into hot black sand steam baths! A tonic for tired limbs.

Overnight hotel.

Day 7

Jet hydrofoil ferry across to Yakushima, a trip of a couple of hours. There’ll be time to see some of island before we check-in.

Overnight   Inn with cottages

 

Day 8

All day mountain hiking. A long hike exploring the forests and peaks towards the centre of the island.

Overnight   Inn with cottages

Day 9

A second day on trails through the cedar forests on a different part of the island. Outdoor hot spring baths beside the sea after the hike.

Overnight   Inn with cottages

Day 10

Return flights to Kyushu or Osaka, timing depends on the season as certain flights only operate in summer and early autumn. Tour ends. Onward travel to other parts of Japan.

Book this tour

  • Date Format: MM slash DD slash YYYY
  • Date Format: MM slash DD slash YYYY

Reviews

"What a wonderful time I had on my travels in Japan. The entire trip was exceptional. Thank you for your expertise in designing and running such a fascinating tour." - Lorna, Scotland

Have a question?

We’re here to help

Get in touch

Japan Sea Coast

On local trains, starting from Kyoto, along the Japan Sea coast of Western Honshu. The journey explores quieter towns and villages on a side of Japan less visited than along the overly busy ‘bullet train’ route connecting the cities on the Pacific Coast. We’ll explore the Sanin Kaigan National Park, which embraces the pretty coastline, and climb Mount Daisen.

Highlights

Japan Sea Coast by rail.
Mount Daisen.
Lovely hot springs.
Excellent seafood.
Important historical sites including Izumo.
Day 1

We’ll meet at Kyoto station before getting the train to Kinosaki Onsen. On arrival, there’ll be time to look around the time and enjoy one of several natural hot spring public baths in this famous onsen town.

Overnight ryokan

Day 2

Today we’ll travel to the small castle town of Izushi. An important town during the feudal period, Izushi is famous for its porcelain and buckwheat soba noodles. We’ll have a soba-making masterclass and enjoy the results for lunch before taking a leisurely stroll around this quiet town.Return to Kinosaki later in the afternoon.

Overnight ryokan

Day 3

Our journey continues, on slow trains, along the Japan Sea Coast. There are lovely views as we travel towards our destination, Matsue.

After checking-in, we’ll visit the Shimane Art Museum situated on Lake Shinjiko.

Overnight Japanese-style hotel.

Day 4

We’ll take a local train, after breakfast, to the Izumo Taisha Grand Shrine. One the most important shrines in Japan, visits are particularly propitious for ensuring happy relationships. Eight million Shinto deities from across Japan are believed to meet here once a year.

On return to Matsue we’ll stop at the old house where Lafcadio Hearn, who loved this part of Japan, lived for a while.

Overnight Japanese-style hotel.

Day 5

Today we’ll climb Daisen (1,729m). The beech forest foliage on the volcanic peak are brilliant green in May and the forests are a fine sight in their autumn foliage. Daisen is an important pilgrimage site and has several temples and shrines on its lower slopes.

If there’s time, we’ll visit the nearby Adachi Art Museum with its perfect Japanese garden which exploits the surrounding local scenery to enhance a sense of space and perspective.

Overnight Japanese-style hotel.

Day 6

By train to Hiroshima today. In the afternoon we’ll visit the Peace Park.

Overnight hotel.

Day 7

Local train and ferry to Itsukushima Jinja Shrine on Miyajima Island. There are a number of pleasant walks which allow visitors to get away from the crowds which often flock to Miyajima.

Return to Hiroshima in the afternoon.

Celebration farewell dinner.

Overnight hotel.

Day 8

Tour ends after breakfast. Onward travel.

Book this tour

  • Date Format: MM slash DD slash YYYY
  • Date Format: MM slash DD slash YYYY

Reviews

"I’d like to thank you for an amazing experience - the trip has set the bar high regarding other trips I’ll take. I really appreciated how you put everything together … and how well you looked after a group of people with varying needs and interests." - Manju, Canada

Have a question?

We’re here to help

Get in touch

Walks in the Heart of Japan (2)

A guided walking tour including a wonderful, quite challenging climb up the Osugidani valley to the Odaigahara Plateau, described by LP as a ‘stunning hike’. We then visit some of the culturally and historically most important sites in Japan: Yoshinoyama, Asuka, and Nara and hike the Yamanobe no Michi connecting Miwa Jinja Shrine and Isonokami Jingu Shrine.

It was here that early Japanese culture flourished under a succession of emperors and empresses as their centres of power moved from Fujiwarakyo (today known as Asuka), to Heijoykyo (today known as Nara), and then to Heiankyo (Kyoto).

Highlights

The pilgrimate routes to Kumano and routes used by Shugendo monks focused on Yoshinoyama.
The Kii Mountains and Odaigahara.
Many onsen and one of the oldest hot spring villages in Japan - Yunomine Onsen.
Country walks in lovely countryside.
Cultural capitals of Asuka, Nara, and Kyoto, as well as the historical pilgrimage routes.
Osaka and Kyoto.
The deeply forested Kii Peninsula, shimmering green in summer, ablaze in autumn.
Fine regional food.
Day 1

The group will meet in Nagoya where we’ll spend the first night. Dinner.

Overnight hotel.

Day 2

Earlyish start by train from Nagoya and then a drive to the trailhead. The hike to our lodgings, a hut nestled in the Osugidani gorge, will take about 5 hours. Today and tomorrow we’ll pass a succession of waterfalls and pools along the heavily forested gorge.

Overnight mountain hut.

Day 3

The hike continues, the climb to the highest point on Odaigahara Plateau taking about 7 hours. We’ll take the steep ascent through the forested slopes steadily. There’s no hurry on our hiking tours!

From Odaigahara we’ll transfer by road to Yoshinoyama village. Dinner at ryokan.

Overnight ryokan.

Day 4

We’ll spend today exploring the village, hiking to the great Zaodo Hall at Kinpusenji Temple.

Delicious lunch featuring local kuzu starch noodles. Some free time to stroll around in the afternoon before baths and dinner.

Overnight ryokan.

Day 5

A short drive, after breakfast, to Asuka. We’ll spend the day exploring this rural village and its very important cultural and historical sites, including the excavated imperial tombs. There’ll also be an opportunity to experience the meditative practice of sutra copying at a temple. We’ll get around Asuka using hired bicycle or two-seater electric vehicles.

Dinner at our lovely lodgings.

Overnight modern inn.

Day 6

There’s a 12km gentle hike today through fairly flat countryside with short hill or two, from Miwa Shrine to Isonokami Jingu Shrine. The path goes from village to village, passing a number of sacred sites and several large imperial tomb mounds known as kofun.

At the end of the hike we’ll travel by road into Nara.

Overnight hotel.

Day 7

A full day with an expert local guide who’ll introduce the history and culture of Nara, taking us to the most important sites. During the day we’ll also have a sushi-making class, and take part in a Japanese tea ceremony. A most interesting day.

Overnight hotel.

Day 8

The journey continues by train, after breakfast, from Nara to Kyoto, a short hop of about 50 minutes. Places we’ll visit include the Nishikikoji covered market, and the old imperial palace and gardens.

Overnight hotel.

Day 9

The whole day dedicated to discovering more of Kyoto. The itinerary will depend partly on the season the group happens to be visiting. There should be time at the end for some shopping in the bustling heart of the city. The department stores are worth checking out.

Farewell celebration dinner.

Overnight hotel.

Day 10

Tour ends. Onward travel after breakfast.

Book this tour

  • Date Format: MM slash DD slash YYYY
  • Date Format: MM slash DD slash YYYY

Reviews

"We had a great time with you on the road. We got to places that we wouldn't have got to, and insights into the culture, we would have missed traveling around on our own. We’ll have great memories of the places we stayed. So, thank you for all your efforts - you did a great job." - Patrick, Scotland

Have a question?

We’re here to help

Get in touch

National Park Hiking on the Main Island

A journey in a broad sweep through the mountains west of Tokyo in the centre of Honshu, the main island, with great hikes in the Oze and the Joshin’etsu National Parks. The trip features Nikko, the Oze upland marshes, Minakami Onsen, and Matsumoto, before returning to Tokyo. Superb accommodation en route.

Highlights

Journey by train through the mountains of central Honshu.
Forested mountains.
Stays in ryokan on excellent onsen.
Gourmet food.
Day 1

Meet in Tokyo and travel by train to Nikko. We’ll visit the Toshogu Shrine before heading for the trailhead at the start of the hike from Ryuzu Falls across Senjogahara upland marshes to Yumoto Onsen.

Overnight ryokan

Day 2

After breakfast we’ll travel by road around to Oze, also in the Nikko National Park. From the trailhead we being our hike, with an overnight stop, around Japan’s largest marsh. Walkways are in place to help protect the flora.

Overnight mountain hut.

 

Day 3

We continue the Oze hike through wetlands and over passes. From the end of the trail we’ll travel by road to Minakami Onsen and our comfortable ryokan on an onsen natural hot spring.

Overnight ryokan.

Day 4

Today we’ll climb Tanigawadake, one of Japan 100 Famous Mountains with its summit at Oki-no-mimi (1,977m). Some of the strenuous climb is avoided using the Tanigawa cable car. There are great views of the rugged mountains along the way. Return to the same ryokan, with its lovely hot spring tubs, as you stayed last night.

Overnight at ryokan.

Day 5

We’ll travel on to Matsumoto this morning. In the afternoon we’ll have a guided tour of Matsumoto Castle before heading to our luxurious lodging in the hills.

Overnight ryokan.

Day 6

A relaxing day with a guided cycle ride around Azumino in the Matsumoto Valley in Nagano. You’ll have free time in the afternoon to look around the pleasant city of Matsumoto before dinner at our onsen ryokan.

Overnight ryokan

Day 7

By train, after breakfast, from Matsumoto to Tokyo. Onward travel.

Book this tour

  • Date Format: MM slash DD slash YYYY
  • Date Format: MM slash DD slash YYYY

Reviews

"Thanks you for all your help and efforts in arranging what turned out to be a fantastic trip to Japan." - Keith, England

Have a question?

We’re here to help

Get in touch

Walks in the Heart of Japan (1)

Highlights

Excellent food.
Country walks.
Areas of important historical interest. Asuka, Nara, Kyoto, and beyond.
Osaka and Kyoto.
Day 1

Meet at city centre hotel in Osaka. Welcome dinner at local restaurant.

Day 2

By train (about 80 minutes) to Mount Koya. After lunch, walk the Nyonin no Michi which connects the seven gates on the perimeter or closest points to the sacred Shingon Buddhist temple precincts women who made the pilgrimage to Mount Koya were traditionally permitted to reach.

Buddhist vegetarian meal (shojin ryori) at our temple, then a stroll to view the floodlit gate and Konpon Daito stupa before an early night.
Overnight Buddhist temple.

Day 3

Early rise and sutra reading and prayers before breakfast. Our local guide will then lead a walk following a route which will include a visit Kongobuji, the head Shingon Sect temple, the immense cemetery with its towering cedar trees, and Okunoin, the inner sanctuary where it is believed Kobo Daishi, the founder, sits in eternal meditation.

After lunch we’ll travel by road to Yoshinoyama.

Overnight ryokan.

Day 4

Today we’ll explore Yoshino, walking from the priest Saigyo’s hut through the town, visiting interesting spots along the way. Sites we’ll visit include the imposing Zaodo Hall at Kinpusenji, head temple of the Shugendo Sect of Buddhism. Home to mountain priests and their tough spiritual practices, Yoshino is situated at the start of the challenging Omine Okugake Pilgrimage route which leads through the Kii Mountains south to Kumano.

Delicious lunch featuring noodles made using local kuzu starch.

There’ll then be free time to wander or relax before we enjoy the large hot tubs in the ryokan before dinner.

Overnight ryokan.

Day 5

A short drive to the Asuka, a small village in a conservation area. Asuka give an idea of what the countryside looked like before the modern developments which changed the face of Japan took place.

Day 6

Today we’ll hike the Yamanobe no Michi (literally ‘the road beside the mountains’), a 12km route through undulating countryside and farmland. The path passes many large imperial mounds of the type which are dotted all over this part of the Nara Prefecture, most of which remain unopened.

From the shrine at the end of the walk we’ll go the short distance by road to Nara.

Overnight hotel.

Day 7

Our local guide will join the group after breakfast for a full day in and around Nara. The guide brings the history and culture of Nara alive as we visit several of the most important sites. We’ll also experience the tea ceremony, and have a sushi-making session. A fascinating day!

Celebration farewell dinner.

Overnight hotel.

Day 8

The tour will end after breakfast. It’s a short hop by train to both Kyoto and Osaka, or one can transfer by limousine bus from Nara directly to Kansai International Airport.

Book this tour

  • Date Format: MM slash DD slash YYYY
  • Date Format: MM slash DD slash YYYY

Reviews

"I’d like to be sending useful, critical feedback, but the reality is I wouldn't change a thing. You were the most generous possible guide, and most responsive to our numerous needs. The choices you made - the variety and standard of lodgings and food were extremely well crafted, and having considered prices for our previous trips, brilliant value!" - Josie, USA

Have a question?

We’re here to help

Get in touch

The Deep North

Exploring the beautiful far north of the main island Honshu. Hiking in forests and on upland marshes, with stays in traditional inns, and little-known natural hot springs. Delicious food!

Highlights

Mountain and upland hikes.
Hidden hotsprings and onsen by the sea.
Delicious seafood, and apples!
Lovely rural landscapes worth exploring.
Nebuta, Neputa summer festivals.
The largest natural beech forests in the Northern Hemisphere. A UNESCO World Heritage site.
Day 1

We travel north on the bullet train, then on to the Shirakami Mountains, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with the last stands of virgin Siebolds beech forest which used to cover much of northern Japan.

Overnight lodge.

Day 2

Climb through beech forests, adjoining the World Heritage Site – ‘Situated in the mountains of northern Honshu, this trackless site includes the last virgin remains of the cool-temperate forest of Siebold’s beech trees that once covered the hills and mountain slopes of northern Japan. The black bear, the serow and 87 species of birds can be found in this forest.’, to Shirakamidake peak.

Overnight lodge.

Day 3

Today we’ll explore Hirosaki with its old town centred on a 17th century castle. Hirosaki hosts one of the great local festivals, the Neputa Matsuri, an event where large, colourful, lit floats are pulled through the town at night, and which rivals the Aomori Nebuta Festival which attracts huge numbers of visitors. The Hirosaki festival, held during the first week in August, offers opportunities to get much closer to the action!

Overnight hotel.

Day 4

Commonly known as Tsugaru Fuji, Iwaki-san stands proudly on the northern plains of Aomori and is a great day hike. Fine views as far as the ocean from the top.

Overnight hotel.

Day 5

Today we’ll hike the Hakkoda upland area south of Hirosaki. Hakkoda is a raised marshland area surrounded by low peaks (about 1,500m), well-known for the many species of highland plants.

Our lodging has onsen natural hot spring baths.

Overnight ‘hidden hot spring’ lodge.

Day 6

Nearby Lake Towada in the Towada Hachimantai National Park, one of Japan’s oldest parks, offers good hiking opportunities, notably along the Oirase Gorge.
After visiting the lake we’ll travel the short distance to our comfortable lodgings.

Overnight modern hot spring ryokan.

Day 7

Returning to Aomori on a local train, we’ll transfer for the bullet train back to Tokyo.

Book this tour

  • Date Format: MM slash DD slash YYYY
  • Date Format: MM slash DD slash YYYY

Reviews

"I could not have seen more plants or flowers than we saw in those beautiful park lands and it will take me pleasant years to understand what I saw." - Barbara, USA

Have a question?

We’re here to help

Get in touch