Season: Summer

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.

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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

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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.

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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

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Hokkaido. Open, big sky country with wonderful mountain hiking and back-country skiing.

This trip included a traverse of the Daisetsu Kogen Plateau in central Hokkaido, Lake Akan and the surrounding volcanic peaks, and the remote Shiretoko Peninsula extending towards Russia in the far northeast. Alpine flower fields around Asahidake (2,291m), the highest peak on Hokkaido, are stunning in summer.

Particularly recommended for those who love hiking and would like to add a few days onto their Japan trip in the summer or autumn.

Highlights

Great hiking on the Daisetsu Plateau.
Powder skiing, notably around Niseko.
Snow shoeing in winter.
Famous flower fields around Biei.
Hiking in volcanic landscapes.
Excellent natural hot springs.
Sapporo Snow Festival in February.
Day 1

Arrange to meet at Asahikawa Airport (flights from Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya). Transfer to Asahidake Onsen on the slopes of Asahidake.

Overnight hotel.

Day 2

Daisetsu Kogen plateau north to south traverse from Asahidake to Daisetsu Kogen Onsen via Asahidake and Hakuundake peaks; a challenging, full day trek.

Overnight mountain lodge.

Day 3

Transfer by road to Lake Akan in Western Hokkaido. Short hike in the afternoon.

Overnight hotel.

Day 4

Today we’ll climb Meakandake, described by Lonely Planet as ‘A moonscape hike on active volcano complete with hissing vents, a 300m deep crater and great volcanic vistas.

Overnight hotel.

Day 5

On arrival in the Shiretoko we’ll visit the Five Lakes where there are raised walkways protecting the sensitive ecology, before heading for our lodgings in nearby Utoro.

Overnight hotel.

 

Day 6

Weather permitting we’ll climb Rausu Peak at the on the Shiretoko Peninsula. A tough, continuous 1,400m ascent on a round trip offering great views of the Sea of Okhotsk to the north on a clear day. Farewell dinner will feature delicious local seafood.

Overnight hotel.

Day 7

Transfer to Memanbetsu Airport for return flights, or onward travel to other destinations.

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Reviews

"The trip was a big success and definitely lived up to my expectations and imagining about landscape on Hokkaido; even the exceptional weather fitted my idea of a wild place. Some of the hikes produced a real sense of exhilaration for the drama and remoteness." - Lynn, USA

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