Season: Winter

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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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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