Japan Hiking – Kumano Kodo & Nakasendo

Trip Length 11 Days
Group Size 4-12
Difficulty
2

Starting from

$6,999

for REI Members

$7,699 for non-members

Departures

Sep 2019-Nov 2020

Ancient tradition meets modern life on this 11-day trekking excursion from Kyoto to Tokyo.

Japan effortlessly represents both reinvention and tradition. The slender archipelago is comprised of more than two-thirds mountainous terrain, with plenty of forested groves and gurgling rivers in between. It’s the perfect place for an unforgettable hiking adventure.

This trip involves trekking on two distinctive trails. The Kumano Kodo is a series of pilgrimage routes which stretch across Kii Hantō, the largest peninsula of Japan. For over one thousand years, people have made this pilgrimage for the purposes of worship and purification. The Nakasendo trail winds along the ancient trading route and through the Central Alps, passing quaint Japanese mountain towns and waterfalls. The journey ends in Tokyo, where time is spent discovering the two sides of the capital—old Edo and modern Tokyo.

Enjoy the many delicacies of traditional Japanese cooking, sweeping views, and soothing soaks in hot onsen baths as we trek from the ancient to the modern. With expert, local guides leading the way, we are free to fully enjoy this immersive journey and delight in the details of Japanese life up-close.

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Trip highlights

  • Walk historic Kyoto, visiting zen temples, bamboo groves and dine with Geisha
  • Hike to the UNESCO World Heritage grand shrines on the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage
  • Walk through the Central Alps and Edo period post towns on the Nakasendo Trail
  • Soak in hot “onsen” baths and taste the subtle flavors of traditional cuisine
  • Fast forward to the multifarious highlights of modern Tokyo

Activities

This trip is rated Easy Active [2]. Trip members should have some previous hiking experience and be in good physical condition. Hiking is done on most days with some additional walking in towns or cities. Hikes range between 3-7 miles in length with elevation gains/losses of up to 1,400'. Trails are composed of dirt with some sections of stone steps.

  • Hiking

What's Included

Accommodation and meals as noted in the daily itinerary; entrance fees; ground transportation; baggage forwarding (one bag per person); skilled English-speaking trip leader.

Accommodations

Hotels, 4 nights; Traditional Guesthouses, 5 nights; Resort, 1 night

Your Adventure Itinerary

Day 1

Meet your fellow trip participants in Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan.

Our trip begins in Kyoto, Japan. Make your way to our Kyoto hotel this evening for a welcome dinner at a nearby restaurant. Dinner included.

Day 2

Jaunt to bamboo groves, zen gardens, temples and dine with a geisha in Kyoto.

We leave early in this morning to explore the environs surrounding Japan's formal imperial capital. Our guide will help us to navigate Japan's efficient public transportation network. Arriving near the foothills of Mount Atago, we begin with a light hike along the Kiyotaki River. We pass flowing rivers, gorges, temple precincts, and through the famed bamboo grove at Arashiyama and pause to take in the Tenryu-ji temple and zen garden. The plants and stones, all placed with precision nearly 700 years ago, add to the reflection pools "wa" or harmony. In the afternoon, we return to Kyoto for a special treat—lunch with a Geiko or Maiko (Geisha or apprentice geisha)! After lunch we head out for a walk through the Gion district, home to a number of classic tea houses, before returning to our hotel this afternoon. Breakfast and lunch included.

Bus: 2.5 hrs; City Walking: 3-5 miles; Hiking: 4 miles, 2.5 hours; elevation gain: 425'.

Day 3

Begin hiking the Nakahechi route of the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage.

Today we travel by train and bus four hours to Takijiri. This is the gateway to the Nakahechi route, one of five pilgrimage routes of the Kumano Kodo. For a thousand years, emperors and priests sought spiritual purification on these pathways. Each route culminates at one of three Grand Shrines, Shinto temples of great import. After lunch, we stamp our passport book (shared with Spain’s Camino de Santiago) and begin the day's three-hour hike. The trail is steep and steady to Takahara, a mountaintop village and our final stop for the evening. Our minshuku (small guesthouse) has sweeping views over the Hatenasi valley. Here we are rewarded with our first soak in a Japanese onsen (hot bath) and an expertly prepared meal of many provincial dishes. All meals included (vegan and gluten-free diets are extremely limited at our accommodations for this evening). Note: Main luggage will be forwarded on today and we will continue for one night with our backpack only.

Train/bus: 3.5 hours; Hiking: 2.7 miles, 3-4 hours; elevation gain: 1,330'.

Day 4

Hike to the UNESCO Hongu Grand Shrine and soak in hot mineral waters.

Enjoy a traditional Japanese breakfast as wispy mists rise from the valley below. A short bus ride this morning takes us to a small oji (shrine) where we begin the day's hike. This pleasant downhill walk winds through forests and rural hamlets, ending at the epic Grand Shrine of Hongu. The temples of this area are a unique fusion of Buddhism and Shintoism, and have been part of a pilgrimage tradition that spans over a millennium. At the confluence of the Kumano and Otonashi Rivers stands the largest Torii gate in the world (33 meters), marking this spiritual epicenter. After lunch, we take the bus or an optional uphill forest trek to our Ryokan for the evening. In a location straddling a geothermal hot spring known for is healing powers, we enjoy a delicious dinner and soothing hot soak. All meals included (vegan and gluten-free diets are extremely limited at our accommodations for this evening).

Bus: 1.5 hrs; Hiking: 4.9 miles, 2.5 hours; elevation gain: 620'; elevation loss: 1,360'.

Day 5

Boat down the Kumano River and hike to the dramatic Nachi Falls.

This morning we head to the shores of the Kumano River, board a wooden, flat-bottom boat and push out into the light blue water. The current takes us through the mountain valley and downstream toward the Pacific Ocean. From the town of Shingu, we’ll transfer by bus to Daimon-zaka to begin one of the most sacred ascents of the Kumano Pilgrimage. Eight-hundred and thirty-four stone steps lead to the Grand Taisha Shrine where we see the stunning Nachi Falls, one of Japan's highest waterfalls. Another 250 stone steps lead to the base of the falls for a closer look. Heading out to the coast, we are able to rest our legs with a hot soak, this time near the lapping waves of the Pacific Ocean. All meals included. Note: Main luggage will be forwarded on today and we will continue for two nights with our backpack only.

Boat: 1.5 hours; Bus: 1.75 hours; Hiking; 2.7 miles 1.5-2.5 hours; elevation gain: 760'; elevation loss: 660'.

Day 6

Visit a fish market, sip sake and travel by train to the Central Alps.

Waking up early, we visit a local fish market. The cold clean waters near Katsuura are highly productive fishing grounds; much of the catch goes on to the famous Tsukiji market in Tokyo. Next, we settle in for a long train ride heading north into the Japanese Central Alps. At Nakatsugawa, we stop to learn the history and intricate process used to produce Japan's most famous libation - sake. Afterward, we continue by train to arrive in Magome by late afternoon. This classic post town was once on the main trading route linking Tokyo and Kyoto. Nineteenth-century railroads bypassed the Kiso Valley, leaving the small villages preserved like an Edo period time capsule. Tonight we enjoy the hospitality of a small family-run inn and cuisine meticulously prepared by our hosts (vegan and gluten-free diets are extremely limited at our accommodations for this evening).

Train: 5 hours; Bus: 25 minutes.

Day 7

Hike through quaint Japanese mountain towns on the Nakasendo Trail.

Leaving the picturesque town Magome behind us, we begin our hike to the next town of Tsumago. At the edge of town the trail cuts up through a forest of cypress. After approximately 1.6 miles and 745 feet of incline, we crest Magome-toge Pass. From here it's a gentle descent, past two waterfalls and ending in the next post town of Tsumago. We enjoy a hot lunch of homemade soba noodles and take some time to absorb the charm of this little town. In the early afternoon we continue on with a short hike to Nagiso and catch a train on to our cozy Ryokan with a steamy outdoor onsen. We overnight in Kiso-Fukushima. All meals included (vegan and gluten-free diets are extremely limited at our accommodations for this evening).

Hiking: 6.4 miles, 4.5 hours; elevation gain: 930'; elevation loss: 1750'.

Day 8

Explore historic Kiso-Fukushima and hike the Torii-toge Pass.

Today we set out on foot for a short walking tour of Kiso-Fukushima. This was an important town as it served as the location of a sekisho, or barrier station, a checkpoint on the Nakasendo Trail used to inspect the flow of goods. Next, we visit the mansion of the magistrate, used to host daimyos and other nobility during their travels. After a short train ride to Yabuhara, we hike the Torii-toge Pass to our final guesthouse in the town of Narai. All meals included (vegan and gluten-free diets are extremely limited at our accommodations for this evening). Note: Main luggage will be forwarded on today and we will continue for one night with our backpack only.

City Walking: 3 miles; Hiking: 5.5 miles, 4 hours; elevation gain: 1020'; elevation loss: 960'.

Day 9

Travel to Tokyo, visit Matsumoto Castle and local miso maker en route.

From Narai, we’ll travel 50 minutes by train to Matsumoto, the city named for the Edo period castle, a national treasure of Japan. As we ascend the six levels of the main keep, we learn of its history, fortifications and impressive collection of historical armaments. For lunch today, we visit a sixth-generation miso maker and enjoy a delicious soup prepared with three-year-aged miso. Learn the production process and health benefits of this quintessential Japanese staple. Hopping back on the train, we’ll head for Tokyo and our hotel for the evening. Breakfast and Lunch Included.

City Walking: 5 miles; Train: 3.5 hours.

Day 10

Discover the two sides of the capital: old Edo and modern Tokyo.

We begin this morning by exploring the site of the former Edo castle, now the Imperial East Garden. If the garden is closed, we will instead walk along the moat of the Imperial Palace for a view onto the Emperor’s residence. Next, we continue on to Asakusa, home to giant red lantern, Sensoji Temple and brilliantly decorated traditional shops. We then catapult forward to the digital age with a visit to Akihabara, a mecca for those with an interest in Anime and Manga. A short journey on the efficient subway system brings us to Harajuku, source of many cutting-edge fashion trends. We finish with a walk to the bright lights of Shibuya and see the famed Shibuya scramble before our farewell dinner this evening. All meals included.

City Walking: 4-6 miles.

Day 11

Our journey through Japan ends in Tokyo this morning.

Our trip concludes at the hotel in Tokyo this morning. If you are departing today, our guide will assist you in arranging an airport shuttle from the hotel or you can opt to take the subway from any one of the nearby stations.

Japan Hiking – Kumano Kodo & Nakasendo Departures

Gear list

The key to staying comfortable while on an active trip is layering.  To get maximum comfort with minimum weight, you need versatile layers that mix and match to create the right amount of insulation, ventilation and weather protection.  This gear list has been created to help you in choosing your equipment for the trip.  Try to bring only what is necessary, this will help you and the field staff.

What to pack

Packed by you (Required)

Recommended

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Travel Documents

  • Airline Tickets (Confirmation and Itinerary)
  • Copy of Passport (2 Copies, First Page Only)
  • Final Bulletin (Emailed Prior to Departure Date)
  • Passport

Contact Us

Feel free to give us a call at 1-800-622-2236 should you have any questions regarding the gear list. The staff at our stores and Direct Sales (1-800-426-4840) will also be happy to help you with gear questions. Or check out REI Expert Advice, which has great information to help you prepare for your trip.

Adventure Expert

Jeff

Japan is truly like no other. Walking the ancient pilgrimage and trading routes through the misty mountains, as we do, you discover hidden gems and encounter the unique duality of revered tradition and eccentric modernity.

Penny

A wonderful trip


I really enjoyed this walking/hiking trip in Japan. We were able to briefly see aspects of Kyoto and Tokyo on either end of 7 days of walking on very long-established trails - sometimes paved, sometimes forested, some...

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