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.
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'.
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'.
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'.
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'.
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.
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'.
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'.
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.
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.
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.