This trip begins in Osaka, Japan. After arrival at Kansai International Airport, we take the JR Railways express line one stop to Tennoji Station. We check into our nearby hotel and meet our fellow travelers and guide later that evening. Dinner is a short walk away at a local restaurant. Overnight in a hotel. Dinner included.
Today we head out from Osaka by train to visit one of the most well-preserved castles in all of Japan, the jaw-dropping Himeji Castle. Japan?s first UNESCO heritage site, Himeji is perhaps the finest example of feudal castle architecture in all of Japan. From here we?ll take a train to the historic town of Kurashiki. Weeping willows line its picturesque canal, and the beautifully restored buildings showcase the signature white walls and black tiling of Japan?s Edo period. Enjoy a walk around the historic Bikan district or visit the museum before meeting back up with our guide and group for dinner. Overnight in a modern hotel with optional onsen. All meals included.
Walking: 6?8 miles; Train transfer: 1.5 hours
This morning, we take a train, bus and ferry as we make our way to Sensuijima, an uninhabited treasure of an island. We paddle sea kayaks along the calm coast to the 1,000-year-old Bandai-ji Temple. Our route takes us by the relaxed fishing port of Tomonoura, where famed animator Hayao Miyazaki stayed for 3 months while dreaming up the story of Ponyo. Those familiar with the movie will see certain elements of the film emerge from the island?s topography, port and marine environment. The waters abound with jellies and leaping fish, while eagles soar down from pine-lined cliffs. Returning to our traditional resort, we can relax in the onsen, or?if the weather?s right?grab a shovel and head to the beach for a hot-sand detox. Options for self-guided hiking are available for those not wishing to kayak. Tonight?s shabu-shabu hot pot dinner is a unique and special treat. Overnight in a Japanese style resort. All meals included.
Kayaking: 3 hours (7 miles); Train, bus and ferry transfers: 1.5 hours total
Breakfast this morning involves a little effort, as we partake in the Japanese tradition of mochitsuki, pounding short-grain rice into a tasty glutinous cake called mochi. Next, we gear up for cycling and bid sayonara to Sensui Island. Once on our bikes, we head for the epic Shimanami Kaido cycleway. This route is a scenic network of bridges linking six small islands to the main islands of Honshu and Shikoku. We pedal past citrus groves, vegetable gardens and small boatyards as we traverse the tranquil islands and the scenic coastal roads. A gently rising circular cycling path leads us up to the first bridge, crossing over to Innoshima Island. Nearby, we break for a sit-down lunch, choosing from fresh udon, sushi or tempura. Next, we cross over to Ikuchi Island, riding a coastal route until we reach our ryokan (a traditional Japanese inn) in the late afternoon. You can relax in the onsen until dinner or go for a stroll to the nearby Hirayama Ikuo Museum of Art. All meals included.
Cycling: 20 miles, Elevation gain/loss: +1,100'/-1,100'; Train transfer: 1.5 hours
Early risers can hike up a stone pathway to a nearby Buddhist temple before breakfast. After which we get back in the saddle, headed for our next series of islands. Our path follows the western coast of Ikuchi, before crossing over to the eastern shore of Omishima Island. Our guide fills us in on the culture and history of this region as we pass quiet farmlands, citrus groves and small boatyards. After a short stint on Hakata Island, we have a decent climb into the hills of Omishima Island. Finally, we reach the southern shore and cross over the massive Kurushima-Kaiky?, the world?s longest suspension bridge at 2.5 miles?a fitting finale for our cycling adventures in Japan. From Imbari, we travel by private bus to the small town of Kotohira in the Kagawa prefecture. You?ll have the well-earned opportunity to rest your weary legs in a steamy onsen this evening. Overnight in a traditional Japanese style resort. All meals included.
Cycling: 28.5 miles, Elevation gain/loss: +2,050'/-2,000'; Bus transfer: 2 hours
Today we slow things down a bit and enjoy the quaint town of Kotohira. A short walk this morning takes us to the Kanamaruza Theater, Japan?s oldest surviving playhouse. We tour the expansive hall and stage, as well as the basement, home to 19th-century machinations that continue to dazzle audiences. Afterward, choose to hike up to the famous Konpira Shrine or visit the sake brewery museum. For lunch, we?ll be making our own noodles at udon school! We knead, roll, cut, and most importantly, taste Kagawa-style udon, a specialty of this region. The rest of the afternoon and evening are free to explore on your own. Our guide will point out a few favorite local restaurants during the morning activities. Overnight in a traditional, Japanese resort. Breakfast and lunch included.
Walking: 3?4 hours (5?6 miles), Elevation gain/loss: +1,000'/-1,000'; Bus transfer: 1.5 hours
A train ride starts our journey today, as we head for the mountainous heart of Shikoku. Folded ribbons of schist, granite and limestone have been carved over millennia by the Shimanto and Yoshino river systems into a series of dramatic gorges and forested peaks. Choose to embark on a full-day rafting adventure or a beautiful hike into the mountains. The rafting adventure takes us down a series of Class II and III rapids through the Oboke and Koboke gorges of the Yoshino River. Those opting to hike will follow a trail network within the steep slopes of the Kiriishi Valley. Following the day?s activities, we head to our ryokan in the Iya Valley. All meals included.
Optional rafting: 6.5 hours (Class II & III rapids); Optional hiking: 4.5 miles (4?5 hours), Elevation gain/loss: +1,250'/-1,250'; Bus transfer: 2 hours
We depart this morning on a long, winding road, deep into the mountains of Shikoku. On our way, we pass the quirky village of Nagoro, populated by hundreds of handmade kakashi (scarecrows). Created by Ayano Tsukimi, the scarecrows now outnumber villagers, highlighting the depopulation and urbanization trends of modern Japan. Continuing on, we make our way to the Oku-Iya Niju Kazurabashi, or "double vine" bridge. Located down a short walking path, these bridges were constructed hundreds of years ago by the Heike clan of samurai. Further up the road we board a single chairlift to the top of Mt. Tsurugi, the second highest peak in western Japan. We?ll enjoy a short hike and picnic lunch here, where the views are spectacular on clear days. We end today with a calming onsen soak at our resort in Kamiyama. All meals included.
Hiking: 2?3 miles, Elevation gain/loss: +700/-700'; Bus transfer: 3.5 hours
After breakfast, we lace up our hiking shoes for a trip to the mountain-top temple of Tairyu-ji, number 21 of the famed 88-temple Henro Pilgrimage route. The trail is invigorating, and our guide will share insights into the history of K?b? Daishi and the Shingon school of Buddhism he introduced in the 9th century. From the top, we descend by cable car into the valley for lunch. We spend tonight at one of the temple lodgings, where we witness pilgrims undertaking this special spiritual journey. In the evening we have the option to join a special prayer service, honoring ancestors and reciting esoteric mantras. Overnight in a basic Japanese guesthouse. All meals included.
Hiking: 4 miles, Elevation gain: +985?; Bus transfer: 2.5 hours
We bask in the calming atmosphere of the temple this morning before heading back to the big city, Osaka. Starting in D?tonbori, the "Times Square" of Osaka, we head out to explore other chic locales in town, visiting Amerikamura, Den Den Town, and the quaint alleyways of Hozenji Yokocho. Here we?ll sample some delicious dishes, like Takoyaki (octopus dumplings fried to perfection), before enjoying a farewell dinner together. Overnight in a modern hotel. All meals included.
Walking: 3?4 miles; Bus transfer: 3 hours
We bid our fellow travelers and guide goodbye this morning. Checkout time is at 10am and our guide will be on-hand to help with your travels back to the Kansai International Airport or other destinations. Breakfast included.