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Not your average tourist experience, this tour is specifically designed for the nature lovers out there. Leave the hustle and bustle of the city behind as you traverse the well-worn paths of the mountain monks or breathe in the history of temples which have endured for centuries. Drink in the afternoon sun with a boat ride down Takachiho Gorge or test your endurance as you hike Mt Misen off the coast of Hiroshima. You can expect all this and more on this 16-day adventure. Look forward to a mix of cities and remote destinations rarely seen by tourists, beautiful hikes with stunning scenery, and islands brimming with life. If you’re someone who enjoys the outdoors but still wants to touch on some of Japan’s urban highlights, this tour and the rewards that it offers, are well worth it. We’ll also attend Takachiho’s Yokagura festival and watch as performers paint the story of the gods through dance and drama.
10 November 2020
10 November 2021
Bullet train, local train, bus, ferry.
Although this tour does include some time in the major cities of Tokyo and Osaka, most of it is dedicated to giving you an authentic outdoor country-side experience of Japan. Expect more walking in this tour as the more unique sites are often accessed by foot. The itinerary also includes multiple hikes and physical activities like canyoning for which a moderate level of fitness is required. However, you can also look forward to opportunities to relax and put your feet up as you enjoy the natural surroundings. Although we make a concerted effort to keep day-time travelling to a minimum, there will be one or two instances when more travelling is required to get to the more remote locations. We promise though that the end reward is well worth the effort. Tour members will have the opportunity to participate in a filmmaking competition with footage they’ve taken during the tour. Prizes will be awarded at the end of the tour, more information with be given during orientation. Below you will find a list of things you should bring with you on the trip.
Our first day starts with orientation and an introduction to the world’s biggest city. Expect to hit the ground running, literally, with a trip to Chiba as we prepare to take on Japan’s largest obstacle course. We then hop on a train to visit one of Yokohama’s more eccentric oddities, the Cup Noodle Museum, where we create our own custom cup ramen with all of the trimmings you desire. We also have time to peruse the noodle bazaar which boasts noodle dishes from all over the world. And for those who are feeling especially brave, why not try the ramen-flavored ice-cream?
Today we make our way to the UNESCO world heritage site of Toshogu shrine. This is, in our opinion, the most ornate and beautiful shrine in all of Japan. This historically significant structure also serves as mausoleums that deifies the man who unified Japan, making it an extremely sacred place for the Shinto religion. Toshogu is also set against a stunning backdrop of forested mountains which is an attraction in and of itself.
We then slip back into time and experience life as it was in 17th century Japan with a visit to Edo Wonderland. This cultural theme-park/open-air museum is a must-stop place for some light-hearted enjoyment! Bring out the fun in you as you opt to dress up in traditional Edo attire and choose from a variety of activities like hariko-doll painting, makeup artistry, samurai sword fighting and archery to name but a few. We also highly recommend the fantastic ninja and magic shows, mazes and ninja trickhouse.
We start our day with a wagashi workshop. Witness and emulate your teacher’s meticulous attention to detail as you create your own very own sweets. We give you fair warning though, you may find them too pretty to eat!
We then hop on a train to a sake brewery just outside of the city where we will enjoy a guided tour of the brewery grounds. Sake is not simply a beverage in Japan, but carries with it a vast amount of meaning and spiritual significance. Here we will learn all about the intricate process behind the creation of this rice wine, as well as tantalize our taste buds with samples from the brewery’s store.
On our return to Tokyo, you can look forward to a free evening to explore the vastness of the city.
One of Tokyo’s most unique and special attributes is its ability to combine technology with innovation to give the most amazing experience. One such experience is an interactive and sensory art exhibition which requires its visitors to expend a bit of energy – with activities like wading through moving art displays projected onto water, crawling through rooms lined with massive cushions, and using apps to control LED light-art displays. It really gives new meaning to the term ‘modern art’ and is an experience you’re not likely to forget soon!
We’ll then spend some time in the Tokyo Bay area. All of Japan’s major corporations have their concept technology housed around here and it’s an area brimming with innovation and futuristic experiences. One of these is the Toyota City Showcase. Car enthusiasts won’t want to miss this. Check out the latest innovations in the technology zone, reminisce about the old days as you wander through the vintage car collection rooms at the history garage, or test-drive your favorite car on their private track (an international driving license is necessary). For those not partial to automobiles, this is the perfect opportunity to get in some shopping or check out the nearby museums before we bid farewell to Tokyo.
In the evening we swap city for island and board the overnight ferry to our first island destination.
Did you know that Tokyo has islands? It does, and we start our day by visiting one of the islands that also happens to be the smallest village in Japan*. With a population of just over 100 people, the entire island is also a small, lush dormant volcano out in the Pacific Ocean. Getting there is accomplished by ferry, and once there it offers some of the best stargazing in Japan. Allow the ocean waves to soothe you, as you let time slow down and experience the island lifestyle, culture and a unique shochu that can only be tasted there.
Our island experience continues the next day as we move onto Hachijojima. For those wanting to travel in style, why not go by helicopter?** The views on this short trip from Aogashima to Hachijojima are fantastic. Upon arrival, we get to enjoy the hot springs of Miharashi onsen while taking in its pristine ocean views. The onsen is also equipped with a routenburo. Our day ends with a BBQ on Sokodo beach which is famous for its beautiful black sands. During the summer months, Hachijojima is home to bioluminescent mushrooms, which we may catch a glimpse of.
*Access to Aogashima may be hindered by inclement weather conditions. Should this be the case we will remain on Hachijojima. Therefore the itinerary items that relate to Aogashima are not guaranteed and are largely dependent upon the weather conditions at the time that we arrive to Hachijojima. More information will be provided during orientation.
**An extra fee will be incurred for those wanting to travel to Hachijojima by helicopter. Please inquire for further information. As spaces on the helicopter are limited and sell out fast, this is not guaranteed even if requested.
***In adverse weather conditions the overnight ferry from Tokyo to the islands might be cancelled. In this case accommodation will be provided for in Tokyo and alternative activity arrangements will be made to replace this island-portion of the trip.
A large part of the day will be spent traveling as we exchange island vibes for city life on our journey south to Osaka. Upon arrival in Kansai’s largest city we’ll check in to our accommodation, freshen up and then head for a night out.
Say hello to one of Japan’s most vibrant cities as we visit one of country’s most famous landmarks, Osaka Castle. The castle grounds span 15 acres and provides a panoramic view of the city of Osaka. We will begin by getting a good outside view of the castle from a boat trip around the moat that encircles the castle. From there we’ll journey inward to learn about the pivotal role that Osaka castle played in unifying the nation of Japan.
The rest of the day will be catered to your interest as you explore the city of Osaka with the assistance of your guide. At night we’ll meet up again to discover what the nightlife of Osaka has to offer by starting off with a river cruise through the Tombori area. Next we’ll hit the streets of the city’s nightclub district, before calling it a night.
Today Kansai is your oyster! After a few days of intense travel, this will be the perfect opportunity to relax and enjoy exploring some of your own interests for a brief period of time. Not only is Osaka packed with tons of amazing activities and places, but it is in a prime position for easy day-trips to multiple nearby areas. Here are a few of our suggestions:
Breakfast and shopping in Nishiki Market. This expansive area of shops and food stalls in nearby Kyoto is a great place to stock up on souvenirs and drown yourself a seemingly never-ending selection of delicious foods and aromas.
Day trip to Kobe: This picturesque port city has various attractions including: the world’s longest suspension bridge, an earthquake museum, several sake breweries and dozens of restaurants where you can enjoy its famous A5 quality wagyu beef.
Walk the gardens of the Kyoto Imperial Palace: Before Tokyo took its place, Kyoto used to be where the imperial family resided. Although you cannot enter the buildings, the outside grounds give you a good idea of how large the palace is. There are also tours which take place on most days.
Head to Himeji: A city famous for its castle which is said to be the most spectacular in all of Japan. Its gardens are also brilliantly pink and white with cherry blossoms in spring.
Visit the Wazuka tea plantation: A small town which produces almost half of the country’s matcha tea and offers visitors the opportunity to pick leaves and experience a tea ceremony amongst other things.
Enjoy a whiskey tasting at the Suntory Yamazaki Distillery (this requires advance booking) or get your fill of sake as you spend time in a tasting cellar in Osaka.
The next 2 days will be an immersive experience into Japan’s Buddhist culture, as we actually stay in a buddhist temple lodging. Here we will eat their vegetarian cuisine (shojin ryouri), attend their meditation classes, and simply take some time to slow down and relax. We’ll witness the morning offering at Okunoin Cemetary before wandering through the Torodo Hall of Lamps, and spend some time in nature as we sample the variety of stunning hiking trails during our stay – some of which include waterfalls and ancient temples that are still being used to this day.
Hiroshima is such a special place in Japan for so many reasons. Not only does it offer an important and sobering learning opportunity for each and every generation, but it is also a place of magnificent inspiration as visitors are able to witness just how marvelously the city has built itself back up again after the events of WW2. While visiting Hiroshima today we will learn all about this at the Atomic Dome Museum and Hiroshima Peace Park. The park gardens are also an attraction in and of themselves with several sculptures and works of art scattered about the grounds.
Hiroshima has other attractions besides those related to the war. Hiroshima Castle used to be an important seat of power in this part of Japan. Like much of the city, it was destroyed during war, however visitors can see a rebuilt version based on the architecture of the original design. Group members will have the option of paying a visit to this castle which is an interesting comparison to those of Osaka and Himeji.
In the evening we’ll head out for a meal of okonomiyaki. Something like a cross between and omelette and savory pancake, this is Hiroshima’s most popular dish and is a must-try while in the area!
Today we’ll visit the island of Miyajima. This picturesque location is a rarity in Japan in that it has never experienced a major earthquake or fire like so much of the mainland. This means that many of its temples and shrines are in their original form and centuries old!
We’ll travel there via a short ferry ride. Be sure to stand on the deck to get a good view of the giant red torii gate rising out of the sea. During our time on the island we will visit Daisho Temple, Itsukushima Shrine, and Mt. Misen via a scenic hike. The view from the top of the mountain, across the inland sea dotted with islands, is superb! The island is also populated with dozens of friendly deer, which is just another aspect that makes it so memorable.
From the ancient magical island of Yakushima to the mythical town of Takachiho, we head out to the place that is the setting for multiple Shinto legends and holds much spiritual significance in the Shinto belief system. It is home to the spot where the goddess Amaterasu is said to have hid inside a cave, and caused the world to fall into darkness. Takachiho is also said to be the place where Niniginomikoto, grandson of Amaterasu and great-grandfather of Japan’s first emperor, descended to govern the world.
There is much to be discovered, learned and experienced at this mystical spot and we start our time here with the Yokagura festival. We’ll witness the stories of the gods come to life through ‘kagura’ performances which take place through the night, drink the local ‘shochu’, and catch a glimpse into the sacredness and historical importance that Takachiho holds in Japan.
*Due to tsunami damages, the train to Takachiho has been indefinitely suspended. Reaching this remote location will have to be made by bus, which will take time.
We get around the town by bike on this day. We start the day at the Amanoiwato Shrine, where Amaterasu is said to have hid herself, and her light from the world. When Amaterasu sent her grandson to Earth to govern it, one of his missions was to plant rice, so we’ll make our way through the beautifully picturesque Tochimata terraced rice fields before moving on to the Amaterasu Railway station where we’ll board an open-air, roofless train* to get a breathtaking view of the surrounding area. After this, we’ll revisit the Takachiho Shrine where we saw the kagura show the night before. The daytime light will provide us with a chance to see the shrine in all its glory as well as the monolithic wedded cedars in the front of the shrine.
From there we’ll make our way down to the famous Takachiho Gorge and, if you are interested, you can rent row boats to explore an area of the river. Before saying goodbye to the town of legends, we take a short hike from the Mihashi bridge to the visit both Kihachi’s strength rock and the Sandan-bashi areas of the gorge.
We spend our last night in Kumamoto city, eating and drinking to celebrate our time together and the memories we’ve created.
*dependent on weather conditions
We finish up the tour with a visit to Hatsushima which boasts pristine views of Mt Fuji. This island is the fourth and last island on our trip back to Tokyo and is seated in the sea outside of Atami. Positioned in the shadow of the iconic Mount Fuji, Hatsushima houses many different activities including a canopy walk and zip line facility which you will have the option to enjoy. We’ll spend our day here before saying our goodbyes back in Tokyo.
All of our tour prices are per person, so solo travelers will not need to pay a supplement. If you would like a private room instead of hostel accommodation for the duration of the trip, we can arrange this at an extra cost.
In order to maximize experience as much as possible, we use shared hostel accommodations in most of our locations. Sleeping arrangements will be in dormitory-style rooms usually separated by gender if possible. We will also travel on both an overnight ferry and sleeper train during this tour.
We arrange accommodation from the night of the 1st day, to the night before the last day. Should you require accommodation before or after the tour, we can assist in arranging this for an additional fee. You can also book this on your side.
The 25% deposit is non-refundable. The cancellation fee depends on how long before the tour the trip is cancelled, and is calculated according to the following:
Cancelling between 46 and 60 days before departure: 60% of the holiday cost
Between 31 and 45 days before departure: 80% of the holiday cost
30 days before departure: 100% of the holiday cost.
We do offer customization services and can plan additional locations and activities both before and after your tour, which can be tailored to your preferences. Contact us for further information on our customization rates.