Japan: Ancient Pilgrim Ways | Walking Holidays | Tradtional Heart of Japan

We begin this fascinating tour in the bustling hub of Tokyo, spending the first night of our trip in the capital, before setting off by bullet train and local express train into the mountains. Here, we arrive at the starting point of our walk along the Nakasendo Trail and the Kumano Kodo Trail - two of Japan’s famous Pilgrim Trails. The tour ends in the cultural city of Kyoto, with return flights from Osaka.

  • Nakasendo Trail - hiking from village to village in preserved historic towns of the Kiso Valley past rice fields, bamboo groves and cedars
  • The Kumano Kodo - A UNESCO World Heritage route of pilgrimage - centuries old and travelling between shrines of pilgrimage, previously followed by the emperors
  • Tokyo - Japan's bustling capital
  • Kyoto - home to 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites
  • Stay in traditional Japanese inns along the trail
  • Visits to shrines of pilgrimage on the Kumano Kodo
  • Travel by bullet train, or shinkansen, a sleek high-speed train that reaches speeds of up to 200 miles per hour

Our walk connects village to village, as we follow The Nakasendo Trail that linked Tokyo to Kyoto during Japan’s feudal period. It was the ‘road through the mountains’ travelled by feudal lords and their retinues, samurai, merchants, and travellers. Along the route were 69 ‘post towns’, where weary travellers could rest before continuing on to the next leg. Our destination is the historical city of Kyoto – a city that houses much of Japan’s cultural heritage and 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Historic Japan

After the Nakasendo Trail we head south to the Kumano region, to discover the mystical ‘Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range’ – a UNESCO World Heritage site. Over six days we follow in the footsteps of Emperors along the 1000-year old pilgrimage route known as the Kumano Kodo – the Old Road of Kumano.

Accommodation along the trails is in traditional, small family run Japanese-style inns called ryokan and minshaku. Here, we can look forward to a warm welcome and dine on the freshest local ingredients – quite a refined way to end each day of hiking, especially when coupled with a natural hot spring bath! The tour is accompanied throughout by our own tour leader and a highly experienced English-speaking Japanese guide.

Thursday 27th September: Flight to Japan

Arrive at the airport under your own arrangements for the flight to Tokyo. Please check-in three hours before departure time, using your passport and e-ticket. Flights are the latest known and subject to confirmation. All times are local.

Meals: Dinner,

Friday 28th September: Tokyo

Met on arrival by our agents and transferred by private coach to our hotel. Our local, English-speaking guide will meet us on arrival.

Welcome dinner at a local restaurant.

Overnight at the Shiba Park Hotel, Tokyo.

Accommodation: Shiba Park Hotel

Meals: Dinner,

Saturday 29th September: Nakasendo Hiking Magome to Tsumago

This morning, we send our main luggage ahead to Kiso-Fukushima. Unencumbered, we can travel light and start walking without delay. We travel by bullet train and local express train and local bus to Magome.

Our first walk on the Nakasendo Trail is from Magome to Tsumago over the Magome-toge Pass, one of the most challenging parts of the Nakasendo, 801m above sea level. The Nakasendo Trail had 69 post towns; beginning at Edo (Tokyo), with Magome being the 43rd. Tsumago is the 42nd Nakasendo post town and is truly evocative of a traditional Nakasendo post town from the late Edo period.

Walking: 8.3km / 5.2 miles, 326m / 1069 ft ascent, 430m / 1410 ft descent, 3 hours.

Accommodation: Hotel Kisoji

Meals: Breakfast, Dinner,

Sunday 30th September: Nakasendo Hiking Tsumago to Nojiri

Leaving Tsumago, we meet some of the more natural, wilder scenery of our tour, as the trail cuts through small valleys and past forests of bamboo and Japanese cedar. We continue by train to Kiso-Fukushima and stay overnight at a lovely hot spring ryokan - set in a valley above the town. Our bags, sent ahead from Kyoto, will be waiting for us on arrival in Kiso Fukushima.

Walking: 18.4 km / 11.5 miles, 723m / 2275 ft ascent, 644m / 2112 ft descent, 6 hours

Accommodation: Ryokan Komanoyu

Meals: Breakfast, Dinner,

Mondau 1st October: Nakasendo Hiking Yabuhara to Narai

This morning we send our bags ahead to Yunomine Onsen. We travel by train from Kiso Fukushima to Yabuhara, the start for today’s Nakasendo Trail walk. Yabuhara flourished as a post town during the feudal Edo period, though almost no original buildings remain due to repeated fires in the past. Between Yabuhara and your destination, Narai, the trail climbs the Torii-toge Pass, one of the hardest parts of the Nakasendo.

Narai was once known as “Narai of 1000 inns,” as this was the most prosperous of the 69 post towns along the Nakasendo Trail. Travellers prepared or recovered in the many inns here before and after tackling the steep Torii-toge. In contrast with Yabuhara, residents of Narai chose to renovate their historic houses and impose strict rules on ownership and use.

Walking: 6.2 km / 3.9 miles, 344m / 1128 ft ascent, 270m / 885 ft descent, 3 hours

Accommodation: Minshuku, Iseya

Tuesday 2nd October: Train to Kyoto

This morning we travel by train and bullet train to Kyoto, arriving in the early afternoon.

We have included a walking tour of the famous Gion neighbourhood. This traditional neighbourhood is home to a number of tea houses where geisha and apprentice geisha (known in Kyoto as geiko and maiko), train and perform. With luck, we will see one glide by on her way to an appointment! This evening we are at leisure in Kyoto.

Accommodation: Royal Park Hotel: The Kyoto

Meals: Breakfast,

Wednesday 3rd October: Travel from Kyoto to the Kii Peninsula, Hiking from Takijiri to Takahara

Travel south from Kyoto along the coast by train to Tanabe (about 3 hours), then transfer by local bus (about 40 minutes) to Takijiri. The village is at the beginning of the Nakahechi, part of the network of ancient pilgrimage trails known as the Kumano Kodo, or Kumano Ancient Trail. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Kumano Kodo became popular from the 11th century as a place of pilgrimage from Kyoto by Emperors.. It is also the site of the three sacred shrines of Kumano, the Kumano Sanzan.

Continue with a 2-hour hike to the small mountain-top village of Takahara, where we stop for the night. Our accommodation is a delightful Japanese-style ryokan built by local carpenters with rooms affording a spectacular view over the surrounding mountains. There are hot-spring baths and the sumptuous evening meal is made with organic locally-sourced ingredients.

Walking: 4.5 km / 2.8 miles, 370 m / 1,200 ft ascent, 175m / f75 ft descent; about 2 hours

Accommodation: Japanese style lodge - Organic Hotel Kirinosato

Meals: Breakfast, Dinner,

Thursday 4th October: Walk from Takahara to Chikatsuyu

Starting from Takahara, we continue eastwards along the Nakahechi pilgrimage trail. Along the path we pass small jizo bodhisattva statues, placed there by locals to protect travellers. Here we also find the sites of old cha-ya (tea houses), which provided rest to pilgrims right up until the early 20th century.

Descend to the village of Chikatsuyu, and continue on to Yunomine Onsen by bus for our accommodation for tonight, a hot springs inn in Yunomine Onsen. Our bags are sent ahead from Kiso Fukushima and will be waiting for us at Yunomine Onsen.

Walking: 10.1 km / 6.5 miles; 4 hours; 480 m / 1,575 ft ascent; 520 m / 1,700 ft descent

Accommodation: Hot springs ryokan – Yunominesou

Meals: Breakfast, Dinner,

Friday 5th October: Walk from Chikatsuyu to the Grand Shrine at Hongu

From Chikatsuyu, the trail continues through the mountains to Hongu. The trail passes through small villages and forest trails over the Kii Mountains to the Kumano shrine at Hongu, one of the three ‘Grand Shrines of Kumano’. At the heart of these sacred mountains, Kumano was said to be the entrance to the land of Yomi, the ‘other world' which spirits travelled to in Japanese mythology. From the Kumano shrine at Hongu, a short bus ride brings you to Yunomine Onsen.

Enjoy a relaxing soak in a Japanese bath before or after your delicious, multi-course dinner.

Walking: 7 hours (15km / 9 miles); 820m / 2,700 feet of ascent and 1140m / 3,740 feet of descent

Accommodation: Hot springs ryokan – Yunominesou

Meals: Breakfast, Dinner,

Saturday 6th October: Travel to Nachi, walk the Daimonzaka to Nachi Taisha

This morning, we send our bags ahead of us from Yunomine Onsen to Kyoto. Today we travel by bus and train from Yunomine to the Daimonzaka, the traditional approach to Nachi san. We plan to visit the Nachi Taisha and to see the waterfall befor returning to Kii Katuura – an active fishing port town that looks out over an island known as studded bay.

Walking: 1 hour, 2.2 km / 1.3 miles, approximately 150 m – many stairs

Accommodation: Hot Springs Hotel Urashima

Meals: Breakfast, Dinner,

Sunday 7th October: Kii Katsuura fishing port - Travel by train to Kyoto

This morning we travel by train to Kyoto – those rising early may have time to visit the tuna market before our departure. Continue on to Kyoto where we visit Fushimi Inari shrine, one of the most visually striking shrines of Kyoto with its many torii gates that snake up the hillside. The titular spirit, the Inari or fox, is associated with business, and also with the production of sake. Our bags, sent from Yunomine Onsen, will be waiting at our hotel on arrival.

Tonight is at leisure and your guide is on hand to make dining suggestions.

Accommodation: Hotel TBC Kyoto

Meals: Breakfast,

Monday 8th October: Sightseeing in Kyoto, Farewell Dinner

This morning, we have the opportunity to walk the Philosopher’s pathway in Northern Higashiyama.

Free time in the afternoon to make your own discoveries of the city and perhaps to purchase a souvenir from the many traditional craft shops in the city.

This evening we gather together once more to proceed to our farewell dinner in a local restaurant where we can reminisce about the tour and our adventures together.

Accommodation: Hotel Royal Park, Hotel the Kyoto, Kyoto

Meals: Breakfast, Dinner,

Tuesday 9th October: Depart from Kyoto

The tour ends today. Your departure transfer to Kansai International Airport or Itami (Osaka International Airport) is by shared taxi service.

Meals: Breakfast,

Hotels in Tokyo and Kyoto

Modern western-style hotels. The rooms are generally smaller than equivalent hotels in the West. Our city hotels have en-suite facilities, air-conditioning and TV; most have fridges in rooms.

Ryokan and Minshuku

Ryokan and minshuku are traditional Japanese-style inns. They may be in modern or older wooden buildings but the rooms are typically in the Japanese style with tatami (straw) matting and futons laid out in the evening. Dinners are served together, usually in the dining room, and are exquisitely prepared multi-course meals. Some ryokans have en-suite bathrooms (though older buildings generally offer shared facilities) and communal hot spring style baths, segregated by gender. They are typical of the classic Japanese experience. In minshukus you may lay out your own futon. In ryokans, the futon is laid out for you.

We offer the option of a single room in Tokyo and Kyoto. Single rooms may not be available in ryokans. At the small family run inns on the trail we may ask solo travellers to share a room with another member of the group of the same sex.

MEALS

Most meals will be Japanese cuisine. Vegetarian options are available but limited. Strict vegetarian or vegan diets or gluten free diets may not be accommodated due the prevalence of dashi, miso, and soy sauce in Japanese cuisine. Alcoholic drinks are not included. Tips are not required in Japan. Small family run inns on the trail are proud of their set meals that showcase the local cuisine. Dinners are composed of many smaller dishes of regional specialties and a set meal is served to all guests at the accommodation. Optional lunches may be packed lunches or taken in small cafes or restaurants.

LUGGAGE AND CLOTHING

During the tour, we send larger items of luggage ahead by courier to make the long-distance transfers by bus and train more relaxed. This means you do not have to handle your larger items of luggage through railway stations and on trains. However, those larger items of luggage do not rejoin us on the same day; and you will not have access to them on certain nights. So please bring a backpack to carry your overnight items. All the Japanese inns on the intervening nights provide soap, shampoo, towels, slippers and cotton robes called yukata, which are worn inside after you check-in. It is normal in Japan to wear yukata to eat dinner, to relax in your room and when walking about. Hairdryers are provided in the regular hotels and in the public bathrooms in Ryokans. They are usually available in minshukus.

Price per person, sharing a twin/double room    : £5,250
Single person supplement: £460
Supplement for Business Class flight upgrade : £1,500*

Price reduction excluding international flights are available on request

*Please note that the price of this holiday has been calculated on the price of Economy and Business Class flights at the time of writing.

What the Price Includes

  • International flights from UK to Tokyo returning from Osaka, Economy Class
  • Welcome reception
  • Accommodation in hotels, Japanese-style inns (ryokan and minshuku)
  • Services and back up of our local agents in Japan.
  • Airport transfers by private coach or taxis
  • Meals are included as marked the itinerary
  • Transportation between tour locations. This will normally be by train, local bus and sometimes taxi.
  • Accompanying Langdale Walking Holidays tour leader
  • Full-time services of an English-speaking Japanese guide
  • Entrance to museums, temples, etc. as indicated on the itinerary
  • Overnight baggage transfer of one large bag
  • Water and snacks
  • Local taxes
  • Airport taxes
  • ATOL Protection and ATOL Protection Contribution (APC)
  • Gratuities are not necessary in Japan

Please Note: For reasons of safety, weather conditions and unforeseen circumstances, it may be necessary to make changes to the programme without advance notice. Every effort will be made to avoid this if at all possible.

Outbound

Thursday 27th September: Flight to Tokyo

Arrive at the airport under your own arrangements for the flight to Tokyo. Please check-in three hours before departure time, using your passport and e-ticket. Flights are the latest known and subject to confirmation. All times are local.

Heathrow Passengers:

  • Air France Depart Heathrow                       AF1581                        11:50
  • Arrive Paris                                                                                           14:10
  • Depart Paris                                                    AF272                          17:20
  • Arrive Tokyo Haneda                                                                          12:15 (+1)

Manchester Passengers:

  • Air France Depart Manchester                   AF5011                         11:25
  • Arrive Paris                                                                                           14:00
  • Depart Paris                                                   AF272                           17:20
  • Arrive Tokyo Haneda                                                                          12:15 (+1)

Return

Tuesday 9th October: Returning Flight from Kyoto

Your departure transfer to Kansai International Airport or Itami (Osaka International Airport) is by shared taxi service.

Heathrow Passengers:

  • Air France Depart Osaka               AF291              10:30
  • Arrive Paris                                                                 16:15
  • Depart Paris                                     AF1080            18:15
  • Arrive Heathrow                                                        18:30

 

Manchester Passengers

  • Air France/KLM Depart Osaka            KL868                 10:20
  • Arrive Amsterdam                                                                15:00
  • Depart Amsterdam                                 KL1095                18:50
  • Arrive Manchester                                                                19:50

September Weather

Average Temperatures
22 C° high
13 C° low
Average Rainfall
100 mm / month
12 days / month
Average Sunshine
5 hours / day
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