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

A Spiritual Journey Across Ancient Japan

Discover a place that is truly timeless, treading in the footsteps of ancient pilgrims on a route that takes you into the heart and soul of traditional Japan…

Kyoto Gardens

Make the journey of emperors and samurai on the ancient pilgrimage route that links Japan's beautifully preserved historic towns and villages. This is a rare insight into a way of life long since lost elsewhere; an in-depth, immersive experience of traditional Japan's culture, cuisine and captivating scenery.

Walking the Nakasendo Way and Kumano Kodō trails is about tracing that connection between the past and present, a true sense of continuity through the ages on a route lined with waterfalls, Shinto shrines, temples and gardens. Explore the entrancing Japanese landscape each day, returning to the comforts of a traditional inn (ryokan) with exemplary local cuisine, a relaxing soak in the area's hot springs (onsen) and a warm welcome waiting for you.

Have a question to ask while out exploring? You’re in good hands with our experienced tour leader and bilingual guides. Our professional guides are more than happy to provide the first-hand, local knowledge that helps enrich your experience of the many fascinating sights you’ll encounter.

  • See another side of Japanese culture on The Nakasendo and Kumano Kodō trails
  • Taste the region’s famous, locally-sourced cuisine
  • Return to the warm welcome and hospitality of Japan’s traditional inns (ryokan)
  • Ride the rails at a phenomenal pace cross-country on the bullet train leaving from Tokyo
  • Unwind after an active day’s exploration with a soothing soak in the area’s hot springs (onsen)
  • Grand temples and gardens set against views of Mt Fuji in Kyoto, birthplace of the traditional tea ceremony & flower-arranging

 

Why the Nakasendo Trail?

By following in the footsteps of those who made the original pilgrimage, you’re well placed to encounter those authentic experiences that make your journey unique. This is about so much more than venturing off the beaten track; the villages of the Nakasendo Trail are worlds apart from the urban metropolis of Tokyo and with the company of our expert guides, tour leader and likeminded travellers we are all set for an unforgettable experience.

Our journey begins among the bright neon lights of Tokyo, experiencing the sights and sounds of the capital before setting off by bullet train into the mountains. Here, we arrive at the starting point of our walk along the Nakasendo Trail and the Kumano Kodō Trail, the start of our adventure through authentic Japan.

Our walk connects village to village, as we follow the very same routes that linked Tokyo to Kyoto during Japan’s feudal period. Known as the ‘road through the mountains’, the Nakasendo was taken by feudal lords and their retinues, samurai, merchants, and travellers. Along the way were 69 ‘post towns’, where weary travellers could rest before continuing on their epic journey. Our destination is the historical city of Kyoto, which with 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites is often considered to be the nation’s cultural heartland.

 

Day 1: 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,

Day 2: 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,

Day 3: 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,

Day 4: 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,

Day 5: Monday 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

Day 6: 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,

Day 7: 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,

Day 8: 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,

Day 9: 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,

Day 10: 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,

Day 11: 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,

Day 12: 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,

Day 13: 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
Japanese_innRyokan 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.

What is Japanese Food Like?

Japan CuisineMost 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.

How is Luggage Transported?

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.

Option Price p.p Notes
Holiday inc. flight £5,250 Based on two sharing a twin/double room, includes economy flight departing from London Heathrow
Single supplement £460
Business class upgrade £1,500 Upgrade flight from economy to business class
Holiday exc. flights Contact us

The Standard Price Includes

  • 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 in the itinerary
  • Transportation between tour locations. This will normally be by train, local bus and the occasional 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)

Not Included

  • Tips or gratuities (which are not customary in Japan)
  • Alcoholic Drinks
  • Items of a personal nature
  • Travel insurance

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: Fly to Tokyo
Arrive at the airport under your own arrangements for the flight to Tokyo. Check-in three hours before departure time.

London Heathrow Departure:

  • Depart Heathrow        11:50 (GMT)
  • Arrive Paris                  14:10 (GMT+1)

Flight time: 1hr 20
Carrier: Air France AF1581

  • Depart Paris                 17:20 (GMT+1)
  • Arrive Tokyo Haneda 12:15 (GMT+9)

Flight time: 11hr 55
Carrier: Air France AF272

Manchester Departure:

  • Depart Manchester     11:25 (GMT)
  • Arrive Paris                  14:00 (GMT+1)

Flight time: 1hr 35
Carrier: Air France AF5011

  • Depart Paris                 17:20 (GMT+1)
  • Arrive Tokyo Haneda 12:15 (GMT+9)

Flight time: 11hr 55
Carrier: Air France AF272

Flight times are the latest known and subject to confirmation by the airline. All flight times are local time.

Return

Tuesday 9th October: Fly back to UK
Arrive at airport via shared taxi service.

London Heathrow Destination:

  • Depart Osaka              10:30 (GMT+9)
  • Arrive Paris                  16:15 (GMT+1)

Flight time: 12hr 45
Carrier: Air France AF291

  • Depart Paris                 18:15 (GMT+1)
  • Arrive Heathrow         18:30 (GMT)

Flight time: 1hr 15
Carrier: Air France AF1080

Manchester Destination:

  • Depart Osaka               10:20 (GMT+9)
  • Arrive Amsterdam      15:00 (GMT+1)

Flight time: 11hr 40
Carrier: KLM KL868

  • Depart Amsterdam     18:50 (GMT+1)
  • Arrive Manchester      19:50 (GMT)

Flight time: 2hr
Carrier: KLM KL1095

Flight times are the latest known and are subject to confirmation from the airline. All flight times are local time.

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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