Culture and Hiking Japan Itinerary

14 Days 13 Nights

Itinerary Overview

This is a 13 – night itinerary that not only includes the cities of Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka but the less traveled Gifu Prefecture. You will be immersed into the culture, will learn about history and will also hike, see beautiful scenery, attend a tea ceremony, take a food tour and much more.

Day 1 Tokyo

One of the world’s most cutting-edge capitals, Tokyo is a city of contrasts. Famous for its sprawling neon-lit landscape, it is also home to expansive park land, peaceful shrines and temples, and lovingly tended gardens. On the surface, Tokyo is a mix of digital trends and conspicuous consumption, but dig deeper and you will find a city rooted deeply in the traditional culture. Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples stand close to skyscrapers as a reminder of a more contemplative time. At the heart of the hyperactive center lies the serene Imperial Palace, the home of the ruling emperor that provides a tangible link to the city’s historical past. Behind the shopping, entertainment, and commercial emporia, you will find quaint wooden houses, private gardens with meticulously clipped bonsai trees and the calm of the Hamarikyu Gardens.

Upon arrival at the airport, an English-speaking assistant will meet you at the arrival lobby. A private transfer will take you to your accommodation.

Hotel: Keio Plaza Hotel
Day 2 Tokyo

After breakfast, take a full day tour of this fascinating city with a local guide. First up is Asakusa, Tokyo’s old town where you can soak in the atmosphere of the Tokyo of old. Visit Sensoji, Tokyo’s oldest temple and wander down Nakamise, a shopping street that has been providing temple visitors with a variety of traditional, local snacks and tourist souvenirs for centuries. Next, travel down the Sumidagawa River on Tokyo’s Water Bus, a unique means of transportation. You’ll arrive directly at Hamarikyu garden, an Edo Period Japanese garden, surrounded by the Shiodome district’s futuristic skyscrapers. This is a great example of how Japan is the land of contrasts, where you will stop for a cup of steaming matcha and Japanese sweets in a tea house on a small island in the park’s lake.

After lunch, enjoy a visit to Meiji Shrine, a shrine dedicated to the deified spirit of Emperor Meiji and a popular place for traditional Japanese weddings. Finally, as the sunlight dims, take a walk down the sparkly Omotesando shopping street, a broad tree lined avenue, home to the flagship stores of the world’s top fashion brands and some fantastic modern architecture.

Hotel: Keio Plaza Hotel
Day 3 Tokyo

When the sprawling metropolis that is Tokyo ran out of space, they inevitably turned toward the sea. Odaiba is a man made island created by massive landfills, featuring many hypermodern and strange buildings memorably described as the result of a pre-schooler’s architecture class. Among the exhibition pavilions, indoor shopping malls, game centers, cafes, restaurants, and surrealistic constructions of Odaiba, the visitor never fails to be intrigued by the structures on this landfill that seems to hail from the future rather than the past.

First, visit the Mori Digital Art Museum, affectionately known by locals as the “Instagram Museum”. Inside, projection mapping cleverly melds with human interaction, creating a fantasy world of illusions that is shaking the very foundations of what is art. As part of your visit, you will go to the museum’s beautiful En Tea House. Choose a bowl of tea of your liking. When you take a sip, a flower coordinated with your drink will bloom as if by magic from within the liquid and willl shatter into petals. Next, visit the Museum of Emerging Science, a highly interactive and bilingual science museum, that includes exhibits about environmental issues, robots (starring Asimo among others), information technology, biology and space exploration.

Take a ride on Tokyo’s monorail back to the mainland and visit Akihabara, Tokyo’s Electric Town. Akihabara is famous for its hundreds of electronic shops selling a mind boggling range of gadgets, gizmos, and devices that one way or another plug into the world of electricity as we know it. However in recent times, Akihabara has become even more famous for its “Otaku” culture. These are young Japanese who are “obsessed” with cosplay, manga, anime, gaming, or other aspects of the Japanese culture, and now there are stores in Akihabara that cater to all Otaku!

Hotel: Keio Plaza Hotel
Day 4 Tokyo – Kiso - Fukishima

After breakfast, leave the bustling capital behind and will make your way to Kiso-Fukushima, the gateway to the Nakasendo Way.

An English-speaking assistant will meet you at your hotel and escort you to the train station by private car. Take the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Nagano, where you will change to a limited express train for Kiso-Fukushima. Journey time is around 3.5 total hours.

The Kiso Valley is located in Nagano Prefecture, and runs alongside the mountains of the Central Alps. An ancient 70-km trade route called the Kisoji was developed along the valley and served as a very important means of commerce in the area.

The Kisoji became even more important from the beginning of the Edo Period, when it was amalgamated with other routes in the formation of the 500-km-long Nakasendo. The Nakasendo (“path through mountains”) was one of the two means of transportation between Edo and Kyoto. It contrasted with the other principal transportation route of the time, the Tokaido, which ran along the sea shore. Because of restrictions by the shogunate, travelers were almost always forced to make their trips on foot. As a result, “post towns” developed every few kilometers to provide travelers with places to rest, eat, and find nightly accommodation during their arduous journey. Along the Kiso Valley, a few post towns, particularly Magome, Tsumago and Narai, have been preserved to look as they did when they served travelers of the Nakasendo. Visitors are able to enjoy the stone paths and wooden buildings of a bygone era.

Upon arrival at Kiso-Fukushima, make your own way to Kiso-Ontake tourism office in front of the station. Local staff will give you a short orientation about your trip such as train/bus schedule, and meeting point for the guided tour tomorrow. Entry ticket to historical sites and maps will be provided.

You’ll be able to use a combined entry ticket to visit three beautiful sights in Kiso-Fukushima at your leisure. You’ll first visit the Yamamura Residence, former home of the Owari clan’s leader, Yamamura, and overseer of the Kiso-Fukushima area. Today, his house is an interesting museum chronicling upper class life in Kiso-Fukushima in the past. Next, you’ll visit the lovely Kozenji Temple, home to Asia’s largest dry rock garden. Its beauty rivals even that of some of the dry rock gardens found across Kyoto. Finally, you’ll head to the Fukushima Sekisho-Ato, a 270 – year-old immigration office.

After the excursion, the hotel shuttle bus will pick you up at Kiso-Fukushima station around 4 – 5 pm or you can make own way directly to the hotel.

A delicious dinner is included at your ryokan tonight.

Hotel: Onyado Tsutaya Ryokan, Japanese or Western room
Day 5 Kiso - Fukishima

After breakfast, make your way own way to Kiso-Fukushima station around 8:45am. There, you will meet your guide and take a short limited express train to the town of Nakatsugawa. From there, you will take the bus to Magome, a former post town with buildings faithfully reconstructed in a traditional style. You’ll have a little time to explore the town and enjoy some lunch here before you make your own way to the main event, the Nakasendo Way.

You’ll be assisted by your guide for an 8km stretch from Magome to Tsumago. The trail is a little steep at first, but it evens out quickly and the rest slopes away gently down to Tsumago. There are plenty of rest stops and toilets along the way (some even with free WiFi!) As you make your way through the forest, you’ll be treated to cascading waterfalls and beautiful mountain vistas peeking through the trees.

At the end of the walk, your reward is the picture-perfect town of Tsumago. Unlike Magome, the houses here are all over 200 years old and still house many residents to this day. Enjoy the feeling of stepping back in time as you explore this pretty town.

At 4pm, a private transfer will be waiting to drive you and your guide directly back to Kiso-Fukushima, a journey which takes just under an hour. Your guide will leave you at your hotel. Another delicious Japanese-style dinner is included at your ryokan tonight.

Note: While the Nakasendo is not a full hike nor a particularly challenging walk, a moderate to-good level of fitness is required. Please wear sensible shoes and take rain gear.

Hotel: Onyado Tsutaya Ryokan, Japanese or Western Style Room
Day 6 Kiso – Fukushima - Takayama

Due to its previously inaccessible location nestled high in the mountainous Hida alpine region, this beautifully preserved town was cut off from the rest of Japan, allowing it to develop its own unique culture. Takayama is an intimate, leisurely place and even the very center of the town has a quiet, rustic charm. As the main industry of Hida, the surrounding region, is agriculture. The freshly harvested vegetables and fruit are brought daily by local farmers to Takayama’s lively morning market. The surrounding forests provide fine timber for building traditional houses and for the simple utensils and lacquer ware that have been made in Takayama for hundreds of years. The skillful carpenters of Hida are said to have built the Imperial Palace in Kyoto and many temples in that city, as well as in Nara. The district called Sanmachi Suji, the traditional home of Takayama merchants and sake brewers, has been preserved in almost exactly the same state as 200 or 300 years ago. Here are inns, shops and taverns which trace their histories back many generations. The Takayama Festival, which takes place biannually in spring and autumn, is considered to be one of the three most impressive festivals in Japan.

After breakfast, a private car will take you from Kiso-Fukushima to Takayama (approx 1.5 hours). An English speaking driver is not guaranteed.

OPTIONAL: Half Day Takayama Highlights Tour by Public Transport

Today you will take a tour with a local guide. Start with a visit to the Takayama Festival Float Museum, where the magnificent floats from the famous Takayama Festival are preserved. Your guide will explain about the traditions and symbolism related to this festival, one of the most important in Japan.

Take a walk in the district called Sanmachi Suji, the traditional home of Takayama merchants and sake brewers, which has been preserved in almost exactly the same state as 200 or 300 years ago. Here are inns, shops and taverns which trace their history back many generations. Stop at a sake brewery and enjoy a tasting of Japan’s national tipple. Takayama’s sake is renowned nation-wide thanks to the clear water of the surroundings.

Hotel: Hotel Associa Takayama Resort
Day 7 Takayama – Goshikigahara - Takayama

Today will be an early start. Your guide will meet you at the hotel lobby at 7:00 am for your transfer to the bus station by car. Breakfast is not included. It is recommended that you buy a snack at the convenience store before departure.

A 1-hour bus ride will take you from Takayama to Goshikigahara where you will meet the hiking guide and rest of the group. There are two hiking options available, please select one in advance.

Option 1:
8:50  Meet with the guide.
09:00  Short orientation and departure.
9:55  5 min break near a clear stream where wild wasabi grows.
10:20  Short break at the riverbank overlooking Kutemikoshi-Dake. Here you can climb up the waterfall and enjoy the water.
10:40  Stop at the observatory for great views of the waterfall.
10:50  Start the trip back to the information center (arrival around 12:00 pm).

Option 2:
8:50  Meet with the guide.
09:00  After finishing the reception, you will move by bus to the starting point of the hike.
9:30  10 min break at a beautiful mountain hut.
10:20  Short break at a mysterious pond with no water from spring to summer and water from summer to autumn.
11:00  Stop at Nunobikinotaki waterfall. Underground water reaches the rock wall and flows down as a waterfall. The best scenery in Goshikigahara.
11:20  Start the trip back by bus to the information center (arrival around 12:00pm).

A Bento lunch box will be provided to you. You can eat the lunch box before departure back to Takayama with your guide. Upon arrival in Takayama, you can enjoy the rest of the day at leisure in the city or make your own way back to your hotel.

Hotel: Associa Takayama Resort
Day 8 Takayama – Norikuradake - Takayama

Today will be an early start. Your guide will meet you at the hotel lobby at 7:00 am for your transfer to the bus station by car. Breakfast is not included. It is recommended you buy a snack at the convenience store before departure.

A 1-hour bus ride will take you from Takayama to Hirayu-Onsen where you will take another bus directly to Norikuradake Skyline (approx. 45 min). From there, there are three hiking options you can choose from:

– Mt. Kegamine Trail: Approx. 90 min hike (one-way)
– Mt. Fujimi Trail: Approx. 30 min hike (one-way)
– Mt. Daikoku Trail: Approx. 20 min hike (one-way)

After the hike, make your way back to Takayama with your guide. Upon arrival in Takayama, you can enjoy the rest of the day at leisure in the city or make your own way back to your hotel.

Hotel: Associa Takayama Resort
Day 9 Takayama - Kyoto

This is a must-see destination in Japan. Kyoto is the nation’s former capital and was the residence of the emperor from 794 until 1868. With 2,000 religious buildings, including 1,600 Buddhist temples and 400 Shinto shrines, as well as palaces, gardens and associated architecture, it is one of the best-preserved cities in Japan and has 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites. Kyoto represents the “Japan of old” and beyond the high-rise skyscrapers built as a monument to progress, the real monument to Japan’s historical and cultural past can be found in the city’s narrow alleyways where tea houses abound and kimono-clad geisha hurry from elegant function to function.

After breakfast, your driver will meet you at your hotel and escort you to the train station by private car. From Takayama station, you will take the Limited express to Nagoya where you will change to the bullet train bound for Kyoto. Upon arrival in Kyoto station, an English-speaking assistant will meet you at the arrival platform and escort you to your accommodation by private car.

Suggested train times:
11:32 Takayama 14:04 Nagoya LTD. EXP. (WIDE VIEW) HIDA 8
14:32 Nagoya 15:06 Kyoto SHINKANSEN NOZOMI 91

Hotel: Kanra Kyoto Hotel
Day 10 Kyoto

Breakfast is at the hotel.

A celebrated site, the world-famous Fushimi Inari Shrine sees millions of visitors every year. Thousands of bright red torii gates line the mountain trail of Fushimi Inari Shrine. Walking through the truly unique vermillion gate pathway is a visually stunning experience. Inari is the Japanese God of rice harvest. It is also believed to bless businesses with an abundance of fortunes, hence its popularity with merchants.

The shrine complex spans over the entire Mt. Inari (233m/765ft). On your tour, you will visit the main shrine hall. Then, you will proceed through the famed vermillion gate tunnel.

Next, visit a temple that once caught fire and was reconstructed a century after it was first constructed. At 120 meters, Sanjusangendo is the longest wooden structure in Japan. Inside, you will find 1001 statues of Kannon, the Buddhist saint of Mercy.

Next stop is a celebrated UNESCO site, Kiyomizu-dera temple, is older than Kyoto as the capital of Japan. Built for Kannon, the Buddhist saint of mercy, this temple is said to grant wishes of all kinds and especially so for women praying for safe childbirth. The temple is famous for its wooden platform stage, the Kiyomizu Butai. The massive stage was constructed out of wood and joints with no nails. At four stories high, it was once a popular wish-making spot.

In the afternoon, visit Kinkakuji Temple a favorite of millions of visitors each year. You will quickly see why this jewel set into the northern hills is one of the most visited sites in Japan. A far cry from Buddhist austerity, it is covered in real gold leaf, photogenically vibrant at any time of year no matter the weather. Not just a “pretty face”, the story of the warlord who had this pavilion built will capture your imagination.

Finally, visit Kitano-Tenmangu, a remarkable shrine to scholarship, was built to appease the spirit of an angry ghost. Buy a lucky pencil as local students do for their college entry exams, and then marvel that the surrounding entertainment district was built literally on its austere bones. After a fire in 1444, a large section of the temple was rebuilt, and the remaining timber was used to construct seven tea houses that became the first “flower town” or Geisha district in Kyoto. Kamishichiken is every bit as charming as its more touristy cousin Gion, with the added bonuses of fewer crowds and excellent photo opportunities.

Hotel: Kanra Kyoto Hotel
Day 11 Kyoto

Breakfast is at the hotel.

Today you will have the opportunity to visit the home of an instructor of one of Japan’s traditional arts. One or the assistants will meet at your hotel and escort you to the instructor’s house.

Learn all about the various types of tea and the instruments used to prepare it with the support/advice from the professional instructor and interpretation from our assistant. You will see how every movement has a meaning and what serving tea to guests means in Japan.

Availability: Every day but please note there is limited availability on January 2-5, April 29-May 6, December 25-29, and surcharges apply on these days.

Note: Maximum 7 people. Children below 4 years of age cannot take part.

Hotel: Kanra Kyoto Hotel
Day 12 Kyoto - Osaka

The historical commercial capital of Japan, Osaka is Japan’s third largest metropolis and it has been the economic powerhouse of the Kansai region for centuries. Osaka first gained prominence when a powerful warlord built the country’s most magnificent castle in the 16th century. To develop resources for his castle town, the ruler persuaded merchants from other parts of the nation to resettle in Osaka and it became an important distribution center. As the merchant class prospered, the town grew and traditional arts such as kabuki and bunraku flourished. With the legacy of the city’s commercial beginnings still intact, Osaka is renowned as a hub for international business. It is also famous for its local cuisine, large aquarium, underground shopping arcade, and its popular Universal Studios amusement park.

Osaka is one of Japan’s most vibrant cities, and especially known for its lively people and its food. Your guide will introduce you to the splendors of Osaka’s casual cuisine and the culture of “kuiadore” which literally means, “eating oneself to bankruptcy”.

After breakfast, your guide will pick you up from your hotel in Osaka and take you either to Shinsekai or Dotonbori, depending on which is closer to your hotel. Both are famous for their pedestrian-only restaurant streets and are known as a food paradise throughout Japan. This is where Kansai people come to celebrate!

Colorful eateries and bars line the streets: hole-in-the-wall takoyaki stands and ramen bars rub shoulders with upscale eateries serving the finest wagyu beef and everywhere, people young and old are out to enjoy the culinary pleasures of the nation’s soul food kitchen.

You’ll have the chance to sample a variety of local foods, including the famous and ubiquitous takoyaki (commonly known as “octopus balls”), okonomiyaki (a kind of savory pancake) and kushikatsu (skewered meats and vegetables). If you prefer, your guide can also take you to a huge variety of other establishments, from ramen noodles to izakaya bars.

Hotel: Hilton Osaka Hotel
Day 13 Osaka

Breakfast is at the hotel.

Your guide will meet you at your hotel to take you on a tour of Osaka. First visit Osaka Castle, the largest castle in Japan first built in 1583. This impressive castle is surrounded by impressive stone walls and moats, and sits in Osaka Castle Park, covering an area of two square kilometers.

Take a walking tour of the Dotonbori, a popular shopping and entertainment district and is also known as a food destination. At night, it is lit by hundreds of neon lights and mechanized signs, including the famous Glico Running Man Sign and Kani Doraku Crab Sign. Here you will sample some of Osaka’s famous takoyaki (Octopus dumplings).

Head across town to the Shinsekai area, known among locals as being part of the “retro” area of Osaka. The old markets and buildings with a mid-1900s feel are a throwback to an age gone by. Contrast this with a visit to the amazing Abeno Harukas skyscraper at the end of the day. At 300 meters, this is the tallest building in Japan and offers astounding views of the whole city from its observation decks, occupying the top 3 floors of the building. You will have some time here to take in the 360-degree view of Japan’s second-largest metropolis.

Hotel: Hilton Osaka Hotel
Day 14 Osaka - Departure

After breakfast at the right time, have a private transfer from your hotel to the departure airport.