Travel back in time as you follow in the footsteps of medieval shoguns and samurai while immersed in traditional culture
Walking through the Japanese countryside, it is easy to see what has inspired the elegant simplicity of Japan’s traditional art: ethereal cherry blossoms, ancient temples, lush valleys, misty forests, and snowcapped peaks. Hiking through forested mountains, past hamlets and small villages, you’ll hear the echoes of shoguns, samurai and merchants who once traveled on this network of trails linking the Imperial capital with the provincial towns that dot the Kiso Valley. You’ll visit the old imperial city of Kyoto and see its magnificent temples, shrines, and the Gion Geisha district. You’ll walk through beautiful juku (post towns) and along the Nakasendo, one of Japan’s ancient trade routes. You’ll enjoy an ancient tea ceremony, soak in mountain hot springs, and stay in a traditional shukubo (temple lodging). Unlike other companies, MTS makes sure that you experience the gracious hospitality of small, family-run inns and exquisitely-prepared, multi-course Japanese meals every night. You’ll be able to contrast all of this tradition with the electric energy of Tokyo, where you’ll visit the Ginza shopping district, the Imperial Palace, and the Grand Meiji Shrine. Come experience Japan, MTS-style!
4 days of easy to moderate hiking along country trails and village roads
- Explore the old imperial city of Kyoto, its ancient temples, the Golden Pavilion of Kinkaku-ji, and the Gion Geisha district
- Follow your local MTS guide over some of the oldest trails in Japan through medieval towns, lush valleys, and misty forests
- Stay at traditional Japanese inns, including a night at a shukubo, a pilgrims’ lodging, soak in hot springs, and eat exquisitely prepared, multi-course Japanese meals every night—only with MTS
- Experience the electric energy of Tokyo and visit some of its oldest sites, including the Imperial Palace and the Grand Meiji Shrine
Duration: 11 days Start Location: Kyoto End Location: TokyoDownload Detailed Itinerary
Day 1 : Arrive in Kyoto (This entire trip is below 6,000' elevation)
We will meet at our hotel in Kyoto. In the evening we will convene for a welcome dinner at a restaurant in the city center.
Day 2 : Kyoto
In the morning, we transfer to the extraordinary Kinkaku-ji, or Golden Pavilion—so named for its top two stories that are covered in gold leaf—was built by Ashikaga Shogun in the late 14th century as a retirement villa and was later converted by his son into a Zen temple. We’ll discover its magnificent Japanese garden and mirror pond. From there, we’ll walk to nearby Ryoan-ji to see its famous rock garden, which consists of 15 moss-covered boulders, only 14 of which are visible at any time. It is said that the 15th rock can only be seen by those who have attained enlightenment. After lunch, we will transfer to Arashiyama, an area in northwest Kyoto popular with the nobility since the Heian period (794-1185) because of its beautiful natural setting. It is a good place to see the cherry blossoms in April and the fall foliage, with the forested mountains rising behind its temples, town houses and the Togetsukyo Bridge, which spans the Katsura River. We will visit the Tenryu-ji temple and the famous bamboo groves. There will be free time afterwards so you can explore the area further or shop for crafts.
Day 3 : Nara
We take a short train ride from Kyoto to Nara. On a much smaller scale than Kyoto, Nara was established in 710 AD as Japan’s capital, and is home to the famous Nara Park, where the semi-tame deer roam. We walk to Kasuga Taisha Shrine, a Shinto shrine established in the 8th century. Stone lanterns line the path to the entrance, and inside hundreds of bronze lanterns hang from the building. We continue to Mount Wakakakusa for a walk that gives us a view of the city. We will have lunch and then we visit nearby Todai-ji temple – the world’s largest wooden building – which houses one of Japan’s largest bronze statues of Buddha. We return to Kyoto in the late afternoon.
Day 4 : Mount Koya and Pilgrim’s Trail
We travel by train along the scenic Nankai railway, which brings us to the UNESCO World Heritage Site Mount Koya, a high valley surrounded by eight peaks and filled with stands of towering cedar trees. We have the unique experience of traveling without our luggage, as it will be transferred by courier this morning. You will need to pack a bag or pack to carry your overnight items.
This has been a center of religious devotion and ceremony since the 9th century, when the monk, Kukai (also known Kobo Daishi), founded the first temple and the Shingon sect of Buddhism. Today, the valley is home to more than 100 monasteries, many of which host travelers in shukubo (temple lodgings). We will visit Kongobu-ji Temple before arriving at one of the elegant shukubo, run by the monks, and dine on shojin-ryori (Buddhist vegetarian cuisine).
Day 5 : Mount Koya and Kiso Valley
Early risers are welcome to join a Buddhist service at the temple this morning at 6 a.m. After breakfast, we’ll tour the vast Okuno-in cemetery, with thousands of graves and memorials to feudal lords, shoguns, samurai, politicians and other luminaries. We'll say goodbye to Mount Koya and head by train to the Kiso Valley, where part of the ancient Nakasendo trail cuts through the valley, linking Kyoto and Edo (medieval Tokyo). Along the Nakasendo, which means ‘road through the mountains,’ villages act as post towns along its route. We are treated to the unique experience of taking four short trains and a bus to explore these quaint towns and valleys. Many of these have been preserved through the effort of the local residents, and we’ll enjoy the hospitality of villagers who have converted their traditional machiya houses into inns. We arrive at the post town of Magome-juku in time for dinner. Traveling time will be about 5 hours.
Day 6 : Kiso Valley and Nakasendo
Today we are treated to a shorter hike and visit to Tsumago. In the morning, we take time to explore the small post-town of Magome before we walk to the village of Tsumago-juku over Magome Pass. The trail rises gently, passing through another small village before reaching Magome Pass and then descending on a mixed paved and dirt trail through forest to Tsumago. This small village has many restored machiya houses lining the main street and there are small shops selling local crafts as well as snacks such as gohei-mochi (rice paste covered in a miso sauce). (3 hours walking; 5 miles; 700' ascent/1,150' descent)
Day 7 : Tsumago – Nojiri
We continue our journey along the Kiso Valley and Nakasendo today, walking from Tsumago to Nojiri. There will be two options today, a shorter 2-mile walk with a train ride, or a longer 8-mile walk. The trail takes a lovely route along empty country lanes and paths that weave their way beside rice fields and the gardens of village houses. At Nojiri we take a ride by private bus to Kiso-Fukushima, and stay at the Koma-no-yu Ryokan, which boasts its own hot spring. There are more than 3,000 named hot springs in Japan, fed by Japan’s abundant volcanic activity. The ryokan has both inside and outside hot spring baths, segregated by gender. Enjoy a soak after your hike, to relax your muscles and enjoy a quintessential Japanese experience! (Long option: 8 miles, with 1,975' ascent and 750' descent. Short option: 1 hour walking, 2.5 miles with 100' ascent and descent)
Day 8 : Yabuhara – Narai
We start with a short train ride to Yabuhara, another small post-town. From there we climb to Torii Pass, with good views over the Kiso Valley. In early spring there may traces of snow on the mountain tops, but from mid-April onwards the scenery is one of lush green forest. We arrive mid-afternoon in Narai-juku, one of the best-preserved villages, and stay at the friendly Iseya Ryokan. You will be greeted by Mr Sakai, who runs the inn with his parents. The present building dates back over two hundred years, and is typical of the village merchant houses that line the main street of this village. The wooden walls and beams are burnished to a dark brown from the days when they were covered in soot from the irori (raised hearths) and polished by the young women of the household. There will be time to explore the village, and perhaps try one of the local specialties. We have the unique experience of traveling without our luggage, as it will be transferred by courier this morning to Tokyo. You will need to pack a bag or pack to carry your overnight items. (Approx. hiking time: 3 hours, 5 miles; 885' ascent/descent)
Day 9 : Hirasawa – Tokyo
After breakfast in Narai, we’ll set out for a short walk to Hirasawa, renowned for its lacquer-ware artisans. We’ll stop in at one of their workshops and meet local artisans before transferring to Tokyo. There will be free time to explore before dinner this evening. (1 hour walking, 2 miles with negligible ascent or descent)
Day 10 : Tokyo
Today we will take a tour of Tokyo, walking around Nihonbashi, the elegant Ginza shopping district and the spacious park around the Imperial Palace. The present Imperial Palace includes gardens and the residence of the Japanese Imperial Family, and was previously the site of Edo Castle (Edo being the Shogun-era name for Tokyo) during the time of the Shoguns. The contrast of the large palace grounds, deep moat and palace buildings with the surrounding modern office buildings of downtown Tokyo is a reflection of Japan’s twin identities of modernity and tradition. We will then take the subway to Harajuku, to have lunch and visit the Grand Meiji Shrine. We will then walk along the elegant Omote-Sando street to the entertainment area of Shibuya, with its famous crossing, said to be the world's busiest. We will then return to our hotel before dinner.
Day 11 : Departure
Your guide will be on hand to help you transfer to Narita Airport for homeward-bound flights.
NOTE: This walking trip is rated “Moderate” due to our hiking days, as well as the active nature of each day’s activities. There is a lot of walking to get to each itinerary location so we cover a lot of distance each day. Many of the temple sites we visit are situated on large, spread out gardens and grounds. In addition, we use public transport on this trip more than on other Mountain Travel Sobek adventures, and this creates a very active, multi-faceted walking trip. You will need to be prepared for steep staircases in the traditional ryokans in the countryside, with shared bathrooms; and busy subway stations in the city.
DATES: Best time to go: April - May, September - November Departures: Oct 13 - 23, 2014 Nov 10 - 20, 2014 Mar 30, 2015 - Apr 9, 2015 Apr 13 - 23, 2015 Sep 14 - 24, 2015 Oct 12 - 22, 2015 Oct 26, 2015 - Nov 5, 2015 Nov 9 - 19, 2015
$5,295 (5-12 members)
$700 single supplement (Single only guaranteed in Kyoto and Tokyo)
$5,495 (5-12 members)
$700 single supplement (Single only guaranteed in Kyoto and Tokyo)
Welcome to Iseya Ryokan. This is a minshuku with 10 rooms.
Properties shown are representative of the accommodations we use on this trip, may not be inclusive of all accommodations we use, and are subject to change.
Expert leadership is the key to an exciting, unforgettable experience. Our trips feature gifted leaders for whom leading trips is a true vocation. Besides showing you wonders you’d never find on your own, they make sure everything runs smoothly and safely without a hitch. They are knowledgeable about all aspects of your trip, and take great pleasure in sharing their insights with you. More than just guides, they positively elevate your experience by being teachers, companions, and the best of friends. You’ll be in good hands with them every step of the way.
Yumiko was born in Japan but spent several years living in the UK as a child, and returned to Japan to attend university. She has climbed many of highest peaks in Japan and had guided foreign visitors both on cultural and hiking trips. She has traveled to more than 80 countries, and is keen hiker, climber and cyclist. Yumiko's hobbies are also gardening, botany and architecture. She is member of the Japan Guide Association. Yumiko always looks forward to share her knowledge about her beautiful country