On this enchanted adventure, packed with scenic hikes and immersive cultural encounters, you'll meet some of the bold women behind Japan's incredibly rich culture. Over 10 expertly curated days you'll experience the wonders of Japan as you hike along the centuries-old Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route, witness the traditional Ama practice of free-diving for pearls and seafood, visit Japan's most treasured Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, and uncover the mysteries of geisha life in Kyoto. You'll even have a chance to try "forest bathing" on this unique women's adventure.
Spend three days walking the UNESCO-listed Kumano Kodo and behold its three grand shrines
Meet influential Japanese women: an Ama diver, a Shugendo mountain priestess, an apprentice geisha
Revitalize with soaks in onsen (hot springs) and "forest bathing" — improving health through nature
Welcome to Japan! Upon arrival at Kansai International Airport, transfer to your Osaka hotel. Here you meet the group and enjoy a welcome dinner and trip orientation.
Take a morning train to Toba, a port town in Mie prefecture known for Mitsukoshi pearls and the brave Ama divers who would free-dive for them. This traditional lifestyle is slowly dying as younger people, especially women, choose not to enter this dangerous profession. From Toba , transfer to Osatsu and see this fascinating practice in action and then have lunch with a special guest — a woman Ama diver! Learn about the Ama lifestyle and traditions while feasting on fresh-caught seafood. After lunch, return to Toba and explore the town before settling into your waterfront accommodation.
Head to the Saiku Historical Museum, which showcases an ancient Saio palace whose ruins are now an archaeological site. Learn about the Saio — unmarried women of the imperial family — and the life they dedicated to the gods at Ise-jingu, the shrine we visit next. Ise, one of Japan's most significant Shinto shrines, is associated with Amaterasu-Omikami, the female deity from which the Japanese imperial family descended. Pay your respects here and then explore Okage Yokocho, a historical commercial district catering to the earthly needs of pilgrims and visitors.
Today starts your exciting journey along the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Kumano Kodo! Travel to the Aiga area, where you begin your two-day hike on the Iseji, an important route pilgrims followed from Ise-jingu to the three grand shrines (Kumano Sanzan) on the centuries-old Kumano Kodo. This incredibly scenic portion of the trail, which takes in terraced rice paddies and bamboo forests, is partly paved with moss-covered stones to prevent landslides. After crossing the famous Magose Pass, transfer to your Owase accommodation , where you relax in a traditional onsen (hot spring).
Day two on Iseji is a bit more challenging, but every bit as scenic. As you walk along the trail, experience the Japanese wellness concept of shinrin yoku, or forest bathing — a sense of well-being that arises from immersing yourself in the power of nature to escape modern-day stimulation and improve overall health. Feel yourself enveloped in the natural environment along this ancient route, with cypress and cedar trees stretching above and moss-covered stone paths below.
Transfer to the Hayatama Taisha, the first Kumano Kodo grand shrine, and continue to Hosshinmon-oji, the "gate of awakening of the aspiration to enlightenment." Walk a scenic, gentle portion of the Kumano's Nakahechi route with a yamabushi — a mountain priestess of the Shugendo faith. Shugendo blends reverence for the sacredness of nature with elements of Buddhism and other Eastern religions. Hike to the Hongu Taisha, the Kumano's second grand shrine — whose symbol of the mythological three-legged raven represents all three grand shrines — before completing today in your onsen's soothing waters.
Travel to the Daimonzaka, the traditional approach to Nachi Taisha (the Kumano's third grand shrine) and Nachi Taki (Nachi waterfall). The Daimonzaka features traditional broad stone stairs that meander through the forest to Nachi Taicha. You may see pilgrims in traditional dress as they follow in the footsteps of those who walked many centuries before. Arrive first at Nachi Taisha, known for its stately vermilion pagoda, and then at Nachi Taki, Japan's tallest single-drop waterfall and part of the yamabushi's ascetic practice. Enjoy lunch on your own in Daimonzaka before boarding a train to Kyoto.
Revel in a full day discovering Kyoto. Start at UNESCO-listed Nijo-jo, a palace-like castle built in 1603. Learn about court life and Murasaki Shikibu, a noblewoman who wrote The Tale of Genji under a nom de plume. Walk through Gion and discover the mysterious world of geisha and maiko (apprentice geisha) — a traditional means for women to make their way in the world — while lunching with a maiko. Then step into the quieter, lesser known geisha district, where you learn about the revered tea ceremony and the aesthetic concepts of wabi sabi.
Begin today walking in the historical, peaceful district of Arashiyama. Make your way from the upper reaches of town to Tenryu-ji, one of Kyoto's preeminent Zen Buddhist temples. Here enjoy a special lunch of shojin ryori (Buddhist vegetarian cuisine) before an afternoon at your leisure to explore the area further, or return to central Kyoto to browse the many craft shops for that perfect souvenir. This evening celebrate with a jovial farewell dinner, and raise a glass to the trailblazing women of Japan — and the wonderful women on your tour!
After breakfast at the hotel, say farewell to Kyoto and transfer to Kansai International Airport for your homeward-bound flight.
MT Sobek has been leading adventures in Japan for over 10 years, working with expert Japanese guides to ensure an immersive experience.
This unique adventure offers a new perspective on Japan and blends active hikes with cultural encounters.
We've included three days on the magnificent, UNESCO-listed Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route.
Our expert guides and trip leaders are truly the key to our trips' success. Many are locals who live in-country year-round; others have made it their second home—all are passionate, enthusiastic and endlessly knowledgeable. Meet a few of the guides that might be on your trip.
Moderately paced hikes up to 4 miles a day on paved and dirt trails, plus cultural touring and scenic train rides.
Enjoy stays in serene hotels with comfortable rooms and modern amenities, plus traditional ryokans (inns).
Spring and fall temperatures range from 50°F to the high 70°s F. In springtime, there is a fair chance of rain.
No, American citizens do not need a visa to visit Japan for stays up to 90 days.
Yes, you can, but please let us know as soon as possible so we can manage your request.
Please let your Adventure Coordinator know about any allergies you may have. Fish is a more challenging allergy to manage due to the ubiquitous nature of dashi (fish broth), but we can usually still manage it.
The ryokans vary significantly, but usually have tatami mats for flooring and futon beds that are laid out each night. Baths may be communal and divided by gender.
You will take a limousine bus to the hotel, where your guide will meet you in the evening for a trip briefing and dinner.
You will be without your luggage, carrying your essentials in your daypack, on days 2 and 7. Your luggage will be transported by courier to your accommodation on the following day.
Make any of our trips a custom adventure or start from scratch. Take two itineraries and match them up to create a unique third. Add extras and extensions and more...if you can imagine it, we can make it happen!
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