This enchanting journey through Japan combines stunning hiking with timeless tradition. Beginning in the old imperial city of Kyoto and ending in modern Tokyo, our itinerary follows the Nakasendo, a network of ancient trade routes once used to travel from Kyoto via the provincial towns of the Kiso Valley to Tokyo. By way of temples, shrines, and hamlets, you'll take in ethereal landscapes of lush gardens, misty forests and possibly the bloom of cherry blossoms. Along the way, enjoy generous Japanese hospitality in a shukubo (temple lodging) and family-run inns, and the contrasts between old and new in this magical land.
Explore Kyoto's ancient temples, UNESCO-listed Kinkaku-ji and Ryoan-ji, and the bamboo forest of Arashiyama
Journey to Nara's Todai-ji, scenic and sacred Mount Koya, and electric Tokyo
Follow shoguns' shadows along ancient trade routes through medieval towns, lush valleys, and misty forests
Welcome to Japan! Meet the group at the hotel in Kyoto and convene for a welcome dinner at a restaurant in the city center. With over 1,000 Buddhist temples, sublime gardens, and excellent cuisine, it's easy to see why Kyoto has been voted Travel+Leisure's Best Overall City two years in a row!
This morning transfer to Arashiyama, a beautiful area in northwest Kyoto known for spring cherry blossoms, dramatic autumn foliage, forested mountains and Togetsu-kyo Bridge over the Katsura River. Visit the famous bamboo groves and Tenryu-ji Temple. We'll then have an early lunch before we continue on to Ryoanji to see its famous rock garden. Then, we head to the extraordinary 14th Century Kinkaku-ji or Golden Pavilion - named for its top two stories covered in gold leaf. Explore the Zen Buddhist temple's magnificent Japanese strolling garden and mirror pond before we return to our hotel to freshen up before dinner.
We travel by train along the scenic Nankai railway line to Mount Koya, a bowl-shaped valley filled with stands of cedar trees 2600 feet up in the mountains of the Kii Peninsula. Since the 9th century, when the priest Kukai (also known as Kobo Daishi) founded the first temple and the shingon sect of Buddhism, Mount Koya has been a place of religious devotion and ceremony. Today there are more than 100 monasteries, many of which have shukubo (temple lodgings). We will visit Kongobu-ji temple before arriving at one of the elegant shukubo (pilgrims' lodgings), run by the monks, and dine on shojin-ryori (Buddhist vegetarian cuisine). Your luggage will be transferred by courier this morning from Kyoto, so you will be without your luggage for two nights, and will need a bag or pack to carry your overnight items.
This morning you will have the opportunity to get up early to join in the Buddhist service at the temple. After breakfast there will be a guided walk through the vast Okuno-in cemetery, with thousands of graves and memorials to feudal lords and other past luminaries. We then travel onward by funicular and trains 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 Wakakusa for a walk that gives us a view of the city.
This morning, we visit Todaiji temple - the world's largest wooden building - which houses one of Japan's largest bronze statues of Buddha. We then travel by train to the Kiso Valley, part of the ancient 'Nakasendo' trail passes through the valley, linking Kyoto and Edo (medieval Tokyo). Meaning 'road through the mountains', the Nakasendo has villages known as 'post towns' located along its route. Many of these have been preserved through the effort of the local residents, and we will enjoy the hospitality of villagers who have converted their traditional 'machiya' houses into inns. We arrive at our Japanese style inn on time for dinner. Your luggage transferred from Kyoto will be waiting for you.
Explore the small town of Magome before walking over Magome Pass (2,625') to the village of Tsumago-juku. 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-juku. 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 miso and nut-based sauce. After sightseeing Tsumago, we'll have a short drive to our accommodation.
We continue our journey along the Kiso Valley and Nakasendo today, walking from Nagiso through the forest until just before Nojiri. 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 continue by a short train ride to Kiso-Fukushima, and stay at a ryokan with its own hot spring. There are more than three thousand named hot springs in Japan, fed by Japan's abundant volcanic activity. Enjoy a soak after your hike, to relax your muscles and enjoy a quintessential Japanese experience!
After a short train ride to Yabuhara, climb to Torii Pass, with good views over the Kiso Valley. In early spring, snow may dust on the mountaintops, but from mid-April onward the scenery is lush, green forest. Come early afternoon arrive in the well-preserved village of Narai-juku. Your ryokan dates back over 200 years and is typical of the merchant houses that line the village's main street. Take time to explore the atmospheric village, and perhaps try one of the local specialties. Your luggage will be transferred by courier this morning to Tokyo, so you will be without your luggage for one night, and will need a bag or pack to carry your overnight items.
After breakfast in Narai-juku, set out for a short walk to Hirasawa, renowned for its lacquer-ware artisans. Stop in at a workshop and meet local artisans before transferring to Shinjuku Station in Tokyo, where you'll have free time to explore before dinner at your leisure. The luggage transferred from Day 8 will be waiting for you.
Today's Tokyo tour includes walks around Nihonbashi, the elegant Ginza shopping district, and the Imperial Palace. The contrast of the Imperial Palace's large grounds, deep moat, and historic buildings with downtown Tokyo's modern office buildings reflects Japan's twin identities of modernity and tradition. Continue to Harajuku for lunch and to visit the Meiji Shrine, a beautiful place of quiet reflection located within an evergreen forest. Then walk along the fashionable, tree-lined Omotesando - the Champs-Elysees of Tokyo - to the bustling entertainment area of Shibuya. Return to the hotel before your farewell dinner.
Your guide is on hand this morning to help you transfer to Narita Airport for homeward-bound flights.
MT Sobek's immersive Walking Japan itinerary offers you the chance to explore idyllic landscapes on foot with expert local guides.
Our itinerary has been crafted for personal achievement, allowing you to carry nothing but a daypack as we transport your belongings to each inn.
Walking Japan is an MT Sobek classic that we've run for over 10 years. It is the perfect way to get to the heart of Japan.
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 4-9 miles a day on paved and dirt trails, plus cultural touring and scenic train rides.
Enjoy stays in traditional ryokans (inns) - many with onsen (hot springs) - and comfortable hotels with modern amenities.
Spring and fall temperatures range from 50°F to the high 70°'s F. In springtime, there is a fair chance of rain.
You will make your own way to the limousine bus desk to take a limousine bus to the hotel, where your guide will meet you in the evening for a trip briefing and dinner.
No, American citizens do not need a visa to visit Japan for stays up to 90 days.
You will be without your luggage, carrying only your essentials in your daypack, on days 3, 4 and 8. Your luggage will be transported by courier to your accommodation on the following day.
Yes, you can, but please let us know as soon as possible so we can manage your request.
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.
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!
"A finely tuned and brilliantly led trip that gives the traveler a great take on Japanese culture."
MT Sobek Guest, Walking Japan
"Our three-generation family had a wonderful experience hiking village to village on the Nakasendo Trail with MT Sobek."
Mary and David O.
MT Sobek Guest, Walking Japan