In Japan, a deep reverence for nature and tradition vies with a fascination of all that is futuristic, and this jarring contrast is part of the country’s strong allure. Our adventure starts off amid the skyscrapers of Tokyo; then we step back in time in Asuka, one of Japan’s ancient capitals. In the sacred mountains of the Kii Peninsula, embark on the Kumano Kodo, a beautiful pilgrimage route that has drawn emperors and kimono-clad worshippers for more than a thousand years. Delve into Japan’s spiritual traditions as we hike to stunning shrines nestled amid cedar-covered slopes. Soak in hot springs, stay in traditional mountain inns and ryokans, and experience the diversity of Japan’s fine cuisine — from the lively pubs of Tokyo to delightful, locally sourced meals along the Kumano Kodo.
Spend four days hiking the spectacular Kumano Kodo, one of only a few pilgrimage routes in the world designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Stroll through charming Yanaka, an old quarter of Tokyo that has survived wars and earthquakes.
Ride a bike past burial mounds and terraced rice paddies in the ancient capital of Asuka.
Take part in an authentic tea ceremony and discover the intricacies of this important Japanese tradition.
Activity Level: Moderate
This is a hiking and cultural trip. Our hikes range from 2 to 4 hours per day (1–8 miles) on well-worn paths with some rocky and uneven terrain. During hikes on the Kumano Kodo trail, transportation by local bus is available for those who prefer not to walk. Vehicle support is provided on all other days. Participants always have the option to rest a day and ride to the next hotel.
Itinerary - 11 Days
Days 1 & 2 — Tokyo, Japan
Arrive in Tokyo and transfer to our hotel in the modern Shiodome district. Meet for an orientation and welcome dinner. Our first full day starts with a walking tour of Tokyo’s elegant Ginza shopping district and the park around the Imperial Palace. Then stroll through quiet Yanaka where age-old temples are tucked in among traditional wooden houses. Enjoy an evening on your own to explore Tokyo’s myriad dining options. Niwa Hotel Tokyo or Royal Park Shiodome (D;B,L)
Day 3 — Asuka
Journey by train to Asuka, the site of some of Japan’s first Buddhist temples. Small shrines, ancient stone monuments and the burial mounds of Japan’s first emperors dot the terraced rice fields. Explore the town on a bicycle ride, then watch a private performance by a taiko drummer and try your hand at drumming. Weather permitting, meet a farming family for a picnic lunch. We continue by coach to Osaka, one of Japan’s culinary capitals. Hotel Monterey Grasmere Osaka (B,L,D)
Day 4 — Osaka/Kumano Kodo to Takahara
After breakfast, travel by coach south along the coast to Tanabe, on the Kii Peninsula. Set off on the Nakahechi trail, part of the network of ancient pilgrimage routes known as the Kumano Kodo. The rich spiritual history of the region is evident along our route, which links three important Shinto/Buddhist shrines and is scattered with smaller shrines called oji. The first leg of our hike brings us to the village of Takahara, where we’ll relax in the hot springs at our Japanese-style hotel. (3 miles hiking, 2 hours) Organic Hotel Kiri-no-sato Takahara (B,L,D)
Day 5 — Kumano Kodo/Chikatsuyu
Starting from Takahara, we continue eastwards along the Nakahechi pilgrimage trail. Hike east through lush cedar forests, passing small jizo bodhisattva statues placed by locals to protect travelers and old cha-ya (tea houses), which provided rest to pilgrims until the early 20th century. Descend to Chikatsuyu and enjoy some time to explore the village before heading to the hotel. (7 miles hiking with a moderate ascent and descent, 4 hours) Organic Hotel Kiri-no-sato Takahara (B,L,D)
Day 6 — Chikatsuyu to Kawayu Onsen
The trail ascends to Tsugizakura-oji, one of more than 100 small shrines along the route where pilgrims leave offerings. Travel from Kobiro-oji to Hosshinmon-oji by local bus, then hike the final section through ridge-top villages before descending to the Hongu Taisha, one of the grand shrines of the Kumano Sanzan. Explore the shrine and then take a short drive to Kawayu Onsen, one of the oldest hot springs in Japan just a few steps from the ryokan where we’ll stay the night. (8 miles hiking, 4 hours) Fujiya Ryokan (B,L,D)
Day 7 — Kumano River/Katsuura Bay
Meet a local Shugendo priest to learn firsthand about this ascetic Buddhist sect that focuses on the connection of humans and nature. Head to the Kumano River for an exciting boat ride to Doro-kyo Gorge. Continue to Katsuura, and settle into our hotel built into the rock on the edge of Katsuura Bay. Soak in the hotel’s hot springs set within a cave overlooking the water. Hotel Nakanoshima (B,L,D)
Day 8 — Nachi Taisha/Kyoto
After breakfast, pay a visit to Nachi Taisha, another of the three Grand Shrines of Kumano, and see the nearby waterfall, one of the tallest in Japan. Journey by train to Kyoto, and enjoy free time to explore before dinner. Kyoto Royal Hotel & Spa (B,L,D)
Day 9 — Kyoto
Head to Nijo Castle, the former seat of the Tokugawa shoguns in Kyoto. At the castle’s Ninomaru Palace, see work by artists from the Kano school and take note of the “nightingale floors,” designed to squeak when walked upon to ward off intruders. Take a guided tour of the Higashiyama neighborhood, stroll past cherry trees on the Philosopher’s Path, and venture into the Zen gardens of Nanzen-ji temple. (1–2 miles walking, 2 hours) Kyoto Royal Hotel & Spa (B)
Days 10 & 11 — Kyoto
Experience the complex traditions of the Japanese tea ceremony, a highly stylized ritual that began in the 16th century when tea was first brought to Japan. Later, enjoy a specially arranged visit to a Zen temple normally closed to the public. After time at leisure, meet up for a farewell dinner. The next day, transfer to the airport for your flight home. Kyoto Royal Hotel & Spa (B,L,D;B)
Pricing starts at $6,600 per person, double occupancy. For a single room add $900. International airfare to Tokyo and return from Osaka is not included in the adventure cost.
Group Size: 8–15
Accommodations (hotels, tents and cruise cabins) are based on double occupancy. If you prefer single accommodations, and if such are available, you can pay a single supplement fee. If you are traveling alone and wish to share accommodations, we can assign a roommate of the same gender. If there is no one with whom you can share, a single supplement fee will apply.
See special terms and conditions for this adventure.