There’s no doubt that Japan is one of the most fascinating travel destinations on earth. However, most people know Japan through its mega-cities, and its glorious feudal era. It is less known to many that Japan hides within its islands some of the most beautiful natural landscapes on earth. This trip celebrates Japan’s unparalleled natural beauty at its peak, when the thick forests covering much of the country are in autumn foliage, featuring glaring reds, browns, yellows and golds. We have planned this trip so in between walks in beautiful nature reserves, we spend a day with the hundreds of thousands attending the Takayama Festival. Join us on this unique trip which consists of light to medium hikes through some of the most prominent nature reserves in Honshu, the central island of Japan.
Day 1. 04 October Arrival in Kyoto
We meet at the Osaka airport’s meeting point at 14:00. We then board a shuttle bus, and travel for about an hour to the city of Kyoto, the former residence of the Japanese Emperor, from where Japan was ruled until 1868, when the capital moved to Tokyo. After checking into our hotel, we go for a welcome dinner and evening stroll through the ancient Gion District, commonly known as the Geisha District. Overnight in Kyoto.
Day 2. 05 October Exploring the ancient capital city
We spend the whole day exploring this ancient city, which beautifully depicts the essence of nowadays Japanese culture, a fusion of old and new reflected through historical sites hidden amongst modern skyscrapers. We begin at the Ryōan-ji, a Zen Buddhism temple famous for its dry landscape garden. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a great example of Zen philosophy, and a great place to get familiar with some of the concepts that form the Japanese state of mind. We then continue to Kinkaku-ji, commonly known as ‘The Golden Pavilion’. Originally built as a guest house for overseas dignitaries visiting the court of a local statesman, it was later converted into a Zen temple. The reflection of the gold leaf covered building, in the water of the pond surrounding it, is one of Japan’s most renowned sights. Our next visit is to Nijō Castle, the early 17th century Kyoto residence of the powerful Tokugawa Shoguns, who practically ruled over Japan for more than 250 years. We then climb to Kiyomizu-dera, or the Pure Water Temple. The temple is known not only by its wooden structure built without using a single nail, nor just for its wide over-hanging balcony, but also for the flocks of tourists (domestic, and foreign), many of these dressed in Japanese traditional clothing, coming to have their picture taken with the entire city of Kyoto serving as a background for the images. In the afternoon we visit one of Kyoto’s oldest Sake breweries, where we learn about the ancient tradition of producing this rice-made alcoholic drink, synonymous with Japanese culture, and we won’t skip tasting some of the brewery’s finest products before having dinner. Late in the evening we return to our hotel for a second night in Kyoto.
Day 3. 06 October The old post road
We leave Kyoto, and head to Magome, an ancient Edo Period postal town. Magome served as the forty-third station on the Nakasendō, one of the imperial roads connecting Edo, the Shogunate capital, with Kyoto, where the Imperial Court resided. Upon arrival in Magome, we hike eight kilometers along the ancient Nakasendō (in Japanese “central mountain route”), beautifully nestled at the Kiso Valley, to Tsumago, the forty-second station on the route. As we arrive in Tsumago, we travel to Matsumoto city, where we spend the night.
Day 4. 07 October Ancient castle and the glorious Kamikochi Valley
We begin the day with a visit to Matsumoto-jō, one of only twelve Japanese castles remaining from the feudal era, and probably one of the best preserved of them all. We take a walk through the main keep, and then observe the castle, as it is reflected in the water-filled moat. Leaving Matsumoto, we travel to the foot of the Japanese Alps, the common name for three mountain ranges located in the center-west side of Honshu Island. We arrive in the valley of Kamikochi, one of the most scenic spots in the region, and one of the best places to experience the Japanese autumn foliage. Here we enjoy an afternoon hike up the valley along the Azusa River, as we head towards the majestic Myojin-ike Pond. Continuing our hike down the river, we arrive late in the afternoon to our cozy hotel by the river bank.
Day 5. 08 October The hot springs experience
Our day begins with another half day hike, this time to the opposite direction. We continue walking through thick forests, all carpeted with moss and flower beds, enjoying the sights of the towering peaks surrounding the valley. We walk to yet another strikingly beautiful pond, Tashiro-ike pond, before heading back to our hotel. We pick up our luggage, and then take the bus to Hiryao Onsen, a small town built around a cluster of hot springs. Bathing in hot springs is an ancient and well respected tradition, and has its own carefully observed etiquette. Today we have a chance to not only enjoy a relaxing bath, but also to get familiar with yet another aspect of Japanese tradition. Overnight in a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) by the hot springs.
Day 6. 09 October Takayama Festival
After a morning bath in the hot springs, we make our way to Takayama. Here we meet our local guide, and join the hundreds of thousands of people that pouring in to celebrate Takayama Festival, one of the most important events on the Japanese calendar. The festival takes place twice a year- once in spring, and once in autumn, with each of these dedicated to a different shrine in the city. The undisputable highlight of Takayama Matsuri (Japanese for Takayama Festival) are the elaborately decorated floats which are stored for most of the year in dedicated storage houses throughout Takayama Old City, and are taken out to the streets only during the festival. We join the crowds, and go out to see the floats as they are carried around. We shall especially look for those floats which feature Karakuri Ningyo- beautifully designed dolls that pop out of the floats’ top, and perform at specific times. We then proceed to our hotel for a short rest, or take a quick walking tour around the old city, as in the evening we would once again take to the streets to watch the Evening Festival, when the floats are all beautifully lit, and again are taken around town. Probably rather exhausted we walk back to our hotel, where we spend the night.
Day 7. 10 October A glimpse into rural life
After breakfast we leave Takayama and head to Shirakawago, a village of traditional steep thatched roofs, known in Japanese as gasshō-zukuri, loosely resembling the hand-gesture of a prayer common to Buddhist people. As we arrive in the village, we check into one of the few Minshukus (family run, simple yet cozy guesthouses). After leaving our luggage at the Minshuku, we go to explore the village and its surroundings. We walk past the ancient buildings, so beautifully assimilated into the small rice paddies surrounding them. We then climb to a vantage point for a marvelous view over the village, its unique houses, and the vast valley covered with rice paddies and surrounded by forests, all dressed in autumn colors at this time of the year. After few hours of enjoying the serene atmosphere of Shiarakwago, we return to our Minshuku where we enjoy a traditional homemade dinner and a night in traditional tatami room on a futon laid on the floor.
Day 8. 11 October Kanazawa
After breakfast at our Minshuku we say farewell to our hosts, and walk to the bus station, from there we take a two-hour bus ride to Kanazawa. Kanazawa serves as the center of Ishikawa Prefecture. The city was established in the mid-16th century, and was lucky enough to avoid any devastation due to wars, climate or fires. Thus, the city preserves many of its ancient structures and historical monuments. As we arrive in Kanazawa, we pass by our hotel to leave our luggage, and then go to explore the city. We begin with few hours of wandering around Kenrokuen Garden, regarded as one of the three most beautiful gardens throughout the country. From here it’s a short walk to Kanazawa Castle, the residence of the regional rulers for hundreds of years. Early in the afternoon we take a stroll through Omicho Market, the city’s main food market, which offers us a first (but not last!) glimpse into the foundations of the delicate Japanese cookery. This is also a great place to make lunch stop, and enjoy a traditional meal made of fresh produce. If time permits, we can then take a walk through the city streets to visit the Nomura Clan House. Dating back to the 16th century, this house was built by Nomura Denbei Nobusada, a samurai in the service of the local feudal government of Kanazawa. The house provides an interesting insight into the lives of samurais back in their glory days. The garden surrounding the estate, and the small stream running through it, are considered to be some of the most beautiful of their kind in Japan, especially during autumn. In the evening, if time permits, we stroll through the ancient Kazuemachi Tea House Street. This is an old geisha district, stretched along the river. During the evening we may hear the sounds of the shamisen (a three-stringed musical instrument) played by a geisha in one of the tea houses. With these romantic sight embedded in our minds, we return to our hotel.
Day 9. 12 October To the alpine route
Back on the bus, we head to Tateyama. For the first part of the day, we travel through half of the Kurobe Alpine Route. An amazing feat of engineering and planning, highlighting the Japanese ingenuity and attention to detail, the route is made of various modes of transportation. We travel by electric bus through the long dark tunnels carved into the northern Japanese Alps, also by cable car, and by ropeway. We will then take a walk over the top of the mighty Kurobe Dam. Around noon we arrive in Murodo, check into our hotel, and then take a walk around Murodo. The trail takes us just below the peaks of the Japanese Alps, all painted red, gold and brown this time of the year. We walk along a beautiful lake, and enjoy the fresh mountain air. For the fit and brave, a climb up the Tateyama Peak at 3015 meters (9,892ft) above sea level awaits. We spend the night in the simple hotel at Murodo, at 2450 meters (8038ft) above sea level.
Day 10. 13 October Another day along the Alpine Route
We might begin our day with another hike around Murodo Plateau, or even take the early morning sunrise tour by trolley bus (it may get canceled in cases of bad weather). Around noon we continue our journey along the Kurobe Alpine Route, and again travel by electric bus, cable car and ropeway, as we make our way down the other side of the mountain. We arrive at Ogizawa, and then travel by public bus to the city of Nagano. Nagano is a relatively small city (in Japanese terms), but its vibrant center is full of life. We may have time for a quick walk to Zenkoji Temple, one of the oldest and most revered Buddhist temples in Japan. In the evening we take a walk through the city center, with its many restaurants and bars working until late in the evening. The devoted explorer might even locate the bar claiming to be the smallest in the world, for a last sip of Sake before getting off to bed.
Day 11. 14 October Monkeys in Hell Valley
Today we take an excursion to Jikokudani (Japanese for “Hell’s Valley”). Here we have a beautiful hike through a forest to the hot water springs, where troops of Japanese Macaque (“Snow Macaques”)can be found bathing and relaxing in the hot water. The manmade pools were built to provide the monkeys with alternatives to the pools of the luxurious ski resorts located further up the mountain, so they won’t bother the resorts distinguished guests. The images of these monkeys, especially during winter time (and hence, the common reference to them as Snow Monkeys) have turned into one of the best images by which Japan is known to all nature lovers. In the afternoon we retrace our footsteps and head back to Nagano for a second night there.
Day 12. 15 October To the city of fast pace
This morning we travel from Nagano to Tokyo, the modern capital of Japan. From a mere fishing village in the early 15th century, becoming the de facto capital in the early 17th century, then the official Imperial capital in late 19th century, Tokyo is today the world’s most populous city, with nearly 38 million residents. But the title of the world’s most populated city won’t do justice to the city that bears other titles such as the ‘Most Livable City’, ‘World’s Cleanest City’, and ‘World’s Safest City’ among many others. The immense fusion of ultramodern and ancient traditions, in the (strongly) beating heart of one of the world’s strongest economies, dotted with tranquil gardens, all gives the city an atmosphere like no other in the world. Upon arrival in Tokyo we make our way to the hotel, where we leave our luggage, and embark on a first orientation tour for as long time will permit. We begin at the Tokyo Sky Tree, the world’s tallest tower. We take an elevator to the observation deck at 450 meters (1476 ft) for a magnificent view over the Tokyo metropolitan prefecture. We then pay an evening visit to the Kaminarimon gate of the Sensō-ji Buddhist temple, which is beautifully lit during evening. Later on, we drive back to our hotel in Tokyo for the night.
Day 13. 16 October The Tokyo Experience
We begin our day with a visit to Tsukiji Fish Market, the largest of its kind in the whole world. Here we wander between hundreds of stalls in the ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ market. Famous not only for its sheer size, but also for the quality of its fresh fish and seafood, the market receives its merchandise not only from Japanese fishing boats, but some of the premium fish sold here are flown in from all over the world, to provide Japanese restaurants with the best products to make the world’s best sushi. For the rest of the day we will be walking through Tokyo’s high fashion streets, as we experience the ultra-consumerism of modern Japan. We begin at Shibuya, known as the center of youth fashion and culture, but even better known for the scramble crossing which makes yet another iconic image of Japan, whenever the light turns green, and dozens of people pour in the road from all directions. Our next stop is slightly down the road, the Harajuku area, known as the center for the extreme youth culture. A common sight in this area (though mostly over weekends) is the performance art of cosplay (costume play) in which people (mostly youngsters) are dressed as animated characters of comic books and animated TV series. The area is scattered with shops and dining venues aimed at cosplayers and other fashion savvy youth. We wrap up this day of Japanese ultramodern culture with a visit to Ginza District, known as one of the world’s most expensive, and most luxurious, shopping and entertainment areas in the world. We then return to our hotel for our second night in Tokyo, which is our last night in Japan.
Day 14. 17 October Departure from Tokyo
After breakfast at the hotel, we make our way to Tokyo airport, for our international departure flight out of Japan.
Dates & Pricing
This is a self-guided trip. Read more here about our self-guided trips.
For details and prices for escorted trip, please see below.
Trip dates shown above are designed for those interested in attending the Takayama Festival. This trip however is available all through the autumn period, from mid-September to mid-November. Rates for trips in dates other than the one shown above will be US$150 less per person.
Trip rates valid for two confirmed travelers and above. If you are booking this trip for a party of four travelers or more, please contact us for our special rates.
[email protected] reserves the right to change tour prices and programs due to changes in flight schedule, changes in airfares, and other local circumstances.
Prices are based on twin share occupancy.
4th October, 2018–17th October, 2018
- $3,741 Per Person (From 2 people)
- $696 Single Room Supplement
Discounted rates for groups of 4 travelers or more
4 travelers- US$3384/ person
6 travelers- US$3066/ person
8 travelers- US$2999/ person
Rates for escorted trips:
2 travelers- US$5913/ person
4 travelers- US$4919/ person
6 travelers- US$4124/ person
8 travelers- US$3776/ person
- Discounted rates applicable only for travel groups of 4 participants or more booking their trip together.
- Meeting service at the airport
- Accommodations and meals as listed above
- Transportation as indicated above (please note those bus/train rides clearly indicated as 'not included')
- Addresses, Phone Numbers and Maps of all accommodations in Japanese and English
- Emergency contact number in Japan
- Licensed, English-speaking guide as described above (in big cities only)
- Reserved seat tickets in most train rides
- SUICA card pre-loaded with 2,500 Yen for the subways in Tokyo and Kyoto
- Baggage transfer forms
- Detailed instructions on how to travel from city to city
- Beverages at meals other than tea and water
- Entrance fees to most sites, national parks and nature resreves
- Deserts at all meals
- Baggage transfer fees
- Gratuities to service providers
- Kyoto- Ibis Style Hotel Kyoto Ekimae Western style room
- Matsumoto- Dormy Inn Matsumoto Western stlye room
- Kamikochi- Shirakabaso Japanese style room
- Hirayo Onsen- Hirayu no Mori Western or Japanese style room with shared bath
- Takayama- Takayama Ouan Modern Japanese style room
- Shirakawago- Rihei Japanese style room with shared bath and toilet
- Kanawaza- Kanazawa Miyako Hotel Western style room
- Murodo- Kanazawa Miyako Hotel Western style room
- Nagano- Grand Chisun Nagano Western style room
- Tokyo- Shinagawa Prince Hotel Western style room
Note: the listed hotels are tentative. Final hotel list shall be confirmed upon placing a booking and paying a deposit.
The hotels listed above are of rather basic standard. Please expect rather small rooms, and limited selection in breakfasts. In the more traditional hotels, breakfasts (and sometimes dinners, when these are provided) would be limited to Japanese only menu. However, all hotels are clean, and are in great location to make it easy to commute from one city to the other, with short walking distance from the hotel to the train station.
If you prefer a higher standard of accommodation, please click the 'I like it, but...' button on the right, and we would love to offer you an upgraded experience.
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