Walking Japan

Kyotofu, Japan

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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 to the provincial towns of the Kiso Valley. 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.


Duration: 11 Days
Starts in: Kyoto, Japan
Ends in: Tokyo, Japan
Group Size: 5-12

Operated by:

MT Sobek

MT Sobek, the originators, innovators and leaders in adventure travel for more than five decades, crafts journeys to the world's most memorable places.


Arrive in Kyoto

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!

Explore Kyoto’s Magnificent Temples & Gardens

This morning head to 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, then walk to nearby Ryoan-ji to see its famous rock garden. 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 Tenryu-ji temple and the famous bamboo groves, then take free time to explore further or shop for crafts.

Ride the Train to Nara & Todai-ji Temple

After breakfast, take a short train ride to Nara, established in 710 as Japan's capital and now home to famous Nara Park, where over a thousand semi-tame Sika deer roam. Walk to 8th-century Kasuga-Taisha, a bright vermillion Shinto shrine. Stone lanterns line the path to the entrance, and hundreds of bronze lanterns hang inside. Continue to Mount Wakakusa for a short climb yielding a lovely view of Nara City. After lunch, visit Todai-ji temple, the world's largest wooden building and home to one of Japan's largest bronze Buddhas.

Travel the Scenic Nankai Railway & Follow the Pilgrim’s Trail to Mount Koya

Journey aboard the scenic Nankai Electric Railway to Mount Koya. This UNESCO World Heritage Site comprises a high valley filled with towering cedar trees surrounded by eight peaks. This has been a center of religious devotion and ceremony since the 9th century, when Kobo Daishi founded the first temple and the Shingon sect of Buddhism. Today the valley contains more than 100 monasteries, many of which host travelers in shukubo (temple lodgings). Visit Kongobu-ji temple before arriving at one of the elegant shukubo. Dine on shojin-ryori, Buddhist vegetarian cuisine, tonight.

Explore Mount Koya & Kiso Valley

Optionally join a 6:30 am Buddhist service at the temple. After breakfast, tour the vast Okuno-in cemetery, with thousands of graves and memorials to feudal lords, shoguns, samurai, and other luminaries. Depart Mount Koya for the Kiso Valley, where you join up with the ancient Nakasendo trail that links Kyoto and Edo (medieval Tokyo). Travel first by train and bus, and then explore the Nakasendo's quaint towns and valleys by foot, many of which local residents have preserved. Enjoy the hospitality of traditional machiya houses converted into inns. Arrive in Magome-juku in time for dinner.

Discover Magome & Hike a Forested Trail to Tsumago

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 sauce.

Follow the Old Nakasendo from Tsumago to Nojiri

Continue your journey along the Kiso Valley and Nakasendo today, walking from Tsumago. There are two options for today's walk: a 2.3-mile walk to Nagiso, followed by a train ride to Kiso Fukushima, or a longer 9-mile walk all the way to Nojiri, followed by a train ride to Kiso Fukushima. Both trails take a lovely route along empty country lanes and paths that weave their way beside rice fields and the gardens of village houses.

Climb to Torii Pass & Explore Narai-juku Village

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.

Visit Lacquerware Artisans in Hirasawa, Transfer to Tokyo

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.

Tour Tokyo’s Top Sights

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 entertainment area of Shibuya. Return to the hotel before your farewell dinner.

Depart from Tokyo

Your guide is on hand this morning to help you transfer to Narita Airport for homeward-bound flights.


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