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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 three days hiking the spectacular Kumano Kodo, one of only a few pilgrimage routes in the world designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Explore the Philosopher’s Path and Zen gardens of beautiful Kyoto.
Ride electric bikes 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.
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 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 private coach to Osaka, one of Japan’s culinary capitals.
Osaka Marriott Miyako (B,L,D)
Day 4 — Osaka/Kumano Kodo to Takahara
After breakfast, travel by private coach south along the coast to Takijiri, 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 challenging 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 tea houses, which provided rest to pilgrims until the early 20th century. Descend to Chikatsuyu, and return by bus to our inn in Takahara. (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 a boat ride. We’ll visit Hayatama Taisha, another one of Kumano Kodo’s shrines of pilgrimage. 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.
Royal Park Hotel The Kyoto (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)
Royal Park Hotel The Kyoto (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.
Royal Park Hotel The Kyoto (B,L,D)
National Geographic Adventures are unique, active itineraries for intrepid travelers that combine spectacular places, cultural interaction, and physical challenge. You'll explore fascinating, off-the-beaten-path places with top guides, and wherever possible, meet National Geographic experts in the field.
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 steep 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.
Click here for a description of all activity levels.
What To Expect
We will spend 7 nights in comfortable hotels and 3 nights in a ryokan (traditional Japanese guesthouse).
Transferring between major cities on this trip, we travel by public train in keeping with local Japanese custom. There will be two nights during which we will be without our luggage and we carry what we need in our day packs.
Note that seafood and soy are both prevalent in Japanese cuisine. Please contact us to discuss any special dietary requirements.
Contact Us: 1-888-689-2557
Call to speak with an Adventure specialist about this trip.