Discover Japan’s intriguing contrasts on
a journey inspired by National Geographic
Traveler’s January/February 2012 article
"Japan’s Past Perfect."
Explore Kyoto’s iconic
temples and ascend to the sacred pilgrimage
site of Mount Koya. Step back in time in
the age-old villages of Shikoku, then encounter
cutting-edge architecture on Naoshima
and the bustle of a revitalized Hiroshima.
This expedition was inspired by travel writer Don George’s article “Japan’s Past Perfect,” published in the January/February 2012 issue of National Geographic Traveler.
Stay at Benesse House, designed by acclaimed architect Tadao Ando and set within Naoshima’s island-wide art complex.
By special permission, enjoy a visit to Kyoto’s Saihoji temple and stroll its otherworldly gardens, carpeted in more than 120 species of moss.
Immerse yourself in Shikoku’s timeless Iya Valley, dotted with thatched cottages, shrines, and vine bridges.
Itinerary - 11 Days
Day 1 — Osaka, Japan/Kyoto
Arrive in Osaka at any time. Transfer to Kyoto and check in to our hotel.
Kyoto Hotel Okura
Day 2 — Kyoto
Kyoto served as an imperial capital for more
than a thousand years, and many of the wooden
temples and gardens from that era have been
collectively designated a World Heritage site by
UNESCO. Stroll the elegant Zen rock garden at
Ryoan-ji and iconic Kinkakuji, or “temple of the
golden pavilion.” Enjoy a specially arranged visit
to Saihoji, also known as Kokedera, or “moss
temple,” for the more than 120 species of moss
that carpet its beautiful gardens. At tonight’s
welcome dinner, meet a former geisha to learn
about the geisha lifestyle and enjoy a short
Kyoto Hotel Okura (B,L,D)
Day 3 — Kyoto
Wander through Arashiyama’s atmospheric bamboo grove. Continue to Nijo Castle, built in 1603 and designated a national treasure. Explore the castle’s Ninomaru Palace, known for its beautiful wall paintings and its “nightingale” floors, designed to squeak when stepped upon to warn of intruders. This afternoon, visit an artisanal ceramics workshop.
Kyoto Hotel Okura (B,L)
Day 4 — Mount Koya
Travel to Mount Koya, headquarters of the Shingon
Buddhist sect. Meet a temple priest and wander
through the evocative Okuno-in cemetery, where
the tombs of more than 200,000 samurai warriors
and other dignitaries fill a grove of age-old cedar
trees. Venture into Kongobuji, the chief temple of
the Mount Koya monastery, and see work by artists
of the Kano school of painting. Settle into our
simple lodgings and enjoy a traditional Buddhist
Eko-in Monastery or Henjoko-In Monastery (B,L,D)
Day 5 — Mount Koya/Iya Valley
After attending an optional morning prayer
ceremony, descend to the shores of the Inland
Sea and ferry across to Shikoku, the smallest of
Japan’s main islands. In Tokushima, see costumes
and floats from the city’s 400-year-old dance
festival at the Awa Odori Kaikan museum. Our
home for the next two nights in the Iya Valley is a ryokan, or traditional Japanese inn, where inviting, on-site hot spring baths offer a chance to relax and rejuvenate.
Hotel Hikyonoyu (B,L,D)
Day 6 — Iya Valley
Travel along the steep slopes of the Iya ravine
to a 300-year-old thatched farmhouse, home
to the Chiiori Trust, a unique project that seeks
to preserve age-old rural traditions in the valley.
Continue to the Okuiya Niju Kazurabashi, twin
suspension bridges made of intertwined vines,
and hear the legends of their creation. Witness
timeless scenes of village life in Ochiai, a community of traditional dwellings, some of which date from the Edo period (ca. 1600-1870).
Hotel Hikyonoyu (B,L,D)
Day 7 — Shikoku/Naoshima
Travel north to Zentsuji, revered as the birthplace
of the Buddhist priest Kobo Daishi and as one of
the important stops along Shikoku’s 750-mile and
88-temple pilgrimage route. In Takamatsu, stroll
through the tranquil gardens of 17th-century
Ritsurin Park. A ferry then brings us to the small
island of Naoshima, which has recently emerged
as a mecca of contemporary art and architecture.
Get a new perspective on nature through
inventive art installations at the Benesse House
Museum this afternoon and stay in the adjacent
hotel, designed by acclaimed architect Tadao
Benesse House (B,L,D)
Day 8 — Naoshima
Wander past the works of Claude Monet and James
Turrell at the innovative Chichu Art Museum, built
underground but designed to capture natural light
and shadow. Also visit homes that are part of the Art
House Project, which has transformed some of the
island’s older structures into imaginative works of
Benesse House (B,L,D)
Day 9 — Naoshima/Hiroshima
Ferry back to Honshu and take the high-speed
train to Hiroshima. Pay a visit to Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park
and the Peace Memorial Museum, which documents
the atomic explosion that ravaged the city.
Go on an optional guided visit to
Shukkei-en garden or explore this thriving modern
metropolis—a testament to Japanese resilience—on your own.
Rihga Royal Hotel Hiroshima (B,L)
Day 10 — Miyajima/Hiroshima
Set off by ferry for a full-day excursion on
Itsukushima Island, popularly called Miyajima.
Venture into the 12th-century Itsukushima Shinto
Shrine, a World Heritage site built over the water,
where a vermillion torii (wooden gateway) appears to float at high tide. Participate in a traditional tea ceremony, then take advantage of free time to go on a hike, visit temples, and stroll through the picturesque town. Back in Hiroshima this evening, gather for a farewell dinner.
Rihga Royal Hotel Hiroshima (B,D)
Day 11 — Hiroshima/Osaka
Transfer to the airport in Osaka for your flight
Travel writer Don George is an editor-at-large and columnist for National Geographic
Traveler magazine, as well as host of the National Geographic Live series of conversations with notable authors. Don has edited eight literary travel anthologies, including Better Than Fiction, The Kindness of
Strangers, and Travelers’ Tales: Japan, and received dozens of writing awards, including the Pacific Asia Travel Association’s Gold Award for Best Travel Article and the Lowell Thomas Travel Journalist of the Year Award. Don lived and taught in Japan for two years, and his recent National Geographic Traveler article “Japan’s Past Perfect” inspired this expedition.
Travelers should be in good health and comfortable walking or standing for extended periods of time. Daily activities may include city walking tours, visits to sites, game drives, or easy hikes, with options for more physical activities such as hiking, kayaking, snorkeling and biking.
Click here for a description of all activity levels.
What To Expect
The Hotel Hikyonoyu and our Mount Koya temple lodging (Eko-in or Tentoku-in) are traditional
Japanese accommodations with futons set atop tatami
mats on the floor.
We stay one night in a typical temple inn (Eko-in or Tentoku-in) with simple rooms, rice-paper sliding doors, and traditional Japanese-style shared bathrooms.