Inside Japan

  • Discover the wonders of Japan on a 12-day journey inspired by a National Geographic Traveler article
  • Explore Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Shikoku’s remote Iya Valley
  • Attend a geisha performance and a traditional tea ceremony

Expedition Details


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.

Trip Highlights

    • Immerse yourself in Shikoku’s timeless Iya Valley, dotted with thatched cottages, shrines, and vine bridges.
    • Stay at an ancient mountain temple, a traditional rural ryokan, and Benesse House, designed by acclaimed architect Tadao Ando.
    • Experience a splendid spectrum of gardens, from Zen rock gardens to the lush moss gardens of Saihoji.
    • Participate in a tea ceremony, meet a former geisha, and attend a Buddhist prayer service.

Itinerary - 12 Days

Days 1 & 2 — U.S./Osaka, Japan/Kyoto

Fly to Osaka, cross the international date line, and arrive on Day 2. Transfer to Kyoto and check into our centrally located hotel.
Kyoto Hotel Okura

Day 3 — 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 Ryoanji 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 performance.
Kyoto Hotel Okura (B,L,D)

Day 4 — 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,D)

Day 5 — 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 at Rengejo-in, the first temple of Shingon Buddhism, and enjoy a traditional Buddhist vegetarian dinner.
Rengejo-In Monastery (B,L,D)

Day 6 — 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 traditional Japanese inn, or ryokan, where inviting on-site hot spring baths offer a chance to relax and refresh.
Hotel Hikyonoyu (B,L,D)

Day 7 — 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 8 — 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 Ando.
Benesse House (B,L,D)

Day 9 — Naoshima/Hiroshima

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 art. Ferry back to Honshu and take the high-speed train to Hiroshima.
Rihga Royal Hotel Hiroshima (B,L)

Day 10 — Hiroshima

Pay a visit to Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park and the Peace Memorial Museum, which documents the atomic explosion that ravaged the city. This afternoon, 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 11 — 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 followed by 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 12 — Hiroshima/Osaka/U.S.

Transfer to the airport in Osaka for your return flight.

Optional Extension

  • Tokyo - Post-Trip Extension, 4 Days

Related Trips

National Geographic Expert

David Silverberg

David   SilverbergGeographer, conservationist, and explorer David Scott Silverberg has been working on Japan's Islands and Seas since 1983, and has explored the country's mountains, forests, coasts, gardens, and temples. He researches and lectures on Japan's fascinating geography, gardens, cuisine, art, music, Shinto, and Buddhism. A National Geographic grantee and a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and Royal Asia Society, David helped establish Tokyo-based Earthwatch Institute-Asia and explored the coastlines of the Seto Sea, the Sea of Japan, the Kuril Islands, and Hokaido by expedition ship. He has worked on community-based protected area projects on six continents. He also served as executive director for research at Earthwatch Institute and helped launch AmeriCorps' environmental programs.

David will join the following departures:

May 18 - 29, 2015
Oct 17 - 28, 2015



  • May 18 - 29, 2015 (waitlist only)
  • Sep 23 - Oct 04, 2015
  • Oct 17 - 28, 2015

Expedition Cost



Price is per person, double occupancy. For a single room, add $1,795.

International airfare to/from Osaka is not included in the expedition cost.

What To Expect

The Rengejo-in and Hotel Hikyonoyu are traditional Japanese accommodations with futons set atop tatami mats on the floor. The Rengejo-in, where we stay one night, is a typical temple inn, with simple rooms, rice-paper sliding doors, and traditional Japanese-style shared bathrooms.