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Encounter Japan's fascinating blend of ancient and modern influence on a walking holiday that uncovers the country's history and explores its beautiful landscapes. Urban hikes reveal a different side of Tokyo unseen by most visitors. The trip culminates with four days walking along the Kumano Kodo, an ancient pilgrimage trail connecting Shinto shrines on the mountainous Kii Peninsula.
Explore Tour Leader
7 nights comfortable hotel
1 nights simple hotel
3 nights simple ryokan
Trip maximum 16 Explore Average 11
Itineraries on some departure dates may differ, please select the itinerary that you wish to explore.
The trip starts today in Tokyo, the ultra-modern capital of Japan.
Your Leader plans to meet everyone in the hotel reception at 6.30pm for the welcome meeting. If some of the group are arriving on later flights then the main introductory briefing will be conducted on the morning of day 2 with everybody present. After this we will head out to dinner (included) at a nearby local restaurant where you will have the chance to sample various types of 'izakaya' style Japanese cuisine. There are no other activities planned today. Should you miss the welcome meeting, your Leader will inform you of any essential information as soon as you catch up.
If you would like an airport transfer today, you'll need to arrive into Tokyo Haneda Airport (HND) or Tokyo Narita Airport (NRT). The city centre is around an hour away from Haneda Airport and an 1 hour and 30 minutes from Narita. For your arrival transfer you will be met in the Arrivals Hall at Tokyo Airport. Please look out for your name on a sign board and/or an Explore signboard. You will be transferred to the start hotel by public shuttle bus, which may stop at up to 2 other hotels, before dropping you at the joining hotel where you will meet the rest of the group.
Sunroute Asakusa Hotel (or similar)
In the morning we head out to explore this thriving metropolis on a walking tour that will take in some of the residential and more traditional neighbourhoods of the city - Nippori, Yanesen and Nezu, for a glimpse of life in Tokyo far away from the neon lights of the business district. We'll take our time and end in Ueno in time to explore the market and pick up some lunch. The afternoon is left free to explore further. You will be provided with an IC transport card providing unlimited travel on public transport around the city. Possible destinations include the Meiji shrine and Shinjuku area, where the latest electronic gadgets dazzle from glowing shop-fronts or take a boat along the Sumida River for a more relaxing experience.
Today's walking tour will cover approximately 8 kilometres/5 mile and will last around 4 hours.
We depart from Shinjuku train station (reputedly the world's busiest) on a scenic journey through the Japanese Alps to Matsumoto. Flanked on each side by mountains, Matsumoto is best known for its 500 year-old castle which is Japan's oldest, and one of its most elegant. Known as 'Crow Castle' due to its black, sombre appearance, it retains its original wooden interior. The fascinating design includes a moon-viewing pavilion, a hidden floor for the castle's protecting samurai and various booby traps to aid its defence. After exploring the castle and its grounds there's time to stroll through the town's historic quarter. For art lovers there's an option to visit the renowned modern art museum or nearby Ukiyo-e woodblock printing museum. Scenes from this traditional art form typically represent famous geisha, sumo wrestlers and kabuki dance-drama actors.
To make today's journey by train easier, we make use of Japan's excellent luggage forwarding services and send our main luggage on to our hotel for tomorrow night in Kyoto. You'll need to pack your overnight things in your daypack.
Iroha Grand Hotel (or similar)
We make an early start today and catch a train to Nakatsugawa. From here it's a journey of around 30 minutes by public bus to Magome in the tranquil Kiso Valley, running alongside the Central Alps. We hike from here along a section of the Nakasendo Way, an historical trail that connected Kyoto to Edo (now modern day Tokyo). The Nakasendo' s origins date back to the Edo Period (1603-1868) when the Japanese Shogun created a comprehensive communications network of roads to help stabilise and rule the country. Towns like Magome and Tsumago, which we also pass through on the hike, were post towns, providing accommodation and supplies for travellers on the route, an eclectic mix of soldiers, merchants and monks among them. These towns have been lovingly preserved to retain their Edo period atmosphere and the streets are lined with traditional wooden buildings. Our hike today takes us on a mainly stone-paved undulating path through beautiful countryside and small hamlets to Nagiso. We catch an express train from Nagiso to Nagoya, then change to the super fast \i shinkansen \i0 a.k.a. the 'bullet train' that speeds us on to our base for the next 3 nights, the one time historic capital of Japan - Kyoto.
Today's 12 kilometre/7.50 mile walk is expected to take around 4 hours and 30 minutes with a total ascent of 450 metres/1476 feet and descent of 610 metres/2001 feet.
Hotel Elcient Kyoto (or similar)
At the heart of Japanese culture and influence for over 1,000 years, Kyoto lay at the centre of events that helped to shape the destiny and history of this most fascinating of cultures. One of the only major cities to survive the extensive bombing of WWII, Kyoto can boast more than 2000 temples and shrines, many set in landscaped gardens, making this captivating city the cradle of all things uniquely Japanese.
Today we head to the north of the city to spend a full day walking and sightseeing in the Higashiyama District along the lower slopes of Kyoto's eastern mountains. This is one of the city's best preserved historic districts. Walking among the narrow lanes, wooden buildings and traditional merchant shops, we can catch a glimpse of what the old capital city must have been like. In the morning we follow the Philosophers Path, along a cherry tree-lined canal, stopping to visit some of the city's most important temples including the Silver Pavilion and the Eikando and Nanzenji temples. The route is named after the influential 20th century philosopher Nishida Kitaro who walked here in his daily meditation. In the afternoon we continue to the Heian Shrine, a reconstruction of part of the Imperial Palace as it would have looked 1,200 years ago. The shrine is known for its beautiful traditional Japanese garden which contains multiple ponds in which tortoises, egrets, koi carp and other wildlife can often be seen. From here we pass through the cobbled streets to Kodaiji where you can see a perfectly groomed towering bamboo grove, a Zen rock garden, and a pair of historic tea houses.
Today's 12 kilometre/7.50 mile walking tour is expected to take around 7 hours including time spent sightseeing.
We spend today in Japan's first capital Nara, travelling there by train (in around 50 minutes) and exploring on foot. Perhaps one of Japan's friendliest and greenest cities, Nara sits on the edge of a sprawling park that provides a picture-perfect backdrop for the city's magnificent temples and shrines. Nara is known for the 1,200 deer that roam free in the streets and parks. Believed to be messengers of the gods, the deer are protected by city law. We plan to take in the best of the town's sights including the world's largest Bronze Buddha at the magnificent Todaiji temple and the shrine of Kasuga Taisha before returning to Kyoto for the night.
Today's 10 to 12 kilometre/6.20 to 7.50 mile walking tour is expected to take around 6 to 7 hours including time spent sightseeing.
Today we head into rural Japan and the mountains of the Kii Peninsula, much of which is covered in dense rainforest. Travelling first by train and then bus, we arrive at the small village of Takijiri-Oji, the starting point for our hike on the Kumano Kodo. Kumano Kodo is the name given to a network of pilgrimage routes that connect 3 great Buddhist shrines: Hongu Taisha, Nachi Taisha, and Hayatama Taisha - known collectively as the Kumano Sanzan. Emanating from these 3 shrines, various pilgrimage trails trace their way through dense forest and across high mountain passes and stunning valleys, linking the various sacred sites of the area. Awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 2004 the Kumano Kodo remain in use as pilgrimage routes to this day.
Our hike this afternoon takes us through ancient forest filled with giant camphor trees and sacred caves to Takahara, a ridge-top settlement at around 300 metres/984 feet known locally as 'Kiri-no-Sato' (village in the mist) thanks to the blankets of mist that create a sea of clouds over the valleys below. After the walk it's a short drive to our base for the next 3 nights in Tanabe, a hot spring town located along a river. The Yunomineso is a ryokan where we will stay in Japanese-style rooms (twin-share or single rooms). The futon beds are rolled out each night on the traditional tatami mat (woven soft igusa straw) flooring. Generally the rooms are simply decorated with a low table to sit around, a scroll or picture in an alcove and a Japanese tea set. Shoes are taken off in the entrance way to the room. All of the rooms here have an en-suite toilet and washbasin. In true Japanese style, bathing is in traditional same sex communal baths or onsen that are used after washing yourself by hand held shower in the same communal area. There are also two private baths that can be used if available but cannot be pre-booked.
We include the luggage forwarding service today to ship our main bags to Tanabe, which will arrive tomorrow so you'll need to pack your overnight things in your daypack for the first night in Tanabe.
Today's five kilometre walk is expected to take around two-and-a-half hours with a total ascent of 430 metres and descent of 200 metres.
Yunomineso (or similar)
We return this morning by minibus to Takahara. It's a longer hike today to Chikatsuyu, a route that takes us past the ruins of the Uwada-jaya Teahouse and across the Hashiori-toge Pass, with its iconic Gyubadoji statue of one of the first pilgrim emperors. We'll be treated to stunning views of the surrounding countryside from various points along the way and enjoy an included lunch at a rest station en route.
Today's 10 kilometre/6.20 mile walk is expected to take around 6 hours with a total ascent of 590 metres/1936 feet and descent of 640 metres/2100 feet.
Today's hike takes us over the mountains from Hosshinmon to the Hongu Taisha, at the very heart of the Kumano Kodo and the region's most important shrine, serving as the head shrine for over 3,000 Kumano shrines across Japan. It's also known for its huge torii gate, the largest in Japan, dwarfing the pilgrims passing under it. After completing today's hike we've the chance to pay a visit to the Hongu World Heritage Centre next to the shrine, an information centre for all things Kumano related which also houses an exhibition on the area.
Returning by bus to Kawayu Onsen, we've a final chance tonight for a rejuvenating dip in the hot spring waters.
Today's 7 kilometre/4.40 mile walk is expected to take around 3 hours and 30 minutes with a total ascent of approximately 600 metres/1969 feet and descent of 950 metres/3117 feet. Please note it is possible to take a public bus for part of today's route if you wish to shorten the length of the walk.
We take a break from walking today and start the day with a leisurely boat trip along the Kumano River to Hatayama Taisha, the second of the 3 great Kumano shrines. This is how pilgrims traditionally approached the shrine, which is located near the river mouth. The nature in and around the shrine is an integral part of this grand shrine's precincts and annual rituals. We've time to explore here before continuing a short distance by train to our destination for the night, the coastal town of Kii-Katsuura. Once a quiet fishing port, the town's fortunes changed when an abundance of hot springs were discovered here. Kii-Katsuura's other attraction is the early morning fish market which you may wish to visit tomorrow.
Your main luggage is forwarded on this morning to the final nightstop of Osaka, so you'll need to pack your overnight things in your daypack.
Hotel & Renta Car 660 (or similar)
This morning we take a bus to Daimonzaka Chushajo, from where it's around a 1 hour walk to the Kumano Nachi Taisha, the last of the Kumano Kodo's 3 great shrines. This walk takes you part of the way along the Daimonzaka, an impressive 600 metre/1969 feet cobbled stairway with a total of 267 stairs, lined with towering Japanese cedar and bamboo groves. Nachi Taisha, the culmination of today's walk, boasts a magnificent red pagoda and stands against the striking backdrop of Nachi-no-Otaki, Japan's tallest waterfall. We take some time to marvel at this amazing sight before taking the bus back to Kii-Katsuura Station, from where it's a 4 hour train ride around the peninsula to our final destination of the holiday, the large metropolis of Osaka, Japan's second city. Osaka is one of the best places to try Japanese food - whether its octopus balls from a street-side stand, okonomiyaki savoury pancakes (a regional speciality), or some of best sushi in the world.
Today's 3 kilometre/1.90 mile walk is expected to take around an hour with a total ascent of 50 metres/164 feet and descent of 200 metres/656 feet.
Shin-Osaka Washington Hotel Plaza (or similar)
The trip ends after breakfast this morning at our hotel in Osaka.
There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Osaka at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel. If you would like an airport transfer today, you need to depart from either Kansai International Airport (KIX) or Osaka International Airport. The transfer will be on public transport (metro and train or airport limousine shared shuttle bus) with tickets and information being supplied by your tour leader.
If you have time to spend here, Osaka has all the galleries and museums you'd expect of a large city including the unusual Instant Ramen Museum where visitors can have a go at creating their own cup noodle! Or take a walk around the Namba area, one of Osaka's most vibrant and interesting districts where kilometres of covered arcades criss-crossed by canals and rivers, open up to back streets filled with history and small shops.
Total distance : 68 kilometres
Japan's climate is mostly temperate, with five distinct seasons. Summer is from June to September with temperatures reaching 30°c, although it can vary from warm to very hot after mid-July with temperatures in the mid-30s. July and August can be very hot and humid. Spring and Autumn are mild throughout Japan. Winter, October to April, is cold with snowfall. The main rainy season is June. Japan can be prone to short, tropical cyclones in August to October. October / November although cooler is a great time to see the Autumn colours. For trips that visit the Snow Monkeys at Jigokudani Onsen, you're very likely to see them all year around, aside from in October/November when there is enough food in the forest to prevent them coming down to the baths. You may still see some at this time but not in the numbers found during the rest of the year.
2 Pin Flat
Buddhism, Christian and Shinto
Tokyo: Water bus from Asakusa to Hamarikyu Gardens - 980JPY Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens - There are a few wonderful gardens in Tokyo and this is one of them - 300 Yen. Tokyo Sky Tree - By far and away the tallest structure in Japan (double the height of the tallest building). If it is a clear day the views cannot be beat - 2060 Yen to first observatory (additional 1030 Yen to upper observatory - we recommend only the first). Shinjuku Gyoen - More of a park than a garden but still a wonderful place to stroll. You will still be able to see many of Tokyo's skyscrapers but at a tranquil distance - 200 Yen Matsumoto: Ukiyoe Woodblock Museum - Although it is a bit out of town, this museum is well worth visiting for anyone who enjoys Japanese woodblock prints - 1200 Yen entrance plus either taxi (10 minutes) aproximately 1500 Yen each way or train (infrequent - approximately 5 minutes and 20 minutes walking) 170 Yen each way. Matsumoto City Art Museum - A museum with both traditional and contemporary art. Notable for its Kusama Yayoi collection because she is originally from the city - 410 Yen for permanent exhibition.
Bring light and comfortable clothing that can be layered according to the temperature. The weather conditions in the mountains can be changeable, and it can become cool, especially at night, so bring warmer layers. Tops made from wicking materials which keep you drier and warmer are recommended as a base layer, and walking trousers are preferable to trousers of heavier material such as jeans. A waterproof jacket is essential at all times in case of rain and wind. - Breathable wind and waterproof jacket (you may also wish to bring waterproof trousers) - T-shirts - Long sleeved tops - Sunhat - Long trousers - Shorts (if you prefer to walk in them) - Swimwear - Midlayer Fleece/pullover - Socks
We always recommend walking boots with ankle support and good grip for walking holidays. The trail on this trip can get muddy and slippery. We suggest that on international flights you either carry your walking boots in your hand luggage or wear them - should your luggage be lost or delayed, your own boots are the one thing that will be irreplaceable. Comfortable trainersandals are recommended for the town/relaxing in the evenings.
One main piece of baggage and a daypack. For logistical reasons your main luggage will be forwarded from Tokyo to Kyoto on day 3, from Kyoto to Tanabe on day 7 and from Tanabe to Osaka on day 10. Your daypack should therefore have sufficient space for your overnight things in Matsumoto, Kii-Katsuura and the first night in Tanabe; as well as for carrying all your daytime hiking essentials such as a waterbottle, suncream, snacks, rain wear and camera. A capacity of 30 to 40 litres should be sufficient if you pack light. For your main luggage, a lockable compact suitcase or holdall with wheels is ideal.
- Sunglasses - Sun cream - Small Torch (with spare batteries and bulb) - Walking poles (if you usually use them) - Personal first aid kit - On each walk a first aid kit is carried but you should have your own blister kit, supply of plasters, aspirin and other essentials. - Insect repellent - Small waterproof dry bag (for items such as your mobile phone) - Reusable water bottle (minimum 1 litre) - Get 15% discount on a Water-to-Go bottle www.explore.co.uk/about-us/responsible-travel/water-to-go-discount-with-explore - Lunch box/Tupperware (for packed lunches)
Boat, Public Bus, Train
Along the Kumano Kodo on nights 7, 8 and 9 we will stay in a ryokan, Japanese-style accommodation where we sleep on futon beds that are rolled out each night on the traditional tatami-mat flooring. The rooms are simply decorated with a low table to sit around, a scroll or picture in an alcove and a Japanese tea set. Shoes are taken off in the entrance way to the room. All of the rooms here have an en-suite toilet and wash basin. In true Japanese style, bathing is in traditional same sex communal baths or onsen that are used after washing yourself by hand held shower in the same communal area. There are also two private baths that can be used if available but cannot be pre-booked.
Can you drink the water?
It is generally possible to drink the local tap water, therefore to reduce the need for single-use plastic bottles we recommend you bring a refillable water bottle with you. Your leader will advise you on refill points each day.
We strongly recommend that you check your government's travel advisory for up-to-date information and advice about your destination: safety and security, entry requirements, health, local laws and customs. For UK citizens, check the latest Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office advice.
Please refer to our COVID-19 entry requirements page for any country-specific conditions of entry. Whilst we strive to update this on a regular basis we recommend you also check the FCDO website for the latest advice on entry requirements in this fast-evolving situation. Information can change at any time.
Please note that some countries require proof of parental consent when travelling overseas with under 18s. Please check requirements with the relevant embassy or consular office well in advance of travel if this applies to your party.
Once your booking has been confirmed we guarantee the price will not increase, whatever the circumstances. However, please note that if you voluntarily make any changes to your booking including changing your trip or departure date, any additional costs or charges incurred will not be covered. Before booking please ensure you have read our important tour pricing information.Booking Conditions
British passport holder do not require visa to enter Japan for tourism purposes. All visa related issues for other nationalities should be confirmed with the relevant Embassy prior to departure. Although not required, by registering on the visit Japan Web website, travellers are able fill out the Disembarkation Form and Custom Declaration Form in advance. By filling out these forms online, two QR codes will be produced that can be shown during entry procedures into Japan. This may help you proceed through customs and control quicker. As this step is not required, travellers can instead fill out physical paper forms upon arrival as well. More information can be found here: https://www.digital.go.jp/enervices/visit_japan_web-en/
If you do require assistance in obtaining a visa then you may be able to apply through Explore's recommended visa service in the UK, Travcour. See www.travcour.com to download the relevant visa application for your trip, if applicable (UK citizens only), along with details of how to apply for your visa through Travcour. The Team at Travcour will be happy to answer specific questions relating to visa applications, please call them directly on 0208 5431846.
It is your responsibility to ensure that you are in possession of a full passport, with the correct validity for your chosen destination.
Before booking your Explore trip, please ensure that you read both our Essential Information and Booking Conditions.
Customers who have chosen to book on the ‘Land Only’ arrangements of our tour, please ensure that you have checked your tour specific ‘Joining Instructions’ prior to booking your own travel arrangements. Your joining instructions can be found below in the dates and prices information.
You may also be eligible for the Free Explore Transfer.
Customers booked on the ‘Land Only’ arrangements will receive a Free Transfer, provided you arrive and depart on the tour only itinerary start and end dates. The complimentary transfers will be arranged from the Explore designated airport or train station to your trips joining point, and then back from the ending point to the designated airport or train station. Generally the airport or station that Explore have selected will be the one that is closest to the town or city where the trip starts, or the one nearest to the joining point. It will be either an airport or train station but not both.
The exception to this rule is customers who are booked on a tour where the joining and ending point is at the designated airport or train station.
Free transfers are not available for Polar customers.
If you are not eligible for the Free Transfer then you will need to make your own way through to the joining and ending point. On a majority of our tours Explore will be able to provide a private transfer at an additional cost. Please ask for a quote at the time of booking.
For more information regarding the Explore Free Transfer click here
It is a condition of booking with Explore that you have adequate valid travel insurance. It is your responsibility to arrange appropriate travel insurance and ensure you have read and understood the full terms and conditions of your travel insurance policy to ensure that you are covered for all activities you intend to undertake whilst on the tour, including all optional activities. Your Insurance Policy must fully cover you for medical expenses and emergency repatriation to your home country. Please ensure your policy includes medical emergency helicopter evacuation in the event of illness or injury and covers the entire duration of your holiday. If you are trekking at altitude please ensure that there is no upper altitude limit which may limit or exclude cover for your trip. The cost of many of our Polar Voyages will exceed the capped amount covered by standard insurance premiums and you will be required to pay an additional premium to cover the full value of your trip. Please ensure that you are covered for the full amount of your holiday cost, as insufficient cover could invalidate a claim under the policy. Medical and repatriation insurance cover is not mandatory for UK residents who are travelling on trips within the United Kingdom.
Read more information about what travel insurance is required.
Explore offers a wide range of flexible flying options to make joining and leaving our trips easy. Read more about them here.
You are able to book this tour on a 'land only' basis or as a ‘flight inclusive’ package. Your flight inclusive package will be fully protected by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) ATOL protection scheme.
We have a good selection of flights not only from London but from many regional airports around the UK allowing us to compare fares between scheduled carriers as well as low cost and charter airlines. Our dedicated flights team will match the best flight options to your arrival and departure airport.
On our website we display a UK flight inclusive package guide price which is generally based on a London departure. To avoid paying supplements or to secure your preferred flight option, we recommend booking as early as possible, especially for peak travel dates.
Nothing compulsory. We recommend protection against typhoid, tetanus, infectious hepatitis and polio. The use or possession of Vicks inhalers and some other common prescription and over-the-counter medicines (e.g. for allergies and sinus problems or even certain mild painkillers, such as those containing certain levels of codeine) are banned under Japan's strictly enforced anti-stimulant drugs law. Customs officials may not be sympathetic if you claim ignorance about these medicines. If in any doubt about customs procedures for such items, you should check with the nearest Japanese Embassy before visiting Japan. Please check the latest requirements with your travel clinic or doctor prior to departure. The above is not an exhaustive list. Further information regarding vaccinations and travel health advice can be found by following the NHS and NaTHNaC links at Explore Travel Health and from your local healthcare provider. Visa and vaccination requirements are subject to change and should be confirmed by you before travelling.