Discover Japan through two of its largest hiking trails: the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage trail, and the Nakasendo route, connecting Edo (former Tokyo) to Kyoto. During this trip, you will cross Japanese countryside dotted with shrines and rustic villages like Koyasan or Magome and stop in the not-to-be-missed big cities: like the warm Osaka, the imperial Kyoto and the futuristic Tokyo.
The hikes proposed here do not require any particular physical preparation. They are intended for a large audience of walkers, both novices and experienced with the exception of very young children. Whether you are a part-time walker or an experienced runner, you will enjoy this original trip as you can decide the route you take at your own pace.
You spend several nights in a variety of authentic, charming and comfortable Japanese accommodations located in remote places and managed the traditional way. This trip allows you to enjoy the true meaning of Japanese familial hospitality.
The mystical & spiritual Kyoto, along with the gourmet Osaka and the capital Tokyo are featured on the program so you can appreciate many aspects of this incredibly contrasting country.
As soon as you land under the Rising Sun, your guide hands you vouchers, a pocket wifi device, train tickets and all you need for a comfortable trip. Don’t waste a moment and set off to explore Osaka! Your first encounter with Japan will immediately seduce you. Stroll through the warm neighbourhoods of Namba, Amerika-Mura and Shin Sekai and revel in the famous street food of Osaka while sampling yummy takoyaki and steaming okonomiyaki.
In a spiritual atmosphere, you head to Danjo Garan whose scarlet red pagoda contrasts with the greenery that elegantly dresses Koyasan. Take the road to the Kongobuji and Banryu Tei temples: the largest stone gardens of Japan, whose beauty is matched only by their majestic austerity. Visit the Okuno-in Cemetery overlooking the mausoleum of the same name where the monk Kûkai finished his days.
Osaka Castle is worth a visit; you may have already planned to see it! The city conceals secrets that lovers of street food and bonhomie will appreciate; friendly locals and a more relaxed pace of life will make you feel warmly welcomed. Today’s exploration will make you dismiss the serious cliche of a dull and serious Japan that is influenced by the business centres of Tokyo.
You are about to embark on a unique experience, the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage. Arrive in Takijiri for the start of an unforgettable hike. Two hours of walking in nature leads you to the superb village of Takahara where you’ll take a deserved break. Then, continue in the heart of the forest, towards the village of Chikatsuyu-oji. You sleep in total immersion in a traditional minshuku where you’ll have a traditional dinner and enjoy the onsen thermal baths.
After a bus transfer to Hoshimon-oji, you will continue your hike on the Kumano Kodo trail. You will pass through magnificent villages and forests at a gentle pace to enjoy the beauty of the landscapes. You arrive at the Kumano Hongu Taisha, built in the 9th century AD; its 33-metre-high torii gate is the tallest in the world. After your stop here, you have about an hour and a half walking left to reach the Yunomine Onsen.
Hop on a bus to the Kumano Hayatama Taisha Shrine. Legend tells that three Shinto divinities came down from heaven for the first time here. You admire more than 1000 sacred objects in the museum before getting to the jewel of the pilgrimage: the Nachi Taisha. This Shinto and Buddhist shrine is dedicated to the tallest waterfall in Japan and provides you with picture-postcard scenery. You end the day in an onsen that faces the sea before a traditional Japanese dinner.
The Ise Jingu Shrine is the most sacred and essential sanctuary of Japan. For more than 2,000 years, it has been the landmark of the cult towards the sun deity, Amaterasu. Browse a site made up of more than a hundred small buildings. After this spiritual visit, you will delight your taste buds with some local specialities on Oharaimachi Street.
Kyoto is full of spiritual wonders. With Zen, Shintô, Shingon schools coexisting in the city, each of them have their own emblematic places of worship. Head to the famous Fushimi Inari, the largest Shinto shrine in the archipelago, built more than 13 centuries ago. As you admire the thousands of vermilion torii that form a path winding the hill, you understand how important Inari Ookami, deity of cereals, rice, industry and trade, is in Japan.
Let’s head to Arashiyama, home to the bamboo forest and Tenryu-ji temple. A walk along the Katsura river gives you an overview of Japanese poetry and art-de-vivre. Let’s move towards the Kinkaku-ji “Golden Pavilion” where the golden glow is reflected in a zen pond. `Finally, the “Ryoan-ji” zen garden, will impress you with its famous stone garden. For those who prefer to find some calm, we recommend the peaceful Daitoku-ji temple to end the day.
The secluded village of Miyama offers you a break in another world. Head to Kayabuki no Sato and immerse yourself in its charming landscapes and preserved traditional thatched-roof houses. Get lost among the many hamlets as you feel the nostalgia and soul of yesteryear that rural Japan embodies so well. Here, you will feel a sense of tradition, and see it practised among locals.
Spend the morning in the Ginkaku-ji Pavilion stone garden before losing yourself along the old canal bordered by hundreds of cherry trees at the Nanzen-ji temple. The alley, known as the Philosophers Path, takes you to the Heian Jingû Shrine. In Teramachi, the heart of the imperial capital, dozens of merchants will offer you a sample of their signature dishes from their stalls while in the Nishiki Market. Considered to be some of the best food in Kyoto, you have to try!
The second hike of your trip awaits you! In the heart of the Japanese Alps countryside, enjoy the medieval road of Nakasendo, once used by samurai, merchants and high-ranking dignitaries. Let yourself be immersed in the rural lifestyle following the slow-paced rhythm by the rice fields. You spend the night in a traditional minshuku inn in the village of Magome and taste dishes made with the vegetables from the garden.
The jewels of Nakasendo are its medieval villages. The first on your way is the village of Magome-juku, and its traditional wooden houses. Keep on walking through a magnificent wood to the next village, Tsumago-juku, one of the best-preserved villages on the trek. You travel back in time to the period when Tokyo was still called Edo and discover the Wakihonjin history museum that allows you to discover the life in the Kiso Valley during the 19th century. If you have enough time left tonight, consider visiting the majestic “black crown castle” of the next historical city: Matsumoto. You can also take your time and enjoy it tomorrow morning.
Here you are in Shinjuku, the temple of Japanese business which is worth a detour. The neighborhood invites you to stroll everywhere, like in the Golden Gai, where you can feel the unique atmosphere of Tokyo in the 1930s.
Your journey continues south towards Shibuya. Go ahead and visit the majestic Shinto site Meiji-jingu in the eccentric Harajuku district: a breath of fresh air in the capital and a shock of eras guaranteed! Modern Japan quickly catches you up. Let it surprise you. The excess of Tokyo also leads you to explore the favorite neighborhoods of Japanese youth like Akihabara.
Among the off-the-wall and kawaii-dressed youngsters, you notice many trendy boutiques and cafes whose offbeat themes surprise you. You can try to understand this Tokyo at the antipodes of our Western cities by discovering a maid cafe!
Are you going to have tea with the owls and the cats? Or a bowl of steaming noodles between neon lights and lanterns?
Visit the main temple of Tokyo, the Sensô-ji, whose large vermilion gate is a symbol of the Asakusa district. The neighborhoods around Ueno such as Okachimachi or Ginza will give you a glimpse of Japanese luxury craftsmanship. «Shitamachi»: the «below city», that of ordinary people, and merchants used to contrast with the «Yamanote» quarters of yesteryear nobles and lords. But you can easily move from one to the other and enjoy the endless possibilities of this world-city …