2019 Autumn Tour of Japan - Wild West
From the highest mountain to the deepest gorge, exploring Japan’s central mountainous region and its less populated western coast at peak autumn-time is simply… WILD!
The 2019 Autumn Tour of Japan Wild West focuses on the vibrant autumn colours of west coast of Japan. This is one of our most talked about tours. This 14-day journey takes you away from the popular but crowded tourist centres to let you experience Japan’s surprisingly pristine countryside on foot.
Along the way you experience a night in a centuries-old thatched-roof farmhouse in a UNESCO mountain village and take a boardwalk through the pristine Kamikochi alpine plateau. Japan's deepest gorge, one of its best castles, historical morning market and the fascinating walk across the Kurobe dam are all included in this adventure. The tour also introduces you to the sublime grandeur of a few of Kyoto’s Buddhist temples, the refined samurai culture of Kanazawa, and the modern-day vibrancy of Tokyo.
This unique Japan tour is suited to people who love the outdoors and wandering through new destinations on foot. The tour takes you off-the-beaten path to some spectacular spots, even in the iconic cities of Japan you will walk through areas to experience where less tourists roam.
Places visited: Tokyo, Matsumoto, Kamikochi, Tateyama, Gokayama, Kanazawa, Kyoto
Group size: Maximum 8
Transport: Extensive use of public transport (bullet train, express & commuter trains, subway, ferry and coach) and private transport (mini bus and taxi)
Accommodation: Local boutique-style accommodation (similar to 4-star) including Japanese inns and minshuku (guest house)
Fitness level: Average
Tour type: Active
Experience the old and ultra-modern in Tokyo
Explore Japan’s oldest wooden castle in Matsumoto
Take a forest walk through pristine Kamikochi & Tateyama
Travel to the spectacular Japan Alps during autumn’s brilliance
Take a train trip across Kurobe, Japan’s deepest gorge
Stay in a thatched-roof house in UNESCO-listed Gokayama
Visit Kanazawa’s Kenrokuen, a sublime castle garden
Experience the refined beauty of Kyoto in autumn
Day 1: Arrival in Tokyo
Welcome to Japan! On arrival at one of Tokyo’s international airports, you will be met by a Journey to the East guide and escorted to your hotel. After a good night’s sleep, you will be ready to start the first full day of your 2019 Autumn Tour of Japan Wild West.
Day 2 Tokyo
After orientation with your guide, walking shoes on, you begin your exploration of Tokyo. A vibrant city of soaring towers and sci-fi streetscapes. Japan’s capital offers great history and culture. Tokyo (then known as Edo) came to prominence in 1603 when the new shogun moved here.
Today we travel by subway to the old Tokyo neighbourhood of Asakusa, once home to the merchant class and artisans who rose to prominence with the development of Edo (old Tokyo). Asakusa is also home to Tokyo’s oldest temple, the ever-popular Sensoji with its distinctive red Kaminari-mon gate and bustling market stalls.
After lunching at a local tempura restaurant, we walk through the upmarket shopping district of Ginza. Ginza was the first part of Tokyo to modernise as the country opened up in the late 19th century and began constructing its first western-style buildings. We take a walking tour through Ginza’s backstreets, passing by tiny galleries, traditional ware shops and the venerable Kabuki-za Theatre. We make a short visit to a Ginza department store’s basement food hall to see the amazing range of Japanese food and confectionery on display.
Tonight our welcome dinner is held at a restaurant with great night views serving modern Japanese degustation cuisine.
Day 3: Tokyo
Tokyo has some fabulous places to walk in as Autumn approaches. You can imagine how the rich autumn colours contrast with everything around them in one of the world's most populous cities. After breakfast we head out to wander through Tokyo’s fashionable Harajuku area and start with a visit to Meiji Shrine.
The Meji Shrine is an impressive Shinto shrine complex, providing a peaceful oasis in an otherwise bustling city. It is surrounded by a forest of evergreen trees and stroll gardens.
We then walk from the shrine to the beautiful tree-lined avenue of Omotesando for some modern-day culture. Here the world’s super-brands sit comfortably alongside edgy Japanese designers, avant-garde architecture, and Harajuku’s teen pop-culture.
In the afternoon it’s your chance to explore Japan’s vibrant capital on your own. You may like to spend the afternoon enjoying some traditional Japanese art at Nezu Museum or Ota Memorial Museum of Art. Why not check out the latest technology in Akihabara or experience the cool urban buzz of Shibuya? The night-time neon of Shinjuku shouldn't be missed either. Just wandering the local backstreets of one of the world's safest and most populous cities, is a really wonderful experience.
Day 4: Matsumoto
In the morning you leave Tokyo heading west on Japan’s impressive bullet train – the shinkansen - to Matsumoto in Nagano Prefecture, heartland of the Japan Alps. At this time of the year, as you leave the lowlands, the Autumn colours are all ablaze. Surrounded by mountains, Matsumoto’s own beginnings go back to the 8th century, later becoming an important castle town ruled by a powerful local clan during Japan’s feudal period.
Today the city is popular for its cosmopolitan atmosphere, galleries and stunning alpine setting. It’s also home to the impressive Matsumoto Castle, Japan’s oldest wooden castle and one of the nation’s four castles designated as National Treasures. Still in impeccable original condition, you will have the chance to explore its wooden interior and climb to the top of its distinctive black-and-white turret.
Modern Japanese food is all about fusion and this evening you enjoy fine 'Italian' food for dinner, prepared from some of Matsumoto’s freshest local produce.
Day 5: Kamikochi
A train and bus ride takes you higher through a scenic mountain pass before arriving at Kamikochi. Kamikochi literally translated as “where the gods descend”.
True to its name, the mountain ranges exceeding 3,000 metres above sea-level tower over the perfect Kamikochi alpine plateau. Here you take a most pleasurable walk along boardwalks, which criss-cross mossy ponds and streams that reflect the giant mountains that surround them. You will wind through virgin beech forests where the altitude makes them stunning in their coats of many colours.
Returning to Matsumoto, you are sure to be pleasantly tired after a wonderful day surrounded by natural autumn colour, mountain scenes and the fresh air in this pristine national park. The evening is yours to explore Matsumoto and its choice of many restaurant options, just waiting to compliment your mood.
Day 6: Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route
Today you head in a westerly direction again, towards Toyama. We travel across the mountains and valleys by a multi-modal combination of train, bus, cable car, rope-way and trolley bus!
Along the way we visit a sacred Shinto mountain, traverse a deep gorge, check out the impressive Kurobe Dam and circuit Japan’s largest non-active crater – the Tateyama caldera. You will have plenty of opportunity to get out and explore by foot, enjoy the autumn foliage, and take in the high snowy peaks of the mountains around you.
Day 7: Kurobe Gorge
The charming “torokko train” takes us across the mighty Kurobe Gorge, Japan’s deepest river valley. Originally the "torokko train" was used to transport the workers building the massive Kurobe Dam.
The Kurobe Gorge Railway now ferries sightseers through the spectacular autumn coloured mountain scenery. You will have the chance to step out of the vintage carriages and take a walk along the gorge. Have your cameras ready for some stunning shots of mountains covered in their autumn leaves.
Tonight you will have the chance to experience your first onsen, a mineral hot springs bath and fantastic way to relax. Dinner is special too, a traditional multi-course kaiseki banquet. It is your first night sleeping on futon bedding on tatami mat flooring in a typical Japanese-style room. Japanese hospitality at its absolute best!
Day 8: Shogawa Valley and Gokayama
You leave the Kurobe Valley and make your way to another stunning valley, the Shogawa Valley. In the morning, we cruise the Shogawa River by boat to fully appreciate the enormity of valley’s autumn foliage.
We then visit a wood-carving centre where you can watch artisans shape exquisite pieces of art and tableware, applying traditional practices that go back to the 17th century.
Next it is the charming rural village of UNESCO-listed Gokayama, where we stay in one of the village’s original thatched-roof farmhouses. Known as gassho-tsukuri (meaning “hands clasped together in prayer”), these steeply-slanted roofed homes were built to withstand the region’s heavy snowfalls.
This is a very special experience tonight , chatting over dinner with the host and hearing stories of house’s history, construction and ongoing cultural preservation efforts. This is your opportunity to enjoy authentic home-style Japanese hospitality – you sleep on futons in a beautiful farmhouse, hand-built from wood fallen from the surrounding forests!
Day 9: Kanazawa
Start your day with a traditional home-style Japanese breakfast – a nutritious, protein-rich mix of grilled fish, miso soup, tofu, rice, and pickles.
Nicely fortified, we then head for Kanazawa, on the coast of the Sea of Japan. Kanazawa is commonly referred to as “Little Kyoto”. With its historical lineage as a wealthy castle town steeped in samurai culture, small city offers an impressive range of architectural and cultural attractions. Beautifully preserved and reasonably compact, is best explored on foot.
Kanazawa is also home to Kenrokuen Garden, regarded as one of three great gardens of Japan, it is a castle garden dating back to the 17th century . You explore this sublime garden in the afternoon. It is also a chance to study some of the beautiful crafts indigenous to the region at the Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of Traditional Arts and Crafts.
We visit a local izakaya restaurant for dinner tonight to enjoy some local food and the lively ambience of a Japanese-style pub.
Day 10: Kanazawa
We start by exploring the atmospheric old streets of Nagamachi, where the region’s daimyo lords and their samurai once resided.
Moving on, we visit the Higashi Geisha District, a well-preserved area of narrow streets where Kanazawa’s geisha once entertained wealthy patrons, in slatted wooden tea houses.
The afternoon has been set aside for you to take yourself exploring in this charming city. You may like to wander the scenic backstreets of Kanazawa or explore some of the many temples and fabulous galleries. You may choose to check out the craft shops selling Kaga-style kimono fabrics and gilded lacquerware or pause at a local sake brews.
Day 11: Kyoto
A journey by express train takes you to Kyoto, that most iconic of cities. With 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Kyoto is the cultural heart of Japan and the guardian of many of its ancient traditions.
Originally made capital in 794, present-day Kyoto offers an endless range of traditional craft shops, refined restaurants, ancient temples and Shinto shrines. Naturally, Kyoto also offers contemplative gardens, tea-ceremony demonstrations, and performing arts such as noh and kabuki.
You will be guided through atmospheric backstreets to discover the best of Japan’s ceramic and textile traditions, visit a small sample of Kyoto’s finest temples and gardens to appreciate their Buddhist aesthetic and magnificent autumn displays. A pause at a delightful street-side cafe along the way is on the cards too.
Our dinner is at a shabu shabu restaurant, serving wagyu-beef. A maiko (apprentice geisha) will join us for a private performance tonight. You have the unique opportunity to engage with her in person and learn more about this centuries-old art form and the life of a modern-day geisha.
Day 12: Arashiyama
In Arashiyama and Sagano, at the foot of the mountains to Kyoto’s west, you visit superb examples of Japanese garden design. You will see the gardens at the peak time in autumn.
We visit the bamboo grove of Arashiyama, famous for its extensive forest of thick bamboo and ethereal light. Here we ride a rickshaw, a two-passenger wagon, pulled by energetic young men in traditional garb – a lot of fun!
Proceeding deeper into Sagano (Okusaga), we explore some hidden Buddhist temples to experience the rustic simplicity and serenity of a mountain temple away from the tourist crowds.
For lunch, you can sample Kyoto’s traditional tofu cuisine, a local speciality which has its roots in Kyoto’s Buddhist vegetarian past. We return to an evening at your leisure in Kyoto.
Day 13: Kyoto (Free Day)
Kyoto has so much to experience and today has been set aside for you to take your pick.
You may like to participate in a workshop in paper-making, silk-weaving or indigo-dying. Maybe a cooking or sake-tasting class or explore Kyoto’s bustling food and textile markets. Perhaps you prefer to wander around Kyoto’s great range of craft shops and department stores for some last-minute shopping. Let us know if we can help organise anything specific for you.
At our farewell dinner, you will enjoy for the last time, a beautifully presented modern Kyoto cuisine.
Day 14: Kyoto and Bon-Voyage
This morning you will check out of your hotel after breakfast and your 2019 Autumn Tour of Japan Wild West concludes. You can return to Tokyo by train or air to fly home or depart from Osaka’s Kansai International Airport. Perhaps you may linger in Japan for a little longer. Ask Journey to the East to help you to plan your personal extension trip.
Please be aware that there may be slight changes to the itinerary described above to accommodate changes in train timetables, opening hours, and hotel and restaurant availability.
All photographs on this web site are representative and are not a commitment to what may be on view on the day.
- 13 nights accommodation with daily breakfast
- Lunches and dinners as specified
- All public and private transport for the group itinerary
- SUICA transport IC card pre-loaded with starter credit
- Government qualified English speaking local guides
- Entry fees to the attractions included in the itinerary
- Luggage transfers (1 piece per person)
- International and domestic airfare (unless otherwise stated)
- Travel insurance
- Alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages
- Tips and gratuities (not routinely expected in Japan)
- Transport other than JR services and covered by SUICA (unless otherwise stated)
- Personal expenses (laundry, internet, telephone, coin lockers etc.)
- Visa (if required)
Had a fabulous time with a great group of people. I loved the country, the culture, the people and everything about the tour – hope to do another tour with JTTE – maybe Hokkaido or Kyushu next time
Vivien Hewitt, Western Australia
This was my first trip with JTTE and already I am looking at the program for next year thinking about another one. I liked the fact that it was a small group, the organisation was spot on and the food everywhere was outstanding.
Dee Mason – NSW Australia