2019 Walking Central Japan in Autumn
An unforgettable hiking experience for active travellers along the Nakasendo Trail – Japan’s most famous hiking route – at autumn time, with side trips to the iconic cities of Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka.
For those who love exploring a destination by foot, the 2019 Walking Central Japan in Autumn Tour takes you on many short guided hikes through Central Japan at autumn time.
The key highlight is three days hiking along the Nakasendo walking trail – Japan’s ancient mountain highway between Tokyo and Kyoto – travelled by feudal lords, merchants and pilgrims for centuries. This historic walk looks much as it did all those years ago and takes you through mountains covered in autumn colour to the unbelievably picturesque post towns of Tsumago, Magome and Narai. Along the way, you’ll sample regional cuisine, stay in rustic country-style inns and soak in thermal hot springs.
You’ll also explore the charming feudal town of Takayama too with its beautifully preserved merchant quarter and the refined imperial capital of Kyoto with its contemplative temples and exquisite gardens. In each city, you’ll have a few days with our guides to explore the back streets in-depth as well as your own private time to make your own discoveries. This 13-day tour also features some fascinating and unique hiking tours through the old neighbourhoods of Tokyo and Osaka.
The tour suits fit and active people who are comfortable hiking up to 10 km a day. Each of the daily walking tours has been designed to highlight cultural and historical interest points, traditional architecture and the local way of life – providing unforgettable insights into Japan and its people.
Places visited:Tokyo, Kamakura, Magome (Nakasendo trail), Kiso-Fukushima, Narai, Matsumoto, Takyama, Kyoto & Osaka
Group size: Min 6, Max 8
Transport: Bullet train, express & commuter trains, ferry, bus and taxi
Accommodation: Four-star hotels and equivalent Japanese style inns and guest hourses (shared bathroom)
Fitness level: Moderate (able to complete walks of 9-10 km with ease)
Discover Tokyo’s atmospheric old neighbourhoods
Explore the hidden treasures of the ancient capital of Kamakura on foot
Walk the historic Nakasendo trail in the foothills of Japan’s Central Alps
Stay in charming traditional inns and soak in thermal hot springs
Visit the stunning feudal castle at Matsumoto – one of Japan’s best
Walk the narrow streets of Takayama’s old merchant district
Wander Kyoto’s backstreets at the peak of autumn
Explore the heart of ever-dynamic Osaka and sample tasty street-food
Day 1: ARRIVAL IN TOKYO
Welcome to Japan! On arrival at one of Tokyo’s international airports, you’ll be met by a Journey to the East guide and escorted to your hotel. After a good night’s sleep, you’ll be ready to start the first full day of your 2019 Walking Central Japan in Autumn Tour.
Day 2: TOKYO
After orientation with your guide, you begin your exploration of Tokyo. A vibrant city of soaring towers and sci-fi streetscapes, Japan’s capital is also steeped in great history and culture, making its mark as the seat of power in 1603 when the shogun moved here.
Today we travel by subway to the old Tokyo neighbourhood of Asakusa, once home to the merchant class who rose to prominence as the city developed. Asakusa is also home to Tokyo’s oldest temple, the ever-popular Sensoji with its towering Kaminari-mon gate and bustling market stalls. Your guide will take you on a walking tour of this fascinating district.
After lunching at a local tempura restaurant, you head to Ginza for an afternoon exploring at your leisure. Ginza was the first part of Tokyo to modernise in the late 19th century as the country opened up to the West. Using our self-guided map, you wander down its central boulevard and backstreets, passing by tiny galleries, traditional ware shops and the venerable Kabuki-za Theatre. A visit to the basement food hall of one of Ginza’s department stores is also not to be missed – you’ll be amazed by the dizzying range of beautifully presented food and confectionery on display!
Tonight our welcome dinner will be at a restaurant with great night views serving modern Japanese degustation cuisine.
Day 3: KAMAKURA
A day trip takes us hiking through the historic seaside town of Kamakura today, just south of Tokyo’s sprawling metropolis. Capital for a brief 150 years from 1185, Kamakura retains its strong Buddhist heritage and contemplative atmosphere.
Your guide will take you on through small forested hills to reveal some hidden treasures – meditative Zen Buddhist temples, centuries-old tea houses in tranquil gardens, bamboo groves and delightful cafes in quiet backstreets. Kamakura's points of interest also include Japan’s second tallest Buddha statue, which has been serenely surveying the surrounding countryside since 1252.
In the late afternoon before catching the train back to Tokyo, we pause at popular Komachi Street near the station. Full of craft shops and art galleries, it’s well worth a wander if you’re interested in high-quality, handmade wares.
Day 4: MAGOME - The Nakakasendo Trail
We escape the Greater Tokyo region today, whisked away by Japan’s shinkansen bullet-train down to the city of Nagoya. Here we transfer to a local train and begin the climb into the foothills of Japan’s Central Alps to the small town of Nakatsugawa in the delightful Kiso Valley.
Putting on our walking shoes we begin the first leg of our hike along the Nakasendo Way, one of Japan’s most scenic routes. The Nakasendo was one of the old highways connecting Tokyo (formerly Edo) with Kyoto and the historic route takes you through forested mountains and beautifully preserved post towns.
Our first stop is the village of Magome and here we stay at a charming minshuku guest house and sleep in a traditional Japanese room with futon bedding. Tonight dinner is a hearty family meal at the minshuku.
Day 5: KISO-FUKUSHIMA - The Nakasendo Trail
This morning you have the chance to try a typical Japanese-style breakfast – a nutritious, protein-rich mix of grilled fish, miso soup, tofu, rice, and pickles!
Back on the Nakasendo way, we walk the 7.8km Magome - Tsumago trail – one of the most popular sections of the route. Tsumago is a particularly well-preserved town, with old lattice-clad buildings in dark wood fronting both sides of its long main street.
We transfer here to Kiso-Fukushima, where our accommodation tonight is a traditional Japanese ryokan. You will stay in a Japanese tatami-mat room and experience Japanese hospitality at its very best: futon bedding, hot springs onsen bath and a delicious kaiseki banquet. Soaking in a natural hot springs bath after a day in the fresh air, you’ll soon realise why visiting an onsen remains one of the ultimate pastimes for the Japanese!
Day 6: Narai - The Nakasendo Trail
A local train transports us to the township of Yabuhara, where we begin our hike along a high mountain pass covered in autumn colour and down a valley to the village of Narai. Another beautifully-preserved post town, you have the afternoon free to explore its charming streetscape at your leisure or simply relax in our minshuku-style accommodation.
Dinner will be mountain cuisine at our minshuku made fresh that day from locally-sourced produce.
Day :7 MATSUMOTO and TAKAYAMA
We leave the Nakasendo today and head by train to the city of Matsumoto in the heartland of the Japan Alps. Matsumoto’s beginnings go back to the 8th century, later becoming an important castle town ruled by a powerful clan during Japan’s feudal period. Today, the city is popular for its cosmopolitan atmosphere and galleries.
It’s also home to the impressive Matsumoto Castle, Japan’s oldest wooden castle and one of four castles designated as National Treasures. Still in impeccable original condition, you’ll explore its wooden interior and climb to the top of its distinctive black-and-white turret.
We then hop on a local coach for Takayama. An atmospheric town surrounded by mountains and beautiful autumn foliage, Takayama is known for its beautifully preserved streets of merchant houses dating from the late 17th century.
Dinner at a local restaurant tonight.
Day 8: TAKYAMA
The Takayama’s 200-year old morning market is our first stop to check out its farm-fresh produce and handmade crafts. Our guide then takes you on a walking tour of the township, visiting Takayama Jinya (once the prefectural office of the Tokugawa shogunate in feudal times), the Takayama Festival Floats Exhibition Hall (with its elaborately decorated floats).
You will walk along the impossibly photogenic narrow streets of the old merchant quarter and past some of the unusual sculptures that adorn the streets.
Day 9: TAKAYAMA - Free day
Today is yours to explore Takayama at your leisure. You may like to simply linger in the old merchant district and wander through its old buildings converted into small museums, boutique sake breweries and craft shops selling high-quality woodwork, lacquer ware and textiles.
If you’re interested in the region’s unique thatched-roof architecture, then Hida Folk Village is worth a visit. For the more active, Takayama offers some lovely rural cycling and walking paths in the hills surrounding the town. Or, for those with gastronomic interests, there’s a number of half-day cooking classes available as well.
Let us know what interests you and we’ll make the necessary arrangements.
Day 10: Kyoto
After a few days exploring mountain life, we change focus and take a scenic train trip down a river valley to Nagoya. Here we transfer to the shinkansen and head to our next destination – 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, superb restaurants, ancient temples and shrines, and some of Japan’s most beautiful gardens and great walks.
On arrival in the afternoon, our guide takes us on a walking tour of the historic geisha precinct of Gion near the Kamo-gawa River. We wander down atmospheric streets lined with traditional tea houses built some 300 years ago. Here you may catch a glimpse of a geisha on her way to work at one of the exclusive, private tea houses located in the area.
Day 11: KYOTO - Backstreets
We spend the morning on a guided walking tour of the backstreets of Kyoto. Hiking through Kyoto’s vast network of narrow lanes, walking past ancient temples enclosed in tranquil garden settings and traditional shops selling Kyoto handicrafts and art, perhaps stopping for a cup of frothy matcha green tea and traditional sweets along the way.
After a traditional Kyoto-style lunch, you have time to explore this ancient capital on your own. You may like to spend more time exploring Kyoto’s many temples and shrines or do a class in paper-making or sake-tasting, or visit Kyoto’s traditional food and textile markets. Or you may prefer to check out Kyoto’s great range of craft and speciality shops for some last-minute shopping. Let us know if we can help organise anything specific for you.
DAY 12: OSAKA
This morning we head by train to Osaka, the bustling metropolis just south of Kyoto. Osaka’s history is as long as the nation’s itself, eventually becoming an important political base in the 16th century after the shogun unified Japan.
We take a walking tour through Osaka’s lively entertainment district of Dotombori, famous for its historic canal, tasty street-food and night-time neon.
The afternoon is yours to explore Osaka on your own. You may like to check out the space-age architecture of Umeda Sky Building, the photogenic retro district of Tsutenkaku, one of the best aquariums in Japan or Osaka’s landmark castle with its museum and exhibits from its feudal past.
Back in Kyoto for the evening, we come together one last time for a farewell dinner at a teppanyaki-style restaurant specializing in tender and tasty wagyu-beef.
DAY 13: Kyoto - Bon Voyage
This morning you check out of your hotel after breakfast and your 2019 Walking Central Japan in Autumn Tour concludes. You can return to Tokyo by train or air to fly home, or depart from Osaka’s Kansai International Airport, or perhaps linger in Japan for a little longer... Ask Journey to the East for help.
The itinerary is indicative only. Actual activities may differ.
- 12 nights accommodation (including 3 nights in traditional inns)
- Daily breakfasts and other meals as indicated in the itinerary
- All local transport (train, bus and taxi) including 14- Day Japan Rail Pass
- Pre-loaded SUICA card
- Locally licensed English speaking tour guides
- Meet and greet and hotel transfer by public transport on arrival
- Most cultural activities and entry fees included in itinerary
- Luggage transfers (1 piece per person)
Does not include:
- International or domestic airfare
- 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