2019 Walking Tour of Northern Japan
On this tour, you will walk through spiritual mountains, autumn coloured national parks, pass by Japanese gardens and temples, see rural landscapes and feel the warm traditional hospitality of northern Japan.
2019 Walking Tour of Northern Japan is the Journey to the East’s latest addition to our Walking Tour series.
After arriving in Tokyo, this unique 14-day tour takes you to some of the more remote areas of Tohoku as well as more well-known icons of the region. The tour includes a visit to Dewa Sanzan, one of the most spiritual centres of Japan (Kumano Kodo's counterpart in Northern Japan), and goes through fascinating rituals.
There are plenty of opportunities for pristine nature walks such as at Urabandai as well as interesting cultural walks at at locations like Yamadera and Matsushima. Accommodation wise, you will experience variety of styles from basic shukubo (temple lodging) to traditional ryokan (Japanese inn), to regional city hotels and western style mountain resort.
This is a perfect tour for people who love walking in culturally rich areas surrounded by natural beauty, especially for those who are keen to discover Japan beyond the giant cities.
Places visited: Tokyo, Matsumoto, Mt Hotaka & Hirayu, Kamikochi, Norikura Kogen, Takayama, Shirakawa-go & Gokayama and Kyoto
Group size: Min 6, Max 8
Type of tour: Small group tour
Transport: Train, public bus, private minivan and taxi
Accommodation: Minimum 3 - 4 star hotels in Tokyo, Matsumoto, Hirayu and Kyoto, and minshuku in Gokayama (minshuku is a basic accommodation with shared bathroom facilities)
Fitness level: Fit (please refer to FAQ)
Tour type: Active
Join the pilgrims at Dewa Sanzan and go through fascinating rituals
Experience shukubo (real temple lodging) and traditional onsen ryokan
Pristine Japanese nature walking through national parks
Walking in spectacular Urabandai
Guided walking tour of the back streets of Tokyo
Immerse yourself in the stunning autumn coloured mountains
Interact with locals and enjoy the special Tohoku hospitality
Walk the historical towns of Matsushima and Aizu-Wakamatsu
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 Walking Tour of Northern Japan.
Day 2: Tokyo
You will be taken on a guided walking tour of Tokyo in the morning. Starting the walk at the recently restored 1000-year-old Tokyo Station and walking on through the historical Marunouchi including Emperors palace front court.
After lunch, you will shift to Nihonbashi, another historical commercial area of Tokyo to see traditional crafts such as kimono, pottery, Japanese paintings etc. You will have some free time this afternoon to experience the area at your own pace – you may like to visit some of the city’s many museums and galleries, check out the latest technology or just wander the local backstreets. We catch-up in the evening for our welcome dinner at a modern Japanese degustation restaurant with stunning views of the city at night.
(Total walking distance today - about 10km)
Day 3: Dewa Sanzan
Leave Tokyo behind us on Japan’s impressive bullet-train – the shinkansen – we travel to Niigata. A local train takes us to the remote coastal city of Tsuruoka. The next couple of days you will walk through the fascinating region of Dewa Sanzan (meaning three mountains of Dewa).
We stay at shukubo (working temple lodging) to prepare for the pilgrim walk the next day. Dinner tonight is Shojin Ryori, Buddhist vegetarian cuisine served with regions fresh rice, mountain vegetables and mushrooms.
Day 4: Dewa Sanzan
Today you will have a blessing ceremony at the shukubo by a monk before embarking on the ancient pilgrimage route of the Dewa Sanzan, the Three Mountains of Dewa.
Dewa Sanzan has continued to be a place of warship for the lasts 1,400 years. These mountains represent the past, present and future, and one should visit the three in succession.
The first mountain is Hagurosan where you will step along a series of stone steps among spectacular towering cedars. Along the way, you will see many interesting sights not least of which is the 600-year-old, Five Story Pagoda. At the top stands one of the largest thatched buildings in Japan, the Sanjin Gosaiden shrine. The walk is for 1.7 km (mainly stone steps) and takes around 1 hour.
The second mountain, Gassan can only be accessed in the good weather as it’s path is along the open ridge of the mountain. You will enjoy a boardwalk through the beautiful wetland on a 2 km circuit (about 1.5 hours) at 8th station of Gassan.
Tonight, accommodation is at a small local ryokan, where you will experience your first onsen, hot mineral springs spa bath.
Our guide will talk you through the ritual and etiquette of the Japanese bath and explain why a visit to an onsen remains one of the nation’s most popular pastimes
Day 5: Dewa Sanzan to Yamagata
This morning, you will tackle the last mountain, Yudono San. There are so many secret rituals in this part of the pilgrimage and you are not allowed to take photographs. It is also naturally beautiful area displaying autumn colours this time of the year.
After lunch, you will head to Yamagata City to have a good rest for your next adventure.
Yamagata is a heart of Tohoku, where lots of local speciality foods, sake and festivals. We will enjoy the Tohoku hospitality at a local restaurant tonight.
Day 6: Zao
Zao is well-known as a ski resort, however, it also has many hiking courses which you can enjoy amongst blazing autumn coloured mountains at this time of the year. Taking a cable car and a chair lift to get to the top area, we walk along the caldera lakes and water falls.
Tonight you will be back at Yamagata City and explore the city’s night life at your own pace.
Day 7: Yamadera
Our target by local train is Hojusan Risshakuji, commonly known as Yamadera.
Yamadera was established by a Buddhist monk, Jikaku-daishi in 860, is a one of the leading sacred places in the Tohoku District. The haiku poet Matsuo Basho stopped by and composed a famous haiku here. The haiku “The stillness – soaking into stones cicada’s cry” is counted amongst his masterpieces.
Once you begin the ascent over the 1,100 stone steps you will find stone monuments, small temples and groups of massive rocks. A view from Godaido (small temple hall) at the top is something you don’t want to miss. The ascent takes around 0.5 to 1 hour. You can also enjoy local crafts and restaurants on a way out.
In the afternoon another bullet train to transfers us to tonight' exquisite treat, Ginzan Onsen, one of the most quintessential Japanese onsen towns.
Dinner will be a traditional Japanese-style kaiseki banquet of river fish, meat, and seasonal mountain vegetables.
(Total walking distance today - about 6 km)
Day 8: Ginzan Onsen
Today you will amble through atmospheric onsen town of Ginzan. Ginzan means silver mine, and as the name suggest silver was discovered here in the 16th century and a government owned silver mine was operating during Edo era. You can walk to the mine site through a beautiful park along river and water falls.
(Total walking distance today - about 4 km)
Day 9: Naruko Gorge and Matsushima
A private minivan is our transport today and we pass through Naruko Gorge, a spectacular ravine 100 metres deep, to enjoy the dramatic mix of autumn colours, particularly the intense reds of Japanese maples.Our Minivan takes us to our next destination, Matsushima.
At your accommodation - an onsen hotel, enjoy your soak in an authentic hot springs bath, incredibly relaxing after a day on the road.
(Total walking distance today - about 3 km)
Day 10: Matsushima
Matsushima is best known for its wide bay dotted by over 250 pine tree-covered islands. Over time, sea-winds have helped shape the pine trees and their twisted trunks silhouetted against rocky island outcrops are quite a sight.
We visit Zuiganji Temple, one of Tohoku’s finest Zen temples originally built in 828, and the evocative red-coloured bridge linking the mainland to the island of Godaido, designated a site of Important Cultural Heritage.
Your guide will provide some background on the history of the Matsushima region and the popular daimyo lord, Date Masamune, who controlled the area in the early 1600s. The Afternoon is free to further explore this fascinating coastal town. There are many craft shops and some interesting islands for walks. Why not stop for a break of frothy matcha green tea and traditional sweets – part of the tea ceremony tradition – at a centuries-old teahouse looking over the bay.
(Total walking distance today - about 5 km)
Day 11: Aizuwakamatsu
Today we move to the one-time samurai city of Aizuwakamatsu.
The city is rich in history and we start our experience at Tsurugajo Castle. During the Boshin War (Fr. 1868) that eventually reinstated Imperial rule, this castle withstood fierce attack by the newly formed Imperial army in a bitter siege that lasted one month. Inside of the tower there is now a museum dedicated to the history of Aizuwakamatsu, and the observation gallery at the top offers panoramic views of the city.
We will also visit a former samurai residence and a Japanese garden, before taking you to Nanokamachi which is full of traditional crafts and food items. In particular we visit a sake brewer where you can see a sake production method and participate in tasting.
Dinner tonight is a local Aizuwakamatsu cuisine at a local restaurant.
Day 12: Urabandai
This morning, you will be transferred by a private minivan to Urabandai, which is a part of Bandai Asahi National Park. It is naturally spectacular and relaxing, an ideal spot to wind down at the end of action-packed tour. There are many walking tracks and cycling road, and today we will try arguably the most spectacular, the Goshikinuma (Five coloured lakes) Track. Along the way, you can see very exotic lakes and the colours differ depending on the mineral content of the water. The hotel has also a nice onsen, and the onsen is a perfect spot to rest your hard-working legs.
Dinner tonight is at a local restaurant.
Day 13: Urabandai
It is free day today, and it is up to you to make it as busy or as relaxed as you please. You can walk one of the many walking tracks, rent a bike from the hotel and ride through a beautiful autumn avenues, take a cruise on a lake or visit an exquisite art gallery.
At the end of the day, we will gather together one last time for a farewell-Japan dinner at the hotel.
Day 14: Bon-Voyage
This morning you check out of your hotel after breakfast and your 2019 Walking Tour of Northern Japan concludes. You can take trains to Narita or Haneda International Airport, or perhaps linger in Japan a little longer. Ask Journey to the East to help you plan your personal tour extension.
Please note 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 & dinners as specified
- All public and private transport for the group itinerary (excluding free time) and JR train ticket to return to Tokyo, Narita Airport or Haneda Airport on Day 14
- SUICA transport IC card pre-loaded with starter credit
- Airport meet & greet on arrival and escorted transfer to hotel by airport coach or train
- Government qualified English-speaking local tour guides
- Cultural activities and entry fees included in 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 when not travelling with the group
- 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