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2020 Walking Tour of Northern Japan

2020 Walking Tour of Northern Japan

You walk through spiritual mountains, national parks ablaze in autumn colours and authentic onsen villages while experiencing rural landscapes and the warm traditional  hospitality of northern Japan.

Days Price Departure Availability
14 AU$7,750 7 October 2020 Available

Tour Outline

2020 Walking Tour of Northern Japan takes you to the walking tracks less visited by international tourists in the northern part of Honshu (main) Island of Japan known as "Tohoku". As well as regional cities and some iconic destinations, you will travel through remote and rural parts of this otherwise very industrialised county.

After arriving in Tokyo, you will travel by bullet train (the shinkansen) to the spiritual Dewa Sanzan, the northern answer to southern Japan's Kumano Kodo, and experience some fascinating rituals. On this unique 14-day tour, you will have plenty of opportunities for walking through vivid autumn scenery of Urabandai. Be rewarded by a spectacular view at ancient Yamadera after ascending 1,100 steps.  We explore Matsushima, which is regarded as one of three most beautiful landscapes in Japan. You will experience a variety of accommodation styles from basic shukubo (temple lodging) to traditional ryokan (Japanese inn), to regional city hotels and western-style mountain resorts.

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.

  • 7 October Tour
    Price: AU$7,750 per person twin share (single supplement AU$2,300)
    Tour Code: GHN-20
    Start: Wednesday 7th October 2020 in Tokyo
    End: Tuesday 20th October 2020 in Urabandai

Places visited: Tokyo, Dewa Sanzan, Yamagata, Zao, Yamadera, Ginzan Onsen, Sendai, Matsushima, Aizu Wakamatsu and Urabandai

Group size: Maximum 8

Transport: Train, public bus, private minivan and taxi

Accommodation: Minimum 3 - 4 star hotels in Tokyo, Yamagata, Matsushima, Aizu Wakamatsu and Urabandai, shukubo (temple lodging) and ryokan in Tsuruoka, ryokan in Ginzan Onsen (temple lodging is a basic accommodation with shared bathroom facilities)

Fitness level: Good (please refer to FAQ)

Tour type: Active

Tour Highlights

Dewa Sanzan
Join the pilgrims at Dewa Sanzan and go through fascinating rituals
Dewa Sanzen Shukubo
Experience shukubo (real temple lodging) and traditional onsen ryokan
Dewa Sanza Walkiing
Pristine Japanese nature walking through national parks
Urabandai
Walking in spectacular Urabandai amongst autumn colours
Nezu - Tokyo
Guided walking tour of the back streets of Tokyo
Mt Norikura Autumn
Immerse yourself in the stunning autumn coloured mountains
Locals of Tohoku
Interact with locals and enjoy the special Tohoku hospitality
Aizu Wakamasu
Walk the historical towns of Matsushima and Aizu-Wakamatsu

Itinerary

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 2020 Walking Tour of Northern Japan.

Tokyo (Park Hotel Tokyo or similar)
No Meals
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 new shogun moved here. Our guide will focus on the back-streets of Tokyo neighbourhoods where you will find hidden gems which can only be discovered through walking. In the morning, you will visit Tokyo's Marunouchi area between the beautifully restored 100-year-old Tokyo Station and Imperial Palace Plaza.

After lunching at a restaurant among the Japanese office workers of Marunouchi, we will move to an old Tokyo suburb, Yanaka. Having survived the Great Kanto Earthquake and air-raids during WWII, Yanaka retains many traditional wooden houses and the old charm of Japanese suburbs. It is also popular with artists and craftspeople, and is dotted with lovely tiny shops on every corner. This afternoon, we will wander through Yanaka before heading back to our hotel in the late afternoon.

The welcome dinner tonight will be at a Japanese restaurant high above Tokyo with views of the city and Tokyo Bay.

(Total walking distance today - about 10 km)

Tokyo (Park Hotel Tokyo or similar)
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 3: Dewa Sanzan

Leaving Tokyo behind us on Japan’s impressive bullet-train – the shinkansen – we travel to Niigata.  There we change to a local train which 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 the three mountains of Dewa).

We stay at shukubo (working temple lodging) to prepare for the pilgrims' walk the next day. Dinner tonight is shojin ryori, Buddhist vegetarian cuisine served with the regions fresh rice, mountain vegetables and mushrooms.

(No group walking today)

Tsuruoka (Shukubo – a Japanese style private room with shared toilet and bathroom)

Breakfast, Dinner
Day 4: Dewa Sanzan

Today you will receive 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 worship for the last 1,400 years. The three 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 during good weather as it’s path is along the open ridge of the mountain. At the 8th station of Gassan we take the 2 km circuit boardwalk through the beautiful wetland (about 1.5 hours).

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.

(Total walking distance today - about 5-8 km)

Tsuruoka (Japanese style ryokan – a Japanese style private room with toilet facility but with shared shower/bath)

Breakfast (Japanese style), Dinner
Day 5: Dewa Sanzan to Yamagata

This morning, you will tackle the last mountain, Yudonosan (future or rebirth). There are so many secret rituals in this part of the pilgrimage and you are not allowed to take photographs on this mountain. It is also a 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 at the heart of Tohoku, with numerous local speciality foods, sake and festivals. We will enjoy the Tohoku hospitality at a local izakaya restaurant tonight along with cultural entertainment.

(Total walking distance today - about 5 km)

Yamagata (Richmond Hotel Yamagata Ekimae or similar)

Breakfast (Japanese style), Dinner
Day 6: Zao

Our private mini bus takes us to Zao, well-known as a ski resort. Ascending by a cable car and a chair lift to the plateau, we take an incredible guided hike on one of the many hiking courses amongst blazing autumn coloured mountains. We walk along the picturesque caldera lakes and waterfalls.

Tonight you will be back at Yamagata City and you are free to explore the city’s restaurants and warm hospitality.

(Total walking distance today - about 10 km)

Yamagata (Richmond Hotel Yamagata Ekimae or similar)

Breakfast
Day 7: Yamadera

Our target today by local train is Hojusan Risshakuji, commonly known as Yamadera.

Yamadera was established in 860, by the Buddhist monk Jikaku-daishi and is one of the leading sacred places in the Tohoku Region. 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 of the 1,100 stone steps, you will be fascinated along the way by the dozens of stone monuments, small temples and groups of massive rocks . The 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 the way out.

In the afternoon we transfer to the remote hamlet, 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. Do take a night stroll in the beautifully illuminated village centre.

(Total walking distance today - about 6 km)

Ginzan Onsen (Japanese style inn)

Breakfast, Dinner
Day 8: Ginzan Onsen

Today you will amble through the atmospheric onsen town of Ginzan Onsen. Ginzan means silver mine, and as the name suggests silver was discovered here in the 16th century and a government owned silver mine was operating during the Edo period. You can walk to the mine site through a beautiful park along the river and waterfalls.

In the afternoon, you will travel by a private minivan to your next destination Sendai. Sendai with a population of just over 1 million, it is the largest city in Tohoku. Enjoy a lively evening here as a contrast to the last few days.

(Total walking distance today - about 4 km)

Sendai (Mitsui Garden Hotel Sendai or similar)

Breakfast (Japanese style), Dinner
Day 9: Matsushima

Today a local train will take us to the stunning seaside town of Matsushima. Matsushima is best known for its wide bay dotted with 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.

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 overlooking the bay.

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 7 km)

Matsushima (Taikanso or similar)

Breakfast, Dinner
Day 10: Matsushima

Today, you explore Matsushima for a little longer before making your way back to Sendai.

Your guide will provide some background on the history of Sendai and the local hero, forever popular daimyo lord, Date Masamune, who controlled the area in the early 1600s. Fondly called the One-Eyed Dragon (he lost the sight of his right eye as a result of catching smallpox when he was a child), the city is dotted with sites and monuments which pay tribute to this popular samurai.

Tonight is at leisure for you to discover Sendai at your own pace. Sendai is a modern city, however still full of Tohoku's warm hospitality and has many local specialties. Why not try Sendai's famous gyutan - charcoal grilled cow's tongue!

(Total walking distance today - about 5 km)

Sendai (Mitsui Garden Hotel Sendai or similar)

Breakfast
Day 11: Aizuwakamatsu

Today we move to Aizuwakamatsu, a quiet town with an intriguing modern history.

We start our experience at Tsurugajo Castle. During the Boshin War (Fr. 1868) that eventually reinstated Imperial rule after centuries of samurai rules, 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 in the complex.

Dinner tonight features Aizuwakamatsu cuisine at a local restaurant.

(Total walking distance today - about 5 km)

Aizu Wakamatsu (New Palace Hotel or similar)

Breakfast, Dinner
Day 12: Urabandai

This morning, you stroll the charming streets of Nanokamachi which is full of traditional crafts and food items. In particular, we visit a sake brewery where you can see the sake production method and participate in tasting.

In the afternoon, 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 an action-packed tour. There are many walking tracks and cycling tracks, and today we will walk arguably the most spectacular of these, the Goshikinuma (five coloured lakes) Track. Along the way, you can see the very exotic lakes where the colours differ depending on the mineral content of the water. Tonight's hotel features a relaxing onsen overlooking the lake, and it is the perfect spot to rest your hard-working legs.

Tonight dinner is western style.

(Total walking distance today - about 10 km)

Urabandai (Urabandai Kogen Hotel or similar)

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 13: Urabandai

It is a 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 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.

Urabandai (Urabandai Kogen Hotel or similar)

Breakfast, Dinner
Day 14: Bon-Voyage

This morning you check out of your hotel after breakfast and your 2020 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.

N.B. It takes about 4 hours from Urabandai to Narita Airport. If you are departing on the last day, please book your flight in the late afternoon onwards.

Breakfast

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.

Inclusions

Inclusions:

  • 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 preloaded 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)

Exclusions:

  • 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