2021 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.
2021 Walking Tour of Northern Japan takes you to the walking tracks less visited by international tourists in the hauntingly beautiful northern part of Honshu (main) Island of Japan known as "Tohoku". As well as regional cities and some iconic destinations, you will travel off the beaten path 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 13-day tour, you will have plenty of opportunities for walking through vivid autumn scenery and experience a variety of accommodation styles from 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 spiritually rich areas surrounded by natural beauty, especially for those who are keen to discover Japan beyond the giant cities.
The tour starts in Tokyo and includes a walking guided tour specifically designed to show you the backstreets of everyday neighbourhoods that most tourists miss. However, we highly recommend you spend a few extra days at the beginning and/or the end of the group tour to discover endless attractions of Tokyo, especially if you are first-time visitor of Japan. Journey to the East will be delighted to plan your private itinerary and provide information to suit your interests.
Although the walks are often 8 or10 klms they are designed to be packed with interest opportunities and for you to interact with you informative guide.
Places visited: Tokyo, Dewa Sanzan, Yamagata, Zao, Yamadera, Ginzan Onsen, Sendai, Matsushima, Aizu Wakamatsu and Urabandai
Group size: Minimum 4, 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 futon bedding and shared bathroom facilities.
Fitness level: Good (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 amongst autumn colours
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 Aizuwakamatsu
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 2021 Walking Tour of Northern Japan.
Day 2: Tokyo
On today's guided tour of Tokyo, our guide will focus on the back-streets of Tokyo neighbourhoods where you will find hidden gems which can only be discovered on foot. In the morning, you will visit Tokyo's Marunouchi area in 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 walk through the old Tokyo suburb of 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 in every corner.
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)
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). Dewa Sanzan is a religious hot-spot where Animism, Shintoism, Buddhism and Shugendo have coexisted over the course of its history. It is such an inspirational place, and culturally rich, that you cannot avoid feeling connection with nature and spirituality.
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 (you never knew a vegetarian dinner could taste so good!).
(No group walking today)
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 only 1.7 km (mainly stone steps) but 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)
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)
Day 6: Zao
Our private minibus takes us to Zao, well-known as a winter 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. At this time of the year the pristine landscape will stun you.
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)
Day 7: Yamadera
Our target today by local train is Hojusan Risshakuji, commonly known as Yamadera (literally translates "mountain temple"). Yamadera was established in 860, by the Buddhist monk Jikaku-daishi and is one of the leading sacred places in the Tohoku Region. 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, groups of massive rocks and each with their own story. The view from Godaido (small temple hall) at the top is something you don’t want to miss and will never forget. The ascent takes around 0.5 to 1 hour. You can also enjoy local crafts and restaurants on the way out.
Back at the hotel in Yamagata, you enjoy the last night of hospitable Yamagata.
(Total walking distance today - about 6 km)
Day 8: Ginzan Onsen
We transfer to the remote hamlet of Ginzan Onsen, one of the most quintessential Japanese onsen towns. 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.
Dinner will be a traditional Japanese-style kaiseki banquet of river fish, meat and seasonal mountain vegetables. The night stroll in the beautifully illuminated village centre will remain with you for ever.
(Total walking distance today - about 4 km)
Day 9: Matsushima
A private minivan takes us to the stunning seaside town of Matsushima, which is regarded as one of three most beautiful landscapes in Japan. Matsushima is best known for its wide bay dotted with over 250 pine tree-covered islands.
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. 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. There are many interesting walks at this bayside town with fascinating history and artefacts. We will enjoy the light guided walks this afternoon.
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)
Day 10: Matsushima
This morning, you explore Matsushima for a little longer and take a bay cruise.
In the afternoon, we will head to our next destination Aizuwakamatsu, a quiet town with an intriguing modern history.
Dinner tonight features Aizuwakamatsu cuisine at a local restaurant.
(Total walking distance today - about 3 km)
Day 11: Aizuwakamatsu
Yet another surpise today as we start our experience at Tsurugajo Castle. During the Boshin War (Fr. 1868) that eventually reinstated Imperial rule after centuries of samurai 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 in the complex.
You will also 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, we will drive to our final destination, Urabandai by private minivan. Tonight's hotel features a relaxing onsen overlooking the lake, and it is the perfect spot to rest your hard-working legs.
(Total walking distance today - about 10 km)
Day 12: Urabandai
Urabandai 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 beautiful walking tracks and cycling tracks, and 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, each is a distinctly different colour because of the natural mineral content of the water.
The rest of the day is free 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.
(Total walking distance today - about 5-10 km)
Day 13: Bon-Voyage
This morning, you check out of your hotel after breakfast and your 2021 Walking Tour of Northern Japan concludes. You can take trains to Narita or Haneda International Airport, or perhaps linger in Japan a little longer. We will be delighted to plan your personal post-tour extension to show you a different part of Japan.
Note: The cost of an escorted transfer to your departure airport is not included in our Small Group Tours (as we found many guests choose to stay in Japan a bit longer), but we will be happy to arrange your transfer to next destination or to exit airport. Please see our FAQ for more details.
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.
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.
- 12 nights accommodation with daily breakfast
- Lunches & dinners as specified
- All public and private transport for the group itinerary
- SUICA 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 the group itinerary
- Luggage transfers (1 piece per person)
- International and domestic airfare (unless otherwise stated)
- Transfer on the last day
- 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