|Day 1:||The tour starts in Tokyo. Meet your guide and other group members at the tour hotel in central Tokyo. Start exploring the wonder that is Tokyo.|
|Day 2:||On our second day in Tokyo, we visit Asakusa, famous for the magnificent Senso-ji Buddhist temple, as well as the old residential, or shitamachi, area of Yanaka, After all that walking, end the day on a Sumida River trip to the Hamarikyu gardens.|
|Day 3:||Today we travel to Obuse to experience two contrasting aspects of Japanese culture: wood block printing, at the dedicated museum, and also a sake brewery at Masuichi-Ichimura. From here we visit one of Japan’s most quirky natural sites, the hot springs at Yudanaka Onsen, famous for the ‘snow monkeys’ that come down from the cool heights to bathe in the warm water. Tonight we stay in a, traditional inn known as a ryokan.|
|Day 4:||The Nakasendo Trail is an ancient byway that was used by feudal lords to travel between Kyoto and Edo, which is today’s Tokyo. Along the way, there were traditional post towns where travellers stopped for rest and food. Today we visit Narai, one of the remaining post towns, and still retaining its traditional feel. The Trail is a famous walking trail now, and the accommodations along the way are traditional ryokan inns, or smaller minshuku inns, where we will spend the night.|
|Day 5:||After enjoying some more time on the iconic Nakasendo Trail, including another couple of post towns - Tsumago which is home to a charming Japanese folk museum, and Magome, where we will spend the night in a traditional family run inn, or minshuku. The beautifully-preserved architecture of this village is utterly enchanting.|
|Day 6-7:||Today we head to Takayama in the mountainous Hida region, famous for its beef production, which is a must on the menus during our stay here. With a beautifully conserved old town, known as San-machi, wandering around the ancient houses, artisans’ workshops and narrow streets really does take you back in time.|
|Day 8-10:||Take the train to Kyoto with two days ahead to explore this cultural gem of a city, with imperial palaces, 14 UNESCO sites such as the Golden Pavilion of Kinkakuji. As well as the historic district of Gion with tea houses tucked into ancient wooden houses, and geishas still going about their duties, serenely and secretly.|
|Day 11:||Today we head to the stunning, ancient city of Nara, which was the capital city in the 8th century and saw seven emperors rule from here. And so much of it preserved, with Japan’s highest number of buildings designated National Treasures in one city. Hardly surprising, as it was home to seven consecutive emperors, and also a religious transition from Shintoism to Buddhism. Consequently, religious sites here are a must, such as the Todai-ji temple, the Museum of Buddhist Art as well as the largest Buddha statue in Japan.|
|Day 12:||From cultural highlights to natural ones, we take the superb scenic rail route up to Mount Koya, where no fewer than a hundred Buddhist temples are located. You won’t get to see them all, but you will get to stay in a Buddhist temple’s accommodation tonight, with superb food prepared by the monks. Indeed, Mount Koya is the burial place of Kobo Daishi, the founder of the Shingon Buddhist movement, so it is considered a very holy place.|
|Day 13:||Take the bullet train back to Tokyo.|
|Day 14:||Our tour finishes today. Do please ask our tour leader’s advice if you are extending your trip, or require information on travelling to the airport.|
This tour is part of a new trend in rural tourism in Japan, supporting small, family-run inns and guesthouses, in small towns and villages that often have few work opportunities. Going against the traditional form of tourism in Japan, large concrete resort hotels catering to large groups, our tours go to destinations off the main tourist trail for foreigners in Japan, encouraging local people to conserve older, traditionally-constructed buildings and take pride in their traditions. We use public transport throughout this trip to lessen the environmental impact.
The town of Obuse is a good example of an enlightened policy towards conservation and responsible tourism, where walking between the various restored buildings is encouraged and the local sake brewery is the first in Japan to reintroduce the traditional method of barrel-brewed sake.
The presence of a Japanese-speaking foreign tour leader makes a big difference in cultural interaction, and lessens the possibility of minor cultural gaffes by foreigners that might otherwise create some nervousness on the part of the locals about hosting foreign guests.
We also make a donation for each customer to the Nature Conservation Society of Japan and the Japan National Trust, organisations which help protect the nature and also architectural heritage of Japan.