Rural Japan 15 day tour

Description of Rural Japan 15 day tour

If you're looking for a more authentic and off-the-beaten-path alternative to Japan's futuristic cities, then you need to head out to the rewarding landscapes, epic mountains and tiny islands which make up the majority of this diverse country.

You'll start in Kyoto, a former ancient capital, with a Zazen meditation at Gesshin-In Temple. Then, you'll head south to Hiroshima; a city with a tragic past, reborn into an up-and-coming city of students and young professionals.

Take the ferry to Miyajima Island for the symbolic "floating" torii gate at the island's Shinto shrine, then move onto Shikoku Island for hot spring onsen towns and stunning landscape gardens in Japan's lesser-known cities.

On Naoshima Island, you'll immerse yourself in the island-wide art project of exhibitions and displays, before heading off on a self-drive adventure around the breath-taking Iya Valley region.

Gaze up at the "White Heron" castle of Himeji, stay overnight with monks at a monastery on Mount Koya, then round off your trip with a street food safari through Osaka with a local guide.

This itinerary is packed with unique experiences and unexpected surprises, showing a side to Japan rarely seen by tourists.

Day-by-day experiences

Day 1:Arrival in Osaka & Transfer to Kyoto - Welcome to Japan! You will transfer by private vehicle to your accommodation in Kyoto, making for a smooth and relaxing start to your trip. Journey time is in the region of 90 minutes (dependent upon traffic). Kyoto is one of the most culturally rich cities in Asia. Home to 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites, over 1,600 Buddhist temples and 400 Shinto shrines, this ancient city showcases the heart and soul of traditional Japan.
Day 2:Tour of Kyoto - We will arrange for you to be accompanied by a local professional guide today. This is the best way to explore Kyoto, a city so rich in UNESCO World Heritage sites that it can be hard to know where to start! Our carefully-selected guides will reveal Kyoto’s intricate culture, introducing you to famous must-see spots as well as secret corners of the city that only the locals know.
Day 3:Zazen Meditation - Gesshin-in is a sub-temple Kodai-ji which is located north east of Yasaka Hokanji Temple at the foot of beautiful Higashiyama Mountains in the east of the city. It is a beautifully tranquil spot and a great place to take part in a traditional Zazen meditation. The chief priest, Teramae Join will instruct you in how to sit, breath and focus before initiating a short 10 minute session of meditation. After sounding a bell to break you from your trance, he will give a further explanation of the ways of Zen before beginning another short period of contemplation. He is then able to answer any questions you have about this form of meditation, Buddhism or life in general!
Day 4:Transfer to Hiroshima & Miyajima Island - To help you get the most out of your time in Hiroshima, we will arrange a private professional guide to be at your disposal today. As a local to Hiroshima, the guide can walk you through the city’s tragic past and explain how the city has emerged as a cultural hotspot with a lively food scene, as well as an industry hub, home to Mazda. You could also opt to take a half day trip across to the sacred shrine island of Miyajima.
Day 5:Exploring Miyajima - Today you will have a free day to explore Miyajima Island. Miyajima is famous for its floating torii gate at Itsukushima Shrine, which is ranked as one of Japan's Top Three Sights and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The other main highlight is the view from the top of Mount Misen, which can be hiked or reached by cable car. Hiking up the 500 m peak takes 1.5 to 2 hours, and at the summit you’re rewarded with sweeping views of the island-dotted Seto Inland Sea and the coastline of Hiroshima Bay. You may even encounter some of the native monkey population! You may also like to hire bikes to get around. These are available to rent from 8am to 5pm at the JR ferry pier (last checkout is 3pm) costing 1,050 yen for the entire day. The island has excellent cycle paths and the coastal routes are fairly flat. On the northeast coast lies Tsutsumigaura, a 1 km long white-sand beach lined with pine trees. The beach is packed with sunbathers, swimmers and windsurfers in July and August, but in the off-season Tsutsumigaura makes a lovely serene place to relax.
Day 6:Transfer to Matsumaya - Matsuyama is a charming castle town in Ehime Prefecture which is most famous for its hot spring area, Dogo Onsen. Dogo Onsen is the oldest hot spring in Japan and is even mentioned in the oldest book of Japanese classical history, Nihon Shoki. The top of the main hot spring building is decorated with the legendary white heron and a large drum is beaten at 6:30 every morning to announce the bath opening. You can enjoy a bath with the locals or just dip your feet in the outdoor footbath to take away those aches and pains after a long day sightseeing. Matsuyama's samurai castle is also impressive and gives great views of the town.
Day 7:Transfer to Takamatsu - Takamatsu is the largest city in Kagawa Prefecture in the northeast corner of Shikoku Island. Takamatsu faces the Inland Sea and has a long history as a port, acting as something of a link between Shikoku and the main island of Honshu. The city's top attraction is Ritsurin Koen, one of Japan's finest examples of a landscape garden and considered by many to be on a par with the famous 'Big Three' gardens of Mito, Okayama and Kanazawa. Also of interest are Yashima, a flat-topped mountain and nearby Shikoku-Mura, a collection of traditional houses and other buildings brought from all over Shikoku to display local architecture and construction techniques.
Day 8:Ferry to Naoshima Island - Naoshima could easily be another pretty, but forgotten island in the Seto Inland Sea scraping a living from fishing. However a unique art project has given Naoshima its deserved global reputation. Naoshima is home to a large collection of contemporary art galleries, exhibits and installations which offer a tour de force of architectural expression integrating art and the natural environment. Two of the main galleries, the Chichu Art Museum and Benesse House, were designed by the world famous architect Tadao Ando and feature works by Claude Monet, Walter de Maria, James Turrell, Andy Warhol, Richard Long and Bruce Nauman among others. Distances between the main art sites are small and the picturesque island can be explored on foot or by bike. Bicycles are available to hire at Miyanoura Port.
Day 9:Driving the Iya Valley - Today you will drive from Takamatsu to the Iya Valley. We recommend taking Route 32 which will see you drive along the length of the Iya Valley. This road is not for the faint of heart though, as it is mostly one lane, very twisty, and often on the side of steep cliffs, though the scenery is breathtaking and the gorge here is almost completely undeveloped. About half-way you can also stop at the famous Peeing Boy statue, or ride down to the bottom via cable car for a riverside bath at the Iya Onsen.
Day 10:Exploring Iya Valley - Today you have a free day to further explore Iya Valley at your own pace. Making the most of your rental car you'll be able to explore all the dramatic mountain scenery, historic vine bridges, hot springs and thatched-roof villages across this beautiful region. Most visitors only get to Kazurabashi vine bridge, while the other bridges are much quieter. So too is stunning Iya Gorge at the lower end of the valley which is still very undeveloped. Ochiai Hamlet meanwhile boasts some of the prettiest traditional buildings and farmland.
Day 11:Return to Takamatsu & Transfer to Himeji - Today you will need to drive north to Takamatsu. We recommend taking Route 32 which will see you drive along the length of the Iya Valley. This road is not for the faint of heart though, as it is mostly one lane, very twisty, and often on the side of steep cliffs, though the scenery is breathtaking and the gorge here is almost completely undeveloped. About half-way you can also stop at the famous Peeing Boy statue, or ride down to the bottom via cable car for a riverside bath at the Iya Onsen. Himeji is home to the famous 'White Heron' Castle, one of only 12 surviving original castles from the feudal era in all of Japan, Himeji-jo is certainly the most impressive with its extensive ramparts and dramatic keep rising up above the city. Sometimes (but not always) free English language tours are available giving you an insight into the governance of feudal Japan and the role that Himeji castle played in the controlling of this region of Western Japan. Just outside the castle grounds you can find Koko-en gardens, a haven of tranquillity with a range of different garden styles. The central tea house provides an opportunity to sit down, relax, rest your feet and contemplate.
Day 12:Transfer to Mount Koya - Mount Koya (known as Koya-san in Japanese) is one of the holiest mountains in all of Japan and the plateau at the top is home to more than 100 temples and monasteries. Koya-san is the headquarters of the Shingon sect, an esoteric school of Buddhism which has over ten million members and 4,000 temples in Japan. There has been a religious community here since 816 when it was founded by a monk named Kukai after he returned from studying for two years in China. Koya is a very peaceful and beautiful wooded area and some great walking is also available. The atmosphere is truly magical, making this a lovely place to unwind and relax. Japan can often be a hectic place and this is a real tonic!
Day 13:Transfer to Osaka - Osaka is Japan's second city and an extremely vibrant and lively place to stay. There may not be any real 'tourist' sights but it is just the life on the streets that makes Osaka such a fascinating city to visit. Osaka people work hard and play hard and it really shows with the vast number of restaurants, bars and all round entertainment available. The city aquarium is world class and you cannot stay in Osaka without taking a ride on one of the city's several giant big wheels, perhaps the most dramatic of which is perched on top of the Hep 5 department store in the Umeda district of the city - just don't look down if you are afraid of heights! Osaka Castle is well worth a visit despite being a reconstruction as the original was burnt down during the firebombing at the end of World War Two and you will find a variety of very interesting museums scattered throughout the city. After dark Osaka really comes alive, and a walk through the bright lights of the Nanba district is a great way to take in the atmosphere, with some great people-watching opportunities. With literally thousands of restaurants, bars and entertainment spots to choose from, Osaka is perfect for a big night out, some hearty local food and the chance to let your hair down. Osaka really is one of Japan's truly all action cities and a stay here is a chance to experience what life in modern day urban Japan is really like.
Day 14:Osaka Cycling Tour - Today you'll join a cycling tour for a 3 hour ride around the northern half of Osaka City with a guide. You'll start near the banks of Nakanoshima Island and follow peaceful tree lined riverside paths past some of Osaka's best preserved pre war buildings. From there the group heads to Osaka's most famous landmark, Osaka Castle. After exploring the Castle grounds, you'll visit the beautifully manicured, historically interesting, and ridiculously photogenic Utsubo Park, where you can enjoy the gardens. Water, helmets and bike rental are included in the price so you can just sit back, relax and enjoy the city!
Day 15:Departure from Japan - Sadly your time in Japan must come to an end. You will be met at your hotel by your driver and will have a smooth transfer by private car to Osaka's Kansai International Airport. Journey time is around an hour, depending on traffic. We wish you a safe flight home.

Travel Team

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Departure information

This trip can be tailor made throughout the year to suit your requirements
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Responsible tourism

Responsible tourism: Rural Japan 15 day tour

Environment

This cultural tour makes the most of travelling around Japan via public transport, just as the locals do. This includes trips via train (including Japan's famous Shinkansen bullet trains, which are an attraction in themselves), subways, local buses, cable cars, boats and ferries, trams and also bikes, which are best for exploring rural Japan. Travelling this way reduces carbon emissions and road congestion, making it a more environmentally friendly option.

This tour also includes a three-hour cycling tour of Osaka with a local tour guide, which is both an eco-friendly and fun way to explore the city. Miyajima Island and Naoshima Island are also great places to explore via rental bike.

We only work with hotels and guesthouses which share our commitment to sustainable tourism and environmental responsibility, especially in terms of recycling and energy conservation initiatives. For example, the ANA Hotel Matsuyama, in the city of Matsuyama, is an IHG Green Engage Hotel and it strives to implement the Green Solutions which are aimed at reducing energy, water and waste, and cutting carbon emissions.

To further keep up sustainable practices during your trip, we recommend you carry your own reusable, non-plastic chopsticks or cutlery, as Japan gets through 24 billion pairs of ‘waribashi’ (disposable chopsticks made of wood or bamboo) every year. That's 185 pairs for every person in Japan! There are also ample recycling facilities in the country and as tap water is drinkable, we urge you to use a refillable bottle rather than buying bottled water.

Community

We are committed to responsible, sustainable and ethical tourism in Japan, and we’re proud to work with a fantastic local operator that shares our values with regards to responsible tourism. This tour of off-the-beaten-path Japan focuses on lesser-known destinations, thereby supporting the communities in areas which don't benefit from as many tourists as the more famous cities and towns.

Our tour activities focus on authentic cultural experiences, such as a Zazen meditation experience with Teramae Join, the head priest at Gesshin-in temple in the Higashiyama Mountains and a visit to the the charming and traditional Ochiai Hamlet in Iya Valley.

Your stays in rural Japan will also be a chance to support local communities, as this tour includes an overnight stay at a monastery at Mount Koya, where you will live how the monks do; as well as stays in traditional (and often family-run) Japanese ryokans, such as the historic Iwaso Ryokan in Hiroshima. In Iya Valley, you'll stay at the Iya Onsen Hotel, which prides itself on locally-sourced ingredients for its spectacular kaiseki meals.

We believe that the best way to learn about the culture of Japan is through immersive experiences like these, which often benefit the local community as well. By gaining a deeper understanding about Japan’s culture, traditions, rich heritage and religious beliefs you’re likely to have a much more interesting and meaningful travel experience.

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