Walking tours to Japan

“A two week guided walking holiday, including a guided tour of Tokyo and Kyoto, but with quality time on Japan’s rural highways and highlands. With bus and train transfers. ”


Tokyo | Mt. Fuji foothills | Kiso Valley | Tsumago | Nakasendo Highway | Magome | Tsumago | Kyoto | Daimonji | Nara Basin | Asuka | Mitarai gorge | Osaka | 8 nights in ryokan traditional inns.

Description of Walking tours to Japan

This walking tour to Japan takes you to some of Japan’s most beautiful landscapes as well as the buzzing cities of Tokyo and Kyoto. Going on foot allows you greater insight and access to Japanese culture than on a traditional tour, and each day will bring new foodie and cultural adventures, as well as meaningful interactions with locals.

If you look down at Japan from the air, you’ll see that the islands are mountainous, with a narrow strip of land around the coast and a few inland basins. It is these flat areas that are densely populated. The mountains are surprisingly quiet, with few inhabitants and many deeply ingrained traditions, and it’s here that you’ll spend most of your time on this trip.

Your journey begins in the mega metropolis that is Tokyo, before heading out to admire the iconic Mount Fuji from one of the surrounding hills. Then it’s on to the Kiso Valley, which you’ll explore by way of a legendary walking trail that once connected the Sea of Japan with the Pacific Ocean. In between these bucolic walks, there’s a chance to get to know the back roads, temple gardens and bohemian street culture of Japan’s ancient capital, Kyoto, as well as explore the dynamic city of Osaka.

Travel Team

If you'd like to chat about this holiday or need help finding one we're very happy to help. The Travel Team.

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04 Oct 2020
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Our top tip:
Get walking fit before you go and carry as little as possible during the day when you are there.
Trip type:
Small group
Activity level:
Ryokans and standard hotels.
Accommodation, all breakfasts, 3 lunches, 7 dinners, transport, guide.
Some meals provided or budget £4 street food, £8-10 dinner.
Solo travellers welcome. Surcharge for single rooms when available (often not in ryokans).
Holiday type
Small group holidays
Small group travel is not large group travel scaled down. It is modelled on independent travel – but with the advantage of a group leader to take care of the itinerary, accommodation and tickets, and dealing with the language. It’s easy to tick off the big sights independently – but finding those one-off experiences, local festivals, travelling markets and secret viewpoints is almost impossible for someone without the insider knowledge gained from years in the field. If you’re heading off on a gap year your, perhaps – but for those with a two-week holiday, a small group tour will save valuable planning time.

The leaders are not guides – they’re not there to shepherd you around. Instead, they’ll let you know which local restaurant serves great value food – without running the risk of travellers’ tummy. They’ll allow you to avoid hour-long queues at train stations and attractions.

We like to think of small group travel as the Goldilocks option. It is independent travel without the fuss, worry and bunk beds – and organised travel without the coaches. And it’s cheaper than a tailor made tour. It’s sits somewhere in the middle – and we think it’s just about right.
What are the main benefits?
Big experiences
Have big, life-enriching experiences that would be impossible to organise without lots of time and insider knowledge.

Make the most of your holiday time by letting someone else do the hard work and boring logistics!

Peace of mind
Small group tours take care of the security aspects – and provide a safety net should anything unexpected happen.
Who is it ideal for?
Travellers who are short of time
If you don’t have three months to spend exploring, small groups trips let you cover more ground in less time. Your days are not spent queuing for tickets or finding hotels – so you can squeeze more into your holiday.

Solo travellers who’d like company
Likeminded travel companions plus peace of mind for those travelling alone. Single supplements are usually available – providing privacy if you want it.

Less confident travellers
Stray from the tourist trail without worrying about getting lost, and meet local people without dealing with the language barrier.
“I won’t get any privacy!”
Couples and friends have private rooms, and you can choose to eat alone or not. Single supplements give solo travellers their own room.

“There won’t be any free time”
Free mornings or afternoons let you explore on your own, or just relax.

“The accommodation will be basic”
Trips are as high or low end as you like. Though off the beaten track destinations won’t have luxury hotels, this is all part of the adventure.

“I won’t like the other travellers!”
Tour operators try to create groups with a similar demographic – age, families, activity levels... Chances are, you’ll even make new friends.

“Will we be following an umbrella?”
Meet a group leader
As well as taking care of all the day-to-day practicalities, your group leader is the one who will turn your trip into an adventure. Leaders are extraordinary characters – the kind of person who has spent 14 Christmas days on the slopes of Mount Everest, runs marathons wearing tiger suits to raise funds for their conservation and thinks nothing of leading an overland trip in Sudan or Afghanistan. Fearless and inspiring, group leaders are as important as the destination itself.

Meet a local guide
No matter how experienced your group leader, they can never make up for the knowledge gained from a lifetime in the destination. That’s why many of our trips work with local guides around the world – who invite you into their homeland with pleasure. As well as doing crazy things like climbing Kilimanjaro 100 times, they also donate their time to local projects supported by travellers – such as rebuilding Sri Lankan villages following the 2004 tsunami.

Responsible tourism

As the pioneers of responsible tourism, we screen every trip so you can travel knowing your holiday will help support conservation and local people.

The natural landscapes we explore are some of the richest, often most challenging, yet at the same time some of the most fragile environments on earth. With education, experienced leadership and appropriate equipment and techniques, it is possible to travel responsibly through these regions. For us, it is critically important that such wilderness travel experiences do not diminish the natural values of the environment. We only travel in an intimate group of maximum 13 passengers.

Our environmental sustainable principles: True sustainability is a guiding aspect in all aspects of our business planning and operations. Specifically our tour operations should be managed in a way where the natural and cultural values of the host region are undiminished in the long-term. Where possible, we engage in partnerships with local environmental groups and/or land managers to actively campaign for conservation or promote environmental protection and/or rehabilitation.

Our Responsible Travel Guidebook: Our philosophy since 1975 has been to leave only footprints and take only photographs. To reiterate this, every customer who travels with us receives a copy of our award-winning Responsible Travel guidebook. This detailed book outlines our environmentally sustainable principles, and outlines how each customer can minimize their impact while traveling.

Global Warming and Carbon Balancing: The root cause of Global Warming is society's dependence on emission creating fossil fuel. Planting trees is not going to reverse this trend or cancel our carbon emissions very quickly or effectively. We believe the way to reduce these dependencies is to create clean energy production. Therefore, we support renewable energy projects like wind and solar power, and we are aligned with Climate Friendly, the gold standard setter in effective, meaningful action addressing climate change. So, while we believe that tree planting can play a small role in greenhouse gas abatement, we have gone the extra mile in promoting a longer term solution. Is this cheap? No. Is it responsible? Absolutely!

The Impacts of this Trip

This unique itinerary takes you away from the main tourist paths in Japan and introduces you to a rural Japan that rarely sees any benefit from the tourist dollar. On the trek we stay at local family run inns and live as the locals do. By staying with these families, and traveling in regions which do not rely on tourism, we help provide extra income to local rural communities who otherwise would not benefit at all from purchases made by travelers. Meals are made by the families we stay with and the ingredients are taken from their own crops or from other local families. Purchases from local handicraft and, artisan are encouraged.

However it is the learning of traditional customs and displaying a cultural sensitivity by living like the locals that makes a big difference on this tour. The Japanese “ryokan” is such a delicate environment, with compact spaces and displayed heirlooms, that for the first encounter something of a bull-in-a-china-shop feeling is inevitable - especially in the entrance as shoes are put on and removed.

Traditional-style accommodation means sleeping on “futon” bedding laid out on tatami floors. In the mountains it is usual for groups to sleep together in the same room, modified by sliding partitions. Our inns understand that westerners may be more comfortable with privacy, and assign two-person rooms when there are few other guests. But privacy throughout is difficult to guarantee without paying a premium. Hot showers and tub bathing is at the end of the day when a communal bath is heated (women and men are separated), but usually only wash basins are available in the morning. Japanese love bathing together, communing as they soak. This is a surprisingly good opportunity to meet the locals. Every traveler is thoroughly briefed on Japanese custom which ensures we are welcomed time and again by our Japanese hosts.

Our responsible travel principles: Our company aims to maximise the positive benefits of tourism for host communities. This includes training and employment of local staff, using local suppliers and assisting in the development of sustainable local businesses. We actively minimise the negative effects that tourism can have by ensuring that tourism does not divert resources away from local communities or drive up prices on local resources.

We provide opportunities for real cultural exchange, where locals and visitors alike can share and learn from each other in an environment of mutual respect. We contribute to the welfare of the host community. This is epitomised in our Community Project Travel program where we organise for our travelers to spend time in disadvantaged villages upgrading basic facilities such as health, education and water access. We strive to educate our travelers about the destination and its local cultures as well as providing guidelines on appropriate behaviour to minimise impact.

No local payments policy: Local cash payments are becoming increasingly popular with many operators in the adventure travel industry. This policy seems to benefit the tour operators more than the local economies or the travelers, as it avoids local taxes and transfers the costs and risks of cash handling onto the travelers. In accordance with our Responsible Travel practices, we have chosen a policy of not asking for such payments.


2 Reviews of Walking tours to Japan

4.5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed on 07 Nov 2015 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

We particularly enjoyed Kyoto which gave a mix of city living with the cultural experiences. We visited Sanjusangendo temple which holds 1001 life sized statues, which wasn't a highlight in our guide book but should be in our opinions....it was amazing!

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Although there are ATMs in Japanese cities, they do not accept non Japanese debit cards even where the Visa sign is displayed. So either take cash, or look for 7/eleven stores whose shop ATMs oddly do accept them!

For vegan / vegetarian travellers the local inns will be able to better accommodate your diet if planned in advance. Finding vegan restaurants in cities is tricky even with the address but the address is in English and the street /restaurant signs are obviously in Japanese. Having said that there are some such places and we did find 2.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Staying in the Ryokans would have boosted funds for those families but I'm not sure we benefited the community as such as many of the local museums we were supposed to visit were closed when we were there.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

We really enjoyed it and were lucky enough to be in Osaka whilst the 'Unknown Asa' exhibition was on which was incredible. 200+ creative exhibitions including ceramics, textiles and other art forms.

Reviewed on 22 Oct 2013 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Walking in the countryside - seeing parts of Japan that I would never have
discovered on my own and being guided by a reliable expert.
Asuka, Dorogawa and the Mitarai Gorge were particularly memorable.
Also - wonderful exotic food, charming ryokans and soothing onsens.
(And the company of like-minded fellow travellers.)

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Ensure that you are fit enough to do the walking required, get a really good
rucksack and carry as little as possible. There are drinks and ice creams in
machines everywhere so you don't always need to carry large amounts of water.
(You don't need to take toiletries, towels or night gear as all is provided
by the highly efficient hotels).
Be prepared for the rigours of sleeping on a hard floor with a rice husk
pillow in the ryokans!

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Yes. We travelled on public transport or on foot. Not having a tour bus was
refreshing as we had closer contact with local people. We stayed at family-run
ryokans and experienced genuine locally sourced food, which was fresh,
delicious and exquisitely prepared.
Walking through villages, especially among farmers' fields helped us to
understand local conditions and to see where our food came from.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

This was an excellent trip. I have been on very few organised tours - this was
by far the best. The tour guide, Alena, was an expert on Japan and made our
trip very enjoyable and stress-free (& handled an accident with impressive
efficiency and sympathy).
The choice of hotels and ryokans was good - all well located and comfortable
and the walks were wonderful!

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