Southern Japan small group holiday

A two week tour of southern Japan, guided in a small group, with a perfect mix of hiking, sightseeing and hot spring bathing.
Kyoto Nara Asuka Kyushu Kurokawa Onsen Takachiho gorge Kumamoto Kagoshima Sayuri hot sand bath Yakushima Yudomari hot springs Nagasaki
£4175excluding flights
15 Days
Small group
Group size
More info
There is a single room supplement, which guarantees you a room to yourself at the western-style hotels on the tour.
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Description of Southern Japan small group holiday

This two week holiday begins in Kyoto, the ancient capital of Kyoto and perfect cultural starting point for this trip. Taking in the vast array of Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines that the city is famous for, we will also explore the regionís natural gems, such as Nara Park at foot of Mount Wakakusa. Heading to Kyushu, the southernmost of Japanís islands, there is a plethora of walking trails with four national parks on this volcanic gem of an island alone.

Historically, Kyushu is considered the birthplace of civilization in Japan and, consequently, is the source of great storytelling and mythology, all of which pervade our explorations of its tracks and trails, villages and homesteads. Highly volcanic, our treks and sightseeing take us past volcanic ranges, and then, for more island wonders, to Yakushima Ė an exquisite national park and UNESCO World Heritage site.

Volcanoes in southern Japan also mean that we get to benefit from many hot spring baths, or Ďonsení which can be found in many of the towns, villages and homes. At one extraordinary onsen that we visit is at Yamakawa you sit in hot sand baths that are heated naturally by thermal springs.


Day 1:Starting in Kyoto, meet at central Kyoto hotel to get to know your guide and fellow group members, followed by a dinner at a nearby restaurant.
Day 2:A day to explore Kyoto, Japanís ancient capital, taking in gems such as the famous Zen temple of Ginkakuji, or a walk along the cherry tree lined canal or Philosopherís path that leads to Nanzen-ji temple. Nijo Castle, built in 1603, is also another wonderful site, built in Momoyama style which was very decorative and opulent, especially as it was the city residence for the Tokugawa Shoguns at that time. Our day comes to a close wandering around Nishiki market, a veritable food fest, Japanese style.
Day 3:After a quick rail journey to the city of Asuka, this ancient town boasts some of the oldest temples in Japan, dating back to the 6th century. As Japanís first capital, this town has a regal history, and it is believed that the burial mounds that are scattered around the town are the resting places of the early emperors. After exploring this fascinating town, we head to Osaka, where we take an overnight ferry to Beppu , on the island of Kyushu.
Day 4:Beppu is known as place with over 2000 hot springs or onsen, tucked into the foothills of volcanic peaks, and so it is usually one steamy place to land in. After breakfast locally, we take a bus to Kurokawa Onsen, one of the areas that is bursting with hot springs. Here we stay in a traditional ryokan inn, and take time to simmer one of the bath houses. Dinner tonight is a traditional Japanese meal, with many courses prepared by an expert chef.
Day 5:Leaving Kurokawa Onsen we travel by bus to Kumamoto where we explore Suizen-ji Garden, a traditional landscape garden including a miniature Mount Fuji. Travelling onwards from Kurokawa Onsen we'll keep eyes peeled for views of Mt. Aso, the largest active volcano in Japan.We'll pause for lunch in Kumanooto and then continue by bus to Takachiho where we will stay for two nights.
Day 6:Takachiho is located in a stunning gorge, where we have a short walk to take in the various volcanic rock formations, as well as here Japanese folklore emanating from these fantastic landscapes. The town is also home to the Amanoiwado shrine, where people pay homage to the Sun Goddess. Located on the River Iwato, people stack stones along the river in small piles, as a mark of them having been there.
Day 7:Leaving Takachiho, we will travel via Kumamoto to the sub tropical city of Kagoshima on the eponymous bay. With views over to Sakurajima volcano, it has a beautiful location but also fascinating history , home to one of Japanís most powerful dynasties, the Shimazu clan. Their villa, Sengan-en, is a stunning place to visit. The food in this region is equally stunning, and somewhat unique, with shochu, the local spirit the preferred drink in this region. Stay in local hotel for next two nights.
Day 8:Take a train along the bay to Oyama, and then a stroll to the famous Sayuri hot sand bath house where you bake and sweat while listening to the sound of the sea, as you are wrapped in sand that is heated by thermal activity. Dinner back in Kagoshima where we stay in hotel for one more night.
Day 9:Our Japanese journey takes us to Yakushima Island today, a UNESCO World Heritage site and easily accessible by jetfoil. The island has an eclectic variety of landscapes and natural features, ranging from sandy beaches, natural hot springs, magnificent ancient cedar or yakusugi forest, and a mountainous interior with 2000m peaks, the most famous being Mount Yakushima. It has a small population, welcomes guests with the usual Japanese charm and innate hospitality, the food is superb with fish, not surprisingly, a specialty. We stay here for three nights.
Day 10:Second day to explore Yakushima and, in particular, the hiking routes through their ancient forest, the giant Ďyakusugií cedar trees, both in height and width, while keeping an eye out for deer and macaques. A truly spectacular temperate rainforest the likes of which one never expects to find in Japan.
Day 11:Day three on Yakushima is all about water, as we head to the stunning Yudomari hot springs which are on the waterfront built into the natural rocky terrain. They are considered by many to be one of the most incredible hot springs in the country. We have lunch here followed by a coastal walk, or a visit to another indoor hot spring at Onoaida, famous for the fact that the water temperature is never regulated as it is at other hot spring baths. So you get what the earth throws out at you.
Day 12:We say farewell to Yakushima and, after returning to Kagoshima, we take a bullet train to Nagasaki. Although it is a busy, modern city today, it is known for being the site of the 1945 atomic bomb attack, and its Peace Park is a very moving site that commemorates this. Stay in city centre hotel and dinner at local restaurant.
Day 13:Our last full day of touring, we head to Nagasakiís Glover Gardens. A museum of mansions and their gardens, in particular that of Thomas Glover, one of the early entrepreneurs who came here from Scotland after Japan opened its country to trade after years of exclusion. A wonderful place to stroll around with views over the bay. In the afternoon, we take the train back to Osaka where we check into a city hotel, and have our farewell group dinner.
Day 14:Last day of holiday, as our guide helps organise onward travel either to Kansai or Itami airports or, if you are staying in Japan, on to your next port of call.

Price information

£4175excluding flights
There is a single room supplement, which guarantees you a room to yourself at the western-style hotels on the tour.
Make enquiry

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1 Reviews of Southern Japan small group holiday

4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed on 22 May 2016 by

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

Seeing Mt Sakurajima look very peaceful and then erupt and having an Onsen by the beach.

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

Pack lightly and be prepared to spend a lot of time on public transport as you travel large distances. While it is called a walking tour you don't actually walk large distances most days.

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

Yes, We stayed in family run accommodation about half the time and ate a lot of local food prepared by locals rather than big companies.

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

Very enjoyable and interesting and run very well by our guide, Kenzo Sato.

Read the operator's response here:

We are delighted you enjoyed your tour in Japan with us. Thank you for sharing your feedback through Responsible Travel.

Responsible Travel

As the pioneers of responsible tourism, we've screened this (and every) holiday so that you can travel knowing it will help support the places and people that you visit, and the planet. Read how below.


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 where there are few work opportunities. In contrast to the most widespread form of tourism here - large groups visiting impersonal concrete hotels - our tours go off the main tourist trail. As well as bringing revenue to these areas, demonstrating the tourist potential of these destinations encourages local people to take pride in and conserve their areas and their older, traditionally constructed buildings.

The village of Aya in Kyushu is at the forefront of organic agriculture in Japan, and is also famous for its production of traditional crafts, such as dyeing and pottery. Our company is one of the few to bring visitors to this beautiful but economically depressed region of Japan.

This area has relied in the past on public works projects financed by central government, which have often been the source of much environmental degradation in Japan. The introduction of rural tourism here will bring a welcome alternative source of revenue.

We have a policy of 'leave no trace' for visiting rural areas. We only use established walking trails to limit damage to vegetation, all rubbish is removed, and the taking of any plants, rocks, etc. is discouraged. We use public transport as much as possible to lessen the environmental impact of this tour.

The presence of a Japanese-speaking tour leader makes a big difference in cultural interaction; it allows for communication between the visitors and local people and lessens the possibility of minor cultural gaffes by foreigners that might otherwise create nervousness on the part of local people 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.


1. Travelling with respect
Our local guides spend a huge amount of time and effort explaining to our clients about local customs and etiquette, so that our clients can interract appropriately with the local community. Japanese culture can feel extremely unfamiliar and habits which we might be second-nature to us (such as blowing our nose) can seem rude to the Japanese. Our pre-departure literature alerts our clients to ways they can avoid giving unintended offence.

2. Local Crafts & Culture
The tour introduces clients to the cultural heritage of an area which has a history going back centuries, but has perhaps not been fully appreciated in recent decades. Our guides are local, knowledgeable individuals who can introduce our guests to the culture, history and traditions of Kyushu.

3. Small group tourism encourages young people who would otherwise leave to find work in the cities to stay and start small-scale sustainable enterprises that cater to visitors. We try to avoid the destinations that cater to mass-market tourism, taking our guest to the lesser-known but if not more rewarding places that larger tour companies tend to avoid due to their unsuitability for large groups. This means our clients money will end up in small community that may have little in the way of work for its young people.

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