After uncovering Kyoto's most ancient shrines and pathways, we head off the beaten track to the Kumano Kodo region; one of Japan's most remote and rewarding pilgrimage routes. This moderate walking trip focuses on beautiful scenery and nature, rural life, and following in the footsteps of religious pilgrimages on some of the country's most historic walks.
Staying in traditional ryokans along the way, this journey invites full immersion into the authentic Japanese culture and way of life. Afterwards, we visit Toba to learn about the famous Ama Divers and embark on one last pilgrimage walk on the famous Nakasendo Way, before entering back into the modern civilisation of Tokyo!
Japan has four very distinct seasons. Our aim has been to avoid the extremely cold winters and humid summers and settle for the more pleasant climes of spring and autumn. In Tokyo, September and October are warm, maximum temperatures are 26ºC and minimum 12ºC. September is likely to be the warmer of the two and there is a likelihood of rain. March is cooler with temperatures possibly going as low as 7ºC with a high of 17ºC. Kyoto is very similar climatically to Tokyo but the higher up into the mountains we venture, the colder it will become with nights being especially cold, particularly in March and October.
Traditional Ryokans/Guesthouses and Hotels
During the trip you will spend 9 nights in traditional guesthouses/ryokans in Japanese style rooms (shared bathrooms) and 4 nights in comfortable hotels (en suite).
For 9 nights during the trip we stay in ryokans; comfortable traditional inns where we are able to get a close feel for the timeless rhythms and customs of the Japanese countryside. Ryokans, whilst comfortable and full of local character, do not run along the same lines as western hotels and do all have their own unique style; some are more like Japanese B&B's with a homestay feel and guests make their own Japanense style beds up, whilst others are managed more like a standard hotel with bedding made up for guests. Rooms do not generally have private facilities and bedding is usually in the Japanese style with thick futon mattresses placed on tatami mats on the floor. Rooms are always doubles or twin-share but bathrooms and showers are generally communal. Please be advised, whilst females and males will be have access to seperate gender specific bathrooms, inside showering and bathing facilities can lack the level of privacy you would be used to in a western style shared bathroom. This is very common in Japan and by staying in mostly traditional ryokans, there is the chance to have a very authentic cultural experience throughout the tour.
On day 5 of the tour, the groups will stay in Nonaka. Please note, due to the smaller sizes of accommodation in this location, bigger groups may be accommodated across two minshuku inns this evening in Nonaka and the neighbouring village (5 minute drive) Chikatsuyu. However, the group will still have meals together in one of the accommodations if bigger groups stay in two inns. In Kyoto and Tokyo, groups will be accommodated in comfortable hotels (Western style) with rooms that have private bathrooms.
Please be advised that the accommodation listed in each location of the day to day itinerary are the standard accommodations used. However, there may be some departures where groups stay at similar accommodations of the same standard and quality.
Please be advised single supplements are very limited and only available 5 nights of the trip- (3 nights Kyoto, 1 night Katsuura and 1 night Tokyo). Please advise at time of booking you would like to request a single supplement (subject to availability). In Japan, often single supplements can be accommodated in either an actual single and/or double for sole use room in hotels.
The walk durations vary from a relaxed 2 hour hike up to a couple days with hikes of 7-9 hours duration. Days 5, 6, and 8 will be the most challenging in terms of the walks due to the distances and some of the terrain having some long ascents and descents. Therefore, a good level of fitness is essential to take part in this trip. On some walks there may be the possibility to take a local bus to the next stop on the trip for those wishing to cut some walks short, but this won't be possible on all walks. The trails are generally very well marked and most of the walking is on good paths, soft soil trails and part paved roads. There are some unpaved sections though. This is not a traditional point-to-point walking trip, there are several days where transfers are taken by bus or local train to the start points of walks and/or from the end point of walks to the next accommodation.
Those on the group flight will arrive into Kansai Airport and will be transferred to Kyoto. With about 2000 temples, shrines and gardens, Kyoto is a treasure house of Japan's cultural heritage and remains undoubtedly one of the most fascinating cities in Asia. Unlike many other Japanese cities it escaped the ravages of both the Second World War and modern urban development, thereby keeping intact much of the spirit and architecture of traditional Japan.
This evening there will be a briefing with your leader.
This morning we set out on our first hike to the northern mountains and the Kibune shrine, followed by the Kurama temple and hot springs. Our first stop of the day, however is going to be the Ginkakuji - Silver Pavilion. From Ginkakuji we climb up to the Daimonji mountain for an excellent view of Kyoto and then take a short train ride north to Kibune-guchi where the hike to Kibune and Kifune shrine begins.
Kifune shrine was built upon the site where supposedly a goddess finished her long journey via a boat. The small town of Kibune sprang into existence shortly after to complement the shrine. Dedicated to the deity of water and rain, all those who seek protection and maritime safety come here to pray - especially the seamen and fishermen. The charming town is dotted with traditional restaurants and inns, with river streams running beneath the restaurant platforms. It's an excellent opportunity to relax for a bit, especially for those that would like to escape the crowds of Kyoto.
We then set out further on our hike for Kurama town, renowned for its Kurama temple and special hot springs. The temple is nestled deep in the woods and requires a fair bit of legwork to reach, but those who do venture to the temple are rewarded with beautiful scenery along the path. The true charm of Kurama however lies in its hot springs where at the end of today's hike you will be able to enjoy soaking in the warm waters. (optional- extra cost). Well known for their higher sulphur content, the waters of Kurama are believed to have many beneficial and healing properties, especially for the skin. The experience of soaking in an outdoor hot spring surrounded by lush forests and majestic mountains is truly unforgettable.
We return to Kyoto for the evening where you can choose to join an optional group dinner in the Gion district if you wish.
Hotel Resol Kyoto Trinity Oike Fuyacho or similar Meals included: breakfast
Leaving the north of Kyoto behind, today we will embark on a journey in the opposite direction. Together we enjoy a pleasant hike on the Yamano be no michi. The path is believed to be the oldest still existing road connecting Edo (present day Tokyo) with the western parts of Japan with a history of more than 1200 years. Starting in present day Nara and spanning through what used to be Yamato - the cradle of Japanese civilisation, the trail will take you through over 15 kilometers of distance and two millennia worth of history. Along the trail you will discover gems and relics of distant past, like the sacred shrine of Omiwa. It is believed that the shrine is the oldest one still standing in Japan, dating well back into 7th century BC. Apart from the Omiwa shrine, there are many temples and shrines dotting the trail that are worth the visit and the trail itself runs through lush forests and comfortable paths, as well as rural villages where you can experience the true Japanese hospitality as fruit vendors often offer their locally grown fresh produce to visitors to give them an extra bit of energy for hiking the trail.
In the late afternoon you will return to Kyoto and enjoy an evening at leisure. Overnight in Kyoto.
Hotel Resol Kyoto Trinity Oike Fuyacho or similar Meals included: breakfast
Today we make an early start to visit the arguably most iconic sight of Kyoto - Fushimi Inari Taisha Shinto Shrine. The common folk have worshipped the deity of good harvest and good business since as early as the 7th century. Inari - the deity that feed, clothes and protects households became immensely popular over the centuries and shrines dedicated to this deity are the most numerous in Japan.
Even today, to show gratitude for good business as well as to beckon good fortune in future endeavors businessmen and enterpreneurs from all corners of Japan donate a so called Torii arch to the shrine in hope of gaining the continuous favour of the deity. Although this custom is fairly recent, the mountain path through the shrine is dotted with thousands of the torii arches. This makes for a wonderful morning stroll at the break of dawn. An early start and beating the crowds is recommended, otherwise you will have to compete with the hundreds and thousands of visitors Fushimi Inari attracts on a daily basis. After the hike we return to the hotel. The rest of the morning and early afternoon are free for visiting some of the famous sights in Kyoto such as the Imperial Palace and Nijo castle or the Golden Pavillion and lunch.
In the afternoon we leave Kyoto by train and head to Kumano Kodo, a series of ancient pilgrimage routes, dating back to over 1,000 years, when Japan's imperial ancestors made pilgrimage trips from Kyoto. Located in the Kii Peninsula, the largest in Japan, the trails along Kumano Kodo are an incredible site for hiking.
By train we reach Tanabe city on the coast at the tip of the Kii peninsula. We will spend the night in this lovely rural seaside town.
Miyoshi Ryokan or similar Meals included: breakfast & dinner
After an early breakfast, we take a bus to Takijiri-oji, the starting point of the pilgrimage from where we make our way on foot to Takahara. This is the steepest part of the trail, leading to Takahara Shrine, a Shinto shrine surrounded by ancient camphor trees. From the shrine, we walk towards Takahara Village, also called 'kiri-no-sato' (village in the fog), a small quiet town with rice terraces and surrounded by forests.
The trail continues upwards until we reach the teahouse named Uwadawa-jaya, from where the trail begins to descend, passing by ruin shrines and small villages of Osakamoto-oji and Chikatsuyu-oji, crossing Kitano-bashi Bridge, and following the road to Nonaka-no-Shimizu, a source of potable water that also belongs to the Top 100 Famous Bodies of Water in Japan.
Around Nonaka-no-Shimizu, the group will be staying in a minshuku, a traditional family-style inn that offers Japanese-style rooms. Your dinner will feature some local specialties from the Kumano Kodo region.
Please note, due to the smaller sizes of accommodation in this location, bigger groups may be accommodated across two minshuku inns this evening. However, the group will still have meals together in one of the accommodations in that case. As our hike tomorrow is a bit longer, it is highly suggested to turn in early.
Minshuku Nonaka Sanso / Nakano or similar Meals included: breakfast, lunch & dinner
Today's hike starts from Nonaka-no-Shimizu. We first start walking uphill, and head towards the woods to see Tsugizakura-oji, a sub-shrine located at the top of steep stairs leading into a thick forest of huge cedar trees that are believed to be almost a century old. Next to the entrance of Tsugizakura-oji, we will find Toganoki-jaya, a replica of a traditional Japanese-style teahouse.
We then continue with a slow ascent to Kobiro-toge pass, followed by a relatively downward trail along a series of paved and unpaved paths, passing Jagata-jizo, which is believed to protect the travelers from evil spirits, a couple river crossings and passing by thick forests of cedar and cypress trees until we reach Kumano Hongu Taisha, the head shrine of more than 3,000 Shinto shrines in the Kumano area.
After visiting the shrine, we transfer by local bus to Yunomine Onsen, one of the oldest and most crucial hot spring resorts in Japan as it used to be the place where pilgrims cleansed themselves before praying at Kumano Hongu Taisha. Tonight you will stay at a ryokan, another traditional Japanese-style inn, where you will sleep on a futon, have access to the public onsen, and enjoy your bento style dinner.
Iseya Ryokan or similar Meals included: breakfast, lunch & dinner
After breakfast we take a bus from Yunomine Onsen to Ukegawa where today's hike (mainly along unpaved road) will commence. Today during the hike we pass by the remains of an old teahouse called Matsuhata-jaya and Hyakken-gura, one of the top spots in Wakayama to see the surrounding Kumano mountain range, which consists of around 3,600 peaks.
From here we continue on a mainly level road towards the remains of the Sakura-jaya teahouse, before descending from the hills, along a path with cobblestones that can be slippery especially if wet or covered with moss. At the foot of the hill, we should find some small prayer tablets that have been left there by other spiritual hikers as offerings. We continue onto Koguchi, the end of today's walk where we take a bus via Kanmaru to Kawayu onsen. This place is famous for the hot spring inside a river. Here you can dig a hole in the river bedding and create your own open air hot spring bath. Tonight, we stay in another Japanese-style room.
Omuraya Ryokan or similar Meals included: breakfast, lunch & dinner
This morning we return to Koguchi to begin our hike. Today's trail is one of the most challenging sections of Kumano Kodo - it will take us through forested hills and along unpaved roads. However, a series of historical sites and wonderful views awaits as we pass by Waroda- ishi rock (where the Kumano deities are believed to meet and chat over tea), through the woods of Irokawatsuji, and over Funami-toge Pass, where we have a glimpse of the Pacific Ocean.
After hiking for almost 8 hours, we arrive in Nachi. Here we will see Nachi Falls, the highest waterfall in Japan, and pay a visit to Kumano Nachi Taisha shrine. Later in the afternoon you will transfer by local bus to Katsuura, where you will stay at a Japanese Inn on the beautiful islet dotted Katsuura Bay. Listening to the sounds of the waves while watching the sunset will surely be one of your most memorable moments in Kumano Kodo.
Hotel Sunrise Katsuura or similar Meals included: breakfast, lunch & dinner
After having your breakfast, get ready for a short walk to return to Katsuura station on foot (luggage will be transferred to the station for the group), from where we begin our journey by train to Toba, located in the neighboring Mie Prefecture where we will spend the next 2 nights at a ryokan in Japanese style rooms.
Ryokan Otaya or similar Meals included: breakfast & dinner
The rural Mie Prefecture is famous for its forested landscapes and Mediterranean looking coastlines. The area is also famous for producing some of the freshest seafood in Japan and, in its waters, pearl cultivation has become an important activity. Today after breakfast, learn all about the life of Ama divers. The female divers are famous for their centuries long tradition of diving for pearls without oxygen masks.
We then head to Mikimoto Pearl Island where there will be an opportunity to witness an Ama diver fishing demonstration. Afterwards, we continue to the town of Osatsu, a village known for their Ama divers. Visit the hut of an Ama, who will prepare a beautiful grilled seafood meal.
After lunch, we continue to the Ise Shrine, one of the most sacred areas for the Shinto religion and a favourite pilgrimage destination for Japanese people. Just a short walk away, the picturesque district of Okage-Yokocho offers a great outlook on the traditional side of the area with its quaint shops selling local arts and crafts as well as food.
Tonight we spend our second evening in Toba.
Ryokan Otaya or similar Meals included: breakfast, lunch & dinner
A long and scenic train journey with one change today takes us to Kiso Fukushima in about 4.5 hours.
Upon arrival at Kiso Fukushima, we take a short orientation tour with our leader. Kiso-Fukushima is a delightful town in Nagano Prefecture on the railway line between Nagoya and Matsumoto in central Japan and is located roughly half-way along the Nakasendo.
Kiso-Fukushima was an important checkpoint on the route, and its historic sekisho, or barrier station, is one of only two on the Nakasendo. The Fukushima Sekisho-ato (checkpoint) is where travellers on the Nakasendo were made to wait and present their passes to travel on the highway. The Tokugawa regime was on the look-out for guns and women travelling in disguise; the daimyo (feudal lords) were forced to leave their wives and children in the capital of Edo as virtual hostages under a policy known as sankin-kotai.
Across the Kiso River from the Fukushima Sekisho-ato is Kozenji Temple with an attractive rock garden. Kozenji Temple is free to enter and lovely especially in autumn.
We spend the next 2 nights in Kiso Fukushima in a Japanese style rooms at a ryokan.
Ryokan Sarashinaya or similar Meals included: breakfast & dinner
After an early breakfast, we travel by train to Nagiso in about 50 minutes. Upon arrival at Nagiso Station, we take short ride on a local bus to Tsumago, a well-preserved post town.
Tsumago was in its Golden Era during the time when merchants and other noble and prominent people frequently passed through for trade and other formal appointments.
From Tsumago we start the journey to Magome, one of the post towns that flourished in the Edo Period. The trail that runs from Tsumago to Magome is perhaps the most popular section of Nakasendo. This ancient trail can be completed in about 3 hours, including some quick breaks. After concluding the trail, ride a bus to Nakatsugawa, and then a train back to Kiso Fukushima in just over one hour.
Ryokan Sarashinaya or similar Meals included: breakfast, lunch & dinner
After breakfast we embark on our last scenic train journey to Shinjuku in Tokyo in a little over 3 hours and 1 change along the way. If weather conditions permit we may catch a glimpse of Mt. Fuji on the way. We recommend to buy a bento on the way for lunch as the journey is about 3 hours. Your leader will be able to advise.
After check in at our hotel you have a few hours to explore Tokyo before an optional farewell dinner and Karaoke night.
Shinjuku Washington Hotel or similar Meals included: breakfast
Those on the group flights back to London will be transferred by shared shuttle in the late afternoon/early evening (depending on flight schedule) in time to check in for their flight. Land only clients also have a free shared shuttle departure on the day the trip ends included to either Haneda or Narita airport but this must be pre-booked with Exodus before departure if you wish to use this.
Meals included: breakfast
All nationalities require a full passport that must be valid for beyond the intended length of stay. It is your responsibility to have the correct personal documents and to obtain your own visa, if one is necessary, in accordance with the regulations of the country you are to visit. The information below is primarily for UK passport holders, and other nationalities should check with their travel agent or the relevant embassies. We are not responsible for the actions of local immigration and customs officials, whether at points of entry or otherwise, and any subsequent effects.
Most nationalities do not require a visa to visit Japan. South African passport holders do require a visa; but it is worth all nationalities verifying visa requirements directly at your embassy before travel. Visa regulations can change without notice: please check the current regulations in good time to obtain a visa if one is required.
There are no specific health risks. Travel health can often be something people forget about before going away, but a little preparation and knowledge can go a long way to help you stay fit and healthy while abroad. The above information can change at short notice; as we are not qualified to answer all your questions about travel health we strongly recommend you contact your Medical Professional or a Travel Health Clinic at least 8 weeks prior to departure for up-to-date information. Please note: vaccinations that are routinely recommended to residents of the UK, North America or Australasia are not considered to form part of the travel health advice, and you should ensure these are kept up to date where necessary. For additional information please visit: https://travelhealthpro.org.uk/countries
During your holiday you stay at the following hotels. If you'd like to extend your time at any of these or, if you'd like to enhance your stay with an upgraded room, just let us know at the time of booking.
A comfortable hotel within walking distance of Kyoto's attractions and Nishiki Market. The 180 rooms all have deep soaking bathtubs, TVs and fridge.
This Ryokan (a traditional Japanese Inn) is conveniently located and offers an authentic experience. Rooms are basic, yet clean and comfortable and offer air-conditioning and TV. There are plenty of restaurants within walking distance.
A family-run guesthouse offering comfortable rooms with TV and Aircon.
A traditional Japanese style Ryokan with comfortable rooms - all with tatami mat flooring and futon to give you that authentic experience.
A family run guesthouse offering a friendly service. Many of the rooms boast river views and all have TV, Air conditioning and safe. Guests are welcome to enjoy the hot spring baths in the river at the front of the hotel.
At the Sunrise Katsuura, a Japanese ryokan, all rooms include a flat-screen TV, desk and kettle. The hotel itself enjoys a terrace, shared lounge and sea views.
This comfortable ryokan offers comfortable air-conditioned rooms with TV. Free wi-fi is available at the property.
Rooms at this 3 star ryokan come with kettle, TV and complimentary toiletries. The owners are extremely helpful and friendly and the breakfast is always very well received.
Shinjuku Washington Hotel is conveniently located for Tokyo's main attractions. It's comfortable rooms all have air-conditioning, private bathroom with bathtubs and shower, a fridge and TV. There are lots of dining opportunities at the hotel and in the local area.
Here at Headwater we thrive on feedback from our customers. It's the only way we can continue to develop, and where necessary improve, our services and ensure our holidays continue to be the best they can be. However, as this is a relatively new holiday, we don't yet have any customer reviews available.
You can be confident that our pricing includes all the standard requirements of your holiday and many additional extras. Always ensure that you are comparing like for like when booking your holiday.
Find out about The Headwater Price Promise to ensure you're getting the very best value for money.
This 13 night guided walking holiday includes:
Hotel-to-hotel accommodation in a mix of hotels
All breakfasts, 6 lunches and 9 evening meals
Management by our sister company, Exodus
Services of an experienced walking guide
Standard group transfers from your final hotel
Luggage transfers between hotels
All transport and activities listed
How to book:
|Sep 2019||Tour only||Availability|
|1st Sep||WAS US$7125
|29th Sep||US$7149||Check availability|
|Mar 2020||Tour only||Availability|
|22nd Mar||US$7449||Check availability|
|May 2020||Tour only||Availability|
|10th May||US$7549||Check availability|
|24th May||US$7549||Check availability|
|Aug 2020||Tour only||Availability|
|30th Aug||US$7549||Check availability|
|Sep 2020||Tour only||Availability|
|27th Sep||US$7549||Check availability|
|Oct 2020||Tour only||Availability|
|18th Oct||US$7549||Check availability|
Minimum group sizes
A minimum of 6 people (in total) are required for each departure.
This holiday is unsuitable for children.
Guided walking Managed by our sister company, Exodus.
Selected Saturdays from 1st Sep 2019 to 18th Oct 2020, for 13 nights. All dates are subject to availability, please contact us to check.
All breakfasts, 6 lunches and 9 evening meals
Tour Only dates commence a day later than the Air Inclusive start date
If you choose to book your own flights please check with us first that your chosen departure date is definitely operating as our guided holidays are subject to minimum group sizes.
Due to the tailor-made nature of our holidays, we need a little more information in order for us to check availability for . Simply complete the form below (fields marked * are mandatory) and a member of our sales team will contact you (when it's most convenient for you) to provide availability information, travel options and an accurate price. Of course there's no obligation, but if you do wish to proceed with a booking they will be on-hand to assist you throughout the process.
Alternatively, you can call our sales team on 1-800-267-3347 to discuss your requirements in more detail.