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!
Those on the group flight will arrive into Kansai Airport and will be transferred to Kyoto. Land only clients are free to arrive at the start hotel anytime today. 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.
Hotel Resol Kyoto Trinity Oike Fuyacho or similar
This morning we set out on our first hike to the northern mountains and the Kibune shrine, followed by the Kurama temple. 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. 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
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 path still in existence 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 kilometres 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
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 endeavours businessmen and entrepreneurs 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 is free for visiting some of the famous sights in Kyoto such as the Imperial Palace, 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, where we spend the night in this rural seaside town.
Hotel Hanaya or similar
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 area, 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 and more challenging, it is highly suggested to turn in early.
Minshuku Chikatsuyu/ Manmaru Inn or similar
Today we start with a short 10 minute bus ride to the start of our hike. 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
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 beside the river.
Omuraya Ryokan or similar
This morning we rise very early 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 (approx. 30 minutes) to Katsuura, staying at a Japanese Inn on the beautiful islet dotted Katsuura Bay, where you will be able to enjoy listening to the ocean waves and relax after completing our hikes along the memorable Kumano Kodo.
Hotel Sunrise Katsuura or similar
After having your breakfast, get ready for a short walk to return to Katsuura station on foot (with your luggage), from where we begin our journey by train to Toba, located in the neighbouring Mie Prefecture.
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.
Upon arrival in Toba, we store our luggage safely at the station before having lunch and walking a short distance across to Mikimoto Pearl Island where we will learn all about pearl cultivation and the life of the Ama divers. These female divers are famous for their century's long tradition of diving for pearls without oxygen masks and here we will be able to witness an Ama diver demonstration.
Afterwards, we continue to the area of Osatsu in Toba where we spend the next 2 nights at a ryokan in Japanese style rooms.
Ryokan Otaya or similar
This morning there will be the opportunity to relax in the ryokan or enjoy a walk around the local neighbourhood where there may be the chance to visit a local shrine and temple or in warmer weather, enjoy a swim at the local sandy beach.
Late morning, we take a short walk to visit the hut of an Ama diver, who will prepare a grilled seafood meal.
After lunch, we continue to the Ise Shrine by train, 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 before returning to our ryokan.
Tonight we spend our second evening in Toba.
Ryokan Otaya or similar
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 simple family-run ryokan.
Ryokan Sarashinaya or similar
After an early breakfast, we travel by train to Nagiso in about 50 minutes. Upon arrival at Nagiso Station, we take a 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
After breakfast we embark on our last scenic train journey to 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.
Hotel Dormy Inn Kodenmacho or similar
For land only clients, the trip ends this morning after 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. The free shared shuttle departure transfer must be requested in advance with Exodus before departure if you wish to utilise this service (all requests are subject to availability and must be confirmed before departure). It is not possible to request this service once a trip has commenced.
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.
Our aim is to provide holidays that are unbeatable for choice and flexibility. We've listed our most popular travel options below, however you aren't limited to these - we can tailor-make virtually any holiday to suit.
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. As this is a relatively new holiday, we don't yet have any customer reviews available from our customers, but here are the comments that have been received from previous Exodus travellers.
This was an excellent trip that we thoroughly enjoyed, giving an insight into contrasting landscapes/areas of Japan and to its culture and food. After initial exploration in and around Kyoto, the four days on the Kumano Kodo trail were quite demanding (particularly because it was so hot on our departure) but we got a fascinating insight into one of the more rural areas, staying in traditional Japanese hotels. A good proportion of the trail itself was in trees with occasional viewpoints and shrines, it also passed through villages and rural settings. The trails are well made and on some days the walking was long, as set out in the trip notes. The traditional Japanese food we ate every day was elaborate and carefully prepared – a bowl of sticky rice and an array of up to around 10 other small dishes of food for each person – at each meal, including breakfast; lunches were bento boxes. There was much fresh seafood by the sea. Travelling on the efficient Japanese public transport was interesting and enjoyable as it is indeed very punctual, but also uncrowded and generally very comfortable. The last couple of days in Tokyo were different again – a short time to get an impression, but as we are not really city people, this was fine.
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.
This 13 night guided walking holiday includes:
All breakfasts, 6 lunches and 9 dinners
All transport and listed activities
Flights from London (if booking incl. flights)
Group arrival transfer (for group flight)
Free departure transfer by shuttle service (must be booked in advance before trip commences with Exodus and is subject to availability)
How to book:
|20th Mar 2022||US$9599||Tour only: US$9599||Check availability|
|3rd Apr 2022||US$9599||Tour only: US$9599||Check availability|
|8th May 2022||US$9279||Tour only: US$9279||Check availability|
|4th Sep 2022||US$9279||Tour only: US$9279||Check availability|
|25th Sep 2022||US$9279||Tour only: US$9279||Check availability|
|16th Oct 2022||US$9779||Tour only: US$9779||Check availability|
|23rd Oct 2022||US$9779||Tour only: US$9779||Check availability|
This holiday is operated by our sister company, Exodus
9 nights in traditional guesthouses/ryokans in Japanese style rooms (shared bathrooms) and 4 nights in comfortable hotels (en suite)
8 days guided walking
Low altitude throughout
Travel by train, local buses and metro
Luggage transfers between accommodations on some walk days as required