destinations

Shoguns and Samurai

Exploring the Nakasendo Trail and
Old Japan

Central Japan is a region of tall mountain ranges and fast-flowing rivers. It wasn’t until recently that roads reached the remoter villages, and today many remain remarkably well-preserved, and evocative of centuries past. Our journey takes us through Japanese history from modern Tokyo, known as Edo during Japan’s period of rule by the Shoguns, to end near Kyoto, Japan’s capital for 400 years and the repository of much of the countries cultural heritage. From Tokyo we head first to Yudanaka Onsen hot spring where the famous “snow monkeys” come to enjoy the natural hot spring baths just like humans. In feudal times people travelling from Kyoto to Tokyo would use the Nakasendo way – the road through the central mountains – one of a network of ancient highways. We will visit one of the best preserved sections in the Kiso Valley, where the lovely villages of Tsumago and Magome have been immaculately restored.

Small Group tour
November 6 to November 19, 2019
April 1 to April 14, 2020
April 17 to April 30, 2020
May 6 to May 19, 2020
May 20 to Jun 2, 2020
July 15 to July 28, 2020
October 21 to November 3, 2020
November 2 to November 15, 2020
Dates subject to change without notice.
14 days
Minimum 5, maximum 12 participants
* per person
*subject to change

Tour price includes all transportation between destinations, accommodation, entrance fees, full-time services of tour leader, all breakfasts and 10 evening meals. Please contact for single supplement.
Full time services of Japanese/English speaking tour leader.
Kyoto, Nara, Obuse woodblock print museum, snow monkeys of Yudanaka hot spring, traditional merchants houses of Takayama, Shirakawa-go UNESCO World Heritage Site, Tokyo.
Day 1 - Tokyo - (Hotel)

Meet your guide and other group members at the tour hotel in central Tokyo in the evening. There will be a Welcome Dinner at a local restaurant.

Accommodation: Hotel
Meals: Welcome Dinner

Day 2 - Tokyo - (Hotel)

Our first full day in Japan is a walking tour of Tokyo. We start at the Hama-Rikyu Gardens, located near the mouth of the Sumidagawa river. There is a striking contrast between the gardens and the gleaming towers of the new Shiodome business area beyond. Next, we visit Nihonbashi (the ‘Japan Bridge’) considered to be the ‘center of Japan’ and the zero marker point for all Japan’s main roads since the Edo period. We then head to the elegant Ginza shopping district and continue to the Grand Meiji Shrine near Harajuku, an area famous for its avant-garde fashion and architecture.

Accommodation: Hotel
Meals: Breakfast

Day 3 - Yudanaka - (Ryokan - Travellers Inn)

We travel this morning to Obuse in Nagano Prefecture north-west of Tokyo. The small, attractive town of Obuse was where the artist Hokusai lived towards the end of his life. We visit the Hokusai-kan, a museum where many of his works are on display. We will also visit Masuichi-Ichimura Saké Brewery. Afterward we make the short journey to Yudanaka Onsen, a hot spring village famous for its ‘snow monkeys’. The Japanese macaques originally came here to warm themselves in the outdoor hot spring bath during the cold winters, and now come all year round.

Accommodation: Ryokan Inn
Meals: Breakfast, Dinner

Day 4 - - (Minshuku - Family-run Guesthouse)

We travel first to the city of Matsumoto to see its beautiful castle, built in the 16th century. After lunch, we continue to the Kiso valley and the small town of Narai, an atmospheric example of a post-town on the ancient Nakasendo way between Kyoto and Tokyo (or Edo as the city was known in the feudal period). There are many well-preserved houses and former inns.

Accommodation: Minshuku (Family-run Guesthouse)
Meals: Breakfast, Dinner

Day 5 - - (Minshuku - Family-run Guesthouse)

After breakfast, there will be time to wander the beautiful streets of Narai. The village is a good place to buy lacquerware and woodcrafts. Short train and bus journeys bring us to the village of Tsumago. Another of the post-towns on the former Nakasendo trail, Tsumago has been beautifully preserved - a living museum, which is still inhabited by the local residents. Wander the streets, taste gohei-mochi, skewered balls of pounded sticky rice covered in a sweet paste of miso, sesame, and walnuts and visit the folk museum.

From here, the trail winds its way over the Magome Pass for just over 8 kilometers/ 5 miles to the neighboring town of Magome. You will have the opportunity to walk this lovely section of the trail through forest and countryside, past farms, rice fields, traditional houses, and pretty gardens. A local bus provides an alternative. We will arrive in time to check in to our Minshuku, a lovely family-run inn.

Please note that from summer 2019 onwards our Shoguns and Samurai tour will no longer include this option to walk on the Nakasendo Trail from Tsumago to Magome on Day 5.

Accommodation: Minshuku (Family-run Guesthouse)
Meals: Breakfast, Dinner

Day 6 - Takayama - (Ryokan - Travellers Inn)

After breakfast, we stroll through Magome and then travel to Takayama. Takayama has retained much of its traditional architecture and is well-known for its crafts, particularly yew-wood carving, Shunkei lacquerware, pottery, and furniture. After arriving at our inn, there may be time to explore the surrounding areas and relax in a hot-spring bath before dinner. In the evening we will try the local Hida beef and perhaps some locally-brewed saké.

Accommodation: Ryokan Inn
Meals: Breakfast, Dinner

Day 7 - Takayama - (Ryokan - Travellers Inn)

Today we have a full day in Takayama, starting with a visit to the morning market, with stalls of vegetables, crafts, pickles, and souvenirs. We see the Yoshijima Heritage House, a precious wooden structure with a famously refined architectural interior. We wander the San-machi area with its rows of old merchant houses, some open as museums. After lunch, there will be free time for you to explore the city further and hunt for special treasures to bring home.

Accommodation: Ryokan Inn
Meals: Breakfast, Dinner

Day 8 - Shirakawago - (Minshuku - Family-run Guesthouse)

In the morning, you have a few more hours free to stroll and perhaps visit some museums, such as the Takayama Festival Floats Exhibition Hall, which displays some of the huge, elaborate floats used for the Takayama Festival, famous as one of the three most beautiful festivals of Japan. After lunch, we travel to the village of Ogimachi in the Shirakawa-go area north-west of Takayama. The village is home to a large number of gassho-zukuri houses, and has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1995. These large wooden houses have steep thatched roofs designed to withstand heavy snow, and the term gassho-zukuri refers to the shape of praying hands formed by the roofs.

Accommodation: Minshuku (Family-run Guesthouse)
Meals: Breakfast, Dinner

Day 9 - Kyoto - (Hotel)

We leave the mountains today, traveling first by bus to Kanazawa and then by train to Kyoto and our hotel in the center of the city. In the evening we take a walk through the Gion district famous for its many ryotei (exclusive private restaurants) and the geiko (full-fledged geisha) or maiko (apprentice geisha). We also visit the Sanjo-ohashi Bridge, the western end of the Nakasendo Trail.

Accommodation: Hotel
Meals: Breakfast

Day 10 - Kyoto - (Hotel)

We have a half-day walking tour this morning. We visit the famous Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavilion, originally built by the Ashikaga Shogun in the 14th century as a place of contemplation and rest. From there, we will visit Ryoan-ji, with its famous rock garden of raked gravel and fifteen moss-covered boulders. You have free time in the afternoon so you can explore the area further or shop for crafts.

Accommodation: Hotel
Meals: Breakfast

Day 11 - Nara - (Hotel)

The ancient city of Nara, which preceded Kyoto as Japan’s capital from 710 to 784, is one hour south of Kyoto by train. We will visit Todai-ji temple, with its bronze statue of Buddha. The temple is said to be the largest wooden structure in the world. Next, we will visit the old merchant district of Nara-machi with its narrow streets, shops, cafes, and restaurants, or we may instead walk along the back road from Todai-ji to Kasuga Taisha Shrine. Return to Kyoto in the evening.

Accommodation: Hotel
Meals: Breakfast

Day 12 - Koyasan - (Shukubo - Pilgrims Lodging)

We travel first to Osaka by local train, then along the scenic Nankai Railway Line to Mount Koya, a bowl-shaped valley filled with cedars high in the mountains of the Kii Peninsula. Since the 9th century, Mount Koya has been a place of religious devotion and ceremony. Today there are more than 100 monasteries, many of which have Shukubo (Pilgrims lodging). We stay in one of the elegant temples and dine on shojin-ryori (Buddhist vegetarian cuisine). We walk through the vast Okuno-in cemetery, with thousands of graves and memorials to feudal lords and other past luminaries.

Accommodation: Shukubo (Pilgrims Lodging)
Meals: Breakfast, Dinner

Day 13 - Tokyo - (Hotel)

This morning you will have the opportunity to get up early (6am!) to join in the Buddhist service at the temple. After breakfast we will return to Tokyo via Osaka, travelling by shinkansen Bullet Train for the latter part of the journey. In Tokyo there will be a Farewell Dinner in the evening.

Accommodation: Hotel
Meals: Breakfast, Farewell Dinner

Day 14 - Tokyo - (Tour Ends)

The tour ends today after breakfast. Your guide will be on hand to offer assistance and advice for traveling to the airport if you have homeward flights, or on onward travel in Japan if you are extending your stay.

Meals: Breakfast