Urban hikes reveal a different side of Tokyo unseen by most visitors. The trip culminates with four days walking along the Kumano Kodo, an ancient pilgrimage trail connecting Shinto shrines on the mountainous Kii Peninsula.

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Nakasendo Way - Hike between historic post towns on a highway once travelled by samurai and itinerant merchants

Kyoto - Explore the temples and tea houses of Japan's historic capital on foot

Traditional accommodation - Sleep on a futon and enjoy a hot spring bath at a traditional Ryokan inn

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Day by day Itinerary

Walk Japan - Kumano Kodo Trail

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Day 1

Tokyo

The trip starts in Tokyo, the modern-day capital of Japan. After checking in to the hotel, head out for an included dinner with the rest of the group and your Explore Leader.

Day 2

Tokyo

In the morning we head out to explore this thriving metropolis on a walking tour that will take in some of the residential and more traditional neighbourhoods of the city - Nippori, Yanaka and Nezu, for a glimpse of life in Tokyo far away from the neon lights of the business district. We'll take our time and end in Ueno in time to explore the market and pick up some lunch. The afternoon is left free to explore further. You will be provided with an IC transport card providing unlimited travel on public transport around the city. Possible destinations include the Meiji shrine and Shinjuku area, where the latest electronic gadgets dazzle from glowing shop-fronts or take a boat along the Sumida River for a more relaxing experience.

Today's walking tour will cover approximately eight kilometres and will last around five hours. (B)

Day 3

Matsumoto

We depart from Shinjuku train station (reputedly the world's busiest) on a scenic journey through the Japanese Alps to Matsumoto. Flanked on each side by mountains, Matsumoto is best known for its 500 year-old castle which is Japan's oldest, and one of its most elegant. Known as 'Crow Castle' due to its black, sombre appearance, it retains its original wooden interior. The fascinating design includes a moon-viewing pavilion, a hidden floor for the castle's protecting samurai and various booby traps to aid its defence. After exploring the castle and its grounds there's time to stroll through the town's historic quarter. For art lovers there's an option to visit the renowned modern art museum or nearby Ukiyo-e woodblock printing museum. Scenes from this traditional art form typically represent famous geisha, sumo wrestlers and kabuki dance-drama actors.

To make today's journey by train easier, we make use of Japan's excellent luggage forwarding services and send our main luggage on to our hotel for tomorrow night in Kyoto. You'll need to pack your overnight things in your daypack. (B)

Day 4

Kyoto

We make an early start today and catch a train to Nakatsugawa. From here it's a journey of around 30 minutes by public bus to Magome in the tranquil Kiso Valley, running alongside the Central Alps. We hike from here along a section of the Nakasendo Way, an historical trail that connected Kyoto to Edo (now modern day Tokyo). The Nakasendo' s origins date back to the Edo Period (1603-1868) when the Japanese Shogun created a comprehensive communications network of roads to help stabilise and rule the country. Towns like Magome and Tsumago, which we also pass through on the hike, were post towns, providing accommodation and supplies for travellers on the route, an eclectic mix of soldiers, merchants and monks among them. These towns have been lovingly preserved to retain their Edo period atmosphere and the streets are lined with traditional wooden buildings. Our hike today takes us on a mainly stone-paved undulating path through beautiful countryside and small hamlets to Nagiso. We catch an express train from Nagiso to Nagoya, then change to the super fast \i shinkansen \i0 a.k.a. the 'bullet train' that speeds us on to our base for the next three nights, the one time historic capital of Japan - Kyoto.

Today's 12 kilometre walk is expected to take around four-and-a-half hours with a total ascent of 450 metres and descent of 610 metres. (B)

Day 5

Kyoto

At the heart of Japanese culture and influence for over 1,000 years, Kyoto lay at the centre of events that helped to shape the destiny and history of this most fascinating of cultures. One of the only major cities to survive the extensive bombing of WWII, Kyoto can boast more than 2000 temples and shrines, many set in landscaped gardens, making this captivating city the cradle of all things uniquely Japanese.

Today we head to the north of the city to spend a full day walking and sightseeing in the Higashiyama District along the lower slopes of Kyoto's eastern mountains. This is one of the city's best preserved historic districts. Walking among the narrow lanes, wooden buildings and traditional merchant shops, we can catch a glimpse of what the old capital city must have been like. In the morning we follow the Philosophers Path, along a cherry tree-lined canal, stopping to visit some of the city's most important temples including the Silver Pavilion and the Eikando and Nanzenji temples. The route is named after the influential 20th century philosopher Nishida Kitaro who walked here in his daily meditation. In the afternoon we continue to the Heian Shrine, a reconstruction of part of the Imperial Palace as it would have looked 1,200 years ago. The shrine is known for its beautiful traditional Japanese garden which contains multiple ponds in which tortoises, egrets, koi carp and other wildlife can often be seen. From here we pass through the cobbled streets to Kodaiji where you can see a perfectly groomed towering bamboo grove, a Zen rock garden, and a pair of historic tea houses.

Today's 12 kilometre walking tour is expected to take around six hours including time spent sightseeing. (B)

Day 6

Kyoto

We spend today in Japan's first capital Nara, travelling there by train (in around 50 minutes) and exploring on foot. Perhaps one of Japan's friendliest and greenest cities, Nara sits on the edge of a sprawling park that provides a picture-perfect backdrop for the city's magnificent temples and shrines. Nara is known for the 1,200 deer that roam free in the streets and parks. Believed to be messengers of the gods, the deer are protected by city law. We plan to take in the best of the town's sights including the world's largest Bronze Buddha at the magnificent Todaiji temple and the shrine of Kasuga Taisha before returning to Kyoto for the night.

Today's 7 kilometre walking tour is expected to take around six hours including time spent sightseeing. (B)

Day 7

Wakayama

Today we head into rural Japan and the mountains of the Kii Peninsula, much of which is covered in dense rainforest. Travelling first by train and then bus, we arrive at the small village of Takijiri-Oji, the starting point for our hike on the Kumano Kodo. Kumano Kodo is the name given to a network of pilgrimage routes that connect three great Buddhist shrines: Hongu Taisha, Nachi Taisha, and Hayatama Taisha - known collectively as the Kumano Sanzan. Emanating from these three shrines, various pilgrimage trails trace their way through dense forest and across high mountain passes and stunning valleys, linking the various sacred sites of the area. Awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 2004 the Kumano Kodo remain in use as pilgrimage routes to this day.

Our hike this afternoon takes us through ancient forest filled with giant camphor trees and sacred caves to Takahara, a ridge-top settlement at around 300 metres known locally as 'Kiri-no-Sato' (village in the mist) thanks to the blankets of mist that create a sea of clouds over the valleys below. Our simple lodge accommodation commands sweeping views of the surrounding Hatenashi Mountain Range and we'll enjoy a kaiseki dinner made from fresh local produce. Kaiseki consists of a sequence of dishes, each often small and artistically arranged.The lodge has a mix of Japanese-style rooms, where futon beds are rolled out each night on the traditional tatami mat flooring, and those with Western-style beds. Depending on the size of the group, rooms may be twin share or shared by up to three guests (of the same sex). All rooms have en suite toilets with sinks whilst bathing takes place in a separate traditional hot spring bath. A relaxing experience after walking.

Your main luggage will be forwarded on this morning to Kawayu Onsen so you'll need to pack your things for the next two nights in your daypack.

Today's four kilometre walk is expected to take around two hours with a total ascent of 430 metres and descent of 200 metres. (B)(D)

Day 8

Minshuku

It's a longer hike today from Takahara to Chikatsuyu, a route that takes us past the ruins of the Uwada-jaya Teahouse and across the Hashiori-toge Pass, with its iconic Gyubadoji statue of one of the first pilgrim emperors. We'll be treated to stunning views of the surrounding countryside from various points along the way before eventually arriving at our accommodation for the night in Chikatsuyu.

Tonight we'll stay at a Minshuku, a simple guest house where all the rooms have Japanese-style sleeping and bathing arrangements and will be twin or triple share depending on group size.

Today's 14 kilometre walk is expected to take around four-and-a-half hours with a total ascent of 590 metres and descent of 640 metres. (B)(L)(D)

Day 9

Kawayu Onsen

Today's hike takes us over the mountains to the Hongu Taisha, at the very heart of the Kumano Kodo and the region's most important shrine, serving as the head shrine for over 3,000 Kumano shrines across Japan. It's also known for its huge torii gate, the largest in Japan, dwarfing the pilgrims passing under it. We'll take a local bus for a section of this hike as last year a major typhoon created a massive diversion in the route which is too long to walk in one day. After visiting the shrine we'll take a shuttle bus on to our hotel at Kawayu Onsen, a hot spring town located along a river. There should be time to take a rejuvenating dip in the hot spring waters here before dinner. The Kawayu Midoriya is a larger property than the two previous nights and all of its Japanese-style rooms have en suite facilities. We'll be accommodated here in twin share or single rooms.

Today's 14 kilometre walk is expected to take around six hours with a total ascent of approximately 600 metres and descent of 950 metres. Please note it is possible to take a public bus for part of today's route if you wish to shorten the length of the walk. (B)(L)(D)

Day 10

Kii-Katsuura

We take a break from walking today and start the day with a leisurely boat trip along the Kumano River to Hatayama Taisha, the second of the three great Kumano shrines. This is how pilgrims traditionally approached the shrine, which is located near the river mouth. The nature in and around the shrine is an integral part of this grand shrine's precincts and annual rituals. We've time to explore here before continuing a short distance by train to our destination for the night, the coastal town of Kii-Katsuura. Once a quiet fishing port, the town's fortunes changed when an abundance of hot springs were discovered here. Kii-Katsuura's other attraction is the early morning fish market which you may wish to visit tomorrow.

Your main luggage is forwarded on this morning to the final nightstop of Osaka, so you'll need to pack your overnight things in your daypack. (B)(L)(D)

Day 11

Osaka

This morning we take a bus to Daimonzaka Chushajo, from where it's around a one-hour walk to the Kumano Nachi Taisha, the last of the Kumano Kodo's three great shrines. This walk takes you part of the way along the Daimonzaka, an impressive 600 metre cobbled stairway with a total of 267 stairs, lined with towering Japanese cedar and bamboo groves. Nachi Taisha, the culmination of today's walk, boasts a magnificent red pagoda and stands against the striking backdrop of Nachi-no-Otaki, Japan's tallest waterfall. We take some time to marvel at this amazing sight before taking the bus back to Kii-Katsuura Station, from where it's a four-hour train ride around the peninsula to our final destination of the holiday, the large metropolis of Osaka, Japan's second city. Osaka is one of the best places to try Japanese food - whether its octopus balls from a street-side stand, okonomiyaki savoury pancakes (a regional speciality), or some of best sushi in the world.

Today's three kilometre walk is expected to take around an hour with a total ascent of 50 metres and descent of 200 metres. (B)

Day 12

Osaka

The trip ends after breakfast this morning in Osaka. If you have time to spend here, Osaka has all the galleries and museums you'd expect of a large city including the unusual Instant Ramen Museum where visitors can have a go at creating their own cup noodle! Or take a walk around the Namba area, one of Osaka's most vibrant and interesting districts where kilometres of covered arcades criss-crossed by canals and rivers, open up to back streets filled with history and small shops. (B)

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*Conditions apply: The offer is available for all bookings on small group adventures to Japan made between 01 August and 31 August 2019. We regret the offer cannot be applied retrospectively to existing bookings. The offer is applicable on any available departure date, and is available on the following trips: JS, QJS, JPH, JIF, CJA, WJP and CJH. Please quote “Japan Offer” when confirming your booking over the telephone to qualify for the offer. Alternatively type “Japan Offer” online when asked if you would like to enter a discount code when booking. The extra night is at the start of your trip in Tokyo or in Kyoto on a bed and breakfast single or twin room basis as required. A free transfer from the airport to your hotel is included in the offer. The sushi making will take place on your extra day, before the group trips begin. Details of the sushi making class will be sent to you by Explore approximately four weeks before your holiday begins. The offer can be used in conjunction with the Explore loyalty scheme and group discount offer (see website), but not with any other promotion. The offer is subject to availability and we reserve the right to withdraw it at any time.