Japan Cultural Tour: Takayama to Kiso Valley

An experiential journey through Japan's diverse culture-rich landscapes

Highlights

  • Explore the historic imperial capital of Kyoto with a private guide
  • See the large thatched-roof houses of Shirakawa-go, a UNESCO World Heritage site
  • Enjoy a leisurely bicycle ride around the scenic Hida region with a guide (non-winter months)
  • See the exquisitely-preserved villages of Magome, Tsumago and Narai, and iconic Matsumoto castle
  • Stay in Japanese inns in Takayama, and Japanese Onsen hot spring inns in Kiso-Fukushima and vicinity of Matsumoto
  • Explore the culture-rich city of Kanazawa
Central Japan is a region of towering mountain ranges and abundant flowing rivers. Only relatively recently did roads reach the more remote villages and today many of them remain remarkably well-preserved and evocative of centuries past. Your travels take you on a journey through Japan's history and culture, from modern-day Tokyo - known as Edo when the Shoguns ruled the country - and ends in Kyoto, Japan’s capital for over 1,200 years and repository for much of the country's cultural heritage. From Tokyo you head first along the Japan Sea coast to Kanazawa, home of one of the most famous gardens in the whole of Japan.
Central Japan is a region of towering mountain ranges and abundant flowing rivers. Only relatively recently did roads reach the more remote villages and today many of them remain remarkably well-preserved and evocative of centuries past. Your travels take you on a journey through Japan's history and culture, from modern-day Tokyo - known as Edo when the Shoguns ruled the country - and ends in Kyoto, Japan’s capital for over 1,200 years and repository for much of the country's cultural heritage. From Tokyo you head first along the Japan Sea coast to Kanazawa, home of one of the most famous gardens in the whole of Japan.

Continue your journey to see the thatched-roof houses in Shirakawa-go and traditional mountain town of Takayama, before travelling to the scenic Kiso Valley region and the Nakasendo Trail. In feudal times, people travelling between Tokyo and Kyoto might use the Nakasendo Trail 中山道 through the central mountains, one of a network of ancient highways linking the ancient capital with the rest of the country. Experience one of the best-preserved sections of the route in the Kiso Valley where the lovely villages of Magome, Tsumago and Narai have been immaculately restored and preserved.

 

Please ask for information about tour extensions to the art island of Naoshima, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Miyajima Island and Tomonoura Bay on the Setouchi inland sea or the peaceful, agricultural community of Asuka at a charming Japanese inn or with a local family for a unique homestay experience.

What′s included

  • 8 nights in hotels and Japanese-style Onsen hot-spring Ryokan inns
  • Daily breakfasts and 3 dinners
  • Regular and bullet train tickets starting in Tokyo and ending in Kyoto
  • Long-distance bus tickets from Kanazawa - Shirakawa-go - Takayama
  • A 3-hour guided cycling tour around Takayama or the scenic Hida-Furukawa
  • Local culinary experience in Narai post-town
  • A full day of private guiding in Kyoto
  • Detailed day-by-day itinerary
  • Local support by telephone
  • Our Preparing for your trip and Travelling in Japan Guidebooks
  • Optional orientation at our Kyoto office

What′s not included

  • Flights
  • Airport transfers
  • Pay locally for drinks with meals and for lunches
  • Pay locally for short bus journeys
  • Single room supplement(s) if required

Day 1 Arrive in Tokyo

Your Oku Japan tour begins with arrival at your hotel in central Tokyo. Stay in a carefully-selected modern hotel with private bathroom and breakfast included. Hotel transfers are not part of the tour, but whether you are flying into Narita Airport or Haneda Airport, or arriving by train from elsewhere in Japan, we will happily advise you on the best way to reach your accommodation. Arm yourself with your favourite guidebook and begin your discovery of the modern capital of Japan.
 
Accommodation: Hotel
 
*If your schedule allows you additional time, we can arrange one or more pre-tour hotel nights in Tokyo, along with a full-day of private guiding with one of our experienced local guides. Please enquire for further details. 

Day 2 Explore Kanazawa

You leave Tokyo today, travelling by high-speed Shinkansen bullet train along the Japan Sea coast to the castle town of Kanazawa, famous for its crafts, folk art and rich history. Kanazawa is home to one of the most famous gardens in the whole of Japan. Take a leisurely walk to Kanazawa castle, once home to the clan of the feudal Lord Maeda or take a leisurely stroll through the world-renowned Kenrokuen Garden.

Accommodation: Hotel
Meals: Breakfast

Day 3 Shirakawa-go village and transfer to Takayama

This morning, travel by bus to Shirakawa-go in the Sho-kawa valley. The village of Ogimachi in Shirakawa-go is home to a large number of thatched-roof Gassho-zukuri houses, and has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1995. These large wooden houses have steep roofs designed to withstand heavy snow and the term Gassho-zukuri refers to their design which resembles praying hands. Inside, the houses could accommodate large extended families of up to sixty people.                                                        

Later in the afternoon, travel onward to Takayama castle town, formally an enclave for skilled carpenters working for the imperial courts in Kyoto and Nara. Due to its isolated location Takayama has retained much of its traditional culture and architecture, and is well-known for its crafts, particularly yew-wood carving, Shunkei lacquerware, pottery and furniture. After arriving at your Ryokan inn, there may be time to explore the surrounding areas. Relax in a hot-spring bath before dinner. In the evening you can try the local Hida beef and perhaps some locally-brewed saké.

Accommodation: Ryokan (Travellers Inn) in Takayama
Meals: Breakfast, Dinner 

Day 4 Guided cycling around Takayama and further exploration

This morning enjoy a 3-hour cycling tour around Takayama with a local English-speaking guide - explore the Edo-period Jin'ya (historical government office), the Asa-ichi morning market, Kokubun-j temple and other scenic spots in the area. In the afternoon, explore the old town further and wander among old merchant houses, some now open as museums. Hunt for souvenirs or see a local exhibition such as the Takayama Matsuri Yatai Kaikan (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. Admission also allows entrance to Sakurayama Nikko Kan, which houses a scale model of the Toshogu Shrine in Nikko, built over a period of 15 years almost a century ago.

 
Accommodation: Ryokan (Travellers Inn) in Takayama
Meals: Breakfast

As an alternative to the cycling tour around Takayama, we can also arrange a morning 3-hour guided cycling tour around the scenic Hida-Furukawa area (16 minutes by train from Takayama railway station) where you can experience cycling in the peaceful Japanese countryside. Pass centuries-old rice paddies, visit a local shrine and market, and soak up the atmosphere of the lovely preserved townscape of Hida-Furukawa. (Please specify this cycling tour option on booking).         

Winter Months

In December, January, February and the first half of March cycling tour options are unavailable. Instead enjoy a two and a half hour walking tour focussed on culture and food with a local English-speaking guide. Discover the rich history and culinary traditions of the region. You'll also enjoy tasting a variety of regional foods and saké at local shops. 

 

Day 5 Travel onwards to Magome, Tsumago and Kiso-Fukushima

Travel onwards this morning to the picturesque Kiso Valley and explore the atmospheric post-towns of Magome and Tsumago, two of the best-preserved and most evocative of the Nakasendo post-towns. After enjoying time in Tsumago, continue by local bus and train to Kiso-Fukushima for dinner and an overnight stay at an excellent Onsen hot-spring inn located in a peaceful setting.
 
Accommodation: Onsen Ryokan (Hot-spring Travellers Inn) in Kiso-Fukushima
Meals: Breakfast, Dinner
 
Optional 3-hour walk along the Nakasendo trail to Tsumago (April to November)
For an "Active" walk today, we can offer a self-guided walk for you from Magome to Tsumago, along the historic Nakasendo Trail. The Nakasendo or 'Road through the Central Mountains' was part of feudal Japan's network of highways. Travellers moving between Kyoto and Tokyo took several days to travel the Nakasendo, staying overnight in Juku post-towns. Today's visitors can still walk sections of the original route.  Please specify this request when placing your booking.
 
Walking distance: 8.3km / 5.2 miles
Elevation gain: 326m / 1,069 feet of ascent and 430m / 1,410 feet of descent
Time required: About 3 hours

Day 6 Culinary experience in Narai; transfer to Matsumoto

After breakfast at your inn, return to Kiso-Fukushima railway station for the short journey to Narai post-town and a locally-run restaurant to enjoying making 'Gohei mochi' (toasted rice cooked and glazed with a sweet-savoury soy and miso-based sauce) a local delicacy of this region. The Gohei mochi experience takes about 2 hours. While in Narai take time to explore the small, atmospheric village, where there are many well-preserved houses and other buildings. Then continue by local train to the city of Matsumoto to see its beautiful castle, built in the 16th century. Your inn for the evening is located close to Matsumoto and is another wonderful Onsen hot-spring inn.
 
Accommodation: Onsen Ryokan (Hot-spring Travellers Inn) near Matsumoto
Meals: Breakfast, Dinner

Optional 3-hour walk along the Nakasendo trail to Narai (April to November)
For an "Active" walk today, we can offer a self-guided walk from Yabuhara to Narai, along the Torii Touge section of the Nakasendo Trail. If you choose the walk to Narai, the 'Gohei mochi' experience will be scheduled for the afternoon, allowing you time to enjoy the scenic 3-hour walk from Yabuhara to Narai in the morning.  Please specify this request when placing your booking so we can make the appropriate arrangements for you.

Day 7 Transfer to Kyoto

Leaving the mountains behind, you travel by train to the historic imperial capital of Kyoto. Arriving in Kyoto around lunchtime, you may wish to explore some of Kyoto's exquisite dry-landscape Zen rock gardens. In the evening you can take a walk through the Gion district, famous for its many Ryotei exclusive private restaurants and Geiko (full-fledged geisha) or Maiko (apprentice geisha). You can also visit the Sanjo-ohashi Bridge, the western end of the Nakasendo Trail. 
 
In Kyoto, your accommodation is a comfortable modern hotel in the centre of the city. You can also opt for an informal, Japanese-style Ryokan where you sleep on Futons in Tatami-mat rooms; as with the Japanese inns you  experience in the more rural areas of the tour, bathroom facilities are not attached to your room but ‘along the hallway’. If you wish to choose the Japanese-style Ryokan option in Kyoto, please specify this request when placing your booking so we can make the appropriate arrangements for you.
 
Accommodation: Hotel or Japanese Ryokan
Meals: Breakfast

Day 8 Private guiding in Kyoto

A full day to explore Kyoto with your own personal guide. One of our knowledgeable, friendly and professional guides will meet you at your hotel after breakfast and lead you on a full-day tour of Kyoto. You can opt to travel by bus and subway, or by taxi – you pay for travel and entry fees on the spot. We have devised five different itineraries for you to choose from. Our options combine some of the most famous sights and some lesser-known spots. We are proud of our guides – we engage them directly and not via agencies or other third parties. Your guide will return you to your hotel around 5pm or, if you prefer, will leave you in an alternative location of your choosing.
 
Accommodation: Hotel or Japanese Ryokan
Meals: Breakfast

Day 9 Tour ends

Your Oku Japan tour ends this morning after breakfast at your accommodation in Kyoto. Fly out from nearby Osaka Kansai Airport, which is connected directly in around 80 minutes with Kyoto railway station by the Japan Railways Haruka express trains, or extend your trip with one of our tour extensions.

 

Meals: Breakfast 


If your schedule permits, we can arrange one or more additional nights in Kyoto, along with a traditional Japanese tea ceremony experience, or a traditional Kyoto-style incense-making experience. Please enquire for further details.