Discover the compelling story of the birth of Japan through Awajishima Island; an important gateway between Shikoku Island and mainland Japan, via Tokushima on the east of Shikoku, through the foliage rich Awajishima Island and onwards to the bustling port town of Kobe on mainland Honshu. The region is home to excellent cuisine and Onsen hot springs, and this premium four day self-guided trip takes in delightfully comfortable Japanese hotels and Ryokan, as well as the best hiking the region has to offer.
The Seto Inland Sea is a narrow strait which connects the Sea of Japan to the Pacific Ocean, and until the late 1800s served as the main transportation link between Kansai in the east and Kyushu island to the west. As one of the first regions of Japan to be designated with National Park status in 1934, the Seto Inland National Park has grown to encompass over 3,000 islands in a Mediterranean climate, making it the ideal location within Japan to grow produce, including mandarin oranges and sweet potatoes, considered local delicacies in the region, and also an excellent spot for hiking.
Our tour follows the eastern side of the inland sea, from the small city of Tokushima on the north-east of Shikoku Island, through to Awajishima Island, an important island told through folktales to be a key area in the birthplace of Japan. After experiencing the deep culture of this rural island, we continue on to Kobe, a modern bustling port town, with great onsen, unique local cuisine (including the world-famous Kobe beef) and excellent hiking on the nearby mountain range.
Our standard tour features four entry-level, optional hikes. Please see here for trips best suited to families.
Please ask for information about our tour extensions to the mountain-top temple town of Mount Koya with its monastery lodgings, or the peaceful, agricultural community of Asuka at a charming Japanese inn or with a local family for a unique homestay experience. It is also possible to visit the historic Awaji Ningyoza puppet theatre, visit the lively fishing town of Fukura on southern Awaji, experience the world-famous Naruto whirlpools from either Awaji or Tokushima and the first temple on the iconic Shikoku 88 Pilgrimage; please enquire to add any of these experiences into your tour.
The compact city of Tokushima is best known for its elaborate and extravagant festival; the Awa Odori Matsuri, typically held during Japan’s festival of the dead, Obon, in the middle of sultry August. The festival is a celebration of past relatives, and through Tokushima’s biggest export, indigo, cultural exchanges with other regions were born, thereby allowing the festival participants to incorporate dances previously found only outside of Shikoku Island.
From Kyoto or Osaka, pass over the Inland Sea to Tokushima. Now best-known for the iconic Awa Odori parade and festival, the main town can easily be explored after arrival, with options to visit the Awa Odori Kaikan museum to learn about the festival, and the remains of Tokushima castle with views out over the surrounding area.
There is also a scenic hike to a mountain summit high above the city, affording almost 360 degree views out over Tokushima and the Seto Inland Sea, where we will progress on to the next day.
Return to the foot of the mountain by cable car, affording views of the local area and the completed hike, and leave the city by train to receive a complimentary transfer from your Japanese-style Onsen hotel to the north of Tokushima in the evening.
Walking distance: 1.1 miles / 1.8km to the main viewing spot, 2.8 miles / 4.4km to the summit
Elevation gain: 400m / 1,300 feet of ascent and 160m / 525 feet of descent to the summit
Time required: 1-2 hours
Accommodation: Premium Japanese Onsen Hotel
Awaji Island holds a fantastic creation myth around the birth of Japan. The Kuniumi Story concerns the Creation of Heaven and Earth, the opening story of the Kojiki, Japan's oldest historical record, which tells of the Shinto deities Izanagi-no-mikoto and Izanami-no-mikoto, who made the physical world with a holy spear, to give birth to Japan.
It is in this folktale rich region we hike to the lovingly rebuilt Sumoto Castle, which affords fantastic views out over the onsen town of Sumoto and the nearby bay. Founded in the Eisho period of the early 1500s, the castle was the stage for various upsets at a time of upheaval, with its first owner assassinated in 1581 at the request of the second unifier of Japan, Toyotomi Hideyoshi.
Our walk takes in the full grounds and approach to the castle, before returning to the scenic beach at the coastal side of the town, where we overnight at a comfortable Onsen accommodation in the evening.
Walking distance: 1.4 miles / 2.2km (with an additional 1.2km if taking the beachside walk)
Elevation gain: 140m / 460 feet of ascent and descent
Time required: About 1 - 2 hours
Accommodation: Premium Japanese Onsen Hotel
Meals: Breakfast, Dinner
This morning, experience the local food culture of Awaji with a fantastic local bi-lingual guide. Awajishima Island has some of the freshest farm produce and seafood in central Japan, and we have the opportunity to explore this deep culture through visits to a number of smaller local farms and factories where locally grown or caught prizes are prepared for shipping to wider Awaji and mainland Japan.
In the afternoon, travel through bustling Kobe port to an ascending hiking route from Shin-Kobe station to Nunobiki Waterfall, ending with an arrival into a serene flower park with great views overlooking the city and bay. After a short cable car ride down the mountain, before heading to the historic Onsen town of Arima Onsen for your overnight stay in a comfortable Onsen Ryokan.
Walking distance: 2 miles / 3.2km to the viewing platform (with the option to return on foot)
Elevation gain: 380m / 1250 feet of ascent and negligible descent
Time required: 2-3 hours to the cable car station at the summit
It is also possible to skip the hike this morning by riding a scenic ropeway up to the top of the mountain. You can choose which option you prefer on the day – there is no need to decide in advance.
Optional experience (please enquire in advance)
After learning about the local farming and fishing culture in the morning, before heading on to Kobe, you may like to put your knowledge into practice with lunch at a fantastic premium local Ryotei restaurant in central Awaji.
Accommodation: Premium Japanese Ryokan (traditional Japanese inn)
Meals: Breakfast, Dinner
As a lively port town, Kobe is perhaps best known for it’s night time illuminations, Chinatown, unique fashion culture and fantastic hiking opportunities in its mountain range on the north side of the city.
After breakfast, we will explore one such hike; a final hike from your inn, ending with a further gentle cable car into the city. There are further exploration opportunities in the local area, with the fantastic Takenaka Carpentry Museum and central Kobe. In the afternoon, there are also options to visit the excellent Prefectural Art Museum and a myriad of Sake Breweries in the port before heading onwards.
After the ride down the mountain, there are further exploration opportunities in the local area, with the fantastic Takenaka Carpentry Tools, housed in a beautiful gallery, which showcases the fascinating world of traditional Japanese carpentry and design. The museum houses more than 32,000 items related to traditional architecture and wooden construction unique to Japan, including tools, models, documents, and scale building components, and enables visitors to gain hands-on knowledge of past building materials and methods - of which feature at historic temples such as Engyoji and the country’s numerous hand-built wooden temples, traditional residences, and tearooms. In the afternoon, you are free to explore Kobe further, or head onwards by bullet train from Shin-Kobe station, where the tour ends.
Walking distance: 6.3km / 3.9 miles
Elevation gain: 550m / 1,790 feet of ascent and 50m / 165 feet of descent
Time required: About 3 - 4 hours
It is also possible to skip the hike this morning by riding a scenic ropeway up to the top of Mount Rokko. You can choose which option you prefer on the day – there is no need to decide in advance.
Kobe Sake breweries visit (optional)
If more time allows in Kobe, famous sake (rice wine) breweries of Nada Gogo, also known as the five villages of Nada, are nearby and the sake production in Japan is said to have begun here nearly seven centuries ago. The main Sake Brewery street also has many sake museums that shed light on the sake production process.