Japan: Kyoto, Nara & the Kumano Kodo Encore-Only & Private

Guided Walking Tour, Japan: Kyoto, Nara & the Kumano Kodo Encore-Only & PrivateGuided Walking Tour, Japan: Kyoto, Nara & the Kumano Kodo Encore-Only & Private

Japan

Kyoto, Nara & the Kumano Kodo Encore-Only & Private

overview

NEW! Join us as we traverse the Land of the Rising Sun in the company of our local guides. Whether hiking through the whispering cypress forests of the Kii peninsula, pausing for a quiet moment in Todai-ji Temple, or reveling in the neon nightscapes of Osaka, you’ll be immersed in an ancient and sophisticated culture. Witness the shogun splendor of Kyoto’s Nijo Castle, a complex of moats, lush gardens, and painted ceilings. Enjoy a traditional way of life during your stay at a ryokan with its tatami mat floors, hot-spring baths, and shoji sliding doors. Walk the ancient pilgrimage route of Kumano Kodo UNESCO World Heritage site--passing jizo bodhisattva statues, kami shrines, and cha-ya tea houses. Learn the secrets of rice cultivation and chat with the owners of your family-run inn during meals made with local, organic ingredients. This distinctive adventure promises to be a journey to remember.

Please note: this is an Encore-Only Departure, offered exclusively to past guests of Country Walkers. Each Encore-Only Departure features something extra, be it special accommodations, access to a unique destination, or an early opportunity to savor a new trip or itinerary. Learn more about Encore-Only Departures.

2015 Downloadable Itinerary

Activity Level
Easy to Moderate;
2-8 miles daily
Meet
Kyoto, Japan
Depart
Osaka, Japan
Reading List
Recommended
pre-trip reading
Guided Walking 
8 days, 7 nights Trip Includes 

Trip Includes

  • Two expert, local guides, with you 24/7
  • All meals; local wine or beer included with dinners
  • All accommodations while on tour
  • Transportation from the meeting point to the departure point
  • Entrance fees and special events as noted in the itinerary
  • Basic travel insurance coverage
  • The unbeatable and cumulative experience of the Country Walkers staff
per person double occupancy
Single supplement + $1,175
 

Solo surcharge + $0
 

 

Encore-Only scheduled departures are available to past guests. New travelers interested in this tour may reserve it as a private departure (details below).

Call 800.234.6900 to book this trip.

REQUEST RESERVATION
Number of Travelers
Total in your party
Price From
per person double occupancy

Call 800.234.6900 to book this trip.

REQUEST RESERVATION

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Itinerary and Accommodations

Days
Destination
1
Kyoto
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2
Kyoto
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3
Nara
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4
Takahara
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5
Takahara
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6
Takahara
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7
Osaka
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8
Osaka
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Day 1

Kyoto

Kyoto: Nijo Castle, Kiyomizu Temple, Gion District; 2 to 3 miles, easy

The tour begins in Kyoto, now Japan’s seventh-largest city and the imperial capital for more than 1,000 years. Kyoto is considered the repository of Japan’s most important and stunning historical sites—gardens, temples, palaces, traditional neighborhoods—preserved over the centuries from natural disasters and war. You begin your exploration of this fascinating city with a tour of the 17th-century Nijo Castle, also a UNESCO site, the former residence and seat of power of the Tokugawa shoguns. The best example of Japanese feudal architecture, the castle is protected by several rings of defensive moats and walls, and the central Ninomaru Palace boasts five separate but connected buildings and is known especially for its “nightingale floor” alarm system that squeaks like a flock of birds when walked upon. Beautifully painted sliding doors by artists of the Kano school separate the many rooms along polished wood corridors.

After lunch, a short walk brings you to Kiyomizu Temple, founded in 778. The temple’s name means “clear water,” a reference to its sacred and beneficial waters. A UNESCO World Heritage site, its high wooden veranda provides a panoramic view of Kyoto. The present buildings dating from 1633, were constructed without a single nail being used!

Next, you take a walk back in time on Kiyomizu-zaka Street to Gion, the entertainment and geisha district, where you learn about the strict training undertaken by young women who hope to become geisha. And, this evening, your formal welcome is a private dinner with geisha. Hosted in the Gion Hatanaka Ryokan, you are attended by a maiko (apprentice geisha), geiko (full-fledged geisha), and a shamisen (a three-stringed traditional musical instrument) player.

Hyatt Regency Kyoto

Kyoto, Japan

A luxurious city-center hotel, this Hyatt Regency is a plush retreat, combining contemporary Japanese décor with all luxury amenities, including deep soaking bathtubs. On site are a fitness center, Japanese garden, and full-service spa. Dining options include a traditional Japanese restaurant and bar, and an Italian restaurant.

Day 2

Kyoto

Kyoto: Philosopher’s Path, Nanzen-ji Temple, Nishiki Market; 2 to 3 miles, easy

This morning begins with a guided walking tour of the narrow lanes of the Higashiyama area of Kyoto, with its original preserved wooden houses, traditional shops, and restaurants. You take the “Philosopher’s Path,” a tranquil walkway lined with cherry trees that was a favored place of the famous philosopher Nishida Kitaro. Afterward, you make your way to Nanzen‐ji Temple, a large complex in Kyoto’s forested Higashiyama hills. Originally an emperor’s retirement villa, it became a Zen temple in the 13th century and has a number of gardens and sub-temples throughout its extensive grounds. Also found here is a perfect example of the meditative Zen rock garden, with carefully raked stones and a mini landscape, overlooked by the covered viewing walkway for seated contemplation. Next you enter the bustling Nishiki Market in the center of Kyoto, the centuries-old covered shopping street with a wide range of Japanese foods offered from miniscule stalls and full-sized shops. It’s a good chance to try the variety of Japanese snacks—some sweet, some salty, some both!

Later, a 30-minute walk brings you to the Bikoen Tea Shop, founded in 1872, which in addition to providing high-quality green tea to the city’s Buddhist temples, also offers visitors a chance to participate in a tea ceremony and lunch. You learn about this ritual that is central to Japanese culture with its precise steps, type of tea, and beautifully minimalist pottery. You return to your hotel in the later afternoon with time to enjoy its facilities before gathering for dinner.

Hyatt Regency Kyoto

Kyoto, Japan

A luxurious city-center hotel, this Hyatt Regency is a plush retreat, combining contemporary Japanese décor with all luxury amenities, including deep soaking bathtubs. On site are a fitness center, Japanese garden, and full-service spa. Dining options include a traditional Japanese restaurant and bar, and an Italian restaurant.

Day 3

Nara

Nara: Todai-ji Temple, Kasuga Shrine, Nara Park; 2 to 3 miles, easy

This morning, you transfer about one hour by private coach to the historical city of Nara, which is the Kansai region’s second city of immeasurably valuable historic sites after Kyoto—amazingly eight of them are also on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Although Nara only briefly served as Japan’s first imperial capital (from 710 to 784), this short period saw a flourishing of artistic expression and an influx of Buddhism from China—still visible today in its many temples and shrines. Its location and history also saved Nara’s structures from the many manmade and natural disasters that destroyed other sites in Japan. You begin your exploration at the Todai-ji Temple, defined by superlatives—the world’s largest bronze statue and, until recently, the world’s largest wooden structure—truly awe-inspiring in scale and artistry. Within the compound is tranquil Nigatsu-do Hall, on the hillside of Mount Wakakusa, where an annual Buddhist rite has been performed since the year 752. You also stroll through Nara’s famous park, extending broadly over the hill, mixed forest and open meadow—and sharing the trails with its thousand-plus tame deer, considered messengers of the deity of the nearby Kasuga Taiasha Shrine and now revered as national treasures. You return to your hotel with time to enjoy its elegant atmosphere, perhaps with tea or a cocktail in the inviting bar before another sumptuous dinner.

Nara Hotel

Nara, Japan

This grand historical hotel, built in 1909 during Japan’s Meiji era, has retained its Old World elegance and sophistication in its original main building. A true fusion of European and Japanese décor, guest rooms combine both traditions in design and comfort. Surrounded by manicured grounds and gardens that are contiguous with Nara’s park-like setting, the hotel offers on-site dining that includes a signature French restaurant, a traditional Japanese restaurant, a lovely tea lounge, and a wood-paneled classic bar.

Day 4

Takahara

Transfer to the Kii Peninsula and the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Route. Takahara to Chikatsuyu; 7 miles, moderate, 1,150-ft. ascent and 1,180-ft. descent

You depart Nara this morning and travel by private coach to the Kii Peninsula, the region stretching south of Nara. Your destination is the beginning of the Nakahechi—part of the network of ancient pilgrimage trails known as the Kumano Kodo, or Kumano Ancient Trail. This and the Camino de Santiago are the only two historical routes that are UNESCO World Heritage sites in their entirety. The Kumano Kodo grew from the 11th-century pilgrimages made by emperors from Kyoto. A landscape of verdant slopes, lush deep valleys, and rushing streams, Kumano—part of the mountainous Kii Peninsula—has been a sacred site associated with nature worship since prehistoric times. A tradition of pilgrimages grew out of the Shugendo religion that appeared here in the 7th century. Drawing from aspects of imported Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism along with native Shintoism, Shugendo practitioners believed that physical endurance was the path to enlightenment, so they embarked on long hikes in remote mountains and other physical tests. Over the many centuries, small shrines (jizo) were erected to protect travelers along the earthen and sometimes stone-cobbled path. Nowadays, the walking routes are more accessible, so walking distances can be customized with transfers. Today, you follow the pilgrimage route from the small village of Takahara to Chikatsuyu, through forests of sugi (Japanese cedar) and past small villages. In addition to the small shrines and torii gates, there are sites of old cha-ya (teahouses), which served as rest stops for pilgrims right up until the early 20th century. You descend to the village of Chikatsuyu, from where you are transferred to your intimate inn in Takahara, with its unsurpassed views. You experience true Japanese hospitality at a multi-course evening meal of locally sourced organic ingredients—dishes of grilled fish and meat, vegetables, pickles, rice, and miso soup served in myriad shapes of pottery and lacquerware. A soak in the hot-spring baths—made of cypress wood—is the perfect way to relax from the walk and the previous day’s travels.

Organic Hotel Kiri-no-sato-Takahara

Takahara, Japan

The Organic Hotel Kiri-no-sato-Takahara is situated directly on the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage walking route at about 900 feet and thus has some of the best views in the Kumano region overlooking the Hatenashi Mountain Range. Simple and comfortable guestrooms have mountain views and are either Japanese-style with tatami-mat floors, futons, and low furniture or Western-style with twin beds. Traditional meals of local organic cuisine are served with multiple courses in the dining room overlooking mountains and terraced hillsides. A traditional on-site onsen bath is fed with hot-spring water.

Day 5

Takahara

Chikatsuyu to Hongu Grand Shrine; 8 miles, moderate, 780-ft. ascent and descent

Awakening to mountain serenity and a traditional breakfast, you transfer the short distance by private bus to Chikatsuyu. From Chikatsuyu, you ascend on the trail to Nonaka and Tsugizakura-ōji, one of the many small shrines along the route. Nobles would rest at these sub-shrines, called ōji, to refresh themselves and compose poetry. Next, a drive of about 40 minutes takes you from Kobiro-ōji to Hosshinmon-ōji, where you pick up the trail to walk the final scenic section to Hongu Grand Shrine, first passing through several ridgetop villages. The symbol of the shrine is the mythological three‐legged raven, which represents the three shrines that pilgrims were required to reach for their pilgrimage to be considered complete: the Hongu, Nachi, and Hayatama shrines. In mythology the three‐legged crow was sent to guide Emperor Jimmu on his journey from Kumano to the Yamato Plain. At the shrine, you have the opportunity to meet a yamabushi—a priest of the Shugendo faith. He shares some of the tenets of the faith and talks about the special feats of endurance performed by yamabushi—sometimes translated as “one who lies in the mountains” or “holy man.” After your visit to the shrine, a short drive returns you to your inn in Takahara, where you may wish to enjoy a pre-dinner soak in the hot-spring baths while taking in the stunning surrounding vistas.

Organic Hotel Kiri-no-sato-Takahara

Takahara, Japan

The Organic Hotel Kiri-no-sato-Takahara is situated directly on the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage walking route at about 900 feet and thus has some of the best views in the Kumano region overlooking the Hatenashi Mountain Range. Simple and comfortable guestrooms have mountain views and are either Japanese-style with tatami-mat floors, futons, and low furniture or Western-style with twin beds. Traditional meals of local organic cuisine are served with multiple courses in the dining room overlooking mountains and terraced hillsides. A traditional on-site onsen bath is fed with hot-spring water.

Day 6

Takahara

Boat ride on the Kumano River. Maruyama Senmaida rice fields; 3 miles, easy to moderate, 600-ft. ascent and 720-ft. descent

This morning, you travel to the Kumano River, where you board a private boat to embark on a 90-minute gentle float trip in a traditional wooden flat-bottom boat. Running the length of the Kii Peninsula, pilgrims used this route in medieval times to get from the Hongu Grand Shrine to the Hayatama Grand Shrine at Shingu on the coast, one of the three required pilgrim destinations. The river is considered sacred and as an object of worship and you are sure to gain a unique perspective of the Kumano Kodo’s spiritual landscape while also admiring the stunning surrounding scenery. Leaving the boat, another short drive brings you to Maruyama Senmaida; this is an astounding system of terraced rice fields developed by farmers over more than 200 years. A short walk loops through the small pools on the narrow path as you learn about rice cultivation. A fitting picnic beside the rice paddies includes onigiri (rice balls with fish, vegetables, or seaweed), local homemade pickles, and green tea. In the later afternoon, you return to your hot-spring ryokan with time to relax before dinner.

Organic Hotel Kiri-no-sato-Takahara

Takahara, Japan

The Organic Hotel Kiri-no-sato-Takahara is situated directly on the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage walking route at about 900 feet and thus has some of the best views in the Kumano region overlooking the Hatenashi Mountain Range. Simple and comfortable guestrooms have mountain views and are either Japanese-style with tatami-mat floors, futons, and low furniture or Western-style with twin beds. Traditional meals of local organic cuisine are served with multiple courses in the dining room overlooking mountains and terraced hillsides. A traditional on-site onsen bath is fed with hot-spring water.

Day 7

Osaka

Mount Koya; 2 to 3 miles, easy. Transfer to Osaka

You depart Takahara this morning and travel by bus to Mount Koya. At an elevation of almost 3,000 feet, this is actually a group of eight peaks high in the mountains of Wakayama between the Kumano Kodo and Osaka, and is a popular day trip for many Osakans. This sprawling temple complex, founded in the 9th century by the priest Kobo Daishi, is the center of the Shingon sect of Buddhism and has grown into a town with over 100 temples, a university, and a large historical cemetery full of fascinating sculptures and memorials. You stroll the grounds and visit Oku-no-in, the shrine to Kobo Daishi, and then walk through the surrounding cemetery that holds the tombs of many historical Japanese figures.

From Mount Koya, you continue the drive to Osaka, Japan’s third-largest city. Known now for its colorful accent and foodie culture, it has long been associated with merchants and trading. Unlike nearby Kyoto, it was targeted in World War II bombing, so its buildings are mainly 20th- and 21st-century vintage. Upon check‐in, you have free time to explore or enjoy your hotel’s amenities, before meeting for a celebratory toast in the hotel’s Zen garden and a festive farewell dinner.

St. Regis Hotel

Osaka, Japan

An elegant luxury hotel in the heart of Osaka, the St. Regis offers sumptuous contemporary guestrooms with rich fabrics and individually selected artwork. In addition to the traditional Japanese Zen garden, a fitness center and spa are also on site, as are a fine-dining Italian restaurant, French-style bistro and bakery, and truly stylish 12th-floor bar, appreciated for its cocktails and afternoon tea.

Day 8

Osaka

Departure from Osaka

The tour ends at breakfast and you may depart at your leisure with your guide’s assistance to the Kansai airport or Osaka train station.

Itinerary Disclaimer

Bear in mind that this is a typical itinerary, and the actual activities, sites, and accommodations may vary due to season, special events, weather, or transportation schedules. We reserve the right to alter the itinerary since tour arrangements are made up to a year in advance, and unforeseen circumstances that mandate change may arise. Itinerary changes are made to improve the tour and your experience. If you are currently booked on a CW adventure, an itinerary has been sent to you for your exact departure date. Please call CW at 800.464.9255 if you have any questions about the exact itinerary or hotels selected for any of our tours.

Guides

Kana Hattori

Kana Hattori was born in Nagoya, raised in Kobe, and studied in Kyoto and the US. A student of the traditional tea ceremony and the philosophy of Zen, living in the moment has been always a core tenet of her life. Kana loves to sing, regularly giving concerts, and is passionate about Japanese traditional culture. She looks forward to sharing her extensive knowledge with our guests through her guiding.

Nana Hida

Nana Hida was born and raised in a small city located between Kyoto and Nara. After studying international relations in Kobe, she spent time backpacking through Asia, Europe, and the United States before becoming a tour guide in Canada, eventually returning home to guide in Japan. When not guiding, you can find Nana enjoying local films, sports, and practicing the art of Shodo-Japanese calligraphy.
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