Ahead of the Rugby World Cup (2019) and Olympics (2020) coming to Japan, 2018 is the year to beat the crowds and visit before everyone else. But where to visit, and when? Walk Japan, the pioneer of small group tours and tailormade travel in Japan for over 25 years, has a tour for every time of year. Rooted in study trips originally run by two Hong Kong University academics, Tom Stanley and Richard Irving, for their students of Japanese history and social geography, Walk Japan’s tours have developed into adventures in beautiful and interesting areas of Japan, many little known, that are otherwise difficult to access.
Given the country’s length stretching some 3,000km north to south from almost Siberia to Taiwan together with its mountainous terrain, the arrival of the seasons and their length varies greatly according to region and climate, from sub-arctic in the north to sub-tropical in the south.
JANUARY: Hokkaido Snow Tour
January is the perfect time to enjoy Hokkaido’s wonderful landscape set deep in winter. An 8-day, 7-night tour, the Hokkaido Snow Tour is a snowshoe tour through Hokkaido’s less-visited snowy east, suitable for the occasional walker and providing the opportunity to walk over pristine snow, spot abundant wildlife and survey crater lakes shimmering in the crystal-clear air. Spend the evenings in delightful traditional accommodation, warming up in onsen hot spring baths. Tour priced from JPY 448,000pp.
FEBRUARY: Tohoku Hot Spring Snow Tour *NEW TOUR FOR 2018*
Continuing the snowy fun, February is the ideal moment to combine the winter landscape of Tohoku in north Honshu, with warm, invigorating onsen hot springs. The region is famed for its beautiful and rugged landscapes, delicious rice, prodigious amounts of snow and Japanese literary legend Matsuo Basho, whose most famous poetic journey was through the area. The Tohoku Hot Spring Snow Tour is a 9-day, 8-night tour using snowshoes to explore this mysterious land and mirror Basho’s poetic narrative Narrow Road to the Deep North – including a visit to a spectacularly and precipitously sited temple high above a valley on a steep cliff, and a farmhouse where the lyricist’s uncomfortable night is evocatively related in his haiku poetry. Look out for the phantasmagoric juhyou snow monsters which dominate the slopes. Tour priced from JPY 480,000pp.
MARCH: Izu Geo Trail
The Izu Peninsula is one of the most unique geological areas on the planet. Although only 150km from Tokyo, Izu, with its distinctly different landscape and climate akin to a sub-tropical island, is a world away from the capital. With temperatures well into double figures and perfect for walking comfortably by March, the Izu Geo Trail tours through this spectacular geological park and has a wealth of interest including amazing rock formations, beaches, waterfalls, literature and history. Beautifully located inns, bountiful seafood and onsen hot spring baths make this 7-day, 6-night tour a real treat. Tour priced from JPY 372,000pp.
APRIL: Kyoto City Tour
April is a delightful time to visit Kyoto, the enchanting cultural capital of Japan. Walk Japan’s two-day Kyoto Tour takes participants through the city’s rich history while exploring in depth some famous and some less well-known areas – a unique look into Japan’s old capital, its history, arts, crafts and people. April is also prime time to view Japan’s famous Sakura, or Cherry Blossom. Weather-dependent and notoriously fickle, peak bloom lasts only a scant few days but this interesting site from the Japan Meteorological agency is an excellent resource for tracking the cherry blossom. In an average year, the blossoms peak on 1st April but usually bloom from the last week in March and first two weeks of April. Tour priced from JPY 78,000pp (excluding accommodation).
MAY: Shikoku Temple Pilgrimage
Shikoku is a sparsely populated and beautiful, rural region. Spring is a wonderful time to appreciate the region on Walk Japan’s Shikoku Temple Pilgrimage, which traverses part of the ancient 1,200km Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage linking the famed 88 temples on Shikoku. The route begins in Tokushima, on the Pacific coast, before travelling through the rural heart of Shikoku’s mountainous interior towards Takamatsu on the placid Seto Inland Sea. Accommodation includes pilgrims lodgings on this tour. Tour priced from JPY 524,000pp.
JUNE: Kunisaki Retreat
June takes us to the lovely countryside of the Kunisaki Peninsula on Kyushu, Japan’s most westerly main island. Little developed, Kunisaki is dotted with sleepy hamlets, covered in verdant forests and paddy fields. On the 7-day, 6-night Kunisaki retreat, experience Walk Japan’s version of a spa holiday – a mind and body tour in warm, serene surroundings. Yoga, meditation and gentle walks through rural scenery, accommodation in family-run inns, delicious healthy cuisine and restorative onsen hot spring baths. Bliss! Tour priced from JPY 346,000pp.
JULY: Basho Tour – Narrow Road to the North
As the mercury rises, the north of Japan becomes an idyllic summer paradise where once snowshoes trod. Head to beautiful Tohoku to the rugged Sea of Japan and take delight and inspiration from some of the greatest scenery to be found in Japan, including pine-clad Matsushima, one of the classic Three Views of Japan, and the beautiful gardens found at Hiraizumi and Kenroku-en. The Basho Tour is a 9-day, 8-night guided journey through quiet country lanes, forest trails and mountain footpaths including accommodation in Shinto shrines and traditional inns. Tour priced from JPY 454,000pp.
AUGUST: Summer Nakasendo Way
Temperatures and humidity are high in August, so Walk Japan have specially adapted their popular Nakasendo Way tour for the summer months. Their 8-day, 7-night Summer Nakasendo Way tour visits areas at higher altitudes and is designed to provide a comfortable walking experience in summer, exploring the best verdant sections of one of Japan’s ancient highways, the Nakasendo; the lovely Kaida Plateau; and Matsumoto, a delightful regional city dominated by its castle, which is registered as a Japanese National Treasure. The porters and pack animals of ages past no longer exist. Instead, however, Walk Japan use modern means to send main luggage ahead so walkers can travel light. Tour priced from JPY 324,000pp
SEPTEMBER: Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage
Japan’s Kii peninsula is an area with abundant waterfalls, lush forests and a plethora of beautiful rivers. The 9-day, 8-night Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage is a tour between the modern, vibrant city of Osaka, the mountain temple community of Koyasan and the Japanese Imperial shrine at Ise. The walk is centred on the Kumano Kodo UNESCO-registered pilgrimage, one of only two UNESCO World Heritage listed pilgrimages (the other is the Camino de Santiago in Spain). The route offers plenty of places to enjoy the magnificent foliage of the autumn leaves, the second seasonal show by mother nature to impact the tourist calendar. Tour priced from JPY 378,000pp.
OCTOBER: Tokyo Tour
Autumn is a good time to visit Tokyo, one of the greatest, most enigmatic cities in the world. Walk Japan offers a guided walk through the cityscape and delves into Tokyo’s fascinating history, from founding shogun to today’s glittering metropolis. Find remnants of and insights into samurai Edo amongst gleaming architecture in one of the safest, most intriguing cities in the world. Tour priced from JPY 68,000pp (excluding accommodation).
NOVEMBER: Tokaido Trail *NEW TOUR FOR 2018*
The Tokaido is the greatest of Japan’s ancient highways, linking three of its greatest cities: Tokyo, Nagoya and Kyoto. In November, journey through the very core of Japan’s history, culture and society on Walk Japan’s Tokaido Trail, an 8-day, 7-night tour taking in quiet roads and forest trails climbing over hill passes. The Tokaido Shinkansen bullet train thunders between Tokyo and Kyoto at 285km per hour in a little over two hours – this tour instead takes 8 days connecting the best sections of the Tokaido through towns and paths seemingly forgotten since the days of the samurai. Tour priced from JPY 360,000pp.
DECEMBER: Oita Hot Springs Tour
The Japanese treasure their natural Onsen hot spring baths, and what better time to enjoy a trip linking hot spring to hot spring in charming rural Oita than December, the beginning of winter. The Oita Hot Springs Tour is a gentle walking and cycling trail through varied terrain – gorgeous valleys, a pretty plateau, soaring mountain scenery and seaside. Various onsen hot spring baths derived from volcanic activity deep below the earth’s surface link the trail together, each with different characteristics – some clear and some murky, some pungent and some fizzy! Every evening’s soak is different on this 6-day, 5-night tour. Oita is undoubtedly the Onsen capital of Japan, if not the world. Tour priced from JPY 316,000pp.
Walk Japan tour prices include all accommodation unless otherwise stated, full guiding from an experienced Tour Leader, most meals and transportation within the tour. Excludes flights and transfer to the start and end of the tour.
Mark Bibby Jackson
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