Konnichiwa! Welcome to Tokyo – bursting with contemporary urban culture, this chaotic city has fascinating museums and world-class shopping as well as neighbourhoods full of restaurants and karaoke bars. As this trip spends very little time in Tokyo, we recommend you arrive a few extra days before your trip if you want to experience all it has to offer. Your Japan active adventure begins with an important welcome meeting at 6 pm tonight, but before then, you can arrive at any time during the day. If you do have time, you might like to check out the mania of Shibuya Crossing, or stroll around the hip Harajuku neighbourhood – it's up to you! After the meeting, why not get some of your travel crew together for an optional dinner at a local restaurant – your group leader will know of some delicious places to go.
2 Nakasendo (Hiking)
Say goodbye to Tokyo this morning and hop on a train towards the Nakasendo Way (approximately 3.5 hours). The Nakasendo is a historic network connecting post stations, or shukuba, between Tokyo and Kyoto in the Edo period. Today, you'll tackle a section between two of these post towns – Tsumago and Magome. You'll walk a well-maintained and marked trail through forested countryside and right past traditional houses of the time. Both Tsumago and Magome were towns where weary travellers would rest during their journey along the Nakasendo Way, and tonight you'll get the chance to stay in a local guesthouse in town. (D)
3 Nakasendo / Onomichi (Hiking)
An early morning start today take you on a short hike along another section of the Nakasendo trail to Nagiso station. Then take a regional train plus a shinkansen (bullet train) to Furukawa, connecting to a local train bound for Onomichi (total travel time approximately 5 hours). Onomichi is the beginning of the famous Shimanami Kaido cycling track and the town is associated with a great number of great Japanese literary figures. There are various temples, pagodas and parks that you can explore on a couple of pleasant walks that connect them, the most popular being Temple Way.
After arriving mid afternoon in the city, you might like to get your cultural fix with a walk along Temple Way, or instead head to Senkoji Park, where you'll get a bird's-eye view of the city and the Inland Sea. If you're lucky enough to be in Japan in the springtime, cherry blossoms bloom in the parks here! Tonight, why not head into town and grab a ramen dinner in one of the laneway restaurants – these delicious soupy noodles are what Onomichi is known for. (B)
4 Shimanami Kaido / Onomichi (Cycling & Kayaking)
Wake up in Onomichi ready to take on a section of the Shimanami Kaido. This 60 km cycle path connects 6 small islands on the Inland Sea between Honshu and Shikoku. Today, you'll ride across three of the connecting islands, arriving on Ikuchijima around midday. The cycling paths are well established, and you'll pass by cafes, shrines, small beaches, getting to see the stunning vistas of the dotted islands and tiny fishing villages on the Setouchi Inland Sea. In the afternoon, swap your bike for a kayak and start paddling from the Sunshine Beach area of the island. Later on, catch a ferry back through to Onomichi Port (approximately 40 mins), before a relaxing evening.
5 Kyoto (Hiking)
Continue your Japanese journey with a local train and shinkansen to Kyoto (approximately 3 hours). Originally founded as Heian-kyo – ‘tranquility and peace capital' – in AD794, Kyoto was the capital of Japan for over 1000 years before the emperor and government relocated to Tokyo. Because of this, Kyoto is rich in history, with over 2000 temples, shrines and gardens. After dropping your bags off at the accommodation, head with your group to Fushimi Inari Shrine – one of the quintessential images of Japan. Famous for its thousands of reddish coloured torii gates, get lost in one of the network of trails, and be sure to snap a few artistic shots. Follow your leader to hike up the hill, away from most of the crowds, so you get the best view and most peaceful feel of the place. Later on, join your leader on a visit to the historic Gion area of town, where you might spot a geisha!
6 Kyoto (Hiking)
Head with your group to Ginkakuji, also known as the Silver Pavilion. Built more than 500 years ago, this structure, surrounded by intricate Japanese landscape architecture, was modelled off the Golden Pavilion, Kinakuji. From Ginkakuji, get more active for a hike up Mt Daimonji-yama – one of the best short hikes in Kyoto. From the top, you'll get a panoramic vista of the city and, on a clear day, a view all the way over to Yoshida-yama Hill. Once you're back in town, the afternoon is yours to choose your own adventure, however active or relaxing that may be. Perhaps check out Kyoto's Kitchen at Nishiki food markets, take a visit to Nijo Castle and the Imperial Palace, or get lost in the zigzagging lanes of the traditional Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka districts. Better yet, rest up in one of the sentos (traditional bath houses) in the city – an experience you must have at least once in Japan.
7 Kyoto (Cycling)
It's cycling time again! Pick up your rental bikes and start exploring Kyoto on two wheels. Stop at Tofukuji Temple first, then cycle along the beautiful Kamogawa river to Demachiyanangi, stopping at Daitokuji Temple. Learn about Zen Buddhism and get your zen on here, before hopping back on the saddle and continuing to the Kinkakuji Temple – also known as the Golden Pavllion. Finish today's cycling after rejoining with Kamogawa river on the way and back to the bike shop.
8 Shingu / Koguchi
Swap the bike for Japan's rail network and continue on the train to Shingu. Visit Kumano Hayatama Taisha Shrine – one of the 3 main shrines that are part of the Kumano Kodo network. After you've had a look around, visit Kamikura Shrine – one of the oldest and most sacred shrines in Shingu, which has a stunning view over Shingu city and out to the Pacific ocean. Change to a local public bus here to Koguchi, where you will rest for the night and get ready for tomorrow's hike.
9 Koguchi / Kii Katsuura (Hiking)
It'll be an early start, as today you'll hike part of the famous Kumano Kodo, one of the only two World Heritage-listed pilgrim routes in the world. The Kumano Kodo is a network of ancient pilgrimage routes that connect three major religious sites – known collectively as the Kumano Sanzan. Throughout the centuries, the pilgrim route has been used by imperial families and the nobility, warriors and common folk as part of their spiritual practice, and reflects a mixture of indigenous Shinto beliefs as well as Buddhist influences. For the first 2. 5-3 hours, it's an uphill climb up that rises over 800 metres. After reaching the Echizen-toge Pass, follow the forest ridge for another couple of kilometres until you reach the highest point, Funami-jaya teahouse at 868 m.
From here, it is another 4. 4 km to Nachi Taisha, which is mostly downhill. Once you've arrived, take visit to Nachi Taisha – another of the 3 Kumano shrines, as well as Nachi Falls. Then, take a bus down to Kii Katsuura for the night. (B/L)
Head to Japan's biggest tuna market in the morning – Nachikatsuura – which claims to have the highest volume of tuna fish hauls in all of Japan. The tuna, which are caught in the coastal waters by longline fishing, are sold at auctions here. Afterwards, take the train to Toba. Toba is the perfect place to wind down after a few days hard work of hiking, cycling and kayaking. On arrival, your leader will take you on a short orientation walk in the old town of Toba and give you the option to have a fresh seafood barbecue for lunch – oysters, anyone? In the afternoon, visit the famous Mikimoto Pearl Island Museum. Toba's claim to fame is as the birthplace of the cultured pearl industry and here you'll be able to witness how Ama divers (female pearl divers) collect pearls in the traditional way. In the evening, maybe check out the onsen in your hotel – there's no better way to relax tense muscles than soaking yourself in hot springs with an amazing view over the bay area. (B)
In the morning, hop back on the train and return to Osaka. Arrive Osaka around lunch time and go on a walking tour with your leader to the famous Dotombori district which is a popular shopping, food and entertainment district of the city. At night it is lit by hundreds of neon lights and mechanized signs, including the famous Glico Running Man sign and Kani Doraku crab sign. (B)
With no activities planned for today, you are free to depart at any time of the day. Hotel check-out time is usually around 10 am, however if you have later onward connections, you will be able to store your luggage at the hotel reception during the day.