From pilgrims’ paths in ancient forests to snowcapped peaks and rural farmland: discover Japan from a different perspective on this hiker’s introduction to Honshu.
For us, Japan is at least as much about mountains and countryside as it is about cities, which is what inspired us to design this itinerary. Combining the best of urban life with some of our favourite hikes, it reveals Japan’s dramatic contrasts in all their glory.
All transfers will be by public transport (limited express train and bus) unless otherwise specified. If you’d prefer to travel a different way, there are lots of options – including self-drive car rental and private transfers with a driver. Just let us know and we’ll tailor the trip to your preferences.
This itinerary includes some of our favourite hikes in Japan, including two multi-day hikes in completely different settings
City stays in between give you a fantastic balance of urban and rural, with dramatic contrast between destinations
You’ll stay in lots of Japanese-style accommodation, including ryokan inns and minshuku guesthouses, with plenty of traditional, home-cooked food
You’ll get properly off the beaten track, but you’ll also cross off some of Japan’s most famous sights
Things to consider
It probably goes without saying, but a good level of fitness and a fondness for hiking are essential!
In more rural destinations, accommodation options are often limited to fairly basic, Japanese-style stays. This means you’ll need to be comfortable sleeping on a futon and sitting on the ground for meals
If you'd like to spend more time on the Kumano Kodo, or include hikes on Japan’s other islands (Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shikoku) we can alter this trip or design one from scratch
Due to weather conditions, this trip is only recommended from March to November
There’s perhaps no better counterpoint to Japan’s mountainous hinterlands than Tokyo. Make sense of the chaos with one of our resident Tokyoites, who’ll help you learn your way around – both geographically and culturally. If you’re after the full big-city experience, the non-stop entertainment district of Shinjuku has enough bars, karaoke rooms and restaurants to keep you busy for a lifetime. If you’d prefer to ease yourself in, a cruise on the Sumida River and an afternoon at Hamarikyu Gardens might be more your style. The world’s biggest city defies description, but it doesn’t need to be intimidating — and it really does have something for everyone.
Discover Tokyo’s many different faces on a full-day city tour with a private guide
Go for a warm-up hike on beautiful Mount Takao, less than an hour from the heart of the city
After Tokyo, pretty much everywhere feels like the sticks. The laid-back city of Matsumoto is your next stop: renowned for its “Black Crow” castle, fine art pedigree and delicious soba noodles. Its samurai fortress is one of just 12 original castles left in Japan, and climbing its steep wooden stairs to the observation deck will give you a magnificent view of the snow-capped mountains that surround the city. Art buffs can also squeeze in a visit to one of the country’s best collections of woodblock prints or see dotty Kusama installations at the City Art Museum, and Bar Gnu is our favourite after-hours haunt. Just don’t go wild on the local sake before your first big hike.
See the “Black Crow” castle lit up against the night sky after dark
Carb-load before your first hike on Matsumoto’s signature soba noodles
Sample the local delicacy, basashi (horse sashimi) if you dare!
The finer detail
- Breakfast every day
- Six evening meals: two at your accommodation on the Nakasendo Way; three at your accommodation on the Kumano Kodo, and an evening street food tour in Osaka
- Four packed lunches on the Kumano Kodo
- Two full-day guided city tours: one in Tokyo; one in Kyoto
- All accommodation
- All entrance fees to sites included in guided experiences
- All domestic transfers and transport
- Manaca transport card with 2,500 yen credit for city transport
- Seven-day Japan Rail Pass
- Pocket Wi-Fi device
- Same-day luggage forwarding service between all destinations on the Kumano Kodo
- Kumano Kodo orientation and guidebook
- Nakasendo Trail map
- Your personalised InsideJapan Info-Pack
Logistics & journey times
Day 1: Shared shuttle bus transfer from Narita Airport to your hotel in Tokyo (2 hours)
Day 4: Limited express train transfer from Tokyo to Matsumoto (2.5 hours)
Day 5: Limited express train (1 hour 15 min) and bus (30 min) transfer from Matsumoto to Magome
Day 7: Limited express and bullet train transfer from Narai to Kyoto (3 hours 20 min)
Day 10: Bullet train and limited express from Kyoto to Kii-Tanabe (3 hours), followed by bus transfer to Yunomine Onsen (90 mins)
Day 11: Bus transfer from Yunomine Onsen to Ukegawa trailhead (15 min)
Day 13: Bus transfer from Nachi to Kii-Katsuura (30 min) followed by limited express train from Kii-Katsuura to Osaka (just under 4 hours)
Day 15: Train transfer from Osaka to Kansai Airport (40 min)
What's not included
- International flights
- Local transport (buses, subways, taxis) at any destination unless otherwise specified
- Any lunches or dinners unless stated
- Entrance fees to any sites not included in guided experiences
- Tipping and personal expenses
- Baggage handling (outside the Kumano Kodo)