* Take afternoon tea with a trainee geisha in Kyoto
* Explore Himeji Castle, Japan's largest and most impressive samurai castle
* Bathe in hot springs at Misasa Onsen
* If all this sounds great and makes you want to see even more, why not extend your stay in Japan!
* Visit the beautiful Oki Islands for a day of exploration
* Visit Hiroshima's haunting Peace Park and Museum
* Spend the night in a remote temple lodgings on Mount Mitoku
If you would like to get away from the crowds and explore a region of Japan rich in history and brimming with myths and legends, all set in some of the most beautiful scenery in the country, then this is the tour for you.
The highlights of Rural Japan Explorer are many and varied: temples built into cliff faces; healing hot springs; a renowned landscape garden; historic castles; Japan's oldest and most important shrine; and an island believed to be home to the gods - to name but a few.
This IJT Classic tour of Japan commences and concludes in Kyoto, considered by many to be the cultural heart of the country. Having served as Japan's imperial capital for over a millennium, Kyoto's plethora of ancient temples, shrines and gardens is enough to keep even the most enthusiastic visitor busy indefinitely.
In between city stays in Kyoto, Matsue and Hiroshima, we will be exploring the natural elements of Honshu Island, in locations that provide a vivid and powerful counterpoint to city life.
These will include Hagi, a picturesque historic town; Mount Mitoku, a remote mountain in the depths of Tottori Prefecture; the lush Oki Islands off the coast of Matsue; and finally the picturesque hot spring town of Misasa Onsen.
Rural Japan Explorer is a varied, fascinating and original tour that promises a mixture of classic sights and little-visited gems that lie far from the beaten path - perfect for any traveller who wants to see a side of Japan that most tourists miss.
If this sounds good and makes you want to see even more,
Important practical Information:
Accommodation: All of the accommodation except for the stay in Mt. Mitoku has full en-suite facilities. In Mt. Mitoku we are staying at a temple lodging and the facilities are a little more basic although still very clean and comfortable. Baths are shared (single sex) and toilets are not attached to the rooms. In Misasa onsen the rooms have toilets, baths are shared (single sex).
Single Supplement: This tour has a single supplement. This guarantees a single room for all nights except one at the temple lodgings, where we may need to ask single travellers to share with another traveller of the same sex (maximum 1 night)
Transport: Please note that many transfers are by public transport making use of Japan's first-rate transport network. We will have use of a private bus at other times. All hotels and ryokan have been chosen for their location close to the nearest railway station. However, you will have to carry your bags for short distances and some stations do not have escalators.
Luggage: We highly recommend that to make your stay more enjoyable you pack reasonably light. Large suitcases will be an inconvenience to you. A small case or bag with wheels or a rucksack are most appropriate for this tour as you will have to carry your bags for short distances and some stations do not have escalators or elevators/lifts. You will also need a small overnight back-pack (for up to two nights) for use when we forward our main bags to the next location.
International flights: The tour starts and finishes in Kyoto (for Osaka Kansai Airport). Please note that the included meet-and-greet and airport transfer to the first hotel is ONLY available for Osaka Kansai Airport.
Check-in: Please note that rooms at the Kyoto hotel are only available from 3pm. (You can, however, securely leave your luggage at the front desk at any time). Fitness: Even when not using public transport, sightseeing in Japan often involves walking between sights, climbing up steps in temples and being 'on the go' for much of the day. To enjoy any of our Small Group Tours you should be of moderate fitness, able to walk and climb stairs without difficulty and able to maintain a pace that is comfortable for the majority of the group.
➕ Day 1-2
The tour commences in the historical city of Kyoto.
Upon arrival at Kansai International Airport you will be met by our representative and take a shared taxi transfer to your hotel in Kyoto. Your tour leader will be waiting to greet you in the lobby and help with checking in and first orientation. For those who choose to arrive early, there's a plethora of temples, shrines and museums waiting for you to explore. Dinner is included at a local restaurant and provides a great chance for you meet your fellow adventurers and sample some of the delicious local cuisine. On day two your tour leader will take you on an extensive tour of Kyoto. First, you'll head to the Ginkaku-ji Silver Pavilion, known for its wabi-sabi aesthetic and famous gardens. Following this the group will walk along the picturesque Philosopher's Path, explore the beautiful Nanzen-ji Temple and continue on to the impressive Heian Shrine. In the afternoon you will be a privileged guest, attending a traditional tea ceremony, performed by a genuine Gion maiko (trainee geisha). There will be plenty of opportunity for questions and photos after some traditional dance performances. This is a rare and fascinating opportunity to learn more this enigmatic world.
Overnight: Royal Park Hotel The Kyoto
➕ Day 3
Today we'll head deep into the Japanese countryside by train and private bus to Mount Mitoku.
The journey will take us through Tottori Prefecture, offering great views of the stunning countryside along the way. On arrival we'll visit the historic warehouse area in Kurayoshi before travelling on to Mitoku Temple complex, where we'll be staying the night. Here we can hike up through the forest to Nageiredo, a beautiful and mysterious temple built into the cliff face, before a delicious included dinner of shojin ryori: traditional Buddhist cuisine.
Overnight: Sanbutsu-ji Shukubo
➕ Day 4
It's an early start today as you rise to observe the morning rituals and partake in some zazen meditation with the monks of the temple.
After breakfast we'll spend the day visiting local traditional houses, storehouses and businesses, trying our hand at various arts and crafts along the way. Amongst other experiences, we'll learn how to make soba noodles, a mini tatami mat, and dress up in traditional handmade samurai armour!
Overnight: Ryokan Kiya
➕ Day 5
Today we'll enjoy a leisurely start before heading by private bus and ferry to the Oki Islands.
The journey will take us through the stunning Daisen-Oki National Park, dominated by Mount Daisen ' a volcano formerly known as Okami-take: "Mountain of the Great God". If you are looking for something "off the beaten track", you'll find it in the sparsely populated Oki Islands. Tonight we'll stay on Nishinoshima Island in a Japanese inn that has a great bathhouse with sea views. After another delicious included dinner, you'll board a private night cruise. You'll be amazed not only at the brightness of the stars out here in the countryside, but by the brightness of the ocean ' which glows with special kind of fluorescent plankton, providing a spectacular natural light show.
➕ Day 6
On our second day in the Oki Islands we'll explore the region's rich nature and history with a local guide.
We can follow a glorious coastal path to take in natural formations such as Matengai cliff, and capture the perfect shot at the beautiful Akao Lookout. Later in the day, we will have the chance to sample the area's sake and learn about the production of Japanese most famous drink! Then we hop over to Dogo Island for an overnight stay
Overnight: Island Park Hotel
➕ Day 7-8
On the morning of day seven it's time for some more sightseeing and scenic walks on Dogo Island before you continue your journey by ferry and bus to Matsue.
We will have the opportunity to observe a very unique tradition on Dogo: Bull Sumo! This kind of bullfighting differs greatly from the Spanish version, as bulls are the only participants, and no blood is spilt. Back on the main island in Matsue, we will be staying in a western style hotel and your tour leader will no doubt be able to take you out for a lively night in town. Situated between Lakes Nakaumi and Shinji, on the banks of the Ohashi River, it's not difficult to see why Matsue is sometimes known as "The Water City". One of Matsue's most prominent attractions is its impressive castle, one of only 12 remaining original castles in Japan, often known as the "Black Castle" or "Plover Castle". On day eight we'll explore historic Matsue and its environs. Starting by taking in the views from the top of the castle keep, next we'll stroll through its attractive grounds to the former residence of one of the city's most famous sons: the writer Patrick Lafcadio Hearn. Also known by his Japanese name, Koizumi Yakumo, Hearn is best known for his collections of Japanese legends and ghost stories. After lunch we'll head a little way out of Matsue to visit The Adachi Museum of Art. Though the art collection is impressive, what Adachi is best known for is its award winning garden ' voted the best in Japan every year since 2003. We think you'll understand why!
Overnight: Route Inn Hotel Matsue
➕ Day 9-10
On the morning of day nine we will head west along the Sea of Japan in the direction of Izumo Taisha (Izumo Grand Shrine) by private bus.
Often considered to be the oldest shrine in Japan, it is not known exactly when Izumo Taisha was built. What is clear from historical chronicles is that it was in existence from at least the early 700s. Okuninushi no Okami, the deity believed to have created Japan, is enshrined here. Therefore, it also one of the most important Shinto shrines for the Japanese. After a few hours of exploration and contemplation, our journey continues to the former castle town of Hagi. Hagi was once the capital and home of the Mori Clan, one of the most powerful clans of the feudal age. On day ten we'll have the chance to explore this former castle town on foot, admiring the remarkably well preserved samurai district, visiting some old samurai residences and strolling through the white-walled streets to get a taste of how life must have been for this world-famous warrior class. Our meal tonight will once again be included at our accommodation.
Overnight: Hagi Honjin
➕ Day 11-12
Next stop is the infamous city of Hiroshima.
In the morning we set off by bus to visit the spectacular Akiyoshido Cave, the nation's longest and largest limestone cave, packed with impressive stalagmites and stalactites. Then it's time to bid goodbye to the Sea of Japan and head inland by bullet train to Hiroshima. Despite its association with one of the darkest days in mankind's history, modern Hiroshima is a vibrant, attractive city with wide boulevards, lots of art museums and a bustling downtown area. Join your tour leader tonight for Hiroshima's most famous dish, okonomiyaki: a kind of as-you-like-it savoury pancake cooked on a grill in front of you. On day twelve of your tour you'll pay a visit to the haunting Peace Memorial Museum and surrounding Peace Park, which commemorate the devastating effects of the atomic bomb and Hiroshima's remarkable recovery. Following this you'll catch the fifteen-minute ferry to nearby Miyajima Island, a beautiful, sacred location famous for its shrines, temples and friendly resident deer. Here we'll catch the cable car to the top of the island's highest peak, Mount Misen, which has been worshipped by locals since as far back as the sixth century, and admire the island's most recognizable sight: the "floating" torii gate of Itsukushima Shrine.
Overnight: Hiroshima Sunroute Hotel
➕ Day 13-14
On day thirteen you'll make your way back to the former capital in style, whizzing through the countryside on the Shinkansen bullet train.
Before heading back to Kyoto we will drop by Joge, a historic town rarely visited by foreign tourists. Joge is renowned for its fine examples of original Meiji & Taisho era architecture and a walk down the main street really does feel like stepping back in time. We've arranged a full day of cultural activities with local guides and you will have plenty of opportunities to meet and interact with members of the local community. Late in the afternoon you'll be whisked back to Kyoto on a super-fast Nozomi Shinkansen bullet train, leaving you time to freshen up and head out to a local izakaya for an (optional) farewell evening meal with your tour leader and group. On day 14 it's time to say sayonara to Japan! A shared taxi will take you from Kyoto to Kansai Airport.
Overnight: Royal Park Hotel The Kyoto