Southern Japan Experience    *alt*

12 days, from £3420
Intrepid Travel
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One of Japan's greatest attractions is its ability to offer up both the modern and traditional versions of itself. Alongside future-focused cities like Osaka and Nagasaki, there are places that have kept to its traditions for hundreds of years, often to stunning effect. Set off on a journey of discovery into the Japan that lies south west of Osaka, a 'lost Japan'. Travel also to Takamatsu and Naoshima Islands and be amazed at the contrast between the traditional beauty of the Ritsurin garden and the local avant-garde art exhibits.

* Explore the unique island of Naoshima, transformed from a sleepy fisherman's haunt to a world class art destination, with sleek and stylish museums and artworks that sit in harmony with the landscape
* Join the locals in the 1,368 stone steps up to Kompirasan, be awed by the impressive Matsuyama castle or try one of the oldest onsen in Japan, Dogo Onsen
* Feel like Indiana Jones as you cross the kazurabashi (vine bridges) of the hidden Iya Valley, a remote retreat of deep gorges and lush mountains on Shikoku island
* Uncover the different characters of the cities of Nagasaki and Osaka, from the former's thought-provoking Peace Park and Museum to the latter's busy streets where the motto is 'eat until you drop'
* Venture into the thick and mysterious cedar forests on Yakushima, relax at the seaside onsen or see the giant turtle lay eggs in the night in the summer months


 Day 1 Osaka

Konnichiwa! Welcome to Osaka, Japan. Your adventure begins with a Welcome Meeting at 6 pm tonight. You can arrive at any time during the day, as there are no activities planned until this important meeting. After the meeting, perhaps join your new travel companions for an optional dinner at a local restaurant. Osaka is the unofficial culinary capital, where the motto is 'Kuidaore' ('eat until you drop'), so there's sure to be a whole host of options on offer. Look out for okonomiyaki (a delicious savoury pancake) and kushikatsu (seasoned, deep fried meat on skewers).

 Day 2 Takamatsu

Depart Osaka in the morning and begin the journey west. Take the train to Takamatsu. This may be the largest city on the island of Shikoku, but it's a beautifully unpretentious town full of history, top-notch food and interesting local arts. Here you may pay a visit to Ritsurin Garden, one of the most beautiful gardens in the country. Dating back to the Edo period, it comprises many ponds, pavillions and historic trees, with a western garden an addition to the Japanese one.

 Day 3 Takamastsu/Naoshima Island

In the morning, take a ferry to Naoshima Island, which is famous for its modern art galleries, architecture and museum. Explore the island, using a public bus or bicycle to take you between the different galleries and installations. This is a totally unique and tranquil experience, in which you slip off your shoes to enter dreamlike exhibits. Wander between artworks, hear the sound of waves lapping at beaches, and stumble unexpectedly upon outdoor sculptures.

 Day 4 Kotohira

It's back on the train and off to the small town of Kotohira, which is famous for Kompirasan, Shikoku's most popular shrine. Popular with pilgrims, Kompirasan is dedicated to seafaring, and although the approach to the shrine is not particularly straightforward, it's well worth the effort. Climb the 785 steps to the main hall and take in views overlooking Kotohira Town (and check out a real submarine on display).

 Day 5 Kotohira/Iya Valley

Take a day trip to the secluded Iya Valley. Explore its winding passes and head to the atmospheric Kazurabashi, which translates to 'vine bridge'. When the Heike clan fled here some 800 years ago, they built these bridges as the only way to span the gorges and Iya river; if they were attacked then they could cut the vines at a moment's notice. Only three of these bridges remain, and they look like something out of Indiana Jones. An optional activity is to visit the restored thatched-roof samurai house, which lies at the top of a steep valley slope by towering cedar. This was once the home of village leaders, and now offers displays of samurai armour and superb views over the valley.

 Day 6 Matsuyama

Pack an overnight bag for your stop tonight at Matsuyama (your main luggage will be forwarded to Nagasaki). In your free time, perhaps visit the hill-top Matsuyama castle, one of Japan's finest castles. To get up up there, take the ropeway (chairlift). Alternatively, there's a nice pathway if you'd rather walk. Unlike most castles in Japan, this one has an interesting collection of artefacts inside, so take the chance to check them out and learn a little more about Matsuyama's history. Later maybe relax and unwind at the beautiful Dogo Onsen, one of the oldest bath houses in Japan.

 Day 7 Nagasaki

Spend most of the day travelling to Nagasaki via Hiroshima. From Matsuyama, take slow ferry to Hiroshima port. From there, take a train to Nagasaki. Though the name has strong connotations of bombs and war ' and the military history sites are important to visit ' it's a delight to explore, with its hills, harbour, churches and temples. Maybe take a stroll around Peace Park, or read up on what happened here at the Atomic Bomb Museum, an essential visit for any visitor.

 Day 8 Nagasaki

With a free day up your sleeve, consider heading over to Dejima. This fascinating artificial island, once a Dutch trading post (and the sole foreign presence in the whole country at one point) is well worth exploring. The deserted Gunkajima, or Battleship Island, is another interesting choice, with its eerie abandoned concrete buildings and sea wall.

 Day 9 Yakushima

Take the train to Kagoshima, then take the hydrofoil across the water to Yakushima. The forests of Yakushima are said to have inspired the forest setting in Hayao Miyazaki's film Princess Mononoke, and it's easy to see why. Its ancient cedar trees and shady green splendour are a delight to behold, and at times give the feeling of walking through another world. Your stay in Yakushima will most certainly be one full of magic.

 Day 10 Yakushima

Set off on a trek through the lush green forests of Yakushima (approximately 2.5 hours). Afterwards, kick back and relax. In the summer season, Nagata Inakahama Beach, the best beach on the island, is the place to be. Here, when it's the season, giant turtles lay their eggs in the sand at night. There's the option to see the turtles in the night (through authority'approved tours). Alternatively, spend free time soaking in the onsens by the sea.

 Day 11 Osaka

Travel back to Osaka (approximately 7 hours). Arrive in the evening and join your leader for a final celebration of your time in Japan (optional).

 Day 12 Osaka

The trip comes to an end, and you're free to depart at any time.

Tour Map