(16 nights 17 days)
Japan is a country that defies easy categorization. Over hundreds of years Japan has interweaved foreign elements, initially from China and subsequently Europe / America, with their existing ways of life to create a culture that is modern, yet traditional. It may be a land of extremes, but also of harmony. Parting men and women in western business attire bowing low on a crowded subway platform is not an unusual sight. What may seem familiar from afar may be dauntingly frustrating upon more intimate contact. And what may seem incomprehensible from afar may yet leave you with the most cherished experience of your journey. So keep an open mind and you will enjoy your journey through Japan.
Going through the below itinerary, this trip may appear to be an organized tour. Far from it! We intend this trip to be as close to independent travel as possible. The below itinerary will form the basis for hotel bookings, but barring some activities which need prior arrangements, it is only reflective of what we would like to accomplish.
Most of the walks in this itinerary are loops and if any of us are not feeling like hiking on certain days, they can relax at the start / end point while waiting for the hikers to be back.
- Day 1: Departure from New Delhi Board a flight to Tokyo.
- Day 2: Arrive in Tokyo We will arrive in Narita airport and take a bus / train to Tokyo (~ 2 hrs). We will check-in to a hotel in south-western Tokyo. After freshening up, we will spend the evening in Shibuya, a bustling entertainment and shopping district catering to the young.
- Day 3: Tokyo We will start with a visit Tsukiji fish market - the place where all the catch from the sea turns up. The wholesale auction starts early but we will arrive in time for a sushi breakfast, the freshest fare you can hope to get.
We will then watch a kabuki performance at Kabuki-za theatre, aided by an earphone guide that explains the performance in English as you watch.
We will then visit Meiji-jingu shrine, Tokyo’s finest shrine, built in memory of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken, under whose rule Japan ended a 250 year isolation in 1868. After visiting the shrine, we will take a stroll down Omote-sando.
We will spend the evening in Roppongi, an international nightlife hub. We will be sure to belt out our favourite songs at a karaoke during the course of the evening.
- Day 4: Tokyo Today, we will visit the Senso-ji temple, which enshrines a golden image of the Buddhist Kannon, goddess of mercy. This area used to be home to the working classes in earlier times (Shitamachi, literally, downtown) and it retains this character to some extent. We will follow the temple visit with a short walk around here.
Next, we will visit Tokyo National Museum, which houses the world’s largest collection of Japanese art.
We will spend the evening in Shinjuku, a sprawling business, commercial and entertainment center.
- Day 5: Tokyo - Hakone Hakone is a resort town and if the weather co-operates, Mt. Fuji is an imposing presence that makes a trip to Hakone truly spectacular.
Hakone is about 1.5 hours from Tokyo by train. We will start early from Tokyo. We will travel through Hakone region using a variety of transport options – toy train, cable car and ropeway, boat, bus, and of course, feet. We will end the day with a dip into a hot water spring (onsen).
We will stay the night in a traditional Japanese inn (ryokan).
- Day 6: Hakone - Kyoto After breakfast at the ryokan, we will check-out and set out for Kyoto, about 3 hours from Hakone. In Kyoto, we will stay at a ryokan.
After checking in, we will visit the twin valleys of Kurama and Kibune to witness Kurama-no-hi matsuri, the Kurama fire festival. We could either reach Kurama by train or optionally get off at Kibune and hike over to Kurama, crossing the ridge that separates the valleys (total distance – 4.5 km). While in Kurama, we will visit the Kurama-dera temple and Kurama onsen (hot water spring), which has an outdoor bath with fine views of Mt. Kurama. We will return to Kyoto for the night.
- Day 7: Kyoto We will cover northern Higashiyama today. We will start with Philosopher’s Walk (1.8 km), stopping en-route at Honen-in temple. The Path terminates at Ginkaku-ji temple. After spending some time here, we will hike to the top of Daimonji-yama. The hike continues beyond Daomonji-yama and descends near the pleasant temples of Nanzen-ji (total distance - 7 km). Nanzen-ji temple has numerous sub-temples and we will spend the rest of the day here.
We will spend the evening at Funaoka onsen, Kyoto’s best bath.
- Day 8: Kyoto
We will cover a couple of fine temples in southern Kyoto and southern Higashiyama today. It will be a long day, so we have to start early. We will start with Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine dedicated to the gods of rice and sake. We will then hike to the top of Inari-san, running through more than 10,000 red tori gates and end at nearby Tofuku-ji temple (total distance – 6 km).
We will then visit Kiyomizu-dera temple and then stroll through Sannen-zaka and Ninnen-zaka, one of the most enjoyable strolls around the backstreets of Kyoto before arriving at Maruyama-koen park. We will visit Chion-in temple and Shoren-in temple located in the park.
We will experience tea ceremony at En, a small teahouse near Gion and spend the evening strolling through Gion.
- Day 9: Kyoto Today, we will visit Ohara, a quiet farming town about 10 km north of Kyoto. The autumn foliage here is beautiful. We will visit the picturesque Sanzen-in temple before hiking to the top of Konpira-san, overlooking Ohara. En route, we will stop at Kotohira Singusha, a lovely mountain shrine (total distance – 12 km).
In the afternoon, we will visit the Arashiyama and Sagano area, at the base of Kyoto’s western mountains. We will start at Tenryu-ji temple and pass through Arashiyama’s most stunning sight, the famous bamboo groove. We will then visit Okochi Sanso, home of Okochi Denjiro, an actor in samurai films. The superb gardens at Okochi Sanso allow fine views over the city and are particularly lovely during autumn. We will then walk north to Gio-ji temple before returning to Kyoto.
- Day 10: Day trip to Nara We will travel to Nara for a half day sightseeing trip in the Nara-koen park area, including Isui-en (one of Nara’s finest gardens), Todai-ji temple which houses the famous Daibutsu (Great Buddha), Nara’s star attraction.
We will return from Nara by afternoon in time for a visit to Kinkaku-ji temple and Ryoan-ji temple, in north-western Kyoto.
- Day 11: Kyoto Hiroshima We will check-out early from Kyoto and go further west to Hiroshima. We will visit Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims, the Atomic bomb dome, Peace Memorial Park, and Peace Memorial Museum in Hiroshima.
We will stay the night in a hotel in Hiroshima.
- Day 12: Hiroshima - Miyajima island We will leave early morning for Miyajima island, a Unesco World Heritage Site and one of Japan’s biggest tourist attractions. We will visit Itsukushima-jinja shrine with its floating tori gate and in the afternoon, ascend Mt. Misen, a 10 km hike to the highest point on the island.
We will stay the night in a traditional Japanese inn (ryokan) on Miyajima island.
- Day 13: Miyajima island Wakayama - Koya-san We will leave Miyajima island early morning and passing Hiroshima and Osaka, reach Wakayama by noon. We will rent cars here before heading for Mt. Koya-san, a raised tableland whose major attraction is a monastic complex, which offer temple lodging for visitors.
We will spend the night in Koya-san.
- Day 14: Koya-san - Hongu After optionally participating in the morning religious service, we will visit Oku-no-in, a cemetery / temple complex.
We will leave by noon and head out into the spectacular mountainous landscape of the Kii peninsula. We should reach Hongu area by evening.
Hongu area comprises three onsen villages – Yunomine onsen, Watarase onsen and Kawa-yu onsen. We will stay two nights in this area, and do a circuit of all three onsen villages.
- Day 15: Hongu This will be a day to wash out all tiredness of the past two weeks by soaking in the various onsens of Hongu. We will do little else.
- Day 16: Hongu - Shirahama Wakayama - Tokyo We will leave early from Hongu area and head to Shirahama, one of Japan’s top hot spring / beach resorts. We will spend the morning soaking in the hot water springs right on the beach.
We will then head back to Wakayama to return the rental cars and back to Tokyo, via Osaka.
- Day 17: Departure from Tokyo; Arrive in New Delhi