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Discover the wild Sea of Japan coastline dotted with temples, lively cities and contrasted by tranquil mountains.
Imagine ancient wooden temples, raked-pebble zen gardens, and chanting Buddhist monks juxtaposed with space-age towers, neon lights and bullet trains; Japan’s fascinating blend of old and new is legendary. As you explore the Sea of Japan coastline, uncover the country’s unique culture amongst the serene shrines and coastal vistas from the village of Ine to Kyoto and the rarely visited mountainous heartland of castles and spas. Your last stop is the bustling, futuristic metropolis of Tokyo: a remarkable apposition to the heritage, history and tranquillity of the Japanese countryside.
Welcome to Japan! On arrival in Osaka, you will be met at the airport and transferred to your hotel. Osaka is Japan’s second largest city. As well as the central business hub in western Japan, Osaka has been at the heart of Japan’s cultural and economic development for hundreds of years. Along with plenty of shopping and modern attractions, this modern metropolis also has a historical side, the highlight of which is Osaka Castle. The castle is a great place to discover more about Japanese history and to wander the beautiful grounds. Osaka is best known for amazing casual food and outgoing locals. It’s arguably Japan’s street food capital, and most famous for snacks. The rest of the day is at leisure.
This evening, you will enjoy a welcome dinner with your group and taste the dishes Osaka is best known for – Takoyaki (octopus balls) and okonomiyaki. (D)
Overnight at The Flag Shinsaibashi or similar
Today, travel by private vehicle to one of the most beautiful landscapes in the Sea of Japan, approx. 2.5hrs. Your destination is Ine, a charming fishing village nestled between the sea and the mountains and far from mass tourism. The unique aspect of Ine is its funaya. Literally meaning ‘boat houses’, funaya are traditional waterfront buildings containing garages for boats on their first floors and residential space on the upper floors.
With your local guide, learn more about Ine’s history, visit a sake brewery and a funaya or boat house. You will also enjoy a boat cruise on the bay which is the perfect way to take in the scenery.
After lunch at a local restaurant, your next destination will be Amanohashidate recognized as one of the three most scenic views of Japan. Amanohashidate is a pine covered sandbar that spans the mouth of Miyazu Bay in the scenic, coastal region of the northern Kyoto Prefecture. Viewed from the mountains at either end of the bay, the Amanohashidate Sandbar (which roughly translates to ‘bridge in heaven,’) looks like a pathway between heaven and earth. Take a chairlift to Kasamatsu Park for an incredible panoramic view of Miyazu Bay and the sandbar. (B,L,D)
Overnight at Kitanoya or similar
Today, continue to Kyoto, approx. 2.5hrs, the former imperial capital until the Meiji restoration which has become, over the centuries, the cradle of the country’s finest production in the arts, culture and religion. Kyoto is full of shrines, historic temples and monuments classified as World Heritage by UNESCO.
No visit to Japan would be complete without a trip to Kyoto. With its atmospheric temples, traditional teahouses, sublime gardens, and the historic Geisha district of Gion, Kyoto is the embodiment of Old Japan. Kyoto has historically been the cultural capital of the country and this continues today, with many of Japan’s traditional arts and crafts. With its roots as the cultural capital of the country, in this city, artisans keep many traditional arts and crafts alive, passing traditional techniques from generation to generation.
Start your exploration at Nijo Castle, whose delicate wood carvings are a remarkable example of Japanese refinement. Listed as a UNESCO heritage site, this fortified castle is a former family home built in the 17th century for the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu.
For lunch, explore the narrow streets of Nishiki Market and its family-run stalls.
Visit Kinkaku-ji temple, nicknamed the ‘Golden Pavilion’. A wonderful garden stretches out in front of this pavilion covered in gold leaf, a perfect replica of the original building destroyed in 1950.
Of all parts of this exciting city, there is no district that is perhaps more intriguing then Gion, the famous geisha quarter that sits on the eastern bank of the river Kamo-gawa. With its wooden machiya merchant houses, tiny restaurants and that chance of catching a glimpse of a Geisha scuttling between appointments, Gion is at its most enchanting at night. After the sun has set, you will spend time exploring this fascinating district, with its mysterious laneways and picturesque wooden bridges. Dinner this evening is at your leisure. (B,L)
Overnight at Cross Hotel or similar
Today you have the day at leisure to explore some of the highlights of Kyoto independently such as Kiyomizu-dera, Ginkaku-ji or Arashiyama.
Then, you will experience a tea ceremony in a private garden. Originally a means of relaxation and meditation, the tea ceremony, (Chanoyu), has evolved into an extremely precise ritual requiring hours of learning and practice. (B)
Optional activity: Dinner with a Maiko
Tonight, delight your senses with a Kyoto-style kaiseki dinner sampling a multitude of small dishes highlighting the season’s best ingredients. As you enjoy your meal, Maiko (apprentice geisha), will host you with their best performances, some accompanied by a shamisen playing traditional music. Fun ensues with the rest of the evening dedicated to traditional Japanese games, and conversations with your Maiko host.
Overnight at Cross Hotel or similar
This morning, you will explore Fushimi Inari with thousands of red torii gates and numerous statues, messengers of the god of agriculture and business, Inari. With a history tracing back to the 8th century, Fushimi Inari Taisha is the headquarters of some 30,000 Inari shrines around the country. Some ten thousand torii gates line the walkways of Fushimi Inari Taisha and serve as its most charming and outstanding feature.
Continuing on for a 3 hour drive, you’ll reach Fukui prefecture and Eiheiji temple. Travel through forested valleys and past millennia-old Cedar trees as you make your way deep into the mountains to the peaceful temple village of Eiheiji (approx. 1 hr). This active monastery and temple complex was founded in 1244 by Zen Master Dogen, who was offered the land and help with construction by one of his devoted followers, a samurai called Yoshishige Hatano. Dogen was devoted to training his followers in how to perfect Zen practice within their daily life and the practice of shikantaza (‘single-minded sitting’). His methods have been carefully observed and recorded by his successors, and still today, has over one hundred monks devoting themselves wholeheartedly to this style of practice at this site.
Spend the rest of the day here where you will have plenty of time to experience the charm and ambiance of this sacred Zen location. Try Sutra-copying and Zen meditation under the guidance of a local monk or learn more with a Zen lecture by a monk. You will spend the night in this active monastery, where you will have further opportunity to experience simple Buddhist vegetarian cuisine (shojin ryori). (B,L,D)
Overnight at Eiheiji temple (Japanese room without bath and toilets) or similar
Start your morning with Zen chanting, drumming and Goma fire before an authentic Japanese breakfast in the monastery. After breakfast, a short 1-hour journey will take you to Kaga Onsen. Nestled between the coast of the Japan Sea and Mt. Hakusan is the 1300-year-old hot spring resort town of Kaga Onsen in southwestern Ishikawa.
In the forest, close to Kaga Onsen, stands Amazing Gallery, a large traditional house converted into a workshop, a place of learning directed by a famous contemporary lacquer artist and restorer of lacquer works. During this workshop, you will make chopsticks with precious wood. Afterwards, practice your chopstick skills enjoying a meal at a famous Soba restaurant in a traditional house.
After your arrival and checking in the hotel, the rest of the day is at your leisure to explore Wajima. If time permits, you may want to visit the Kiriko Lantern Museum which houses a large number of kiriko lanterns, all of them lit up with changing colours. Some of them are hundreds of years old.
Wajima sits at the tip of a rugged and hilly peninsula, stretching out far into the Japan Sea. This remote city is most famous for its morning market, its incredible lacquerware, and its female pearl and shell divers (Ama). The word Ama literally translates to ‘woman of the sea’ and the history of the female shell divers of Wajima goes back more than 400 years. These divers dive to depths of over 10 metres wearing only a wetsuit and goggles, to collect items such as pearls, abalone (sea snails), and turban shells. Wajima is home to the second-largest group of Ama in Japan, numbering about 200, ranging from women in their 70’s to teenagers. Divers need to have a large lung capacity, great eyesight, and a strong heart, as well as being daring and skilful. (B,L)
Overnight at Route Inn or similar
With your guide, enjoy a walk through the morning market where many stalls offer local or artisanal products. After this urban getaway, your next destination is Shiroyone Senmaida. On the hillside, down to the Sea of Japan below, these rice fields are a marvel for the eyes and for photography enthusiasts. Then, you’ll reach Suzu Enden Mura where a museum traces the history of salt cultivation on the Noto Peninsula.
As you drive along, enjoy the beautiful coastal scenery of the Noto Peninsula, a 100-kilometre stretch of land that juts out into the sea, making up the northern area of Ishikawa Prefecture. A visit to Noto’s beautiful beach, small fishing villages, and agricultural interior will mesmerize you and give you a new appreciation for slow-paced life. When you arrive in Tsukumo Bay, your final stop for the day will be at a calligraphy studio. Here, you will try your hand at this ancient art form, making your own calligraphy artworks, in a professional artist’s studio surrounded by nature and overlooking Noto’s beautiful five-colour sea. (B,L,D)
Overnight at Hyakurakusou Ryokan or similar
This morning, to travel light in the shinkansen, you’ll leave your main luggage at the front desk and keep a bag for the night in Kanazawa. It will be delivered the day after at your hotel in Tokyo (your tour leader will assist). Located between the Japanese Alps and the Sea of Japan, Kanawaza is famous for its cultural and artistic richness and offers a real dive into old Japan.
First, you’ll visit the Samurai district of Nagamachi, its streets with earthen facades adorned with woodwork and its former lordly residences such as Nomura Buke, a true immersion in the life of warrior lords.
Then, have a break for lunch at Omicho market, a lively food market nicknamed ‘Kanazawa’s Kitchen’. This bustling market has been around for over 400 years, and has its own distinct and lively atmosphere, with shop keepers’ cheerful and loud shouts filling the air. It flows into the neighbouring old Geisha district with its well-preserved tea houses where Geisha still perform.
This afternoon, discover Kenroku-en garden, one of the three most beautiful landscaped gardens in Japan. This garden used to be outside of Kanazawa Castle and was constructed over nearly two centuries by the ruling Maeda family. Strolling its grounds, you will encounter all the things that are commonly associated with a tranquil Japanese garden – teahouses, wooden bridges, water features, an abundance of flowers and plenty of hidden nooks just waiting to be discovered.
In the centre of the garden is a pond, the Kasumiga Ike, on the edges of which is a two-pillared lantern, the Kotoji, one of Japan’s most photographed monuments.
OPTIONAL: For those interested, your next stop is Higashi Chaya, one of the city’s three former geisha areas, with its centuries-old teahouses, lamp posts and facades dating back to the 19th century. The most beautiful of the houses is undoubtedly the Shima house. End your day at the Kanazawa Yasue Gold Leaf Museum, which presents the history of gold leaf in Kanazawa, including the process of making gold leaf and the tools involved. The production of gold leaf comes mainly from Kanazawa. (B,L,D)
Overnight at Mitsui Garden or similar
Your journey continues to Tokyo by shinkansen (bullet train) which is an experience in itself; these sleek high-speed trains can reach speeds of up to 320km.
Whilst being perhaps the most energetic, and futuristic city in the world, for a capital city, Tokyo remains remarkably safe, friendly, and manageable. Any trepidation felt by the sheer size of this buzzing metropolis is soon overcome as you discover the innate order, cleanliness, and civility that defines this exciting city. Set amongst its futuristic skyscrapers, you will find a district to suit every type of interest, from Harajuku with its quirky fashionista’s, through to Akihabara, a heaven for technology enthusiasts where you could be forgiven for thinking you have travelled into the future. Old Japan can still be found in the peaceful gardens and teahouses that are sprinkled through the city, and the Japanese obsession with ‘Kawaii’ (cuteness) pervades every life with a sense of playfulness, reflected in everything from instructional street signs through to everyday fashion.
A short walk from the train station, you’ll see the Double Bridge of the Imperial Palace and its garden. Tokyo Imperial Palace is the residence of Tokyo’s Imperial Family—and its grounds hold a storied history that extends back centuries. The grounds were originally home to Edo Castle, and in its heyday, this was the largest fortress in the world, though little remains today apart from the moat and stone walls. The emperor and his family still live in the western part of the domain. Surrounding the palace is Kōkyo-gaien, a 115-hectare national garden, which includes public green spaces, moats and museums. You may wish to return here in your spare time.
For lunch, head to Ameyoko by public transportation, a bustling shopping street offering cheap souvenirs shops and various restaurants. In Ameyoko, you can find bargains on almost everything.
After lunch, your tour leader will guide you to Asakusa, the traditional district of Tokyo, along the Sumida River.
Visit Senso-ji one of Tokyo’s most spectacular and revered temples. Located in Asakusa, Sonso-ji is the oldest and most famous temple in Tokyo with a history going back 1,400 years. This temple is dedicated to Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy, and it is visited by millions of travellers from all over the world every year.
On the shopping street that leads to the temple, ‘Nakamise Dori’, there are many shops selling all kinds of traditional items.
Tonight, your farewell dinner will be on a yakatabune, a boat cruising on Sumida River from Asakusa to Odaiba. Revel in an entertainment experience that, centuries ago, was restricted only to the wealthy. Feast on traditional Japanese cuisine accompanied by free-flowing drinks on board. Relish the feel of the river breeze and admire the Tokyo city views from a different vantage point taking in the spectacular sight of bright city lights and the famous Rainbow Bridge from the deck of your cruising yakatabune. (B,L,D)
Overnight at Asakusa View Hotel Annex Rokku or similar
If time permits, discover the highlights of the western part of Tokyo like Meiji Jingu, Harajuku and the famous Shibuya crossing at your leisure. At a designated time, you will be transferred to the airport for your flight home. (B)
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**Please note that this tour can be organised on request for private departures.
* Pricing is subject to change at anytime until full payment has been received.
* A minimum of 4 adults is required to guarantee this departure.
A non-refundable deposit of $1000 AUD per person is required to secure your place. Final payment is due no later than 60 days prior to departure. Travel insurance is mandatory for travelling with Crooked Compass. For full terms and conditions, please click here.
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This category of tours involves light trekking, walking, cycling, rafting or kayaking for a few hours each day with a small amount of inclines and declines. You will require a reasonable level of fitness and good health to participate. It is important to note that due to the nature of some of our trips, they may take place in remote areas (with basic facilities) and can involve long travelling days on various modes of transport.
Suggested preparation : At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake aerobic exercise (this may include jogging, cycling or fast walking) for 30 minutes, three times a week. It is also advised to walk on variable terrain and in variable weather conditions. For a cycling adventure, road cycling twice a week is recommended and for adventures which involve paddling and kayaking, it is important to gain confidence and rhythm rather than speed prior to departure.
This category of tours involve trekking, kayaking and cycling for period of 6 to 8 hours a day at a fairly consistent pace. Ideal for people looking to slightly increase the heart rate. For our moderately rated tours, you must have a good level of fitness and also be in good health. It is also important to be prepared for variable weather conditions. Altitude may also come into play. This category of tours may involve visiting remote areas where facilities can be quite basic. Accommodation may also involve camping, homestays or basic accommodation where facilities may not be considered of western standards. To enjoy this style of travel, it is suggested for travellers to have a reasonable level of fitness and health, a positive attitude, as well as a fairly active lifestyle. An open mind is also required.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake 45mins – 1 hour of aerobic exercise, three to four times a week. Some potential exercises that could be beneficial include hill walking with a backpack on over variable terrain and weather conditions, as well as running and cycling dependent on the activity you plan on undertaking.
This category of tours involves trekking, kayaking, cycling or other adventure activities in remote areas for up to 8 to 10 hours a day. It is important to note that with the remoteness of some regions comes a variety of other challenges such as variable weather conditions, accommodation as well as facilities. You must have an excellent level of fitness and good health to be able to partake in this category of tour. You must have confidence in your own ability and be in good physical condition. Includes extended periods of endurance.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 to 4 months of strenuous exercise, four times a week. When preparing for treks it would be beneficial to participate in hill walks with a weighted day pack (approximately 5-8 kg) once a week for aerobic fitness and strengthening of leg muscles. It is also important to do this on variable terrain to prepare for challenging adventures. When preparing for cycling adventures, regular bike riding (at least 4 to 5 times a week for 1-4 hours is essential). It is also important to cycle on uneven surfaces or even participate in other aerobic exercises such as running or swimming to build up strength and stamina. Altitude may also be a factor in these tours.
This category of tour often involves extreme trekking, cycling or other extreme adventure activities. It is important to expect remote and poorly defined tracks and to be prepared for variable weather conditions for 10 to 12 hours per day (may sometimes be more depending on weather and altitude). These adventures are suitable for travellers who have prior experience in strenuous travel and activities, are extremely fit and have excellent health. It is also important to note that some of the terrain on these adventures will involve trekking in snow, at high attitude levels and may require technical equipment.
Suggested preparation: It is important to note that physical fitness should be an ongoing activity, commencing around 5-6 months prior to departure, or even before if you have no prior fitness. Exercise should focus on building maximum endurance and stamina. Four to five hard sessions of 40-60 mins per week should be completed and can include exercises such as going to the gym, running, swimming or cycling to focus on building aerobic stamina. It could also be beneficial to prepare by hiking on rough terrain, in extreme weather conditions or partake in altitude training.