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 gardens from Ishikawa to Kyoto and the rarely visited mountainous heartland of castles and spas. Your last stop is the vast and futuristic old city of Kyoto: sprawling, authentic, welcoming, and extraordinary.
Welcome to Japan! On arrival in Tokyo, you will be met at the airport and transferred to your hotel. The remainder of the day is free to soak up the atmosphere of this truly astounding city.
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 time-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.
This evening, you will enjoy a welcome yakitori dinner (skewered BBQ chicken) at a street yakitori bar. These chicken skewers were originally a food prepared for temple festivals, with a history stretching at least 1000 years, although it wasn’t until the mid-17th century that they were officially named. They are particularly associated with Tokyo and are sold year-round at yakitori street bars. (D)
Overnight Cotoha Hotel Okachimachi or similar
Set off this morning via bullet train from Tokyo to Kanazawa (approx. 2.5 hours). Taking a Japanese bullet train (shinkansen) is an experience in itself with these sleek high-speed trains which are able to reach speeds of up to 320km. On arrival, you will visit Kenrokuen Garden which is considered to be in the top three of the most beautiful landscape gardens in the country. This garden used to be outside of Kanazawa Castle, and was constructed over nearly two centuries by the ruling Maeda family. Strolling it’s 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.
From there, it is time to tempt those tastebuds as you enjoy a foodie tasting tour through Omicho Market. Known as the kitchen of Kanazawa, 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. It is then time to get acquainted with a staple of Japanese food as you visit a Soy sauce factory. Shoyu, or soy sauce as known globally, has become a popular condiment worldwide and you will learn how it is made by the local experts. (B)
Overnight Garden Hotel Kanazawa or similar
After enjoying breakfast at your hotel, you will journey via express bus from Kanazawa to Wajima (approx 3 hours). 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 & 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.
Today you will explore the peninsula by foot as you trek scenic Kamogaura, an easy-to-follow walking promenade of about 200m around the rocky Kamogaura coast. Enjoy discovering beautiful examples of rock erosion as you walk, such as rock pillars and honeycomb rock. You will see a natural salt-water pool which in the summer is used by many locals for swimming.
The remainder of the day will be yours to explore the town at your leisure. 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. (B)
Overnight Route Inn Wajima or similar
This morning is yours at leisure to stroll through the Wajima morning market. From 8am, the street is lined with stalls selling fresh seafood, dried fish, vegetables, handicrafts, and more, with about 200 stalls lining both sides of the street. This market has a long history, first operating over 1000 years ago and now one of the oldest continuously operating markets in the country. Most of the stall holders are elderly women, many of whom are the wives of the local fisherman. The market has a small shaded area in its centre where charcoal fired grills are available for customers to barbeque the seafood they have just purchased.
The rest of your day will be spent exploring the western part of the Noto peninsula, Senmaida. With the name meaning ‘Japan’s original landscape’, this region is known for its old-fashioned farming methods which are still practiced today. Enjoy the experience of making tofu with the locals in the nearby Sosogi Bay area. Special local soybeans are soaked in water day and night before they are ground in a stone mortar where natural seawater is added to the soy milk produced in the process.
After tasting your freshly made tofu, visit some hidden spots only known by the locals such as Madoiwa (Window Rock), Nansoh museum of arts, Sentai Jizo (Thousand guardian deity) which is an optional 1.5h trek, and Tokikuni house with its traditional thatched roof.
Today’s lunch is a pufferfish rice bowl with locally caught pufferfish. With a full belly, head to Okunoto Shiota, a nearby village where you will learn all about salt farming. Agehama-style salt, which has been used for more than 500 years, is less salty and has the rich taste and sweetness of the sea. This two-hour process includes picking up and spreading seawater as well as collecting sand. This evening, you will spend the evening at Minshuku, Notojiso, where you will have the opportunity to soak in open-air baths along with the sound of waves. (B,L,D)
Overnight Notojiso or similar
After breakfast this morning, you will travel to Yamanaka Onsen (approx. 4 hours). On the way, participate in a calligraphy lesson at a local artist’s studio overlooking the sea. Using real Suzuri plates, Sumi ink, and handmade brushes, learn this traditional art and create your own masterpiece.
You will then continue to Yamanaka Onsen, a small resort town along the Kakusenkei Gorge. This is one of the four hot spring towns that make up Kaga Onsen. These hot springs have waters that are said to help speed up recovery from illness and injury, ease joint and muscle pain and overall help to improve one’s health. They were first discovered by the monk Gyoki over 1300 years ago, and the water is considered to have the most healing properties in the region.
The hot springs area in the valley of the Daisoji River, where inns are lined along the riverbanks. After checking into your accommodation, you will visit the symbol of the town, the Koorogi Bridge. This attractive bridge is made of Japanese Cyprus Hinoki and is built above a river in a picturesque gorge. You will also visit the uniquely S-shaped Ayatori bridge designed by the head of the Sogetsu School of Art, and you will experience natural beauty of Kakusenkei Valley. (B,D)
Overnight Yamanaka Grand Hotel or similar
After breakfast this morning you travel through forested valleys as you make your way deep into the mountains to the peaceful and attractive 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 over one hundred monks devote themselves wholeheartedly to this style of practice at this site.
Spend the rest of the day here and have plenty of time to experience the charm and ambiance of this sacred Zen location. Try Sutra-copying and Zen meditation under local monk instruction 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. (B,D)
Overnight Eiheiji or similar
Start your morning with Zen chanting, drumming and Goma fire before an authentic Japanese breakfast in the monastery. You will then set off for your Tojinbo cruise. Tojinbo is a natural monument, scenic for a series of rugged, precipitous cliffs eroded by the rough waves of the Sea of Japan over the years. Enjoy a scenic drive to the Angel line, a 9.7km road leading to the top of Kusuyagadake. There is a huge rock called Ookami (wolf) rock and an observatory at the top. On a fine day, you can see from Cape Echizen to Tangojima Island.
Enjoy a traditional Sauce Katsudon lunch today in a local restaurant. This is one of the local gourmet specialties of Fukui Miyama which is your next destination. Expect the original landscape of a Japanese farming and mountain village, with its rich nature and lifestyle still untouched. Here, amidst the friendly farmers with their familiar produce, you will also come across some interesting items which a are not so familiar. This evening, savour a rustic dinner made with local ingredients. (B,L,D)
Overnight Kajikaso or similar
This morning is yours at leisure to explore independently. Embrace the slow pace of life here, the warm people, and delicious food in Miyama village. Later this morning, you will visit a local home where you can participate in cooking traditional food for your lunch and make rice cakes with the locals in Miyama Town.
Later this afternoon, travel to the old capital by express bus (approx. 2 hrs). 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.
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. (B,L)
Overnight WBF Gojo Omiya or similar
After enjoying breakfast this morning, it is time to get active. You will cycle down the ‘Path of Philosophy’ which gives you an overview of Kyoto (3.5hrs) while using the mode of transport preferred by the locals: the humble bicycle. You will pass shrines, temples, and mountains as you cycle along the ancient canals of Kyoto. You will also stop off at Nanzenji Temple, where you can stroll through the extensive grounds, full of sublime and beautiful gardens and rock landscapes. These grounds include twelve sub-temples, and they stretch right up to the base of a mountain, from where you can walk through cedar trees to an ancient and secluded shrine.
This afternoon, you will transfer by train to Kinosaki Onsen (approx. 3hrs). Nestled in a valley, surrounded by mountains and sea, this 1300 year old onsen (hot spring) town is filled with the tradition and culture of old Japan. With classic architecture, a nostalgic ambience with a willow and cherry blossom lined river at its centre, this charming town is the perfect place to relax and unwind. You will find seven different onsens all within walking distance of each other, so slip on the yukata (light cotton kimono provided by your hotel) and indulge in some total relaxation as you stroll around visiting the various onsens.
This evening, you will enjoy a farewell Kaiseki Dinner at your hotel. Kaiseki is the embodiment of the practice of ‘omotenashi,’ meaning wholehearted hospitality. It is a multi-course meal that is meticulously prepared and exquisitely presented, and the chef strives to deliver excellence in every detail, to convey respect and make guest feel valued. (B,D)
Overnight Shinzan Rakutei or similar
Your tour comes to an end this morning. After breakfast at your hotel, you will return to Kyoto and then continue on by train to Kansai International Airport for your onward flight (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.
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.