Tohoku – Uncharted Japan

12 Days
from AUD$ 15,047

Highlights

  • Explore the least discovered region of Japan
  • Witness cherry blossom or the changing autumn colours
  • Spend time with Akita inu dogs
  • Fine-dining and sake tasting at Japan’s most cutting edge brewery
  • Farm-stay with delightful elderly couple, Mr and Mrs Yamauchi
  • Wander through traditional samurai residences
  • Gentle hiking along a volcanic river and steaming valley

Are you seeking a lesser known Japan? Perhaps the region that less than 2% of foreigners have ever explored?

Welcome to Tohoku. This is a land steeped in history, mythology, and folklore, having retained its own identity over the centuries; from its charming dialect to its ancient traditions and tales, occupying a unique space in the Japanese archipelago. Expect late blooming pink cherry blossoms in contrast with the black samurai residences of Kakunodate, medicinal hot springs of Nyuto Onsen, vibrant autumn leaves covering Hachimantai and Dakigaeri Gorge, Oga’s
Namahage ritual and iconic Akita dogs. This is a deeper, more untouched, more naturally beautiful Japan.

Journey map

Fitness level

Easy
Moderate
Challenging
Tough

Itinerary

Day 1 – Arrival in Tokyo

Konichiwa and welcome to Tokyo, Japan! You will be met at the airport and transferred to your hotel. The remainder of the day is free at leisure. A sprawling city with a diverse collection of neighbourhoods and where no two experiences are ever the same. Futuristic sleek structures piece the skyline, then turn a corner and stroll past low-slung wooden buildings with glowing lanterns. Search for hidden art galleries and cocktail bars – every street is there to explore. This evening, you will enjoy a welcome dinner with your group tour and taste monjayaki, a pan-fried batter and a popular dish in Tokyo. (D)

Overnight at Metropolitan Marunouchi or similar

Day 2 - Tokyo - Yamadera - Ginzan Onsen

This morning, you will depart to the train station to experience the ‘bullet train’. In order to travel light on the shinkansen (bullet train), you will leave your main luggage at the front desk and take a small overnight bag with you to Ginzan Onsen. Your main luggage will be delivered to your hotel in Kakunodate the following day. Walk to Tokyo station and take the shinkansen to Yamagata (approx. 2.45hrs). Here you will be met and transferred to Yamadera.

Founded in 860, ‘Risshakuji’ is more commonly known as ‘Yamadera’,  which means ‘mountain temple’.  The mountain section consists of a thousand-step staircase through a serene forest, past interesting stone sculptures, intimate prayer halls, and rock formations. When you reach Godaido near the top, an observation platform offers a breathtaking view of the valley. Lunch is on your own accord from one of the many food stalls. In the afternoon, enjoy a small and local festival. Every year on May 17, a local fire brigade transports three mikoshi (a portable Shinto shrine) from this temple, descending the stone steps from the Konpon Chudo stairs to the Risshakuji entrance and running along the main street of town.

Continue to Ginzan onsen, one of loveliest onsen villages in Japan. Here you will have free time to explore this pedestrian only village at your own pace. The inns and traditional shops along the river create a picturesque landscape and are reminiscent of a novel from the Taisho era. At night, the main street is illuminated by gas lamps in a dreamlike atmosphere. (B,D)

Overnight at Notoya ryokan or similar

Day 3 - Ginzan Onsen - Yuzawa walking tour or Yamamo Miso factory visit - Kakunodate

After a leisurely morning, enjoying a traditional Japanese breakfast and dip in the onsen before you resume your journey into unchartered territory. Just over 90 minutes by private vehicle, will take you to across Yamagata into Akita prefecture.

Your first stop in Akita is the Yuzawa area known for its incredible volcanic landscapes and breathtaking nature. Here, you will take a hike to the most spectacular spots – Kawarage Jigoku is one of Japan’s most sacred natural wonders is a grey-white lava rock mountainous area largely devoid of flora due to the volcanic activity. Together with the steaming earth, the eerie rock formations and the strong smell of sulphur, it is said to give the impression of hell in Japanese folklore.

Enjoy a short hiking course together with a local guide to explore the area. Highlights include Kawarage Oyutaki (hot spring waterfall) that drops from a steaming hot volcanic water river from a height of 20 metres. At the foot of waterfall, are natural hot spring pools where locals bathe during the summer months.

At the nearby Osakyu gorge, enjoy the incredible scene of a steaming river running through luscious mountainous forests. This is absolutely mesmerising particularly in the Autumn months.

In the case of inclement weather or for those opting not to hike, we will arrange a special tour and dining experience at the Yuzawa’s Yamamo Miso & Soy Sauce Brewery.

After your tour, it is time to take the 1 hour coach ride to your main base in Akita prefecture, Kakunodate Town; iconic, picturesque and historical – this offers the best of Japan, but without the international hoards. (B,L)

Overnight at hotel Folkloro Kakunodate or similar

Day 4 - Kakunodate

Kakunodate is a fortified samurai town founded by the local lord Ashina in 1620. Nowadays, this charming town, called “the little Kyoto of Tohoku” has many samurai residences dating back more than 350 years and can be easily explored on foot.

After a short exploration of the highlights, visit a small family business which specialises in many objects using the bark from wild cherry trees, for which Kakunodate is famous across Japan. To better understand these local craft traditions, you get involved in a craft workshop, making a miniature cherry bark wall-hanging or an itaya-zaiku wickerwork horse, all under the guidance of the resident experts.

After lunch, head for a short walk with a local guide and her famous companions, two incredible Akita inu dogs.  It gives you plenty of quality time with the dogs and a great chance to enjoy the best of Japanese seasonal nature : either cherry blossom or Autumnal trees. (B,L)

Day 5 - Kakunodate - Tazawako - Kakunodate

Your Tohoku journey continues with Lake Tazawa, the deepest and clearest lake in Japan. With its very deep blue waters and a mystical aura, it offers a spectacular view of the surrounding nature. A boat cruise will bring you to the most iconic landmarks of Lake Tazawa: the statue of Tatsuko and the torii gate of Goza-no-ishi shrine.

After lunch, start an e-biking tour with your local guide. It’s a unique opportunity to interact with the local population, drop in on local farms and village shops and gather the finest seasonal produce for a BBQ as the sun sets over the lake. A perfect way to take in the stunning scenery and get under the skin of rural Japanese life.

Overnight at hotel Folkloro Kakunodate or That Sounds Good Inn (on the shores of Lake Tazawa)

Day 6 - Kakunodate - Oga

Today you will discover the most untouched, idiosyncratic, natural Japan in the farthest reaches of the country. Formed by volcanic activity in ancient times, Oga peninsula flourished as a key trading port in medieval Japan. See a side of Japan that is truly at one with its pristine natural environment and traditional way of life.

Start your Oga tour with a visit to the Ineto Agave Brewery completely devoted to sustainability. The experience offered here, is a homage to Oga, pairing his exquisite sake with the finest locally-sourced ingredients all served on locally produced crockery.

Continue to the Namahage museum. The story of Namahage is woven into the fabric of the Oga peninsula culture. A beautifully curated museum, tucked away in the mountains, which gives you special insight into this unique legend. To end your day in the Oga peninsula, head to Godzilla Rock, made of lapilli tuff from a volcanic eruption about 30 million years ago. The best time to see Godzilla is at sunset to capture a picture of him ‘breathing fire’. (B,L,D)

Day 7 - Oga - Odate

After breakfast, take a short drive to Dairyuji temple to see the ornate building and stunning Japanese garden. Continue inland for 90 mins to the heavenly rural valley of Odate: the land that time forgot.

Here you will enjoy lunch in a favourite spot for locals and before getting hands on with a Maggawapa, an indigenous craft unique to this area. Magewappa is a 400 year old craft of bending and shaping thin strips of Akita-sugi (Japanese cedar) to create a wide range of handcrafted wares, including bento lunch boxes, vessels and ohitsu (rice containers).

After shaping your masterpieces it’s time to really get stuck into your rural adventure with your Farm-stay Sakakoshimai.

Here a wonderful local couple invite you into their pastoral home and way of life, allowing you to entirely disconnect from the matrix. It is you, your natural surroundings and 2 delightful earnest people cooking over a fireplace, eating food of this land, sampling local sake, maybe playing the odd party game with a cup of sake on hand (of course). (B,L,D)

Making local delicacy, Kiritanpo (made from Akita bred chicken and local rice/veg) is a staple experience.

Depending on weather and timings activities through the duration of your stay may also include:

  • Calligraphy
  • A magic show performance (from your host)
  • Saka koshimai (local) dance – also known as the “lion dance”
  • Morning exercise routine (Akita style of course)
  • Morning walking tours
  • Morning harvesting

Dinner and overnight at farmstay

Day 8 - Odate - Hirosaki

Take in the fresh air, natural surroundings and re-invigorating home-made Japanese breakfast in the morning before getting hands on with some activities with your hosts. As the local expert on Calligraphy, the host often teaches the children of Odate this age-old Japanese art. Join a class with the kiddies or get out into the fields to get your hands dirty. Alternatively take a peaceful walk around the area.

In the afternoon, take the short train to ride (40 minutes) to Hirosaki to explore and get dinner at your leisure.

Hirosaki, is a famous castle-town. Hirosaki Park is home to approximately 2,600 cherry trees of 52 varieties, making it one of the “Three Best Cherry Blossom Viewing Spots in Japan. In autumn, about 1,000 maple trees and 2,600 cherry trees turn brilliant colors, and chrysanthemum decorations and floral art adorn the site in the Hirosaki Castle Chrysanthemum and Autumn Leaves Festival.

Overnight at Art Hotel or similar

Day 9 - Hirosaki - Hiraizumi

This morning, discover Hirosaki, a castle-town famous for its samurai residences and its summer festival, the Neputa Matsuri. From here, continue by road to Hiraizumi (approx. 3h), a World Heritage city since 2011. Once a powerful city when Kyoto was the capital of Japan, Hiraizumi collapsed with the rise to power of Minamoto no Yoritomo, Japan’s first shogun.

Established in 850, Chuson-ji is said to be the first temple of the Tendai Buddhist sect in northern Japan. Chuson-ji had up to forty buildings and more than three hundred monk tenants. Today, the few preserved pavilions pay wonderful homage to the golden age of this monastery. After a gentle walk in the forest, you’ll reach Konjiki-do, the most spectacular building often compared to the Golden Pavillion in Kyoto.  This small wooden building houses statues of Buddha finely gilded. Under the central altar, you’ll see the remains of three great leaders of the Fujiwara family. The temple grounds also house a superb open-air Noh scene and a museum with thousands of national treasures. (B,L,D)

Overnight at Shizukatei or similar

Day 10 - Hiraizumi - Matsushima - Sendai

In order to travel light in the shinkansen, you’ll leave your main luggage at the front desk and take an overnight bag for the night in Sendai. Your main luggage will be delivered the day after to your hotel in Tokyo.

This morning, you’ll have the chance to discover the pine-covered islands of Matsushima Bay, considered to be one of the three best views in Japan. Before enjoying the view of the bay from your boat cruise, you’ll visit Zuiganji, one of the largest Zen temples in Tohoku, built by the Date clan of Sendai.

This afternoon, visit Zuihoden, mausoleum of Masamune Date, the founder of Sendai and one of the most charismatic feudal lords of the sixteenth century. Composed of several richly decorated pavilions and numerous lanterns, the historic site also includes the tombs of his descendants. Dinner this evening is at leisure. (B,L)

Overnight at Mitsui Garden or similar

Day 11 - Sendai - Tokyo

After breakfast, transfer to Sendai station where a shinkansen will take you to Ueno Tokyo in approx. 1h30. Enjoy free time in Tokyo. The eastern part of the city offers a traditional atmosphere like Yanaka and Asakusa.

Tonight, your farewell dinner will be on a yakatabune, a boat cruising on Sumida River from Asakusa to Odaiba. After dark, take in the spectacular sight of the bright city lights and the famous Rainbow Bridge from the deck of your cruising yakatabune. (B,D)

Overnight at Gracery Asakusa or similar

Day 12 - Departure

Today is yours at leisure until it is time to transfer to the airport for your onward flight. If time permits, why not discover the highlights of the western part of Tokyo such as Meiji Jingu, Harajuku and the famous Shibuya crossing at your leisure? (B)

Don’t have time now?

Download this tour’s PDF brochure and start your planning offline!

What’s included

  • Meet & greet service on arrival
  • Return airport transfers
  • 11 nights accommodation at hotels/ryokans
  • Meals as per the itinerary
  • Services of an English speaking leader/guide and a local guide
  • Entrance fees as per the itinerary
  • Boat cruise in Matsushima bay
  • Cycling tour Tazawako
  • Lunch with maiko in Sakata
  • Akita inu tour Kakunodate
  • Yakatabune cruising in Tokyo (dinner + all you can drink)
  • Private coach and public transportation (shinkansen) as per the itinerary
  • Luggage transfers
Exclusions
  • International & domestic air tickets not mentioned above
  • Meals and beverages not mentioned above
  • Early check-in and late check out charges from the hotel
  • Visas
  • Personal travel insurance
  • Expenditure of a personal nature such as drinks, souvenirs, laundry, tipping etc

**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 $500 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.

Gallery

Availability

Start Date
End Date
Duration
Availability
Price
Start Date
17th Apr 2024
End Date
28th Apr 2024
Duration
12 Days
Availability
Enquiry Only
Price
$15,047 AUD
Start Date
17th Oct 2024
End Date
28th Oct 2024
Duration
12 Days
Availability
Available
Price
$15,047 AUD
Start Date
16th Apr 2025
End Date
27th Apr 2025
Duration
12 Days
Availability
Available
Price
$15,799 AUD
Start Date
16th Oct 2025
End Date
27th Oct 2025
Duration
12 Days
Availability
Available
Price
$15,045 AUD