Japan's Culture and Countryside

Destination: Osaka, Japan

| Activities: Hiking and Culture

While Japan has long been known for its dynamic cities, only recently has the beauty and culture of the Japanese countryside begun to gain attention. On this trip we experience both, spending time in the beginning in Kyoto, the cultural heart of Japan, and at the end in Tokyo, a mixture of ancient and modern. In between we will hike some of the best parts of the Nakasendo Way, which linked the two cities during Japan's feudal period. It was the 'road through the mountains' travelled by feudal lords and their retinues, samurai, merchants, and travelers. Each day we will walk a different section of this ancient route, avoiding those parts that have become busy roads. Each evening we will stay in one of the small "post" towns where we'll enjoy the warm hospitality of a traditional country inn, feasting on freshly prepared dishes from the regional cuisine. If you have been wanting an in depth introduction to Japan's history, nature, and culture, please join us. Maximum group size: 14


  • Traveling the ancient Nakasendo Way
  • Experiencing both modern and rural traditional Japan
  • Staying in traditional inns with their reputation for hospitality
  • Learning about Japanese history and culture
  • Visiting two of the most dynamic modern cities in the world

Departures and Prices

October 10 to October 19, 2024
$6295.00 - Limited Availability
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  • An English speaking female Japanese tour leader and an AGC group leader
  • 9 nights double occupancy at western style hotels in the cities and traditional Japanese inns in the countryside
  • All activities mentioned in the itinerary, including sightseeing tours in Kyoto and Tokyo
  • All breakfasts, 7 lunches, and 6 dinners (see itinerary)
  • All transportation during the trip, including group airport transfer on Day 1 and Day 10.
  • Baggage transfer on 3 occasions

What's not included: Travel to and from Japan, airport transfer outside referenced group transfers, beverages at meals, snacks, 1 lunch and 2 dinners, guide gratuities, travel insurance.

Trip Info

This trip is designed for women who want to combine hiking off the beaten track in the Japanese countryside, visits to two of the main cities, and learning about Japanese history and culture while enjoying fresh regional cuisine. Women should be in good physical condition and able to hike for three to five hours a day with elevation gains between 550 - 1000 feet; and one longer day with elevation over 2,000 feet. Rating: 1 2[3] 4 5

This is a hiking and sightseeing trip, where our emphasis is more on experiencing Japan's history and culture than on covering miles. In several places on the Nakasendo Way we will avoid more built up parts by taking taxis or buses.

We will be staying in three different types of accommodation. In Kyoto, Nara, and Tokyo, we will stay in modern Western-style hotels (6 nights). While rooms are generally smaller than in the US and Canada, all have en-suite facilities. In Kiso-Fukushima we will stay at a hot springs ryokan. A ryokan is a traditional Japanese-style inn, usually older wooden buildings with rooms in the Japanese style with tatami (straw) matting and futons laid out in the evening by the ryokan staff. Evening meals are served communally in the dining room, and are exquisitely prepared multi- course meals. Many ryokan have both en suite bathrooms (with the exception of some older buildings) and communal hot spring style baths (segregated by sex). In two towns we stay in Minshuku, which are smaller family-run inns. At these smaller family-run inns the bathrooms will be downstairs or down the hallway from the sleeping rooms. Both Ryokan and Minkushu are classic Japanese experiences. Please note: Vegetarian options are available, but limited. Strict vegetarian diets, vegan diets, or gluten free diets will be not be possible to accommodate due to the pervasiveness of the fish-based stock dashi and the use of soy sauce and miso in Japanese cuisine. There will not be much if any fresh fruits and/or vegetables. Most of the vegetables will be pickled, fried or cooked in soup.

Below is the proposed itinerary for the trip. As is true on any adventure travel trip, plans for any specific day may be modified due to weather considerations, unforeseen circumstances, new opportunities, and group interests.


Plan to arrive at either Kansai International Airport (KIX) or Osaka International Airport (ITM) in time for the first group meeting planned for 6:00 p.m. at the trip hotel on Day 1. Please note that you will likely need to leave the U.S. on the day prior to the start date of this trip, as most flights from the U.S. arrive in the afternoon or early evening. Detailed instructions for getting to your trip hotel will be sent in your pre-departure document. We'll gather in the lobby of the hotel where we'll meet our local guide as well as each other. After Welcome and Introductions, we'll walk to a local restaurant for our first shared meal where our local guide will give us a trip overview and orientation. We'll undoubtedly all be ready for an early bedtime tonight. (D)

Overnight: Hearton Hotel or similar Western-style hotel


Today we'll spend getting to know Kyoto, starting with a visit to Fushimi Inari shrine in southeastern Kyoto. Fushimi Inari is known for its rows of vermilion torii gates that snake their way up the mountain from the street level shrine to the upper sanctuary. The gates are left by devotees in gratitude or to seek the good graces of the titular spirit of this Shinto shrine. After ascending the shrine, we'll descend to nearby Tofukuji Temple, a Buddhist temple that is a UNESCO World Heritage temple and shows us another side of the spiritual traditions of Japan.

We'll break for lunch and then continue in the afternoon for a walk of the Gion district, famous for its many teahouses and schools that serve a lively community of geisha and maiko, or apprentice Geisha. If we are lucky, perhaps we will spot a colorfully attired maiko on her way to a class or evening appointment. Tonight, dinner is on your own so you can choose a restaurant of your liking with the assistance of our guide. (B, L)

Walking: 5 - 7 miles on dirt paths, steep steps and city streets. Overnight: Hearton Hotel or similar


This morning we send our luggage ahead to be reunited with us tomorrow afternoon - this means we will carry what we need for today, tonight and tomorrow in our daypack. We will travel by train to Asuka, a small community on the Yamato plain in Nara prefecture. Before Tokyo, Kyoto, and Nara were political centers of the Japanese archipelago, Asuka claimed that title. The town is associated with Prince Shotoku, who brought the Buddhist faith to Japan. On our arrival in Asuka, we'll visit an organic farm where we will pick vegetables and then enjoy a home-cooked meal that we help prepare. After lunch, we’ll take a local bus to the Inabushi rice terraces, where there is an observation deck that overlooks the terraces and the mountains. We then continue by train to Nara, check into our hotel and have dinner at a local restaurant. (B, L, D)

Hiking: about 2 hours, 3 miles. Elevation gain/loss: about 200 feet. Overnight: Piazza Nara or similar Western- style hotel


Our day begins with a short bus ride to the Enjo-ji temple where we will begin our hike. Today’s hike follows in the footsteps of warriors who took this route from Nara to the sword-making village of Yagyu. Our section of this route is approximately 7.3 miles and begins at the Enjo-ji Temple. The hike ends with a wonderful stroll through Nara Park, with its famous deer and numerous temples. We'll visit Todaiji Temple in the afternoon. Tonight, we'll choose from among the many restaurant options in Nara. (B, L, D)

Hiking: about 7 hours, 7.3 miles, an additional 2 miles sightseeing; ascent 550 feet/descent 1,500 feet. Overnight: Piazza Nara or similar Western-style hotel


Today we once again send our luggage ahead to be reunited with use tomorrow evening. We will be walking the Nakasendo Way. Translation of this name is literally, 'Middle Mountain Way' and once was an important trade route connecting Japan's capital Kyoto to Tokyo. It is now one of Japan's most famous hiking routes. Our hike will begin in Magome and end in Tsumago. Along the way we’ll enjoy waterfalls, bamboo groves, cedar forests and beautiful vistas over the Kiso Valley. To reach the beginning our trail, we will travel by a combination of regional trains and the shinkansen, or bullet train, to Nakatsugawa. At Nakatsugawa we board a local bus for the short journey to Magome. We then walk approximately 4 miles along the Magome Pass to O-Tsumago, a small hamlet on the Nakasendo Trail. Upon arrival, we’ll walk through the picturesque town to our lodging for check in. After settling in, we’ll gather for another wonderful Japanese dinner. If time and energy allow, an after-dinner stroll through town is always an option. After a bit of exploring in Tsumago you can choose to continue to Nagiso by foot or by local bus. Once in Nagiso, the group will transfer by shuttle to our rural country minshuku. Our main luggage will be sent ahead to the ryokan in Kiso-Fukushima where we stay tomorrow night, so today we'll carry only what we need for the night. (B, L, D)

Hiking: about 3.5 hours, 4 miles; ascent 550 feet/descent 1,100 feet. Overnight: traditional Japanese hotel in O-Tsumago or similar


Today we continue our hike on the Nakasendo Way. We’ll walk from O-Tsumago to Tsumago, approximately a 30-minute walk. Once arriving in Tsumago, we’ll have a short time to walk through the town before we are shuttled to the start of our hike today. The trail travels through small valleys and past forests of bamboo and Japanese cedar, through some of the least-developed scenery on the tour. At the end of our hike, we’ll transfer by van to Kiso-Fukushima where we'll stay at a lovely hot spring ryokan set in a remote valley above the town. After enjoying the ryokan's lovely indoor and outdoor hot-spring baths, we'll feast on a Japanese dinner with fresh local produce. (B, L, D)

Hiking: about 4 hours. 6.5 miles; ascent 2,275 feet/descent 2,112 feet. Overnight: Japanese Hot Springs inn, a Ryokan, or similar


Once more we send our luggage ahead to be reunited with us tomorrow night in Tokyo. To get to the beginning of our hike today, we will take the train to Yabuhara. From there we hike over the Torii pass to Narai (about 3.5 hours). Arriving in Narai, we'll enjoy a late lunch and then a bit of free time to explore this historic and well preserved town. (B, L, D)

Hiking: about 3.5 hours, 4 miles; ascent/descent: 900 feet. Overnight: at a Minshuku


We'll finish our journey on the Nakasendo Way with a short walk to the small town of Kiso-Hirasawa, famous for its lacquerware. After spending some time exploring the town with its many small shops selling beautifully crafted tableware and furniture and enjoying lunch, we board a train to Tokyo. We arrive at Shinjuku station - one of the busiest rail stations in the world and a bit of a culture-shock after our sojourn in the countryside, and check into our hotel. For those who are interested, late afternoon we'll visit one of the near-by towers for a great view of the city before deciding what neighborhood restaurant looks best for dinner. Dinner is on your own, but your local guide will have lots of suggestions. (B, L)

Hiking: about 1 hour. 1.6 miles; negligible ascent and descent. Overnight: Shiba Park Hotel or a similar Western-style hotel


We can't be in Japan and not spend some time seeing one of the world's great cities. We start in Asakusa, an old quarter in Tokyo's shitamachi ('low city') which still displays some narrow streets reminiscent of Edo period Tokyo. Its main attraction is Senso-ji, a large Buddhist temple with a five-story pagoda, dating originally from the 7th century and rebuilt after its destruction during World War II. Leading up to the main temple buildings is the Nakamise-dori, a pedestrian street lined with shops selling a variety of Japanese arts and crafts and souvenirs. At the end of the street is the Kaminari-mon, the famous entrance gate to the temple. In the afternoon, we continue on to the modern Harajuku district. We'll visit Meiji Jingu, a shrine to the Emperor and Empress Shoken who were instrumental in bringing Japan into the modern age. Empress Shoken in particular had a deep love for poetry and it is possible to buy a fortune at the shrine that takes the form of a poetic verse. After a stroll through Harajuku and Omotesando, we'll have some free time before we convene again for a farewell dinner at a nearby restaurant. Whew - a very busy day! (B, L, D)

Overnight at Shiba Park Hotel or similar.

DAY 10

This morning we bid farewell to Japan and our Japanese guide. She'll assist us with our tickets to Narita Airport (NRT), or the Haneda Airport (HND), for our departure flights from Japan which can be scheduled for any convenient time. The ride to Narita Airport is approximately 2 hours, and the bus does have toilet facilities, you will be picked up 4 hours prior to your scheduled flight. The trasport to the Haneda Airport is a short 30-minute ride. (B)


(27 reviews)
4 Food
4.5 Lodging
4.7 Safety

*These are the unfiltered reviews of women who have been on this trip in answer to the question "What made this trip special for you?". We take reviews very seriously and often tweak itineraries based on feedback. Please feel free to contact us about any questions you have.

Sort By:
Most Recent

Amy G.
9 months ago

Being in totally different culture and seeing variety of country, especially the countryside

Joanne H.
9 months ago

Basically everything was great: the guides, the hiking, the food, the hotels, everything. Standouts: the guides (both Anne & Naoko) were really excellent. The food was about 2 stars better than expected.

Tara B.
9 months ago

Bathing in the forests along the Nakasendo Way.

Gale B.
9 months ago

The culture of Japan. The amazing meals. The attention to detail that both guides, Anne and Naiko, included in every day. The diverse personalities of the group. The well planned hikes.

Angela P.
9 months ago

The food and cultural experiences! So special.

Jane M.
1 year ago

The women I travelled with. Emi and Anne, our guides were fantastic. I loved seeing not only the countryside but the cities of Kyoto and Tokyo.

Beth S.
1 year ago

Kaye O.
1 year ago

I absolutely LOVED the itinerary because it exposed us to both Japanese city life and the countryside. It was a perfect mix of modern and traditional.

Jette J.
1 year ago

Susan T.
1 year ago

First time with AGC and one of the best trips I have ever been on. Our guide, Emi, was the highlight of the trip with her extensive knowledge of the culture and religions. Hiking different sections of the Nakasendo Way with colorful fall leaves; and staying at inns in small towns. Tasting a variety of traditional and modern Japanese dishes. I found the people we met along the way to be friendly and helpful. I definitely will return again for another trip.

Kathleen L.
1 year ago

Louanne B.
1 year ago

The candor and cultural input provided by our Japanese guide elevated this hiking oriented trip. The time of year was perfect as autumn leaves were at their peak. The pace of experiences throughout the week was good, though I felt at times that too much time was spent commuting on multiple trains when a van could have been more time-efficient.

Betty R.
4 years ago

Rosalind H.
4 years ago

So many! The hiking and traditional inns were my favorite part.

Candace W.
4 years ago

Hiking with a smaller portion of the larger group through Torii Pass; the food (even though salty!), the mix of urban and rural experiences; the guides (Yuki and Ann) being able to adapt to the various interests among the group; using the baths both at the urban hotels and the rural inns.

Barbra G.
4 years ago

Perfect weather, hiking in the mountains, the little mountain towns

Kathleen M.
4 years ago

A nice mix of the country and city. Good hikes planned. Very good and very knowledgeable guides.

Debra A.
4 years ago

The hikes were wonderful! Participants and guides were also wonderful! Experiencing the inns and the post towns along the trail was incredibly special. Shortcomings for me was (1) the need to pack so often and to not have our suitcases for much of the trip (which I understand may be a logistical hurdle that is difficult to overcome in Japan), (2) the food (while some of the food was wonderful, notably at the organic farm, I was disappointed that there was not more sashimi and/or sushi --- not sure if this was a price issue), and (3) too much time spent on crowded commuter trains (for me, ANY time spent on a crowded commuter train is too much!)

Bonnie M.
4 years ago

The highlight of the trip was learning about a totally new culture. Yuki is a good ambassador for Japan. She was clear and knowledgeable about what she knew and was clear about what she didn't know. The hiking was great. I trust your ratings and this was rated accurately. Gotta say the bathrooms were a highlight!!!

Carol M.
4 years ago

Experiencing the post towns along the Nakosendo Way; staying in ryokans where traditional Japanese culture is beautifully shared through the very special meals and the tatami mat/shojii screen/ futon/onsen aspects are unforgettable.

Kathleen S.
4 years ago

While it was a cultural and hiking trip rated 3, I experienced more culture due to an injury. I fell in love with Japan, and will definitely return. I missed out on the hiking and that is my only regret but I can return. An alternative itinerary was made daily for those that could not hike or choose not to and I am so grateful for the thoughtfulness and inclusiveness, the "go with the flow" and "roll with the punches" frame of mind. Japan is really interesting to me, a completely different culture with ancient crafts, skills, food and traditions. It is the cleanest country I have ever been too, overall so impressed with the attention to detail there.

Carol M.
4 years ago

Great mix of hiking and culture.

Cynthia C.
4 years ago

Would have preferred more hiking

Beverley T.
4 years ago

Hiking was a highlight. Beautiful scenery, uncrowded trails. Fun group, great guides.

Betty R.
4 years ago

Great hiking through cypress forests. Japanese guide, Uki was fabulous as was Debra.

Katie M.
4 years ago

Would have liked more, or longer hikes because the forests were so beautiful. So glad I didn't try to go to Japan on my own. Not many English characters on signs. Everything is spotless. Train stations, airports, and streets surprisingly quiet. Appreciated the history I learned from Yuki. Liked all the quirky (to me) shoe rules, hot bath routines, learning how to used chopsticks, eating Italian food midweek, trying new foods, staying at the big Japanese tourist hotel and little ones too, having restaurants to ourselves, picking vegetables on the farm (cooking lesson a little lame but food good), seeing the Buddhist temple with zen gardens, pretty much liked everything!

Anne A.
4 years ago

Walking through the countryside was what I hoped for. The accommodations were great - from the well-situated Hearton in Kyoto to the variety of roykans in the small towns. The biggest disappointment was the ratio of hiking to time spent on mass transit. The trains

  1. Where do we eat?

    Your breakfasts will be buffets at the hotels where you're staying. Dinner is in restaurants with typically a choice of vegetarian or non-vegetarian entree. Lunches may either be picnics or in restaurants.
  2. What dietary preferences or restrictions can you accommodate on this trip?

    Strict vegetarian diets, vegan diets, or gluten free diets will be impossible to accommodate due to the pervasiveness of the fish-based stock dashi and the use of soy sauce and miso in Japanese cuisine. If that is not a concern for you, non-meat dishes are readily available.
  3. I will be coming by myself. Do I need to pay a single supplement?

    You only need to pay a single supplement if you want to guarantee you have your own room. Otherwise we’ll pair you up with someone and then switch roommates every time we switch lodging.