Hidden Japan

Walking, Culture and Cuisine




Japan! Nowhere else in the world have we found such a graceful balance of the modern and ancient, of art and utility, of spirituality and respect for nature. And what better to way to experience this intriguing country than walking its ancient roads, taking us deep into Japanese culture, history and cuisine. 

Join us on our special 11 night/12 day journey, from modern Japan to its far distant past.  As well as exploring Tokyo and Kyoto, we walk the most scenic and best preserved part of the Nakasendo Trail, which connected the two cities in the Edo Period, from 1603-1868. Following in the footsteps of long-ago feudal lords, samurai and merchants, we pass through the Kiso Valley’s bucolic countryside and lush forests, to beautifully restored villages and ancient Shinto temples. Going even further back in time, we walk on the Yamanobe no Michi Trail, which is steeped in the history of Japanese Buddhism. We also visit the cultural treasures of Nara and Asuku, meet artisans and geishas, go by scenic train to Mount Koya, take part in cultural and religious ceremonies, and spend a night in a hilltop Buddhist monastery.

As we walk Japan we find the local people to be civility personified – calm, gracious, kind and welcoming. They lovingly nurture old traditions, incorporating them into their daily lives. Through them we also the discover the country’s amazing cuisine. Every ingredient is treated with the utmost respect. Each meal becomes a performance and a visual and gustatory delight. We sample a wide array of local specialties, in a variety of local restaurants and family run travellers’ inns.  

Our main mode of transportation between destinations (as well as on foot) is train and local bus. Our lodging includes comfortable western style hotels, a temple stay and traditional Ryokan and Minshuku inns (often with their own hot spring pools) in some of the ‘post towns’ – the original small settlements built for travelers on the Nakasendo Way. 

Please note: for this trip you need to be able to walk several hours a day, sometimes with altitude gain, several days in a row. If you prefer something less active, but just as fascinating, ask us about our Japan: Culture, History and Cuisine trip, in October 2024. Less walking, but just as fascinating and including a visit to  Yukanaka Hot Springs to see the Snow Monkeys! 



Day 1 – Arrive Tokyo

Welcome to Japan! Transfer to our hotel and  meet our guide for a briefing and welcome dinner.  

Day 2 – Explore Tokyo 

Spend a full day exploring the city from its ancient centres to its ultra-modern shopping streets. Highlights include the Meiji Shrine, Nihonbashi, one of the oldest areas of Tokyo,  and Zojoji Temple, resting place of a number of Tokugawa shoguns. 

Day 3 – Kiso Valley and the Nakasendo Trail 

Hop on a  train – a quintessential Japanese experience – to the Kiso Valley and the first, short stretch of the Nakasendo Trail. Arrive in Narai, one of the original ‘post towns’, now beautifully preserved. 

Walking time: 1 hour

Day 4 – Nakasendo Trail – over the Torii Pass

Walk the Torii Pass to Yabuhara, with stunning views of Mount Ontake, the second highest volcano in Japan. Then take a train to  Agematsu, famous for its ancient cypress trees and home of ‘forest bathing.’ 

Walking distance: 6.2km / 3.9 miles

Elevation gain: 270m/885 feet ascent; 344m/1,128 feet descent 

Walking time: 3 hours

Day 5 –  Nakasendo Trail to Tsumago

Enjoy gorgeous scenery as the trail heads over  tNenoue-Toge Pass, then winds through rice paddies and delightful villages. Stop to explore Tsumago, a carefully restored and protected ‘post town’ before continuing to O-Tsumago, and tonight’s home. 

Walking distance: 14km / 8.7 miles

Elevation gain: 344m/1,129 feet ascent; 723m/2,275 feet descent

Walking time: 4.5 hours

Day 6 – Nakasendo Trail to Magamoe, and Nara

Savour the most beautiful and best-preserved part of the Nakasendo Trail on the way to another post town, Magome. After lunch wander its picturesque main streets before taking a train to Nara. 

Walking distance: 8.3km / 5.2 miles

Elevation gain: 430m/1,410 feet ascent; 326m/1069 feet of descent

 Walking time: 3 hours

Day 7 – Exploring Nara and Asuka

Many of Japan’s greatest cultural treasures are concentrated in this area,  including eight UNESCO World Heritage sites.  Explore Nara’s Todai-ji temple complex and its huge Daibutsu-den, said to be the largest wooden building in the world, housing a 16-metre-tall statue of  Buddha in bronze and gold. After lunch head to Asuka, which 1,400 years ago was the cultural and political centre of Japan, and is home to its first Buddhist temples. 

Day 8 – The Yamanobe-no-michi Trail

Spend today on the  Yamanobe-no-michi, once part of Shinkaido, the oldest road in Japan. Follow it through rolling green hills and fields, and dip into ancient history –  the rulers of this part of the Nara plain were the first to form a central government and formalize the Japanese nation about 1500 years ago.

Distance: 10 miles/ 16km 

Walking time: 5 hours

Ascent/descent: negligible

Day 9 – Mount Koya

Enjoy a scenic train ride to Mount Koya, where Shingon Buddhism was established in 9th Century. Visit Kongo-buji, the main temple complex, then wander through the vast Okuno-in cemetery, with thousands of  graves and memorials to feudal lords. Settle into  a  shukubo (temple lodging), and dine on shojin-ryori, Buddhist vegetarian cuisine.  

Day 10 – Train to Kyoto. 

Rise early for a moving prayer ceremony with Buddhist monks. Then –Kyoto! Arrive by train to the ancient former capital of Japan, with its centuries-old temples, glittering shrines, resplendent palaces and traditional wooden houses. Spend the afternoon wandering the  Gion district famous for its geisha culture,  and take part in a traditional tea ceremony.  

Day 11 – Explore Kyoto 

A full day in Kyoto! From Shinto shrines, to an ancient castle, to a bustling craft district, to a final farewell dinner, this is the perfect way to end a 

Day 12: Depart from Kyoto

After breakfast transfer by train or shared taxi to Itami Airport or Kansai airport for homeward/onward flights.

End of services

We think of our itineraries as melodies: they have a beginning and an end, a certain arc, dramatic highlights and a few surprises. We like to improvise, to adapt to the mood of our guests or to circumstances that arise — an invitation to a traditional wedding, say, or a local ethnic festival…

Crafting beautiful, harmonious trips with delightful twists is our trade mark and passion.



What's special about Japan?

Where to start?! The artistry that runs through every element of daily life. the incredible food culture. The contrasts – from hyper modern cities to bucolic farmland to wild coastlines. The kindness and civility of its people. The lovingly preserved traditions and rituals – from green tea ceremonies to communal bathing. The stunning temples, monasteries, and perfect gardens. The chance to meet Shinto priests, and watch Zen archers practice with exquisite slowness and precision. The cosy sushi bars that seat only a handful of people, where you have the chef’s undivided attention. The trains – the high speed Shinkansen, and the more sedate local trains, all comfortable and prompt to the second. The superb art galleries and museums, filled with dizzyingly beautiful work. The history, stretching back millennia. The fact that one city, Kyoto, and its surrounds, can have 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The squeaky cleanness, which should never be underestimated! And this is just the start of the list…..

What is the food like?

Fresh, fresh, fresh, and treated with the utmost respect, love and artistry. Meals are a feast for the eyes and the taste buds. Often they are a dizzying array of small dishes, including fish, vegetables, tofu, meat, soup and rice. During our trip we sample many different local specialities- the food is a big part of this adventure. (Please see the section on dietary restrictions below.) 

How do I get to Tokyo and from Kyoto

It all depends on your home airport, so we recommend you check on skyscanner.net or contact a travel agent. We are happy to discuss some options with you, but we do not book international flights. 

What are the physical activities on the trip and what level of fitness do I need?

This is a walking trip, so you should be moderately fit, and able to walk for up to five or six hours a day, including uphill and downhill stretches. For some of our meals we eat at very low tables, so you should be able to sit down on the floor and get up without too much difficulty. This also applies to some of the sleeping arrangements, when you use futons very low to the floor.

What about any dietary requirements I may have?

This is usually not a problem on our trips, but Japan is an exception. It is still difficult here to cater for guests with food allergies. We can request vegetarian diets, but in some of the small establishments the chefs can’t promise not to use dashi – a fish stock – in their cooking. The options for vegans are very limited.  

What are the accommodations like?

A real mix, from Western style hotels to ryokans and minshukus, which are traditional inns. In these inns (and in the Buddhist temple accommodation) you experience true Japanese lifestyle. On arrival you swap your city shoes for slippers. Your sleeping room is covered with a tatami mat, and the bedding is a futon and quilts, which are made up at night and stored away during the day. Inside your sleeping room you go barefoot. A fresh cotton robe (yukata) is provided for each guest. You can wear this around the ryokan, and when you are going to its onsen (hot spring bath). Meals at the ryokans are usually presented at low tables, and you sit on cushions or low benches. Bathrooms may be on a shared basis.

What can you tell me about the traditional 'onsens'?

Bathing is a time-honoured tradition in Japan, dating from the early Shinto period, and it is taken very seriously. A number of our accommodations will have onsens, which are pools fed by hot springs.  They are communal, but there are separate pools for men and woman. You are required to bathe naked, but if this is a challenge for you, some ryokans have small private baths, or ofuro, that you can use. As with all things Japanese, using the onson requires certain rituals. Before bathing you wash yourself from top to toe in areas specified for this close to the pool. Stretching out and soaking in hot spring water, with steam rising around you, sometimes with a spectacular view, is a fantastic experience. Traditionally the bathing is done before dinner, but we admit to sometimes going to the onsen last thing at night – a deep sleep is assured!

What will the weather be like?

Temperatures will be pleasantly warm, ranging from 24 C by day and 15 C by night. There may be the chance of some showers.

Do I need a visa?

Canadian and US citizens do not need a visa for Japan.

Do I need insurance?

Medical insurance, including emergency evacuation, is mandatory on all our trips. We also strongly advise you to purchase trip cancellation insurance which should be done within a few days of making your booking.

Do I need vaccinations?

Your routine vaccinations (tetanus/diphtheria, polio and measles-mumps-rubella, etc.) need to be up to date. Please consult with your physician or local travel health clinic for any other vaccinations that may be recommended in your case.

What about malaria?

Japan eradicated malaria in 1959, and to date there have been no new outbreaks.

What does the trip price cover?

Airport transfers on the first and last days of the trip, all tour guiding, excursions and entrance fees, all accommodation, all meals, and water.

What does the trip price not cover?

International flights, airport transfers not on the first or last days of the trip, beverages other than water, personal insurance and gratuities for our kayak guide and local trip leader.

How can I access cash when I'm on the trip?

Some restaurants and stores in larger centres will accept credit cards, but Japan is still very much a cash economy. ATMs are available throughout the country.

What clothes and equipment will I need?

When you sign up for the trip, we will provide you with a comprehensive clothes and equipment list.

I’m travelling alone, is that a problem?

Absolutely not. We have many guests who travel with us on their own. They appreciate the camaraderie of our Hidden Places groups, and usually go home with newfound friends.

You can pay a the Single Supplement if you’d like your own room or you have the option of sharing accommodation with another suitable single guest. In the case that we don’t have anyone for you to share with we charge 50% of the Single Supplement for a ‘forced’ single accommodation.

Can I talk to someone who has previously travelled with you?

Of course. Just ask and we will be happy to put you in touch with one of our Hidden Places guests.



Trip Details


From US$8750  per person (depending on group size)

Trip Length

11 nights/12 days

Time To Go

Scheduled Trips:
May 6- 17, 2024
October  19-30, 2024

Private Trips:
November, April, May


3 nights traditional Ryokan/Minshuku inns
1 night temple accommodation
7 nights Western-style hotels

Group Size
Min: 4  ~  Max: 12


Walking/hiking, cultural visits on foot. 

Please note: There are five days of walking, with distances ranging from 2.5 km to 16 km. 

Some meals are served on low tables and some beds are futons on tatami mats, so you should be able to get up from floor level without assistance.

Begins in Tokyo  ~  Ends in Kyoto

Guest Comments

  • We explored some truly hidden places, with lots of great surprises along the way. The planning and scheduling were amazing, and our guides were truly first class. The sights, sounds, tastes and smells of Japan will live on in my memory.

    Roger L Vernon BC, Canada
  • Thank you for leading me to Buddha and Shinto deities in hidden places in Japan. Even a shoreline shrine seen from a kayak. And for everything in between – this was another memorable adventure with Hidden Places!

    Margaret S Washington, DC, USA
  • The Japanese are the sweetest, most gentle people on the planet. My highlight of the trip was the cuisine - I never thought I would eat urchin, snail or eel!

    Jim D Victoria, BC, Canada
  • The Japan trip and guides couldn't have been better! Add to that the perfect weather, paddling conditions, accommodations and delightful surprises and an unforgettable experience was the result.

    Gary V Ewing, NJ, USA
  • "The trip was a wonderful mix of cuisine, culture and beautiful countryside – and it was something we could never have done on our own! Thank you for another incredible experience, creating so many special memories."

    Janis MacN Stratford, ON, Canada
  • What a trip through Japan’s incredible culture, cuisine and landscapes.. Our guides were fabulous - knowledgeable, attentive and passionate about their country.

    Patty P Victoria, BC, Canada
  • What a great country: the cuisine, the people, the beautiful temples and gardens and the amazing transportation network. Thanks so much Maria for putting the trip together and for all the special moments that make Hidden Places a joy to travel with.

    Dave P Stratford, ON, Canada
  • Hidden Places did it again. The trip was phenomenal, showing us the flavor and serenity of the Japanese experience.

    Rob C Alexandria, BA, USA
  • Thank you for making our pilgrimage to Japan so memorable. I really enjoyed discovering so many hidden places in this beautiful country. Our guides were outstanding.

    Susan L Vernon, BC, USA
  • We explored some truly hidden places, with lots of great surprises along the way. The planning and scheduling were amazing, and our guides were truly first class. The sights, sounds, tastes and smells of Japan will live on in my memory.

    Roger L Vernon, BC, Canada


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