Hidden Japan

Culture, Cuisine and a bit of Kayaking



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.

On our brand new Japan adventure tour we explore this land of contrasts: hyper-modern cities, bucolic farmlands, rugged coastlines and ancient cultural sites. We visit the ‘must sees’ such as Kyoto’s UNESCO World Heritage sites and downtown Tokyo, but also some truly hidden places. These range from little visited temples and shrines, perfectly proportioned and embedded in Zen gardens, to sea caves on the wild East coast.

As we tour Japan you’ll find the local people to be civility personified – calm, gracious, kind and welcoming. They lovingly nurture old traditions, incorporating them into their daily lives. Along our journey of discovery we meet very special individuals, including a Shinto priest who gives us a private audience; a man whose life work is making soba noodles; and a craftsman whose knives are sought after around the world.

During our Japan trip we 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 specially picked by our local guide who happens to be a devout ‘foodie’!

Our Japan adventure begins in the fascinating harbour city of Yokohama.From here we head to the ancient town of Kamakura, home of an important Shinto shrine and the oldest Zen monasteries in Japan. Our next destination is the diverse Izu Peninsula, where we visit a fabulous art museum, and are introduced to the traditions and rituals of the onsen: hot spring bathing pools.

Kayaking Japan! For two days we explore the remote coastline of the Izu Peninsula by kayak, discovering caves and rock gardens. Here, and on our gentle hikes in the interior of Izu Peninsula, we gain a truly unique and rare perspective of this fascinating country.

Our Japan adventure tour continues in Kyoto, where we spend two days fully immersed in the city’s history and beauty. Finally, in Tokyo, the contrasts reach a zenith as we explore both its futuristic core and one of its most ancient and beautiful temples.

To explore Japan we travel mostly by rail – aboard the super fast Shinkansen ‘bullet train’ and the leisurely but no less comfortable local trains. Our accommodations vary from modern hotels, to historic ryokans– a type of inn that originated in the 17th century Edo period for travellers on Japan’s old highways, to private houses now converted into lovely machiya inns.

This is Japan adventure travel at its best! We have fabulous experiences of the culinary, cultural and kayaking kind. We get fully immersed in traditions (including that of the onsen – hot springs!), meet some remarkable souls, get a taste of the ‘real’ Japan and eat incredible food. We guarantee you will fall in love with this extraordinary country!


Sample Itinerary

Japan is a land of contrasts and delightful surprises. It leads the world with its cutting edge technology, yet it is also a treasury of ancient cultures, art and rituals, which are lovingly preserved and folded into everyday life. Food in Japan is an art form in itself, with every dish a feast for the eyes and the taste buds. Our trip takes you to hypermodern cities, bucolic landscapes, wild coastlines, ancient temples and deep into the Buddhist and Shinto spiritual traditions. We walk through ancient streets, kayak to hidden caves and hike along stunning cliffs; we soak in hot spring pools, eat exquisite food, sip craft beers and rare sakes, and meet some remarkable local people who give us an ‘insiders view’ of their beautiful and fascinating country. Don’t miss this chance to discover Hidden Japan!

Day 1: Arrive Yokohama

Transfer from Toyko’s Narita Airport to Yokohama. Meet your fellow travellers for a trip orientation, and enjoy a welcome dinner, sampling an array of local dishes.

Day 2: Yokohama City and Harbour

Explore Yokohama harbour on foot and learn about the city’s remarkable history and its opening of relations to the west. Discover the secrets of a soba noodle genius! After dinner and a sake tasting at a traditional Yakitori restaurant, stroll the waterfront for a city night view.

Day 3: Yokohama – Kamakura – Ito

Visit a morning fish market, then sample some sashimi and sushi prepared by a master chef. Ride a train to the ancient city of Kamakura, visit a famous Zen temple, and have a private ‘behind the scenes’ tour of one of Japan’s most prestigious Shinto shrines. Continue to the quiet town of Ito on Izu Peninsula. In our simple ryokan discover traditional Japanese lifestyle, including a soak in communal hot spring pools.

Day 4: Ito – Shimoda, Izu Peninsula

Visit a beautifully preserved wooden ryokan to learn about Japanese traditional architecture. Hike along dramatic sea cliffs, enjoy a hot spring with views of the sea, and have lunch in a renovated farmhouse. Hop onto a local train for a scenic ride to the dramatic southern tip of Izu Peninsula.

Day 5 and 6: Shimoda, Izu Peninsula

Go paddling along the remote shores of the Izu Peninsula – get ready for a spectacular coastline of sea caves and rock gardens! Before bed, soothe your paddling muscles in our ryokan’s hot spring waters.

Day 7: Shimoda – Kyoto

Visit a wasabi field, hike in the verdant hills and tour one of Japan’s leading microbreweries. By ferry, sail away from Izu Peninsula, with Mount Fuji as a backdrop. Boarding the Shinkansen train, take a high-speed journey to Kyoto – the imperial capital of Japan for 1000 years, steeped in history and beauty.

Day 8: Kyoto

Take walking tours to some of Kyoto’s finest temples, shrines, gardens and UNESCO World Heritage sites. Sample the famous cuisine, and in the evening stroll along the Kamo River- one of the city’s natural treasures.

Day 9: Kyoto – Ohara

Plunge into the daily life of Kyoto with visits to markets and the workshops of local craftsmen. After some time to explore on your own (maybe do some shopping: sushi knives, lacquer ware, kimonos, antiques – this is the place!), travel to the quiet village of Ohara for a hot spring soak and a multi-course kaiseki dinner.

Day 10: Ohara

Experience a charming glimpse of rural Japan and visit some of its finest Buddhist Temples and moss gardens. Savor a bowl of green tea under the shade of a 700 year old white pine.

Day 11: Ohara to Tokyo

Zoom to Tokyo aboard the bullet train! Explore this hyper modern metropolis, then walk back in time inside one of Japan’s most important Shinto shrines to take part in a purification ceremony and blessing: truly a grand finale to a fabulous trip! Celebrate our Japanese adventure with dinner in one of Tokyo’s top restaurants.

Day 12: Departure

Bid farewell to newfound friends, and transfer to Narita Airport for homeward or onward journeys.
Please note: this itinerary serves as an example of trip highlights and is subject to change.

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 will be sampling many different local specialities. We will eat everywhere from tiny sushi bars, to top restaurants, to tucked away cafes serving only soba noodles. The food in Japan is a big part of the adventure.

Where does the trip start and end?

It starts and ends in Narita Airport, Tokyo. We arrange airport transfers on the first and last days of the trip.

How do I get to Tokyo?

You can fly direct: from Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto with Air Canada; from New York or Los Angeles with United, ANA, JAL, American Airlines or Delta; from Washington DC with United or ANA.

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

The hikes are easy and none are more than two hours in length. The kayaking excursions will each be about two hours in length, and we may do two excursions on each kayaking day. As we use stable double kayaks it is suitable for everyone. However, if you are a beginner we suggest you take a couple of introductory lessons beforehand. On the city tours we will be walking for up to two hours at a time, with lots of stops along the way, but please note that that in some places, for example Kyoto, there are numerous steps. Also, for some meals we will be seated 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 will be using futons very low to the floor.

I’m a vegetarian, is that a problem?

This is not a problem on any of our trips; you just need to let us know in advance what you can and can’t eat. The same goes for any food allergies – please give us full information on these.

What are the accommodations like?

A real mix, from Western style hotels to ryokans, which are traditional inns. In the ryokans you will experience true Japanese lifestyle. On arrival you swap your city shoes for slippers. Your sleeping room will be 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 will be sitting on cushions or low benches.

What can you tell me about the onsens?

Bathing is a time-honoured tradition in Japan, dating from the early Shinto period, and it is taken very seriously. All our accommodations will have en suite bathrooms with showers, but it would be a shame to miss the onsen experience. These are pools fed by hot springs, and they are communal – 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?

ATMs are available throughout Japan.

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

Land Cost
From US $5990 per person

Trip Length
11 nights, 12 days

Private: Apr - Nov

Machiya restored houses
Ryokan inns
3-5 star hotels

Group Size
Maximum 8

Easy walking tours (some include lots of steps); easy hiking; kayaking in stable doubles (for beginners, previous introductory lessons are advisable).
Please note: 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.

Tokyo, Japan

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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