TOUR OVERVIEW / HIGHLIGHT
Until the 20th century brought highways and railways to Chubu (Central Japan), villages in this alpine region were largely isolated from the rest of the country. Unique traditions still linger in this region of snow-topped mountains, coastal cliffs, open-air hot springs, and superb hiking and skiing. Chubu means "middle region", reflecting its position straddling the two Japanese poles of Kansai and Kanto. Often ignored by foreign tourists, many of Chubu's best attractions are in the mountains, particularly Mount Fuji and the Japanese Alps. Over here, there is plenty to see and do from hitting the bustling cities to the serene mountains and hot springs, making it the ideal place to experience a slice of Japan from the past all thanks to its long history, preserved and showcased in its numerous heritage spots including old merchant street of Takayama, the old town of Hida Furukawa, the chaya districts of Kanazawa, the onsen town of Kaga, and the UNESCO World Heritage sites Matsumoto and Gokayama.
WHAT TO EXPECT?
DAY 01: ARRIVAL - TOKYO / NAGANO / MATSUMOTO
Welcome to Central Japan!
Upon arrival in Tokyo, board a Shinkansen Bullet train from Tokyo to Nagano. Be met by your guide and driver to kick start your exploration of Chubu.
First comes the visit to the iconic Zenkoji temple which dates from the 7th century and houses Japan's earliest Buddhist image.
Then we explore the pastoral area and visit a wasabi farm where fresh and genuine wasabi is grown. Wasabi ice cream will be a unique and pleasant experience.
Move on to Matsumoto, where you will see one of the most beautiful castles that retain its original form. Known as the ´crow castle´ due to its elegant black exterior, this castle is one of the five castles designated as ‘National Treasures of Japan’. No wonder it is one of the most complete and beautiful among Japan's original castles. Inside the castle are steep stairs and low ceilings leading past displays of armour and weapons from the Sengoku Period (Warring States Period) when the castle was built.
Just close to Matsumoto Castle lies the frog-themed Nawate street, the focal point of the city’s traditional culture. The shops along this street vary from antique dealers, candy stores, stylish bakeries, and designer boutiques. You’ll be able to score some traditional crafts, fresh fruits, pottery items, and of course, some taiyaki (classic street vendor snack)! Continue the walk to Nakamachi Street, often referred to as Old Street or Old House Street. The street is lined by several nicely preserved old buildings and houses that are restored to their original state. This is a popular shopping area for pottery, lacquerware, and wooden crafts.
Finally, check into your luxury lodging for the next three nights.
DAY 02: KISO VALLEY EXCURSION
A full day dedicated to exploring Tsumago and Magome in Kiso Valley, the old post towns of an important link on the ancient Nakasendo Highway, a trading route linking Kyoto with Edo (modern-day Tokyo). Today Tsumago is a meticulously preserved post town and the ideal starting point from which to walk to the neighbouring hamlet of Magome - a lovely, leisurely trail that allows visitors to walk in the footsteps of the samurai and feel like you have been transported back in the old days.
Meals: Breakfast & Lunch
DAY 03: KAMIKOCHI EXCURSION
Another beautiful day immersing yourself in nature!
Transfer to Kamikochi, a true nature lover’s paradise. Enjoy an hour's lovely walk along a scenic route covering Taishoike Pond, Yakedake volcano and Tashiro Marsh under the watchful eyes of wild monkeys!
After lunch at Imperial Hotel, we continue the hike a little further to Kappabashi Bridge before making a 2-hour roundtrip to Myojin Pond and Myojin Bridge.
Meals: Breakfast & Lunch
DAY 04: MATSUMOTO / OKUHIDA / TAKAYAMA
Transfer through Okuhida area surrounded by the Japanese Alps. Of all the onsen towns that you may have heard about or read about, Okuhida Onsen may just be the most unique and picturesque one yet. Located in the central region of Gifu, which is an area known to lead the county in stunning mountainous surroundings and incredible natural landmarks, Okuhida Onsen is known for its intense healing waters as well as its abundance of rotenburos (outdoor open-air baths) where you can breathe in the fresh air under the starry night sky as you soak in the steaming hot spring. Depending on the season, you can get a spectacular view by riding a ropeway and doing some light hiking.
Then, your driver will take you to Takayama. Ranked as one of the must-visit places by Michelin Voyager Pratique Japon, Takayama is a sought-after old town. Takayama is also famous for local food such as fine Takayama beef and Takayama ramen noodle.
Spend the next two nights in a deluxe hotel or a charming ryokan retreat.
DAY 05: HIDA FURUKAWA EXCURSION
Just a stone's throw away from Takayama, the nostalgic atmosphere of another historical town welcomes you. Hida Furukawa, somewhat of a baby sister to the more popular Takayama city, is a quaint, traditional town located in the mountainous region of northern Gifu. Not to be confused with various other towns also with the name Furukawa, this place is commonly referred to as Hida Furukawa. Whilst it does pose many similarities to Takayama, both being stunning historic towns with wonderfully ambient atmospheres, surrounded by breathtaking mountains and valleys, home to some of the coldest winters in Japan, and boasting some of the country’s best timber craftsmen, Hida Furukawa does have its own charm and character. For example, like Takayama, it’s known for its timber and carpenters, but more specifically, their resources boast the likes of cedar, cypress bamboo, and pine. Also, did you know that the town hosts a picturesque canal that runs through its centre which is home to thousands of carp fish? Many visitors cite carp fish watching as one of the main reasons why they ensure that 15-minute train ride, but when you step off the train to this charming little town, you’ll realise there are a lot more reasons to stay - peace and quiet without the crowds being one of them.
DAY 06: TAKAYAMA / GOKAYAMA / KANAZAWA
The morning begins with a visit to the famous local market before getting an introduction to old Takayama lifestyle by visiting one of town's oldest merchant homes, the Kusakabe Heritage House.
Moving on, we visit Gokayama in the north. A World Heritage site, this quaint little village nestled in the Japanese Alps has charmed many tourists with the way it has preserved most of its traditional way of life, with its gassho-zukuri houses built with triangular thatched roofs resembling hands clasped in prayer, and with an attic suited for raising silkworms - as the most conspicuous evidence. Whether it’s during cherry blossom season in spring, or during winter, when certain houses are illuminated for a light-up event, Gokayama is lovely and fairytale-like all year round.
Continuing north into Ishikawa Prefecture, we will arrive at historic Kanazawa for a three-night stay.
DAY 07: KANAZAWA
Kanazawa is a city with a rich heritage; the ruling Maeda family had a seat of power here during the Edo period and were responsible for building the sweeping Kenrokuen Garden and expansive Kanazawa Castle, both of which we will visit today.
Continue with your tour to the historic Nagamachi Samurai district which is made up of cobblestone streets, restored Edo period homes and earthen walls. Nagamachi was where wealthy samurai once resided with their families; similar neighbourhoods gradually expanded around other parts of Kanazawa. This fascinating insight into unique Japanese culture can be best appreciated at the likes of the Nomura Residence, where you can view an authentic full suit of samurai armour on display.
Thereafter, stroll through the old geisha neighbourhood of Higashichaya and soak in the picturesque views of the Edo-era tea houses from the opposite side of the river. The district was once populated by geisha and samurai. While it is no longer possible to meet a samurai, Kanazawa is one of the few places in Japan where geisha still work. Along with the Gion area of Kyoto, it’s one of only two geisha quarters nationally recognized for its cultural value.
Many craft shops ideal for souvenir shopping are located in the area and visitors can even visit the interior of a 200-year-old tea house that exhibits the living quarters of 19th-century geisha. The area is equally as stunning at night when the teahouses are illuminated. As the sun sets, keep an eye out for geisha - approximately 50 are said to still work in the area.
DAY 08: NOTO PENINSULA EXCURSION
The remote Noto Peninsula in northern Ishikawa extends about 100 kilometers into the Sea of Japan. Its secluded location and rustic charm make an ideal escape from Kanazawa and Japan's other major cities. The area is home to beautiful coastal scenery, quaint fishing villages, thriving agricultural traditions, and centuries-old craft cultures.
A full-day excursion today will take us to the rugged coastlines and secluded beaches of the Noto Peninsula.
Enjoy a drive along the 8-kilometer-long Chirihama Nagisa Driveway on Noto's western coast - the only sandy beach in the country where driving is allowed. More spectacular scenery awaits us as we take in the views from the Shiroyone Senmaida rice terraces that overlook the Sea of Japan. Visit the charming town of Wajima which is best known for 500 years of lacquerware production and its lively morning market. And not forgetting to pray for romance at Keta Taisha Shrine, dedicated to the deity of love.
DAY 09: KANAZAWA / HAKUSAN / KAGA
The southern part of Ishikawa is defined by geothermal hot springs, majestic mountains, and the Sea of Japan. Kaga encompasses four distinct hot-spring villages, while the 2,700-meter-high Mt. Hakusan has been a destination for ascetic worship since ancient times. Visit this scenic area of Ishikawa to experience fresh Japanese seafood, unparalleled onsen bathing, luxurious Japanese ryokan, unspoiled nature, crafts such as Kutani ware porcelain, and serene temples and shrines.
A scenic drive along the coast and mountains of Hakusan today takes us to Kaga Onsen, where we will spend a great day uncovering the beauties around this unique hot-spring region.
Starting with the Kitamaebune Ship Museum, located in Hashitate which was said to be “the richest village in Japan” from the 17th to the 19th century due to the lucrative shipping route connecting Hokkaido and Osaka. The museum is set in the grand home of a wealthy shipowner, built in 1878.
A great variety of seafood is unloaded at picturesque Hashitate Fishing Port throughout the year, attracting masses of tourists seeking a culinary experience hardly available elsewhere. Any time of the year, many restaurants and shops in the vicinity offer the freshest seasonal seafood on their stalls and tables, and this will be where your lunch should be taken.
In the afternoon, burn off some calories at the Amagozen Cape, a natural viewpoint with scenic vistas over the Sea of Japan. Walking trails traverse seaside cliffs that have been eroded by wind and waves.
Finally, check into your luxurious ryokan perched on a hill overlooking Yamashiro Onsen for a two-night stay. The location of the village makes it a great base from which to explore the surrounding Kaga region. For the next two evenings, enjoy your private open-air hot spring bath before savouring a traditional Japanese Kaiseki-style dinner.
Meals: Breakfast & Dinner
DAY 10: KAGA
Spend another beautiful day exploring the surroundings!
Beginning with the Kakusenkei Gorge which runs through a lush forest near the hot-spring village of Yamanaka Onsen, and this is where we enjoy a leisurely stroll while appreciating the beauty of the waterfalls and the unique rock formations accentuating the deep blue pools of water
A little further afield lies Yuge-kaido, the main street where locally crafted pieces can be found in many of the historic shops. Try your hand at Kutani-yaki porcelain and Yamanaka lacquerware, famous for expert lathework.
Up next is the visit of the Kutani-yaki Kiln Exhibition Hall which houses a museum and an 1824 porcelain kiln that was critical in reviving the art of Kutaniware. Kutaniware is Ishikawa’s local style of porcelain, characterized by bold, elaborate designs and striking colors. Visitors can learn about the process in workshops for painting their own porcelain piece.
And finally, marvel at the natural rock formations at Natadera Temple which have been revered as a sacred place for well over 2,000 years and tower above the temple’s mossy forests, traditional-style gardens, and carp-filled ponds, earning Natadera a star in the Michelin Green Guide.
Meals: Breakfast & Dinner
DAY 11: KAGAN / KOMATSU / KANSAI - DEPARTURE
There’s still time for a last taste of Ishikawa before heading to the airport for your flight home. Safe travels!
ACCOMMODATION WE LOVE:
11D10N - 3N Matsumoto, 2N Takayama, 3N Kanazawa, 2N Kaga