Join us for a true “insider’s” perspective on Japan as we tell the story of this land of legends through its towering medieval castles and the stories of the men who built them—the samurais. In learning about the bushido (warrior), zen, and tea cultures of the samurai and their power struggles, we gain a perspective on the history of Japan and a path to a better understanding of the modern society. We explore ancient places of worship, soaring castles, seaside ruins, samurai lanes, and meet potters and artisans who have kept their crafts alive. Along the way, we experience an array of atmospheric places, including majestic Himeji Castle, the ancient town of Kurashiki, with its preserved area dating to the Edo Period (1603-1867), the samurai streets and traditional potters of Hagi on the Sea of Japan, and exquisite Kumano Kodo, a World Heritage Site where we’ll join pilgrims on thousand-year-old forest paths leading to sacred shrines. Our accommodations are a combination of modern hotels and wonderfully traditional Japanese ryokans.
Osaka / Himeji / Himeji Castle / Mt. Shosa
From Osaka, we head to Himeji, with its spectacular castle built in the mid-14th century and never damaged by war, earthquake, or fire. It is a national treasure and a World Heritage Site. We also explore Mt. Shosa’s atmospheric, thousand-year-old Engyoji Temple complex.
Kurashiki / Bitchu Matsuyama / Okayama / Fukuyama
A bullet train takes us to charming Kurashiki, a city that dates back to the Edo Period (1603-1867). We walk the ancient streets, take the local train the village of Bitchu Takahachi to hike up to its mountaintop castle, and explore Okayama's striking black castle, the lovely garden of the daimyo (feudal ruler) at Korakuen, and the rebuilt Fukuyama Castle. Overnights in Kurashiki.
Matsue / Samurai Homes / Lafcadio Hearn Home / Izumo Taisha Shrine
In Matsue, on the shore of Lake Shinji, we stay in a traditional ryokan—a great way to experience the Japanese way of life. We visit Matsue Castle, which has one of Japan’s largest original castle towers, and savor the samurai quarters nearby. We also visit the home of Lafcadio Hearn, a 19th century writer who introduced Japanese culture to the West with his articles in Harper’s magazine. On Day 8 we experience the venerated Izumo Taisha shrine, deeply associated with Japan’s creation legends. This memorable place was designated a National Treasure of Japan in 1952 and is the country’s oldest shrine. Overnights in ryokan.
Hagi / Hagiyaki Pottery
Hagi is a quiet coastal town with a well-preserved samurai quarter. Several beautiful samurai and merchant homes are open for our enjoyment and we'll also visit the local potters, makers of the famed Hagiyaki pottery. Our two nights here are memorable, as is our stay at a traditional ryokan. Overnights in ryokan.
Kumano Kodo Pilgrim Trails
On the Kii Peninsula, we'll discover a network of exquisite pilgrimage routes that have been walked for centuries by Japanese people from all levels of society. At the center of this sacred area are three Kumano shrines and the region has been sacred since prehistoric times. We will set out for 2-3-hour walks on the pilgrim pathways, enjoy soaks in the onsens (hot springs), and savor the peaceful atmosphere. Depart via Osaka on Day 14