A bewitching blend of the traditional and modern, Japan is entrancing, with its exquisite natural beauty and rich ancient culture. On this Private Journey, you’ll discover the wonders of Kyoto, a showcase of Japan’s cultural heritage, with 17 shrines and temples on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites. At the stunning mountain temple complex of Mount Koya, you’ll stay at a shukubo (temple lodging) for insights into the lives of monks. Traveling south, you’ll follow in the footsteps of emperors and pilgrims as you trace 1,000-year-old historic trails—the venerated Kumano Kodo—through the cedar-filled forests and small villages of the Kii Mountains, the spiritual heart of the nation. Throughout your journey, you’ll experience Japan’s renowned cuisine, overnight at traditional ryokans, and enjoy the most civilized way to end a day of great hiking—with a natural hot spring bath!
Kyoto, the cultural and artistic capital of Japan, preserves more than 2,000 imposing shrines and temples, royal palaces, villas, and elaborate gardens. It is also a center for Japan's superbly crafted folk arts. Your explorations include a guided tour of Nijo Castle, a World Heritage Site; the celebrated Buddhist temple of Kiyomizu; the Higashiyama area of Kyoto, with its historic temples, shrines, and gardens; and the bustling Nishiki market, where all manner of Japanese delicacies are on display, from grilled baby octopus and fresh oysters to tsukemono (pickles).
Mount Koya / Okuno-in / Temple Lodging
Mount Koya (Koyasan), set in the mountains of the Kii Peninsula, has been a place of religious devotion and ceremony since the 9th century. Enjoy a guided walk through the vast Okuno-in cemetery, with thousands of graves and memorials to past luminaries, with an overnight in one of the elegant temples run by the monks, with a dinner of shojin-ryori (Buddhist vegetarian cuisine).
Pilgrimage Hikes on the Kumano Kodo
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Kumano Kodo is a network of ancient pilgrimage trails on the mountainous Kii Peninsula, a mystical landscape of rivers, waterfalls, mountains, and deep forests dotted with shrines and occasional villages. It has been a sacred site associated with nature worship since prehistoric times and a place of pilgrimage, walked for centuries by Japan’s imperial ancestors and people from all levels of society. From Takijiri, a popular starting point for modern-day pilgrims, you’ll set off on hikes through forests of sugi (Japanese cedar) and past small jizo bodhisattva statues, placed there by locals to protect travelers. On Day 7, your hike brings you through ridgetop villages to the grand shrine of Kumano Hongu Taisha, whose symbol is the mythological three-legged raven, representing the Hongu, Nachi, and Hayatama shrines. The ritual here is to toss a coin into a wooden donation box, summon the gods by pulling a rope connected to an overhead bell, then clap twice and bow in prayer. Overnights are in traditional ryokans, many of them located in hot springs areas. A dip in the thermal waters is a perfect end to a day of hiking!
Kumano River Boat Ride / Kyoto
At the Kumano River, board a traditional flat-bottomed wooden boat for an exciting ride on the Kumano-gawa River before heading to the ethereal Nachi Grand Shrine with its brilliant orange temple and nearby waterfall. With your pilgrimage at an end, return to Kyoto,and enjoy a guided walk in Gion, Kyoto’s classic lantern-lit geisha district, exploring the narrow streets and beckoning tea houses, with the chance of seeing a geisha or maiko (apprentice geisha) in their lovely silk kimonos, traditional makeup, and elaborate hairstyles. Depart on Day 10 via Osaka.