Japan is an enigmatic land, and the perfect way to unlock its secrets is on our walking journey with Trip Leader Kate Ulberg, who has an extraordinary gift for introducing people to Japan. Join her to explore the lantern-lit lanes of romantic Kyoto, a thousand-year-old city of temples, gardens, and palaces. In seaside Kanazawa, stroll streets lined by immaculately preserved teahouses from the Edo and Meiji eras, then head to Takayama in the Japanese Alps for the Sanno Matsuri festival, a fabulous spectacle dating from the 17th century. Most nights are in traditional ryokans, with one night in a Buddhist monastery perched on a mountaintop.
The overall trip design was great. We were able to see a good variety of things in Japan, from the cherry blossoms and temples to the wonderful countryside. Kate also did a great job of making the trip a wonderful experience for the entire group.
— Bob S., Half Moon Bay, CA
Osaka / Kyoto
In the north of Kyoto, we visit serene Ryoanji, with the superb abstract Zen Garden and Daitokuji, a Rinzai Zen temple associated with masters of the Japanese tea ceremony. In eastern Kyoto’s Ginkakuji, we walk down the cherry blossom–lined Path of Philosophy and explore lovely temples, shrines, and gardens. On one afternoon, we experience the colorful Miyako Odori, featuring geisha dancing.
Koyasan / Western Kyoto
Heading to Koyasan, we ride to the mountaintop monastery by cable car for an overnight in a shukubo, or temple lodge. Returning to Kyoto, visit 17th century Nijo Castle and Sanjusangendo, a Buddhist temple with a thousand statues of the Thousand Armed Kannon, a National Treasure of Japan. We also walk through Sagano and Arashiyama, remnants of Kyoto’s rural past with their lush bamboo forests, welcoming teahouses, contemplative temples, exquisite villas, maple-lined ravines, thatch-roofed houses, and the poet Basho’s hut.
In Kanazawa, which once rivaled Kyoto and Tokyo in power, our explorations may include Nagamachi, the old Samurai district at the foot of Kanazawa Castle, the lovely garden at Kenroku-en, and the Geisha Quarter.
Takayama / Ogimachi / Spring Festival
Amid Takayama’s historic merchant houses, witness the processions, ringing bells, and beating drums of the Sanno Matsuri festival. You’ll also head to nearby Ogimachi, a World Heritage Site, whose well-preserved gassho-zukuri farmhouses with distinctive triangular thatch roofs are an enchanting sight right out of a fairytale.
In Tokyo, you’ll attend a stirring performance of Kabuki Theater and explore the Imperial Palace Gardens. Depart on Day 14.