geisha japan cultural tour

Geisha of Japan

The tradition of geisha still thrives in modern Japan. With overnights in a traditional ryokans, we enjoy an insider's view of this fascinating country from Kyoto, the cultural capital, to Takayama in the Alps of Japan.

Photo by Ric Ergenbright

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Temples, Treasures and Teahouses

Hidden Worlds of Japan and the Takayama Spring Festival

Temples, Treasures and Teahouses route-map

Trip Details at-a-Glance

Cost From: $6895  
Length: 14 days
Arrive: Osaka, Japan
Depart: Tokyo, Japan
Lodging: 12 nights ryokans and hotels, 1 night temple lodging
Meals: All meals included except lunches and 2 dinners
Activity: Walking, Cultural Adventures
Trip Level: Walking, including some steep stairs, 6-7 hours a day, Japanese-style dining (sitting on floor)
2

Highlights

  • Spring festival in the ancient mountain village of Takayama, with its well-preserved architecture
  • Traditional tea ceremonies, feudal castles, Japanese ofuro baths, Shinto shrines, Kabuki dance-drama performance
  • Insider’s journey including overnights in classic ryokans and a Zen monastery


Exactly what I hoped for. Placed myself into the Japanese culture as much as possible.Archibald B.—Tucson, AZ

Choosing the Right Trip

We work hard to help you choose the right trip for you, paying attention to your individual interests, abilities, and needs. If you have questions about the level of comfort or any of the activities described in this itinerary, please contact us.

References

We are proud to have an exceptionally high rate of repeat travelers. For more information, we would be happy to put you in touch with a client who has traveled with us.

Departure Notes

Once you have signed up on the trip, we send a complete packing list, relevant health information, and required travel documents.

Japan is an ancient and enigmatic land, and our insider’s journey reveals a side of it few tourists ever get to see. With Japan expert and beloved Trip Leader Kate Ulberg, who has an extraordinary gift for introducing people to its culture, you’ll delve into romantic Old Kyoto, with its lantern-lit lanes and 2,000 temples, attend a classical Kabuki performance in Tokyo, and head to Takayama in the Japanese Alps for the pageants of the Sanno Matsuri festival, a fabulous spectacle dating from the 17th century. Our visits to artist studios, incredible food markets, and tranquil Zen temples unveils Japan’s unique heritage, and our overnights include ryokans, the serene inns that reflect Japanese culture in miniature, and a special night in a Buddhist monastery perched on a mountaintop.

Itinerary at a Glance

For a more complete description, Download Full Detailed Itinerary

Days 1-6
Osaka / Kyoto

Kyoto’s serene Ryoanji, with its famous Zen Garden, and Nijo Castle, home of the Tokugawa shoguns, reveals Japan’s unique heritage, along with contemplative temples, welcoming teahouses, the poet Basho’s hut, and spring cherry blossoms.

Days 7-8
Koyasan / Nara

We head to Koyasan, riding to the mountaintop monastery by cable car for an overnight in a shukubo, or temple lodge. In Nara, you’ll visit revered 8th century Todaiji Temple and massive Horyuji Temple, a “National Treasure” and vision of old Japan.

Days 9-11
Takayama / Spring Festival / Ogimachi

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.

Days 12-14
Tokyo

In Tokyo, you’ll attend a stirring performance of Kabuki Theater and explore Tsukiji, Tokyo’s famed wholesale fish market, with its stalls of fresh seafood (yummy sushi and sashimi!). Depart on Day 14.

For a more complete description, Download Full Detailed Itinerary

What the Trip is Like

The trip is Level 2, Easy to Moderate, according to our trip grading system. This adventure trip features lovely walks in cities and villages. Although not physically demanding, the trip will yield greater rewards if you are in good physical condition and able to stay on your feet for 6-7 hours per day. In Kyoto, there is much to see, and a fair amount of walking is necessary to take it all in—and you will find there are many steps to climb! Japan is a land of staircases and hills and you will enjoy the trip more if you are dressed comfortably and are in good physical condition. Please remember we will be sleeping on futons and eating at floor level at times, so it is important that you are able to sit down on and get up off the floor without much difficulty.

We make the most of our time in Japan. After rising and eating breakfast, we leave our hotel or ryokan for a walking tour. Daily mini-lectures by our Trip Leader help provide insights into the past and future, the history, politics, geography, and the food of Japan. On some days, we visit temples and shrines, and other days, we follow the pathways of the shoguns or visit sites of breathtaking natural beauty. We ride the subways and buses, but we do most of our sightseeing on foot.

We will have a mix of free time and group time, providing the opportunity for independent exploration. Our breakfasts and some dinners are eaten together and we have the time to share our experiences and new discoveries over these meals.

The Japanese people dress well, and we’ll find we are struck by the ongoing Westernization of this society and curious about the lifestyles of the modern Japanese. Our delight in the traditional aspects of Japanese life is gratified by the sights of kimono-clad women boarding the subway, the smell of incense wafting from a neighborhood temple, and the sense of aesthetics and design prevalent in daily life.

Accommodations
Japan is a blend of the traditional and modern, and our trip encompasses this unique mixture. We will stay at Japanese-style hotels as well as traditional ryokans. The quiet world of the ryokan is a venerable cultural institution—a way to experience a simple, timeless way of life. After being warmly welcomed, we trade our street shoes for slippers. Once inside, we remove our slippers as we step onto the finely woven tatami mats covering our sleeping room floors. Our rooms are spacious and pleasant with low tables and comfortable futon mattresses with quilts and blankets. Ryokans have double rooms (singles are sometimes possible). Some of our rooms will have attached toilets; at other times, we share the “down the hall” facilities. Although a few ryokans have baths in the rooms, most have an ofuro (a Japanese-style bath).

Normally, a fresh cotton yukata (robe) is provided for each guest. These light kimonos can be worn anywhere in and around the ryokan and we often wear them to meals (make sure to wear the left side over the right). For many of our breakfasts and dinners, beautifully presented meals are served as we sit on the floor at low tables on our tatami mats.

Japanese Bathing
In Japan, bathing is a time honored tradition, a relaxing daily event. While staying in our ryokans, we will bathe as the Japanese do—using the ofuro system. In separate men and women’s sides, the custom is to wash and rinse before entering the ofuro, a large tub of hot water where we can sit back with legs extended, submerged to the neck. (A caveat—this trip is not for the very modest!) Early Shinto was a religion of cleanliness and purification. Ritualistic bathing began during this time and has been perfected over the centuries. Either as a divine imperative or a luxury, bathing in Japan has always been regarded as more than a hygienic chore. The ofuro is the perfect way to finish a hectic day of travel. After a relaxing bath, we gather for the evening meal.

Japanese Cuisine
A highlight of any visit to Japan is its superb cuisine defined by fresh ingredients and artful presentation. We will have ample opportunity to sample both familiar and new dishes. We will sample many types of Japanese food, and usually the first “bite” is with our eyes, the presentation being a tantalizing array of fresh fish, vegetables, tofu, miso soup and, of course, rice, all served on individual plates and bowls of exquisite sizes, patterns, and proportions. We eat with chopsticks and are usually seated at low tables on the floor. At some ryokans, you may choose between a Japanese breakfast of fish, rice, miso soup, tofu, vegetables, pickled condiments and tea, or a western breakfast consisting of eggs, toast, salad, and coffee. Many places, however, offer only Japanese food.

During our stays in major cities, you will have some dinners and all lunches on your own, allowing you ample opportunity to sample the endless variety of Japanese food. When we are traveling, we may try an obento (box lunch), and we sample the snack foods of Japan and/or get a bowl of udon, ramen or soba (noodles) at one of the local spots. We often eat lunch at the noodle shops, the sushi bars and the small neighborhood lunch spots, avoiding the infamous high-priced meals of Japan. Napkins are not used except at western-style restaurants; bring your own handkerchief.

Keep in mind that Japanese food is very different from what we are used to, and with the limited availability of American foods, your food intake will be a big part of the Japanese adventure.

Explanation of Trip Levels

 

Departures & Leaders

2015
Apr 5-18, 2015  Kate Ulberg
2016
Apr 5-18, 2016

Trip Cost

Prices are for 2015
$6895 (10-12 members)
$7195 (8-9 members)
$7495 (6-7 members)
Single supplement: $1450
Forced single supplement: $1450
more on pricing

Trip Cost Includes:

  • Expert leadership of a Wilderness Travel Trip Leader and local guides
  • Accommodations in comfortable ryokans and hotels
  • All meals included except lunches and 2 dinners
  • Ground transportation using Japan Rail System
  • Site and entrance fees as part of the itinerary
  • Land transportation as noted

Trip Cost Does Not Include:

International airfare, airport transfers, any meals not specified after each itinerary day in the Full Trip Brochure, fees for optional activities, airport departure taxes, optional tipping or gratuities to leaders or staff, additional hotel nights that may be necessitated by airline schedule changes or other factors; pre-trip expenses of medical immunizations (if any), travel insurance, or passports and visas; and other expenses of a personal nature (alcohol, laundry, etc.).

Trip Payment Schedule

At time of reservation: $500
120 days prior to departure: 20% of trip cost
60 days prior to departure: Balance

Cancellation and Transfer Fee Schedule

More than 90 days prior to departure: No charge!
90-46 days prior to departure: 25% of trip cost
45 days or less: 100% of trip cost

Ryokans

Japan’s traditional inns are known as ryokans. The quiet world of the ryokan is a venerable cultural institution—a way to experience a simple, traditional way of life. After being warmly welcomed, we trade our street shoes for slippers. Once inside, we remove our slippers as we step onto the finely woven tatami mats covering our sleeping room floors. Rooms are furnished with low tables and comfortable futon mattresses with quilts and blankets. Ryokans have double rooms (singles are sometimes possible). Some of our rooms will have attached toilets; at other times, we share the “down the hall” facilities. Although a few ryokans have baths in the rooms, most have an ofuro (a Japanese-style bath). Normally, a fresh cotton yukata (robe) is provided for each guest. These light kimonos can be worn anywhere in and around the ryokan and we often wear them to meals. For many of our breakfasts and dinners, beautifully presented meals are served as we sit on the floor at low tables on our tatami mats.

Hotel Nikko Kansai Airport

Hotel Nikko Kansai Airport

Day 1 (1 night), Osaka, Japan

This hotel couldn’t be more convenient for travelers transiting Osaka—it’s located just a short walk from the passenger terminal ...
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Westin Miyako Kyoto

Westin Miyako Kyoto

Days 2 to 6 (5 nights), Kyoto, Japan

The Westin Miyako has a convenient location in the Higashiyama Hills overlooking Kyoto, near metro stops and within walking distance to some quiet ...
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Henjoko-in Monastery

Henjoko-in Monastery

Day 7 (1 night), Koyasan, Japan

With its lovely courtyard and comfortable Japanese-style guest rooms, a stay at this monastery is a wonderful, peaceful way to spend the ...
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Nara Hotel

Nara Hotel

Day 8 (1 night), Nara, Japan

The century-old Nara Hotel is set in the beautiful hills of Nara Park, surrounded by World Heritage Sites. With its simple elegance, the hotel is an ...
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Hoshokaku

Hoshokaku

Days 9 to 11 (3 nights), Takayama, Japan

A stay at this authentic Japanese-style inn is a wonderful experience from start to finish. Set on a hill just a short walk from town, Hoshokaku ...
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Courtyard Marriott Ginza Tobu Hotel

Courtyard Marriott Ginza Tobu Hotel

Days 12 to 13 (2 nights), Tokyo, Japan

The location of this western-style hotel is its best selling point—you can walk right to the famous Tsukiji fish market in the morning, and ...
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Note: Listed above are our signature accommodations for this trip. Although it is highly unlikely, we may make substitutions when necessary.

Kate Ulberg

Kate Ulberg is a third-generation Californian who began her guiding career as a cook/driver-guide for Stanford Alumni tours to Hopi-Navajo country and as a teacher of nordic skiing in the Sierra Nevada. In the 1980s, Kate led a hiking tour in Japan and quickly fell in love with Japan's aesthetics, the kindness of the people, and the beauty of the mountains, temples, and gardens. She kept returning to Japan as a hiking guide and now some 25 years later, she remains deeply connected to this country, having learned the history, the customs, the cultural do's and don'ts, the language, and having made many friends there. "Every trip to Japan for me is like returning home and bringing new friends. My trips offer an introduction to the culture, the food, the history, the sights, the arts," says Kate, "and at journey's end, I hope that trip members feel that they have experienced Japan, not just visited."

Upcoming Trips:

Temples, Treasures and Teahouses, April 5-18, 2015

Client Testimonials:


It was a pleasure to travel with Kate. Her love of Japan is obvious and her knowledge extensive. Besides all that, she was fun to be with. Phyliss P., San Diego CA Outstanding leader. I’ve been on 17 WT trips and all the leaders have been excellent. Kate is among the very best I’ve experienced. Chris R., Palo Alto CA
Temples, Treasures & Teahouses
Kate took very good care of us. Her established relationships with people in Japan added to our enjoyment of the trip. Ruth & Jim G., Del Mar CA
Temples, Treasures & Teahouses
Kate is knowledgeable, informative, a great trip leader. I have taken many trips and never enjoyed one more. Jean G., Menlo Park CA
Temples, Treasures & Teahouses
Kate is very respectful of Japanese culture and a great pleasure to be with day in and day out. Trains, futons, monasteries, temples, inns, baths, meals, educational meetings—all wonderful. Kate made this a great trip. Cynthia J., Newport OK Kate is very knowledgeable and was a wonderful guide. Her experience in the country as well as her proficiency in Japanese were invaluable and added greatly to our experience. Martha G., Cambridge, MA
Temples, Treasures & Teahouses