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: $7295  
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.

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 Sanno Matsuri festival, a fabulous spectacle dating from the 17th century. Our visits to artist studios, food markets, and tranquil Zen temples unveil 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 1-3
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.

Days 4-6
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.

Days 7-8
Kanazawa

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.

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 (great 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, 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 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 traditional ryokans as well as Japanese-style hotels. 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 (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, beef, 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

2016
Apr 4-17, 2016  Kate Ulberg

Trip Cost

Prices are for 2016
$7295 (11-12 members)
$7595 (9-10 members)
$7895 (7-8 members)
Single supplement: $1350
Forced single supplement: $1150
more on pricing

Trip Payment Schedule

At time of reservation: $600
90 days prior to departure: Balance

Cancellation and Transfer Fee Schedule

Up to 91 days prior to departure: No charge!
61-90 days prior to departure: 25% of trip cost
46-60 days prior to departure: 50% of trip cost
45 days or less: 100% of trip cost

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.).

Arrival & Departure Information

You are responsible for your own transportation to the arrival and from the departure cities listed below. For more detailed information, including transfers, please download the Detailed Itinerary.

Please do not purchase your tickets until you are confirmed on the trip. Once your tickets have been purchased, please send us a copy of your airline schedule.

2016 Departures

Arrival:
Osaka, Japan
Date: Day 1

Suggested Arrival Airport:
Osaka Kansai International Airport (airport city code: KIX)
Suggested arrival time: 5:00 pm or earlier
Departure:
Tokyo, Japan
Date: Day 14

Suggested Airport for Departure:
Tokyo Narita International Airport), Japan (airport code NRT)
Suggested departure time: after 3:00 pm

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.

Kyoto Royal Hotel and Spa

Kyoto Royal Hotel and Spa

Days 1 to 3 (3 nights), Kyoto, Japan

In the heart of Kyoto, near shopping, dining, and city sites, stands the Kyoto Royal Hotel and Spa, a grand building with comfortable ...
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Shojoshin-in

Shojoshin-in

Day 4 (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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Hiiragiya Bekkan Ryokan

Hiiragiya Bekkan Ryokan

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

A stay in one of Japan’s ryokans is an immersion in the traditional Japanese way of life. The Hiiragiya Bekkan, a tranquil retreat in the ...
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Kanazawa Chaya Ryokan

Kanazawa Chaya Ryokan

Days 7 to 8 (2 nights), Kanazawa, Japan

The welcoming staff treats us like royalty at this traditional ryokan. Japanese-style guest rooms are elegant and offer en suite toilet and bath. ...
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Honjin Hiranoya Ryokan

Honjin Hiranoya Ryokan

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

Overlooking the tranquil Miya River stands Honjin Hiranoya Ryokan—the ideal place to unwind in enchanting Takayama—and whose superb ...
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Hotel Niwa

Hotel Niwa

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

With tranquil terraced gardens and a serene atmosphere despite its central location in lively Tokyo, Hotel Niwa is a wonderful bridge between a ...
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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 30 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 4-17, 2016
Japan: Castles, Samurai, and Legends, November 7-20, 2016

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