Temples, Treasures, and Teahouses

From Matsue to Takayama, with a Cherry Blossom Festival

Trip Level

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.

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 most 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.


Japan’s climate and temperature range is similar to the East Coast of the US, with four distinct seasons. In March and April, the weather is turning spring-like and we hope to enjoy the cherry blossoms. Viewing the blossoms is somewhat of a national pastime in Japan. However, as the spring is a transitional season, we can expect some rain. Temperatures should range from the 50s to the 70sF. In the mountains, the weather is unpredictable and we may encounter rain or snow.

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.


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.