Kyoto, the Shima Peninsula, and the Kumano Kodo Pilgrim Trails with Kate Ulberg or Lucy Whitehead


Our Trip Leader extraordinaire Kate Ulberg has dreamed of this journey for years: an in-depth exploration of the fascinating, less-traveled sites around Kyoto paired with the treasured Shinto shrines of the Shima Peninsula and the mystical, wooded trails of Kumano Kodo, walked for centuries by emperors and pilgrims alike, and in the words of celebrated travel writer Pico Iyer, "one of the most spiritually charged landscapes I'd ever encountered." Kate has been exploring Japan with WT for over two decades and has a knack for exploring out-of-the-way places and introducing you to “insider” experiences that make your journey unique. We’ll enjoy many delights all along the way—dining with a geisha in Kyoto, visiting a fourth-generation, gold-leaf artisan, exploring architect I. M. Pei’s masterpiece Miho Museum, meeting traditional ama (female pearl divers) in beautiful Toba Bay, and enjoying fresh seafood on the Shima Peninsula. We’ll stay in a combination of modern hotels and ryokans where we can relax with a traditional onsen bath. This is an experience of Japan you can only get with Kate Ulberg and WT!

Itinerary at a Glance

Days 1-4
Kyoto / Shigaraki Potters / Miho Museum / Dinner with a Geisha / Fushimi Inari Shrine

Head outside of Kyoto to discover the rural town of Shigaraki, with its ancient ceramic tradition, and visit the spectacular Miho Museum, I. M. Pei’s architectural wonder. Meet traditional Kyoto artisans in their workshops, enjoy dinner with a geisha in a private home. Explore the serene Tofukuji Temple and walk the magical path of the Fushimi Inari Shrine, with its thousands of vermillion torii gates.

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Day 5
Uji / Tea and Sake Tasting

Soak up the atmosphere of Uji, an ancient city prominently featured in the Tale of Genji, the classic 11th century novel. Taste Uji's famous green-tea-infused cuisine, visit the serene Byodoin Temple, sample the wares at a sake brewery.

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Days 6-7
Nara Park / Todaiji / Horyuji’s Wooden Temples

In Nara, Japan's first permanent capital, enjoy the majesty of the Todaiji Temple, one of the world’s largest wooden structures, and walk amid the ancient wooden temples of Horuji, dating to the 7th century.

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Days 8-9
Ise Shima / Pearl Divers / Ago Bay

Ferry into beautiful Ago Bay to visit Mikimoto Pearl Island and learn more about farming pearls. Back on the mainland, we take a gorgeous drive down the coast to Osatsu to meet the traditional female pearl divers of this area. Visit the atmospheric Shinto shrines at Ise Shima, dedicated to the emperors of Japan.

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Days 10-13
Kumano Kodo Pilgrim Trails

Explore the misty trails of the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage, the holy ground of Japan, walked for centuries by emperors and pilgrims alike. Depart via Osaka on Day 13.

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Meet Kyoto’s traditional artisans, have dinner with a geisha
Explore the ancient pilgrim trails of Kumano Kodo
Visit the sacred Shinto shrines of the Shima Peninsula
Meet the traditional female pearl divers of the Shima Peninsula
Enjoy overnights in traditional ryokans, the serene inns that reflect Japanese culture in miniature


Length: 13 days
Cost From: $8995  
Arrive: Osaka, Japan
Depart: Osaka, Japan
Lodging: 12 nights ryokans and hotels
Meals: All meals included except lunches and 1 dinner (B=Breakfast, L=Lunch, D=Dinner)
Activity: Cultural Adventures, Hiking / Trekking
Trip Level:

Walking, including some steep stairs, 6-7 hours a day, Japanese-style dining (sitting on floor)