Explore the ancient capitals of Japan by foot on this walking tour along the country's oldest known road. Visit Tanzan Shrine, one of Japan's oldest Buddhist temples, and wander the streets of Nara's Edo-period merchant district. Walk through forests dotted with statues of the Buddha, and deepen your understanding of Japanese culture with an overnight stay in a ryokan (traditional inn) or minshuku (family-run guesthouse)—or, spend a night or two getting to know a local family with a Japanese homestay.

Highlights

  • Visit Asuka's ancient monuments and early Buddhist shrines
  • Walk the Yamanobe no Michi trail, one of the oldest roads in Japan
  • Explore the temples and Edo-period merchant district in Nara
  • Stay in traditional ryokan (inns) and minshuku (family-run guesthouses) 

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Asuka Asuka
Day 2 Asuka Tanzan Shrine hike Asuka
Day 3 Hike the Yamanobe no Michi in Nara Nara
Day 4 Hike the Yagyu Kaido in Nara Nara
Day 5 Sightseeing in Nara  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Asuka

Rice Fields in Asuka (photo courtesy of Kento Kodama/Shutterstock)
Asuka Rice Fields (photo courtesy of Kento Kodama/Shutterstock)

Head by train from Kyoto or Osaka to Asuka, located on the southern edge of the Yamato Plain. This peaceful agricultural community is an ideal home base where you can experience the lifestyle of the Japanese countryside.

Start your explorations with an Asuka Monuments Walk. The walk gives a perfect introduction to the history and landmarks of the village.

Walking distance: 5.5 miles (9 km) (plus optional Iwaido detour)
Elevation gain: 1,375 feet (420 m) of ascent / 1,390 feet (425 m) of descent (plus optional Iwaido detour)
Time required: About 4 hours of optional walking
Accommodation: Minshuku (family-run guesthouse) or Japanese homestay

Day 2: Asuka Tanzan Shrine hike

Tanzen Shrine
Tanzan Shrine

Today you can continue to explore Asuka, or, for a more active day, hike up a forest trail to the atmospheric Tanzan Shrine, which features a 13-story pagoda.

Walking distance: 8 miles (13 km)
Elevation gain: 1,730 feet (580 m) of ascent; 985 feet (300 m) of descent
Time required: About 5 hours of optional walking
Accommodation: Minshuku (family-run guesthouse) or Japanese homestay

Day 3: Hike the Yamanobe no Michi in Nara

Statue Along the Yamanobe-no-Michi Trail
Statue Along the Yamanobe-no-Michi Trail

This morning you can either rent bicycles to visit Asuka’s terraced rice fields, then travel by train to Nara, or hike the historic Yamanobe no Michi trail before arriving at your accommodation in Nara.

Nara, Japan's first permanent capital, was established in 710 CE. Formerly known as Heijo, Nara abounds in cultural heritage, including historic treasures, well-known temples, and Nara Park, a nationally-famous scenic oasis featuring a large herd of deer.

The Yamanobe no Michi trail is part of the oldest road mentioned in Japan's written records. This historic trail takes you past several shrines and temples, including Omiwa Shrine, which features a triple torii gate.

Walking distance: 10 miles (16 km)
Elevation gain: Negligible ascent and descent
Time required: About 5 hours of optional walking
Accommodation: Ryokan (traditional inn), western-style hotel, or upgrade to a machiya (wooden townhouse)

Day 4: Hike the Yagyu Kaido in Nara

Deer in Nara Park
Deer in Nara Park

Today you'll go on the Yagyu Kaido hike from Yagyu village back to Nara, following the route samurai warriors took from Nara to the sword-making village of Yagyu. The full hike is a challenging 12.4 miles (20 km), but you can opt for a shorter 7.3 mile (11.7 km) hike that departs from Enjo-ji Temple. Both hikes end with a stroll through Nara Park, with its famous deer and temples.

Walking distance: 7.3 miles (11.7 km)
Elevation gain: 790 feet (240 m) of ascent and 1755 feet (530 m) of descent
Time required: About 5 hours of optional walking
Accommodation: Ryokan (traditional inn) or upgrade to a machiya (wooden townhouse)

Day 5: Sightseeing in Nara

Todai-ji Temple at Night, Nara
Todai-ji Temple at Night, Nara

Spend the day in Nara, visiting important historical and cultural spots, such as the Todai-ji and Horyu-ji temples. Explore the carefully-preserved Edo-period merchant district of Naramachi to get a real feel for life in this ancient Japanese capital. Later,  wander the pathways of Isuien Garden, with its pond, cascades, and tea house, to absorb the tranquility of nature.

The tour ends with your train journey back to Kyoto or Osaka.