This active 9-day itinerary takes you on a memorable journey through central Japan's history and culture, from ultra-modern Tokyo to the historic imperial capital of Kyoto. In between, you'll visit the famous gardens of Kanazawa, cycle through traditional thatched villages of the Hida region, walk portions of the ancient Nakasendo Trail, and explore the preserved post towns of the Kiso Valley.

Highlights

  • Explore the culture-rich city of Kanazawa
  • Cycle around the scenic mountain valleys of the Hida region
  • See the exquisitely-preserved villages of Magome, Tsumago, and Narai
  • Walk the ancient Nakasendo Trail
  • Tour the historic imperial capital of Kyoto

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Tokyo Tokyo
Day 2 Kanazawa Kanazawa
Day 3 Shirakawa-go & Takayama Takayama
Day 4 Takayama Takayama
Day 5 Magome, Tsumago & Kiso-Fukushima Kiso-Fukushima
Day 6 Yabuhara, Narai & Matsumoto Matsumoto
Day 7 Transfer to Kyoto Kyoto
Day 8 Tour Kyoto Kyoto
Day 9 Depart Kyoto  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Tokyo

Sunset over the Tokyo skyline.
Sunset over the Tokyo skyline.

Welcome to Japan! Your journey starts in hyper-modern Tokyo, where you’ll transfer from the airport and settle into your hotel. Take the afternoon to get to know this vast metropolis at your leisure. A trip to the Tokyo Skytree is an excellent way to get oriented in the city—at 2,080 feet (634 meters), the tower's observation deck offers panoramic views that stretch as far as Mount Fuji. See Tokyo's ancient side with a visit to Sensoji for a stroll around the historic temple’s peaceful grounds, then finish your evening in the Shibuya district, taking your pick of the area's best restaurants and saké bars.

Day 2: Kanazawa

Cherry blossoms surrounding Kanazawa Castle.
Cherry blossoms surrounding Kanazawa Castle.

Today you’ll depart Tokyo, traveling by high-speed Shinkansen bullet train along the Japan Sea coast to the castle town of Kanazawa, famous for its crafts, folk arts, and rich history. Explore Kanazawa Castle, once home to the clan of the feudal Lord Maeda, and take a stroll through the world-renowned Kenrokuen Garden.

To learn more about the culture of the city, spend an afternoon in Kanazawa’s 'Geisha district' of Higashi Chaya. Here you’ll savor tea and sweets in the traditional teahouses or browse souvenirs from wooden stalls.

Day 3: Shirakawa-go & Takayama

Traditional
Traditional "gassho-style" wooden houses in the Shirakawa-go region.

Day three takes you to the spectacular Shokawa Valley. Stop first at the UNESCO World Heritage village of Ogimachi in Shirakawa-go. Here you’ll see the region's traditional Gassho-zukuri buildings—wooden farmhouses with steep, thatched roofs. 

Later in the afternoon, travel onward to Takayama.  The village's isolated location has protected much of its authentic culture and architecture, and today it's well-known for yew-wood carving, lacquerware, pottery, and furniture. Check into a local Ryokan (a traditional hot springs inn) for the evening and relax in a thermal bath. At dinner, try sampling the local Hida beef and locally-brewed saké.

Day 4: Takayama

Takayama's atmospheric old town.
Takayama's atmospheric old town.

Today you’ll explore Takayama in-depth with a three-hour cycling tour, stopping at the bustling Asaichi market and the seven-story pagoda of Kokubunji Temple.

In the afternoon, explore the old town on foot, wandering among old merchant houses and museums. Hunt for souvenirs, sample local delicacies and rest up for a day of hiking tomorrow.

Day 5: Magome, Tsumago & Kiso-Fukushima

The Nakasendo Trail near Tsumago.
The Nakasendo Trail near Tsumago.

This morning you'll travel to the picturesque Kiso Valley and explore the atmospheric Edo-era post towns of Magome and Tsumago. Joined by a section of the ancient Nakasendo Trail, you'll walk between the villages on a well-marked path through beautiful countryside and forests. 

After a well-earned lunch in Tsumago, transfer to the delightful small town of Kiso-Fukushima for dinner and an overnight stay at a local Ryokan hot-spring inn.

Walking distance: 5 miles (8 km)

Walking time:  3 hours

Day 6: Yabuhara, Narai & Matsumoto

The picturesque post town of Narai.
The picturesque post town of Narai.

Day six continues along the Nakasendo Trail, with a morning walk between Yabuhara and Narai. This section takes you over the Torii Pass, past forests of red cedar and bamboo, ancient stone statues, and a small shrine. The three-hour walk ends in Narai, where you explore the charming village or join a short local cooking class, learning how to make local delicacies like 'gohei mochi' (toasted rice cooked and glazed with a sweet-savory soy and miso sauce.) 

In the afternoon, continue to Matsumoto, home to a remarkable 16th-century castle and your base for the night. 

Day 7: Transfer to Kyoto

Autumn view across Kyoto's Kiyomizu-dera Temple.
Autumn view across Kyoto's Kiyomizu-dera Temple.

Today you leave the mountains behind and travel to the historic imperial capital of Kyoto. Arriving after lunch, you’ll have time to explore some of the city’s exquisite dry-landscape Zen rock gardens before settling into your accommodation. In the evening, take a stroll through the Gion district, famous for its many traditional Ryotei private restaurants and Geisha tea houses.

Day 8: Tour Kyoto

Fushimi Inari's iconic torii gates.
Fushimi Inari's iconic torii gates.

Day eight is free to explore Kyoto at your own pace. Arrange a guided tour to learn about the city’s history and hidden corners, or grab a guidebook and set out on your own. An excellent place to start is at the renowned Fushimi Inari Shrine. Featured in the movie Memoirs of a Geisha, the shrine’s 10,000 picturesque red torii gates are considered an iconic image of Japan

If you feel like a more rural experience, head to Arashiyama on the city's outskirts. This beautiful area is home to the sprawling Tenryuji Temple and its lush, magical bamboo forest. 

As night falls on your final evening in Japan, make your way to the bustling streets of Pontocho, where narrow alleys along the Kamogawa River are packed with restaurants and bars.

Day 9: Depart Kyoto

Sannen Zaka Street, Kyoto.
Sannen Zaka Street, Kyoto.

Bid Japan a fond farewell as you depart Osaka Airport this morning.

Map

Map of Central Japan Highlights: Tokyo, Kyoto & the Kiso Valley - 9 days
Map of Central Japan Highlights: Tokyo, Kyoto & the Kiso Valley - 9 days