This active tour of Japan combines modern cities with outdoor adventures, including five days of hiking along the famous Nakasendo Trail. You'll start in Kyoto, visiting the famed red torii gates of Fushimi Inari and watching a live geisha performance. Then, set out on foot along one of the major traveling routes of the Edo period—traversing bamboo forests in Nojiri, the peaks of Torii Pass, and the plateaus of Usui-toge. End in Tokyo for city views from the Tokyo Skytree and a tranquil visit to Asakusa Shrine.


    • Hike along the ancient red torii gates of Kyoto's Fushimi Inari shrine
    • Visit quiet nature and friendly deer in Nara Park
    • Hike across the Nakasendo Trail's dramatic Torii Pass 
    • Take in expansive city views at Tokyo Skytree's observation deck

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Kyoto, Explore the City  Kyoto
Day 2 Guided Tour of Kyoto's Top Sights, Geisha Performance Kyoto
Day 3 Day Trip to the Peaceful Forests of Nara Kyoto
Day 4 Train to Nakatsugawa, Bus to Magone, Hike to Tsumago Tsumago
Day 5 Day Trek to Nojiri, Train to Kiso-Fukushima Kiso-Fukushima
Day 6 Train to Yabuhara, Traverse the Torii Pass  Narai
Day 7 Hike to Kiso-Hirasawa, Train to Karuizawa or Komoro via Matsumoto Karuizawa or Koromo
Day 8 Hike the Plateaus of Usui-toge Pass, Train to Tokyo Tokyo
Day 9 Self-Guided City Tour of Tokyo Tokyo
Day 10 Depart Tokyo  

Detailed Itinerary 

Day 1: Arrive in Kyoto, Explore the City 

Stroll along the torii gates of Fushimi Inari-taisha

Welcome to Japan! Your flight arrives in Kyoto, the country's former capital and a cultural powerhouse that is known for its historic traditions, temples, gardens, and palaces. Once you've gotten settled at your hotel or Japanese-style ryokan (inn), you're free to spend some time getting to know this captivating city. 

Start with a visit to what is considered one of Japan's famous shrines, Fushimi Inari-taisha. Featured in the movie "Memoirs of a Geisha," this shrine has more than 10,000 picturesque red torii gates, all donated by individuals and businesses as a sign of appreciation to the god Inari for the blessings received. If you make the light hike along the torii-lined route up the mountain, you'll be rewarded with sweeping views of the surrounding countryside.

Next, take a walk through the charming Gion district, where you'll find traditional wooden houses, ochaya (teahouses), and geishas (female Japanese performing artists) and maikos (geishas in training) strolling around the area. Visit one of the many shops and restaurants here, or end the day with a visit to a teahouse for a traditional tea ceremony. Enjoy a formal introduction to the ceremonies while sipping flavorful tea, then rest up at your hotel tonight in anticipation of tomorrow's excursions.

Day 2: Guided Tour of Kyoto's Top Sights, Geisha Performance

See a live geisha performance in Kyoto

See more of Kyoto on a guided city tour. Meet your guides in the morning and start with a visit to 400-year-old Nishiki Ichiba Market. There are more than 100 stalls and shops crammed into this narrow street, selling anything and everything. Watch the daily thrum of market life and get in line with the locals to try some of Kyoto's signature dishes, such as yu dofu (boiled tofu) and nishin soba (noodles with dried herring), as well as delicious soy milk doughnuts, sticky rice cake, or homegrown pickles.

From here, head to Nijo Castle, once the home of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the Edo period, then stop at Kiyomizu-dera, a temple founded in 780 CE with a wooden stage that offers beautiful views of the city. You also have the option of taking a side trip to the lovely Arashiyama district, located on the outskirts of the city and home to the Sagano Bamboo Grove, a natural bamboo forest that encompasses more than 3,800 acres (1,537 ha) and has walking paths and trails that take you through the serene greenery of the towering stalks. 

Tonight, you'll have the opportunity to experience a traditional Japanese arts show. See a performance by a maiko (geisha in training), and learn about the various skilled artists, including ikebana (flower arrangers), puppeteers, koto (Japanese harp players), and court musicians, that make this hourlong show so remarkable. In the evening, take a walk through the bustling streets of Pontocho. Located next to the Kamogawa River, this district is home to a wide range of restaurants and bars, the perfect spot for a hearty dinner.

Day 3: Day Trip to the Peaceful Forests of Nara

Meet the famously friendly deer of Nara Park

Take a side trip to the peaceful greenery of Nara Park, known for its historic sites, gardens, and friendly local deer. There are tons of walking trails around the park area, one of which takes you through Mount Kasuga Primeval Forest and features more than 175 different types of trees. Visit the Todai-ji temple and its giant Daibutsu Buddha statue, and visit with the deer, who are quite likely to approach and let you feed them! After relaxing in the park this afternoon, head back to Kyoto and enjoy your final evening with dinner or some more sightseeing on your own. 

Day 4: Train to Nakatsugawa, Bus to Magone, Hike to Tsumago

Set off on your first day of hiking along the ancient Nakasendo Trail

The adventure really starts today as you depart Kyoto and board the train to the town of Nakatsugawa, connecting via bus to the village of Magome. From here, you'll begin today's 5-mile (8 km) along the historic Nakasendo Trail. One of the most popular hiking routes in the country, the trail was one of five major routes of the Edo period, connecting Edo and Kyoto across more than 300 miles (482 km). The trail takes you over the Magome Pass to the exquisitely preserved "post town," or rest stop during the Edo period, of Tsumago

Stroll through the village streets, taking a step back in time as you take in the rugged beauty. Cars aren't allowed on the main streets here, and electrical wires are carefully concealed, which only adds to the old-world charm. Visit Kotoku-ji, a temple that dates from the 1500s and has a singing floorboard, or stop in at the Waki-honjin Inn, once used by feudal lords and now housing a museum. You'll spend tonight at a minshuku, or family-run inn, where you'll enjoy a delicious home-cooked meal. After dinner, you can take an evening walk wearing the kimono-like yukata gown supplied by your hosts.

Day 5: Day Trek to Nojiri, Train to Kiso-Fukushima

Walk through the greenery of bamboo forests from Tsumago to Nojiri

The morning begins with what will be the longest hike of your trip, taking you along a beautiful section of trail from Tsumago to the post station of Nojiri. The 11.5-mile (17 km) path snakes through valleys and bamboo and cedar forests, offering some of the most unspoiled scenery of the trip. Alternatively, you have the option of a shorter, one-hour walk to the village of Nagiso.

At the end of the hike, you'll hop on the train to Kiso-Fukushima, where, after check-in at your traditional ryokan, you're free to see more of the local sights. Visit Fukushima Sekisho-ato, the old checkpoint, which has a museum attached that showcases original documents from travelers, weapons, and more. Next, stop at the Kiso-Fukushima Historical Museum, which displays artifacts and an old farmhouse that was transported from Kida village. Finish with a relaxing soak at one of the village's many ashiyu or onsen foot baths.

Plan your trip to Japan
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Day 6: Train to Yabuhara, Traverse the Torii Pass 

Stroll to Narai's Kiso Ohashi Bridge at the end of today's hike

After breakfast, you'll have the option of a morning hike that takes you along a steep, circular path to a serene local waterfall. This two to three-hour walk is 4.3 miles long (7 km) with an ascent of 2,075 feet (632 m). Otherwise, you'll take a quick, 15-minute train ride to the town of Yabuhara. From here, you'll make a steep, uphill hike to the Torii Pass, which, at nearly 4,000 feet (1,197 m), is the highest point of the Nakasendo Trail. Along the way, you'll pass by the Ontake Shrine, dedicated to Mount Ontake, considered to be one of Japan's most spiritual mountains. 

The trail then takes you down to the post town of Narai. Once one of the wealthiest post towns of the Kiso Valley, Narai features more wooden houses than other post towns, among which you'll spot the beautifully preserved Nakamura Residence and Kamidonya Shiryokan. If you aren't too tired after your day's hike, these are both open to the public and well worth visiting. You can also take a walk to the Kiso Ohashi Bridge, which crosses the Narai River and is one of the longest bridges in Japan. After you explore the village, check in at your minshuku, where you'll enjoy another home-cooked dinner.

Day 7: Hike to Kiso-Hirasawa, Train to Karuizawa or Komoro via Matsumoto

Stop in at the beautiful Matsumoto Castle

Today's hike takes you to the town of Kiso-Hirasawa, an easy 2-mile (3.3 km) jaunt from Narai. Since the Edo period, this town has been famous for its high-quality lacquerware, and you'll have time to visit some of the small shops and perhaps pick up a few souvenirs. After you've wandered the quaint streets for a bit, you'll board the one-hour train to the city of Matsumoto, the second-largest city in the Nagano prefecture and known for its outdoor activities and the famed Matsumoto Castle. Disembark from the train, then head out on a guided tour of the castle and grounds. 

One of Japan's twelve original castles that remain standing, the construction of Matsumoto's main keep started in the late 1500s, and two additional turrets were built in 1635. Your guide will share information about the history of the castle and surrounding regions, and you can visit the museum inside the castle to see samurai armor and other artifacts. If you happen to be here in spring, you'll also get to see the hundreds of cherry trees in full bloom.

Continue by train to either the mountain resort of Kamikochi, located in the Northern Alps (Hida Mountains) and part of Chubu Sangaku National Park, or the nearby village of Komoro, which features historic inns and traditional Japanese baths. Overnight at a local inn and enjoy a homegrown dinner prepared by your welcoming hosts. 

Day 8: Hike the Plateaus of Usui-toge Pass, Train to Tokyo

Enjoy mountain views on your final day of hiking along Usui-toge Pass

The final stretch of your epic hike across Japan takes you to the village of Yokokawa. In the morning, you'll head out across the high plateaus of the Usui-toge Pass, once one of the major transportation routes of central Japan. This 10-mile (17 km) trek offers incredible mountain views, with a gentle descent that takes you into the village. From here, you'll board a train and head to Tokyo, where you'll overnight. 

Day 9: Self-Guided City Tour of Tokyo

Cross the wildly busy Shibuya Crossing if you dare!

Make the most of your last day in Japan with a self-guided exploration of Tokyo, the country's vibrant capital. Here, you'll find a seamless blend of modern and traditional, with historic temples backed by neon-lit skyscrapers and a rich culture. Start with a visit to Tokyo Skytree. Towering at 2,080 feet (634 m), you'll find endless city views from its 360-degree observation deck, with glimpses as far as Mount Fuji on a clear day.

Then, head to Senso-ji, which dates back to the seventh century and is considered one of Tokyo's most significant Buddhist temples. Visit the main hall, and if you like, you can pray to the Kannon enshrined there, or pick up an omikuji (fortunes written on strips of paper). Walk along Nakamise-dori, a street adjacent to the temple that's lined with shops and food stands, and look for souvenirs.

Step next door to the Asakusa Shrine to gain insight into the differences between Shinto and Buddhist belief systems, then end with a walk to Shibuya, home to the famed Shibuya Crossing. See the frenetic action of the crossing (and dive in if you dare!) and have dinner at one of the many restaurants and cafés in this lively district. 

Day 10: Depart Tokyo 

Say your farewells to the beauty of Japan

Your adventures in Japan end today. After breakfast, check out of your hotel and head to the airport for your journey home. Safe travels!

More Great Japan Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to Japan? Check out these other Japan itineraries, explore different ways to spend 10 days in Japan, or discover the best time to visit Japan.


A note on diacritical and retroflex markings: In order to support the best technical experience and search functions, diacritical markings have been omitted from this article.


Map of Highlights & Hiking in Japan: Kyoto, Tokyo & the Nakasendo Trail - 10 Days
Map of Highlights & Hiking in Japan: Kyoto, Tokyo & the Nakasendo Trail - 10 Days