Central Japan is a region of tall mountain ranges and fast-flowing rivers. It wasn't until recently that roads reached the remoter villages, and today many remain remarkably well-preserved, and evocative of centuries past. Our journey takes us through Japanese history from modern Tokyo, known as Edo during Japan's period of rule by the Shoguns, to end near Kyoto, Japan's capital for 400 years and the repository of much of the countries cultural heritage. From Tokyo we head first to Yudanaka Onsen hot spring where the famous "snow monkeys" come to enjoy the natural hot spring baths just like humans. In feudal times people travelling from Kyoto to Tokyo would use the Nakasendo way - the road through the central mountains - one of a network of ancient highways. We will visit one of the best preserved sections in the Kiso Valley, where the lovely villages of Tsumago and Magome have been immaculately restored.
Day 01: Arrive in Tokyo
Welcome to Tokyo! You will be greeted and escorted to your hotel by our representative and checked in for two nights. Rest of the day at leisure.
Day 02: Tokyo
Your full day tour includes a visit to the Meiji Shrine, Japan's famous Shinto shrine, stroll around the gardens of the Imperial Palace. Browse through the many stores lining Nakamise-dori walkway leading up to Sensoji Temple, Tokyo's oldest and most famous Buddhist temple. Complete your city tour with a relaxing 50 minute cruise on Tokyo Bay (weather permitting) before crossing the Rainbow Bridge to Odaiba, one of Tokyo's most popular spots.
Day 03: Obuse/Yudanaka Onsen
Transfer to Obuse in Nagano Prefecture north-west of Tokyo. Visit the Hokusai-kan, woodblock print museum and Masuichi-Ichimura Saké Brewery. By road to Yudanaka Onsen, a hot spring village famous for its 'snow monkeys'. Overnight in traditional Japanese minshuku (travellers' inn).
N.B. Please note that there is a 25-minute walk along a level path to the `snow monkey` hot spring.
Day 04: Narai
Travel to the Kiso valley and the small town of Narai, an atmospheric example of a post-town on the ancient Nakasendo trail between Kyoto and Tokyo. Our accommodation will be an edo-period house converted into a minshuku (family-run travellers' inn).
Day 05: Magome
Continue to Tsumago, another of the post-towns on the former Nakasendo trail. Visit the folk museum, with exhibits on the old Nakasendo trail and the village. Travel by local bus to Magome, in time to check in to our minshuku, a lovely family-run inn with an antique irori (sunken Japanese hearth) and a bath made of hinoki (Japanese cypress) wood.
Days 06-07: Takayama
Transfer to Takayama in Gifu Prefecture and check into your Hotel for two nights. Explore the San-machi area with its rows of old merchant's houses, some open as museums. In the evening we will some locally-brewed saké.
Day 08: Shirakawa-go
North-west of Takayama is the village of Ogimachi, within the Shirakawa-go area of the Sho-kawa valley. The village is home to a large number of gassho-zukuri houses, and has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1995. These large wooden houses have steep thatched roofs, designed to withstand heavy snow, and the term gassho-zukkuri refers to the shape of praying hands formed by the roofs. Inside, the houses could accommodate large extended families of up to sixty people. Our accommodation here will be in one of these traditional houses, and dinner will be served around the irori (sunken hearth).
Days 09-10: Kyoto
We will leave the mountains today, travelling by bus to Takayama, and then by train to Kyoto. On arrival we'll check into a city centre hotel for two nights. We will spend two days exploring Kyoto and its many temples, including a walk through Gion, the traditional geisha quarters. There will be a half-day free, so you can catch up on sending postcards, shop for souvenirs, take some time to do some more exploring.
Day 11: Kyoto - Nara - Kyoto
The ancient city of Nara , which preceded Kyoto as Japan 's capital from 710 to 784, is one hour south of Kyoto by train. We will visit the old merchant district of Nara-machi with its narrow streets, shops, cafes and restaurants. Next we will visit Todai-ji temple, with its bronze statue of Buddha, said to be the largest wooden structure in the world. Return back to Kyoto city centre hotel.
Day 12: Mount Koya
From the Nara plain we will travel by train along the scenic Nankai railway line to Mount Koya, a bowl-shaped valley filled with stands of cedar trees 800 metres up in the mountains of the Kii Peninsula. On arrival we'll check into our Hotel.
Since the 9th century, when the monk Kukai (also known as Kobo Daishi) founded the first temple and the shingon sect of Buddhism, Mount Koya has been a place of religious devotion and ceremony. Today there are more than 100 monasteries, many of which have shukubo (temple lodgings). There will be a guided walk through the vast Okuno-in cemetery, with thousands of graves and memorials to feudal lords and other past luminaries.
Day 13: Tokyo
After breakfast we will check-out and return to Tokyo via Osaka and check into our hotel. Rest of the day at leisure and last minute shopping.
Day 14: Depart Tokyo
In time transfer to Narita Airport to board your flight back home.