Inspired by National Geographic Traveller’s January/February 2012 article "Japan’s Past Perfect”, explore the very best of Japan during this 11-day expedition. Explore Kyoto’s iconic temples, visit Shikoku’s pilgrimage route and travel to the dramatic Iya Valley. Experience local culture and discover some of the world’s most magnificent landmarks alongside National Geographic’s most renowned experts.
This expedition was inspired by travel writer Don George’s article “Japan’s Past Perfect,” published in the January/February 2012 issue of National Geographic Traveller.
By special permission, enjoy a visit to Kyoto’s Saihoji temple and stroll its otherworldly gardens, carpeted in more than 120 species of moss.
Immerse yourself in Shikoku’s timeless Iya Valley, dotted with thatched cottages, shrines, and vine bridges.
Itinerary - 11 Days
1 Osaka, Japan/Kyoto
Arrive in Osaka at any time. Transfer to Kyoto and check in to our hotel.
Kyoto Hotel Okura
Kyoto served as an imperial capital for more than a thousand years, and many of the wooden temples and gardens from that era have been collectively designated a World Heritage site by UNESCO. Stroll the elegant Zen rock garden at Ryoanji and the iconic Kinkakuji, or “golden pavilion.” Enjoy a specially arranged visit to Saihoji, also known as Kokedera, or the moss temple, for the more than 120 species of moss that carpet its beautiful gardens. At tonight’s welcome dinner, meet a former geisha to learn about the geisha lifestyle, and enjoy a short performance.
Kyoto Hotel Okura (B/L/D)
Wander through Arashiyama’s atmospheric bamboo grove. Continue to Nijo Castle, built in 1603 and designated a national treasure. Explore the castle’s Ninomaru Palace, known for its beautiful wall paintings and its “nightingale” floors, designed to squeak when stepped upon to warn of intruders. This afternoon visit an artisanal ceramics workshop.
Kyoto Hotel Okura (B/L)
4 Mount Koya
Travel to Mount Koya, headquarters of the Shingon Buddhist sect. Meet a temple priest and wander through the evocative Okuno-in cemetery, where the tombs of more than 200,000 samurai warriors and other dignitaries fill a grove of age-old cedar trees. Venture into Kongobuji, the chief temple of the Mount Koya Monastery, and see work by artists of the Kano school of painting. Settle into our simple lodgings and enjoy a traditional Buddhist vegetarian dinner.
5 Mount Koya/Iya Valley
After attending an optional morning prayer ceremony, descend to the shores of the Inland Sea and ferry across to Shikoku, the smallest of Japan’s main islands. In Tokushima, see costumes and floats from the city’s 400-year-old dance festival at the Awa Odori Kaikan museum. Our home for the next two nights in the Iya Valley is a ryokan, or traditional Japanese inn, where inviting, on-site hot spring baths offer a chance to relax and rejuvenate.
Hotel Hikyonoyu (B/L/D)
6 Iya Valley
Travel along the steep slopes of the Iya ravine to a 300-year-old thatched farmhouse, home to the Chiiori Trust, a unique project that seeks to preserve age-old rural traditions in the valley. Continue to the Okuiya Niju Kazurabashi, twin suspension bridges made of intertwined vines, and hear the legends of their creation. Witness timeless scenes of village life in Ochiai, a community of traditional dwellings, some of which date from the Edo period (circa 1600–1870).
Hotel Hikyonoyu (B/L/D)
Travel north to Zentsuji, revered as the birthplace of the Buddhist priest Kobo Daishi and one of the important stops along Shikoku’s 750-mile and 88-temple pilgrimage route. In Takamatsu, stroll through the tranquil gardens of 17th-century Ritsurin Park. A ferry then brings us to the small island of Naoshima, which has recently emerged as a mecca of contemporary art and architecture. Get a new perspective on nature through inventive art installations at the Benesse House Museum this afternoon, and stay in the adjacent hotel, designed by acclaimed architect Tadao Ando.
Benesse House (B/L/D)
Wander past the works of Claude Monet and James Turrell at the innovative Chichu Art Museum, built underground but designed to capture natural light and shadow. Also visit homes that are part of the Art House Project, which has transformed some of the island’s older structures into imaginative works of art.
Benesse House (B/L/D)
Ferry back to Honshu and take the high-speed train to Hiroshima. Pay a visit to Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park and the Peace Memorial Museum, which documents the atomic explosion that ravaged the city. Go on an optional guided visit to Shukkei-en garden or explore this thriving modern metropolis—a testament to Japanese resilience—on your own.
Rihga Royal Hotel Hiroshima or Sheraton Grand Hotel (B/L)
Set off by ferry for a full-day excursion on Itsukushima Island, popularly called Miyajima. Venture into the 12th-century Itsukushima Shinto Shrine, a World Heritage site built over the water, where a vermilion torii (wooden gateway) appears to float at high tide. Participate in a traditional tea ceremony, then take advantage of free time to go on a hike, visit temples, and stroll through the picturesque town. Gather for a farewell dinner back in Hiroshima this evening.
Rihga Royal Hotel Hiroshima or Sheraton Grand Hotel Hiroshima (B/D)
Take the high-speed train back to Osaka and transfer to the airport for your flight home. (B/L)
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