On the Best of Japan Alps tour you will experience soaring mountain peaks, open-air hot springs, lush forests, quaint mountain villages and a slow pace that makes this central alpine area a great escape. Hidden away in its rural and remote valleys are many of Japan’s best-preserved post towns, farm hamlets, hot springs and traces of the old urban culture. Combined with its beautiful natural scenery, these features make this area a rewarding place to visit.
The Japan Alps epitomizes the extremes and contradictions of Japan today. The densely populated coastal belt region, including the megalopolis cities of Tokyo and Osaka, is a stark contrast with the beautiful natural scenery of the mountainous central region. Though readily accessible, the Japan Alps are still remote enough to have retained traditional lifestyles and architecture.
The Japan Alps is a slow-paced region that has it all, without the crowds. The castle town of Matsumoto, with its striking “Crow Castle” is sure to please with its numerous 17th-century warehouses. You will feel like you have stepped back into 16th-century Japan in the small, mountain village of Tsumago. The stunningly beautiful mountain valley of Kamikochi has some of the best hiking in Japan. The quaint town of Takayama with its farmer’s markets invites exploration. The old farmhouses at Shirakawa-go will give you a glimpse of the way of life in 17th-century rural Japan. Visit with the famous Japanese Snow Monkeys as they enjoy the outdoor baths.
After clearing customs and immigration (which can take up to an hour and a half due to increased tourism to Japan), you will be met at Tokyo’s Narita Airport by a Samurai Tours meeting assistant. The meeting assistant will then purchase a limousine bus ticket for you and help you board the bus to the hotel. No meals are included.
Travel: 1-1/2 Hours; Walking: Light
Before leaving Tokyo, you will need to prepare your luggage to transfer to Matsumoto. After breakfast, you will start the day with a Welcome/Orientation meeting. We start the day by traveling by Shinkansen (bullet train), express train and bus to the city of Magome. Magome and Tsumago were once major stops on the Nakasendo, a major highway through the Japan Alps built in the late 16th century. After the Tokkaido Highway was built in the early 17th century near the coast, Magome, Tsumago and the other towns along this highway became ghost towns. Tremendous efforts have been made recently to rebuild the memory and feel of these old settlements. After arriving in Magome and checking in, the rest of the afternoon is free. Breakfast at the hotel and dinner at the ryokan included.
Travel: 3 1/2 Hours; Walking: Light
After breakfast at the ryokan, we will arrange to have our overnight bags delivered from Magome to Tsumago (you will walk with day bags only), and we will walk the 5 miles from Magome to Tsumago along the route of the old Nakasendo highway. The old highway winds through quaint neighborhoods, old forests, along mountain streams and waterfalls as it makes its way to the historic city of Tsumago. There are even sections of the original highway still remaining. (For those who are unable to walk this far, you can take the bus either from Magome to Tsumago, or there is a bus available from the half-way point of the walk to Tsumago.) All of the electrical and utility lines have been removed and placed underground in Tsumago. You will feel like you truly stepped into 17th- century Japan and Tsumago is often used for filming period movies and television shows. First we will tour the Tsumago History Museum where we will learn the fascinating history of Tsuamgo and the surrounding area. Next we will tour the Wakihonjin Okuya where the retainers of the feudal lord’s party would stay, and the Honjin, where the feudal lords would stay. The rest of the afternoon is free to explore the picturesque and charming village of Tsumago before checking into our ryokan. Breakfast and dinner at the ryokan and lunch at a local restaurant are included.
Travel: N/A; Walking: Heavy
After breakfast at the ryokan, we travel by express train to Matsumoto. From the moment you step off the train and hear the announcement “Matsumotooooo,” you will recognize you are someplace special. Matsumoto is unique because of its many beautiful Edo-period (17th-to-19th-century) Kura (warehouses) with their striking black-and-white contrasting latticework. Today these warehouses house restaurants and shops. After lunch, we tour the famous Matsumoto Castle. This beautiful castle is also known as Crow Castle because of its stark black walls. The castle was first built in 1504 and remodeled into its current form at the turn of the 17th century. Climbing to the top of the main tower, you will have a wonderful view of the city and the surrounding mountains. Breakfast and dinner at the accommodations and lunch at a local restaurant included..
Travel: 3 1/2 Hours; Walking: Medium
Before leaving the hotel, you will need to prepare your main luggage to be sent to Takayama. You will be traveling to Kamikochi, Hirayu Onsen and Takayama with an overnight bag only. In the morning we will visit the nearby Daio Wasabi Farm. Here you can learn more about this Japanese condiment staple, while enjoying the many foods flavored with wasabi including ice cream. The farm is also famous for its river that flows though the farm with many watermills. The river appeared in the 1990 film, Dreams, by Akira Kurosawa in a segment called the “Village of the Watermills.” In the afternoon, we travel to Kamikochi by train and bus along an incomparable scenic route. Kamikochi, in the middle of the beautiful Chubu-Sangaku National Park, is only open from late-April until October because of the almost 30-feet of snow that falls in this area of Japan during the winter. As you approach Kamikochi, the valley opens onto a row of towering mountains, with the icy Azusa River flowing through the middle of the valley. Breakfast at the hotel and dinner at the ryokan are included.
Travel: 4 Hours; Walking: Medium
The day is free to relax and enjoy the beauty of Kamikochi. There are numerous gentle trails in the valley, and many trails leading to the surrounding mountains for the more adventurous. Breakfast and dinner at the ryokan is included.
Travel: N/A; Walking: TBD
After breakfast, we travel by bus to Shin Hotaka Onsen, where, weather permitting, we will enjoy the scenery from the Shin Hotaka Ropeway. From the top of the ropeway at 2,200 meters (about 7,000 feet), you can get a beautiful view of the surrounding Japan Alps. After the ropeway, we will overnight at Hirayu Onsen. Breakfast and Dinner at the ryokans.
Travel: 2 1/2 Hours; Walking: Light
After breakfast, we will continue by bus to Norikuradake, one of the highest mountains in the Northern Alps. And the road is one of the highest in Japan. Later in the afternoon, we will travel by buses to Takayama. Takayama, in the middle of the Japan Alps, with its traditional inns, shops, and sake breweries, has managed to retain its traditional charm. We will retrieve main luggage after checking into the ryokan. The rest of the day is free. Breakfast at the ryokan is included.
Travel: 3 1/2 Hours; Walking: Light
This morning we stroll through the farmer’s markets, sampling the numerous options from vegetable stands and stalls selling herbs, pickles, and souvenirs. After that, we tour the Takayama-jinya, which was the governing office of Takayama and the surrounding area since the early 17th century. The guide will take you to the San-machi-suji district, consisting of merchant homes dating back to the 16th century. For lunch, we will enjoy one of the many nearby Hida Beef restaurants. (Hida Beef is the same thing as the more famous Kobe Beef.) From here the rest of the day is free to roam and explore Takayama. Visit the many temples, shrines and museums, rummage through antique shops, or relax at one of the sake breweries. Breakfast at the hotel and lunch at a local restaurant are included.
After finishing the scheduled tour of Takayama at the Takayama Jinya, the guide will take you on a tour of the San-machi-suji District. Lined with merchant homes, sake breweries and craftsmen’s workshops, it was the center of the old town and today it still retains its quaint atmosphere. After enjoying lunch, we will continue to Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine and Yatai Kaikan. Sakurayama Hachiman is the oldest shrine in Takayama and is beautifully constructed in unpainted wood design. Sakurayama Hachiman also sponsors the popular Takayama Festival. On our next stop to Yatai Kaikan, you will get to take an up-close look at the traditional and spectacular hand-carved floats that are displayed during the Takayama Festival.
Travel: 2 1/2 Hours; Walking: Medium
Before leaving in the morning, we will transfer the main luggage to Toyama. You will travel with overnight bags to Shirakawago, Kanazawa and Toyama. You will need to prepare enough items for 2 days, 1 night. Today we travel to the valley of Shirakawa-go by public bus. Shirakawa-go is the home of many Gassho-zukuri (Praying Hand) style homes, which have been moved here from the surrounding area. These homes were first used as far back as the 18th century and are still being used today. We will tour the Shirakawa-go Open Air Museum where approximately 25 buildings from the surrounding area have been relocated. After visiting the Shirakawa-go Observation Deck, where you will have an opportunity to view the village of Shirakawa-go from above and some free time to explore Shirakawago on your own, we will continue on by another public bus to Kanazawa where we will stay overnight. Breakfast at the ryokan and lunch at a local restaurant are included.
Travel: 2 Hours; Walking: Medium
We begin the day touring the Kenrokuen Garden. This garden is considered to be one of the three best gardens in Japan and was initially constructed in the 17th century. After enjoying the garden, we will tour the Nagamachi District. This is the residential district where the samurai who served the nearby castle lived. At the Nagamachi District, we will tour the Nomura House. The Nomura Family was a high-ranking retainer for the Maeda Family, the feudal lord family who ruled Kanazawa and the surrounding area during the Edo Period. Next we will visit the Higashi Chaya district, the largest of the three geisha entertainment districts in Kanazawa. Here we will the the Shima Teahouse, a preserved teahouse converted into a museum. Later in the day, we travel by express train to the city of Toyama, the gateway to Tateyama. We will retrieve our main luggage after checking into the hotel. Breakfast at the ryokan and lunch at a local restaurant are included.
Travel: 3 1/2 Hours; Walking: Medium
Before leaving for the day we will transfer luggage to Nagano or the airport. Prepare your overnight bag for 2 days and 1 night. We will be traveling by numerous forms of transportation through the Chubu Sangaku National Park. Here you will get a chance (weather permitting) for a view of the Tateyama Mountain Range. You will also have some time to go hiking around the alpine area above the treeline. Here you will not only enjoy the view of the surrounding mountains but the many alpine flowers as well, or you can just relax and enjoy the view. Breakfast and dinner at the hotel are included.
Travel: 1 1/2 Hours; Walking: TBD
Today we will finish our travels along the Tateyama Alpine Route. Along the way, you will have opportunities for short walks. In the late afternoon, we will finish our adventure across the Tateyama Mountain Range by taking the bus to Nagano. Breakfast at the hotel and bento box lunch are included.
Travel: 5 Hours; Walking: Medium
After breakfast, we will travel by bus to the Snow Monkey Park. Here, at the Jigoku-dani (Hell Valley), we will delight in the world famous “snow monkeys” of Japan. The Red-Faced “snow monkeys” are only found in Japan, and during the entire year, the monkeys enjoy using the thermally-heated mineral water baths. We will return by bus to the city of Nagano where we visit Zenkoji, one of the most important and popular temples in Japan. It is said that the first Buddha statue brought to Japan is stored at Zenkoji. The original statue cannot be seen, but a copy of the statue is put on display every six years. The next time it can be seen will be in 2021. The large main hall of the temple was constructed in the early 18th century. After touring Zenkoji, we will return to the hotel before enjoying our Sayonara Dinner. Breakfast at the hotel and dinner at a local restaurant are included.
Travel: 3 Hours; Walking: Medium
You will be escorted to the Nagano station where you will travel on your own by Shinkansen and express train to Narita Airport to fly home. Breakfast at the hotel included.
Travel: 3 1/2 Hours; Walking: Light
Walking level descriptions:
Light – 0 to 2 miles on level ground
Medium – 2 to 4 miles on level ground or 0 to 2 miles on hilly ground
Heavy – 4 to 6 miles on level ground or 2 to 4 miles on hilly ground
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Each tour member receives an electronic copy of our tour handbook. This handbook is full of tips and suggestions taken from our Japan travel experiences that allow you to better plan and prepare for your trip, and therefore enjoy your trip even more. The tips and suggestions included cover everything from how to save while exchanging money, what to pack, some basic Japanese-language tips, general etiquette dos-and-don’ts, ryokan customs, etc.
Thank you for your feedback on our tours! We’re so sorry you were not feeling well during your tour, and perhaps missed the best part about Japan- the food! We appreciate the time you took to respond and hope to see you again soon!
~ Samurai Tours Staff
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Thank you so much for the kind comments and high ratings of our tour! We are so glad you had a good time, despite the hiccup with your rail pass. We would love to see you again in Japan!
~ Samurai Tours Staff
Loved it, a wonderful trip