Enjoy the good life – Japanese style. Our Onsen tours only stay at Onsens. On the Central Japan Onsen tour, you will enjoy the best local food specialties and the famous Japanese hospitality while relaxing in some of the best onsens in Japan and visiting out-of-the-way destinations.
Visiting an onsen is the Japanese version of the good life. At Japanese onsens, you will enjoy excellent food and experience the famous Japanese hospitality. And don’t forget the Japanese baths. The Japanese have raised bathing to a whole new level, and they are an important experience that should be included in every visit to Japan. And in between all of this, we will be visiting some of Japan’s most remote sightseeing destinations. If you like Japanese food and enjoy the Japanese baths, this tour should not be missed.
Follow in the footsteps of pilgrims from the Kyoto Imperial Court 1,000 years ago as you visit the Kumano Sanzan, the ultimate destinations of the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage. Soak in the waters of Kii-Katsuura Onsen with its sea-side cave bath.
Visit the city of Takayama in the middle of the Japan Alps. With its traditional inns, shops, and sake breweries, Takayama has managed to retain its traditional charm. Stroll through Takayama’s farmer’s market, sampling the numerous options from vegetable stands and stalls selling herbs, pickles, and souvenirs.
Relax and enjoy the natural beauty of Kamikochi, with its numerous gentle trails.
Visit unique Matsumoto with its many beautiful Edo-period (17th-to-19th-century) Kura (warehouses) with their striking black-and-white contrasting latticework. And the famous Matsumoto Castle, one of only 12 original castles left remaining in Japan. This beautiful castle is also known as Crow Castle because of its stark black walls.
Experience 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.
And last, but not least, enjoy the waters of Kusatsu Onsen, one of Japan’s most famous onsen. It is blessed with large volumes of high-quality hot spring water said to cure every illness but lovesickness. Kusatsu has the largest natural flow of hot spring water in all of Japan, much of which surface at the Yubatake in the town center. The sulfurous, highly acidic waters have been considered among Japan’s best for centuries, and the resort town has constantly occupied a top spot in onsen rankings. It is difficult to beat Kusatsu in terms of the quality and quantity of its waters.
PLEASE NOTE: Tattoos in Japan are stigmatized, and therefore tattoos are not widely accepted at onsen baths in Japan. If you have tattoos, you may not be allowed to use the baths.
After clearing customs and immigration, you will be met at Tokyo’s Narita Airport or Haneda Airport by a Samurai Tours meeting staff member. They will help you board the bus to the hotel. After checking in, the evening is free. No meals are included.
Travel: 1 to 1 1/2 Hours; Walking: Light
After breakfast, we will begin with a welcome/orientation meeting. We will then travel Shirahama Onsen, a well-developed onsen resort 100 kilometers south of Osaka. Its popularity as an entertainment destination and its proximity to Osaka caused Shirahama to become one of Japan’s three biggest onsen resorts, along with Beppu on Kyushu and Atami on the Izu Peninsula. The main attraction is the 500-meter long white sand beach. Before leaving Tokyo, you will need to send your main luggage to Kawayu Onsen. You will need to take whatever you will need for two days/one night with you. Breakfast and dinner at the accommodations are included.
Travel: 4 Hours; Walking: Light
After checking out of our accommodation, we will begin our adventure along the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Route, a 1,000-year-old pilgrimage route frequented by Kyoto Imperial Court members during the Heian Period. We will stop at Takijiri-oji, Chikatsuyu-oji, and Tsugizakura-oji, three main stops along the pilgrimage. After checking in, you will receive your luggage. And then you are free to enjoy the baths next to the river. Breakfast and dinner at the accommodations included.
Travel: 2 Hours; Walking: Medium
After breakfast we will travel to Hosshinmon-oji. The Hosshinmon-oji was one of the five most important Oji along the Kumano Kodo because it was considered the entry into the sacred area around the Hongu Shrine (Oji were important places of worship along the Kumano Kodo). We will walk the relatively easy 7 km (5 miles) to the Hongu Taisha Shrine. The first half of the walk is through small villages, but the second half of the walk is through a secluded, forested area. At the Hongu Taisha, our first shrine of the Kumano Sanzan, we will tour the shrine and pay our respects to the Kumano deities. Before continuing, we will stop at the Kumano Hongu Heritage Center where we can rest and learn more about the fascinating history of the Kumano Kodo. Later, we will continue our pilgrimage at the nearby Oyunohara. This was the original location of Hongu Taisha until 1889 when the shrine was destroyed by a flood and moved to its present location on higher ground. All of the pilgrimage trails of the Kumano Kodo lead to the Oyunohara. Breakfast and dinner at the accommodations included.
Travel: 1 1/2 Hours; Walking: Heavy
We will travel to the boat dock where we will take a boat cruise along the Kumano River to the city of Shingu. In the past, it was common to travel from the Hongu Taisha to the Hayatama Taisha by boat along the Kumano River. From the boat dock in Shingu, we will walk the short distance to the Hayatama Shrine. While the shrine’s current buildings are relatively new, the shrine has been located at its current location since at least the 12th century. Excavations in the area have unearthed religious artifacts from the 3rd century, indicating the area has been a site of worship even longer. The 800-year old tree located on the grounds highlights the area’s tradition of nature worship. We will also visit the nearby Gotobiki-iwa, a gigantic rock located halfway up the slope of Gongen Mountain. Kamikura Jinja, a small shrine located at the base of this monolith is a truly unique experience. It is said that the gods descended to earth by stepping on this large stone. From there we will travel to the city of Kii-Katsuura where we will be staying overnight with unique baths in seaside caves. Before leaving Kawayu Onsen, you will need to send your main luggage to Gero Onsen. You will need to take whatever you will need for three days/two nights with you. Breakfast and dinner buffets at the accommodations are included.
Travel: 2 Hours Walking: Medium
Today we will visit Nachi Taisha, the third of the Kumano Sanzan. We will take a bus to the base of the Diamonzaka, a 2 km (1 mile) cobblestoned staircase. The Daimonzaka winds its way through huge cedar trees that are as old as 800 years from the valley bottom to the Nachi Taisha Shrine. The Nachi Taisha Shrine is perhaps the most dramatic shrine in Japan. It is located high on a hillside with impressive views of the 133 meter (about 435 feet) tall Nachi-no-Otaki waterfall, Japan’s tallest waterfall. This waterfall was the original religious focus of the area and was venerated by the earliest Japanese people. Even today it is hard not to be impressed by the power and the beauty of the falls. We will return to our ryokan at the Kii-Katsuura Onsen where you can once again rest in the seaside baths. Breakfast and dinner buffets at the accommodation are included.
Travel: 1 1/2 Hours; Walking: Medium
After breakfast we will travel to Gero Onsen. In the Edo period, Gero Onsen was referred to as one of Japan’s three best onsen. Today, the waters have retained that special quality which has made them so famous. After arriving at Gero Onsen, you will receive your luggage. Breakfast and dinner at the accommodations included.
Travel: 6 1/2 Hours; Walking: Light
Before leaving Gero Onsen, you will need to send your main luggage to Yudanaka Onsen. You will need to take whatever you will need for three days/two nights with you. After breakfast, we will travel to the city of Takayama in the middle of the Japan Alps. With its traditional inns, shops, and sake breweries, Takayama has managed to retain its traditional charm. We stroll through the farmer’s market, sampling the numerous options from vegetable stands and stalls selling herbs, pickles, and souvenirs. After that, we tour the Takayama-jinya, 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. 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. Later in the afternoon, we will travel to Hirayu Onsen. Breakfast and dinner at the accommodations are included.
Travel: 2 Hours; Walking:Medium
In the morning we will take the short bus ride to the nearby Kamikochi. 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. The day is free to relax and enjoy the natural 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 accommodation are included.
Travel: 1 Hour; Walking: TBD
After breakfast, we will travel 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. Later in the afternoon we will travel to Yudanaka Onsen. After arriving, you will receive your luggage. Breakfast and dinner at the accommodations and lunch at a local restaurant are included.
Travel: 4 1/2 Hours; Walking: Medium
After breakfast, we will travel 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. The afternoon is free to enjoy the quiet and solitude of Yudanaka Onsen. Breakfast and dinner at the accommodation are included.
Travel: 1 Hour; Walking: Medium
Before leaving Yudanaka Onsen, you will need to send your main luggage to the airport. You will need to take whatever you will need for three days/two nights with you. After breakfast, we will travel to the nearby city of Obuse. Obuse is a small town in northern Nagano Prefecture with a pretty town center. Hokusai, a renowned Edo Period (1603-1867) woodblock painter, who is best known for his ukiyo-e woodblock print, The Great Wave off Kanagawa, spent the later years of his life in Obuse. We will visit the museum in town documenting his life and art. Later, we will visit a local sake brewery for lunch and sake sampling. In the afternoon, we travel to Kusatsu Onsen. Kusatsu Onsen is one of Japan’s most famous hot spring resorts and is blessed with large volumes of high-quality hot spring water said to cure every illness but lovesickness. Well known as a hot spring resort for many centuries, Kusatsu’s fame was further boasted by German doctor Erwin von Baelz, who served at the imperial court in the late 1800s and recommended Kusatsu for its water’s health benefits. Breakfast and dinner at the accommodations are included.
Travel: 3 Hours; Walking: Medium
Today is a free day to enjoy the many public baths of Kusatsu Onsen. Or, just relax at one of the many cafes and shops. Breakfast and dinner at the accommodation are included.
Travel: N/A; Walking: TBD
Today is a travel day to Tokyo. You will have some free time in Tokyo in the afternoon. We will enjoy the Sayonara dinner in the evening. Breakfast at the accommodation and dinner at a local restaurant.
Travel: 3 Hours; Walking: Light
It’s time to say “sayonara” (Goodbye). Breakfast at the accommodation is included.
Travel: 1 to 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
Our tours and tour itineraries are the best, but as the saying goes, “you can’t make everyone happy all of the time”. There may a specific destination or a specific experience you may want to include in your visit to Japan that may not be included your tour. Choose from our Add On tours to include your interests and make your Japan tour even better.
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For those requiring meeting or sending services on other than the scheduled arrival/departure dates, there will be a $100 fee for the meeting service from the airport into Tokyo or the sending service to the Kyoto train station.)
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 do’s-and-don’ts, ryokan customs, etc.