Land of Fire Tour
We will start our journey in Kyoto, seeing the former imperial capital and repositories of much of Japan's cultural heritage. Visits to grand temples and shrines will be balanced with a visit to Asuka, Japan's first permanent capital, and also a beautiful village at the southern end of the Yamato plain, before continuing to Japan’s southern island of Kyushu for some walking in the national parks. Kyushu is considered the cradle of Japanese civilization, and several locations connected with the Japanese creation myths feature on our journey. Kyushu is also known for its numerous active volcanoes, and we will visit spectacular Mount Aso, where you will see steam rising from the vents, as well as the spectacular island of Yakushima to the south, a national park and UNESCO World Heritage site.
A natural by-product of the volcanoes are 'onsen', or hot springs, and we will enjoy many relaxing dips in their soothing waters, as well as the unforgettable hot sand baths at Yamakawa where you will be buried in sand heated by the naturally-occurring hot spring water.
Day 1 – Kyoto
Arrive at Kansai International Airport, meet your guide, and transfer to Kyoto. There will be a welcome dinner at a restaurant in the centre of the city.
Accommodation: Hotel (4*)
Day 2 - Kyoto
A full day to discover the ancient capital of Kyoto. We begin with a walk along the Philosopher’s path to Nanzen-ji Temple and then continue to Nijo Castle, originally the Kyoto residence for the Tokugawa Shoguns in the 17th century. Built in the ‘momoyama’ style, the wooden floors creak when walked on, apparently a security measure against intruders. After lunch, we will visit Nishiki market, to see the fish, crab, pickles, tea, sweets and other foodstuffs on display.
Accommodation: Hotel (4*)
Day 3 – Asuka & Ferry through the Seto Inland Sea
We take a short train ride from Kyoto south to Asuka, Japan's first permanent capital. Sitting at the southern edge of the Yamato Plain, Asuka is home to some of the first Buddhist temples in Japan, built by Prince Shotoku in the 6th century. The small town is also dotted with burial mounds, said to be those of the first Emperors. As well as its historical legacy, Asuka also has a beautiful landscape of terraced rice fields and we will rent bicycles here to explore. From Asuka we make our way to Osaka port, and catch the overnight ferry through the Seto Inland Sea to Beppu. On board we have private cabins and you can even enjoy a Japanese bath!
Cycling: 8 miles/ 13 km, 3 hours, negligible ascent and descent
Accommodation: Ferry cabin
Day 4 - Beppu & Kurokawa Hot Spring
Arriving in Beppu by sea is a dramatic and memorable experience. The city is surrounded by mountains, and steam from the abundant hot springs rises skyward to give it an otherworldly feel. After disembarking, we have breakfast at a local restaurant. We then board a bus for the 90 minute journey to Kurokawa Onsen, a hot spring village. We check in to our traditional ryokan, and enjoy a soak in one of the many hot spring baths in the village. Dinner will be another Japanese feast, prepared by the ryokan chef and presented as a multi-course banquet.
Accommodation: Hotel (4*)
Day 5 – Mount Aso & Takachiho
We will continue by bus to the Aso area. Aso is the largest active volcano in Japan, and one of the largest in the world. The caldera, which was formed around 300,000 years ago in a cataclysmic eruption, is around 25km in diameter. The peaks of Taka-dake and Naka-dake punctuate this massive highland area and dominate the skyline. We take a bus to the top of Naka-dake peak, then a gondola ride to the summit, to see the crater itself. From Aso, travel by train then bus ride to Takachiho, where we will stay for two nights. Dinner and overnight at ryokan.
Day 6 – Takachiho Gorge, Cycling and Yokagura Dances
After breakfast at the ryokan, we will rent bicycles, and take a leisurely ride along small lanes in the nearby countryside, to the shrine of Amanoiwado shrine, literally the ‘Shrine of the Sun God. From there, we will visit Takachiho gorge, which the town of Takachiho sits astride. It features a number of strange rock formations created by volcanic activity, which have become part of local folklore and the Japanese national creation myth. You will take a short walk along the gorge, and have a lunch at a small teahouse of sansai (mountain vegetables), grilled rainbow trout and grilled chicken, accompanied by shochu, a spirit made from sweet potato heated inside bamboo.
You will have dinner at the ryokan, and then visit Takachiho shrine to see the Yokagura, sacred dances which tell the mythical story of Japan’s creation.
Day 7 – Kumamoto & Kagoshima
Leaving Takachiho, we will travel to Kumamoto, a famous castle town, where we will have lunch and visit the castle. After our visit, we coninue south to the city of Kagoshima, dramatically situated on Kagoshima Bay opposite Sakurajima, an active volcano. Kagoshima used to be the home of the Shimazu clan, southern Kyushu’s most powerful feudal family, and we will visit Sangen-en, their lovely villa and gardens which has Sakurajima across the bay as an impressive backdrop.
The city has a culture and cuisine distinct from other parts of Japan, a result of the sub-tropical climate and long distance from Tokyo. Shochu, a spirit usually made from sweet potato is favoured over sake, and slow-baked ‘kurobuta’ (a breed of Berkshire pig) as well as grilled bonito (skipjack tuna) are two of the typical local dishes.
Day 8 - Ibusuki and Hot Sand Baths
You will travel south this morning, by train along Kagoshima Bay, to the seaside town of Ibusuki, where thermally-heated mineral water bubbles up through the black volcanic sand on the beach. Locals mix the sand to ensure a steady temperature, and you will be able to wear a cotton yukata robe to sit in the warm sand and be covered. Very relaxing! Kagoshima Bay is a beautiful natural harbour, crowned at one end by Kaimondake, the ‘little-Fuji’ of Satsuma. We will then return to Kagoshima for dinner.
Day 9 - Travel to Yakushima Island
From Kagoshima we travel by ferry to Yakushima Island, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The small population lives around the coast of this mountainous island, while the interior is almost totally undeveloped. Giant cedar – yakusugi – stand tall in the moss-laden forest, some of them thousands of years old. Two other endemic species are found here; the yakushika deer, and yakuzaru macaque. Around the coast are stunning beaches, and hot springs. We will stay at a local guesthouse to enjoy the local hospitality and evening meals prepared from the day’s catch.
Accommodation: Minshuku (guest house)
Day 10 - Yakushima Island
We have a full day on Yakushima. We will hike into the interior, walking amongst the giant yakusugi trees, and if we are lucky spot some of the macaques. The oldest tree on Yakushima has been dated as 3,000 years old, and many of the trees have huge trunks, wider than a car. The centre of the island is a temperate rain-forest, and the highest peak on Yakushima is the tallest mountain in the south of Japan. It’s a unique ecosystem and has escaped any significant development. The stunning Shiratani Unsuikyo ravine is a beautiful world of moss-covered boulders and majestic yakusugi trees. We will return by bus to our guesthouse in the evening.
Accommodation: Traditional minshuku (guest house)
Day 11 - Yakushima Island
Our third day on Yakushima will be spent visiting some of the lovely beaches and one of the most spectacular hot springs in Japan. The Hirauchi Kaichu hot spring is a natural hot spring bath built into the rocks lapped by the waves.
Accommodation: Minshuku (guest house)
Day 12 - Nagasaki
Leaving Yakushima by ferry, we board the shinkansen in Kagoshima and travel to Nagasaki. Famous throughout the world as the site of the bombing by atomic weapons in 1945, Nagasaki was during the 250-year period of seclusion known as 'sakoku' one of the only places in Japan open to foreign trade. It's history as an international port Nagasaki is today a vibrant, modern city. The city never forgets its passed, however, and there are important memorials to that day. We check-in to our hotel and there will be free time before dinner.
Day 13 - Nagasaki
We will visit the Glover Gardens this morning. This mansion and gardens with its wonderful views over Nagasaki were built for Thomas Glover, a Scottish entrepreneur who helped modernize Japan's shipbuilding and mining industries. The house and gardens, because if its reminiscense with Puccini's 'Madame Butterfly' opera, have statues of Puccini and Miura Tamaki, a Japanese operatic singer famed for who role as Cio-Cio-san. We will have here will be free time to relax and perhaps shop for souvenirs, and in the evening there will be a farewell dinner.
Day 14 - Osaka
We will take a leisurely sightseeing walk in the morning around central Nagasaki, and after lunch we board the
bullet train for our journey to Osaka. There will be free time to relax and perhaps shop for souvenirs, and in the evening there will be a farewell dinner.
Day 15 - Tour Ends
On our final day we say farewell. Your guide will help you transfer to the airport for your flight home, or you may like to stay a few days longer.
May 9 to 23 (full)
September 28 to October 12
The above dates are subject to change.
Tour price includes all transportation between destinations, accommodation, entrance fees, full-time services of tour leader, all breakfasts and 10 evening meals. Single supplement is US$ 560.
Full time services of Japanese-speaking British tour leader plus local Japanese guides at certain destinations.
Guided tour to Japan's southern island of Kyushu. Accommodation in family-run minshuku, traditional ryokan, mountain lodges and hotels.
Easy - city and countryside sightseeing on foot (normally up to 2-3 hours of walking per day) plus short hikes on Yakushima Island (up to 4 hours).
|Mode of Travel
trains (Shinkansen Bullet Train and local trains), plane, bus and on foot.
Maximum: 12 guests
Minimum: 5 guests
Participants should be at least 12 years old. Everyone younger than 20 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.
"Aria is a golden asset. When I first met her I was surprised that such a relatively young person would shoulder so much responsibility. But she is well up to the task. She accommodated a wide variety of requests and requirements with the most practical aplomb I could imagine. And even when taxed beyond what I would have thought reasonable, she remained chipper and upbeat. The trip lived up to my expectations or exceeded them on many levels. Thanks for the great memories."
R. Patterson, USA