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2023 Autumn Tour of Northern Japan

2023 Autumn Tour of Northern Japan

Staged in Japan’s northern region of Tohoku, much less visited by international tourists, this tour offers the rural traditions and warm hospitality, intense autumn colours and stunning natural landscapes.

Duration

13 days

Group size

 
Min 4

Max 8

Tour Overview

The 13-Day 2023 Autumn Tour of Northern Japan takes you to the best autumn colours destinations in Tohoku region, the northern part of Honshu Island. The tour starts in Tokyo and travels to Nikko, Oirase, Lake Towada, Kakunodate, Lake Tazawa, Naruko Gorge and Matsushima.

Past guests have raved about the breathtaking beauty of Tohoku. Centuries of relative isolation has ensured tracts of unspoiled natural wilderness, unique traditions and remarkably well-preserved villages from the samurai era.
This northern Japan itinerary in fall will introduce you to warm hospitality of Tohoku people, great local food and sake, and especially selected rustic stays in mineral hot-spring (onsen) towns, all against the backdrop of Japan’s most spectacular autumn colours. This is a perfect tour for people who like the great outdoors and travelling at a reasonable pace. Great for first-time visitors looking for a compact yet culturally immersive Japan experience or for repeat visitors keen to discover Japan that lies beyond the big cities.

ようこそ
welcome

Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Tokyo

Welcome to Japan! On arrival at Narita or Haneda Airport, you will be met by a Journey to the East guide and escorted to your hotel by an airport shuttle.

Today is an arrival day and no group program is scheduled. Your hotel is located near glitzy Ginza and famous Tsukiji Market. Why not take a stroll and relax, ready to start the first full day of your 2023 Autumn Tour of Northern Japan.

*Many of our guests arrive a day or so early to settle in before the tour starts. We can arrange your additional nights accommodation in the same room as the tour.

Tokyo (Park Hotel Tokyo)
No meals
Day 2: Tokyo

After orientation with your guide, you begin your exploration of Tokyo. Our guided tours focus on finding hidden gems by walking through the backstreets rather than just visiting famous spots in each city.

In Tokyo on your first day, you will visit Marunouchi area in between the beautifully restored 100 year old Tokyo Station and Imperial Palace Plaza. Marunouchi literally means inside wall or moat, and it was originally the inner sanctum of Edo Castle, now the Emperor's Palace. It is the oldest and elitist office area in Japan, where all the top Japanese companies have headquarters, and a great spot to see the blend of history and modernity. In Marunouchi you will see;

  • The Imperial Palace Plaza with 2,000 impressive black pine trees, the world away from the business district of Marunouchi,
  • Tree lined Marunouchi streets and old buildings which marked the modernization of Japan in the 19th century,
  • The red-brick façade of Tokyo Station, one of the city’s most striking pieces of architecture, against the glass and steel of neighboring skyscrapers.

After the walking tour of Marunouchi, you will have lunch at a local restaurant rubbing shoulders with the Japanese office workers.
In the afternoon, you will move by local train to an old Tokyo suburb of Yanaka. It is a striking contrast with modern Marunouchi and retains much of old Tokyo charms. Your guide will take you through shopping streets where residents will go for everyday grocery and traditional crafts such as washi paper and ceramics.
Back at your hotel, you will have a welcome dinner at a restaurant with great view of Tokyo.

Tokyo (Park Hotel Tokyo)
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 3: Nikko

Leaving Tokyo by Japan’s iconic shinkansen (bullet-train) your next stop is the UNESCO World Heritage listed site of Nikko. It had its origins as the mountain hermitage for a Buddhist priest in the 8th century and rose to fame in the 17th century when it was chosen as the site for the mausoleum of powerful shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, who unified Japan in 1603. A walk along an impressive avenue of giant cedar trees takes you to the highly decorated Toshogu Shrine which honors the Tokugawa shogun. There will be time to explore the extensive complex of shrine buildings enclosed within dense forest.

Tonight you will experience your first onsen, a hot mineral springs spa bath. Our guide will talk you through the ritual and etiquette of the Japanese bath and explain why a visit to an onsen remains one of the nation’s most popular pastime.

Nikko (Nikko Senhimemonogatari)
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 4: Nikko

An authentic Japanese-style breakfast awaits this morning – a nutritious, protein-charged mix of grilled fish, miso soup, tofu, rice, and pickles!

Nikko is arguably the most popular autumn destination in Japan. Today you will travel further into the Nikko National Park to admire the stunning autumn coloured foliage. You will;

  • Ride a ropeway at Akechidaira that glides high above the mass of autumn colour below you,
  • Enjoy the truly beautiful autumn colours against the Chuzenji Lake, and
  • View the dramatic 100-metre Kegon Waterfalls created when lava flows rerouted the Daiya River.

Nikko (Nikko Senhimemonogatari)
Breakfast (Japanese style), Dinner
Day 5: Transfer to Oirase

The bullet train takes you further north today, to Aomori, the northernmost prefecture on the main island of Honshu. The next few days you explore this rugged region. Geographically remote, over centuries Aomori has developed its own distinctive folk traditions, regional foods and architecture to withstand its cold climate and snowy conditions.
On this tour you stay in scenic Oirase and Lake Towada area. The area is stunning in autumn and great spot for walkers and photographers. You'll also have another chance to soak in an onsen bath.

Oirase (Oirase Mori no Hotel)
Breakfast (Japanese style), Dinner
Day 6: Oirase and Lake Towada

Today you will immerse yourself in the beautiful Oiase and Lake Towada. Today's highlights include;

  • A leisurely 7 km walk (or shorter if preferred) on the flat walkway along the stunningly picturesque Oirase River with cascading waterfalls and rapids,
  • Cruise Lake Towada covered in brilliant shades of red, orange and yellow, possibly one of the best views of autumn foliage on earth!

You stay one more night in Oirase and have a dinner at hotel.

Oirase (Oirase Mori no Hotel)
Breakfast, Dinner
Day 7: Kakunodate

Another shinkansen ride to Kakunodate often called “Tohoku’s little Kyoto”. Kakunodate has the refined cultural traditions introduced from Kyoto when the town was made a vital northern stronghold in the feudal era. The samurai classes brought with them fine ceramics, cherry-bark ware and other craft traditions, which you can still see being made in Kakunodate today. While its feudal-period castle was destroyed long ago, the old samurai and merchant districts remain remarkably unchanged since the 1600s. In Kakunodate you experience;

  • One or more former samurai houses impeccably preserved to show you the life of mid to lower class samurai in Edo era,
  • Kakunodate craft museum where high standard local crafts are displayed,
  • Little shops selling local crafts and food items such as miso and soy sauce, and
  • A soul-warming hot-pot dish “Kiritampo nabe”, a specialty of the region for dinner.

Tonight you will stay at a local boutique hotel with typical Tohoku hospitality.

Kakunodate (Tamachi Bukeyashiki Hotel)
Breakfast, Dinner
Day 8: Kakunodate and Lake Tazawa

This morning you will visit nearby Lake Tazawa, the deepest lake in Japan . Your guide will recount some of the local folklore about the lake and the mythical spirits and demons which are said to inhabit the area.

In the afternoon, you have a fabulous few hours of free time wandering the atmospheric streets among the old wooden buildings of the samurai district checking out the local craft shops and restaurants. Kakunodate is framed beautifully this time of year by its trademark cherry trees covered in autumn colour. Experience an Izakaya, Japanese style country pub, for dinner tonight.

Kakunodate (Tamachi Bukeyashiki Hotel)
Breakfast, Dinner
Day 9: Naruko

Heading to the centre of the Tohoku region you explore the lovely mineral hot springs town of Naruko in Miyagi Prefecture. Naruko Gorge, a spectacular ravine 100 meters deep, is a place to enjoy the dramatic mix of autumn colours.

In the late afternoon you arrive at accommodation – another onsen hotel where you stay in a Japanese-style room on futon bedding and enjoy a soak in an authentic hot springs bath, incredibly relaxing after a day on the road. An additional attraction of Naruko is its local craft of Kokeshi doll. You will have a chance to paint your own kokeshi doll today.

Naruko (Naruko Hotel)
Breakfast, Dinner
Day 10: Matsushima

Turning south, you will travel to the coastal region of Matsushima by local trains, best known for its wide bay dotted by over 250 pine tree-covered islands. Over time, sea-winds have helped to shape the pine trees and their twisted trunks silhouetted against rocky island outcrops. Matsushima is counted as one of the three most beautiful landscapes of Japan along Amanohashidate in Kyoto and Miyajima in Hiroshima.

While you are in Matsushima, you will;

  • Take a cruise on the Matsushima Bay travel through the small islands covered with the knotted pine trees,
  • Stop for a break of frothy matcha green tea and traditional sweets at a centuries-old teahouse, Kanrantei overlooking the bay, and
  • Visit the mid 17th century Zen temple Entsu-in, ablaze in autumn colour beautifully lit-up at night.

Your accommodation tonight has onsen bath with spectacular views of the bay.

Matsushima (Matsushima Taikanso)
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 11: Matsushima

You will visit Zuiganji Temple, one of Tohoku’s finest Zen temples originally built in 828. Next you cross the evocative red-coloured bridge linking the mainland to the island of Godaido, designated a site of Important Cultural Heritage. Your guide will provide some background on the history of the Matsushima region and the popular daimyo lord, Date Masamune, who controlled the area in the early 1600s.

Another interesting part of Japanese history is the famous 17th century haiku poet Matsuo Basho, who also journeyed through these parts.

You will have some free time this afternoon. Why not explore some of the island off Matsushima which are connected by bridges. They are full of monuments and caves, the remains of the pilgrimage era.

Matsushima (Matsushima Taikanso)
Breakfast, Dinner
Day 12: Transfer to Tokyo

The final bullet train ride takes you back to where your journey to northern Japan started, the vibrant capital of Tokyo. This afternoon, you have some time to finish off your shopping and/or visit places you must tick off in Tokyo! This evening you will gather once again for the last time for the farewell dinner, to say goodbye to your fellow travelers and talk about your memories of the northern Japan - a trip you will never forget.

Tokyo (Park Hotel Tokyo)
Breakfast, Dinner
Day 13: Bon Voyage

This morning after breakfast, your 2023 Autumn Tour of Northern Japan concludes. You can depart from Narita or Haneda International Airport, or perhaps you might like to linger in Japan for a little longer. We will be delighted to plan your personal post-tour extension to show you a different part of Japan. Please see our Model Extension Itineraries to get some inspirations!

Note: The cost of an escorted transfer to your departure airport is not included in our Small Group Tours (as we found many guests choose to stay in Japan a bit longer), but we will be happy to arrange your transfer to next destination or to exit airport. Please see our FAQ for more details.

 

Breakfast

Inclusions

Includes

  • 12 nights accommodation (including traditional inns)
  • 12 Breakfast, 3 lunches, 11 dinners
  • Airport meet & greet and hotel transfer by public transport on arrival
  • All local transport (train, bus and taxi)
  • Pre-loaded Suica card
  • Locally licensed English speaking tour guides
  • Cultural activities and entry fees included in itinerary
  • Luggage transfers (1 piece per person)

Excludes

  • International and domestic airfare (unless otherwise stated)
  • Transfer on the last day
  • Travel insurance
  • Alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages
  • Tips and gratuities (not routinely expected in Japan)
  • Transport during free time
  • Personal expenses (laundry, internet, telephone, coin lockers etc.)
  • Visa (if required)

Reviews

I felt a valued customer with all the contact I had during the planning and organizing of the tour. The booking procedure and follow up was excellent. I have already booked more tours with JTTE as I was so impressed with their tours and operation. I would and will recommend JTTE to others. They kept me informed of and changes even during the tour.

5/5
Trip date: October 2022

Colin Thorburn

Australia

This is the 3rd tour I have taken with Journey to the East. The itineraries have all been well thought out so you end up with a much better appreciation of Japan after each tour.

5/5
Trip date: October 2022

William Mackay

Australia

A top quality, well planned & organised small group tour giving many varied experiences and opportunities to experience the beauty of Japan, its history and culture and enjoy sensational cuisine.

5/5
Trip date: 2019

Ross & Rosalind Hayward

Australia

Dates & Prices

2023 Autumn Tour of Northern Japan

Per person twin share:

Single supplement

Have a question about this tour? Get in touch with our staff directly.