2024 Spiritual Walks of Northern Japan
Top Tour Highlights
Experience the training of shugendo in spiritual mountains of Dewa Sanzan.
A fascinating trail with a reward of the outstanding views from an historic temple at the top.
Enjoy the walks though this unusual landscape and witness the amazing colours of the calderas.
Enjoy warm Tohoku hospitality in Yamagata, at the 'Place of the Mountains'.
Try iaido, a Japanese martial art using a Japanese sword as a prop.
Experience Japanese favorite pastime, onsen, mineral hot spring bath - an exceptional way to relax after a good walk.
2024 Spiritual Walks of Northern Japan is staged around the sacred mountains of Yamagata Prefecture, northern region of Honshu (main) Island of Japan for 7 days.
This is a perfect tour for people who love walking in spiritually rich areas surrounded by natural beauty, especially for those who are keen to discover Japan beyond the giant cities. This Walking Tour of Yamagata will take you on walks in locations that are less visited by international tourists.
Each walk is typically 5 to 10 kms, packed with interesting side visits such as roadside shrines and local monuments. You will also have plenty of opportunities to interact with your informative guides and the local people.
The 2024 Spiritual Walks of Northern Japan conveniently sets out from Tokyo and ends in Kaminoyama Onsen which is serviced by Yamagata shinkansen. We will assist you with transferring from here to your next destination whether that is an airport, or other parts of Japan. We highly recommend you spend a few extra days at the beginning and/or the end of the group tour to discover endless attractions of Tokyo, especially if you are a first-time visitor of Japan. Journey to the East will be delighted to plan your private itinerary and provide information to suit your interests.
Click each day in the itinerary below for your day to day experiences.
Day 1: Arrival in Tokyo
Welcome to Japan! On arrival at any of Japan's international airports, you will be met by a Journey to the East guide and escorted to your hotel at Haneda International Airport. After a good night’s sleep, you will be ready to start the first full day of your 2024 Spiritual Walks of Northern Japan.
No group activity is planned today.
Day 2: Transfer to Dewa Sanzan
Leaving Tokyo behind, you will transfer to Yamagata in Tohoku (northern region of the Honshu Island) by domestic flight. The next couple of days you will walk through the fascinating area of Dewa Sanzan (meaning the three mountains of Dewa). Dewa Sanzan is a religious hot-spot where Animism, Shintoism, Buddhism and Shugendo have coexisted over the course of its history. It is such an inspirational place, culturally rich and so much to take in that you cannot avoid feeling connection with nature and spirituality of the location.
After arriving at Hagurosan area, your guide will lead you to visit a museum which explains the area and its history.
Tonight you stay at a shukubo (working temple lodging) to prepare for the pilgrims' walk the next day. Dinner tonight is shojinryori, Buddhist vegetarian cuisine served with the regions fresh rice, mountain vegetables and mushrooms (you never knew a vegetarian dinner could taste so good!).
(No group walking today)
Day 3: Hagurosan
Dewa Sanzan (three Mountains of Dewa) has continued to be a place of worship for the last 1,400 years. The three mountains represent the past, present and future, and one should visit the three in succession.
Before embarking on the ancient pilgrimage route of the Dewa Sanzan, you will dress up as yamabushi (mountain ascetic monk) and have a shugendo training in a museum at the foot of Hagurosan.
The first mountain is Hagurosan (past) where you will step along a series of stone steps among spectacular, towering, cedar trees. Along the way, you will see many interesting sights not least of which is the 600-year-old, Five Story Pagoda (*the Five Story Pagoda may be partially covered for maintenance in 2024). At the top of Hasurosan stands one of the largest thatched buildings in Japan, the Sanjin Gosaiden shrine. The walk is only 1.7 km (mainly stone steps) but takes around 1.5 hours.
After lunch at a local restaurant, you will transfer to tonight destination, a small onsen (hot spring spa) hamlet. You will visit some interesting temples and gardens on the way.
Tonight, accommodation is at a small local ryokan, where you will experience your first onsen, hot mineral springs spa bath on this tour. 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 pastimes.
(Total walking distance today - only about 5-6 km but very content busy)
Day 4: Gassan and Yudonosan
The second mountain, Gassan (present) can only be accessed during good weather as it’s walking track is along the open ridge of the mountain. At the 8th station of Gassan we take the 2 km circuit boardwalk through the beautiful wetland (about 1.5 hours).
You will then tackle the last mountain, Yudonosan (future or rebirth). This is such a mysterious mountain and there are so many secret rituals in this part of the pilgrimage. One of the reasons why it remains mysterious is because visitors are not allowed to take photographs while you are in the sacred area of this mountain. This means that the experience is truly reserved for the people actually visit there. It is also a naturally beautiful area displaying autumn colours this time of the year.
Tonight you will head to Yamagata City to have a good rest before your next adventure.
Yamagata is at the heart of Tohoku, with numerous local specialty foods, sake and festivals. You will enjoy the Tohoku hospitality at a local izakaya restaurant tonight along with cultural entertainment.
(Total walking distance today - about 7 km)
Day 5: Yamadera
Our target today is Hojusan Risshakuji, commonly known as Yamadera (literally translates "mountain temple"). Yamadera was established in 860, by the Buddhist monk Jikaku-daishi and is one of the leading sacred places in the Tohoku Region. Once you begin the ascent of the 1,100 stone steps, you will be fascinated along the way by the dozens of stone monuments, small temples, groups of massive rocks and each with their own story. On reaching Godaido (small temple hall) at the top the view is something you don’t want to miss and will never forget. The ascent takes around 0.5 to 1 hour. You can also enjoy local crafts and restaurants on the way out.
In the afternoon, yet another special experience awaits. You will be a samurai and try iaido, a traditional Japanese martial art that focuses on training the mind and body with a traditional sword. Iaido is termed as "the art of the sword without fighting" and is more for spiritual training rather than focusing on techniques of using sword.
Back at the hotel in Yamagata, you enjoy the last night of hospitable Yamagata.
(Total walking distance today - about 6 km)
Day 6: Zao
Our private minibus takes you off to Zao, well-known as a winter ski resort, but in autumn it is simply splendid. In Zao you will;
- Ascend by a cable car and a chair lift to the mountain plateau,
- Take an incredible guided hike on one of the many walking courses amongst blazing autumn coloured mountains, and
- Walk along the picturesque caldera lakes and waterfalls. At this time of the year the pristine landscape will stun you.
In the afternoon, you will visit a local pottery kiln for some artistic activity. Japanese pottery is very popular amongst international visitors for its earthy colours and minimalistic design. Why not find your special piece, or better still, make your own!
Tonight you will stay at a traditional ryokan at another onsen town in Yamagata. Enjoy kaiseki dinner, onsen bath and futon bedding for the last time!
(Total walking distance today - about 10 km)
Day 7: Bon Voyage
This morning, you check out of your hotel after breakfast and your 2024 Spiritual Walks of Northern Japan concludes. Yamagata has a great access to other parts of Tohoku region or going back to Tokyo by shinkansen. Perhaps you may like to linger in Japan 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 Extension Model Itineraries for inspirations!
Note: The cost of 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.
Dates & Prices
2024 Spiritual Walks of Northern Japan
Per person twin share:
Each guest is personally looked after with one-on-one interactions with our hand-picked, expert tour guides. As part of your investment, this tour includes:
- First-class wisdom and higher standard of individual care and attention
- 6 nights’ accommodation (including traditional Japanese inns)
- All breakfasts
- 2 lunches (3 free choice lunches)
- 4 dinners (1 free choice dinners)
- Airport meet & greet on arrival in Tokyo
- Hotel transfer by public transport on arrival
- Domestic flight from Tokyo to Shonai Airport
- All local transport (train, bus and private minivans)
- Expert English speaking tour guides (Locally licensed)
- Cultural activities and entry fees included in itinerary
- Luggage transfers (1 piece per person)
DISCLAIMER: Unless otherwise stated, this tour does not include the costs of international and domestic airfares, transfers on the last day, travel insurance, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, transport during free time, personal expenses (laundry, internet, telephone, coin lockers etc.) and Visa (if required).
Who this Japan tour is for...
This is a perfect tour for people who:
- Want to enjoy short (6-10 km a day) walks in spiritual and remote part of Japan
- Enjoy leisurely walks without carrying a heavy backpack
- Like to have authentic cultural experiences such as a pilgrimage trail , martial arts and onsen
- Wish to learn about Japanese religions and spirituality
- Enjoy a variety and authenticity in accommodation style from city hotel to traditional ryokan