Best of Japan Alps

http://www.samuraitours.com/smt/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/snow-monkeys-cropped-620x344.jpg

Soaring mountain peaks, open-air hot springs, lush forests, quaint mountain villages and a slow pace make 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, and traces of the old urban culture. Combined with its beautiful natural scenery, these features make this area one of the most rewarding in Japan to visit.

Destinations

Tokyo, Magome, Tsumago, Matsumoto, Kamikochi, Hirayu Onsen, Shin Hotaka, Takayama, Shirakawago, Kanazawa, Toyama, Tateyama, Nagano, Snow Monkey Park, Obuse

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 bath in the outdoor baths. And Hirayu Onsen has some of the best outdoor baths in Japan.

DAY 1Arrive Tokyo

You lose a day flying to Japan due to crossing the International Dateline, and gain the day back when you fly home. You will be met at Tokyo’s Narita airport by a Samurai Tours guide, who escorts you and your group to the hotel in Tokyo. After checking in, we will enjoy our Welcome/Orientation Dinner. Dinner at a local restaurant is included.

Travel: 1-1/2 Hours; Walking: Light

DAY 2Travel to Magome

Before leaving Tokyo, you will need to prepare your luggage to transfer to Matsumoto. 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, we will tour the Toson Memorial Musuem which documents the life of the writer Shimazaki Toson who became well-known in Japan writing about the city of Magome. The rest of the afternoon is free to enjoy the town of Magome. Breakfast at the hotel, bento box lunch and dinner at the ryokan included.

Travel: 3-1/2 Hours; Walking: Light

DAY 3Walk along the Nakasendo to Tsumago

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 it 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. 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 is included.

Travel: 3-1/2 Hours; Walking: Heavy

DAY 4Travel to Matsumoto – Matsumoto Castle

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. Before leaving Tokyo, you will need to prepare your main luggage to be sent ahead to Matsumoto. You will travel from Tokyo to Matsumoto with an overnight bag only. Breakfast at the hotel and lunch at a local restaurant included.

Travel: 3-1/2 Hours; Walking: Medium

DAY 5Matsumoto – Daio Wasabi Farm; Travel to Kamikochi

Before leaving the hotel, you will need to prepare your main luggage to be sent to Takayama. You will be traveling to Kamikochi and Hirayu Onsen 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 buffet dinner at the ryokan are included.

Travel: 5 Hours; Walking: Medium

DAY 6Kamikochi – Free day; Travel to Hirayu Onsen

The day is free to relax and enjoy the beauty of the area. There are numerous gentle trails in the valley, and many trails leading to the surrounding mountains for the more adventurous. After a hard day of hiking, you can unwind at the outdoor natural mineral baths at the ryokan in Hirayu Onsen. It is said that Hirayu Onsen was first discovered by Takeda Shingen (the main character in the Akira Kurosawa movie Kagemusha – The Shadow Warrior is based on Takeda Shingen) when he was led there by a white monkey. Breakfast and Kaiseki-style dinner at the ryokan is included.

Travel: 1/2 Hours; Walking: TBD

DAY 7Shin Hotaka – Shin Hotaka Ropeway; Travel to Takayama

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. Here you will have time to enjoy the scenery, or take a short hike through the surrounding forest and alpine meadows. After the ropeway, we will continue by bus 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. After checking into the ryokan, we will enjoy dinner at one of the many nearby Hida Beef restaurants. (Hida Beef is the same thing as the more famous Kobe Beef.) Breakfast at the ryokan and dinner at a local restaurant is included.

Travel: 3 Hours; Walking: Light

DAY 8Takayama – Miyagawa Morning Market, Jinyamae Morning Market, Takayama Jinya, San-machi-suji District

This morning 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, 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. 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. A Kaiseki-style dinner will be served at the ryokan in the evening. Breakfast and Kaiseki-stlye dinner at the ryokan are included.

Travel: TBD; Walking: Medium

DAY 9Shirakawa-go – Shirakawago Open Air Museum, Shirakawa-go Observation Deck; Travel to Kanazawa

Today we travel to the valley of Shirakawa-go by 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 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 bus to Kanazawa. Breakfast at the ryokan and dinner at a local restaurant is included.

Travel: 2 Hours; Walking: Medium

DAY 10Kanazawa – Kenrokuen, Kanazawa Handicrafts Museum, Nagamachi Samurai District, Nomura House; Travel to Toyama

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 tour the Kanazawa Handicrafts Museum to learn how the local Kanazawa handicrafts are made. After lunch we will tour the Nagamachi District. This is where the Samurai who worked at the nearby Kanazawa 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. Later in the day we travel by express train to the city of Toyama, the gateway to Tateyama. Breakfast at the ryokan is included.

Travel: 3-1/2 Hours; Walking: Medium

DAY 11Tateyama Alpine Route, Overnight at Tateyama in the Chubu Sangaku National Park

We will be traveling by numerous transportations into 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 is included.

Travel: 2 Hours; Walking: TBD

DAY 12Tateyama Alpine Route, Travel to Nagano

Today we will finish the Tateyama Alpine Route. Along the way, you will have opportunities for short hikes. In the late afternoon, we will finish the trek across the Tateyama mountain range by taking the train to Nagano. Breakfast at the hotel and bento box lunch is included.

Travel: 5 Hours; Walking: Medium

DAY 13Snow Monkey Park; Obuse – Hokusai Museum

Before leaving in the morning, you will need to prepare your luggage to send to Tokyo. After breakfast, we will travel by train and 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 and train to the city of Obuse. The famous wood-block print artist, Hokusai spent his final years here. We will tour a museum in Obuse displaying many of his works of art. But first, we will have lunch in an old sake brewery. Breakfast at the hotel and lunch and dinner at a local restaurant is included.

Travel: 3 Hours; Walking: Medium

DAY 14Travel to Tokyo; Fly Home

You will travel by Shinkansen back to Tokyo to fly home. Breakfast at the hotel included.

Travel: 2 Hours; Walking: Medium

Inclusions

The full-time services of a Samurai Tours guide.

Travel Guard Gold Policy from Travel Guard, one of the world’s largest travel insurance providers, will be provided to everyone from the United States and Canada (except for Quebec). All others will receive a $100 per person credit and will be responsible for obtaining their own travel insurance in their own home country. (The insurance provided by Samurai Tours will cover the land portion only. Insurance to cover airfare and other additional expenses is the tour member’s responsibility.)

Download a PDF of the Travel Guard Gold Policy

The provided insurance coverage includes:

  • Trip Cancellation (up to trip cost)
  • Trip Interruption (up to 150% of trip cost)
  • Trip Delay (up to $750)
  • Missed Connection (up to $250)
  • Baggage and Personal Effects Loss (up to $1,000)
  • Baggage Delay (up to $300)
  • Medical Expense (up to $25,000)
  • Medical Evacuation and Repatriation of Remains (up to $500,000)
  • Accidental Death or Dismemberment (up to $10,000)
  • Coverage for financial default of tour operator
  • Cancel for Work Reasons
  • A waiver of any pre-existing medical conditions that could eventually cause you to interrupt your trip

Travel Insurance Surcharge: Depending on your age at the time the travel insurance is purchased, you may be subject to the following surcharge for your travel insurance. Travel insurance surcharges will be due at the same time as your tour deposits.

  • 70-74 – $79
  • 75-79 – $155
  • 80-84 – $306
  • 85+ – $495

Travel Insurance Opt-Out: If you would prefer to opt out of the travel insurance, please note this at the time of registration. You will receive a $100 credit per person, which will be reflected on your invoice. In the event that you would need to cancel your tour, cancellation penalties may apply. See the Terms and Conditions page for the Cancellation Fees Schedule.

Airport transfer from Tokyo’s Narita Airport and airport transfer back to Tokyo’s Narita Airport

Meeting service at Tokyo’s Narita Airport and sending service to the Ueno train station. (The meeting service will meet you at the airport and escort you to the ryokan in Tokyo. The sending service will escort you to the Ueno train station and make sure you board the correct train. The sending service will not accompany you to the airport. 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.)

Lodging for each night in western-style hotels or Japanese-style ryokans
Meals

  • Japanese-style or Western-style breakfast every morning?(Please Note: Some ryokans offer Japanese breakfasts only.)
  • Five Japanese-style lunches
  • Seven Japanese-style dinners (including 3 Kaiseki-style dinners and one Hida Beef dinner)

The appropriate amount of free time to allow you to explore and discover your own personal Japan.

All transportation costs when traveling with the group. (Transportation costs during scheduled free times are the tour member’s responsibility.)

Admission fees to the following destinations and activities (itinerary specifics subject to change):

[HIGHLIGHTS]

Sayonara dinner at the end of the tour
Luggage delivery from Tokyo to Matsumoto (one bag only)
Luggage delivery from Matsumoto to Takayama (one bag only)
Luggage delivery from Takayama to Nagano (one bag only)
Luggage delivery from Nagano to Narita Airport or Haneda Airport (one bag only)

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.

Exclusions

Airfare is NOT included.

Alcoholic beverages, soft drinks and desserts are NOT included – except at the Sayonara dinner on the final evening of the tour.

Tour Map

http://www.samuraitours.com/smt/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/2013-best-of-japan-alps-map-800x800.png

Overall Customer Ratings

Individual Customer Reviews

Elizabeth Elsaesser & Bradley Reeg