Shikoku and Kyushu Rail and Drive

With its mild climate, tranquil gardens, famous hot springs, active volcanoes, historic castles, beautiful countryside and warm-hearted people, this part of Japan offers a dramatic experience that will create travel memories for a lifetime.


Osaka, Tokushima, Naruto, Takamatsu, Kotohira, Oboke Gorge, Iya Valley, Matsuyama, Dogo Onsen, Beppu, Usuki, Takachiho, Kurokawa Onsen, Aso-san, Kumamoto, Nagasaki, Yoshinogarikoen

The rural mountainous island of Shikoku will charm you with its natural beauty, mild climate, laid-back atmosphere and friendly people. It is the smallest of the four major islands of Japan, and is also the one least visited by foreigners, although this tranquil island offers elements of traditional Japan that are hard to find elsewhere. For more than 1,000 years, Shikoku has been the focus of “henro” (pilgrims) following in the footsteps of Kobo Daishi (the 9th century Buddhist monk who helped to change Japanese religion forever) in their ever-elusive search for enlightenment.

Kyushu, the third largest and southern-most island of Japan, was at one time the most important gateway into Japan for foreigners. But at the same time, according to Japanese legend, it was from Kyushu that the first Japanese emperor, Kimmu, began his campaign to unify Japan. Kyushu is therefore considered to be the cradle of the Japanese civilization. With its grumbling volcanoes, steaming hot springs and rugged mountains along with its relaxed and uncomplicated atmosphere, Kyushu is not to be missed.

You will follow in the footsteps of Kobo Daishi, the 9th century Buddhist monk, and visit numerous important religious centers in Japan including the birthplace of Kobo Daishi, Kotohira Shrine, a favorite destination of pilgrims for hundreds of years and Takachiho, steeped in Japanese mythology. You will bath in some of Japan’s oldest, most famous and most popular onsens. You will walk around the stark volcanic landscape at the rim of an active volcano, and climb to the top of Japan’s largest Samurai castles. You will visit some of Japan’s best gardens, and tour Nagasaki, once the only gateway to Japan for foreigners, among many other things.

Rail and Drive Tours

The Japan public transportation system in Japan is one of the best, if not the best in the world. However, if you want to travel to the remote areas of Japan, public transportation is sometimes either non-existent, too infrequent or too slow to be practical. Automobiles are the best way to access these remote areas. Our Rail and Drive tours are a convenient combination of public transportation and 8-seater vans, allowing us to really get “off the beaten path”. (Because of seat limitations, these tours are limited to a maximum of 6 people.)

DAY 1Arrive in Osaka

You lose a day flying to Japan due to crossing the International Date Line, and gain the day back when you fly home. You will be met at Osaka’s Kansai Airport or Tokyo’s Narita Airport. The meeting service will help with your transfer to Osaka. (Travel time from Kansai Airport: 1 Hour, Travel Time from Narita Airport: 4 Hours) No meals included.

Travel: 1 Hours; Walking: None

DAY 2Travel to Tokushima, Tokushima – Awa Odori Kaikan

We begin our adventure by traveling to Tokushima on the island of Shikoku by local train and ferry. Tokushima is best known for its Awa Odori festival and dance held every year in mid-August. Over a million people come to Tokushima during the 4 day festival to watch the eighty-thousand dancers, dressed in colorful yukata and half-moon shaped straw hats, who parade through the city waving their hands and shuffling their feet to an insistent two-beat rhythm played on taiko drums, flutes and shamisen. The festival started in 1587, when the first daimyo (feudal lord) of Tokushima is said to have initiated the celebration on completion of his castle. The people enjoyed it so much they held the celebration the next year, and so on for the centuries that followed. Since we will not be in Tokushima during the festival, we will do the next best thing by visiting the Awa Odori Kaikan. This museum chronicles the history of the festival and features numerous exhibits relating to the dance. Best of all, we will attend a one hour live performance demonstrating the dances as performed during the festival. Before leaving Osaka, we will transfer your luggage to Takamatsu. You will travel to Tokushima, Naruto and Takamatsu with an overnight bag only. Breakfast at the hotel and dinner at a local restaurant are included.

Travel: 4 Hours; Walking: Light

DAY 3Tokushima – 88 Sacred Temples Pilgrimage

In addition to the Awa Odori festival, Tokushima is also famous as the start and the end of the 88 Sacred Temples Pilgrimage. These 88 temples were founded by Kobo Daishi, one of the most influential Buddhist Monks in Japanese history. The route of this pilgrimage takes one all the way around the island of Shikoku. If you are walking the entire route, as was done for hundreds of years, the pilgrimage would take about two months. Today, tour buses whisk pilgrims around the entire route in about two weeks. Today we will be a “henro” (pilgrim) for a day by following a section of the pilgrimage and visiting 6 of the 88 temples on our path to enlightenment. Breakfast at the hotel is included.

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

DAY 4Travel to Naruto, Naruto â?? Uzu no Michi, Travel to Takamatsu

We will travel to the nearby Naruto Straits. Here, due to the geography between the island of Shikoku and the main island of Honshu as well as the underwater geography of the seabed, giant whirlpools are created by the tides. We will enjoy the whirlpools from the Uzu no michi, located below the bridge connecting the islands of Shikoku and Honshu. After admiring the surrounding scenery of the Shikoku coastline, we will continue by train to Takamatsu. Breakfast at the hotel and dinner at a local restaurant are included.

Travel: 3 Hours; Walking: Light

DAY 5Takamatsu – Ritsurin Garden, Kotohira – Kompira Shrine

After breakfast, we tour the Ritsurin Koen. This is considered to be one of the most beautiful gardens in Japan, taking more than one hundred years to create. Here we can also take a short break to enjoy green tea and sweets in a peaceful teahouse overlooking a koi-filled pond. Then we are off by streetcar to the nearby city of Kotohira. Here we will visit Konpira Shrine, one of Japan’s most famous Shinto Shrines. Kompirasan is the main shrine of the multiple Kompira shrines found around Japan that are dedicated to sailors and seafaring. Located on the wooded slope of Mount Zozu in Kotohira, the approach to Kompirasan is an series of 785 stone steps. For many centuries, Kompirasan has been revered as a mixture of Shinto and Buddhism, until it was officially declared a shrine in the beginning of the Meiji Period during government efforts to separate the two religions. We will return to Takamatsu by streetcar. Breakfast at the hotel and lunch and dinner at local restaurants are included.

Travel: 2 Hours; Walking: Heavy

DAY 6Oboke Gorge, Kazurabashi Vine Bridge, Iya Onsen

We will pick up the rental van and drive to the Oboke Gorge. Here, we will take a gentle 30 minute boat ride through the steep-sided, narrow gorge created by the Yoshino River. Next, we visit the nearby Kazurabashi Vine Bridge in Iya Valley, a remote mountain valley located in the center of Shikoku. In the past, vine bridges were the only way of crossing the Iya River. History is unclear of their origins. Legends say that Kobo Daishi built the first one, while others say they were first built by Heike refugees hiding in the Iya Valley after their defeat in the Genpei War (1180-1185). The Kazurabashi is one of the few vine bridges that still remain. It has a 45 meter span and is 15 meters above the river. We will stay overnight at the Iya Onsen located high on a steep slope overlooking the Iya Valley. You can enjoy the view, soak in the baths located 170 meters below the ryokan next to the river and only accessible via a steep cable car ride or walk to the nearby Manikin Peeing Boy statue posed as if he is peeing off the edge of a 200 meter cliff into the valley below. Breakfast at the hotel and kaiseki-style dinner at the ryokan in the ryokan are included.

Travel: 3 Hours; Walking: Light

DAY 7Matsuyama – Ishiteji, Matsuyama Castle, Dogo Onsen

In the morning, we will drive to Matsuyama, where we will tour the temple of Ishiteji. This temple is one of the 88 temples (#51) on the Shikoku pilgrimage. Ishiteji is known for its Niomon Gate, a designated national treasure. The main hall and pagoda are also designated important cultural properties, and all of the structures exhibit the typical architecture style of the Kamakura Period (1192-1333). Later, we will visit the Matsuyama Castle. Matsuyama Castle is one of Japan’s most beautiful original castles. It is located on Mt. Katsu, a steep hill in the city center providing visitors to the castle with a bird’s eye view of Matsuyama and the Seto Inland Sea. The castle was constructed between 1602 and 1628. The current three storied castle tower was constructed in 1820 after the original five storied one was destroyed by lightning. In the evening, you can visit the famous Dogo Onsen. It is thought this was the first onsen in Japan, and its history goes back more than 1,000 years. The current main onsen building was built in 1894, and includes a bath reserved exclusively for visiting Emperors. Breakfast at the hotel and lunch at a local restaurant are included.

Travel: 2 Hours; Walking: Medium

DAY 8Travel to Beppu, Beppu Hells

Before leaving Matsuyama, we will transfer our baggage to Takachiho. You will be traveling to Beppu, Usuki and Takachiho with an overnight bag only. We will then start the day traveling by train and ferry to the city of Beppu on the island of Kyushu. In the afternoon, we will tour the famous Beppu “Hells.” The boiling mud, forming concentric circles as it oozes through the ground and the colors of the ponds of this “hell-on-earth” are sure to fascinate and entertain. The evening is free to enjoy the hot springs, or visit the Takegawara Onsen. Built in 1879, it is Beppu’s most famous onsen and offers both sand and regular hot spring baths in an atmosphere of the past. Breakfast at the ryokan is included.

Travel: 4 Hours; Walking: Medium

DAY 9Travel to Usuki, Usuki – Stone Buddhas, Takachiho – Yokugura Dance

After enjoying breakfast at the ryokan, we will pick up the rental van and drive to the city of Usuki. Here we will find 60 Buddha statues that were carved into the soft stone cliffs. These statues were carved during 12th to 14th centuries, and have been designated as National Treasures. However, the reason these stone statues were created here is unknown. Usuki is also a former castle town, and we will also tour the old Samurai District including the former home of the feudal lord and the home of the main Samurai retainer family. Later in the afternoon, we will drive to Takachiho. Takachiho is known as a “Power Spot”, a place of profound religious importance and natural beauty, which radiates spiritual energy. Takachiho is also steeped in Japanese mythology. It is the supposed site of a legend where Amaterasu, the Shinto Sun Goddess, disturbed by her brother’s cruel pranks, hid herself in a cave, prompting the other gods and goddesses to try and lure her out. They did so by dancing, causing everyone to roar with laughter. Amaterasu left the cave to see what all the fun was about, and in doing so she returned her light to the world. In the evening, at the Takachiho Shrine, we will attend a Yokagura dance performance. It is said these are examples of the dances used to coax Amaterasu out of hiding. Breakfast and dinner at the hotel are included.

Travel: 8 Hours; Walking: Light

DAY 10Takachiho – Takachiho Gorge, Amano Iwato Shrine, Travel to Kurokawa Onsen

In the morning, we will vist the Takachiho Gorge and Amano Iwato Shrine. The Takachiho Gorge is a narrow chasm cut through the rock by the Gokase River. The sheer cliffs lining the gorge are made of volcanic basalt columns. Halfway along the gorge is the 55 foot high Minainotaki waterfall cascading down to the river below. There are two ways to enjoy the gorge and the waterfall. The first perspective is from a paved path that follows the edge of the gorge. The second perspective is from a rowboat on the calm river. The cave where Amaterasu hid herself is on the grounds of the Amano Iwato Shrine. However, it is too sacred to be seen. We can, instead, visit the cave where the other gods met to plan how to coax her out of her hiding place. In the afternoon, we will drive to Kurokawa Onsen where we will be staying for the night. This small onsen is located along a river that runs through a narrow, heavily forested canyon, and great efforts have been made by the onsen to maintain a traditional atmosphere. Kurokawa Onsen is famous for its many outdoor baths along the river, and is one of Japan’s most popular onsens. Breakfast at the hotel and kaiseki-style dinner at the ryokan are included.

Travel: 2 Hours; Walking: Medium

DAY 11Travel to Mt. Aso, Mt. Aso, Travel to Kumamoto

Today we will drive to the nearby Mt. Aso, an active volcano located in the middle of the island of Kyushu. The ancient caldera is one of the world’s largest with a diameter of about 16 miles. In the center of the caldera are the mountain’s active volcanic peaks, with a ropeway to the top of the crater rim. The last eruption was in 1993, but the top of the volcano is often declared off limits due to toxic gas emissions. We will ride to the top of the ropeway and walk around the barren, volcanic landscape before finishing our drive to the city of Kumamoto. After dropping off the rental van, we will check into our hotel. Breakfast at the ryokan is included.

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

DAY 12Kumamoto – Kumomoto Castle, Suizenji Garden, Travel to Nagasaki

Before leaving the hotel, we will transfer our luggage to Osaka. You will travel to Nagasaki, Yoshinogarikoen and Osaka with an overnight bag only. We start the day by visiting the Kumamoto Castle. The castle is one of the largest in Japan, although the current castle tower was rebuilt in the 1960s. The original castle was built in the early 1600s, and took more than 7 years to build. It was designed by the feudal lord (daimyo) Kato Kiyomasa, who ruled the area. Kato was an experienced warrior, and he used his military knowledge to build fortifications that were highly regarded for their strategic effectiveness. The castle played a pivotal role during the Satsuma Rebellion in 1877 when a small army of Samurai sympathetic to the old shogunate government led by Saigo Takamori (considered by many to be the real Last Samurai) laid siege to the castle for 50 days before government reinforcements arrived and broke the siege. Next we will visit Suizenji Garden. This garden, built during the 17th centrury, is a perfect example of an Edo Period stroll garden. This spacious garden, with its large koi-filled pond reproduces the 53 stations of the Tokaido Highway, the famous road that linked Tokyo and Kyoto during the Edo Period in miniature form, including a small Mt Fuji. Later in the afternoon, we will travel by Shinkansen (bullet train) and express train to the city of Nagasaki. Breakfast at the hotel and lunch at a local restaurant are included.

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

DAY 13Nagasaki – Dejima, Glover Garden, Free Afternoon

The day starts by visiting Dejima. Dejima was a man-made island in the port of Nagasaki constructed in 1636. A few years later, the Dutch trading factory was moved to Dejima. The Dutch workers, the only remaining Westerners allowed in the country, were restricted to Dejima during Japan’s two centuries of isolation. Today, Dejima is no longer an island, as the surrounding area has been reclaimed during the 20th century. However, a number of Dejima’s historical structures have been reconstructed, including various residences, warehouses, walls and gates. There are many displays in these buildings documenting the daily life of the Dutch residents. Next, we will tour Glover Gardens. Glover Garden is an open-air museum, exhibiting mansions of former Western residents of Nagasaki. It is located on the hill where Western merchants settled down after the end of Japan’s era of seclusion in the second half of the 19th century. You can also enjoy a panoramic view of the city from the garden. Next, we will visit Chinatown for a lunch of Champon, a Chinese version of the Japanese favorite of ramen. The rest of the day will be free. Breakfast at the hotel and lunch at a local restaurant are included.

Travel: 1/2 Hours; Walking: Heavy

DAY 14Travel to Yoshinogarikoen, Yoshinogarikoen Historical Park, Travel to Osaka

Today we will return to Osaka by express train and Shinkansen (bullet train). Along the way, we will stop at Yoshinogarikoen Historical Park. The park contains a reconstructed village of the Yayoi Period (3rd Century BC to 3rd Century AD). Archaeological records were carefully studied to recreate the life and culture from this time. In its day, the original village was one of Japan’s largest. After arriving in Osaka, we will check into the hotel. In the evening, we will enjoy our “Sayonara” Dinner. Breakfast at the hotel and dinner at a local restaurant are included.

Travel: 5-1/2 Hours; Walking: Medium

DAY 15Sayonara

It’s time to say goodbye. You will be escorted to the Shin Osaka station. From there you will travel to either Osaka’s Kansai Airport, or Tokyo’s Narita Airport. Breakfast at the hotel is included.

Travel: 1 Hours; Walking: None


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 $1,500)
• Baggage Delay (up to $250)
• Medical Expense (up to $25,000)
• Medical Evacuation and Repatriation of Remains (up to $250,000)
• Accidental Death or Dismemberment (up to $25,000)
• 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 Osaka’s Kansai Airport (KIX) or Osaka’s Itami Airport (ITM) (If you will be arriving into Tokyo’s Narita Airport or Haneda Airport, there will be an extra $150 fee for the train tickets from these airports to Osaka.)

Meeting service at Osaka’s Kansai Airport (KIX), Osaka’s Itami Airport (ITM), Tokyo’s Narita Airport (NRT) and Tokyo’s Haneda Airport (HND) (The meeting service will meet you at the airport and escort you to the hotel in Osaka if you are arriving at one of the Osaka Airports. If you are arriving at one of the Tokyo Airports, the meeting staff will help you board the train. You will travel on your own to the Shin Osaka station, and will be met there and escorted to the hotel.)

Sending service to the Shin Osaka or Namba train stations depending which airport you are arriving at. The sending service will escort you to the appropriate Osaka 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 $150 fee for the meeting service from the airport to Osaka or the sending service to the appropriate Osaka train station. If you are flying out of one of the Tokyo airports, there will be an extra $150 ticket fee for the train tickets.)

Lodging for 15 nights in Japanese-style ryokans and western style hotels
• Japanese-style or Western-style breakfast every morning (Please Note: Some ryokans offer Japanese breakfasts only.)
• Five Japanese-style lunches
• Eight Japanese-style dinners (including 3 gourmet kaiseki dinners at the ryokans)

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 destinations and activities listed in the Tour Highlights column on the right. (Itinerary specifics subject to change)

Sayonara dinner at the end of the tour

Baggage transfer from Osaka to Takamatsu (one bag only).
Baggage transfer from Matsuyama to Kumamoto (one bag only).
Baggage transfer from Kumamoto to Osaka (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 do’s-and-don’ts, ryokan customs, etc.

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

Overall Customer Ratings

Individual Customer Reviews

Martin Graham – May 18, 2014 to Jun 01, 2014

Tessa Corkill – May 18, 2014 to Jun 01, 2014