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, Iya Valley, Matsuyama, Uchiko, Dogo Onsen, Usuki, Takachiho, Miyazaki, Sakurajima, Kagoshima, 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 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, and much, much more.

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 8 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. After clearing customs and immigration (which can take up to three hours due to increased tourism to Japan), you will be met at Osaka’s Kansai or Osaksa’s Itami airport by a private pre-arranged taxi service. The taxi service will transfer you to your hotel in Osaka. (Travel time from Kansai Airport: 1 Hour.) No meals included.

Travel: 1 Hours; Walking: None

DAY 2Travel to Tokushima, Tokushima – Awa Odori Kaikan

After breakfast, you will start the day with a Welcome/Orientation meeting. 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, 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, Drive to Iya Valley

After breakfast, we will rent our van that we will be using for the next few days. We will begin by touring 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 drive 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 end the day by driving to Iya Valley. We will stay overnight at the Iya Onsen located high on a steep slope overlooking the Iya Valley. You can enjoy the view or soak in the baths located 170 meters below the ryokan next to the river and only accessible via a steep cable car ride. Or, you can 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 lunch at a local restaurant and dinner at the ryokan are included.

Travel: 3 Hours; Walking: Heavy

DAY 6Kazurabashi Vine Bridge, Drive to Matsuyama, Matsuyama – Ishiteji Temple, Matsuyama Castle

We will start the day by visiting 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. 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. Breakfast at the hotel and dinner at a local restaurant are included.

Travel: 3 Hours; Walking: Medium

DAY 7Uchiko – Uchikoza Kabuki Theater, Yokaichi Old District, Kamihaga Residence, Dogo Onsen

In the morning, we will drive to Uchiko. Uchiko is a pleasant town located about 40 km southwest of Matsuyama in Ehime Prefecture. Now a vestige of traditional, rural Japan, Uchiko was once a prosperous center of wax and paper production during the Meiji Period (the late 18th century). One of the town’s main attractions, the Kamihaga Residence, explores this historical industry. Yokaichi Old Town is Uchiko’s preserved street of houses where most of the town’s attractions can be found. This historical district looks just as it did over 100 years ago, when wealth and prosperity came to Uchiko through its wax trade. Another symbol of Uchiko is Uchiko-za, a full scale kabuki theater equipped with trap doors, hidden entrances and a rotating stage. In the afternoon, we will return to Matsuyama where 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, lunch at a local restaurant and dinner at the ryokan are included.

Travel: 2 Hours; Walking: Medium

DAY 8Travel to Usuki, Usuk – Stone Buddhas, Travel to Takachiho, Takachiho – Yokagura Dance Performance

After breakfast we will drive to the coastal city of Yawatahama, where we will say goodbye to the island of Shikoku and take a ferry to the city of Usuki on the island of Kyushu. Just outside the city of Usuki, 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 and who created them is unknown. 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: 6 Hours; Walking: Light

DAY 9Takachiho – Takachiho Gorge, Amano Iwato Shrine, Aoshima, Travel to Miyazaki

In the morning, we will visit 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 Aoshima. Aoshima Island is a small, beautiful island just off of the coast of the resort beaches south of Miyazaki City. Aoshima is connected to the mainland by a bridge and is ringed by white beaches surrounding a subtropical jungle at the island’s center. At the center of the island is Aoshima Jinja, a colorful shrine set back in the jungle that is said to bring luck to married couples. The shallow water around the island has a geological phenomenon known as Oni no Sentakuita, or devil’s washboard. Visible at low tide, these perfectly straight rows of basalt rock look as if they must be the remnants of something manmade. They are natural formations, however, which can be found farther south along the Nichinan Coast as well. We will finish the day by driving to the city of Miyazaki. Located on the southeastern coast of Kyushu, Miyazaki has one of the warmest climates on the main islands of Japan with many resorts, beaches and sports facilities. Miyazaki was one of the top honeymoon spots until the 1980s. Breakfast and dinner at the hotels are included.

Travel: 5 Hours; Walking: Medium

DAY 10Travel to Sakurajima, Sakurajima, Travel to Kagoshima, Kagoshima – Shiroyama, Senganen Garden, Iso Residence, Shoko Shuseikan Museum

After breakfast, we will drive to Sakurajima. Sakurajima is one of Japan’s most active volcanoes. The volcano smokes constantly, and minor eruptions take place multiple times per day. Located in Kagoshima Bay, Sakurajima is the symbol of Kagoshima. Before a powerful eruption in 1914, Sakurajima used to be an island in the bay, but the massive lava flow from that eruption connected the island to the peninsula in the east. We will take a ferry to Kagoshima, located across Kagoshima Bay from Sakurajima. We will start our tour of Kagoshima by visiting the Senganen garden. Senganen Garden is a Japanese style stroll garden located along the coast of Kagoshima Bay. The most striking feature of the garden is its use of Sakurajima and Kagoshima Bay as borrowed scenery. The garden also includes small ponds, streams, shrines and a bamboo cave. The garden was constructed in 1658 by the Shimazu clan, one of Japan’s wealthiest and most powerful feudal clans during the Edo Period. The Shimazu clan ruled the Satsuma domain (present day Kagoshima) for almost 700 years. After the Edo Period, they continued to be influential as some of the earliest adopters of western science and technology. At the center of the garden stands the Iso Residence. After the end of the Edo Period, the Iso Residence became the main residence of the Shimazu family. Next we will visit the small Shoko Shuseikan Museum located next to the garden which originally served as one of the earliest western style machinery factories in Japan. Today it contains exhibits about the culture and maritime activities of the Shimizu clan and the early factory and machines which contributed to Japan’s modernization in the 1800s. We continue our tour of Kagoshima with a visit to Shiroyama. Shiroyama Park is located on Mount Shiroyama. The mountain formerly served as the site of Kagoshima castle (Shiroyama literally translates to “castle mountain”.). From the Shiroyama Observatory you will enjoy beautiful views of downtown Kagoshima, Kagoshima Bay and Sakurajima. We will drop off the van and check into the hotel. Breakfast at the hotel is included.

Travel: 3 Hours; Walking: Medium

DAY 11Travel to Kumamoto, Kumamoto – Kumamoto Castle, Suizenji Garden

Before leaving the hotel, we will transfer our luggage to Nagasaki. You will travel to Nagasaki with an overnight bag only. We start the day by traveling by Shinkansen (bullet train) to Kumamoto and 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 century, 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: 4 Hours; Walking: Medium

DAY 12Nagasaki – Dejima, Glover Garden, Nagasaki Peace Park and Museum

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. In the afternoon, we will visit the Nagasaki Peace Park and Museum. The Nagasaki Peace Park and Museum commemorates the atomic bombing of Nagasaki of August 9, 1945, which destroyed wide parts of the city and killed ten thousands of inhabitants. The park is home to the massive Peace Statue as well as various other memorials. A monument around a black pillar marks the atomic explosion’s epicenter in the nearby Hypocenter Park and stores the name list of the bomb victims. Breakfast at the hotel, lunch at a local restaurant and dinner at the hotel or at a local restaurant are included.

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

DAY 13Nagasaki – Gunkanjima, Free afternoon

Before leaving in the morning, we will transfer our luggage to Osaka. You will travel to Osaka with an overnight bag only. In the morning, we will tour Gunkanjima by tour boat. Gunkanjima is a small island located about 20 kilometers from Nagasaki Port. Until 1974, the island served as a coal mine, and more than 5000 residents called the 480 meter long, 150 meter wide island home, resulting in the highest population density in history recorded worldwide. To accommodate so many people in such a small area, every piece of land was built up so that the island came to resemble a massive battleship. In fact, “Gunkanjima” is a nickname that means “battleship island” in Japanese. The island’s formal name is Kashima. In 2015, the island was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Gunkanjima was used as a location for the James Bond movie “Skyfall”. The afternoon is free. Breakfast at the hotel included.

Travel: 1/2 Hours; Walking: Light

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. One complimentary glass of an alcoholic beverage (not bottle) will be included at the 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 transferred to either Osaka’s Kansai or Osaka’s Itami airport (depending on your departure) by private, pre-arranged taxi service. Breakfast at the hotel is included.

Travel: 1 Hours; Walking: None

As a general rule:
Light – 0 to 2 miles on level ground
Medium – 2 to 4 miles on level ground or 0 to 2 miles on hilly ground
Heavy – 4 to 6 miles on level ground or 2 to 4 miles on hilly ground


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. 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.)

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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 (entire trip, including airfare must be insured  for pre-existing waiver to be valid.  Contact travel guard for for information)

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. (the surcharge itself is not insured)

  • 70-74 – $104
  • 75-79 – $180
  • 80-84 – $356
  • 85+ – $545

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).

Sending service to Osaka’s Kansai Airport (KIX) or Osaka’s Itami Airport (ITM).

Optional meeting service at either Tokyo’s Narita or Haneda Airport will be an extra $100 fee per group. If you are arriving or departing at Tokyo’s Narita or Haneda Airports, there will be an extra $150 fee per person for the train tickets to/from Osaka for either of these airports (the meeting service is required if you want us to purchase the train tickets to Osaka for arrival).

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

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 Kagoshima to Nagasaki (one bag only).
Baggage transfer from Nagasaki 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. One complimentary glass of an alcoholic beverage (not bottle) will be included at the dinner.

Tour Map

Overall Customer Ratings

Individual Customer Reviews

Neva and Dave McKeague – Mar 06, 2016 to Mar 20, 2016

Margaret Greenhalgh – Sep 27, 2015 to Oct 11, 2015

Josephine Lee – Sep 27, 2015 to Oct 11, 2015

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

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