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Diverse craft traditions and timeless villages in southern Tōhoku (9 DAYS)

The Aizu region of southern Tōhoku is a treasure-trove of diverse craft and culinary traditions, towns steeped in history, and vast tracts of picturesque countryside where time appears to have stood still. Together with other areas of Fukushima Prefecture, the regional economy was devastated by the 2011 nuclear accident, even though the Aizu region (being as distant from the nuclear plant as the northern Kantō region adjoining Tōkyō) escaped severe radioactive pollution. This tour will introduce you to the region’s fascinating culture, focusing on its craft traditions including textiles, lacquerware, ceramics, wickercraft and woodwork. You will also get a glimpse of rural life in timeless villages in the remote parts of the region that few international travellers get to see.


DAY 1—AIZU-WAKAMATSU HISTORY: Depart Tōkyō (Shinjuku) in the morning and travel to Aizu-Wakamatsu, the gateway city to the Aizu region. See some of the well-known historic sites in town, including the Iimoriyama precinct—famous as the last stand of the teenage Byakkotai (White Tiger) brigade during the 19th-century Boshin Civil War—and the serene Oyakuen Gardens, a 17th-century stroll garden and the birthplace of the Aizu herbal medicine tradition. Enjoy dinner from a range of choices—perhaps starting off at a cosy local bar to sample the renowned sake of the region. Accommodation at a mid-range city hotel.


DAY 2—KITAKATA CRAFTS, FOOD & TOWNSCAPE WALK: In the morning, take a short train ride to Kitakata, and start exploring the craft and food traditions of Aizu. Visit a small family-run lacquerware showroom and admire the ornate, yet tastefully decorated works. Drop in at an old herbal pharmacy for an overview of the Aizu herbal tradition, then to one of the several sake breweries in town for tasting ‘medicine’ of another kind!  As you walk through town, observe the various styles of cellarhouse architecture that lends the townscape a distinct character. Enjoy lunch at one of the numerous Kitakata-style rāmen noodle bars. In the afternoon, visit a small textile workshop specialising in Katazome (stencil-dyeing) and unique textiles woven and dyed using unique natural fibres and dyes. For an afternoon snack, try your hand at baking your own Kitakata-style rice crackers. Accommodation at a lower mid-range traditional ryokan with a chic modern Japanese décor.


DAY 3—KITAKATA CRAFTS & OKU-AIZU VILLAGE STROLL: During the morning, visit a small workshop in Kitakata to observe the artisan craft geta (traditional wooden sandals) from the praised Aizu Paulownia timber. Travel back to Aizu-Wakamatsu for lunch, then continue your journey into Oku-Aizu, the remote western part of the Aizu region. Arrive at your accommodation in the late afternoon, a small, family-run minshuku in a typical Oku-Aizu village. Enjoy a pre-dinner stroll, absorbing the tranquillity of a mountain village at the start of spring.


DAY 4—ARCHAIC TEXTILE VILLAGE & WICKERWORK CENTRE: Travel early in the morning to the neighbouring village famous for its durable textile woven with fibres from the ramie (Boehmeria nivea) plant. Learn at the village museum about the surprising prehistoric origins of this tradition, and how the fibre was once a highly coveted commodity of political significance. Travel to another area of Oku-Aizu for lunch followed by a visit to a community centre dedicated to the preservation of the Amikumi (wickercraft) tradition. Learn how hard bamboo slivers and wild vines are woven with precision into practical objects that last a lifetime, and how the tradition relates to the region’s environment and lifestyle. Accommodation at a small, community-run minshuku in a nearby village.


DAY 5—OKU-AIZU RIVERSIDE TOWN WALK: In the morning, take a short train ride to Yanaizu, a sleepy riverside town steeped in history and culture. Start with a morning tea break at one of the local confectionary shops selling freshly steamed awa-manju (millet dumplings), and discover its historic significance. Walk to a temple overlooking the river with a 1200-year history, dedicated to Ākāśagarbha (the bodhisattva of wisdom) and associated with a famous Aizu legend. Absorb the spiritual energy inside the dimly lit hall of the temple guarded by ancient Buddha statues, and enjoy the beautiful scenery of the grounds. Enjoy a lunch of local soba (buckwheat) noodles before an afternoon of art appreciation at the Kiyoshi Saitō Museum of Art, dedicated to the world-acclaimed Aizu-born woodblock-print artist. Accommodation at a mid-range tourist-style onsen ryokan with views across the limpid waters of the river.


DAY 6—AIZU-HONGO POTTERY VILLAGE: Travel in the morning to Aizu-Hongō for a stroll around the pottery village, recognised as having the oldest continuing ceramic tradition in the Tōhoku. Enjoy the variation in styles as you visit different ceramics studios scattered throughout the atmospheric village. In the afternoon, travel to Aizu-Wakamatsu. Accommodation at a small, mid-range, traditional ryokan run by a restaurant specialising in Aizu cuisine. Enjoy a sumptuous dinner course at the accommodation showcasing regional specialities, many of which reflect the local’s ingenuity in food preservation in the snowy, inland environment.


DAY 7—AIZU-WAKAMATSU CRAFTS WALK: Spend the day discovering the finest of Aizu-Wakamatsu’s craft traditions. Visit a tiny lacquerware workshop and marvel at the precision of the artisan in action. See the beautifully patterned Aizu-Momen traditional cotton textile still being produced in a small, family-run factory. Take your pick from the numerous crafts traders for your last-minute souvenir purchases, as you walk through the historic townscape of the Nanukamachi district of the city. Accommodation and dinner as per Day 6.


DAY 8—AIZU-WAKAMATSU CASTLE & HINOEMATA ONSEN: In the morning, visit the Tsurugajō castle, the jewel of Aizu-Wakamatsu. Learn about the significance of Aizu region in the birth of modern Japan during the 19th century through the castle exhibits. After lunch, travel to Hinoemata Onsen village in the mountainous far southwestern Aizu region, known for its woodwork and rural theatrical tradition. Accommodation at a mid-range onsen ryokan overlooking a mountain stream.


DAY 9: MINAMI-AIZU THATCH VILLAGE STROLL: Depart Hinoemata in the morning and stop over at a thatched-roof village in Minami-Aizu district that remains (at least for now) untainted by mass tourism. Take a leisurely stroll to absorb the timeless atmosphere of the village in its silent white mantle. Continue your journey to your lunch stop at Aizu-Kogen, then connect onto the rail services for Tōkyō (Shinjuku). The tour concludes on arrival at JR Shinjuku station in the early evening. Alternative onward destinations can be arranged, however, it may incur an additional charge.




  • Traditional crafts

  • Villages

  • History

  • Regional foods

  • Onsen

  • Art

  • Temples and shrines 



  • 2 nights in a small, mid-range traditional ryokan with Japanese-style futon bedding and private baths in a city setting

  • 2 nights in a minshuku (Japanese B&B) with Japanese-style futon bedding and private baths in a village setting

  • 1 night in a tourist-style onsen ryokan with shared public onsen baths and room-attached private baths in a semi-rural/town setting

  • 1 night in a traditional onsen ryokan with shared public onsen baths in a village setting

  • 1 night in a small, modernised traditional ryokan with Western and Japanese-style bedding with shared public baths in a town setting

  • 1 night in a mid-range city hotel with Western-style beds


DEPARTURE DATE: Wednesday 14 March 2018; itinerary subject to change depending on, but not limited to, accommodation availability, transport timetabling and weather conditions.


BOOKING REQUIRED BEFORE: Sunday 24 December 2017




COST: from AUD $4200­ per person (4–6 persons); from AUD$4700 per person (3 persons); from AUD$5300 per person (2 persons); POA for 1 person.

FINAL PAYMENT DATE: Monday 12 February 2018



  • Full tour planning and guiding—9 days

  • Accommodation—8 nights

  • Breakfast—8 days

  • Lunch—9 days

  • Dinner—8 days

  • Ground transport (rail, bus, taxi)—9 days, departing from/returning to Tōkyō (Shinjuku)

  • Admissions and fees for all attractions and activities listed in itinerary

  • Relevant information material


PHYSICAL FITNESS REQUIREMENT—MODERATE: all days of the tour involve periods of walking on surfaced and unsurfaced roads and footpaths mostly on gentle to moderate gradients. Participants must be able to walk for up to 10 km per day, and continuously for up to 3 km at a time, on gentle to moderate gradients. You will be required to walk for extended periods of time on snow, ice and mud with an uneven and slippery surface that the unaccustomed may find exhausting. There may be short sections of steep terrain including stone steps. The weather conditions are likely to be poor with frequent periods of windy, snowy or rainy weather and low temperatures typically between minus 5°C and +10°C. During sunny spells, sun-sensitive people will require protection against the intense glare, such as sunscreen and sunglasses.


CULTURAL TOLERANCE REQUIREMENT—MODERATE/HIGH: accommodation on most nights feature Japanese-style futon bedding. Most meals will be traditional Japanese style served as a set menu, including a range of traditional country foods, with non-Japanese food options unavailable. The bathing facilities at the accommodation on Days 2 and 8 are shared public baths (requires nudity in presence of strangers) with private bathing facilities unavailable.

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