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Wild nature, crafts and ancient traditions in northern Tōhoku (10 DAYS)

The northern Tōhoku region is among the least populated areas of Japan, and is blessed with beautiful natural and rural scenery. The wild environment and long cold winters have developed a resilient culture rich in traditions, including crafts, food and folklore. This tour provides you with a taste of Akita and northern Iwate’s unique traditions, with a particular emphasis on crafts, and their fascinating relationship with the region’s forested environments since prehistoric times. You will experience the beautiful wilderness of northern Akita in their early summer splendour through easy to moderate-grade day-hikes. A visit to one of northern Tōhoku’s numerous archaeological sites will reveal clues to how the cultural traditions of the region, and Japan as a whole, have developed in harmony with nature since prehistoric times.   


Day 1— KAKUNODATE CRAFTS & HISTORY: Depart Tōkyō (Shinjuku) in the morning and travel to Kakunodate, the ‘little Kyōtō’ of Tōhoku. Upon arrival, enjoy some of the signature dishes of Akita cuisine for lunch, such as Inaniwa udon (noodles) and kiritampo (grilled rice cake) casserole.  In the afternoon, absorb the atmosphere of Kakunodate’s internationally famous Samurai house district. Learn about Kakunodate’s renowned Kabazaiku (cherrybark), and shop for Naraoka and Shiraiwa ceramics, local pottery traditions with contrasting styles. Accommodation at a traditional Japanese minshuku (B&B) located in a thatched-roof farmhouse on the outskirts of town.


Day 2—KAKUNODATE CRAFTS & HISTORY: Start the day with a private visit to a Itayazaiku (slivered maple and vine) basket weaving workshop, a craft tradition unique to the region. Further explore the Samurai house district before departing Kakunodate for the wild central Akita Prefecture in the afternoon. Accommodation at a tourist-style onsen hotel in a rural setting.


Days 3 to 6—CENTRAL AKITA WILDERNESS & TRADITIONS: Learn about the region’s Matagi bushcraft tradition and how it relates to Akita’s natural environment and the ancient origins of Japanese culture. Enjoy easy to moderate-grade day walks through alpine meadows at the start of the wildflower season, and through primeval forests along rushing cascades in a gorge. (In poor weather conditions, the walks may be replaced with alternative activities.) Try some of the local ‘bush’ foods at mealtimes. Explore the fascinating links between the Matagi tradition, history and local crafts. Accommodation on Days 3 and 4 at a family-run, Western-style lodge in a rural setting, accommodation on Days 5 and 6 at a tourist-style hotel in a forested setting.

Day 7—ODATE WOODBENDING: Travel during the morning to Ōdate, a regional centre in northern Akita Prefecture famous for its Magewappa (wood-bending) craft tradition, using the prized Akita Cryptomeria wood. Enjoy lunch featuring the Hinai heirloom chicken, celebrated for the superior taste of its meat. After lunch, visit a workshop in town to marvel at the range of traditional and modern designs that Magewappa lends itself to, and try your hand at making a Magewappa tray. Accommodation at a mid-range city hotel.


Day 8—NORTHERN IWATE BAMBOOCRAFT: In the morning, take a relaxed train trip to Ichinohe in northern Iwate Prefecture, taking in the picturesque rural landscapes along the way. In the afternoon, visit a community-run bamboo basket-weaving workshop dedicated to preserving this ancient craft tradition—among the northernmost bamboocraft traditions in the world. In the evening, travel to Kintaichi Onsen to your accommodation at a traditional Japanese ryokan (recently rebuilt)—the ryokan is said to be inhabited by a Zashiki-Warashi, a guardian angel spirit in the Tōhoku folklore who will bring good fortune to the household and its guests. Please note that the ryokan has public onsen baths but no private bathing facilities.


Day 9—NORTHERN IWATE PREHISTORY & COUNTRY CUISINE: In the morning, visit the Goshono Jōmon archaeological site in Ichinohe. Discover how the prehistoric people of northern Tōhoku lived in harmony with the natural environment for over 5000 years, and the surprisingly ancient origins of the Japanese culture as we know it today. Enjoy a lunch of authentic Nanbu country cuisine prepared by a renowned local food expert, as you learn why rice is not the traditional staple of northeastern Tōhoku region. After lunch, try your hand at making a traditional dessert using millet flour. Accommodation as per Day 8.


Day 10—NORTHERN IWATE LACQUERWARE & COUNTRY CUISINE: Depart Kintaichi-Onsen in the morning for Jōbōji, a town dedicated to preserving its lacquerware tradition that only uses tree-lacquer locally harvested through a sustainable traditional forest management system—the only such lacquerware tradition remaining in Japan today. Travel to Ninohe for a lunch course centred around Nanbu soba (buckwheat) noodles, and a visit to a Nanbu-senbei traditional biscuit workshop. Travel in the late afternoon to JR Morioka Station, where the tour concludes. Direct Shinkansen connections are available from Morioka to Tōkyō, Sendai, Akita and Hokkaidō.



  • Traditional crafts

  • Natural environment

  • Hiking

  • History and prehistory

  • Regional foods

  • Onsen



  • 2 nights in a mid-range tourist hotel with Western-style beds in a forested setting

  • 2 nights in a mid-range traditional ryokan (recently rebuilt) with Japanese-style futon bedding and public onsen bath (no private bath) in a rural onsen town

  • 2 nights in a small privately-run lodge with Western-style beds in a rural setting

  • 1 night in a mid-range tourist-style onsen hotel with Western-style beds in a rural setting

  • 1 night in a minshuku (Japanese B&B) with Japanese-style futon bedding in a traditional farmhouse in a semi-rural setting

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


DEPARTURE DATE: Monday 25 June 2018; itinerary subject to change depending on, but not limited to, accommodation availability, transport timetabling and weather conditions.





COST: from AUD $4800­ per person (4–6 persons); from AUD$5300 per person (3 persons); from AUD$5800 per person (2 persons); POA for 1 person.


FINAL PAYMENT DATE: Saturday 26 May 2018



  • Full tour planning and guiding—10 days

  • Accommodation—9 nights

  • Breakfast—9 days

  • Lunch—10 days

  • Dinner—9 days

  • Ground transport (rail, bus, taxi)—10 days, departing from Tōkyō (Shinjuku), returning to Morioka

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

  • Relevant information material


PHYSICAL FITNESS REQUIREMENT—MODERATE/HIGH: involves 2 full days (non-consecutive) of nature hiking on unsurfaced tracks in forested and open terrain with mostly moderate gradients. Participants must be able to walk for up to 10 km per day, and continuously for 3 km at a time, on gentle to moderate gradients. Walking tracks, in places, may be narrow, rocky, swampy, slippery, or have sheer drop-offs on one side. There may be short sections of steep terrain and rock-hopping across streams. Protection is essential against strong UV rays and glare, such as sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat. You may be required to hike in various weather conditions, including high temperatures and humidity. In alpine terrain, you are fully exposed to the weather, which may include strong winds, rain, thunder and sudden temperature changes. All other days of the tour involve periods of walking on mostly surfaced roads and footpaths on gentle to moderate gradients. There may be short sections of steep, uneven or slippery terrain, including stone steps. Several kilometres of urban walking is required in Kakunodate.



CULTURAL TOLERANCE REQUIREMENT—MODERATE/HIGH: involves one night’s stay in a traditional Japanese house, and two nights’ stay at a ryokan with shared public bath (requires nudity in presence of strangers). Many meals will be traditional Japanese style served as a set menu, with non-Japanese food options unavailable.

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