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Mountain panoramas and origins of Japanese culture (8 DAYS)

The volcanic ranges of eastern Nagano Prefecture are a treasure-trove of hiking opportunities to suit all tastes and fitness levels. Vast forest-clad slopes, rugged alpine peaks, fuming sulphur vents, rushing mountain cascades, and mirror-like lakes all contribute to a superb kaleidoscope of landscapes. This alpine-grade hiking tour will take you through some of the most spectacular scenery found in the region, focusing on the Yatsugatake Mountains in their late spring brilliance.  You will discover how this rich natural environment nurtured one of the most enduring prehistoric cultures of the world, and the fascinating relationship between prehistory and the Japanese culture as we know today.

DAY 1—YATSUGATAKE FOOTHILLS VILLAGE AND ARCHAEOLOGY WALK: Depart Tōkyō (Shinjuku) in the morning and travel to a rural district of Hokuto, Yamanashi Prefecture. After lunch at a cosy country café, take an easy afternoon walk through the countryside and villages of the southern Yatsugatake footslopes, visiting a Jōmon-period archaeological site and a medieval castle ruin that illustrate the significance of Yatsugatake Mountains to humans since prehistory. End your day with a visit to a village sake brewery crafting unique brews using the mineralised volcanic waters of Yatsugatake. Accommodation at a beautifully restored early-20th century country house in a village with views to the Yatsugatake peaks. Please note that bathing facilities are unavailable at the accommodation; you are required to use a nearby public onsen facility (shared baths only, no private bathing facilities).


DAY 2—YATSUGATAKE FOOTHILLS VILLAGE AND ARCHAEOLOGY WALK: Enjoy a breakfast based on organic farm-fresh produce, then continue your exploration of the village visiting a small archaeological museum for an overview of the district’s history, and atmospheric country temples and shrines. In the afternoon, admire the works of the world-renowned 20th-century painter Ikuo Hirayama at a local gallery. Accommodation as per Day 1.


DAY 3—SOUTHERN YATSUGATAKE CASCADES WALK: After a relaxing start to the morning, travel to the neighbouring Kiyosato area for a half-day hike through a beautiful forested valley with cascades fed by volcanic spring water. As you walk, get to know the wild food plants that sustained the rich prehistoric Jōmon culture of the region. Accommodation at a small traditional ryokan with modernised facilities.

DAY 4—NORTHERN YATSUGATAKE LAKE AND MOSS FOREST WALK: Travel during the morning to the Yachiho area on the eastern flanks of the Yatsugatake Mountains. Admire the colourful display of wild azaleas at a forest reserve and, after lunch, commence your walk into the northern Yatsugatake wilderness to Lake Shirakoma at over 2100 m elevation. Enjoy a late-afternoon stroll around the lake, fringed with dense, mossy subarctic forests that takes you into the realm of The Lord of the Rings. Accommodation at a classic Japanese-style alpine lodge with well-maintained, but basic facilities (shared sleeping quarters and facilities, no hot water taps, no flushing toilets, and no bathing facilities during cold weather). Set (non-negotiable) times for dinner, ‘lights out’ and breakfast apply.


DAYS 5 AND 6—YATSUGATAKE ALPINE TREK: Discover the wonders of the Yatsugatake Mountains right in the middle of Japan. On the alpine-grade hike, you will enjoy the changing scenery from northern to southern Yatsugatake Mountains. You will traverse extensive subarctic forests on a volcanic plateau, and ascend alpine peaks that command vast vistas of the central Japanese mountains (some rock scrambling and steep ascents will be involved). Experience the natural environments that the prehistoric Jōmon culture flourished in, and learn about the dramatic environmental changes that the Jōmon people witnessed over time. Accommodation on both nights at classic Japanese-style alpine lodges with well-maintained, but basic facilities (shared sleeping quarters and facilities, no hot water taps, and no flushing toilets). Small, shared public onsen baths are available at both lodges, but may not be available during cold weather at the lodge on Day 5. Set (non-negotiable) times for dinner, ‘lights out’ and breakfast times apply. [Please note that the itinerary may be changed without prior notice if weather conditions on the day are unfavourable.]


DAY 7—YATSUGATAKE ALPINE TREK & TOGARIISHI PREHISTORIC SITE: After breakfast, make your descent from the mountains, enjoying the forest scenery that continually changes with elevation. Enjoy a gourmet European-style lunch at a small boutique restaurant. In the afternoon, visit the Togariishi Jōmon archaeological site and museum for a comprehensive review of Yatsugatake area’s prehistory, including a collection of elaborate artwork. Contemplate the relationship between humans and the natural environment that has underpinned the Japanese culture since antiquity.  In the late afternoon, travel to Matsumoto, the vibrant gateway city to the Japan Alps.  Accommodation at a mid-range city hotel.


DAY 8—MATSUMOTO CASTLE AND TOWN WALK: Spend a relaxing morning in Matsumoto, visiting the world-famous Matsumoto Castle with its imposing 16th-century original structure, and explore the historic castle-town precinct. After lunch, head to JR Matsumoto Station where the tour concludes. The tour cost includes your rail fare from Matsumoto to Tōkyō (Shinjuku)—ticketing for alternative onward destinations can be arranged, however, it may incur an additional charge.



  • Mountain hiking

  • Natural environment

  • Prehistory and history

  • Origins of Japanese culture

  • Villages

  • Art

  • Food



  • 3 nights in Japanese-style alpine lodges with Japanese-style futon bedding and basic, shared facilities (sleeping quarters, toilet and bathing facilities)

  • 2 nights in a restored traditional Japanese country house (private rental) with Japanese-style futon bedding in a village setting; requires use of a public onsen facility with shared (no private) baths

  • 1 night in a mid-range modernised traditional ryokan with a room-attached bath (shared public onsen baths also available) in a town setting

  • 1 night in a mid-range city hotel with Western-style beds and a room-attached bath

DEPARTURE DATE: Monday 4 June 2018; itinerary subject to change depending on, but not limited to, accommodation availability, transport timetabling and weather conditions.


BOOKING REQUIRED BEFORE: Thursday 5 April 2018



COST: from AUD $4000­ per person (4–6 persons); from AUD$4500 per person (3 persons); ; from AUD$5000 per person (3 persons); ; POA for 1 person.


FINAL PAYMENT DATE: Saturday 5 May 2018


  • Full tour planning and guiding—8 days

  • Accommodation—7 nights

  • Breakfast—7 days

  • Lunch—7 days

  • Dinner—7 days

  • Ground transport (rail, bus, taxi)—8 days, departing from/returning to Tōkyō (Shinjuku)

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

  • Relevant information material

PHYSICAL FITNESS REQUIREMENT—VERY HIGH: involves 5 days of mountain hiking including 2 consecutive days of alpine-grade hiking at elevations of 2100 to 2700 m. You must be a confident mountain hiker who can walk for up to 15 km per day, and continuously for 3 km at a time, on moderate to steep gradients. You must be able to carry all your own gear (including food and water to be consumed along the way) required for the entire duration of the hike in a backpack that may weigh 10 kg or more. You must not suffer from existing health conditions (or have a high risk thereof) that compromises your fitness, mobility, endurance, coordination or navigation skills, including, but not limited to, conditions affecting your heart, blood pressure, brain, nervous system, breathing, movement of your limbs, neck and the back, eyesight and hearing. The walking trail includes steep, rocky, rubbly, swampy or slippery sections, and requires some rock scrambling. The tracks, in places, are narrow and have sheer drop-offs on one side. The higher sections of the walking track are fully exposed to the weather, which may include extremely strong winds, rain, thunder and low temperatures, that may potentially create dangerous conditions. In alpine areas, the tracks may be icy or snow-covered in places. Protection against strong UV rays and glare, such as sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat, is essential. Altitude sickness may be an issue for some.


CULTURAL TOLERANCE REQUIREMENT—VERY HIGH: accommodation on most nights feature Japanese-style futon bedding. Many meals will be traditional Japanese style served as a set menu, with alternative food options unavailable. Many of the accommodation choices feature shared public baths (requires nudity in presence of strangers). Facilities at alpine lodges are basic and may be considered inconvenient by modern Western standards; there are no hot-water taps, bathing facilities may not be available, and strong odours may be associated with the composting or chemical toilets. In alpine lodges, you may be required to share your sleeping quarters with other (predominantly Japanese) guests. Due to logistical difficulties, meals at mountain lodges may be simple and unable to cater for specific dietary requirements. Set times for dinner, ‘lights out’ and breakfast apply in mountain lodges; non-compliance may result in the lodge refusing service to you.

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