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Survival and sustainability in the shadow of mother nature in northeastern Tōhoku (8 DAYS)

Life along Tōhoku’s northeastern seaboard is harsh, due to the cold climate, shortage of flat land, and cycles of natural disasters. Under these conditions, a regional culture evolved that is particularly resilient, innovative and rich in traditions including crafts, food and folklore. At the same time, the region has been socio-economically marginalised through much of Japanese history, and now faces immense challenges from population decline and the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster. This tour explores the distinct culture and beautiful landscapes of southern Iwate Prefecture’s coast and hinterland. You will discover how the region’s people traditionally managed to live sustainably in the harsh environment, but why the region has become increasingly marginalised over the centuries. You will get precious insights into the post-2011 disaster recovery in coastal areas rarely visited by international tourists.


DAY 1—MORIOKA CRAFT AND NOODLE TRADITIONS: Meet in the morning at JR Morioka Station (with easy direct Shinkansen access from Tōkyō, Sendai, Akita and Hokkaidō). Explore some of the magnificent craft traditions of Morioka, which developed under the long-lived rule of the Nanbu clan. Visit a Katazome (stencil dyeing) textile merchant’s shop, which continues to use exquisite patterns developed several centuries ago, and observe artisans at work in a Nanbu cast-ironware workshop. Sample some of Morioka’s diverse noodle cuisine, with influences from both within the region and continental Asia. Accommodation at a mid-range city hotel for transport convenience.


DAY 2—HANAMAKI SAKIORI WORKSHOP & TONO FOLKLORE COUNTRY CYCLING: Take a short morning train trip to Hanamaki to visit a small, workshop specialising in the Sakiori textile—where fibres from old clothes are recycled and handwoven into beautiful, yet rustic textiles—a tradition that epitomises the resourcefulness of the Tōhoku people. Continue your travel to Tōno, a sleepy town nestled in the Kitakami Mountains renowned for its rich folkloric tradition. After lunch, explore some of the sights on a bicycle, including the Tōno City Museum where you can learn about the town’s history, folklore, and way of life. Accommodation at a cosy, modern guesthouse (with Japanese-style bedding) on the rural outskirts of town.


DAY 3— TONO FOLKLORE COUNTRY CYCLING: Spend the day cycling in the verdant countryside around Tōno, visiting sites of spiritual and mythical significance in the local folklore. Learn about the hardships of traditional life in the Kitakami Mountains and its historic context, and how this has shaped the distinct culture of the region. For lunch and dinner, try Tōno’s famous country cuisine, much of which is not rice-based, washed down with doburoku (thick and cloudy farmer’s sake). Accommodation as per Day 2.


DAY 4—SANRIKU COAST FISHERMAN’S BOAT CRUISE: Depart Tōno in the morning for the Sanriku Coast. After a simple lunch in Kamaishi, a port town famous for its steel industry, travel to one of many fishing villages along the coast. Take a mid-afternoon cruise on a small scallop fisherman’s boat, learning how the scallops are raised and enjoying the rugged coastal scenery. Alternatively, take a short sea-kayak tour of the coast (no previous experience necessary). Arrive in the early evening at your accommodation, a modern upper mid-range hotel overlooking a quiet cove typical of the Sanriku Coast.


DAY 5—SANRIKU COAST POST-2011 DISASTER RECOVERY TOUR: In the morning, take a relaxing train and bus trip along the Sanriku Coast, absorbing the ever-changing scenery. Spend the afternoon touring one of the towns devastated by the tsunami with a local taxi driver, who will provide a personal account of the natural disaster. Be awed by nature’s forces as indicated by the tsunami relics, as well as by the enormity of reconstruction efforts. Hear inspiring stories of the post-2011 recovery from the locals. After dinner, relax at your accommodation, a modern, designer-built guesthouse (with Western-style beds) run by a community group supporting the revival of sustainable forestry in the region. Enjoy a nightcap on the deck affording spectacular views toward the coast.


DAY 6—SANRIKU COAST SCENIC DAY-HIKE: In the morning, visit a small local museum dedicated to the region’s carpentry tradition that is acclaimed all over Japan. Hear sobering accounts of how traditional architecture contributed to survival immediately after the 2011 disaster. Take a short trip to the coast to spend much of the day taking in the spectacular scenery through an easy to moderate-grade hike on well-maintained natural and surfaced trails. The towering coastal cliffs are topped with forests that contain a unique mixture of warm and cold-climate flora, including wildflowers such as irises and day-lilies. Accommodation as per Day 5. 


DAY 7—HIRAIZUMI WORLD-HERITAGE SITE & ICHINOSEKI LOCAL CUISINE: Depart the Sanriku Coast in the morning and travel to Ichinoseki for lunch. Spend the afternoon in nearby Hiraizumi, visiting the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Mōtsuji and Chūsonji temples. Imagine the now unassuming town as a major centre of Buddhist culture in medieval Japan. Return to Ichinoseki in the evening to enjoy the unique local cuisine—your options include dinner courses based on a medieval feast or Ichinoseki’s mochi (savoury and sweet) cuisine—at an atmospheric sake and boutique beer brewery. Accommodation at a mid-range city hotel.


DAY 8—After breakfast, depart Ichinoseki by rail and travel to JR Ōmiya Station north of Tōkyō where the tour concludes. Direct train connections are available from Ōmiya to various parts of Tōkyō. The tour cost includes your rail fare from Ōmiya to Tōkyō—ticketing for alternative onward destinations can be arranged, however, it may incur an additional charge.



  • History

  • Natural environment

  • Country cycling

  • Nature hiking

  • Traditional crafts

  • Regional foods

  • Temples and shrines



  • 2 nights in a small, modern guesthouse with Japanese-style bedding in a rural setting

  • 2 nights in a small, modern guesthouse with Western-style beds in a rural setting

  • 2 nights in mid-range city hotels with Western-style beds

  • 1 night in an upper mid-range tourist-style hotel in a coastal setting


DEPARTURE DATE: Friday 6 July 2018; itinerary subject to change depending on, but not limited to, accommodation availability, transport timetabling and weather conditions.





COST: from AUD $4500­ per person (4–6 persons); from AUD$5000 per person (3 persons); from AUD$5500 per person (2 persons); POA for 1 person.


FINAL PAYMENT DATE: Wednesday 6 June 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 Morioka, returning to Tōkyō

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

  • Relevant information material


PHYSICAL FITNESS REQUIREMENT—MODERATE/HIGH: involves one and a half (1.5) days of cycling on mostly moderate gradients, using bicycles that may not have gears or motorised assistance and covering a total distance of up to 30 km. The tour also includes one (1) day of nature hiking on unsurfaced and surfaced 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. 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 parts of the coastal terrain, you are fully exposed to the weather, which may include strong winds, rain, fog 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 Morioka. On the fisherman’s boat cruise (or sea-kayaking tour), sea-sickness may be an issue for some.



CULTURAL TOLERANCE REQUIREMENT—MODERATE: accommodation on two nights features Japanese-style bedding. Some meals will be traditional Japanese style served as a set menu, with non-Japanese food options unavailable.

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