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Japan Alps Autumn Trek & Historic Trail—Spectacular vistas, history and village life on the ‘Roof of Japan’ (10 DAYS)



DAY 1—TRAVEL TOKYO–AZUMINO & ONSEN RELAXATION: Depart Tōkyō (Shinjuku) in the morning and travel to Hotaka, the gateway to the Azumino Plains extending at the foot of Northern Japan Alps. Upon arrival, enjoy a lunch of the renowned local soba (buckwheat) noodles or another option of your choice. In the mid-afternoon, travel to your accommodation in Hotaka-Onsen, a tourist-style ryokan at the foot of the Alps. Spend the remainder of the afternoon with a relaxing soak in their generously sized public onsen baths (room-attached private baths also available), followed by a traditional dinner at the accommodation.


DAY 2—AZUMINO PLAINS COUNTRY CYCLING: Get warmed up for your alpine trek with a whole day of easy cycling on the Azumino Plains. A hub of agricultural activity and trade since the days of the Salt Road, Azumino in modern times supports diverse livelihoods that also include the arts, crafts, and horticulture. Along the way, see how premium-grade wasabi (not that green paste in tubes!) is grown, absorb the old-world atmosphere of a historic house and garden, visit a small gallery dedicated to the celebrated local sculptor Rokuzan Ogiwara (1879–1910, the ‘Rodin of Japan’), discover the unique local textile tradition based on wild silkworms, and hear the curious tales associated with rustic country shrines and temples. Return to your accommodation (as per Day 1) in the late afternoon for further onsen relaxation.


DAYS 3 to 5—JAPAN ALPS PANORAMA TREK: Discover the wonders of the Japan Alps through an alpine-grade trek over a section of the Northern Alps Front Range. Travel to the trailhead in the morning of Day 3 and commence your ascent.  The steep ascent to the top will take about 6 hours, through landscapes including deciduous forests in autumn colour, rushing mountain cascades, sombre subarctic fir forests, and alpine meadows in their late autumn tones. Weather permitting, your efforts will be rewarded at the top with panoramic views to the majestic Main Range of the Northern Alps across the deeply incised valley of Kamikōchi, and across the Azumino Plains to the distant mountains of eastern Japan including Mt Fuji. Spend Day 4 traversing the sky-high ridgeline of the Front Range, while you enjoy an ever-changing view of the Main Range and a variety of alpine vegetation types. Accommodation on Days 3 and 4 at classic Japanese-style alpine lodges with well-maintained, but basic facilities (shared sleeping quarters and facilities, no baths, no hot water taps, and no flushing toilets). Set (non-negotiable) times for dinner, ‘lights out’ and breakfast times apply. After breakfast on Day 5, make your steep descent into Kamikōchi and, once in the valley, enjoy an easy hike along the forested Azusa River overlooked by the sheer cliffs of the Mt Hotaka massif. Travel in the afternoon from Kamikōchi to your accommodation in Matsumoto, a mid-range city hotel.


DAY 6—MATSUMOTO CASTLE & SALT ROAD HISTORIC TRAIL WALK PART 1: In the morning, visit the world-famous Matsumoto Castle with its imposing 16th-century original structure that has miraculously survived threats of destruction through history. Travel by rail in the late morning to Ōmachi, a former trading centre on the historic Salt Road. After lunch, visit the Salt Road Museum for a glimpse of the Edo-period merchant life, including a salt cellar with its unique construction. In the mid-afternoon, set off on your historic trail walk, retracing the former route of the Salt Road through the rural outskirts of Ōmachi toward Lake Kizaki—along the way, feel the history as you pass the crumbling merchant cellarhouses, rustic temples and shrines, and weathered wayside stone monuments, just like countless travellers over the centuries. Contemplate the autumn colours reflected in the mirror-like surface of Lake Kizaki before arriving at your accommodation, a small, family-run minshuku offering the option of staying in a restored 18th-century farmhouse annexe that evokes the old life on the Salt Road.


DAY 7—SALT ROAD HISTORIC TRAIL WALK PART 2: Travel by rail to the renowned ski-resort town of Hakuba in the morning, then resume your historic trail walk through the picturesque countryside on the town outskirts. Enjoy lunch in a scenic village with a grand view toward the Shirouma (Hakuba) massif of the Japan Alps, before setting off through a patchwork of villages, fields and woodlands to your accommodation, a small, family-run minshuku in a quiet rural village. Enjoy a gourmet country dinner at the minshuku showcasing fresh home-grown produce. 


DAY 8—SALT ROAD HISTORIC TRAIL WALK PART 3: A full-day walk tracing the Salt Road from Hakuba northwards. The route includes sections of foot tracks in their original state through hilly rural and forested country, dotted with ancient stone Buddha carvings and wayside monuments that will give you an authentic feel for what travellers would have experienced in the olden days. Along the way, inspect an old travellers’ lodging, where time appears to have stood still, and the historic checkpoint building. Arrive in the late afternoon in Otari in the deeply cut valley of the Hime River, where your accommodation will be at a beautifully restored 19th-century farmhouse in a small foothill village operated by the local farming community as part of their village revitalisation project.


DAY 9—ALPINE FOOTHILL VILLAGE EXPERIENCE: Spend the whole day in the village to experience everyday life and living traditions typical of the snowy and mountainous countryside of central Japan. You will have the opportunity to observe local agricultural produce being grown, harvested and prepared, and learn about the local cuisine and craft traditions from the villagers (subject to availability). Immerse yourself in the slower pace of country life as you take a stroll through the countryside in its autumn splendour, or sit down to a cup of tea and local snacks. Accommodation as per Day 8, enjoying another dinner showcasing fresh regional produce and local recipes.


DAY 10—TRAVEL OTARI–TOKYO: After breakfast, depart the village and travel by rail from Otari to Nagano. Arrive around lunchtime at JR Nagano Station where the tour concludes. Direct Shinkansen services are available from Nagano to Tōkyō —JR ticketing for onward travel from Nagano to your final destination or an alternative destination can be arranged at an additional charge.



  • Mountain hiking

  • Natural environment

  • History

  • Country walking and cycling

  • Villages

  • Onsen



  • 2 nights in Japanese-style alpine lodges with Japanese-style futon bedding and basic, shared facilities (sleeping quarters and toilet facilities; no bathing facilities available)

  • 2 nights in a mid-range tourist-style ryokan with Japanese-style futon bedding, shared public onsen baths and room-attached private bath in a rural setting

  • 2 nights in minshukus (Japanese B&B) with Japanese-style futon bedding and shared facilities

  • 2 nights in a renovated historic Japanese country house (private rental) with Japanese-style futon bedding

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


DEPARTURE DATE: Tuesday 9 October 2018; itinerary subject to change depending on, but not limited to, accommodation availability, transport timetabling and weather conditions.


BOOKING REQUIRED BEFORE: Saturday 21 July 2018




COST: from AUD $4200­ per person (4–6 persons); from AUD $4700 per person (3 persons); from AUD $5200 per person (2 persons); POA for 1 person. 


FINAL PAYMENT DATE: Saturday 25 August 2018



  • Full tour planning and guiding—10 days

  • Accommodation—9 nights

  • Breakfast—9 days

  • Lunch—9 days

  • Dinner—9 days

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

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

  • Relevant information material


PHYSICAL FITNESS REQUIREMENT—VERY HIGH: involves 3 consecutive days of alpine-grade hiking at elevations of up to 2900 m elevation. 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 typically 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, have sheer drop-offs on one side, and may be snow-covered or icy. The higher sections of the walking track are fully exposed to the weather, which may include extremely strong winds, rain, snow, thunder, and low temperatures, that may potentially create dangerous conditions. Protection is essential against strong UV rays and glare, such as sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat. Altitude sickness may be an issue for some.


Days 6 to 8 involve lowland walking, with a maximum total distance of approximately 15 km covered on Day 8. Walking will involve natural and surfaced tracks and country roads with mostly moderate gradients through forested and open rural landscapes. There are short sections of steep, uneven, swampy or slippery terrain, including stone steps and cobblestone paths. On Day 2, a full day of cycling is required on gentle to moderately inclined terrain, covering a total distance of 20–25 km.


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. Facilities at alpine lodges are basic and may be considered inconvenient by modern Western standards; there are no bathing facilities or hot-water taps, and strong odours may be associated with the composting/chemical toilets. In alpine lodges, you will be required to share your sleeping quarters with other (predominantly Japanese) guests. In one of the mountain lodges, you will be required to use bunk-style sleeping quarters with no privacy. 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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