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Culture and Landscapes of Japan’s West Coast Heartland (10 DAYS)

Japan’s ‘Snow Country’ is among the snowiest areas in the world. The people of the Snow Country have developed a distinct culture to overcome hardships and ingeniously utilise the extreme conditions in their everyday lives. An example is the tradition of fermented foods that has allowed people of the Snow Country to not only survive the long winter, but maintain a healthy diet. The heavy snowfall also blesses the region with abundant fresh water during the warmer months, supporting agriculture, fisheries, and traditional industries. This tour will provide you with an introduction to fascinating culture and landscapes of Niigata Prefecture in the heart of the Snow Country, including its cuisine, architecture, craft traditions and spirituality.

DAY 1—URASA AND MUIKAMACHI-ONSEN: Depart Tōkyō (Shinjuku) in the morning and travel to Urasa, the gateway to the Uonuma region of Niigata. Enjoy an Italian-style lunch at a local winery where wines are slowly matured in snow-cooled cellars. After lunch, visit a nearby temple renowned for the elaborate wood carvings inside the small chapel by the 19th-century ‘Michelangelo of Japan’, Unchō Ishikawa. In the late afternoon, travel to your accommodation in Muikamachi district of Minami-Uonuma, an atmospheric boutique onsen-ryokan. Enjoy a relaxing soak in the private onsen baths at the ryokan, with a view to the rugged peaks of the Echigo Mountains.

DAY 2—HAKKAISAN AREA: Explore the Hakkaisan area of Minami-Uonuma. Depending on your group’s fitness, preference and weather conditions, enjoy an exhilarating day-climb of Hakkaisan (elevation 1778 m), a major peak of the Echigo Mountains with a spectacular panorama of the Snow Country’s mountains. Alternatively, opt for a laid back tour of the Hakkaisan foothills, including the Hakkaisan lookout (elevation 1147 m, using a ropeway), the renowned Hakkaisan sake brewery where you can sample award-winning sake, shochu and fermented foods, and the Tomioka White Art Museum dedicated to Sōichirō Tomioka, an internationally acclaimed Niigata painter whose distinct style was forged by the environment of the Snow Country. Accommodation as per Day 1.

DAYS 3 and 4—NAGAOKA HILL VILLAGE EXPERIENCE: Travel during the morning to Nagaoka, the second largest city of Niigata Prefecture. After lunch, travel to a rural district in the hill country outside Nagaoka, famous for its photogenic terraced fields. On Day 4, take a walk through the picturesque green countryside and feel the raw energy of a bull wrestling tournament (a strictly controlled fight between two bulls, without injuring the bulls), an ancient tradition that celebrates the god-like status of cattle in the local culture. Accommodation on both nights at a small, family-run village minshuku serving farmhouse cuisine using fresh, homegrown produce.


DAY 5—SNOW COUNTRY FERMENTED FOOD EXPERIENCE: Travel in the morning to a district of Nagaoka known as the ‘Fermentation Town’ with the historic townscape dominated by soy sauce and sake breweries. Take a tour of a soy sauce brewery to see how soy beans are fermented to yield an amazing range of soy sauce and miso products. Visit the famous Yoshinogawa Sake Brewery with over 400 years of history for a tasting of their crisp brews made with premium locally grown rice. In the afternoon, travel to the Matsudai area of Tōkamachi. Visit a local specialist in traditional fermented foods and learn about how health-giving Snow Country staples such as miso, natto and doburoku (farmer’s sake) are made. Accommodation at a traditional Snow Country town house (private rental).


DAY 6: MATSUDAI MODERN ART & KASHIWAZAKI RURAL VILLAGE EXPERIENCE: In the morning, inspect art installations of the internationally acclaimed Echigo-Tsumari Art Field—a community-based, rural-revival and environmental project which links modern art with the Snow Country’s rural environment and traditions. Enjoy a light lunch at the art gallery restaurant showcasing the diverse local produce. In the afternoon, travel to a rural district of Kashiwazaki and immerse yourself in the tranquillity of village life untainted by mass tourism. Accommodation in renovated traditional thatch-roof farmhouses (private rentals) which combine the beauty of Snow Country architecture with modern comforts.


DAYS 7 AND 8— KASHIWAZAKI RURAL VILLAGE EXPERIENCE: Get an insider view of the Snow Country village life. Visit an 18th-century country estate to contemplate a serene moss garden, sample sake crafted by the renowned master-brewers of Echigo (Niigata) at a family-run brewery, and watch artisans handcraft beautifully textured paper at one of the last remaining workshops continuing the regional tradition. Accommodation on both nights in renovated traditional thatch-roof farmhouses (private rentals). Dinners and breakfasts feature vegetable-based farmhouse cuisine showcasing the local produce and ‘bushfoods’.


DAY 9—TOKAMACHI HISTORY AND TRADITIONS WALK: During the morning, travel to the major regional centre of Tōkamachi. Enjoy a lunch of Hegi-soba, a buckwheat noodle specialty with a curious link to the town’s textile traditions. In the afternoon, drop in at a showroom in town to admire gorgeous kimonos and fine textiles that have been coveted by traders from all around Japan. Visit the Tōkamachi City Museum for an overview of the region’s natural environment, traditional life, and history spanning more than 5000 years. In the early evening, travel to your accommodation on the outskirts of the town, a beautifully restored 19th-century Snow Country house featuring heavy timberwork typical of the region (private rental).

DAY 10—MINAMI-UONUMA HISTORIC TOWN WALK: Depart Tōkamachi in the morning for a charming old-world Snow Country town in Minami-Uonuma. Visit a workshop to learn about the painstaking processes involved in weaving the celebrated kimono textiles, and enjoy lunch featuring the premium-quality local Koshihikari rice sought after by chefs worldwide. In the early afternoon, take a side-trip to an ancient country Zen temple outside of town, set among towering trees. In the late afternoon, travel to JR Echigo-Yuzawa Station where the tour concludes. Direct Shinkansen connections are available from Echigo-Yuzawa to Tōkyō, Ōmiya and Niigata. The tour cost includes your rail fare from Echigo-Yuzawa to Tōkyō—ticketing for alternative onward destinations can be arranged, however, it may incur an additional charge.



  • Villages

  • Regional foods

  • Traditional crafts

  • Art

  • Country walking

  • Spirituality

  • Prehistory and history

  • Natural environment

  • Mountain hiking (Hakkaisan climb option)



  • 4 nights in restored traditional Japanese houses (private rentals) with Japanese-style futon bedding in a village to rural setting

  • 2 nights in an upper-range modernised traditional onsen-ryokan with Japanese-style futon bedding and private onsen baths in a semi-rural setting

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

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


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






COST: from AUD $5000­ per person (4–6 persons); from AUD$5500 per person (3 persons); from AUD$6000 per person (2 persons); POA for 1 person.

FINAL PAYMENT DATE: Tuesday 15 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 Tōkyō

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

  • Relevant information material


PHYSICAL FITNESS REQUIREMENT—MODERATE (HIGH/VERY HIGH for the Hakkaisan climb on Day 2): 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. There may be short sections of steep, uneven or slippery terrain, including stone steps. The itinerary may be modified for lower levels of fitness or mobility—please note, however, that additional costs may be incurred. The accommodation on Days 3, 4, 6 and 9 feature traditional open fireplaces that can make the air inside slightly smoky—participants must be able to tolerate low to moderate levels of wood smoke for extended periods, accept the risk of smoky odour lingering on your clothes and belongings during and after your stay; you must not suffer from existing health conditions that smoky air or soot may aggravate including, but not restricted to, conditions affecting your breathing, eyes and skin.


If undertaking the Hakkaisan climb on Day 2, you must be a seasoned hiker who can negotiate steep terrain, including short sections of rock scrambling. Participants must be able to walk for 2 km continuously at a time in forested and open terrain with moderate to steep gradients. 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 track, in places, may be narrow, rocky, swampy, slippery, or have sheer drop-offs on one side. The upper sections of the walking track are fully exposed to the weather, which may include strong winds and rain. Protection against strong UV rays and glare, such as sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat, is essential.


CULTURAL TOLERANCE REQUIREMENT—MODERATE: 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. Those with particular views on animal welfare may find the bull-wrestling tournament on Day 4 objectionable.

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