• Japan

Overview

Follow the Shinto-Buddhist pilgrimage route on this 12-day journey from Kyoto to the island of Shikoku. Shinto is a collection of traditional Japanese beliefs involving the worship of Kami spirits found in nature. When Buddhism was introduced during the 6th century, the two religions meshed & became an intricate part of Japanese history & culture. 
During your time in Japan, you’ll visit a plethora of Shinto-Buddhist sites that will both expand & renew your mind.

Highlights

  • Kyoto – Explore the nation’s former capital with visits to the Chion-in & Kinkaku-ji temples.
  • Matsue – Walk through the oldest shrine in Japan, Izumo Taisha, dedicated to the god of love & marriage.
  • Shikoku – Visit a variety of the island’s 88 temples found along the Kobo Daishi pilgrimage route.
  • Takamatsu – Acquaint yourself with this port city just miles from the scenic Iya Valley.
  • Mt. Koya – Trek to & through the mile-long Okuno-in cemetary, filled with more than 200,000 tombstones.

Sample Itinerary

Day 1: Kyoto

Fly into Kensai International Airport where you’ll meet your guide & transfer to the hotel in Kyoto. 

Day 2: Kyoto

Start your day tour at Chion-in, the head temple of Judo Buddhism. Stroll through its massive gate to the shrines & lush temple gardens before visiting the Sanjosangen-do temple, dedicated to the goddess of mercy. 
Then, spend time at the Kiyomizu-dera temple. This UNESCO World Heritage site is one of Kyoto’s most popular attractions; it’s said that drinking from the fountain can add a few years to your life. You’ll partake in a tea ceremony before spending the rest of the evening exploring Kyoto.

Day 3: Kyoto

Begin your second day in Kyoto with a tour through Kinkaku-ji, widely known for its golden glow. This Zen Buddhist temple is one of the most famous buildings in Japan due to its pure gold leaf adornment. 
You’ll then make your way to the Shimogamo Shrine, a bright orange-colored temple built before the city was founded in 794. End your day at Nijo-jo Castle, former residence of the first Edo shogun. The evening is free to spend at your leisure.

Day 4: Kyoto – Matsue

Board the bullet train to Matsue, which translates to “water town.” Today, you’ll explore the grounds of Matsue Castle, dating back to 1611. This well protected fortress still stands in impeccable condition despite many fires, earthquakes & battles. 
Drive to Lake Shinji-ko & witness a breathtaking sunset before checking into your hotel.

Day 5: Matsue

Spend the morning walking through the oldest known shrine in Japan, Izumo Taisha. It’s not only the largest temple in the country, but also regarded as one of the most important in Shinto Buddhist history. 
The afternoon will be spent at the Iwami Ginzan silver mine. Walk through underground passageways as you learn about the evolution of mining techniques that took place during its 400 years of operation. Return to Matsue for dinner & an evening out on the town. 

Day 6: Matsue – Hiroshima – Miyajima

Drive to the historic city of Hiroshima where you’ll visit the Peace Memorial Park & Museum. Here you’ll learn about World War II from the perspective of the Japanese people & how peaceful relations with the US were formed over time. 
During the evening, ferry to the island of Mayajima, best known for its massive “floating” torii gate. Enjoy dinner before checking into your hotel.

Day 7: Miyajima – Matsuyama – Dogo Onsen

After breakfast, head to the Itsukushima Shrine. During high tide, the temple & torii gate appear to float on the water. You’ll then hike up sacred Mount Misen to enjoy incredible views of the island. 
Ferry to Matsuyama, home to one of the oldest & most well-known hot springs in Japan. The Dogo Onsen was built in 1894 & is frequently visited by the Imperial Family. Enjoy dinner & walk around the town before retiring for the evening. 

Day 8: Matsuyama – Takamatsu

Ferry to Shikuko Island & arrive at the port city of Takamatsu along the 88-temple pilgrimage route. Your first stop is Zentsu-ji, a Shingon shrine erected by Kobo Diashi in 813 after his return from China. 
Depending on the time of year & your preference, you will visit a few more temples before the day’s end. Enjoy dinner before returning to the hotel.

Day 9: Takamatsu

Today’s temple tour will begin at the Kompirasan shrine, dedicated to the spirits of former sailors & seafarers. Its architecture shows a perfect union between Shinto & Buddhist beliefs. 
You’ll then venture to one of the most scenic spots in Japan, the Iya Valley. As you hike through the mountains, you’ll come upon three vine bridges created during the Gempei War in 1185. These will lead you across the valley, over the Iya River. 
Throughout the day, you’ll learn more about the origins of Shinto Buddhism & important aspects of Japanese history. The evening is free to rest or explore local shopping areas.

Day 10: Takamatsu – Osaka – Mount K?ya

Depart for Osaka. This scenic route will take you across the Great Seto Bridge, the largest road-rail bridge in the world. The massive structure spans five islands & is made up of 11 connecting bridges. 
You’ll then board the bullet train & transfer to Osaka. Just south of the city sits Mount K?ya, the center of Shingon Buddhism. Most pilgrims who complete the Shikoku temple route pay a visit to this mountain to thank the spirits for a safe journey. 
Stay overnight in a shukubo, a mountain temple hotel where you can enjoy a Shojin-ryori dinner alongside Buddhist monks. This traditional meal is made without meat, fish, or animal bi-products. 

Day 11: Mount Koya – Osaka

Begin the morning at one of the most sacred sites in Japan, the Okuno-in gravesite. This cemetery is dedicated Kukai, the father of Shingon Buddhism & dotted with more than 200,000 tombstones along both sides of the pathway. 
You’ll then visit the Shingon-shu Buddhist temple, Kongobuji, before descending the mountain by cable car & transferring to Osaka. Enjoy your last evening in Japan sampling street food & taking in the city’s nightlife.

Day 12: Osaka – Kyoto

After breakfast, drive to Kyoto Kensai International Airport, say goodbye to your guide & begin the journey back home.