• Japan

Overview

Shinto is a collection of ancient Japanese beliefs involving ancient legends & the worship of spirits called Kami. It was the primary religion in Japan before Buddhism was introduced during the 6th century. Eventually, the two beliefs intertwined & became woven into Japanese history & culture. 
On this 13-day tour, you’ll visit an array of religious sites to learn about each city’s Shinto Buddhist legends & how ancient beliefs can shape a nation.

Highlights

  • Ginzan-Onsen – Visit this quaint mountain town that thrives off its large silver mine & natural thermal baths.
  • Dewa Sanzan – Hike through the three sacred mountains of Dewa representing birth, death & rebirth.
  • Sado Island – Ferry to one of Japan’s largest islands, a former home to political exiles & the country’s largest gold & silver mine.
  • Mount Koya – Travel to the heartland of Shingon Buddhism featuring more than 100 temples dating back to 826 AD.

Sample Itinerary

Day 1: Tokyo

Arrive at Narita International Airport where you’ll meet your guide & transfer to the hotel. Then take a day tour of the city starting in Asakusa where you’ll visit popular attractions like the Sensoji Buddhist temple. 
Your day tour will conclude at the Tokyo National Museum, one of the largest historical art collections in the world. The evening is free to rest or explore the city.

Day 2: Tokyo

Spend the morning at a shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji & Empress Shoken. You’ll begin by washing your hands & face at the torii gates prior to entering the temple. Then enjoy an ancient dance ceremony called “Kagura” before taking a stroll through the Imperial Palace East Gardens. 

Day 3: Tokyo – Yamagata – Ginzan-Onsen

Leave Tokyo & take a bullet train to Yamagata. Your first stop will be the mountain temple of Yamadera constructed in 860 AD. Spend the evening strolling through the streets of Ginzan-Onsen before checking into the hotel.

Day 4: Ginzan-Onsen – Mogami River Cruise – Dewa Sanzan

Enjoy a relaxing cruise down the Mogami River followed by a rigorous hike through the Dewa Sanzan Mountains. Your trek will begin at the base of Haguro-san, which symbolizes “birth” & end at Gassan Mountain (“death”). 
Retire to a shukubo temple hotel on Yudono-san (“re-birth”) Mountain & enjoy an authentic Shojin-ryori dinner alongside Buddhist monks. This traditional meal is made without meat, fish, or animal bi-products. 

Day 5: Dewa-Sanzan – Sakata

Complete the Dewa Senzan Mountain route with a hike to the top of Yudono-san (“rebirth”). Then travel an hour to Sakata, which lies at the mouth of the Mogami River. This city was the gateway for goods traveling to & from Japan’s capital, Kyoto. 
Explore the town’s merchant shops & sample fresh rock oysters before checking into the hotel.

Day 6: Sakata – Niigata – Sado Island

Depart from Sakata & travel to Niigata by rail. Along the way, you can enjoy the Sea of Japan’s picturesque coastline. Ferry from Niigata to Sado Island & settle into your hotel.

Day 7: Sado Island

Prepare for a full day tour of Sado Island. Begin by visiting a former gold mine to learn about the evolution of mining tools & techniques.
You’ll also watch local people perform Noh, a dramatic dance depicting stories from historical Japanese culture. 
Then, visit a nearby fishermen village called Shukunegi. Spend the evening at your leisure.

Day 8: Kanazawa – Eiheiji – Kyoto

Ferry to Naoetsu & transfer to Kanazawa by train. Upon arrival, take a tour of Kanazawa Castle & Kenrokuen Garden, built in the 1500s. Then, visit a local Samurai district outside the city to learn about these ancient warriors’ way of life. 
Throughout the day, you’ll experience Kaga culture & meet local artists who specialize in making lacquerware, washi paper & printed silk paintings.

Day 9: Kanazawa – Eiheiji – Kyoto

Depart for Eiheiji, where you’ll visit the head temple of Soto Buddhism. This active monastery is home to more than 150 practicing monks. Travelers are welcome to stay here overnight & mirror the monks’ daily routine. Transfer to the capital city by train or coach. The evening is free to rest at the hotel or explore Kyoto.

Day 10: Kyoto

Enjoy a day tour of Kyoto, beginning with a visit to Sanjusangen-do. This temple is known for its elongated structure featuring 1,001 statues of the Kannon, the goddess of mercy. Continue to some of the country’s most well-known temples including Kiyomizudera, Kinkaku-ji & Shimogamo Shrine. End the day with a relaxing tea ceremony where you’ll observe how matcha is prepared & served.  

Day 11: Kyoto – Osaka – Mount Koya

Check out of your hotel & travel to Mt. Koya by rail & cable-car. Upon arrival, walk through the Okuno-in mausoleum of Kukai, the founder of Shingon Buddhism. This cemetery is regarded as one of the most sacred places in Japan & the largest burial ground in the country. There are more than 200,000 tombstones scattered alongside the 1.2-mile pathway. 
You’ll then visit the Kongobuji temple, origin of the Shingon-shu sect. Enjoy a time of reflection followed by tea & cookies in a large tatami hall. 
Spend the night at a shukubo (temple hotel) in Koyasan, complete with a traditional Shojin-ryori dinner with Buddhist monks. 

Day 12: Mount Koya – Osaka

Participate in an early morning prayer featuring a fire ceremony. These are typically held in solemn atmosphere for the renewal of your spirit. 
After lunch, descend the mountain by cable-car & transfer to Osaka by train. Spend your last night in Japan sampling street food & enjoying the city’s nightlife.

Day 13: Osaka – Kansai International Airport

Transfer to the Kansai International Airport & say goodbye to your guide. Begin the trip back home.