National Geographic has described Walk Japan as “one of the 200 Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth”, providing fulfilling and enjoyable tours of Japan.
Founded in 1992 by two academics, Dr. Thomas Stanley and Prof. Richard Irving, the company has since grown considerablyto become the acknowledged leader of specialised tours that immerse visitors in Japanese society and culture; providing great insights into the nation and its people; and often explore little-visited, beautiful and diverse regions of the nation.
At the invitation of the Onsen Gastronomy Tourism Association, Walk Japan, specialists in small, authentic group tours, has unveiled the first of a new series of Onsen Gastronomy tours, to Oita & Kumamoto in Kyushu, Japan’s most westerly main island; and Gifu & Nagano in Honshu, central Japan.
Each tour, of up to five days, has a special focus on two distinctive aspects of Japanese culture: its relaxing, restorative and therapeutic onsen hot spring baths, and its wonderfully unique and delicious cuisine. Each destination of which you will get to throughleisurely guided walking, is over easy terrain with distances averaging between 6 to 8 kilometres, allowing ample time to savour the elements, and also visit local sites of interest.
Like all Walk Japan tours, the Onsen Gastronomy tours are led by expert tour leaders, with never more than 12 people. You are immersed in the traditional Japanese way of bathing and every evening stay in a delightful local inn, almost always with their own onsens. Enjoy exceptional Japanese cuisine, regarded among the world’s finest for the quality of its seasonal ingredients, range of dishes, and sheer artistry of presentation. Whilst flavourful, beautifully presented meals are a feature of all Walk Japan tours, in the Onsen Gastronomy series of tours, this is taken to a higher level and becomes a celebration of the Japanese quintessential art of dining.
Onsen hot springs are found throughout Japan, and are a perennial favourite leisure diversion amongst the Japanese and overseas visitors alike. Enjoyed over the millennia for their relaxing and restorative powers, onsens were used in Buddhism, which first arrived in Japan in 552 for purification rites. Since then bathing in Japan has remained a ritual, a practice which is distinctly Japanese.
The Onsen Gastronomy: Oita & Kumamoto Tour
A five-day, four-night tour starting in Beppu and finishing in Oita City. This fully-guided tour visits Oita and the north-east corner of Kumamoto Prefectures in the centre of Kyushu, an area of Japan renowned for its richly varied, beautiful rural landscapes; the high quality of its food sourced from the fertile land, pristine rivers and the surrounding seas; and also for the plethora of onsen hot springs found here. It is such a wonderful combination that it was selected to be the first in Walk Japan’s new series of Onsen Gastronomy tours.
Oita and neighbouring Kumamoto together boast Japan’s largest concentration of onsen, which come in many different guises; some are clear and others murky, some pungent while others are fizzy. This region is a mecca for anyone who likes to luxuriate in the therapeutic thermal waters whilst enjoying the distinctive and gracious Japanese culture associated with bathing, something to beenjoyed morning and evening throughout the tour.
Following in the footsteps of monks of old on the bucolic Kunisaki Peninsula; walk the grassy line of a long-disused steam railway to Oguni, a quiet rural town; and explore the intriguing geo-park at Bungo-Ono. Visit Taketa, a historic town still dominated by the towering ramparts of Oka-jo, a strategic hill-top castle; and stay in upmarket Yufuin and the delightful hot spring villages of Kurokawa Onsen and Nagayu Onsen, which vie for being amongst the most pleasant in Japan. On your way during the day, savour local food delicacies and stay every night in classic Japanese ryokan inns, where you luxuriate in onsen baths before your evening meals, which are always a lavish feast for both eyes and stomach. Finally your journey completes in Oita City for easy rail and flight connections to the rest of Japan.
The Onsen Gastronomy: Gifu & Nagano Tour
Another fully guided five-day, four-night walking tour that visits central Gifu and western Nagano Prefectures in the geographic centre of Japan; a largely remote area of mountain ranges, deep valleys, high plateaus, remote villages and lovingly cared-for period towns. A richly forested hinterland far from the oceans; the local cuisine is deeply rooted in rustic hardy but delicious fare, which together with the region’s onsen hot springs provide us with a delightfully, symbiotic sustenance.
Starting out from Nagoya Station, you are quickly transferred to the homely, old castle town of Gujo-Hachiman, where the locals, which includes a retired sumo wrestler, are as much a focus of our visit as the town itself. Your first onsen of the tour is most unusually at a rural railway station. Having already journeyed a long way into Gifu’s mountainous countryside, you venture still further to a remote shrine and post-town on the route of an ancient, yet now little-known, pilgrimage to sacred Haku-san, a dormant volcano. Here, a local villager takes you on a guided stroll into the life and history of this secluded and beautiful district. This night’s onsen are within your accommodation as en suite baths.
On Day 3, your walk is to Takayama, which, for some very attractive reasons, is a popular destination for visitors. Takayama’s roots as a strategic outpost of the ruling shogun in the Edo Period (1603-1868) is reflected in its historic townscape. Savour an easy stroll around the town, sometimes to the more popular streets, but most often to much less-visited, quieter quarters that provide insights into life in the days of the samurai. En route, enjoy lunch in the company of a very amiable hostess and afterwards, stomach willing, taste some local morsels at roadside stalls.
Finally, you cross the border into Nagano Prefecture and on to Kaida Kogen, a quiet rural plateau considered one of the prettiest areas of Japan. Ontake-san, an active volcano, soars over Kaida Kogen and provides a dramatic backdrop to your amble where you stay the night in a family-run onsen inn. Your journey the comes to a close in nearby Kiso-Fukushima for easy rail connections to Nagoya and other parts of Japan.
The Onsen Gastronomy: Gifu & Nagano walk is scheduled for October 16 – 20, while the Onsen Gastronomy: Oita & Kumamoto tour is scheduled for November 12 – 26. For more information, visit walkjapan.com.