From East to West – The Trek Across Japan
For most of us a long tour through Japan is a lifetime event and we all have different images about Japan in our thoughts – from a snow-covered Mount Fuji to Sumo wrestlers, from thousands of years old temples and Samurai warriors and swords to tech giants like Toyota, Sony or Panasonic, from smoking volcanos to relentless earthquakes, from famous Geishas to dishes like Sushi, Sashimi or even Fugu, the poisonous blowfish, lethal if not prepared correctly. There is so much to see and experience throughout the country that it is hard to decide where to start – as you can sample only so much as your time allows. One of the best ways is to take part in one the 2 or 3 weeks tours, either to the west between April and July or one of the northern tours in August/September.
This itinerary is about the tours to the west.
Both tours are like a drive from present days through ancient times, going from Tokyo to ancient capital Kamakura, the Izu Peninsula with its Hot Springs and north to the Hakone – Mount Fuji region where you will find it hard to leave. From there we will go north to the Nagano mountains, staying around Suwa, riding the famous Venus line and visiting Matsumoto before you fall in love with Tsumago and Magome, the preserved towns of the old Nakasendo Postroad where you will find yourself some centuries back in time. The trek goes on to Takayama and if weather permits also to famous Shirakawago, then Hikone Castle on Lake Biwa and the world-famous beauty called Kyoto which marks the most western point for the 2 weeks tour – this tour goes back from there via Nara and usually Mount Koya to Hamamatsu and Tokyo.
The 3 weeks tour continues after Kyoto – with 17 World Heritage sites in Kyoto you need to check details for yourself – with a trip to World Heritage Himeji castle and staying in Kurashiki, an old beautiful town just west of Okayama very close to the giant Seito Ohashi Bridge to Shikoku, the smallest of Japans 4 main islands. Next 2-day stop will be Hiroshima and Miyajima, world famous for its red torii in the water and there we will have to decide whether we take a ferry through the beautiful inland sea to Matsuyama on Shikoku or have the ultimate island hopping from Onomichi to Imabari, usually preferred by clients. In Shikoku we will cross the famous centuries old swinging Kazurabashi bridge, made of vine ropes and go via Takamatsu’s Yashima Jinja to Naruto where you will see one of the few spots worldwide where conflicting oceans currents produce dangerous visible whirlpools, then go on to visit the epicenter of the 1995
Kobe earthquake on Awajishima Earthquake museum and on the push of a button you may experience for yourself how it feels at a lower magnitude 5 to 6.
Next stop on the 3 weeks tour is Nara, in the year 710 the first and most ancient capital of Japan and lots of treasures of that time remain. While Nara is not as widely known as, let’s say, Kyoto it is amazing as to how much this city becomes loved by travelers who come for the 1st time. There is something special about Nara and its thousands of deer which can hardly be described, somehow everyone feels completely at peace in this little town. From there we go through winding mountain roads to Koyasan, a magical place on top of a mountain, dating back to the year 819 and remaining a spiritual center and holy place with more than hundred temples and monasteries and the very famous Okunoin cemetery. The cemetery also holds the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi, founder of Shingon Buddhism and more than 200.000 very old and very famous tombstones lead more than 2 kms through the forest to the mausoleum; there are also several daily guided night walks through the cemetery, an almost mystic experience. But we must leave Mount Koya and make our long way east for a brief visit to the Ise Jingu, one of Japans most popular Shinto shrines. Right there begins also the Ise Shima Skyline road, a paradise for motorcycles, very few traffic, curve after curve and one beautiful view after another, at times we are crazy enough to ride it twice before descending into Toba and visiting the pearl divers. In the evening or next morning, we take the ferry from Toba to Irago and continue our way along the ocean and Hamana Lake to – depending on time – either visit Yamaha in Iwata or go for a last Fuji view a bit north of Shizuoka before concluding our journey back home in Tokyo.