The bright lights and bustling city streets of Tokyo are the first thing on show when your plane sweeps low over Tokyo Bay. But take a closer look and there’s plenty more to the country than just teeming metropolises and high-tech gadgets, as a walking tour of Japan readily demonstrates.
Paul Christie is a tour leader with Walk Japan and has more than 16 years experience in the country. He’s done over 120 tours of some of Japan’s most picturesque walking trails, from treks around the world-famous Mount Fuji to trips back in time along the historic Nakasendo Way.
“The biggest difference on a walking tour is being able to be part of regular Japanese life, which is fascinating, and mixing closely with the Japanese, who are a delightful, kind and humorous people,” Christie explains of why a growing number of visitors are choosing to undertake walking tours of Japan.
One of the most traditional forms of accommodation in Japan is a ryokan – the quintessentially Japanese inns popularised during the Edo era period of 1603 to 1867 – and they’re in plentiful supply on walking tours of Japan.
“Staying in a Japanese inn brings a close experience of and an affinity with Japanese life,” Christie says. “Japanese inns embody the essence of traditional Japanese life including tatami mat rooms, shoji sliding doors, Japanese-style bathing, excellent cuisine and charming hosts”.
They’re also a great way to unwind, with many located far from the hustle and bustle of city life in some of Japan’s more secluded rural areas, making a stay in a ryokan a perfect form of relaxation.
Off The Beaten Path
From the sun-kissed shores of Kyushu to the shivering climes of Hokkaido, there are enough walking tours of Japan to satisfy even the most active of ramblers. Many take in some of Japan’s most dramatic scenery, including the Yakushima Adventure, which start and finishes in far-flung Kagoshima.
A dedicated Basho Tour celebrates the famous poet’s epic Narrow Road to the Deep North, starting in Tokyo and traversing the rugged Tohoku region, before doubling back along the Sea of Japan coast and finishing in the old imperial capital of Kyoto.
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There are also walking tours of Tokyo and a Kumano Kudo Pilgrimage from Osaka to Ise, which takes in over a thousand years of Buddhist history.
Indeed, taking a leisurely stroll through the Japanese countryside is not only one of the best ways to enjoy its impressive sights, it also provides a wonderful opportunity to soak up some of Japan’s long and varied history.
A Different Way To Travel
Though the feeling of the Shinkansen pulling out of Shinagawa Station is undoubtedly an exhilarating one, there’s more to exploring Japan than just criss-crossing the country by train.
With many tourists having already spent time in major cities like Tokyo and Osaka, there’s a growing demand for more boutique forms of travel – a niche that walking tours of Japan have been quick to accommodate.
“About 80 per cent of Japan is covered by mountains, so there are many trails of varying degrees of difficulty throughout the nation,” tour leader Christie says of the growing popularity of guided tours.
And with many of the tours stopping in on authentic Japanese businesses along the way, stepping out of the air-conditioned confines of the Shinkansen and taking a guided tour of some of Japan’s most beloved walking trails is a great way to come face to face with the locals.
“Although the Japanese work hard they also know how to relax and enjoy themselves, whether in a restaurant after work or on a trip somewhere,” Christie explains. “And they like nothing more than to share their time with others, particularly visitors to their country”.