Japan is a beguiling country of serene cedar groves scattered with kami shrines, intricate ceremonies performed in rural teahouses, and glittering neon nightscapes strumming with 22nd-century energy. With local guides, you’ll experience a perspective few Westerners are privileged to know. Hiking through the whispering cypress forests of the Kii Peninsula or enjoying a quiet moment in Todai-ji Temple, you’ll find yourself fully immersed in this ancient and sophisticated culture. From the central courtyard of Nijo Castle, soak up the palace’s shogun splendor – a regal complex of moats, stone walls, and lush gardens. Your traditional ryokan lodgings reflect an earlier, contemplative way of life, with tatami floors and hot-spring baths. The ancient pilgrimage route of Kumano Kodo, a UNESCO World Heritage site, offers miles of forests dotted with stone bodhisattva statues and ancient cha-ya teahouses. It’s the ideal way to experience the Land of the Rising Sun, and is the adventure of a lifetime.

Day 1 – Kyoto – Discover the stunning gardens, temples, palaces, and traditional neighborhoods of Kyoto, Japan’s imperial capital for more than 1,000 years. Later, enjoy a welcome dinner hosted by a geisha and her apprentice.

Day 2 – Kyoto – This morning, stroll along the tranquil, cherry-tree-lined “Philosopher’s Path.” Then, visit the 13th-century Nanzen-ji Temple, walk through the Nishiki Market, and participate in a traditional tea ceremony at the historic Bikoen Tea Shop.

Day 3 – Nara – Transfer to the former imperial capital of Nara, which boasts an astounding eight sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage list. See the world’s largest bronze Buddha at Todai-ji Temple, and share the trail with sacred deer in Nara’s famous park.

Day 4 – Kii Peninsula – Head for the verdant slopes, lush valleys, and rushing streams of the Kii Peninsula, where you’ll follow in the footsteps of Kyoto’s 11th-century emperors along the revered Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route. Tonight, enjoy hot-spring baths and unsurpassed views at your intimate inn.

Day 5 – Kumano Kodo – Today’s walk leads to Hongu Grand Shrine, one of the Kumano Kodo’s three most important pilgrimage sites. Your route passes numerous ōji, small shrines where nobles would traditionally rest and compose poetry. At Hongu, meet a yamabushi (priest of the Shugendō faith).

Day 6 – Kumano River – Enjoy a scenic float in a flat-bottomed boat along the sacred Kumano River, long a pilgrimage route between the Hongu and Hayatama shrines. Later, wander through the terraced rice paddies of Maruyama Senmaida, and enjoy a picnic of rice balls, homemade pickles, and green tea.

Day 7 – Mount Koya – This morning, stroll through the sprawling Mount Koya temple complex, center of Buddhism’s Shingon sect, with over 100 temples, a university, and a vast cemetery. Then, explore Osaka, Japan’s third-largest city, before tonight’s farewell dinner.

Day 8 – Depart from Osaka

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