Shikoku and Honshu Cultural Explorer

If you're yearning for an adventure that is truly off the beaten path, this trip will dive into highlights of central Japan and the smallest of Japan's major islands, Shikoku! Explore the stunning and peaceful Iya Valley. Climb the 785 steps on the slope of Mt. Zozu to the main shrine at Konpira-san. Be sure to take a dip at the famed Dogo Onsen, the inspiration for Studio Ghibli's Academy Award winning film Spirited Away. Bicycle on the Kibi Plains and approach the beautiful Itsukushima torii gate in the waters surrounding Miyajima. This tailor-made itinerary showcasing the best of Kurashiki, Takamatsu, Iya Valley, and Matsuyama, and more. Experience the fascinating culture, admire the pristine natural beauty, and see a side of Japan few have the chance to!

Daily Itinerary

Day 1: Osaka Arrival

Osaka Arrival
Daily Summary
  • Transportation: Osaka Kansai Airport - Osaka Station (Airport Bus)
  • Transportation: IC Transport Card
  • Accommodation: Hotel Granvia Osaka

Welcome to Japan! You will be met on arrival at Osaka Kansai Airport and given tickets for the airport bus to Osaka Station. The journey takes around 50 minutes.

You will be provided with Manaca cards today, Nagoya’s version of the IC card. You will be able to use this throughout your time in Japan for traveling on buses, subways, overground railways and in some places you will even be able to pay for taxis, buy drinks from vending machines and pay for your bento in a convenience store! Your card comes with 2,500 yen of credit and can be topped up in any major city at the automatic ticket machines at any station. And don't worry - instructions in English are provided! We are sure you will get great use out of this during your trip and can have that satisfying feeling of travelling like a local! All in all, an essential accessory for any visit to Japan.

We have also included the rental of a mobile WiFi device for you, which will be delivered to your first hotel. This means that you can enjoy the ease and comfort of having WiFi on the move and at all of your accommodations, which will make it a breeze to stay in touch with friends or browse the internet on your smartphone or laptop! The wi-fi can be shared with up to 10 devices. We have also included full insurance for you, in case of any loss or damage. At the end of your stay, you will simply return the device in the pre-paid envelope provided. The internet provider for your WiFi device is AU. This has wide coverage across Japan, including most small islands and rural areas. There is unlimited data usage.

Osaka

Osaka is an extremely vibrant and lively place to stay in Japan. There may not be any real 'tourist' sights but it is just the life on the streets that makes Osaka such a fascinating city to visit. Osaka people work hard and play hard and it really shows with the vast number of restaurants, bars and all round entertainment available. The city aquarium is world class and you cannot stay in Osaka without taking a ride on one of the city's several giant big wheels, perhaps the most dramatic of which is perched on top of the Hep 5 department store in the Umeda district of the city - just don't look down if you are afraid of heights!

Osaka Castle is well worth a visit, despite being a reconstruction, as the original was burnt down during the firebombing at the end of World War II and you will find a variety of very interesting museums scattered throughout the city. After dark, Osaka really comes alive, and a walk through the bright lights of the Namba district is a great way to take in the atmosphere, with some great people-watching opportunities. With literally thousands of restaurants, bars and entertainment spots to choose from, Osaka is perfect for a big night out, some hearty local food and the chance to let your hair down. Osaka really is one of Japan's truly all action cities and a stay here is a chance to experience what life in modern day urban Japan is really like.

Day 2: Osaka - Okayama - Kurashiki

Osaka - Okayama - Kurashiki
Daily Summary
  • Transportation: Shin-Osaka - Okayama (Train Ticket)
  • Transportation: Okayama - Kurashiki (Train Ticket)
  • Accommodation: Kurashiki Royal Art Hotel
  • Meals: B

Today, you will take the Shinkansen on to Okayama. The journey takes about 50 minutes. We will be supplying you with Ordinary Nozomi Super Express tickets for this journey.

Okayama

Okayama is a large city and prefectural capital in the Western Honshu region of Japan, half-way between Osaka and Hiroshima. The city is most famous as home to Koraku-en - one of Japan's 'big three' gardens. The gardens were established in 1686 under Ikeda Tsunamasa, the seventh lord of the Okayama domain. Featuring a variety of rock formations, lakes and perfectly kept grounds, cherry and plum trees, iris gardens and even a small tea plantation as well as being home to numerous Japanese cranes these gardens are fantastic all year round. Some of the best views of the garden can be had from the nearby Okayama Castle, a faithful reconstruction of the original which is also well worth a visit.

From Okayama, you will take a local line train to Kurashiki. The journey takes just over 15 minutes.

Kurashiki

Kurashiki is famous for its black-tiled warehouse buildings which were originally used to store the rice paid as a tax and brought by boat from the surrounding farmlands in feudal Japan. The city's name reflects its heritage: 'kura' means storehouses and 'shiki' is from the verb meaning 'to spread out'. Many of the warehouses have now been converted into museums and other attractions in this bustling tourist town. Along the canals that carried all that rice one can now find galleries such as the Ohara Art Museum, the Folkcraft Museum and the Archaeological Museum as well as houses with their white walls and black tiles that tell the history of old Kurashiki. You can walk around all of Kurashiki - it’s only 15 minutes from the station to the canal area on foot.

Day 3: Kurashiki

Kurashiki
Daily Summary
  • Accommodation: Kurashiki Royal Art Hotel
  • Meals: B

Kibi Plain Cycling

The Kibi Plain is a flat expanse of countryside between Okayama and Kurashiki. The terrain is perfect for exploration on two wheels, and the numerous temples, shrines and farmhouses lining the roads, make for a great day out in rural Japan. A 15 km cycle route runs through the plain, and bikes can easily be rented on the day. The route runs between JR Soja station (just outside Kurashiki) and Bizen-Ichinomiya station (just outside Okayama). To access the route, you will need to pay for a ticket on a local train to either of these stations. From there, you can pick up a bike for around 1000 yen per person. Once you have finished at the other end of the route, you can drop off your bike there, before boarding the local train back to your hotel.

Day 4: Kurashiki - Okayama - Takamatsu

Kurashiki - Okayama - Takamatsu
Daily Summary
  • Transportation: Kurashiki - Okayama (Train Ticket)
  • Transportation: Okayama - Takamatsu (Train Ticket)
  • Accommodation: JR Hotel Clement Takamatsu
  • Meals: B

After checking out of your Kurashiki accommodation, you will take the JR Line to Okayama. The journey takes about 15 minutes.

From Okayama, you will take a direct Ltd Express train to Takamatsu. The journey includes a ride over the Set Ohashi bridge and plenty of coastal scenery. Journey time is just under 1 hour.

Takamatsu

Takamatsu is the largest city in Kagawa Prefecture in the northeast corner of Shikoku Island. Takamatsu faces the Inland Sea and has a long history as a port, acting as something of a link between Shikoku and the main island of Honshu. The city's top attraction is Ritsurin Koen, one of Japan's finest examples of a landscape gardens and considered by many to be on a par with the famous 'Big Three' gardens of Mito, Okayama and Kanazawa. Also of interest are Yashima, a flat-topped mountain and nearby Shikoku-Mura, a collection of traditional houses and other buildings brought from all over Shikoku to display local architecture and construction techniques.

Day 5: Takamatsu

Takamatsu
Daily Summary
  • Accommodation: JR Hotel Clement Takamatsu
  • Meals: B

Sightseeing Suggestion Ritsurin Garden

Today you have free time to explore Takamatsu at your own pace. One of our suggestions is a visit to the pride of Takamatsu: Ritsurin-koen, the largest garden in Japan. This huge strolling garden is situated at the foot of Mount Shiun and was built over an astonishing 100 years during the Edo Period by the feudal lords of the province. It features a Japanese style garden in the south and a western style one in the north, and was designed to provide enjoyment during all seasons and from all angles. The colourful flowers, rich greenery, intricate water features and elegant tea houses add up to a real Japanese experience.

It will take you around 1 to 2 hours to fully explore the park. Scattered around you will find various facilities including a small folk museum, little shops, and some rest houses where you can take a breather and enjoy the views of the garden. Kikugetsu-tei teahouse in the southwest area of the garden is particularly lovely, and for a small fee you can refresh with a cup of green tea while sitting on the tatami mat floors.

Ritsurin Koen is roughly 2 km south of JR Takamatsu Station. You can either take the Kotoden Kotohira Line from Takamatsu-Chikko Station to Ritsurinkoen Station (around 7 minutes and 190 yen), or a JR train from Takamatsu Station to Ritsurinkoen-Kitaguchi (5 minutes and 210 yen). From either station it’s a 5 – 10 minute walk to the entrance to the garden. If you have a look in your Info-Pack you’ll find more detailed information and maps of how to access Ritsurin Koen so that you get the most out of your day. Admission is 410yen.

Day 6: Takamatsu

Takamatsu
Daily Summary
  • Accommodation: JR Hotel Clement Takamatsu
  • Meals: B

Optional Day Trip to Naoshima Art Island

Naoshima could easily be another pretty, but forgotten island in the Seto Inland Sea scraping a living from fishing. However, a unique art project has given Naoshima its deserved global reputation. Naoshima is home to a large collection of contemporary art galleries, exhibits, and installations which offer a tour de force of architectural expression integrating art and the natural environment. Two of the main galleries, the Chichu Art Museum and Benesse House, were designed by the world-famous architect Tadao Ando and feature works by Claude Monet, Walter de Maria, James Turrell, Andy Warhol, Richard Long, and Bruce Nauman among others.

Distances between the main art sites are small and the picturesque island can be explored on foot or by bike. Bicycles are available to hire at Miyanoura Port.

From Takamatsu, it is a scenic 50-minute ferry ride to and from Naoshima Island (510yen per person each way).

Day 7: Takamatsu - Iya Valley

Takamatsu - Iya Valley
Daily Summary
  • Transportation: Rental Car Transport
  • Transportation: Drive from Takamatsu to Iya Valley
  • Accommodation: Hotel Kazurabashi
  • Meals: B, D

This morning you will pick up your rental car and drive from Takamatsu to the Iya Valley. We recommend taking Route 32 which will see you drive along the length of the Iya Valley. This road is not for the faint of heart though, as it is mostly one lane, very twisty, and often on the side of steep cliffs, though the scenery is breathtaking and the gorge here is almost completely undeveloped. Without stops, the journey will take around two hours, but there are plenty of opportunities to take breaks and enjoy a meandering road trip.

Iya Valley

The Iya Valley is considered one of Japan's three 'hidden regions' and when you see the terrain you will appreciate why! Set deep in the heart of Shikoku the area is made up of narrow river gorges and steep mountain peaks, covered in thick vegetation. The isolated location of the Iya Valley and its inhospitable terrain made it a favourite hideaway for defeated clans and exiled political dissidents in days gone by. Today modern engineering has opened up the area to cars and trains, but even so you will still get a very good idea of the true nature of the valley as the narrow roads wind their way around the edge of hillsides and tunnels bore straight through previously impassable mountains. Although now more accessible the Iya Valley remains very rural and very traditional making it a fantastic place to appreciate a side of Japan very different to the bright lights in the big cities. Activities in Iya include boat trips along the river, crossing the vine bridges (for the daring!) that once served as quick escape routes for fleeing armies and some interesting museums, as well as simply taking in the wonderful scenery all around you.

Day 8: Iya Valley

Iya Valley
Daily Summary
  • Accommodation: Hotel Kazurabashi
  • Meals: B, D

Iya Valley Sightseeing

Today you have a free day to further explore Iya Valley at your own pace. Making the most of your rental car you'll be able to explore all the dramatic mountain scenery, historic vine bridges, hot springs and thatched-roof villages across this beautiful region. Most visitors only get to Kazurabashi vine bridge, while the other bridges are much quieter. So too is stunning Iya Gorge at the lower end of the valley which is still very undeveloped. Ochiai Hamlet meanwhile boasts some of the prettiest traditional buildings and farmland.

Day 9: Iya Valley - Kotohira

Iya Valley - Kotohira
Daily Summary
  • Tour: Nakano Udon Making Class
  • Accommodation: Sakuranosho Grand Hotel Kotohira
  • Meals: B, L, D

After breakfast, you will drive from Iya Valley to Kotohira where you will be returning the rental car this afternoon.

Nakano Udon Making Class

Kotohira lies in Kagawa Prefecture which is well known across Japan for Sanuki Udon. "Udon" are thick wheat flour noodles usually served in a broth with various toppings and accompaniments and "Sanuki" is the old name for Kagawa. Today we have arranged for you to take part in a group lesson at the Nakano Udon School where you will learn how to make these famous noodles and also practise their unique method of kneading the noodle dough! The lesson lasts around 40-50 minutes and then the noodles are cooked for you to enjoy. Please note that the teachers may not speak English but this shouldn't be a problem as most of it is demonstrative and they will ensure you have a great time. (This service is on a group basis.)

Kotohira

Kotohira is a relatively unheard of little pilgrim town in Shikoku, the smallest of Japan's four main islands. It is home to Shikoku's most popular shrine and pilgrim destination, Kompirasan whose main hall stands at the top of almost 800 steps, making for a challenging but rewarding ascent! Kotohira also houses the Kanamaruza which is Japan's oldest surviving, complete kabuki playhouse, built in 1835 which is still infrequently staging kabuki performances. Although a popular destination for Japanese visitors, Kotohira is very much off-the-beaten track for overseas tourists and the town retains a very sleepy, rural, laid-back feel to it, especially in the evenings when the day-trippers have headed home, and the streets are empty. A visit here is a real chance to see a slower pace of Japanese life, in stark contrast to the bright lights of the big cities.

Day 10: Kotohira - Matsuyama

Kotohira - Matsuyama
Daily Summary
  • Transportation: Kotohira - Matsuyama (Train Ticket)
  • Accommodation: ANA Hotel Matsuyama
  • Meals: B

Today, you will travel from Kotohira to Matsuyama which is located on the west coast of Shikoku. We will be providing you with tickets for the local line train to Tadotsu where you will change to a limited express train to Matsuyama where you will have reserved seats. The journey will take 2 hours 20 minutes.

Matsuyama

Matsuyama is a charming castle town in Ehime Prefecture, which is most famous for its hot spring area, Dogo Onsen. Dogo Onsen is the oldest hot spring in Japan and is even mentioned in the oldest book of Japanese classical history, Nihon Shoki. The top of the main hot spring building is decorated with the legendary white heron and a large drum is beaten at 6:30 every morning to announce the bath opening. You can enjoy a bath with the locals or just dip your feet in the outdoor footbath to take away those aches and pains after a long day sightseeing. Matsuyama's samurai castle is also impressive and gives great views of the town.

Day 11: Matsuyama

Matsuyama
Daily Summary
  • Tour: Full Day Private Guided Tour
  • Accommodation: ANA Hotel Matsuyama
  • Meals: B

Full Day Private Guided Tour

After breakfast at your hotel, you will be accompanied by a local professional guide to help you explore Matsuyama. Highlights include Matsuyama Castle and garden, and Dogo Onsen, which is one of the oldest and most famous hot springs in Japan. The main attraction, Dogo Onsen Honkan public bathhouse, is said to have been the inspiration in the popular Oscar-winning animated Studio Ghibli film "Spirited Away". There is plenty of history and art in Matsuyama, and your guide can tailor the day’s sightseeing to suit your interests.

Your guide will meet you at your hotel at 9:00 AM (or any time you choose). Together you will travel around the city by public transport. Please note you will need to pay for transport, lunch and any entrance fees on the day. Your day of guiding will finish at 5:00 PM with the guide either dropping you back at your hotel or anywhere else in the city you wish to spend the evening. (This service is on a private basis.)

Day 12: Matsuyama - Hiroshima - Miyajima

Matsuyama - Hiroshima - Miyajima
Daily Summary
  • Transportation: Matsuyama - Hiroshima (Ujina Port) (Ferry)
  • Transportation: Hiroshima - Miyajima-Guchi (Train Ticket)
  • Transportation: Miyajima-Guchi - Miyajima (Ferry)
  • Accommodation: Iwaso Ryokan
  • Meals: B, D

Once you have checked out of your Matsuyama hotel, you will head to the port this morning to take the high-speed Super Jet jetfoil to Hiroshima. The journey takes about 75 minutes.

Next, you'll take a local line train from Hiroshima Station to Miyajima-Guchi Station, the access point for the ferry to Miyajima Island. The journey takes 25 minutes.

From Miyajima-guchi port, you will take the JR ferry for the 5 minute crossing to Miyajima Island - have your camera ready for some great views of the "floating" Torii gate on the way!

Miyajima

Miyajima Island, located just off the coast of Hiroshima, is one of Japan's most loved places with a charming rural atmosphere to match the beautiful surroundings. The island is perhaps best known for the red torii gate of Itsukushima Shrine which appears to be floating in the sea. In the evening this gate and the shrine behind it (as well as other traditional buildings in the area) are floodlit and the atmosphere is magical. A cable car takes you to fantastic views across the Inland Sea from Mount Misen, the highest point of the island.

There are many pleasant walks on Miyajima among the temples and along the bustling shopping street in the island's small village. You may also see some of the island's native fauna; the sacred deer are easy to spot as they roam freely, but you'll have to work a little harder to spot any of the resident monkey population; keep your eyes peeled! Miyajima is a wonderful place to slow down, unwind and relax, so take your time and let the magic of this island enchant you!

Day 13: Miyajima

Miyajima
Daily Summary
  • Tour: Full Day Guided Tour
  • Accommodation: Iwaso Ryokan
  • Meals: B, D

Full Day Guided Tour

To help you get the most out of your time on Miyajima Island, you will have a private professional guide at your disposal today. The guide can explain the spiritual significance and history of the island while showing you the famous temples. You could also opt to take the cable car or hike to the top of Mount Misen for views of the Seto Inland Sea.

If you haven’t already explored Hiroshima city center, another option is for the guide to take you on a day trip to the Peace Memorial Park and other city sites. Today’s tour will be on foot and by public transport. Hiroshima has a great tram network and there are regular ferries from Miyajima. Please note you will need to pay for your transport, lunch and any entrance fees on the day. Your day of guiding will finish at 5:00 PM with the guide either dropping you back at your accommodation on Miyajima Island or anywhere else in the area if you wish to continue exploring. (This service is on a private basis.)

Day 14: Miyajima - Hiroshima - Osaka

Miyajima - Hiroshima - Osaka
Daily Summary
  • Transportation: Miyajima - Miyajima-Guchi (Ferry)
  • Transportation: Miyajima-Guchi - Hiroshima (Train Ticket)
  • Transportation: Hiroshima - Osaka (Train Ticket)
  • Tour: Osaka Street Food Tour
  • Accommodation: Hotel Granvia Osaka
  • Meals: B, D

Today you will take the JR ferry back to Miyajima-Guchi Port on the mainland. The ferry crossing takes just 5 minutes.

From Miyajima-Guchi you'll take the JR line to Hiroshima main station. The journey takes about 25 minutes.

You will take the Shinkansen from Hiroshima to Shin-Osaka. The journey from Hiroshima takes around 1.5 hours. We will be supplying you with Nozomi Super Express Ordinary tickets for this journey.

Osaka Street Food Tour

This evening you are in for a real treat! Your local guide will take you on a private street food safari through Osaka's exciting Nanba district. The guide will meet you at your hotel and you will head first to the famous Dotonbori 'restaurant' street in the heart of Nanba.

Dotonbori is famous throughout Japan for its vast array of casual dining options and street food. Here bars and eateries line the neon illuminated streets along with hole-in-the-wall takoyaki stands and ramen bars. Everywhere people, young and old, out to enjoy the culinary pleasures of the nation's most famous restaurant district. This is where Kansai people come to celebrate when their local baseball or football team win the league - or just whenever they can think of an excuse!

You'll be sure to stop off at the 'Glico running man' neon ad which along with the giant moving crab statues has become a symbol of the area. You will also stroll through Dotonbori, learning a little of the history (old and new) of the area. To ensure good luck for the rest of your trip, the guide will take you to Hozenji Yokocho to splash water on to the resident “Ofudosan”, a Buddhist God for love and business. Food wise you will keep well filled up with the chance to try Kushikatsu (skewered vegetables and meat dishes), Takoyaki (the very famous 'octopus balls') and a variety of delights at a traditional Izakaya (pub-restaurant). Tonight will be a great chance to sync yourself into the Osaka philosophy of 'kuidaore' - eat, drink and enjoy life! Food, transport and a couple of drinks are all included. (This service is on a private basis.)

Day 15: Osaka Departure

Osaka Departure
Daily Summary
  • Transportation: Osaka - Osaka Kansai Airport (Train Ticket)
  • Meals: B

Sadly your adventures in Japan must come to an end. A direct JR Line train will take you from Osaka station to Osaka Kansai Airport. The journey takes 60 minutes.

We hope you had a wonderful vacation and wish you a pleasant flight home!

Accommodation

Hotel Granvia Osaka

Hotel Granvia Osaka

If you are looking to experience the best of Osaka, right outside your front door, than Hotel Granvia Osaka is the perfect home away from home. Nestled in the heart of fine dining restaurants and trendy shops in the Umeda district, the property offers superb accessibility, located directly in front of JR Osaka Station. Hotel Granvia Osaka promises a sophisticated retreat, with unparalleled hospitality, delicious dining options, spacious accommodations and quality amenities.

Kurashiki Royal Art Hotel

Kurashiki Royal Art Hotel

The Nikko Hotel Kurashiki is one of the best hotels in the town, with great service and nicely-sized rooms. The hotel is a 10-minute walk from the station, or a short taxi journey, and it is also within walking distance of many of Kurashiki's main sights. The hotel has good facilities, including a number of restaurants and bars.

JR Hotel Clement Takamatsu

JR Hotel Clement Takamatsu

Hotel Clement Takamatsu is a 20-storey city hotel located in Sunport Takamatsu. The hotel offers guest rooms commanding a view over the Seto Inland Sea and the city of Takamatsu, and boasts a range of facilities including multi-purpose banquet halls, making it the ideal choice for business, sightseeing or international conferences. Hotel Clement Takamatsu has a range of restaurants including Chinese, Western and Japanese to cater to every taste.

Hotel Kazurabashi

Hotel Kazurabashi

Deep in the heart of the Iya Valley, lies the charming Hotel Kazurabashi, a traditional Japanese Ryokan. This beautiful property is a feast of hidden delights! An old fashioned bonnet bus provides complimentary rides to the famous vine bridge, while a cable car runs from the hotel, down into the valley, for guest enjoyment and convenience. Soak up Japan's natural beauty at the outside hot spring baths, that overlook the vast river valley below. There are also indoor baths for you to relax in, as well as some delectable local cooking to enjoy!

Sakuranosho Grand Hotel Kotohira

Sakuranosho Grand Hotel Kotohira

Located at the foot of Mount Konpira, Sakuranosho Grand Hotel features indoor/outdoor public hot-spring baths and relaxing massages. Free Wi-Fi is available at the lobby and guestrooms come with a flat-screen TV. A free shuttle service is offered from JR Kotohira Train Station, which is a 5-minute drive away and must be reserved at time of booking.

ANA Hotel Matsuyama

ANA Hotel Matsuyama

ANA Hotel Matsuyama is a modern, 4 star hotel located in the center of this attractive city. The hotel has a range of restaurants including Japanese and Italian cuisine as well as as its own bar and lounge. Free of charge LAN internet is available in all rooms. The hotel also has its own 3-level mall with a wide range of shops. Matsuyama castle is just a short walk away and the historic Dogo Onsen hot springs area is easily reached by tram.

Iwaso Ryokan

Iwaso Ryokan

Founded in 1893, this wonderful, luxurious ryokan was the first establishment to open its doors on Miyajima Island. Situated in a beautiful part of Momijidani Park, the original owner of the Iwaso also built a tea shop and planted the area with maple trees whose leaves turn a blaze of reds and oranges in the autumn. Iwaso was constructed in the 'miya-daiku' style, built by the same craftsmen who built Japan's beautiful ornate Shinto shrines. Previous guests have included famous authors, artists, and members of the Japanese royal family. The 'Rinkeikan' is the new building, opened in 1981 with modern exterior but classic Japanese style rooms with attached baths and toilets. Some rooms also offer views of the inland sea.

Pricing and Details

Starting from $ 10,934 per person

*Pricing is based on two persons traveling together, based on availability, subject to change.

Price Includes

  • Full support before, during & after your trip
  • Meals as mentioned
  • Accommodation as mentioned
  • Tours/activities as mentioned
  • Transport as mentioned

Price Excludes

  • International & domestic flights
  • Travel insurance (highly recommended)
  • Entrance visas when applicable
  • Other services not mentioned
  • Tips and gratuities to guides, drivers
  • Taxes and fees

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