Day 1 – Welcome to Japan! (Tokyo)
Our first day starts with orientation and an introduction to the world’s biggest city. Expect to hit the ground running, literally, with a trip to Chiba as we prepare to take on Japan’s largest obstacle course. We then hop on a train to visit one of Yokohama’s more eccentric oddities, the Cup Noodle Museum, where we create our own custom cup ramen with all of the trimmings you desire. We also have time to peruse the noodle bazaar which boasts noodle dishes from all over the world. And for those who are feeling especially brave, why not try the ramen-flavored ice-cream?
Day 2 – Time travel to Edo-period Japan (Nikko)
Today we make our way to two UNESCO world heritage sites, Toshogu shrine and Taiyuinbyo, which are some of the most ornate shrines in all of Japan. These two historically significant shrines also serve as mausoleums that deify the man who unified Japan, making them very sacred places for the Shinto religion. From there it ‘s a short walk to the Tamozawa Imperial Villa, which was previously the residence for both the Tokugawa Shogunate and the Imperial family, and features over 100 rooms. We then slip back into time and experience life as it was in 17th century Japan with a visit to the Edo Wonderland theme park. While in Nikko, we will also visit several other temples, and attractions.
Day 3 – Handmade sweets, puppets and sake Oh My! (Koriyama)
We start our day by making our very own manju sweets. Fukushima is famous for its manju, and our teacher runs one of the best manju confectioneries in the area. After that we continue to let our creative juices flow by crafting our very own papier-mâché hariko figures. We’ll also be treated to a show from the puppet-master himself. We finish our day with a trip to one of the few all-natural sake breweries in Japan. On our return to Tokyo, you can look forward to a free evening to explore the vastness of the city.
Day 4 + 5 – Sacred mountain mystics (Dewa Sanzan)
Leave the 21st century behind as you enter into the world of the Yamabushi or mountain mystics. The Tsuruoka area is inhabited by many followers of the Shugendo faith. Cell phone usage will be limited during this period of our travels, as we live together with the mountain ascetics who have foregone material possession in favor of spiritual growth, and harmony with nature. Throughout this two-day period we will *hike the three sacred mountains that represent birth, death and rebirth. We’ll also visit sacred temples that house Buddhist mummies. This leg of our trip will help us to reconnect with nature, and present us with the opportunity to learn more about Japanese mysticism, as well as the sacredness that nature holds in the Shinto religion. Historically the Yamabushi were men who were famous for their astonishing physical strength and seemingly magical abilities. While here we will train with them, and learn about the spiritual attributes that the mountains possess, and the principles of Shugendo.
*Hiking of Mount Yudono and Mount Gassan are only possible during the spring to fall seasons. Please be aware of this when booking.
Day 6 – Samurai sword arts (Tokyo)
We bid farewell to our Yamabushi guides and return to Tokyo where we’ll learn the basics of kendo sword fighting before putting the newly-learned techniques to use in a private tournament (this will only consist of members in our group). Less about pure strength, and more about technique and accuracy, this traditional samurai art will test your wits and see if you have what it takes to be our kendo champion. There is little risk of injury as all members will be equipped with full kendo ‘bogu’ armor. The winner will receive a gift to commemorate their success. After crowning our champion we’ll have some free time to explore and get dinner before boarding the ferry to our first island destination.
Day 7 + 8 – Tokyo’s hidden islands (*Aogashima, Hachijojima)
Did you know that Tokyo has islands? It does, and we start our day by visiting one of the islands that also happens to be the smallest village in Japan. With a population of just over 100 people, the entire island is also a small, lush dormant volcano out in the Pacific Ocean. Getting there can be accomplished by either helicopter or ferry, and once there it offers some of the best stargazing in Japan. Allow the ocean waves to soothe you, as you let time slow down and experience the island lifestyle, culture and a unique shochu that can only be tasted there. Our island experience continues as we move onto Hachijojima. Here, we get to enjoy the hot springs of Miharashi onsen while taking in the pristine ocean views. The onsen is also equipped with a routenburo. Our day ends with a BBQ on Sokodo beach which is famous for its beautiful black sands. During the summer months, Hachijojima is home to bioluminescent mushrooms, which we may catch a glimpse of.
*Access to Aogashima may be hindered by inclement weather conditions, the ferry schedule (and for those going by helicopter), and helicopter availability. Should this be the case we will remain on Hachijojima. Therefore the itinerary items that relate to Aogashima are not guaranteed and are largely dependent upon the weather conditions at the time that we arrive to Hachijojima. More information will be provided during the tour orientation.
Day 9 – Night out in Osaka (Osaka)
Today you will have plenty of time to work on your films as we exchange island vibes for city life on our journey south to Osaka. Upon arrival in Kansai’s largest city we’ll check in to our accommodation, freshen up and then head for a night out.
Day 10 – Osaka from all angles (Osaka)
Say hello to one of Japan’s most vibrant cities as we visit one of country’s most famous landmarks, Osaka Castle. The castle grounds span 15 acres and provides a panoramic view of the city of Osaka. We will begin by getting a good outside view of the castle from a boat trip around the moat that encircles the castle. From there we’ll journey inward to learn about the pivotal role that Osaka castle played in unifying the nation of Japan.The rest of the day will be catered to your interest as you explore the city of Osaka with the assistance of your guide. At night we’ll meet up again to discover what the nightlife of Osaka has to offer by starting off with a river cruise through the Tombori area. Next we’ll hit the streets of the city’s nightclub district, before calling it a night.
Day 11 – From Kansai to Kyushu (Osaka, Kagoshima)
The exploration of Osaka continues on this day as we let you loose to experience more of Osaka’s many attractions before heading to the southernmost tip of the Kyushu island, Kagoshima. Osaka is your oyster with the whole day being allocated for free time. There are countless things to do in Osaka and your guide will provide you with recommendations. Do not fret, as all of your travel expenses and most activities will be either completely covered or discounted. Once we arrive in Kagoshima, we will treat ourselves to the unique dishes and flavors of this coastal city.
Day 12 – Yakushima, UNESCO world heritage island (Yakushima)
Our day begins with a short ferry ride from Kagoshima port to the shores of Japan’s largest designated UNESCO World Heritage reserve, Yakushima. Our third island destination for this tour, Yakushima has been the inspiration for many stories, anime, and movies including the multi-award winning animated film Princess Mononoke. The dense, and ancient forests of the island are home to a variety of fauna and flora, including many deer, monkeys and even trees that date back 5,000+ years. Our journey starts with a tour by a local guide who will give us a brief history of the island, and its unique characteristics. We then head to a woodworking class where you can craft your own chopsticks out of the yakusugi cedar wood that is indigenous to the island.
Day 13 – Trekking the magical forests of Yakushima (Yakushima)
Don your hiking shoes and get ready for a forest adventure unlike any you’ve ever experienced! This all-day hike has multiple sights to enjoy including the supernatural Jomon Sugi which, at 25.3m tall and with a circumference of 16.4m, is the largest and oldest yakusugi on the island, and the largest conifer in Japan. Our hike will also include a stop at the Unsuikyo ravine for a heart-pumping canyoning experience before continuing our trek to Wilson’s stump, which is big enough to not only fit a shrine in it, but can also accommodate a person. The sight from within the stump is one that we’ll leave you to discover on your own.
Day 14 – Magical town of the gods (Kagoshima, Takachiho)
From the ancient magical island of Yakushima to the mythical town of Takachiho, we head out to the place that is the setting for multiple Shinto legends and holds much spiritual significance in the Shinto belief system. It is home to the spot where the goddess Amaterasu is said to have hid inside a cave, and caused the world to fall into darkness. Takachiho is also said to be the place where Niniginomikoto, grandson of Amaterasu and great-grandfather of Japan’s first emperor, descended to govern the world. There is much to be discovered, learned and experienced at this mystical spot and we start our time here with a show at Takachiho’s Kagura hall, where our performers play the role of the gods themselves to tell us their story.
*Due to tsunami damages, the train to Takachiho has been indefinitely suspended. Reaching this remote location will have to be made by bus, which will take time.
Day 15 – Taking in Takachiho’s beauty (Takachiho)
We get around the town by bike on this day. We start the day at the Amanoiwato Shrine, where Amaterasu is said to have hid herself, and her light from the world. When Amaterasu sent her grandson to Earth to govern it, one of his missions was to plant rice, so we’ll make our way to the Kushifuru Shrine by passing through the beautifully picturesque Tochimata terraced rice fields. We’ll move on to the Amaterasu Railway station where we’ll board an open-air, roofless train* to get a breathtaking view of the surrounding area. After which, we’ll revisit the Takachiho Shrine where we saw the kagura show the night before. The daytime light will provide us with a chance to see the shrine in all its glory as well as the monolithic wedded cedars in the front of the shrine. From there we’ll make our way down to the famous Takachiho Gorge and, if you are interested, you can rent row boats to explore an area the river. Before saying goodbye to the town of legends, wetake a short hike from the Mihashi bridge to the visit both Kihachi’s strength rock and the Sandan-bashi areas of the gorge.
We spend our last night in Kumamoto city, where we’ll hold our awards ceremony, and give gifts to the teams that created the best films during the trip, while eating and drinking to celebrate our time together and the memories we’ve created.
*dependent on weather conditions
Day 16 – Saying farewell in Mt. Fuji’s shadow (Atami, Tokyo)
We finish up the tour with a visit to Hatsushima which boasts pristine views of Mt Fuji. This island is the fourth and last island on our trip back to Tokyo and is seated in the sea outside of Atami. Positioned in the shadow of the iconic Mount Fuji, Hatsushima houses many different activities including a canopy walk and zip line facility. We’ll spend our day here before saying our goodbyes back in Tokyo.