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Kyoto: Mountains to the Sea


8 Days, 7 Nights

Activity Level

Start / Finish

Kyoto / Amanohashidate

Technical Level

A moderate to harder walking tour along ancient thoroughfares from Kyoto to the Sea of Japan coast.

A guided exploration of the remote and beautiful countryside of Kyoto mountainous hinterland along ancient trade routes to the Amanohashidate and the Sea of Japan; great walking and hiking through rural and mountainous countryside trails; traditional and modern inns, hearty farmhouse cuisine.

March - June & September - November.

Kyoto: Mountains to the Sea is a fully-guided tour suitable for anyone who can walk for more than four hours in comfort. In general, the route is uneven under foot and over hilly terrain that includes some steeper climbs. Please read more on Tour Levels here.

An 8-day, 7-night tour starting in Kyoto and finishing in Amanohashidate. Tour accommodation is in hotels and Japanese inns. The maximum group size for this tour is 12 persons. We have no minimum size. If we accept a booking we guarantee to run the tour.

Beyond Kyoto, Japan’s 1,000 year-old imperial capital, religious and cultural cradle, is another Kyoto, an idyllic rural region of mountains and valleys, forests and farming villages, remote hillside hamlets and fishing ports on the Sea of Japan coast. The contrast between the bustling city and its bucolic hinterland could not be more stark. Yet the two have an intimate symbiotic relationship, established over a millennia, that thrives to this day.

Trains heading north quickly journey through a series of tunnels and across a river gorge to be surrounded by rice paddies on all sides. Beyond, lies a vast hinterland. Here, the Kyoto of mountains ranges seemingly endlessly, cupping myriad valleys where the early morning clouds allude to what lies far beyond, the Kyoto of the sea. It is a diversely plentiful region of a multitude of districts, usually delineated into small valley communities, each with their own distinct identities and unique produce. Those who live here pride themselves on both their alliance but also clear contrast with the city that is so saliently important to the Japanese identity. The Japanese imperial court moved to Heian-kyo, modern-day Kyoto, in 794. Ever since, the many small rural communities to the north have been the source of much of the city’s signature produce including high-quality food, timber, charcoal, washi paper, pottery, and takezaiku bamboo arts. To sustain this trade, a multitude of paths weave their way throughout the region connecting the sea and mountain communities with the city. Mostly forgotten in the modern era, these ancient byways are the focus of our exploration, which connects us with the people and culture of Kyoto’s fascinating hinterland, its history, and its intimate relationship with the city that began with its aristocratic and religious elites.

We explore paths, some known only by locals, that often follow mountain ridges, which once provided the fastest and safest means of transport of goods to the city and communications vital between local communities. En route, we pass through hidden valleys and quiet villages with their traditional thatched buildings retaining an air of a much older age, and come across venerable chestnut trees that have been the source of sustenance for villagers over centuries. We also learn of fables of old: of battles between oni ogres and imperial warriors; a Buddhist nun cursed for 800 years to traverse the country with a statue tied to her back; and the goddess of agriculture Toyouke Omikami. Our journey culminates at the coast and the Amanohashidate heavenly bridge sandbar, one of Japan’s three scenic views.

Kyoto’s mountains and sea have long been the city’s breadbasket and we each day on our travels we enjoy some of the region’s best produce including Miyama ayu sweetfish, Tanba buri yellowtail and saba mackerel, and a wide variety of Kyoyasai heirloom vegetables. Our accommodation is mostly family-run, small traditional inns, some with onsen hot spring baths.

A Level 4 tour, the daily distances walked on the Kyoto: Mountains to the Sea tour are between 7 - 15.5km (4.4 - 9.6 miles) and elevation gain between 180 - 750m (590 - 2,460ft). Our travels are primarily on foot, but also employ local trains and private-hire vehicles. The route includes undulating forest terrain and some steeper sections including several passes, some with steep inclines. Our main baggage is sent onwards each morning to our evening’s accommodation so we only need to take what is necessary for the day’s walking in a small backpack.

We meet in Kyoto and travel together through the remote countryside of its hinterland to Amanohashidate, our destination on the Sea of Japan coast. Walk Japan provides tour participants with easily followed, detailed instructions on how to join the tour.

Map image
The itinerary for the Kyoto: Mountains to the Sea tour is ground-only, beginning in Kyoto and ending in Amanohashidate. Prior to the tour, Walk Japan will provide detailed instructions for travelling to the meeting point in Kyoto.


Day 1 Kyoto - Hiyoshi

Join your Walk Japan Tour Leader mid-afternoon at Kyoto Station for onward travel by train. The cityscape is soon left behind and our venture into the verdant mountainous heart of Kyoto Prefecture begins.

We alight at a quiet station serving a small rural community. From here a short transfer by vehicle brings us to our accommodation for the evening. Set deep in a quiet forested valley we relax here for a short while as your Tour Leader provides the tour briefing. Our evening meal together is at our inn after a welcoming soak in its hot springs.

Accommodation: Japanese lodge with onsen hot spring baths.
Meals: Dinner provided.
Total walking: N/A. 
Total elevation gain: N/A.


Day 2 Hiyoshi - Miyama

We begin our walking at a point roughly equidistant from the city of Kyoto and the Sea of Japan. A vehicle transfer brings us to a small hamlet from where we follow an ancient mountain path through mixed forest and cedar plantations to a remote but impressive temple built around a boulder. Established here in the 10th Century, its history is entwined with the legend of an 800 year old itinerant Buddhist nun who once rested at this point, leaving behind a Jizo statue atop the massive boulder.

We enjoy a picnic bento lunch in the temple’s atmospheric surroundings before continuing in the nun's footsteps along a trail through mixed forest up to a pass. Hundreds of villagers and beasts of burden once traversed this path every day with heavy loads of charcoal and processed timber. However, we are unlikely to meet anyone else on the trail today. Beyond our path leads us past hamlets of thatched roof homes for which the area is famed, through bamboo groves and onto an impressive shrine dedicated, appropriately, to the protection of travellers.

We transfer by public bus to our evening’s accommodation, a Japanese inn with onsen hot springs wonderfully located aside a crystal clear river. While enjoying the scenery we soak leisurely in the baths in preparation for our dinner, a delicious concoction made from seasonal ingredients sourced from the surrounding mountains and rivers.

Accommodation: Japanese inn with onsen hot spring baths.
Meals: Breakfast, lunch & dinner provided.
Total walking: 10km (6.2 miles), 4 hours.
Total elevation gain: 180m (590ft).


Day 3 Miyama - Tsurugaoka

After enjoying breakfast, we start walking from accommodation along a quiet river-lined path, passing beside rice paddies and through forests. We also skirt fields where susuki grass and yoshi reed were once grown for use in thatching roofs. A short distance beyond we stroll into Kita-mura, a charmingly beautiful village composed of thatch-roofed homes. The villagers provide warm welcomes and we are invited into one of these impressive structures, an artisanal indigo workshop and gallery, built in 1796. After the owner explains his traditional craft we spend a little time viewing his exquisite work, which is displayed against a backdrop of inner thatched roof timbers, carefully tied with rice straw rope.

We continue on our way through this very picturesque village and on to a steep forest trail. We take this at a gentle pace but our effort is repaid with the expansive views that begin to open up to us of the surrounding mountainous countryside as we ascend along a ridge over a pass. We make our way down through mixed ancient forest to a burbling valley stream. Hereon, we pass many horse chestnut trees that, as we come to learn tomorrow, were once the source of a vital food staple. We soon reach our accommodation, a remote traditional inn just outside a quiet hamlet. Our hosts warmly welcome us, plies us with refreshment and good conversation. Now well used to each evening’s routine we bathe before enjoying another fine meal centred on local mountain specialties.

Accommodation: Japanese inn.
Meals: Breakfast, lunch and dinner provided.
Total walking: 15.5km (9.6 miles), 5 hours.
Total elevation gain: 500m (1,640ft).


Day 4 Miyama - Ayabe - Fukuchiyama

After a hearty breakfast, we transfer by vehicle to the start of today’s walk in native forest. Once again, we follow our way up and over a pass on a trail that once was a busy thoroughfare but today is almost wholly unused. Beyond the pass we reach a stand of centuries-old native horse chestnut trees.

Finally, we enter a quiet hamlet, which was once a bustling hamlet of close to a hundred residents in the Edo Period (1603-1868). Now, it is down to a population of three, two women in their 90s and a man in his 60s. Here, we learn how horse chestnuts were a vital source of sustenance and sample the villager’s handmade delicious tochi-mochi horse chestnut rice cake.

We transfer from here by vehicle to the start of our afternoon walk, which leads us immediately up a steep forest trail to the impressive temple gate, which is registered as a national treasure of a tranquil temple. Those with the legs and desire may like to extend the walk to a 2,000 year-old chestnut tree before we return by vehicle to our accommodation, its baths and another sumptuous dinner.

Accommodation: Onsen thermal hot spring resort.
Meals: Breakfast, lunch and dinner provided.
Total walking: 7km (4.3 miles), 3.5 - 4 hours.
Total elevation gain: 430 (1,410ft).


Day 5 Fukuchiyama - Oe

A private vehicle morning transfer takes us after breakfast to the outer Moto-Ise shrine, the first of three Moto-Ise shrines inextricably linked with the Ise Grand Shrine. Ise enshrines Amaterasu-Omikami, the celestial sun goddess from which the Japanese imperial family claims descent, making it one of Shinto’s most important holy sites. Legend relates that the Moto-Ise shrines predate the foundation of Ise Grand Shrine itself and that it was here Amaterasu was originally enshrined.

An ancient trail leads from the Moto-Ise’s outer to its atmospheric inner shrine. We rest over lunch in a quiet hamlet before continuing on our way up a gentle climb aside a tumbling river. Local fables relate that the massive rocks in the riverbed were flung here by oni ogres from the surrounding mountaintops to dissuade any visitors. Unfazed by these legends, our trail continues over an ancient ishidatami stone path that leads us to our accommodation, a modern lodge. We once again repeat the evening’s pleasurable routine of soaking in baths and then enjoying a delicious dinner composed of local ingredients.

Accommodation: Modern lodge.
Meals: Breakfast, lunch and dinner provided.
Total walking: 12km (7.5 miles), 4.5 hours.
Total elevation gain: 250m (820ft).


Day 6 Oe - Yosano

This morning we make a quick visit to a neighbouring museum dedicated to the local oni before a vehicle whisks us to a small shrine, perched high in the mountains. On a good weather day, from here we are afforded tremendous views across the surrounding mountains that extend unbroken into the distance.

We spend the day traversing the Oe mountain range's three main peaks: Mt. Senjugatake (833m), Mt. Hatogamine (736m) and Mt. Nabekura (763m). To sustain our efforts we are served an oni-themed bento lunch at another scenic viewing point, before descending to a Japanese inn, our accommodation for the evening. Our host provides a lively and entertaining atmosphere over a dinner of culinary delights that draws heavily on his previous experience as a chef in Osaka.

Accommodation: Japanese inn.
Meals: Breakfast, lunch and dinner included.
Total walking: 7km (4.3 miles), 3.5 hours.
Total elevation gain: 316m (1,036ft).


Day 7 Yosano - Miyazu

A relaxed breakfast at the inn is followed by another day walking through beautiful mountainous terrain largely following the Miyazu Kaido. This is an ancient highway that was used from the 10th Century until the early modern age as a trade route and for sankin-kotai, the system of alternative residence by regional daimyo lords to attend the shogun in Edo; today’s capital Tokyo. Ishidatami stone-paved sections are reminders of the trail’s history as we thread our way through forests, crossing numerous mountain streams before eventually reaching a high pass. We stop here to relax, enjoy a bento lunch and the far reaching views to the Sea of Japan.

As we follow a forested trail down to the valley below we pass a small temple that is said to be the final resting place of Akechi Mitsuhide, a 16th Century samurai notorious in Japan as the traitorous assassin of Oda Nobunaga, who is regarded as the first ‘Great Unifier’ of Japan who was followed in succession by Toyotomi Hideyoshi and finally Tokugawa Ieyasu.

We board a local train for a short journey to Miyazu, a small port town on the Sea of Japan coast and our accommodation, a delightful Japanese inn that has been in business for over 320 years. Our host, the 13th generation innkeeper, happily introduces its architecture, intricately painted fusuma sliding doors, poetic calligraphy and letters lining the walls from famous Japanese writers and artists who have stayed here over the years.

Relax here in these beautiful surroundings or join your Tour Leader on an amble around Miyazu until dinner, our final evening feast of the tour.

Accommodation:Japanese inn.
Meals: Breakfast, lunch and dinner included.
Total walking: 12.8km (7.9 miles), 5 hours.
Total elevation gain: 360m (1,180ft).


Day 8 Miyazu - Amanohashidate

After enjoying breakfast, we take a short train ride to Amanohashidate, which translates as Heaven’s Bridge, a pine tree-covered sandbar considered one of Japan's three most scenic views. Amanohasidate stretches for 3.3 kilometres and connects the two opposing sides of Miyazu Bay. We walk across it through the pine trees to the Moto-Ise Kono shrine, the third of the Moto-Ise shrines we first came across on Day 5.

From here, we make a short climb up a mountain path up to the impressive Nariai-ji, the 28th temple of the 33 associated with the Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage that extends throughout the wider region here. We walk through the temple’s attractive grounds, passing a towering pagoda to reach a classic viewing point of Amanohashidate and the Sea of Japan beyond.

We board a small ferry to reverse our journey across the bay to the railway station, where our tour ends around midday. Onward travel from here is best made by express train back to Kyoto or Osaka for destinations further afield. Your Tour Leader will be available to advise on the purchase of tickets as required.

Accommodation: N/A.
Meals: Breakfast included.
Total walking: 8km (5 miles), 2.5 - 3 hours.
Total elevation gain: 300m (985ft).

The itinerary for the Kyoto Mountains to Kyoto Sea tour is ground-only, beginning in Kyoto and ending in Amanohashidate.

The airport closest to the tour's start at Kyoto is Osaka’s Kansai International Airport. Transfer is also easily made from both Tokyo’s Narita and Haneda International Airports.
From Osaka’s Kansai International Airport, Haruka Express trains depart to Kyoto Station, where the train terminates. The journey costs about JPY3,290 per person and takes approximately 1 hour 15 minutes.
From Tokyo’s Haneda International Airport, Keikyu Line trains depart to Shinagawa Station, where shinkansen bullet trains then depart for Kyoto. The journey costs about JPY13,900 per person and takes approximately 3 hours 10 minutes.
From Tokyo’s Narita International Airport, Narita Express trains depart to Tokyo Station, where shinkansen bullet trains then depart for Kyoto. The journey costs about JPY16,240 per person and takes approximately 3 hours 30 minutes.

The pre-tour pack includes detailed instructions, including a map, for travel to the accommodation at the start of the tour.

Tour participants are advised to leave plenty of time to reach onward destinations from Amanohashidate, which is over three hours by train from Kyoto and Osaka, its two nearest major cities.

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