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Onsen Gastronomy: Gifu


5 Days, 4 Nights

Activity Level

Start / Finish

Nagoya Station / Matsumoto

Technical Level

An easy walking tour in rural Gifu Prefecture with strong emphases on onsen hot springs and Japanese gastronomy.

Guided, gentle walking through picturesque towns and rural vistas. Charming historic towns surrounded by soaring mountain scenery, a beautiful high plateau, ancient shrines, and spectacular waterfalls. Light walking combined with plentiful onsen hot spring baths and opulent cuisine. Accommodation in Japanese inns.

April - November.

The Onsen Gastronomy: Gifu tour is a fully guided tour suitable for moderately active people who can walk comfortably for up to 2 hours a day. The route is mainly on pavement, grassy paths and quiet country roads. The terrain is generally even underfoot and over mostly flat or gently rolling countryside. It also includes a few short inclines that can be completed in five minutes or less. Please read more on Tour Levels here.


A five-day, four-night tour starting in Nagoya and finishing in Matsumoto. Accommodation is in Japanese inns, all but one with onsen thermal hot spring baths. The small intimate nature of the tour makes the maximum group size 12 people. We have no minimum size. If we accept a booking we guarantee to run the tour.


On an Onsen Gastronomy tour, in the company of an expert Walk Japan tour leader, we are immersed in the Japanese way of bathing; stay each evening in delightful Japanese inns, almost always with their own onsen; and enjoy sumptuous meals that satisfy both the eye and the stomach. Our light guided strolling allows us to thoroughly enjoy the beautiful countryside we visit and also aids digestion of the gourmet meals, delicious titbits, sakes and other drinks included in the tour.


In flavour, quality of ingredients, range of dishes, health benefits, and sheer artistry of presentation, Japanese cuisine counts amongst the world’s best. Japan’s gastronomic offerings are an appetising and convivial element of all our tours, but in the Onsen Gastronomy series of tours we take this feature to a higher level for a celebration of the quintessential Japanese art of dining.


Onsen hot springs, enjoyed on many of our tours, are found throughout the length and breadth of Japan and are one of Japan’s great attractions; a perennial favourite amongst Japanese and overseas visitors alike. Enjoyed over the millennia for their relaxing, curative and restorative powers, onsen were used in Buddhism, which first arrived in Japan in 552, for purification rites. To this day, bathing in Japan remains a ritual, an art distinctly Japanese.


This fully-guided tour visits northern Gifu Prefecture in the geographic centre of Japan; a largely remote area of mountain ranges, deep valleys, high plateaus, remote villages and lovingly cared-for period towns. A richly forested hinterland far from the oceans; the local cuisine is deeply rooted in delicious rustic fare, which together with the region’s onsen hot springs provide us with a delightfully symbiotic sustenance. We also make the most of the region’s sake, which are considered some of the best in Japan.


The tour starts in the morning on Day 1 at Nagoya Station, where the Walk Japan tour leader meets the group. We quickly transfer together to the homely old castle town of Gujo-Hachiman, where the locals, including a retired sumo wrestler, are as much a focus of our visit as the town itself. Our first onsen of the tour is most unusually at a rural railway station. We have already journeyed a long way into Gifu’s mountainous countryside and venture still further to a remote shrine and post-town on the route of an ancient, yet now little-known, pilgrimage to sacred Haku-san, a dormant volcano. Here, a local villager takes us on a guided stroll into the life and history of this secluded and beautiful district. This night’s onsen are within our accommodation as en suite baths.


On Day 3, we find ourselves in Takayama, which, for some very attractive reasons, is a popular destination for visitors both Japanese and overseas. Takayama’s roots as a strategic outpost of the ruling shogun in the Edo Period (1603-1868) is reflected in its historic townscape. We savour an easy stroll around the town, sometimes to the more popular streets, but most often to much less-visited, quieter quarters that provide us with insights into life in the days of the samurai. En route, we enjoy lunch in the company of a very amiable hostess in her atmospheric restaurant. Afterwards, stomach willing, we find some local morsels to taste at roadside stalls.


From Takayama we travel deep into Oku-Hida, an even more remote region of towering mountains, lush forests and plentiful onsen. Our initial destination is Hirayu Onsen, a popular small resort town. Here we enjoy a walk through the surrounding forests following a trail to a towering waterfall. Following lunch in town we travel deeper into the mountains to Fukuji Onsen. This quiet rustic village, which is sandwiched between towering mountainsides, has some delightful Japanese inns and lovely onsen baths. We spend the night here in an inn sporting roten-buro outside baths and, of course, dine on local cuisine complemented by top sake from the region.


On Day 5, our final day of the tour, we visit Fukuji Onsen’s quirky but interesting morning market before we complete our journey together in Matsumoto. Easy rail connections are available from here to Tokyo, Nagoya and the rest of Japan.


Important: Please note that in Japan it has traditionally been the custom not to allow anyone with tattoos to use public baths, including onsen. Although this custom is currently being relaxed, entrance is at the discretion of each establishment. Access at additional cost is usually allowed, however, to kazoku-buro private bathing facilities, which are found at many onsen, for anyone – including those with tattoos.


Due to the culinary focus on this tour, we are unable to cater to any dietary preferences, including allergies.
Map image
The itinerary for the Onsen Gastronomy: Gifu tour is ground only beginning in Nagoya and ending in Matsumoto. Prior to the tour, Walk Japan will provide detailed instructions for travelling to the meeting point at Nagoya Station.


Day 1 Nagoya – Gujo-Hachiman

The tour starts in the morning at Nagoya Station, where the Walk Japan Tour Leader awaits everyone’s arrival. From here we transfer by private-hire vehicle on a 90-minute journey to Gujo-Hachiman, an old castle town set squeezed between towering mountains.


A compact and pretty town with quiet narrow lanes, Gujo-Hachiman provides us with a delightful exploration on foot. The town, with its closely packed, well-maintained houses and streetscape, has a warm and genteel atmosphere, which is reflected in the friendliness of the residents. Gujo-Hachiman is set at the confluence of three rivers, which we continually crisscross on our perambulations together. At times we also follow the course of channels that gush with fast-flowing pristine water drawn from the surrounding mountains to and throughout the town. Built many hundreds of years ago to provide a ready source of water in case of fire, today the channels are used to wash rice and vegetables while colourful koi carp languidly swim to and fro.


We enjoy lunch of seasonal local fare aside a river at an atmospheric restaurant and afterwards visit a replica food emporium. Unexpectedly, given its old-world charm, Gujo-Hachiman is the centre of Japan’s tasty-looking but inedible plastic food industry. Before checking into our accommodation in the centre of town we make a short journey south aside the scenic Nagaragawa river by local train to the first onsen hot spring bath of our tour, which we find, unusually, at the railway station we disembark at.


This evening we dine out at a restaurant specialising in chanko-nabe, the dish favoured by Japan’s famed sumo wrestlers. Our host is a retired wrestler and, as we dine, introduces us to life in the world of sumo while plying us with some of the best sake produced in the region.

Accommodation: Japanese inn.
Meals: Lunch & dinner.
Total walking: 3.5km (2.2 miles)


Day 2 Gujo-Hachiman – Shirotori – Itoshiro

After breakfast we enjoy a stroll in the neighbourhood before boarding a private-hire vehicle to once again follow the beautiful Nagaragawa river valley, this time north, to Shirotori where we visit the 1,300 year-old Nagataki-jinja, a shrine where pilgrims to sacred Mt. Hakusan would leave their horses and continue on foot. The shrine’s priest, the latest generation of one of Japan’s oldest families, relates to us the ancient history of the pilgrimage. The pilgrimage is for the worship of water, which is the main theme for our day today; we enjoy lunch of ayu sweetfish, caught in the clear waters of the local river.


We travel deeper into the mountains to Itoshiro, an old village that once provided lodging for pilgrims visiting Mt. Hakusan. Here a local resident joins us and in their company we enjoy a leisurely guided exploration of this quiet, pretty, rural community. Although Itoshiro’s inns have long closed, nearby we find an upmarket, modern inn with en suite onsen baths. After a leisurely soak in the soothing hot waters we enjoy a multi-course lavish evening meal accompanied by sake, Japan's traditional libation, from a local brewer.


Accommodation: Japanese inn with onsen thermal hot spring baths.
Meals: Breakfast, lunch & dinner.
Total walking: 4km (2.5 miles).
Total elevation gain: 77m (252ft).


Day 3 Itoshiro – Takayama

We board our private-hire vehicle for our journey to Takayama. En route we stop for a short stroll to Amida-ga-taki, one of Japan’s most beautiful waterfalls. The verdant forests and the crystal clear water tumbling over a 60-metre high precipice provide us with a spectacular and invigorating experience.


Takayama is a 60-minute journey away and we arrive in time for lunch. In an elegant restaurant housed within a traditional building, our hostess and her daughters welcome us with a friendly gracious air and ply us with a multitude of exquisitely presented and tasty dishes. With our minds and bodies sated, we enjoy a gentle stroll around Takayama, a historic and popular regional city. Our walk takes us around the old city centre and en route, stomach willing, we stop at stalls for a sample or two of bite-sized, delicious morsels. Further time is available this afternoon to independently explore this delightful town at your own pace.


In our accommodation, our now familiar evening routine begins; a relaxing soak followed by another delicious Japanese banquet.


Accommodation: Japanese inn with onsen thermal hot spring baths.
Meals: Breakfast, lunch & dinner.
Total walking: 3.5km (2.2 miles).
Total elevation gain: 60m (197ft).


Day 4 Takayama – Oku-Hida

After breakfast, we begin our venture by vehicle deep into the lush mountainous countryside of Oku-Hida, a region dotted with myriad onsen hot springs. We head for Hirayu Onsen, where we gently stretch our legs along a nature trail that leads us to a 1,000 year old nezuko cedar tree and Hirayu Otaki, a thunderous waterfall that towers 64 metres above us.


We dine on local delicacies for lunch before a further short journey takes us deeper into the mountains to Fukuji Onsen and our accommodation, a lovely, family-run Japanese inn with the necessary requirement of onsen baths. These include roten-buro baths, which are open, throughout the year, to the elements. We make full use of the luxuriant waters to refresh ourselves before our final but no less sumptuous, evening meal of the tour washed down with some of the finest sake of the region.


Accommodation: Japanese inn with onsen thermal hot spring baths.
Meals: Breakfast, lunch & dinner.
Total walking: 4km (2.5 miles).
Total elevation gain: 251m (823ft).


Day 5 Oku-Hida - Matsumoto

After breakfast, we visit the Fukuji Onsen’s intriguingly eclectic morning market before transferring to Matsumoto, from where onward journey by train to Nagoya, Tokyo and Kyoto is easily accomplished. The Walk Japan Tour Leader will be on hand to assist you with travel arrangements.


Accommodation: N/A.
Meals: Breakfast
Total walking: N/A.


This itinerary is subject to change.

The itinerary for the Onsen Gastronomy: Gifu & Nagano tour is ground-only, beginning in Nagoya and ending in Matsumoto.

The airport closest to the tour’s start at Nagoya is Nagoya’s Central Japan Airport. Transport is also easily made from Osaka’s Kansai International Airport and Tokyo’s Narita and Haneda International Airports.

From Nagoya’s Central Japan International Airport, Meitetsu Line trains depart for Nagoya. The journey costs about JPY1,340 per person and takes approximately 40 minutes.
From Osaka’s Kansai International Airport, Haruka Express trains depart to Shin-Osaka Station, where shinkansen bullet trains then depart for Nagoya. The journey costs about JPY8,300 per person and takes approximately 2 hours.
From Tokyo’s Haneda International Airport, Keikyu Line trains depart for Shinagawa Station, where shinkansen bullet trains depart for Nagoya. The journey costs about JPY11,090 per person and takes approximately 2 hours.
From Tokyo’s Narita International Airport, Narita Express trains depart for Tokyo Station, where Shinkansen bullet trains depart for Nagoya. The journey costs about JPY13,470 per person and takes approximately 3 hours.
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 not to book themselves out on an early morning flight at the end of the tour, as the journey from Matsumoto to the nearest international airport takes approximately 3 hours 30 minutes.

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