Experience south Japan through its tranquil shrines, magical forests, inspring art, steaming onsen and a lot more

One of Japan’s greatest attractions is its ability to offer up both the modern and traditional versions of itself. Alongside future-focused cities like Osaka and Nagasaki, there are places that have kept to its traditions for hundreds of years, often to stunning effect. Set off on a journey of discovery into the Japan that lies south west of Osaka, a ‘lost Japan’. Travel also to Takamatsu and Naoshima Islands and be amazed at the contrast between the traditional beauty of the Ritsurin garden and the local avant-garde art exhibits.


Start
Osaka, Japan
Finish
Osaka, Japan
Destination
Japan
Style
Original
Theme
Explorer
Code
CJSO
Physical rating
Ages
Min 15
Group size
Min 1, Max 12

Why you'll love this trip

  • Explore the unique island of Naoshima, transformed from a sleepy fishing community into a world class art destination, with sleek and stylish museums and artworks that sit in harmony with the landscape

  • Join locals hiking along trails to hidden temples, being awed at some of the country's impressive castles or in one of Japan's oldest hot spring baths - Dogo Onsen.

  • Feel like Indiana Jones as you cross the kazurabashi (vine bridges) of the hidden Iya Valley, a remote retreat of deep gorges and lush mountains on Shikoku island.

  • Uncover the different characters of the cities of Nagasaki and Osaka, from the former’s thought-provoking Peace Park and Museum to the latter’s busy streets where the motto is ‘eat until you drop’

  • Venture into the thick and mysterious cedar forests on Yakushima, relax at the seaside onsen or see giant turtles lay eggs in the night in the summer months

Is this trip right for you?

  • Japan is best to explore on foot - in fact most travellers are surprised at how much distance they end up covering just exploring places! Make sure your shoes are comfy and you are fit enough to spend most of each day on your feet.

  • In some destinations you may be staying in a ryokan, which is a Japanese-style inn. It’s a great taste of tradition, however not everyone finds futon matresses on the tatami mat floor, tiny bathrooms and proximity to other guests as comfortable as more western-style hotels and beds. Read more about ryokans in our Accommodation section of the Essential Trip Information.

  • Be prepared to pack light and smart for this trip as you'll be required to carry your own luggage between train stations and to hotels, which can include going up and down multiple flights of stairs in crowded areas.

  • As there is not much time included here as part of your trip, we strongly advise you to plan some extra time in Osaka if you wish to see more of the city.

Itinerary

This itinerary is valid for departures from 01 Jan 2019 to 31 Dec 2019.
View the 2018 itinerary
Konnichiwa! Welcome to Osaka, Japan. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm where you'll meet your tour guide and fellow travellers. You can arrive at any time during the day, as there are no activities planned until this important meeting. After the meeting, perhaps join your new travel companions for an optional dinner at a local restaurant. Osaka is the unofficial culinary capital, where the motto is 'Kuidaore' ('eat until you drop'), so there’s sure to be a whole host of options on offer. Look out for okonomiyaki (a delicious savoury pancake) and kushikatsu (seasoned, deep fried meat on skewers). Otherwise, you can hit the town on your own or rest up for a big day tomorrow.

Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Special Information
If you can't arrange a flight that will have you arrive in time for today's welcome meeting, you may wish to arrive a day early so you're able to attend. We'll be happy to book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability). If you're going to be late, please inform the hotel reception. We'll be collecting your insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting, so please have these on hand.
Depart Osaka in the morning and begin the journey west. Take the train to Takamatsu. This may be the largest city on the island of Shikoku, but it's a beautifully unpretentious town full of history, top-notch food and interesting local art. Here you may pay a visit to Ritsurin Garden, one of the most beautiful gardens in the country. Dating back to the Edo period, it comprises many ponds, pavillions and historic trees, with a western garden an addition to the Japanese one.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
In the morning, take a ferry to Naoshima Island, which is famous for its modern art galleries, architecture and museum. Explore the island, using a public bus or bicycle to take you between the different galleries and installations. This is a totally unique and tranquil experience, in which you slip off your shoes to enter dreamlike exhibits. Wander between artworks, hear the sound of waves lapping at beaches, and stumble unexpectedly upon outdoor sculptures.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Special Information
If there are particular art project that you would like to visit on Naoshima Island, it's best to check their official website for the opening time and days to plan your time ahead.
It's back on the train and off to the small town of Kotohira, which is famous for Kompirasan, Shikoku's most popular shrine. Popular with pilgrims, Kompirasan is dedicated to seafaring, and although the approach to the shrine is not particularly straightforward, it's well worth the effort. Climb the 785 steps to the main hall and take in views overlooking Kotohira Town (and check out a real submarine on display).
Accommodation
  • Guesthouse (1 night)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Take a day trip to the secluded Iya Valley. Explore its winding passes and head to the atmospheric Kazurabashi, which translates to ‘vine bridge’. When the Heike clan fled here some 800 years ago, they built these bridges as the only way to span the gorges and Iya river; if they were attacked then they could cut the vines at a moment’s notice. Only three of these bridges remain, and they look like something out of Indiana Jones. An optional activity is to visit the restored thatched-roof samurai house, which lies at the top of a steep valley slope by towering cedar. This was once the home of village leaders, and now offers displays of samurai armour and superb views over the valley.
Accommodation
  • Guesthouse (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Iya Valley - Iya Valley day tour
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Pack an overnight bag for your stop tonight at Matsuyama (your main luggage will be forwarded to Yakushima). In your free time, perhaps visit the hill-top Matsuyama castle, one of Japan's finest castles. To get up up there, take the ropeway (chairlift). Alternatively, there's a nice pathway if you'd rather walk. Unlike most castles in Japan, this one has an interesting collection of artefacts inside, so take the chance to check them out and learn a little more about Matsuyama's history. Later maybe relax and unwind at the beautiful Dogo Onsen, one of the oldest bath houses in Japan. 
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Prepare for a full day travel as you make your way towards Yakushima, arriving in in the afternoon. A remote island even by Japanese standards, the journey is well worth the effort. Much of its adundant natural resources have been preserved without exploitation, making it particularly picturesque. The forests of Yakushima are said to have inspired the forest setting in Hayao Miyazaki's film Princess Mononoke, and it's easy to see why. Its ancient cedar trees and shady green splendour are a delight to behold, and at times give the feeling of walking through another world. Your stay in Yakushima will most certainly be one full of magic.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Set off on a trek through the lush green forests of Yakushima (approximately 2.5 hours). Afterwards, kick back and relax. In the summer season, Nagata Inakahama Beach, the best beach on the island, is the place to be. Here, when it's the season, giant turtles lay their eggs in the sand at night. There's the option to see the turtles in the night (through authority–approved tours). Alternatively, spend free time soaking in the onsens by the sea.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Yakushima - forest trekking
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Say goodbye to the magical forests in Yakushima and jump back on the hydrofoil and train to Nagasaki. Though its name has strong connotations of bombs and war – and the military history sites are important to visit – Nagasaki a delight to explore, with its hills, harbour, churches and temples. Maybe take a stroll around Peace Park, or read up on what happened here at the Atomic Bomb Museum, an essential visit for any visitor.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
With a free day up your sleeve and a tram pass at your disposal, take the time to explore Nagasaki. Consider heading over to Dejima. This fascinating artificial island, once a Dutch trading post (and the sole foreign presence in the whole country at one point) is well worth exploring. The deserted Gunkajima, or Battleship Island, is another interesting choice, with its eerie abandoned concrete buildings and sea wall.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Nagasaki - tram day pass
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Travel back to Osaka (approx. 5 hours). Enjoy some free time in the afternoon and in the evening and join your leader for a final celebration of your time in Japan (optional).
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
The trip comes to an end this morning. There are no planned activities today.
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.

Meals

No meals are included on this tour

Transport

Train, Ferry, Public Bus, Private bus, Metro, Bullet Train

Accommodation

Hotel/Ryokan (11nights)

Included activities

  • Iya Valley - Iya Valley day tour
  • Yakushima - forest trekking
  • Nagasaki - tram day pass

Dates & availability

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There are currently no scheduled departures on our Southern Japan Experience trip. If you are interested in other trips in the region visit one of the links below.

Prices may change, so secure your trip today!
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Important notes

1. A 14 day Japan Rail Pass is included in the price of your trip. For those wishing to stay and travel longer in Japan, an Japan Rail Pass Extension (total 21 days) is available.
2. A Single Supplement is currently not available for this trip due to limited rooms at many of our properties.
3. Due to the rapid increase in tourism in Japan and in the lead up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics it has been necessary to go outside our traditional tour leader sources. As a result our passionate, professional and trained tour leaders may be local Japanese or long term foreign residents in Japan.

Essential trip information

Want an in-depth insight into this trip? Essential Trip Information provides a detailed itinerary, visa info, how to get to your hotel, what's included - pretty much everything you need to know about this adventure and more.

View Essential Trip Information