Your Ultimate Guide to Japan

By Jules Torti | July 24, 2023

It’s beguiling. Enchanting. Mystical. It’s a tightly wrapped sushi roll of juxtapositions. From the enigmatic Hello Kitty craze to elegant thousand-year-old bonsai, Japan is a perplexing combination of neon-lit modernity and deep wilderness. Ancient pilgrimage routes like the 790km (491 mile) Kumano Kodo network thread through bamboo stands, terraced rice fields, and the mountainous Kii peninsula to grand shrines where purification was sought.


Japan Tea Ceremony

Buddhism, Zen and Shugendo religion (a form of mountain asceticism-shamanism) are rooted in ancient healing practices, stone pillars, mountain temples, elaborate tea ceremonies and imposing shrines.

From a rural tea plantation to thunderous taiko drumming demonstration, you’ll witness the talents of Japanese women who are carrying on generational traditions and Japanese heritage through sound, art, tea, pottery and sushi!

On both the Sacred Japan and Japan Pilgrimage Trail itineraries you’ll experience the simplicity of a tatami stay. These traditional Japanese rooms have tatami (Japanese rush reed) flooring with sliding doors (fusuma) versus hinged doors. You’ll also experience the rejuvenating powers of the onsens (hot springs). Please note: Etiquette surrounding Japan’s bathing culture is strict in certain regions–if you have a tattoo, onsen policies may not allow you to enter.


Awaken all your senses through history, religion, tradition and new flavours. Torn between the two itineraries? You can do both, back to back! This is the Japan you didn’t know you were dreaming of and you’ll be experiencing it all in the camaraderie of Wild Women who are just as curious and tempted by Japan’s secrets as you are!


Japan Pilgrimage Trail

10 days
Arrive/Depart: Osaka Kansai International Airport (KIX)

This is a spiritual suspension into the enlightened paths and natural connection that revolves around legend, Zen approaches, Buddhist lessons, organics and meditation. Meditation and reflection are the foundation of Japan–and the ancient Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route is testament to this. Over the course of four days, you’ll walk 29km (18 miles) of this UNESCO-designated path on peaceful sections from Takahara to the Nachi Grand Shrine.

Walk this way: On the Nakahechi trail you’ll see relics of history in the abandoned beehives, a former tea house, shrine gates and charcoal-making kilns. We will be joined by a few female yamabushi (mountain ascetics who practice the religion of Shugendo).

On the Chioschi Michi route, walk a grounding 14km (8.7 mile) section of the 24km (15 mile) trail known for its 180 stone pillars (known as chioshi) that pepper the trail.

On the lotus flower-shaped Women’s Pilgrimage Course, you’ll see the seven traditional sacred precinct shrines. Women were forbidden to enter the Koyasan in the past and were only permitted glimpses of the holy sites. This grounding journey follows ribbons of streams, old-growth forest, historic shrines and time-worn deities and iconic red torii gates of the Kii mountains.
Walk along the short and sweet Philosopher’s Path (2km/1.2 miles) that runs parallel to a small canal that is popular during the cherry blossom festival at the end of March. This famed meditative path is where Nishida Kitaro used to walk. Kitaro is a famous philosopher who taught at Kyoto University and founded the Kyoto School of Philosophy.

At Mt. Hiei, you will be joined by a Dai Ajari on the sacred Gyoja Pathway. A Dai Ajari is a priest who has completed an extreme feat of endurance and is considered a living saint or a Buddha within Japan. Only 51 monks have been successful in this training in over 450 years.

Highlight reel:

Soak in Yunomine Onsen. Deep in the belly of the sacred mountains of Kumano, Yunomine it is thought to be one of the oldest hot springs in all of Japan. It is said that the waters change colour seven times over the course of a single day.

Travel in a traditional wooden flat-bottomed boat down the Kumano River to the Kumano Hayatama Taisha Grand Shrine. This river is an object of worship and was historically an essential travel artery for mountain communities and pilgrims alike.

Visit the Silver Pavilion, a Zen temple in Kyoto’s eastern mountains. The surrounding gardens are dominated by a spongy moss and dry sand known as the “Sea of Silver Sand”. There are pockets of ponds, tiny bridges, islands and intriguing plants to photograph here.

What’s on the menu?

At the Eko-in Temple (a Buddhist monastery) enjoy a healthy soul-friendly menu of seasonal vegetables, seaweed, beans and edible wild plants. A regional favourite and Junsei specialty is the yodofu tofu–a hot tofu and kombu (seaweed) dish.

Enjoy a seasonal dinner and Geisha dance performance in Gion, the Geisha district of Kyoto.

Your sweetest sleeps: Four nights will be spent in traditional Washitsu-style accommodations with sliding doors. At the ryokan (Japanese-style inn) Yunominesou, drift off on tatami mats made from Japanese rush grass). At Eko-in Temple, the Buddhist monastery offers morning religious services and Goma prayers, meditation and sutra copying (hand copying Buddhist sutras is said to invite supreme enlightenment) to guests. The serenity and history make for an unforgettable stay.

What you should consider: This trip involves several long (but scenic) train rides and multiple modes of transportation. Daily walking distances vary from 2.2km (1.4 miles) to 14km (8.7 miles) with steep climbs, uneven and potentially slippery, mossy steps; cobblestone and slippery mossy stone steps. Please note: The distance covered on the Kumano Kodo in this trip does not make you eligible for dual pilgrim status if you’ve already walked the minimum 100km (62 miles) on the Camino de Santiago.


Sacred Japan

12 days
Arrive/Depart: Tokyo Haneda International Airport (HND) or Narita International Airport (NRT)

This 12-day immersion into sacred Japan is a beautifully balanced combination of relaxing walks, ebike rides and memorable experiences with local Japanese women involved in tea production, sea cucumber farming and free diving.


Walk this way: On this itinerary you will walk along a 16km(10 mile) section of the Nakasendo Samurai Trail, one of the five historical routes of the Edo period and one of just two that vitally connected Edo to Kyoto.

In the post towns (a station-like rest stop for weary travellers) of Shiojiri and Nagiso, you’ll walk in the ghostly footsteps of monks, merchants and samurais along time-worn mossy cobblestones through rural villages and under the shade of ancient cypress and cedars.

At Shimogamo Shrine, one of the oldest and most important Shinto shrines in Kyoto, you’ll have time to slowly explore the immaculate grounds and see the impressive architecture and design of the buildings that have been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Next to the shrine, meander in the tranquil Tadasu no Mori Forest, beloved for its remarkable 600-year-old trees.This is the truest description of shinrin-yoku or “forest bathing”.

From the highlight reel:

Meet the lean and mean Ama free divers of Osatsu-cho.“Ama” means “woman of the sea” in Japanese and these fearless pros routinely dive down to an astounding depth of 25m (82ft) without the aid of any modern scuba equipment or tools. They collect shellfish, abalone and seaweed in addition to pearls for a living.

Feel the beat (and decibels!) of the Taiko drum in a spirited demonstration by a group of smiley senior Japanese women. You can also try to find your groove with the bachi (drum sticks).

E-bike the Oki Islands! This cluster of islands in the Sea of Japan are part of the Daisen-Oki National Park and only four of the Oki Islands are inhabited. The magnificent cliffs of the Kuniga Coast are also a designated UNESCO Global Geopark. Under this unique classification, sites and landscapes of international geological significance are managed with a holistic concept of protection, education and sustainable development. Currently, there are 195 UNESCO Global Geoparks in 48 countries.

Experience a private tea ceremony with a Geisha!

What’s on the menu?

Try traditional Kyoto cuisine like Kyo-kaiseki or obanzai. Kaiseki revolves around seasonality, freshness, simplicity and visual appeal that is enhanced by colour, texture, garnishes, plating and most importantly, taste. To be considered genuine obanzai, half the ingredients must be grown or processed in Kyoto and consider the five core spiritual elements.

You’ll also visit a Japanese green tea production region in the Asamiya district of southern Shiga and learn about picking, roasting and brewing the perfect cup from women tea farmers.

In Tokyo, enjoy an unforgettable farewell dinner at a female sushi chef’s restaurant.

Your sweetest sleep: In Tsumago, you’ll stay in a traditional Minshuku (Japanese-style inn). This old town is bewitching with its neatly restored lattice wooden houses, tiny shops, charming inns, museums and car-free main road. Local laws prohibit any demonstration of modern life–including parked cars, phone and power lines. How civilized!

Things to consider: On the 2-day Nakasendo Trail, be prepared to walk 8km (5 miles a day). Other walks range from one to four hours long (and the Mount Daisen monk warrior trail is entirely weather dependent) or shorter, during village and shrine visits. On the Day 8 cycling activity in Mount Daisen, expect to ride (mostly downhill) for 3-4 hours. Electric bikes are available and this ride is optional. On Day 10, there is also a cycling tour of the Oki Islands with several rest stops and a lunch break. Like the Japan Pilgrimage Trail, this trip also involves several buses, trains, ferries and planes if you are prone to motion sickness!

Your Japanese Homework

(*Note: The suggested books, films and TV series below pair very, very well with wasabi peas, matcha green tea Pocky sticks, sea salt-dusted edamame and/or take-out spicy crab roll and shrimp ramen noodle soup.)

A Beginner’s Guide to Japan by Pico Iyer. After living in western Japan for 32 years, Iyer said: “To my delight, I know far less than when I arrived. A land of streamlined surfaces gives you very much what you’d expect–and so much you didn’t expect, under the surface, that you don’t know what to do with.”

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, a historical fictional expose of the life of a Geisha set in the 1920s. The book was spun into a film in 2009 and follows 9-year-old Chiyo as she endures years of rigorous training to become the influential Sayuri.

Joanna Lumley’s Japan: Follow Joanna on a gorgeous meander along the Nakasendo Way, Kyoto’s blossoms. From a bullet train to Tokyo to remote pockets of Japan to see the snow monkeys and Fukushima’s exclusion zone, you’ll be captivated by her experience.

James May: Our Man in Japan—this series (available on Amazon Prime) is a comical and insightful navigation of Japanese culture and customs from robot duels and biker gangs to octopus balls, Sumo matches and Zen archery.

Don’t forget the Tokyo-based Bill Murray classic, Lost in Translation, starring Scarlett Johannson and the Japan episode of the Gaycation series hosted by Elliot Page and Ian Daniel. Learn about the rent-a-friend agencies, friendship marriages in Buddhist temples and visit the world’s smallest gay bar!


Are you ready to walk in the ghostly footsteps of monks, merchants and samurais? Join Wild Women as we introduce Japan for the very first time in 2024 and unlock the mystical.

Japan Pilgrimage Trail > View trip [HERE]

Sacred Japan > View trip [HERE]

Renew your senses and spirit on this adventure that offers a big taste of Japan’s traditions, menu, topography, ancient wisdom and pilgrimages. For more information, please contact or call us at 1-888-993-1222.