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Colors of Autumn in Tohoku

TERMS AND CONDITIONS

Price is based on double or twin hotel room occupancy and includes accommodation, transfers, car/driver, English-speaking guide, activities and entrance fees, breakfasts and some dinners at your Ryokan, JR Bullet Train transfer from Tokyo to Koriyama Station in Gran Class, hiking guide for select days. 

 

Flights and optional special activities will be quoted separately. Most personal expenses, including dinners, alcoholic beverages, spa treatments and gratuities can be paid on the spot while traveling. Prices may vary depending on season, choice of accommodation and other factors.

FROM $25,200 PER PERSON
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DURATION

14 days | 13 nights

DESTINATIONS

Japan

INTERESTS

Cuisine,
Amazing Landscapes

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HIGHLIGHTS

·      Matsushima Bay: This bay dotted with pine-filled islands and red-lacquered traditional bridges is beautiful in the summer, but during the fall it becomes even more striking.

·      Mt. Hakkoda: From the mountain summit above or Lake Towada below, the autumnal scenery is beautiful, and the gentle hiking paths are a wonderful way to experience them.

·      Kakunodate: This former samurai village is home to preserved traditional homes and cultural artifacts that date back hundreds of years and shed light on Japan’s famed warrior class.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

Perfect for travelers hoping to pair outdoor sightseeing with a mixture of relaxation, culture, and cuisine, this 14-day long excursion through Japan’s scenic Tohoku Region displays the best the region has to offer at a leisurely pace. The highlight is the autumnal foliage, which comes out in force around October to November. You can see mountainous areas like Urabandai transformed by the fall, and the incredible contrast between warm-colored leaves and the intense blue of Lake Towada’s waters. In addition to sightseeing out in the natural world, you’ll also get to visit a number of cultural heritage sites that range from one-of-a-kind Buddhist pagodas to traditional Japanese castles. By taking you through a great number of places, the itinerary also gives visitors the opportunity to tastes a number of local specialty dishes ranging from noodles to sushi.

DAY-TO-DAY

DAY 1: Tokyo

After landing in Tokyo, you will be privately transferred to your hotel. Tokyo is the dynamic capital of Japan that features wonderfully preserved temples and gardens, some of the best food in the world, and a bold approach to fashion. The iconic Mount Fuji dominates the skyline of this economic and cultural powerhouse of a city, beautifully complimenting its modern architecture. We recommend staying at the Peninsula Tokyo or Aman Tokyo, and if time permits you can wander about this exciting city. 

DAY 2: Aizuwakamatsu, Fukushima

You’ll take a bullet train to Aizu-Wakamatsu this morning. The trip takes two and a half hours, and by the afternoon you’ll find yourself exploring the Aizu Sazaedo temple, a wooden pagoda built in 1796 that features a one-of-a-kind double-helix design. This pagoda allows visitors and Buddhist patrons alike to ascend and descend its four stories without ever encountering a person walking in the opposite direction. The temple is built on Mount Iimori, which takes on beautiful autumnal colors during this time of year; but the reds and yellows are arguably even better displayed at your next stop, Tsuruga Castle, where a beautifully curated park of gently sloping hills and tranquil bodies of water surrounds the traditional Japanese castle. There are also a number of stands selling Agemanju buns — little steamed cakes with a sweet filling that are sold nearby and are definitely worth trying. For lunch, we recommend you try a katsu sauce meal, which features fried pork and rice with this rich flavoring. Come the evening, you’ll stroll through Nanukamachi, a street lined with shops selling crafts, homemade sweets, and souvenirs. Later, you’ll retire to your ryokan to enjoy an authentic, multi-course kaiseki dinner, a staple component of Japanese ryokan luxury.

DAY 3: Aizuwakamatsu, Fukushima

Today you’ll spend the whole day exploring Urabandai, which is a little under an hour outside of Aizu and a major highlight of the trip. Located behind Mt. Bandai, this picturesque region is known for its gentle walking paths, peaceful lakes, and mountainous horizon, but during the fall its beauty increases exponentially. Glorious reds, oranges, and yellows fill the treetops and wonderfully compliment the unique blues of the lakes below and the crisp autumn sky above. You’ll take the Goshikinuma Walk, which is a gentle, flat walking course that meanders between the “Five Colored Lakes” of Urabandai. The walk takes about an hour, and later you’ll take a scenic drive along the Bandai-Azuma Lake that offers spectacular sweeping views of the highland areas, lakes below, and Nakatsugawa Gorge. There are a number of other trails to take around Urabandai, and time permitting, those wanting to hike can even make their way up to the top of Mt. Bandai to look out across the scenery below.

DAY 4: Aizuwakamatsu, Fukushima

This morning you’ll head over to Ouchijuku, a former post town that has been meticulously restored and today pays homage to Edo Period (1603 – 1868) culture. Surrounded by mountainous areas, the town takes on a special beauty when the leaves change colors in the fall. Thatched-roof houses line streets made of pounded dirt, and there are great dishes to enjoy here like negisoba, a type of noodle dish where you use the stalk of a green onion as chopsticks. Various shops and stores are filled with lacquerware, dolls, and other curious local goods, and the Ouchi Town Museum is filled with more than 1,500 cultural artifacts from the Edo Period. There’s also the Minatogawa-ya souvenir store where you can paint your own akabeko doll. In the afternoon, you’ll stop by Kitakata. There are a number of great dishes for lunch here, including the famous Kitakata ramen noodles or, if you can manage, the Kitakata Ramen Burger. You’ll make a quick stop at the curious Kitakata Ramen Museum & Shrine to learn more about what you just ate before you head to one of the town’s award-winning Sake Breweries (either Homare or Yamatogawa) to tour, learn, and taste. You'll also stop by the Kura-no-sato warehouse museum to learn about the importance of Edo Era residential warehouses. We recommend picking up some local miso and soy sauce while in town, which have reduced, and often no, preservatives.

DAY 5: Naruko Onsen, Miyagi

You’ll set out early today on a three-hour drive headed toward Shiogama, the city known for having the highest density of sushi restaurants in Japan. Specifically, the Shiogama Fish Market, near the wharves, is the site of the city’s hectic wholesale seafood market and is home to roughly 140 on-site shops and stalls that offer a large variety of seafood products. While there, you can enjoy lunch at one of the fish market’s sushi restaurants or make your own seafood bowl. After lunch, you’ll take a boat cruise over to the famous Matsushima Bay. This bay has been lauded for its picturesque waters that are dotted with pine-filled islands that become especially beautiful in the winter when autumnal colors grace the bay. Red-lacquered bridges connect islands and the mainland while also adding an extra touch of beauty to the area. Once you arrive in Matsushima itself, you will stop by Zuiganji and Entsuin temples, which are particularly striking in the fall. Both temples are Buddhist and were built in the 9th and 17th Centuries, respectfully. That night, indulge in all-you-can-eat oysters at one of the kakigoya oyster huts. Prepared raw, grilled, and even deep-fried, the oysters here are not only deliciously prepared, they are also a result of nutrient-rich waters that imbue them with an especially succulent taste. Make your way to Naruko Onsen for the evening.

DAY 6: Naruko Onsen, Miyagi

Today is a full day of touring around Naruko Gorge, one of the most sought-after destinations for viewing autumnal foliage in Japan. Walking along the 2.5-kilometer walking course that meanders beside the ravine's river, you'll catch wonderful views of this famous leaf-viewing destination. Of particular interest is the Ofukazawa Bridge, which is surrounded by trees and exposed rock faces. After enjoying a picnic lunch, there is also the Jigokudani walking trail to explore, which takes about 30 minutes and is lined by hot spring waters and steam vents expelling vapor from the ground. Next, you’ll stop by the Kokeshi Museum to learn about the art of producing kokeshi dolls, a type of little figurine adorned with floral patterns and smiling faces. You’ll even get the opportunity to paint one of your own. Then it’s off to sample kuri dango, steamed and boiled rice balls coated in chestnut paste, with a cup of tea at a local rice cake shop before you return to your hotel to enjoy the onsen hot spring bath.

DAY 7: Kakunodate, Akita

This morning you’ll set off on a two-hour drive to Kakunodate, a former samurai stronghold of Akita Prefecture that remains largely intact today. That said, in the fall it takes on a particularly stunning look as the traditional black gates and the reddened autumnal leaves contrast with the structures. You will peacefully wander around the streets of its samurai district, or even be carted around in rickshaws, and if interested, you can also rent kimonos to wear during the excursion. Within the samurai district, step inside and explore the Aoyagi and Ishiguro houses. These are both residences of formerly important samurai class families with hundreds of years of history and are filled with numerous antique cultural items. Later, you’ll make your way to Denshokan Museum, where you can see renowned birch craft works of Akitain a traditional setting, and then you’ll take a quick stop by the Ando Workshop, which makes miso and shoyu (soy sauce) — it also offers samples. Tonight, you’ll unwind in your ryokan accommodation. Hot spring waters await you in your private, indoor/outdoor bath, and the deck is wonderful for stargazing. Consider checking out kiritanpo nabe, pounded rice that can be toasted over an open hearth or served in dumpling soups, for dinner tonight, especially if the weather is chilly. Once the sun has completely fallen, if you wish, you can stroll around the town at night to check out the illuminated trees.

DAY 8: Kakunodate, Akita

It’s up to Lake Tazawa today, a picturesque caldera lake with stunning sapphire blue waters that interact spectacularly with the surrounding autumnal foliage. You can enjoy the scenery by taking a rowboat or pedal-boat across the waters, or you can cycle around the 12 miles of level roads that circle the lake. There are some shrines and a famous statue by sculptor Yasutake Funakoshi to check out along the way. In the afternoon, you’ll head to the Dakigaeri Gorge, a former logging site known for its distinctive blue mountain stream, primeval forest vegetation, and small waterfalls that line the path. The area takes on a wonderfully warm color pallet during the fall, and as you walk along logging tunnels and bridges that hug the cliff edges you’ll get a wonderful look at the gorge’s natural beauty that is capped off by the impressive Mikaeri Waterfall.

DAY 9: Morioka, Iwate

After taking a one-and-a-half-hour morning drive, you’ll end up in Morioka, where you will spend the rest of the day touring. Your first stop is Iwate Castle Park, which was once home to the Morioka Castle that burned down in the 17th Century and was never rebuilt. Today, though, the castle’s unique granite ramparts are still available, and a shady area with trees and tranquil paths lines its former grounds. After strolling around the park for a while, you’ll head to the Morioka Handi-Works Square to see traditional arts and handiworks that range from ornate teapots to little figurines. You can watch many of the crafts here being made firsthand. On-site workshops produce local specialties like Reimen and Nanbu-senbei — an iconic noodle and a salty type of biscuit, respectfully — are also produced here, and you can taste them freshly made. For lunch, try Wanko Soba, the local approach to noodles where you are served a bowl with one mouthful at a time that the server will continually refill until you indicate you’ve had your fill. You can also take the Wanko Soba where, after you’ve given up, they will present you with a plaque indicating how many bowls you were able to eat. 15 bowls are equivalent to one regular sized bowl, and the record is 345. You’ll also stop by the Sakurayama Shrine and Hoonji Temple today, and for dinner, if you’re up for more noodles, you can try jajamen to eat the third of the “Three Great Noodles of Morioka” in one day. This noodle is more complex, with thick, creamy noodles, greens, and some protein. Consider checking it out at Pairon, the original site of the dish.

DAY 10: Oirase Stream, Aomori

You’ll head to Hachimantai this morning. The drive takes an hour and passes along the scenic Aspite Line Route, which curves along the flank of the mountain and affords wonderful views of the volcanic belt filled with small ponds and unique Maries' fir forests. Along the way, you’ll stop at the summit of Mt. Hachimantai. There are a number of easy walking routes there that take 40 minutes to two hours to complete. These paths wind past a number of small lakes and marshlands before reaching Hachiman-numa Pond. Beneath the area’s beautiful fall foliage, you can sit down to enjoy a picnic lunch. Your next stop is Goshogake Onsen, a part of Towada-Hachimantai National Park. Walking trails here slide past bubbling mud ponds, hissing sulfur vents, and hot water streams. There are also gender-separated hot springs bathing facilities here. Afterward, you will head north two hours to Oirase Stream where you will enjoy an evening at leisure.

DAY 11: Oirase Stream, Aomori

Go for a bike ride today along the river, headed toward Lake Towada. Along the way you’ll see fantastic waterfalls, and upon reaching the lake you can cycle around it. The lake is considered one of the best places in Japan to see the autumnal foliage, and from an observation deck you can judge for yourself as you look across sweeping views of the lake with Mt. Hakkoda lining the horizon. You can take a sightseeing cruise around the lake if you wish; these are one of the best ways to experience its scenic beauty. After a full day of biking, you have the rest of the day at leisure. There are a number of natural walking trails along the stream that are easily accessible from your hotel, should you decide to explore more during the evening.

DAY 12: Oirase Stream, Aomori

After looking up at Mt. Hakkoda the day before, today you will get the chance to look down from Mt. Hakkoda across Lake Towada and the surrounding scenery. After a morning drive up to the base of the mountain, the Hakkoda ropeway will shoot you up into the vicinity of the summit, but there is still a 30- to 60-minute walk up a natural trail. Lined with marshes and alpine vegetation, the walk is a treat, but the view from the mountain’s peak is, literally, the cherry on the top. At an altitude of 4,330 feet, you can see as far as the Tsugaru Plains, Mutsu Bay, and even Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island. After your descent, you have the rest of the day at leisure. Enjoy soaking in the hotel's natural hot spring bath, contrasted by the crisp mountain air.

DAY 13: Hirosaki, Aomori

Today you’ll start off by taking an hour and a half-long ride to Hirosaki, then you’ll spend the rest of the day touring this cultural center of Aomori Prefecture. As the largest apple producer in Japan, the city is known for its apples, and you should check out the Hirosaki Apple Park to discover how they are made and their cultural mystique. An on-site shop features more than 1,250 apple products. Consider having lunch here. The apple curry and apple soft serve are worth it, and the cider brewery is on-site. Another dining idea is Tsugaru Food Stall Market, which features ten separate food stalls serving local favorites like igamenchi, fried minced squid arms paired with vegetables, and some international options. There is also the Hirosaki Castle Park, which is a true gem in the fall. The three-story castle tower, fortified moats, castle gates, and corner turrets, some of which date back to the 17th Century, are contained within the park that includes water features, gently rolling hills, and vibrant autumnal foliage. Rowboats are available for rent in the central lake, which is great way to experience the park. The city is also home to some national crafts such as Tugaru lacquerware, which you can learn about at the Aomori Lacquerware Federation. There are a number of Western-style buildings throughout the city, and you can taste this influence too, as there are number of great French restaurants in the city worth checking out. Finally, for those with a sweet tooth, be sure to get a slice of apple pie here. With more than 45 confectioners in town, Hirosaki is a bonafide apple pie lover’s mecca.

DAY 14: Departure

This morning you’ll head to Aomori airport. If time permits, grab a bowl of miso milk curry ramen, which is a relatively new dish that often features bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, and wakame seaweed toppings, before boarding the plane. Your flight will take you back to Tokyo where you’ll transfer to your connecting homeward-bound flight.

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