Enjoy the outdoors and interact with locals in the deep country villages and beautiful rice paddies of the Shimane Prefecture.
Fitness: ★ Skill: ●
- Taste local delicacies such as wild boar in the riverside town of Misato.
- Learn about the history and culture of Izumo, the ‘land of the Gods’.
- Enjoy a Wadaiko (Japanese drum) performance and workshop with a local drumming group.
- Learn the art of meditation and practice calligraphy at an early morning zen meditation session at Choko-ji Temple.
- Visit a Sake Brewery and enjoy tasting the unique products produced there.
This river towns and mountain communities trail is a fully guided tour suitable for anyone who can walk for 1 to 5 hours. This is a 3 day, 2 night tour that will take you on a journey through the mythological heartland of Japan in Shimane Prefecture, part of the Chugoku region of western Japan.
Your tour accommodation will be hotels, guesthouses and ryokan (traditional Japanese inns featuring tatami flooring and futon bedding). The minimum group size for this tour is six persons, and maximum is twelve persons.
The Chugoku region of Japan is most well known for Hiroshima Prefecture but Shimane Prefecture has historically played an important part, shaping Japanese mythological history as well as being a key source of silver during the Edo Period.
Shimane Prefecture is known as being home to ‘the land of the Gods’, the location of which is Izumo, a coastal town in the north of the prefecture. It is thought that the Shinto god of marriage, Okuninushi, lived in Izumo. According to Japan’s two oldest and revered chronicles, Nihon Shoki and Kojiki, which outline myths, legends and oral accounts of the early history of Japan, Okuninushi granted his lands to the grandson of the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu, and in gratitude, gave him what is now thought to be the oldest Shinto shrine, Izumo Taisha. Although the exact date that Izumo Taisha was established is unknown, there is evidence that it was built before the 13th century. A distinctive feature of Izumo Taisha is its shimenawa – a sacred straw rope 13m long and weighing five tonnes – the largest in the whole of Japan. Every year, in the tenth month of the lunar calendar (in October or November), there is a festival welcoming all of the gods of Japan to Izumo, where it is said that they gather to discuss the fate of relationships in the coming year. Thus, while for the rest of Japan, this month is known as Kannazuki, ‘the month without Gods’, in Izumo, this month is known as Kamiarizuki, ‘the month with Gods’.
Iwami Ginzan is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, famous for its 400 year old underground silver mine that ran from 1526 through to 1923, the largest silver mine in Japanese history. Reaching its peak in the 17th century, it was the source of one third of the world’s silver, producing 38 tonnes per year. The town is also known for its well-preserved quaint streets, lined with old-style machiya houses, many of which have now been converted into cafes, shops and guesthouses.
Participants on this tour will have the chance to meet and interact with locals, with the opportunity to hear their stories of life in the region and to discuss the social issues that affect them.
There will also be ample opportunity to take part in immersive activities such as hiking, canoeing, trying Kagura (Japan’s oldest performing art), visiting a Sake brewery and meeting local children, along with time to try the best local cuisine and fresh produce from the heartland of Japan.
Day 1 – Gotsu, Misato and Kawamoto
Today, the group will meet on the 2nd floor of the Shinkansen Ticket Barriers at Hiroshima Station at 7:30am. From there we will travel by chartered bus to the Ginzan Highway, a historic trail used by merchants to transport silver to the coast during the Edo Period.
Lunch will consist of an opportunity to try local delicacies such as wild boar (if the season is right!) at the riverside town of Misato, and will be followed by a kayaking experience along the nearby Gonokawa River, offering you the chance to take in the beautiful scenery from the water and catch a glimpse of the stunning local wildlife.
Following a rewarding afternoon at the river, we will make our way to Kawamoto. Here we will stay at a modern hotel where you can enjoy Japanese style European cuisine with plenty of wine!
After dinner, we will enjoy a Wadaiko (Japanese drum) performance and workshop with a local drumming group.
Meals: Lunch and dinner provided
Day 2 – Kawamoto, Uzui, Asuna and Onan
The second day begins with an early morning zen meditation session at Choko-ji Temple, a short distance from Kawamoto. Here, we will learn about the art of meditation as well as the calming ritual of Buddhist script calligraphy.
Our next stop is the small village of Uzui, where lunch will consist of a feast made lovingly by locals using local seasonal produce. Uzui is famous for its station, the tallest unmanned station in Japan and part of the recently-closed Sanko Line. Following lunch, we will hear the story of Uzui Station and the activities being developed to revive this quiet town.
We will then head on to Kandani, a beautiful village with picturesque rice terraces sculpting the landscape. Here, we will walk from Kamita to Kaizumi Hasumi, which is said to be the town ‘closest to Heaven’, to hear about the social problems that affect the area, such as depopulation and an aging population, as well as the area’s pride – the famous peach blossom.
After dinner at our accommodation, we will then get involved with the dance practice of a local kagura troupe. You can watch the practice up close, try on costumes and even have a go at drumming while talking to the performers and hearing about how they got into kagura.
Meals: Breakfast, lunch and dinner provided
Total walking: 5 hours
Day 3 – Onan and Hiroshima
On our final day, we will head to the rice terrace villages of Hirasa and Ueda, from which we will walk down to the Gonokawa River. As we explore the area, our guide will talk about how the rice terraces came to be made during the production of iron by a method known as “tatara”.
After lunch at a local restaurant, we will visit Tamazakura Sake Brewery where you will have the chance to both try and purchase their unique Sake. Tamazakura’s Sake is aged for a few years until it has a rich flavour and golden hue, and is best served warm – a particularly welcome treat during the colder months!
Our final stop of the day will be a visit to a kid’s club in Onan, where you will have the chance to enjoy a cultural exchange with the local children, taking part in a variety of hands-on activities. From there, it will be time to drive back to Hiroshima Station where the tour will end at 19:00.
Meals: Breakfast and lunch provided
Izumo – Izumo, on the northern coast of Shimane Prefecture, is known as the ‘land of the gods’ and is the origin of many of Japan’s mythological tales. It is particularly famous for being the location of Japan’s oldest Shinto shrine, Izumo Taisha. It is also well known for its soba noodles, which we will enjoy for lunch on the first day.
Iwami Ginzan – Iwami Ginzan is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, listed for the remnants, locations and artefacts relating to the underground silver mines that were used for 400 years until 1923.
Yunotsu Onsen – Yunotsu Onsen is home to many hot spring baths and ryokans. In the evening we will take a stroll to the local shrine where we will enjoy watching an intimate kagura performance.
Gotsu – Gotsu is a city on the Gonokawa River as well as a stop on the Sanko Line. It is the smallest and least populated city in Shimane but it is also home to a wonderful one hundred year old dorayaki pancake shop, a perfect snack on our walk along the Gotsuhonmachi Highway.
Misato – Misato is a small town close to the Ginzan Highway – a route linking Iwami Ginzan with Hiroshima – and is home to a fantastic lodging that serves seasonal meals, which we will enjoy for lunch. It is also the location of Canoe No Sato, where we will enjoy an afternoon of kayaking on the Gonokawa River.
Kawamoto – Kawamoto is a small town in the heart of Shimane where we will enjoy a traditional drumming workshop with a local drumming group, as well as the Zen Buddhist temple of Choko-ji, where we will enjoy a morning meditation session.
Uzui – Uzui is a small village in a picturesque valley on the Sanko Line. Here, you can enjoy a locally produced, freshly cooked feast for lunch.
Oda – Oda is a town home to Ikezuki Sake Brewery as well as a village on the outskirts known as the ‘closest town to heaven’, Hasumi, where you can appreciate the beauty of rice terraces expanding out into the distance.
Onan – Onan is home to the beautiful rice terrace villages of Ueda and Hirasa, steeped in the history of iron production. It is also the locations of Tamazakura Sake Brewery, one of three sake breweries in the region.
Miyoshi – Miyoshi is a town in Hiroshima Prefecture and the last stop on our tour. Here, we will watch cormorant fishing in the summer, and learn about Japan’s historic love of ghosts and ghouls.