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Fitness: ★  Skill: ●

 

  • On our Izumo, Iwami Ginzan & Gonokawa River Trail, primarily focusing on Shimane Prefecture, you can immerse yourself in the mythological heartland of Japan, navigating a route that will take you from the coast all the way inland to riverside communities and mountain trails.
  • Learn about the history and culture of Izumo, the ‘land of the Gods’.
  • Walk around the UNESCO World Heritage listed village of Iwami Ginzan, famed for its silver mines.
  • Meet local craftsmen and artists, hear their stories and try your hand at traditional pottery and mask painting.
  • Watch a kagura performance, a traditional theatrical art, and even try on costumes and try some moves.
  • Hear about the history of the Sanko Rail Line, which was permanently closed in early 2018.
  • Try delicious fresh and local produce, including sake.
  • Walk through some of Shimane’s most breathtaking natural landscapes intertwined with local communities, from coastal ports to small villages whose hillsides are shaped by rice terraces.
  • Kayak in the Gonokawa River.

 

Izumo, Iwami Ginzan & Gonokawa River Trail is a fully guided tour suitable for anyone who can walk for 1 to 5 hours. This is a 7 day, 6 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.

Shimane Prefecture, like its neighbouring regions, has a rich history of kagura. Thought to be the oldest form of performance art in Japan, the brightly adorned costumes of the dancers reenacting mythological stories in time to the lively beat of accompanying musicians is a must-see experience. There are also still a handful of craftsmen who specialise in the crafts involved in kagura, on this tour you will have the chance to meet a kagura mask craftsman.

Another key feature of this tour is the Gonokawa River, the biggest river in Chugoku. Before the introduction of rail, the river was the key mode of transport for merchants and as such there are many towns and villages along the way, including Gotsu. As well as this riverside landscape, you can enjoy a wide array of natural landscapes on this trip, including the Sea of Japan coast in both Izumo and Yunotsuokidomari, as well as beautiful villages shaped by the rice fields that they live by in Kamita and Kaizumi. It is with these locally harvested rice paddies and natural spring waters that the two breweries that we visit produce their sake from, Ikezuki Sake Brewery and Tamazakura Sake Brewery, where you will be able to hear about the sake brewing process and taste a variety of products.

Lastly, there is one more narrative important to this tour, which is that of the Sanko Rail Line. Permanently closed in spring 2018, the Sanko Line had been an important route between Gotsu and Miyoshi (in Hiroshima Prefecture) from 1930, covering a distance of 108km. One station in particular, Uzui, is famous for being the tallest unmanned stations in Japan. At Uzui, we will hear more about the story of the Sanko Line.

 

Modern Lives In Mythic Japan

Day 1 Hiroshima~Izumo~Okuizumo

The tour will start at 8am at the 2nd floor shinkansen (bullet train) ticket barriers of Hiroshima Station. After a short briefing we will take a chartered coach to the coastal town of Izumo in Shimane Prefecture, known as the ‘Land of the Gods’.

Our first stop will be to Izumo Grand Shrine, considered to be one of the oldest and most important shinto shrines in Japan. It is believed that every year, thousands of deities across the country gather here in order to decide the fate of lovers across Japan. Here, the guide will talk about why Izumo is considered to be the mythological heartland of Japan. There will also be an opportunity to walk along the street leading up to the entrance of the shrine which has many cafes, gift shops and food stalls.

For lunch, we will have the famous locally produced soba (buckwheat) noodles, a delicacy of the region. After a lunch we will take a walk to Inasanohama Beach where you can see Bentenjima, a small island in walking distance at low tide. Here, you will hear about the significance of this beach at its relation to Izumo Grand Shrine.

From Izumo, we will head to Okuizumo to Tatara Tokenkan, an iron and katana (traditional Japanese sword) museum where you can enjoy watching a martial arts sword display, have a go at beating iron into a blade, and hear about why this region is famous for its iron.

Our accommodation for tonight will be at a family run guesthouse with Japanese style futon bedding.

 

Accommodation: Japanese guesthouse

Meals: Lunch and dinner provided

Total walking: 2 hours

Total elevation gain: N/A

 

Day 2 Okuizumo~Iwami Ginzan~Yunotsu Onsen

After a traditional Japanese breakfast, we will head to Iwami Ginzan to explore the UNESCO World Heritage listed village renowned for its silver mines and well preserved samurai village.

We will take a walk covering the old samurai quarter, from the former magistrates office to the old style machiya houses, Gohyakurakan, the site of hundreds of Buddhist statues dating back to the 18th century, as well as heading into the silver mines themselves at Ryogenjimabu, which marks the mabu (mouth) of one of hundreds of mines dotting the area.

After lunch at a local cafe, we will make our way to a pottery workshop. Here, you can try your hand at either moulding or painting, as well as learn about the significance of pottery in this region. We will then head out for our second walk of the day, to Yunotsuokidomari, a port used for exporting the mined silver overseas – on the way, we will pass through a beautiful natural bamboo forest.

Following our walk, we will take a short drive to Yunotsu Onsen, a small cosy hot spring town and the location of our accommodation for the night, a ryokan (traditional inn). The natural hot springs here are known to do wonders for aches and pains, don’t miss taking a soak! After a full course dinner of fresh and local dishes, we will take a short stroll down the road to Tatsunogozen Shrine where we will enjoy a kagura performance. Kagura is a traditional theatrical performance featuring vibrantly adorned dancers depicting mythological tales accompanied by lively music – an art that is particularly strong in this region.

 

Accommodation: Ryokan

Meals: Breakfast, lunch and dinner provided

Total walking: 5 hours

Total elevation gain: 392m

 

Day 3 Yunotsu Onsen~Gotsu

Early risers are welcome to take a dip in Motoyu Onsen down the street before breakfast (they are open from 5am!). After breakfast, we will take the coach to the kagura mask workshop of the legendary Mr. Kobayashi. Here you can try your hand painting a kagura mask – one that may even have featured in the previous night’s performance – and hear about the history and craft of kagura mask making. We will then head to the riverside merchant town of Gotsu where we will stop for lunch before exploring the town.

Highlights of Gotsu are Yamabe Jingu Shrine and its scrolls depicting the birth of Japan, taking a walk along the Gotsuhonmachi Highway and hearing about the history of the town, and dropping by a one hundred year old dorayaki (traditional pancake ‘sandwich’) bakery where you can try and buy a variety of sweets.

From Gotsu we will head up to a mountain-top hotel resort, an option for our accommodation for the night and also the location of a traditional washi (Japanese paper) workshop. You can choose a variety of items to make, such as a fan, a lantern or a postcard, which you can decorate with flowers you collect yourself!

 

Accommodation: Resort hotel or ryokan

Meals: Breakfast, lunch and dinner provided

Total walking: 2 hours

Total elevation gain: 20m

 

Day 4 Gotsu~Misato~Kawamoto

Our first activity this morning is a trek along part of the Ginzan Highway, a historic trail that was once used to transfer silver from Iwami Ginzan to Hiroshima around 120 km away. You can imagine yourself walking in the footsteps of thousands of merchants, a journey that is thought to have taken around four nights in total.

We will stop for lunch in the riverside town of Misato where you can try local delicacies such as wild boar if the season is right! After lunch, we will kayak along the Gonokawa River nearby, taking in the beautiful scenery from the water. You may even catch a glimpse of local wildlife of which there is plenty.

Following a rewarding afternoon in 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.

 

Accommodation: Hotel

Meals: Breakfast, lunch and dinner provided

Total walking: 3 hours

Total elevation gain: 80m

 

Day 5 Kawamoto~Uzui~Asuna~Onan

After a light breakfast, we will have an early morning zen meditation session at Choko-ji Temple, a short distance outside of Kawamoto. Learn the art of meditation and the calming ritual of Buddhist script calligraphy.

We will then drive to the small village of Uzui where we will enjoy a lunch feast lovingly made 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 about the history of Uzui Station and the activities being developed to revive this quiet town. Following Uzui, we will head to Ikezuki Sake Brewery in Asuna. You will have the chance to tour the brewery, learn about the sake making process and taste a range of their products. This brewery is known for its cold sake, produced using only local rice crops and the purest spring water.

We will then head to Kandani, a beautiful village with picturesque rice terraces sculpting the landscape. Here, we will walk from Kamita to Kaizumi, Hasumi – said to be the town ‘closest to heaven’. Here, we will hear about the social problems surrounding depopulation and an aging population, and on a lighter note, about the famous its famous peach blossom.

After dinner at our accommodation, we will make our way to the dance practice of a local kagura troupe. You can watch a practice up close, try on costumes and have a go on the drums, as well as talk to the performers and hear about how they got into kagura.

 

Accommodation: Japanese style hotel

Meals: Breakfast, lunch and dinner provided

Total walking: 2 hours

Total elevation gain: 176m

 

Day 6 Onan~Miyoshi

On our final full day, we will head to the rice terrace villages of Hirasa and Ueda where we will walk down to the Gonokawa River. As we explore the area, the guide will talk about how these 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 be able to both try and buy this unique sake. Tamazakura’s sake is aged for a few years until it has a rich flavour and golden hue, which is then best served warm – particular nice in colder months! Our last stop of the day will be to a kid’s club in Onan where you will be able to enjoy a cultural exchange with local children, taking part in a variety of hands-on activities. From here, we will drive to Miyoshi, a town in Hiroshima Prefecture where our last night’s accommodation will be. In the summer months, you will have the opportunity to watch the exciting practice of cormorant fishing, famous in the region.

 

Accommodation: Hotel or ryokan

Meals: Breakfast, lunch and dinner provided

Total walking: 2 hours

Total elevation gain: 20m

 

Day 7 Miyoshi~Hiroshima

After breakfast, we will head to Miyoshi Mononoke Museum, a museum dedicated to the folklore and art of Japanese ghosts, ghouls and superstitious creatures! Following a spooky trip to Japan’s mystical past, we will take a leisurely stroll along Miyoshi’s historic streets to lunch.

From lunch, we will drive back to Hiroshima Station where the tour will disband at around 2pm.

Meals: Breakfast and lunch provided
Total walking: 1 hour

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.

 

Okuizumo

 

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.

  1. :

    Heartland Japan gave us a truly unique opportunity to experience authentic Japanese culture in a setting most foreigners rarely get to see. An unforgettable experience.

    Reply
  2. :

    Leave the chaos of Tokyo behind and see the slower pace of rural Japan on this tour in Shimane Prefecture. The natural beauty, the cultural heartland of a diverse country and the warm reception of locals will show you that there is more to Japan than the tourist hotspots.

    Reply
  3. :

    Heartland Japan goes beyond sightseeing to offer an unforgettable, interactive experience with a pulse.

    Reply
  4. :

    Travel is not only what you see but also how it makes you feel.

    Reply
  5. :

    The Heartland Japan Tour lifts the curtain on the real Japan: local people in their communities living with respect for their environment and their culture as they have done for hundreds of years

    Reply
  6. :

    I felt on each day that I was traveling as a local, seeing and experiencing special things that other tourists traveling in Japan’s big cities or in large groups might never be so lucky to experience.

    Reply
  7. :

    The Izumo, Iwami Ginzan & Gonokawa River Trail packs in fascinating historic sites, fun cultural experiences and insightful interactions with local people. Even after 10 years in Japan, my time on the tour was truly memorable, thanks to its unique elements in an off-the-beaten-track destination.

    Reply
  8. :

    Definitely a different experience and a different face of Japan that is worth seeing.

    Reply
  9. :

    When you think of a cultural immersion trip in Japan, think Shimane!

    Reply
  10. :

    An immersive and fascinating glimpse into Japanese culture that can only be had by leaving the major cities behind.

    Reply
  11. :

    This was my first trip in Japan. Having experienced the strong culture, traditions, history and natural beauty of the rural Shimane Prefecture with Heartland Japan before heading to Tokyo and Kyoto, I left Japan feeling that I’d had a rare opportunity to see and understand real Japan. On my next trip I will incorporate another rural area of this fascinating country and see it with Heartland Japan.

    Reply
  12. :

    Unique immersive experiences – be served tea and pastries by a 3rd generation master baker in his kitchen; follow in the footsteps of samurai hiking ancient trails through the mountains and forests; walk with a rice farmer through his fields and learn the history of the region; taste sake with the brewer and his family as you are shown how the best sake is made; join rehearsals with a local drum troupe or Kagura performers.

    Just some of the unique and special experiences on offer – all with Heartland Japan.

    Reply
  13. :

    Heartland Japan offers an authentic opportunity to experience the beauty of nature, the richness of culture, and the warmth of the Japanese people.

    Reply

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