Day 1 – Arrival at Okayama and transfer to Takahashi city
Arrive in Okayama by Bullet Train and meet your private guide and driver who will transport you directly to Takahashi city. Start with a visit to the city’s downtown historic district where you can visit former samurai residences, a traditional merchant house, and two folk museums.
Then head to the Raikyuji temple which once served as the residence of Kobori Enshu, a local feudal lord and designer of castles and gardens. He designed his stone garden here at Raikyuji. The garden incorporates elements such as islands representing a crane and turtle (symbols of longevity and health) which he commonly employed in his designs.
And finally visit the Bitchu-Matsuyama Castle which is the oldest surviving castle in Japan. It is also distinguished as the only mountaintop castle among the twelve original castles which have survived the post-Feudal Age intact. At an elevation of 430 meters, it is also Japan’s highest.
Night in Takahashi
Inclusions: Accommodation, private guide, private car and fees.
Day 2 – Day trip to Fukiya Furusato village, visit a winery and cave
Today’s trip will take you to Fukiya Furusato Village. Once a flourishing town thanks to copper mining, this mountain village was famous as a major producer of vivid red “Bengara” color pigment made from oxidized iron. Walking through the street of Fukiya Furusato Village is almost like going back in time, as many of the houses have been beautifully preserved with their red-colored walls. Also, visit the former Fukiya Elementary School. Built in 1873, it operated in its original form until 2012 and was the oldest wooden school in service in the country.
The next stop today is Tetta winery. The 18,000 vines of the Domaine Tetta winery grow on limey soil, which is known for adding a beautiful hint of subtlety to the harvest. The area offers some other advantages too, notably its geographical position close to the mountains and its high sunshine rate. Visit the winery and sample their products over lunch.
Finally, you’ll visit the majestic Ikura-do Cave. One of the largest caves in Western Japan, this limestone cavern is 1.2 km long and features height variations of up to 90m. After entering the caves through the entrance 240m up limestone cliffs, visitors can experience what being an explorer is like as they are greeted with spectacular sights such as “Jellyfish Rock” and other rock formations as well as a 50m tall waterfall.
End of the day, return to Takahashi.
Night in Takahashi
Inclusions: Accommodation, breakfast, Private guide, private car and fees.
Day 3 – Transfer to Takamatsu via Okayama city
After check-out today, your first stop will be Okayama. The city is one of the major commercial, industrial and cultural cities in the Chugoku region. It is nationally known for its celebrated Korakuen Garden and the Okayama Castle.
Along with Kanazawa’s Kenrokuen and Mito’s Kairakuen, Korakuen Garden is ranked as one of Japan’s three best landscape gardens. It is located just beside the impressive black Okayama Castle (aka Raven Castle), which can be seen from the garden as “borrowed scenery”.
From Okayama, you will then take the express train bound for Takamatsu. After check-in at your accommodation, the guide will take you on a tour of the city’s main sights.
One of the most beautiful gardens in Japan, Ritsurin Koen dates from the mid-1600 and took more than a century to complete. Designed as a walking garden, the park winds around ponds, tearooms, bridges and an island.
Next, we will tour the remains of Takamatsu castle. Built in 1590 adjacent to the Seto Inland Sea, it is one of the few Japanese castles built along a waterfront and features saltwater moats that draw directly from the sea.
End of the day at your accommodation in Takamatsu.
Night in Takamatsu
Inclusions: Accommodation, Breakfast, Private guide, transportation and fee.
Day 4 – Day trip to Naoshima
Early morning, take the short ferry ride and arrive at Naoshima, Japan art island. Spend the day walking around the different art structures, museums, and galleries including Red Pumpkin, The Ando Museum, The Chichu Art Museum, and The Benesse House.
Afterward, take the ferry back to Takamatsu and end the tour at your accommodation.
Night in Takamatsu
Inclusions: Accommodation, breakfast, transportation from Takamatsu to Kagoshima and fees.
Day 5 – Day trip to Sodoshima
Today, you will venture to Shodoshima Island for another day trip. After arrival on the island, start the tour with a visit to the Nakayama Senmaida Rice Terraces. These terraces are made up of 800 rice paddies that vary in size from small to large, and which form an elegant curve on the mountainside. The area’s fascinating scenery has been selected as one of the 100 best rice terraces in Japan.
Next, we’ll visit Shōdoshima Olive Kōen, a working olive grove and the birthplace of Japanese olive cultivation. Delicious olive products are sold at the shop, as well as local food served in the restaurants. The adjacent park offers attractive walking paths through the hillside, as well as a replica of a Greek windmill which is a prime photographic spot.
Shodoshima also has a 400-year history of soy sauce production and we’ll next visit Marukin Soy Sauce Memorial Hall. Marukin, one of the leading soy sauce companies on the island, maintains a soy sauce museum on its factory grounds. The museum resembles a traditional soy sauce factory, where you’ll learn about the production process along with all the vats and tools required.
The Kankakei Gorge is a breathtaking ravine at the center of Shodoshima Island. It is ranked as one of Japan’s three most beautiful gorges and is particularly colorful in Autumn.
At the end of the day, return to the port and take the ferry back to Takamastu. End of the tour at your accommodation.
Night in Takamatsu
Inclusions: Accommodation, breakfast, Private guide, transportation and fees.
Day 6 – Transfer to Kochi via Kotohira
Today, you will leave Takamatsu and head further south to Kochi. En route, stop at Kotohira, and visit Kotohira-gu temple, one of the main shrines of the ‘88 temple pilgrimage route.’ The temple was founded in the 14th century and lies at the top of 1,368 stone steps. Most visitors make it as far as the main precinct from which there is a spectacular view. On your way back, you can stop by the Kinryo Sake brewery where a tasting cup will cost you only 100 yen, and visit the adjacent Sake museum to discover how the Sake is made.
Another must-see place to visit is the Kanamaruza Kabuki Theater. As Japan’s oldest Kabuki theatre, it is definitely worth a stop. When no performances are being held, the audience hall, basement, stage, and backstage including trap doors and revolving stage are open to the public.
Continue your journey to Kochi and visit the Hirome Market. Hirome Ichiba is in downtown Kochi, near the castle. Hirome Market is made up of over 60 shops and large wooden tables with benches are set out in a type of food court style. But it’s so much more than a food court. Hirome is all about friendliness and convenience. The open style allows people to get whatever food and drink they want and sit anywhere that’s open. Many times, groups that don’t know each other will share a table and start talking as if they’re old friends.
Kochi Castle is one of just twelve Japanese castles to have survived the fires, wars, and other catastrophes of the post-feudal age.
Chikurinji Temple on Godaisan, which has since become an important stop on the Shikoku Pilgrimage. Number 31 of the 88 temples along the pilgrimage, there is also a pagoda and a botanical garden on the temple’s grounds.
End of the tour at your accommodation in Kochi.
Night in Kochi
Inclusions: Accommodation, breakfast, private guide, transportation and fees.
Day 7 – Transfer from Kochi to Matsuyama
Check-out from your accommodation and head to Kochi station. Take the local express train for Matsuyama. Check-in at your accommodation and the rest of the day at your leisure.
Matsuyama Castle is one of Japan’s twelve “original castles”, i.e. castles which have survived the post-feudal era since 1868 intact. It is also one of the most complex and interesting castles in the country.
Dogo Onsen is one of Japan’s oldest and most famous hot springs, located to the east of central Matsuyama. The area is popular with tourists for its beautiful bathhouse and many ryokans. Dogo Onsen has also been a frequent destination for Japan’s most prestigious guests, the Imperial Family.
Night in Matsuyama
Inclusions: Accommodation, breakfast and public transportation.
Day 8 – Day trip to Ozu
The town of Ozu is known as the Little Kyoto of Iyo. It’s a great place to visit, offering the historical allure of Kyoto in a tranquil countryside setting. The old town around the city center retains an atmosphere reminiscent of bygone decades, with nostalgic stone-paved alleys and old-fashioned houses of both Edo and Meiji Period architecture. Many old merchant houses and samurai residences remain in the district.
Ozu Castle, unlike many other castles that were rebuilt in the last century using ferroconcrete, the principal keep of Ozu Castle was crafted mainly with wood and by traditional construction techniques. As a result, it looks close to the original castle not only from the outside but also inside.
End of the day, return to Matsuyama. End of the tour at your accommodation.
Night in Matsuyama
Inclusions: Accommodation, breakfast, private guide and fees.
Day 9 – Transfer to Imabari and Cycling Shimanami Kaido
Check-out from your accommodation and head to Matsuyama station. Take the local train for Imabari. Arriving at Imabari, retrieve your rental bicycle and start cycling the Shimanami Kaido.
The Shimanami Kaido is probably the most famous, and most visited cycling route in Japan. The 80km cycling route across the Seto inland sea is nothing short of spectacular.
Arrive on Omishi-shima and stop here for the night.
Night in Omishi-shima
Inclusions: Accommodation, breakfast, public transportation, 2 days bicycle rental and fees.
Day 10 – Second half of the Shimanami Kaido, from Omishi shima to Onomichi
Continue the scenic sightseeing route to Onomichi. Arrive at Onomichi, return your rental bicycle. Check-in at your accommodation.
Onomichi is a charming small port city, full of small shrines, café, and history. Start with the ropeway to Senkoji Park. En route, stop by the Jikoji temple and make your own clay Buddha statue. At the ropeway, we recommend you buy just a one-way ticket as you will explore the Temple road by foot on the way back.
On the right of the Observatory deck, you will find the beginning of the Bungaku no Komichi (trail) but first, visit the Senkoji Temple. The vermillion lacquered main hall is a symbol of Onomichi. There is also an enormous rock called “Tama no Iwa”. According to legend, there used to be a gigantic glittering gem on top of the rock that served as a landmark for incoming ships. Next, proceed to the “bungaku no komichi” and walk down.
En route, you will find yourself at Neko no Hosomichi, (Cats street). There are 108 “Fukuishi-neko” (lucky stone cats), round stones with paintings of cats, along Neko-no-hosomichi.
Inclusions: Accommodation and breakfast.
Day 11 – End of the tour
Depart for your next destination or return home.
Optional continuation onto Hiroshima or return to Osaka or Tokyo.