Challenge level: 4 out of 5
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Discover the ancient magic of Japan on our once-in-a-lifetime Kumano Kodo trekking challenge from Kyoto to Tokyo!
After a day soaking up the autumnal colours or the famous cherry blossom and the enchanting sites of Kyoto, including the Golden Pavillion and the Nijo Castle, we'll journey to the Kii Hantō Peninsula to commence our charity trek. We'll follow the footsteps of Japanese pilgrims and trek deep into the Kii Mountain Range on the steep trails of the famous Kumano Kodo pilgrimage.
Starting at the Takijiri-oji temple on the sacred Tonda river, we'll hike on a mix of paved and unpaved trails that criss-cross the peninsula and connect the major Shinto shrines in the mountains. We'll face challenging ascents and long days on our feet, testing our strength and stamina, all the while immersed in nature.
Our pilgrimage will take us up through dense forests, across streams, past shrines and abandoned tea houses, and into remote villages hidden in the hills. We'll sleep in humble local Japanese guesthouses, climb to some of the highest and most beautiful places in Japan and look out across the sacred Kumano mountain range, boasting 3,600 mountain peaks. We'll even glimpse the Pacific Ocean, soothe our feet in natural hot springs and trek to Japan's tallest waterfall, Nachi Falls.
This unbeatable overseas challenge finishes in the mind-blowing metropolis of Tokyo, where the futuristic architecture, chic shopping streets and vibrant markets take us right back to the 21st Century! We'll use the high-speed city trains to see as much as we can in one day on an amazing guided tour of the Old Town and the new.
Join us in the autumn when the trees glow red and orange or wait till spring and see the Japanese cherry blossom in full bloom! No matter which trek you choose, you'll be entranced by expansive natural landscapes and an incredible mix of cultures and customs.
Our adventure starts at the airport in London, where we meet for our overnight flight to Kansai International Airport in Japan, arriving on the evening of Day 2. Our local guide in the area gives us a warm welcome at the airport and we transfer to our hotel in Kyoto.
The ancient capital of Kyoto is drenched in history and a must-see relic of old Japan. Surrounded by mountains and bright with trees the colour of fire in autumn, or cherry blossom (Sakura) in the spring, the scenery of the city will take your breath away. But that’s only the start of it. Having served as the seat of the emperor from 794 until 1868, and survived two world wars, Kyoto bursts with traditional culture and UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The streets are alive with locals and tourists alike, with bustling markets, arts and crafts, fashion shops, and endless dining options. And you can’t miss the multitude of enchanting gardens, red-roofed temples and spectacular palaces dotted around the city. Needless to say, Kyoto is the perfect destination to commence our charity challenge in Japan.
This evening, we enjoy a delicious Welcome Dinner and no doubt have a great night's rest after the long journey.
After a fresh breakfast at our hotel, it’s time to explore Kyoto. We could spend months here and still not get to experience all of Kyoto’s wonders, but we’ll do our best to see as much as possible in one day.
Heading into the city with our local guide, we start with a visit to Kinkakuji Temple. The temple’s grounds may be smaller than most, but its pavilion instantly steals our attention. Many people call Kinkakuji Temple the “Golden Pavilion” and it’s no wonder why. Handmade gold leaves cover its walls and make the monument glow amidst the dense vegetation of its gardens. And don’t forget to take in its shimmering reflection in the adjoining “mirror pond”.
A short walk later, we arrive at our next key site in Kyoto, the serene Ryonaji Temple. Here, we may see some students of the Rinzai Buddhist Myoshinji school, which owns the temple. And what a place to learn! Along with the Zen temple and Hojo (home of the priest), Ryonaji boasts the most famous rock garden in Japan, a picturesque park with walking trails and a pond hidden amidst cherry trees.
With so many Michelin Star restaurants, sushi places and street food stalls in Kyoto to choose from, lunch is free for you to arrange yourself today.
We reconvene in the afternoon to check out the ornamental 1603 Nijo Castle, home to perhaps the best surviving examples of Momoyama-style architecture. Originally built to be the private villa of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the Edo Period, the castle later became an imperial palace. It has since been donated to the city and named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As we explore Nijo Castle’s three fascinating sections, you’ll notice its unique architecture and its famous nightingale floors. The chirping of the floorboards is said not to be intentional. Yet, legend has it that they were specifically made to warn the feudal lords of intruders.
To end the day, we visit the Nishiki Market, a.k.a. Kyoto’s Kitchen. It welcomes us with warm lights, the spicy scent of fresh ingredients and the loud hum of chatter. Offering a variety of local ingredients and produce, it’s also a great place to find kitchenware, like the professional knives Japan is famous for.
Dinner is free to arrange at your leisure.
Today, we journey to Kii-Tanabe in the Kii Peninsula, the largest in Japan. This marks the starting point of the ancient Kumano Kodo, one of the world’s premier spiritual routes, which we’re soon to trek!
Our adventure trek ahead promises not only miles of captivating natural scenery but also holds over a thousand years of history. The Kumano Kodo trails criss-cross the peninsula in the footsteps of Japan’s imperial ancestors, who would make pilgrimages from Kyoto to "Kumano Sanzan" (熊野三山) or the Three Grand Shrines of Kumano: Kumano Hongū Taisha (熊野本宮大社), Kumano Nachi Taisha (熊野那智大社) and Kumano Hayatama Taisha (熊野速玉大社).
Our coach transfer takes around two or three hours, with lunch en route and loads to see from our windows. When we arrive at the Kii-Tanabe, we meet our local Challenge Leader at the nearby tourist information centre next to the Kii-Tanabe station.
From here, we head to our accommodation, where we enjoy our first group dinner. Our Challenge Leader will also give us a briefing for the trek ahead and a detailed explanation of the pilgrimage trails we’ll be walking.
Breakfast at our accommodation fuels us up for our first mighty day of trekking in Japan! We catch a local bus to Takijiri-Oji (approx. 40 minutes) and visit the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Centre for extra insight into the local history.
We cross the centre to the main entrance of the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage at the Takijiri-oji, one of the five major Oji (subsidiary shrines) in the area. The original pilgrims in the 12th and 13th centuries performed misogi (Shinto rituals) here before they started on their journey, believing the water from the adjacent River Tonda to hold healing powers. We see none of that today, however, and we set off on the trail into the mountains.
This is no warm-up hike! We face several steep ascents and downhill slopes on uneven surfaces. These reward us with expansive vistas of the surrounding peaks, all bright with plant life. Trekking higher, we walk through Takahara, widely known as “the village in the mists”, because of the fog that often lingers there, giving it a mystical atmosphere. Further on, we encounter a paved section of the trail as we reach the beautiful Tsugizakura Village, hidden in the trees. This paved stretch gives us a little relief, before we’re back on uneven ground.
Our challenging day's trek ends at the mountain village of Nonaka, where we find our accommodation and enjoy a very well-deserved dinner.
Waking amidst the mountains, we tuck into breakfast and then set off on another day walking in Japan. Following paved roads to Kumasegawa-Oji, from approx. 506m to 521m above sea level, we face tough climbs in our first hour.
Upon reaching the village, we take a short break to catch our breath, drink in the view and use the restrooms. Then we join the rough, unpaved trail through the forest. Treading carefully on the uneven ground, we follow a signpost down some steps to the Kumano Kodo Detour, as the original road was damaged by a typhoon.
The narrow trail gives us stunning vistas of the forest, taking us across small mountain streams and up and down rocky slopes. It may be tough on our feet, but the sense of adventure in picking our way through the trees and listening to the sounds of the forest makes the challenge a dream. After around 1.5-2 hours, our trail ends at Jagata-jizo, which is believed to protect travellers from evil spirits.
Soon after, we cross the Yukawagawa River (397m above sea level) and embark on a tough climb following the trail to Mikoshi-toge Pass (548m above sea level). We break up the ascent with a short break at a drinking water station set up for hikers taking on the Kumano Kodo. Our climb rewards us with unforgettable panoramas over the primaeval forest and the rich reds of autumn or the emerald greens of spring.
At last, the trail begins to descend. We pass thick forests of cedar and cypress trees and encounter yet another river crossing, this time over the Otonashigawa River, to reach the Funtama Shrine. Then we’re onto a mainly descending trail. We wind our way along a series of paved and unpaved roads down through the mountains, until we reach the magnificent Kumano Hongu Taisha, the head shrine of more than 3,000 Shinto shrines in the Kumano area.
This makes the perfect endpoint for our day’s hike. We make the most of this opportunity to visit the shrine, before catching a bus to Kawayu Onsen, one of the oldest and most crucial hot spring resorts in Japan, where pilgrims used to cleanse themselves before praying at Kumano Hongu Taisha.
This evening, we stay at a ryokan, a traditional Japanese-style inn, where we enjoy a delicious multi-course dinner and sleep on a futon. We also have special access to visit the hot springs and soothe our muscles in the warm water, naturally heated by the neighbouring volcano Lozan Mountain.
We’re up early today to take the bus after breakfast to Ukegawa. From here, we embark on a tough morning of hiking, ascending from approx. 55m-450m in the first few hours. We start trekking along a mainly unpaved trail to an area of private homes – a rare site in this remote region of Japan.
Climbing on for over an hour, surrounded by a sea of green mountains, we pass the remains of an old teahouse, Matsuhata-Jaya. It’s a scenic view, but the best is yet to come. Just another approx. 2km of climbing and we reach the Hyakken-Gura. Here, the vistas will take your breath away. Looking out from the viewpoint, we’re well rewarded for our challenging ascent. This is one of the top spots in the Wakayama Prefecture to see all 3,600 peaks of the sacred Kumano Mountains. We take a break to absorb the stupendous view and do our best to capture it on camera.
From here, we hike on a relatively level road to the remains of Sakura-Jaya Teahouse, savouring the vistas from this vantage point. Then we descend sharply through the hills, from an altitude of 395m-6m! We tread carefully as our trail turns to cobblestones – these can be slippery, especially if they’re wet or covered with moss.
At last, we reach the foot of the hill, where prayer tablets have been left by ascetics and other spiritual hikers as offerings. Our trail evens out and you’ll be pleased to know, it’s fairly flat from here. We hike past a few small houses and cross a bridge to see a stone tablet, the only remains of the ancient Kowase Ferry Terminal. We can take this opportunity to enjoy a brief rest and use the restrooms, before walking the final kilometre of our mighty day’s hike.
Tonight sees us tucking into a delicious group dinner and settling down in the peaceful town of Koguchi. We stay in typical Japanese-style accommodation with shared bathroom facilities.
Rise and shine to the last and hardest trekking day of our Kumano Kodo challenge. Trekking for nearly eight hours and ascending over 800m, we’re in for mighty climbs and some of the most stunning mountain views in the world. Waking early for a big breakfast, we start walking from Koguchi on the second half of our two-day trail from Kumano Hongu Taisha to Nachi Taisha Shrine.
We ascend on a tough, unpaved forest trail that gives us a chance to see ancient sites along the Kumano Kodo, like the Waroda-Ishi rock, where the Kumano deities are believed to meet and chat over tea.
With aching legs and an unpaved trail under our feet, we may feel a greater sense of connection with the pilgrims of old. There’s no doubt that the trail is just as beautiful today as in centuries gone by, as we climb through the woods of Irokawatsuji, and over the spectacular Funami-toge Pass at a whopping 840m above sea level. From here, we can even glimpse the Pacific Ocean!
At last, we reach the famous Nachi Falls, the tallest waterfall in Japan. We hear the roar of its waters from a distance as they tumble 133m into the pool below. Filled with an unbeatable sense of achievement, we take time to admire the natural wonder and hike up to the beautiful Kumano Nachi Taisha Grand Shrine. The shrine sits halfway up a mountain (approx. 350m above sea level) and gives us perhaps an even better view of the waterfall! You may also choose to drink the sacred water from the waterfall, which is said to grant good fortune and long life.
Late in the afternoon, we catch the bus to the bewitching fishing village of Katsuura. Tucked in a cove looking out at the Pacific Ocean, Katsura is a coastal haven, with lively streets, soothing hot springs and sparkling views of the sea. After freshening up at our accommodation, we end our day with a fantastic Celebration Dinner.
After completing the ultimate Kumano Kodo trekking challenge, we’ve earned ourselves a lie-in this morning. After breakfast, we pack a small overnight bag and enjoy a relaxing train ride to the booming city of Nagoya (approx. 4.5 hours), whilst our main luggage is transported directly to Tokyo.
The rest of Day 10 is free for you to spend as you wish relaxing at our hotel or exploring the city and arranging your own lunch and dinner. From gardens to museums to shrines to shops, there’s so much you can do on Day 10; but we’ll save the main site-seeing for Day 11 and take an awesome tour of the city.
Using public transport to get around, we’ll encounter a variety of sites, including the famous Nagoya Castle. Then we catch the exciting bullet train to Tokyo!
Here, we check into our hotel in the city, where you’re reunited with your main luggage. Please spend the rest of the day as you please exploring the mind-blowing metropolis of Tokyo or kicking pack in the peace of our hotel.
Tokyo is one of the most spectacular cities on Earth, and today, we explore as many of its iconic sites as possible, using the high-speed city train system. After breakfast at our hotel, we take a stunning stroll in the Hama-Rikyu Teien, the former private garden of an Edo Period lord, and taste the local matcha green tea at the ‘Nakajima No Chaya’ tea house that stands in the lake.
Now, we get to see Tokyo from a different angle, as we board a boat cruise along the Sumida River and journey back in time to see Asakusa. Hidden in the Shitamachi (old town), Asakusa is Tokyo’s oldest Geisha district and home to Senso-Ji Temple, Tokyo’s oldest Buddhist temple.
We wander the colourful streets, absorbing the amazing atmosphere and visiting some of the traditional craft shops. With so many food options in the area, we’ve left lunch free for you to arrange yourself.
In the afternoon, we jump back on the train and cross the city to see the amazing Omotesando, commonly referred to as Tokyo’s Champs-Elysée. This broad, tree-lined avenue is one of the planet’s major fashion destinations’, boasting fashion flagship stores and unique modern architecture.
Before the tour ends, we also take time to explore the iconic Meiji Shrine, Tokyo’s most famous, dedicated to the spirit of the late Emperor Meiji. Then, after a full day of sightseeing, we head back to our hotel for our farewell dinner and a great night’s sleep.
Today, we bid a very fond farewell to Japan and transfer to the airport for our flight back to the UK, via Singapore. Touching down in London on Day 13, we part ways and you make your way home.
Pay the registration fee (£549) and challenge costs (£4,999) + airport taxes/fuel surcharge (capped at £475).
Pay the balance
Our non-competitive overseas charity challenges aren't about living in the gym. Many people who sign up for our Kumano Kodo trek in Japan are likely to have a low level of fitness level when they sign up.
The point is to train, do your best, and reach your fitness goal. Our supportive challenge guides and community spirit will help you conquer the challenge of a lifetime. You're also likely to improve your mental health and well-being, and you can choose to fundraise for the charity closest to your heart.
We strongly recommend you train for the trek. We'll tackle very steep climbs and descents through the mountains, but the terrain will be fairly smooth. You also need to be prepared for hiking an average of 6-8 hours every day. We'll break this up with short breaks and lunch stops.
Once you register for Trek Japan, we'll send you a realistic training plan. This builds up gradually over time so you'll be ready and raring to go by the time we depart for Japan. We also recommend checking out our top trekking tips here and our indoor training ideas here for the days you don't feel like facing the weather!
Please don't be! The majority of people will sign up for this challenge on their own. Even the quietest people are quick to make strong friendships on our adventures. The Dream Challenges camaraderie is second to none and makes all our adventures even more special.
Once you've signed up, we'll send you a link to a private Facebook group for everyone registered for Trek Japan. Please use this space to swap questions, advice and updates with your fellow trekkers on your training and fundraising.
You may also want to reach out to the other participants in this group to see if there's anyone in your local area you can meet up to train and fundraise with.
Your registration fee of £549 per person is used to administer the challenge in Japan and secure your seats with the airline.
Your challenge costs of £4,999 (ie. 50% of the fundraising target if you choose the sponsorship option) cover:
*Accommodation is included on a twin-sharing basis. If you would rather pay for a single supplement and have a room/tent to yourself, we can arrange this for you for an additional cost
The Dream Challenges team are here to help you achieve your charity trek in Japan, and we will support you all the way. We're always on hand to answer any questions that you may have about your training or the challenge itself.
Once you've signed up, we will send you regular email updates with everything you need to know about your overseas challenge, including the itinerary, an example insurance policy, the structure of an average trekking day, a full kit list, and a realistic training plan to help you get fit for the challenge. The training programme builds up gradually as the event gets closer.
We'll also send you important details, motivational resources, and seasonal fundraising ideas.
During the trek, we'll have a UK doctor with expedition medicine training accompanying the group at all times, along with a team of outdoor remote first-aid trained challenge guides.
Everyone who is at least 18 years old by the departure date is more than welcome to join this challenge of a lifetime. We'll have adults of all ages taking part to achieve something awesome for charity — one of the many things that make our challenges so special!
You will need a pair of quality walking boots with ankle support — these are essential for trekking on uneven terrain. Please also bring a 2-litre water bottle.
We'll supply you with a comprehensive list of everything you will need to take on your trekking challenge well before we leave for Japan.
We'll stay in an amazing range of accommodation on our adventure in Japan, from comfortable hotels to Japanese-style inns and guest houses in the mountains. We arrange twin-share accommodation wherever possible, but on some nights, we'll have shared bathroom facilities.
We'll tackle a mix of terrains, following the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage trails through the mountains.
We'll walk on some paved paths in Japan, but many more unpaved sections, mostly through dense forests. The trails will be clear, as many pilgrims have trekked this ancient route, but we'll walk on a lot of uneven ground, so make sure to tread carefully. We'll tackle a lot of long ascents and steep climbs, but all that goes up must come down, so we'll trek downhill and enjoy flat sections as well. We recommend including a lot of hills in your training.
Please make sure to use high ankle walking boots during your training and on the challenge in Japan itself, as these are essential to protect your ankles on uneven terrain.
Vehicles will transport our luggage to our accommodation each night. You will only need to carry a small day pack, containing essential accessories and equipment, including your 2-litre water bottle.
In addition to paying your registration fee (£549) and paying the challenge costs (£4,999) or fundraising the minimum sponsorship target, you'll need to budget for your:
There will be around 20 participants in our group for our 2023 and 2024 special charity challenges in Japan. You'll no doubt make a bunch of awesome new friends!
Please take out your own travel insurance upon registering for our trek in Japan, covering health, accident, loss and repatriation. We advise you to arrange your insurance as soon as you can after you register to ensure you have coverage for your booking as well as the challenge itself.
Dream Challenges has an example of a policy that provides appropriate cover for this type of activity and also covers you for cancellation due to medically-diagnosed COVID-19. We will send you the details once you have registered. You can also call us for details on 01590 646410 during our office hours (9am, 5pm, Monday - Friday).
You can, however, take out your own insurance, providing it covers you for a charity trek in Japan. Please ask the insurer about the nature of the cover. It is your responsibility to ensure you have adequate coverage for your challenge.
It is your responsibility to obtain a visa for Japan if you need one. Ensure that you apply and obtain your visa in plenty of time. Further information can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/japan
As we're not medically trained, we're afraid we can't offer you advice on this. We recommend you contact your GP or your local travel clinic, who will have the latest travel health advice.