Six days, five nights
Mar - Nov
Embark on a journey of ‘rebirth’ in Japan’s deep north – the Tohoku region.
The coast-to-coast pilgrimage connects the Pacific coast of Miyagi Prefecture to the Japan Sea coast of Yamagata Prefecture, showcasing the natural beauty of both coastal and mountainous areas and their respective cultural and culinary highlights.
Walk/trek your way through stunning scenery as you encounter three different ‘pilgrimage’ routes: the ancient spiritual training grounds of the Three Holy Mountains of Dewa (Dewasanzan), the inspiring ‘Michinoku Coastal Trail’, and the ‘Narrow Road to the Deep North’ followed by prolific Edo period Haiku poet, Matsuo Basho.
Along with your friendly guides you’ll have the opportunity to meet with local farmers, fishermen, artisans and Yamabushi (mountain priests) who will be your personal connection to the area. Follow the journey of each local ingredient you eat – from farm/ocean-to-plate – and be inspired by stories of family tradition, history and a deep respect for both the blessings and ferocity of nature.
Walk in nature, savour local flavours and connect with the people and culture of Japan’s deep north.
Day 1 – Depart from Yamagata Station, connect with the locals!
This itinerary begins at the grass roots – literally – by visiting the home of a local farming family in Tsuruoka City!
Be welcomed into the home of a friendly local family, the Chonans, at their farmhouse restaurant ‘Chikeiken’. Feast on locally sourced vegetables and seafood and enjoy a chat with the vivacious Mrs. Chonan who will make you feel right at home.
Having satisfied your stomach and your mind it’s time to head to Yunohama Onsen on the Japan Sea coast for an orientation session at your hotel before you watch the sunset over the ocean from the outdoor hot spring baths. Toast to the journey ahead over a delicious ‘kaiseki’ course meal featuring fresh local seafood and local sake!
Day 2 –
Savour the flavours of Tsuruoka, UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy!
Blessed with the fruits of the surrounding mountain ranges, sprawling plains and ocean at its door-step, Tsuruoka City has been globally recognized as Japan’s only UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy! Today is all about discovering why this is the case, starting by getting your hands dirty! Join a local farming family on their field and try your hand at some farm-work, harvesting seasonal vegetables/fruits like local specialty ‘Dadachamame’ (a regional variety of edamame bean) or grape-picking.
Leaving the fields, follow the journey of the local produce from farm-to-plate! Enjoy a decadent course lunch at local restaurant ‘Alchecciano’ – Italian cuisine prepared by world-class Chef Masayuki Okuda, made solely from local ingredients including many heirloom vegetables.
From the afternoon, enter the spiritual realm of the Dewasanzan – the Three Holy Mountains of Dewa. For over a thousand years, pilgrims from across Japan have travelled to these holy mountains to train their bodies, minds, and souls deep in the pristine nature of Yamagata. The pilgrimage traverses through the world of the present in the towering cedar forests of Mt. Haguro, death and the afterlife on the high peaks of Mt. Gassan, and rebirth at Mt. Yudono, the most holy site of the Three Sacred Mountains of Dewa.
A journey to all three of these mountains is known as the ‘Journey of Rebirth’.
Starting with an introduction to the history and story of the area at Ideha Cultural Centre, take a guided hike to the five-storey pagoda (a national treasure) and up the 2446 stone steps to the peak of Mt. Haguro / Dewasanzan Shrine guided by an authentic Yamabushi (mountain priest). After the hike, check-in to your lodging for the evening, ‘Miyatabo’ – authentic Shinto pilgrim lodging.
Dinner will be a spiritual experience in and of itself as you learn how to make and correctly savour traditional ‘Shojinryori’ vegetarian cuisine. Whilst widely associated with Buddhism, the ‘Shojinryori’ of the Dewasanzan is a fusion of both Buddhist and Shinto beliefs, and the consummation of the meal is seen to be a form of ascetic practice. Assist with harvesting the ingredients before watching how some of the dishes are prepared. Eat the meal in ‘mindfulness’ and experience Shinto ceremony to prepare your mind and body for the continuation of the pilgrimage the following day.
Day 3 – A Journey of ‘Rebirth’
Wake-up early for a private Shinto prayer ceremony and breakfast of Shojinryori to prepare your mind, body and spirit for the pilgrimage ahead.
Day four will arguably be the most physically challenging of the itinerary as your group tackles the remaining two peaks of the Dewasanzan – Mt. Gassan and Mt. Yudono.
Once again, you’ll be joined by a Yamabushi priest to not only guide the way, but to instruct you in the ascetic elements of the pilgrimage, including a visit to both Gassan Shrine and Yudono Shrine at the peak of each mountain. (Packed lunch included)
It is forbidden to speak of exactly what occurs during the blessing ceremonies at each shrine, but you will require an open-mind and a small towel…
The pilgrimage of spiritual ‘rebirth’ is complete after ascending Mt. Yudono. Drive deeper into the mountains and stay overnight at the charming ‘Hijiori Onsen’ hot spring village. Soak your weary muscles in the hot-spring bath before being rewarded with another feast of traditional dishes made from locally sourced ingredients.
Day 4 – Walk Basho’s ‘Narrow Road to the Deep North’
Start your day with a morning walk in the forest behind Hijiori Onsen, enjoying beautiful views over the town. The morning’s activities will continue at a leisurely pace with a relaxing river cruise down the Mogami River that once played an important role in supporting the ‘Kitamaebune’ boat trade between Sakata City and the Kansai region. Enjoy a delicious local lunch on the boat as you take-in the scenery and listen to the hauntingly beautiful song of the boatmen.
In the afternoon, take a trip back in time to the Edo period and set out on a hiking adventure along the Natagirikogen Mountain Pass – the same path followed by Haiku poet Matsu Basho whilst composing his great compilation ‘Narrow Road to the Deep North’. Stop for a coffee break in the forest as you take in the very same scenery that inspired his poems.
Your final destination for today will be across the border in Miyagi Prefecture’s Naruko Onsen, boasting over 1000 years of history as place for healing and recuperation after the year’s harvest.
The personal connections continue over dinner as you tuck-in to a feast of dishes made with locally sourced ingredients at farmhouse restaurant ‘Satonowa’ overlooking sprawling rice-fields. Savour the rare chance to share a table with the local producers who created the meal in front of you!
Day 5 – walk the path of recovery along Miyagi’s coastline.
Leaving the mountains behind, it’s time for a dose of vitamin Sea! The Pacific coast awaits in all its beauty, supporting the local lifestyle with its fertile fishing grounds. Jump on a local fishing boat and be taken out to oyster farms in the middle of the bay. Be guided by a local oyster farmer as you enjoy an up-close view of each step of the cultivation process, whilst also hearing first-hand stories of how the industry has recovered following the disaster of 2011. For lunch, freshly harvested oysters will be the star of a meal made from locally sourced seafood and ingredients at an oyster-shack run by a fishing family!
In the afternoon, walk along the Karakuwa Peninsula of the ‘Michinoku Coastal Trail’, a new 1000km walking route stretching along the Pacific coast of Tohoku, from Aomori in the north to Fukushima in the south. Take in stunning scenery of dramatic rock formations along the Sanriku coast and reflect on both the raw beauty and ferocity of nature.
After a day of reflection, share stories and memories of your journey over a delicious dinner around the ‘Brewer’s Table’ in Kesennuma City. Joined by some of the local producers themselves, dine on local cuisine made with freshly caught seafood and expertly paired with local sake from ‘Otokoyama Honten’ Brewery.
Day 6 – an offering of peace and gratitude
Spend your final morning in Tohoku experiencing one of the region’s spiritual traditions – ‘kiriko’ – the art of making ‘divine ornaments’ made from paper cuttings as offerings to the Shinto gods. In a region historically battered by natural disaster whilst simultaneously reliant upon the ocean and nature to sustain the livelihoods of the local people, a deep reverence for nature is reflected in the local customs. ‘Kiriko’ are cut into shapes that reflect the town’s prayers for successful fishing seasons, marine safety and expressions of gratitude and hope for the bright future of the town.
At the completion of the ‘kiriko’ experience, your private transport will take you south down the coast to Sendai Airport, from where you can make your way to Sapporo.