Cultural immersion is an often-used construct to describe the pleasure of surrounding oneself entirely in the culture of the region one is visiting. In Japan, immersion is often quite literal, thanks to Japan’s treasured ritual bathing in the numerous hot springs called onsen, which dot the landscape of the mountainous island nation.
Walk Japan, the company that specializes in small group, multi-day walking tours across the country, has introduced two new tours that include several onsen in regions particularly well known for them. All the group’s tours feature Japan’s famously intricate culinary heritage, but the new Onsen Gastronomy Tours pair the onsen stops with the finest in regional, seasonal gastronomy at each overnight stop.
Two Onsen Gastronomy Tours are being offered during the 2019 Fall Season.
The first takes place in the Gifu and Nagano prefectures in Central Japan on the main island of Honshu. The four-night tour, which averages around three miles of leisurely, relatively flat-surfaced strolling per day, takes visitors through mountain towns with close-packed houses and narrow lanes, cold freshwater streams, waterfalls and cozy onsen inns. Visitors will peer into a sake brewery, sample local ice cream and try chanko-nabe, a dish favored by sumo wrestlers.
The second tour takes visitors to the southern island of Kyushu, and the Oita and Kumamoto prefectures. The tour starts in Beppu, which has more hot springs than anywhere else in the country and is easily the champion of onsen culture. The daily walks between stopovers are somewhat longer in mileage but similarly over flat, walkable terrain.
Visitors will peer into rice paddies and jagged cliffs that and follow languid rivers among the hot springs, some of which are so hot they’re for viewing only. Noodle dish dango-jiru, wagashi candies and sake breweries are on the menu, as is the famed “soda pop” onsen with naturally carbonated hot water baths.
The tours have a maximum group size of 12 because the towns and inns are small and the groups must be kept intimate. There is no minimum group size, and the tours will operate if a booking has been taken.
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