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The northern region of Japan's main island, known as Tohoku, is home to some of the country's most captivating attractions, such as rugged national parks, mountaintop temple communities, and enchanting hot spring villages. A Northern Soul sheds light on these hidden gems, showcasing a side of Japan that is often overlooked by outsiders. Tohoku encompasses six prefectures and stretches from north of Tokyo to the tip of Honshu Island. This remote region is renowned for its breathtaking scenery, harsh winters, and exceptionally warm hospitality. Prior to the devastating earthquake and tsunami in 2011, Tohoku was relatively unknown to the rest of the world. The tour includes a visit to Ishinomaki, a town heavily affected by the tsunami, where guests can hear first-hand accounts from a local volunteer guide. Throughout the itinerary, travelers will have the opportunity to explore stunning locations and immerse themselves in rich cultural experiences, including visits to World Heritage Sites. From the picturesque Matsushima Bay to the historic Hiraizumi and the charming Naruko Onsen, the tour offers a glimpse into the beauty and charm of Tohoku. Other highlights include the elaborate temples of Nikko and the abandoned gold mines of Sado Island. This unique itinerary takes travelers off the beaten path to discover Japan's magical northern region. While much of Tohoku was unaffected by the 2011 disaster, the decline in tourism has impacted the local economy. Your visit will not only be a rewarding experience but will also support the hotels, inns, restaurants, and museums in the area.

Prices & Dates

Trip Highlights


14 nights' accommodation
All transport between destinations in Japan, including airport transfers
Loop bus pass for transport in Hiraizumi
Two full days' private guide service on Sado Island
Entrance fees for temples and shrines in Nikko
Kokeshi doll painting workshop and a visit to the doll museum
Sightseeing tour of Matsushima Bay
Entrance fees for two days' sightseeing on Sado Island
Luggage forwarding from Tokyo to Hiraizumi, Niigata to Tokyo and Ishinomaki to Sendai.
Breakfast every day, one lunch and eight evening meals
IC transport card with 2,500 yen credit for city transport
Full day private guide service in Nikko
Entrance to Hamarikyu Gardens in Tokyo
Day trip to the Yugendo Caves, including boat trip & paper-making workshop
1.5 hour tour of Ishinomaki with a volunteer guide
Dairy visit & ice cream making in Zao Onsen
Taiko drumming experience on Sado Island

Not Included

International flights
Entrance fees (including those for temples, shrines and museums) unless otherwise specified
Any local transport (subways, taxis, buses) unless covered by the included transport passes
Baggage handling and luggage forwarding unless otherwise specified


Days 1-2


Commence your journey in Tokyo, where towering skyscrapers and vibrant neon lights offer a glimpse into modern Japan. Upon landing at Tokyo's Narita Airport, you will be transported via shared shuttle bus to your accommodation in Asakusa, a traditional district in Tokyo. Here, you will meet your tour guide and have the opportunity to start acquainting yourself with your fellow travelers. Asakusa is a captivating and easily accessible part of Tokyo, renowned for the striking Senso-ji Temple, bustling market stalls, and Kappabashi-dori (?Kitchen Street?). It serves as an excellent starting point for your adventure in Japan, and tonight your tour leader will treat you to a welcome dinner at one of the district's fine dining establishments.

On day 2, after a restful night's sleep, your tour leader will lead you on a city tour using public transportation, taking you to famous locales like the Shibuya scramble crossing, the lively shopping streets of Harajuku, and Akihabara - known as 'electric town'. You will also explore the peaceful Hamarikyu Gardens, a tranquil retreat amidst the city's hustle and bustle.

Days 3-4


Embark on a journey northward and spend two nights in Nikko, known for its intricate religious architecture nestled within a stunning national park. On day three, take a direct train from Asakusa to Nikko, a short distance from Tokyo but rich in unique character. Nikko is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the burial place of Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, showcasing some of Japan's most remarkable traditional structures. Upon arrival at your traditional ryokan accommodation, join a local guide for a comprehensive tour of the area's highlights, which may include Tokugawa's mausoleum, the iconic "three wise monkeys" carving, and a scenic cable car ride.

Day 4 offers another full day to explore the national park, featuring lush forests, serene lakes, spectacular waterfalls, and rejuvenating hot springs. Utilize a private bus to visit picturesque locations like the Akechidaira Plateau and Kegon Falls, or venture out independently for a day of adventurous hiking.

Days 5-6


Visit Hiraizumi to explore its stunning temples and shrines, which are a testament to its former glory as the seat of the powerful Fujiwara clan during the 12th century Heian Period of Japanese history. These impressive structures are considered some of the most beautiful in the Tohoku region and have been designated as a World Heritage Site.

During your stay in Hiraizumi, you will have the opportunity to visit Chuson-ji, the town's most famous temple, which is surrounded by picturesque woodland. This temple complex, once extensive, now consists of two buildings, including Konjikido, which is completely covered in gold similar to Kyoto's famous pavilion. Your tour leader may also offer optional activities such as a cycle ride to Genbikei Gorge or a traditional lantern-painting workshop.

On day 6 of your trip, you will have a full day to further explore the Hiraizumi region. Activities may include a boat ride through Geibikei Gorge, a visit to Yugendo Caves, and participation in a paper-making workshop.

Accommodations in Hiraizumi will be at a Japanese-style hotel, where you can enjoy a traditional multi-course meal on the first night of your stay.

Day 7

Naruko Onsen

Spend a night in Naruko, a traditional onsen town where hot spring steam rises through the wood-panelled streets. Transfer by private coach from Hiraizumi to Naruko Onsen, a quaint town known for its nine different hot springs, each with unique mineral compositions and health benefits. Your tour leader will take you on a day tour to Naruko Gorge, Naruko Dam, a nearby geyser, and offer an optional rowing boat trip on Katanuma Pond. You will also have the opportunity to visit a wooden kokeshi doll museum and participate in a doll-painting workshop to learn about Naruko's famous traditional craft. Spend the night at a traditional ryokan inn, where a delicious kaiseki dinner will be served.

Day 8


Experience the heartbreaking events of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami through the eyes of a volunteer guide in Ishinomaki, one of the towns severely impacted by the disaster.

March 11, 2011, marked the day when Tohoku was struck by the most powerful earthquake in Japan's history, leading to a destructive tsunami along the eastern coastline. Ishinomaki bore the brunt of the devastation, with the town being almost entirely engulfed by the powerful wave. Following the disaster, several Inside Japan team members journeyed to Ishinomaki to assist in the cleanup efforts and witness the extensive damage firsthand.

The remnants of the tsunami may have been cleared away, but the scars of the disaster still linger in Ishinomaki, a reminder of the tragedy that unfolded. Today, a local volunteer guide will share their firsthand account of the events of 2011 and highlight key locations in the town. Despite the somber subject matter, the kindness and hospitality of the Ishinomaki residents will make your visit a memorable experience, showcasing their appreciation for your presence.

In addition to exploring the town, you will have the opportunity to visit the Sant Juan Bautista Museum, where a replica of a Spanish galleon is on display. Surprisingly, this vessel has ties to Ishinomaki, as it is a recreation of the ship originally commissioned by lord Date Masamune in 1613 for a trade voyage to Mexico. A fascinating piece of history to discover on the northern Japanese coastline.

Day 9


After visiting Ishinomaki, continue your journey to Matsushima Bay and then spend a night in Sendai, the largest and most dynamic city in the Tohoku region.

Upon arrival in Matsushima Bay from Ishinomaki, you will discover an ocean inlet adorned with lush islands, recognized as one of the Nihon San-Kei, or "Three Great Sights of Japan". Explore the bay through a boat tour, stopping at scenic piers, islands, and the beautiful Entsuin Temple Gardens. Following your exploration, board a train to Sendai for the evening.

Known as the "city of trees" by locals, Sendai boasts tree-lined streets and spacious parks, a result of the destruction it faced during WWII. As the capital of northern Japan, it offers a vibrant restaurant scene, lively nightlife, and a variety of shops and galleries to enjoy. Spend the remainder of the day immersing yourself in all that Sendai has to offer.

Days 10-11


Explore a dairy farm, create your own ice cream, marvel at towering waterfalls, and take in the breathtaking views of Okama Crater Lake as you travel from the eastern to the western coast. Begin your day by visiting the Sendai morning market before embarking on your coach journey. At Zao Onsen, you will have a chance to visit a local dairy farm, interact with the cows, and indulge in making and tasting ice cream. Take a break at Togatta Onsen for a relaxing foot bath in the ashiyu hot spring. Travel along the scenic Zao Echo Line road, passing by stunning waterfalls and mountains, until you reach Kattadake Peak, offering panoramic vistas of the mysterious Okama Crater Lake with its color-changing waters. Your day concludes in Niigata, a prominent city on Japan's western coast.

On day 11, continue your exploration of the west coast with a full day of sightseeing in and around Niigata. Visit the elegant Saito Family Summer Villa, showcasing turn-of-the-century Japanese architecture. Explore the picturesque Hakusan Park and browse through the Honcho Market for shopping opportunities. Enjoy some leisure time in the afternoon, with suggestions from your tour leader on how best to utilize your free time.

Days 12-13

Sado Island

Experience a two-night stay on Sado Island, a historical site where Japanese dissidents were exiled, leading to the development of a unique culture and stunning landscapes.

On the morning of day 12, take a taxi to the port and board a Jetfoil to Sado Island. Historically, Sado served as a place of exile for dissenting individuals, including poets, artists, and political figures, from as early as 722 AD to 1700 AD. The island's rich history is reflected in its religious and cultural heritage, which you will explore with a local guide over two days.

Upon arrival on Sado, your guide will accompany you on a private minibus tour. Visit the Old Fishing Street, experience a tub boat ride, and participate in a taiko drumming lesson with Kodo, one of Japan's most famous taiko groups. Enjoy dinner at your accommodation.

The following day, discover Sado's gold mining history at the gold mine museum and the former magistrate's office. Explore other attractions on the island, such as the Ibis Sanctuary and a local sake brewery, before returning to your accommodation to relax in a hot spring bath.

Days 14-15


Head back to Tokyo for a thrilling final night surrounded by the vibrant lights of the capital.

On day 14, you will take the ferry back to Niigata before catching a taxi to the station and hopping on the bullet train to Tokyo. Enjoy the scenic journey through the countryside as you make your way back to Tokyo to end your trip.

For your last night, you will be staying in Shinjuku, one of Tokyo's liveliest entertainment districts filled with skyscrapers housing a variety of bars, shops, restaurants, and karaoke booths. Take advantage of this bustling area to make the most of your remaining time in Japan. Shinjuku is easily accessible to all parts of the city, allowing you to visit any final attractions or grab a special souvenir. A farewell dinner is included for you to reminisce about your favorite moments of the journey.

On day 15, your adventure will come to a close as you say goodbye to your tour leader and fellow travelers before taking a shared shuttle bus to the airport. We look forward to welcoming you back soon!

Prices & Dates

Departure dates marked with a 'G' are guaranteed to operate. All other departures are guaranteed with a minimum of 4 persons. 'Twin Share' prices are per person when there are 2 people sharing a room. 'Single Room' prices are applicable to those who don’t have anyone to share a room with or anyone wanting the privacy of a single room.

At a Glance

Trip Type
Group Size
Min 4 / Max 14 Sing
Hotel Rating
Tour Guide
None Provided
Minimum Age
15 yrs, accompanied by an adult
Arr. Transfer
Dep. Transfer
OTG002969Best of Northern Honshu - 15 daysFar EastHandpickedFar EastfalseJapan