We're all familiar with the Japan of Michelin-starred restaurants and Sofia Coppola's Lost In Translation, but few can lay claim to an intimate knowledge of rural Japan. Unless you're fluent in Japanese, even the most intrepid travellers will find it hard to explore these lesser-known spots, where English-language signs and speakers are few and far between. Here's where Walk Japan steps in. Founded by Tom Stanley and Richard Irving, two Hong Kong University academics who started out developing immersion tours across Japan for their own students, Walk Japan is one of the few adventure travel companies that encourages you to slow down your pace and explore unchartered territories in Japan on foot. Looking to experience something different for your next getaway? These tours are a good place to start.
Izu Geo Trail
Great for: Culture vultures who wish to explore a lesser-known corner of Japan without jostling with busloads of tourists.
Why go: Izu might be sited just 150km away from Tokyo, but few have ventured out to explore the Izu Peninsula. That's all the better for those who make the effort to head there, for this region will reward you richly with postcard-perfect landscapes and some of the freshest seafood you can shake your chopsticks at. This trail, one of the latest offerings developed by Walk Japan, will take you along the peninsula's east coast and mountainous central spine through to Izu's southernmost tip before wrapping up at Shuzenji, a thermal hot spring resort town.
Winter photography workshop tour
Great for: Amateur photographers looking to develop techniques for travel-photo essays and professional photographers looking to refine their skills.
Why go: Led by award-winning photographer Mark Edward Harris, this 10-day tour takes sharp shooters through some of the most photo-worthy sights in Japan. Expect to sharpen your photography skills against a varied backdrop that spans the buzzy streets of Tokyo to lesser-known but no less spectacular areas in Hokkaido.
Great for: History buffs looking to discover a different side of Tokyo and Kyoto.
Why go: Trace the historic journey taken by 17th-Century Japanese poet, Matsuo Basho, as make your way from Tokyo through to the picturesque landscapes of the Tohuku region. Follow the majestic coast along the Sea of Japan, walk through verdant forest trails, and rest your head at traditional Japanese inns, Shinto shrine lodgings, and thermal hot spring resorts. Unlike Basho, you won't be living off an austere diet. You'll feast like a king on dishes unique to this region.
For more information, visit Walk Japan.