Last Updated:

March 12, 2021

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Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less travelled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost

In February of 2020, I had the privilege of being part of the inaugural Integral Tracks walking tour of the Kunisaki Peninsula on the island of Kyushu, Japan. It is a mountainous and ruggedly beautiful landscape, dotted with rice-covered valleys, forests of cedar and bamboo and rich with thousands of years of history.

The Kunisaki Peninsula is little known, even in Japan, and has the beauty and simplicity of an older time. Mount Futago, the volcano at the centre of the peninsula, created an unusually symmetrical pattern of valleys when it erupted and early practitioners of Buddhism, who arrived in Japan in the 7th century, saw in it the auspicious symbol of the lotus mandala. As a result, the surrounding hills are full of ancient shrines and statues – folklore has it that one priest, called Ninmon, carved 60,000 Buddhas alone.

Over the course of our six-day adventure, we followed ancient paths carved into the forest by generations of Buddhist and Shinto monks on pilgrimage. We hiked up mountains, over narrow ridges, through stunning forests and sleepy villages and finally, to the summit of the dormant volcano, Mt Yufu. It was challenging, exhilarating and incredibly rewarding.

Each day revealed new delights and surprises and reminded me of why walking really is the best way to experience new communities and cultures. The notable absence of large tour groups meant that we felt utterly immersed in this unique and stunning landscape. At times, the walking became almost meditative, as our group of six walked silently through the forest, our only other companions, birds and the occasional deer.

Peace and calm were not our only reward. At the end of each day, we were spoiled with accommodation in traditional Japanese inn’s or, ryokans. More than just a place to sleep, our ryokan gave us an opportunity to experience the traditional Japanese lifestyle and hospitality, incorporating elements such as tatami floors, futon beds and, most importantly, bathing in thermal hot springs, known as onsens. In this part of Japan, thermal hot springs are common and the simple act of washing became a luxurious, and invigorating, daily ritual.

Having washed away the dust and fatigue of the day, each night we were treated to a feast. Our evening meal was anywhere between eight to ten courses of delicious, meticulously prepared, locally sourced produce that left us both inspired and more than satisfied. It was the perfect way to finish the day.

This was my first experience doing an organised walking tour and I loved it. Our tour guide Joe was exceptional. His excellent organisational skills, fun loving nature and obvious love of Japan and the outdoors provided the background for a holiday I will never forget. By the end of this tour I had fallen in love with Japan. As we made our way to the airport my husband and I were already planning a return trip. Sadly, the Covid pandemic and border closures delayed those plans. When the borders do open we will be back. Japan is a captivating nation and I cannot think of a better way to explore more of its stunning countryside than with Integral Tracks.

Author: Linda Pesavento – Linda is founder of the She Is Project, unwrapping the wisdom, joy and strength found in the stories of everyday women and making them accessible to women all over the world.

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