The following itinerary describes a range of gardens, museums and other sites which we plan to visit. Many are accessible to the public, but others require special permission which may only be confirmed closer to the tour’s departure. The daily activities described in this itinerary may change or be rotated and/or modified in order to accommodate alterations in opening hours, flight and train schedules and confirmation of private visits. Participants will receive a final itinerary together with their tour documents prior to departure. The tour includes breakfast daily, lunches & evening meals indicated in the detailed itinerary where: B=breakfast, L=lunch and D=evening meal.
Tokyo - 3 nights
Day 1: Wednesday 13 November, Arrive Tokyo
- Arrival transfer for those travelling on the ASA ‘designated’ flight
- Japanese Imperial Palace Plaza
- Koishikawa Koraku-en Garden
- Light Dinner
After our arrival in Tokyo those taking the ASA ‘designated’ flight will be transferred in a private vehicle to the Hotel New Otani Tokyo. This hotel stands within a beautiful traditional Japanese garden originally designed for the daimyo (feudal lord) Kato Kiyomasa, Lord of Kumamoto in Kyustiu over four hundred years ago. This garden is well worth strolling through and will introduce you to many facets of the Japanese gardens we shall visit in the coming weeks.
After time to rest at the hotel, we begin our tour with a visit to the Japanese Imperial Palace Plaza, the home of the reigning emperor of Japan and his family. We enter via the Nijubashi, where two picturesque bridges span the moat. The Higashi Gyo-en, or East Garden, was opened to the public in 1968 and provides an attractive environment in which to stroll and relax.
We then visit a rare surviving 17th-century strolling garden, located in the west of the city. Koishikawa Koraku-en was designed in part by Zhu Shun Shui, a Ming dynasty refugee from China, and the garden recreates both Japanese and Chinese landscapes. Here we find waterfalls, ponds, stone lanterns, a small lake with gnarled pines and humped bridges.
Tonight we enjoy a light dinner together at our hotel. (Overnight Tokyo) D
Day 2: Thursday 14 November, Tokyo
- Suntory Museum of Art
- Happo-en Garden
- Welcome Lunch at Happo-en Gardens Teahouse
- Nezu Museum
The Suntory Museum of Art was founded in Tokyo’s Marunouchi district in 1961 as the cultural arm of a famous distillery. ‘Beauty in Everyday Life’ has been the theme of the museum since its establishment when the then President of Suntory, Keizo Saji, developed what is now a 3,000-piece collection containing priceless ceramics, folding screens, kimonos, lacquer-ware, textiles and glasswork. Its aim is to relate old things to the new, present beauty over time, and to represent beauty without regard for cultural frontiers of countries and races.
To enhance this philosophy of fusing the ‘traditional’ with the ‘contemporary’, the museum relocated in 2007 to its current Tokyo Mid-town location to be part of the art district known as the Roppongi art triangle. Architect Kengo Kuma, whose aim was to create ‘a Japanese-style room in the city’, designed its new home using new technology and traditional Japanese design elements. The architect’s signature vertical lattice design covers the exterior, while the interior features a sliding 10-metre-high lattice that controls the flow of light. Natural materials like laminated paulownia wood for the interior lattice, washi for the atrium walls, and recycled whiskey barrel wood (a connection to the Suntory distillery) for the flooring create a feeling of warmth throughout the building.
Meaning ‘beautiful from any angle’, the Happo-en garden lives up to its name. Following a Welcome Lunch at the garden’s delightful teahouse, where ladies in kimono will serve you matcha (green tea) and okashi (variety of snacks), a stroll through the gardens will reveal 200-year-old bonsai trees, a stone lantern said to have been carved 800 years ago, and a central pond.
Our day concludes with a visit to the Nezu Museum, showcasing traditional Japanese and Asian works of art once owned by Kaichiro Nezu, a railroad magnate and politician. Architect Kengo Kuma designed an arched roof that rises two floors and extends roughly half a block through the Minami Aoyama neighborhood. At any one time the vast space houses some of the collection’s 7,000 works of calligraphy, paintings, sculptures, bronzes, and lacquer ware. The purpose of our visit however, is to explore the building’s surroundings – one of Tokyo’s finest gardens with 5 acres of ponds, rolling paths, waterfalls, and teahouses. (Overnight Tokyo) BL
Day 3: Friday 15 November, Tokyo
- Jiyu Gakuen School
- Tokyo National Museum
- Ekouin Nenbutsudo Temple by Yutaka Kawahara Design Studio
We begin our day with a visit to the Jiyu Gakuen School. This is a beautifully preserved building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1921, one of 12 buildings the American designed during the two years he lived in Japan. Only three of Wright’s buildings survived the 20th century, and we shall be taken on a tour of this very special building.
Established in 1872, the Tokyo National Museum is the oldest and largest museum in Japan. The museum, which holds over 110,000 objects, focuses on ancient Japanese art and Asian art along the Silk Road. There is also a large collection of Greco-Buddhist art.
During our travels we’ll encounter many traditional and historic temples and explore a variety of gardens that play such an important role in these complexes. This afternoon we visit a contemporary temple – the Ekouin Nenbutsudo Temple by Yutaka Kawahara Design Studio. Completed in 2013, in the lively heart of Tokyo, this Buddhist complex is intended to represent the ‘Gokuraku’ or ‘Paradise in the Sky’ and is comprised of the three traditional structures associated with Buddhist architecture – the vihara (monastery), the stupa (pagoda), and the shrine – stacked one atop the other in response to its compact site. In place of a small stroll garden using moss, stone or sand, here bamboo is used to create a green space for contemplation in this busy metropolis. (Overnight Tokyo) B
Kawaguchiko - 1 night
Day 4: Saturday 16 November, Tokyo – Kawaguchiko
- Sankei-en (Sankei’s Garden)
- Itchiku Kubota Art Museum
Today we depart Tokyo by coach and travel west to the iconic Mount Fuji, the largest volcano in Japan. This is Japan’s highest peak at 3,776 metres. It last erupted in 1707 and forms a near perfect cone. Mount Fuji is arguably Japan’s most important landmark, which stands for the nation’s identity. It has been pictured countless times, not least in Katsushika Hokusai’s Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji (1826-1833).
On the way to Mount Fuji we visit the beautiful Sankei-en, a spacious Japanese-style garden in southern Yokohama, in which are set a number of historic buildings from across Japan. There are a pond, small rivers, a profusion of flowers and wonderful scrolling trails. The garden, built by Hara Sankei, was opened to the public in 1904. Among the historic buildings in the park are the elegant residence of a daimyo (feudal lord), several teahouses, and the main hall and three storied pagoda of Tomyo-ji, the abandoned temple of Kyoto.
In Kawaguchiko we will visit the Itchiku Kubota Art Museum. When the artist Itchiku Kubota was young, he encountered an example of ‘Tsujigahana’ at the Tokyo National Museum. ‘Tsujigahana’ was a technique used in dying kimonos during the 15th and 16th century, an art that was later lost. Kubota-san revived the art and created a series of kimonos decorated with mountain landscapes in all four seasons and Mount Fuji. These kimonos are displayed in a breathtaking setting. The main building is a pyramid-shaped structure supported by sixteen hiba (cypress) beams more than 1,000 years old. Other parts of the museum, displaying an antique glass bead collection, are constructed of Ryukyu limestone. The museum’s unique architecture is set against a lovely garden and red pine forest. Tonight we dine together at the hotel. (Overnight Kawaguchiko) BD
Note: Our luggage will be transported separately to our hotel in Matsumoto. An overnight bag will be needed for use in Kawaguchiko.
Matsumoto - 2 nights
Day 5: Sunday 17 November, Kawaguchiko – Matsumoto
- Fifth Station of Mt Fuji
- Nakamachi Street and Kurassic-kan
- Matsumoto Rising Castle
- Japan Ukiyo-e Museum
We start our day with a visit to the Fifth Station (Kawaguchi-ko) at the Fuji Five Lakes, where, weather permitting, we can enjoy spectacular views of the snow-capped peak. A gentle stroll will allow us to identify some of the native flora of this region.
We then focus upon Matsumoto and its surrounds for the next two days. On arrival in the town, we walk through the historic Nakamachi-dori, a street lined with white-walled traditional inns, restaurants and antique shops. Here we visit the Nakamachi Kurassic-kan, an historic sake brewery with black-beamed interiors and traditional plaster-work outside. We cross the river to walk along the market street Nawate-dori before arriving at Matsumoto-jo, the imposing castle approached across a moat.
Matsumoto-jo was founded by the Ogasawara clan in 1504 but it was another lord, Ishikawa, who remodeled the fortress in 1593 and built the imposing black five-tier donjon that is now the oldest keep in Japan. From the top of the tower we enjoy spectacular views of the town and surrounding mountains.
We end our day with a visit to the Japan Ukiyo-e Museum, a privately owned art museum that houses the world’s largest collection of Japanese woodblock prints (ukiyo-e). The Sakai family started collecting ukiyo-e in the mid-19th century and subsequent generations built an outstanding corpus of historic and contemporary works. They established the museum in 1982. (Overnight Matsumoto) B
Day 6: Monday 18 November, Matsumoto – Kiso Valley – Matsumoto
- Nagiso Town Museum
Today we drive out of Matsumoto and head to the Kiso Valley for a taste of how Japan looked prior to urbanisation. Developed by Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu as one of the five main highways linking his capital Edo (Tokyo) with the rest of Japan, the valley contains eleven post towns and three of them, Narai, Tsumago and Magone, have been preserved as a virtual museum of the feudal past.
At Narai we see distinctive wooden buildings with window shutters and renji-goshi latticework. We shall visit the Kashira-ningyo where colourfully painted dolls and toys are still made. Nakamura House dates from the 1830s and was the home of a merchant who manufactured combs, one of the area’s specialties. You will have time to visit this and explore side streets where there are temples and shrines and the famous Kiso-no-Ohashi, an arched wooden bridge that crosses the Narai-gawa.
As we follow the valley we’ll enjoy features of the Nakasendo route, including Kiso Fukushima, the location of a major barrier, but today the gateway to the sacred mountain of Ontake.
Tsumago was a ghost town 30 years ago, with its traditional Edo-era houses on the point of collapse. Its restoration sparked the idea of cultural preservation in Japan. The pedestrian-only street is similar to that once encountered by lords and their samurai centuries ago. The highlight of Tsumago is Okuya Kyodokan, a folk museum inside a designated post inn, where the daimyo’s (feudal lord) retinue rested. On the opposite side of the street the Kyu-honjin is where the daimyo used to stay.
Our third village stop is Magome, which means ‘horse-basket’, because this is where travellers were forced to leave their horses before tackling the mountainous roads ahead.
Our final visit for the day is to the Nagiso Town Museum. Opened in 1995, the museum has three divisions: Tsumago Post Town Honjin, a sub-honjin, and a history museum. (A honjin is a temporary residence for a lord or dignitary to stay in when travelling to and from the shogunate capital of Edo.) The present building of the subhonjin was built in 1878 utilising Japanese cypress throughout, a type of wood proscribed for ordinary construction during the Edo period (1600-1868). The History Museum contains historical materials of Nagiso Town and history of the trust organisation dedicated to the preservation of historic towns, villages, and neighbourhoods. From here we return to Matsumoto, where you can explore the city on your own and enjoy dinner at a traditional restaurant. (Overnight Matsumoto) B
Kanazawa - 1 night
Day 7: Tuesday 19 November, Matsumoto – Kanazawa
- Shinkansen Superexpress train to Kanazawa
- Ishikawa Prefectural Museum for Traditional Products and Crafts
- Nomura-ke (restored samurai residence & house garden)
- Higashi-Chayamachi District
This morning we travel by coach to Nagano, where we board the new Shinkansen Superexpress train to Kanazawa, considered one Japan’s best-preserved Edo-period cities. The Japanese visit Kanazawa in droves but perhaps because of its remote location and very cold winters few foreigners make the journey to experience its rich cultural legacies.
On arrival we visit the Museum for Traditional Products and Crafts, which showcases the fine arts and crafts of Ishikawa, a Prefecture whose culture of fine arts and traditional crafts compares with that of Tokyo and Kyoto. Highlights of the collection include feudal daimyo utensils using the Kaga Makie technique, Kutani porcelain from Ko-kutani (Old Kutani) and Wajima lacquer-ware.
The feudal atmosphere of Kanazawa still lingers in the Nagamachi district, where old houses of the Nagamachi Samurai line the streets that once belonged to Kaga Clan Samurais. The T-shaped and L-shaped alleys are distinct characteristics of the feudal town, and the mud doors and gates of the houses remain the same as they were 400 years ago. The houses with their samurai windows (bushimado) and mud walls under the yellow Kobaita wooden roofs, which were protected from snow by straw mats (komo), evoke a bygone era.
During the Edo Period (1603-1867), the scale and dispensation of land to samurai families who lived in this district, and others in the city, was a fairly accurate indicator of rank. One of the larger Nagamachi estates was assigned to Nomura Denbei Nobusada, a senior official in the service of the first feudal lord of the Kaga domain. The reforms that accompanied the Meiji Restoration in 1868 decimated the lifestyles of the socially privileged. The samurai, whose social class was nulified, not only had their stipends terminated, but their estates were also appropriated by the state. Consequently, the Nomura family, whose considerable land holdings dated back 12 generations, lost their home and were reduced to turning a section of the remaining part of their property over to the cultivation of fruit and vegetables. Though they were discouraged from public displays of ostentation, merchant families and those of former samurai were not prohibited from commissioning the construction of exquisite gardens.
We visit the restored residence of Nomura, displaying the lifestyle and artifacts of the era, and explore its garden which features trees that are over 400 years old. Broad, irregularly shaped stepping stones provide access to the inner garden whose attractive entrance is flanked by a Chinese maple tree with leaves that turn a brilliant red in autumn.
Across the Asano River is the district of Higashi-Chayamachi, Kanazawa’s most famous geisha district. Many of the tall wooden-latticed houses on the narrow streets are still used by geisha for high-class entertainment as they have done since 1820 when the area was established as a geisha quarter. You can take tea (without geisha) at Shima House for a chance to experience its refined and elegant atmosphere. Like Kyoto’s Gion, this district has been designated as one of Japan’s cultural assets. (Overnight Kanazawa) B
Note: Our luggage will be transported directly from Matsumoto to our hotel in Kyoto. An overnight bag will be needed for use in Kanazawa.
Kyoto - 3 nights
Day 8: Wednesday 20 November, Kanazawa – Kyoto
- Kanazawa Castle, Kanazawa
- Kenroku-en, Kanazawa
- Train from Kanazawa to Kyoto
- Gion District, Kyoto
Our first destination this morning is Kanazawa Castle, the seat of power of the local Maeda clan, hereditary feudal lords (daimyo) of the Kaga province from 1583. Burnt down on a number of occasions, only the superb Ishikawa Gate and the Sanjikken Nagaya samurai dwelling survive from the original construction.
Kenroku-en is Kanazawa’s prime attraction and one of the three most famous gardens in Japan, along with Koraku-en (Okayama) and Kairaku-en (Mito). Kenroku-en was once the outer garden of Kanazawa Castle and there has been a garden on the site since the late 1600s. The original garden, begun by the fifth Maeda lord, Tsunonori Maeda, was called Renchi tei but it was almost entirely burnt out in 1759. It was restored in the 1770s and in 1822 became known as Kenroku-en, a name that means ‘the garden of six sublimities’ or, ‘a garden combining the six aspects of a perfect garden’. These six features were what the Chinese traditionally believed were necessary for the ideal garden – spaciousness and seclusion, artifice and antiquity, water-courses and panoramas: all these characteristics are to be found in the 25 acres of this beautiful garden.
We then transfer to the train station to take the train south to Kyoto. Kyoto was the capital of Japan from the late 8th century (c.794 AD) until 1868, when the court was moved to Tokyo. It is home to 17 World Heritage Sites, 1600 Buddhist temples and 400 Shinto shrines, yet much of the city centre is modern. One of the finest of its contemporary buildings is its dramatic railway station.
We begin our exploration of Kyoto with a glimpse of a vanishing world – the district of Gion, home to geisha houses and traditional teahouses. Although the number of geishas has declined over the last century the area is still famous for the preservation of forms of traditional architecture and entertainment. To experience the traditional Gion, we stroll along Hanami-koji, a street lined by beautiful old buildings, including teahouses, where you may be able to glimpse a geisha apprentice. Contrary to popular belief Gion is not a red-light district, nor are geishas prostitutes. Geishas are young girls or women extensively trained as entertainers and skilled in a number of traditional Japanese arts such as classical music and dance as well as the performance of the exacting rituals of a Japanese tea ceremony. (Overnight Kyoto) B
Day 9: Thursday 21 November, Kyoto
- Kinkaku-ji (Temple of the Golden Pavilion)
- Daitoku-ji Buddhist Complex incl. the Ryogen-in
- Ryoan-ji (Dragon Peace Temple)
Kyoto is notable for its extraordinary diversity of Japanese gardens, including many of the finest traditional temple gardens. Our first visit in Kyoto is to the Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji). During the 15th century the Chinese Sung Dynasty exercised an enormous influence in Japan as artists, poets and Zen priests were gathered together by Yoshimitsu, the third Ashikaga shogun (1358-1409). Yoshimitsu began construction of the Golden Pavilion just before he retired in 1394, handing power to his nine-year-old son so that he could move to his estate. Little of his work remains but we can sense the character of the garden in its pond, rockwork and extensive plantings.
The pavilion at Kinkaku-ji recalls Sung period architecture but it is a recreation, having been burned down in the 1950s. The present building is an exact replica except that where Yoshimitsu proposed only to gild the ceiling of the third storey with gold; now the whole building is gilded. Yoshimitsu positioned his palace on the edge of a lake. The ground floor was a reception room for guests and departure point for leisure boating, the first storey was for philosophical discussions and panoramic views of the lake while the upper floor acted as a refuge for Yoshimitsu and was used for tea ceremonies. The size of the gardens is increased visually by the water’s convoluted edge, the use of rocks and clipped trees and by visually ‘borrowing’ a distant view of Mt Kinugasa that creates a sense of gradation between foreground, middleground and deep distance.
We next visit Daitoku-ji, a large complex of Zen temples with prayer halls, religious structures and 23 sub-temples with some of the most exquisite gardens in Kyoto, some quite small, including raked gravel gardens and, in the Daisen-in, one of the most celebrated small rock gardens in Japan. The Japanese consider Daitoku-ji one of the most privileged places to study and it is associated with many of Japan’s most famous priests. Unlike many of the larger public Buddhist temples of earlier sects, the Rinzai sect monasteries were intimate, inward looking and remained isolated from the outside world.
The temple received imperial patronage and thus grew out from its centre in an organic way. A transition occurred as the complex expanded from a formal centre to semiformal and informal precincts. The central north-south walkway is most formal with wide paths to accommodate processions and ceremonies, while to the side are sub-temples with gates. As you walk through one of these gates you immediately come upon a less formal world with narrow paths, turns and walkways. The temple site contains a number of notable gardens including Daisen-in, Koto-in, Koho-an, Hogo and Ryogen-in.
We conclude the day with a visit to Ryoan-ji – the Dragon Peace Temple. No other garden in the world is so simple, elegant and refined. The garden comprises 15 rocks in a sea of raked gravel surrounded by a compacted mud wall coated in oil that is in itself a national treasure. The garden dates from 1500 as part of a temple of the Renzai sect of Zen Buddhism. The temple burned but was reconstructed in its original form. The garden constitutes the supreme example of a dry garden where gravel and rock symbolise plant and water elements. Indeed, apart from the moss on the rocks, no other plants grow in it. The meaning of the garden remains unknown. It might symbolise islands in a sea, mountains seen through clouds or tigers and cubs crossing a river, but this doesn’t matter since this is a garden to encourage contemplation, the enclosing wall separating the visitor from the world outside, and the verandah creating a horizontal boundary. (Overnight Kyoto) B
Day 10: Friday 22 November, Kyoto
- Lunch at the Beaux Sejours, Grand Prince Hotel
- Ginkaku-ji (Temple of the Silver Pavilion)
Today we will visit a number of Kyoto’s great gardens. Our first visit for the day is to Renge-ji. The temple is known for its garden, which reflects the beauty of seasonal change. Autumn when the maple leaves change colour, is the best season to visit. Capturing the essence of Japanese gardens, it includes a central pond surrounded by plantings linking to the hillside beyond. Stones, bridge and plantings are all reflected on the water-surface, giving a sense of spaciousness.
The intimate gardens of Shisen-do are considered masterworks of Japanese gardens. Its street walls mask the tranquillity and beauty to be found within. Raked sand, clipped azaleas and the tree covered hillsides of Higashiyama form the main components of this garden designed by Ishikawa Jozan (1583-1672). Clipped azaleas give way to natural vegetation beyond the garden boundary but it is the close harmony between the indoor spaces of the pavilion and the garden beyond that is most striking. The verandah offers a transition between its dark interior and the light-filled garden.
Following lunch at the Grand Prince Hotel’s Beaux Sejours restaurant, we visit Ginkaku-ji. Originally constructed as the retirement villa of the Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa (1435-1490), the Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion) became a Zen temple upon his death. The garden is complex, comprising two distinct sections, a pond area with a composition of rocks and plants, and a sand garden with a truncated cone – the Moon-Viewing Height – suggesting Mt Fuji; and a horizontal mound – the Sea of Silver Sand – named for its appearance by moonlight. An educational display at the garden contains good moss and weed moss to allow you to tell the difference. (Overnight Kyoto) BL
Nara - 1 night
Day 11: Saturday 23 November, Kyoto – Nara
- Nara Park (Nara-koen) including the temples of Todai-ji and Kofuku-ji
- Isui-en Garden
- Traditional Japanese bath (optional)
We leave Kyoto by coach for the ancient Japanese city of Nara, the national capital prior to Kyoto. During this period Buddhism became firmly established in Japan under the patronage of nobles who sponsored the buildings and works of art that we shall visit.
Our first destination is to the impressive Todai-ji, founded in 745 by Emperor Shomu. Although rebuilt following a fire in 1709 to two-thirds of its original size it nevertheless remains the largest timber building in the world. Two seven-metre tall guardian gods flank the entrance, (known as the nandai-mon), to the great Buddha Hall, the Daibutsu-den, which houses the 15-metre-tall bronze statue of the great Buddha. The original casting was completed in 752, when an Indian priest stood on a special platform and symbolically opened its eyes by painting on the Buddha’s eyes with a huge brush. This ceremony was performed before the then retired Emperor Shomu, his wife Komio and the reigning Empress Kogen, together with ambassadors from China, India and Persia.
We then visit the wonderful Nara-koen complex. It contains a five-storey pagoda, part of the Kofuku-ji founded in 669, a fine collection of Buddhist statues in the kokuhokan (National Treasure Building) and a 15th-century hall to the north of the pagoda. The kokahokan is a treasure trove of early Buddhist statues and although it is not large, each piece has been carefully chosen as a masterpiece of its style and period.
Our final visit for the day is to the small Isui-en, a traditional Japanese garden notable for its extensive use of moss and its exquisite tea pavilion. This garden is a kaiyushiki teien (strolling) style design that allows the visitor to easily walk through the garden and view it from many different angles.
From here you might like to stroll through some of Nara’s historic streets or try a traditional Japanese bath (sento: public bath; onsen: hot spring bath). The traditional Japanese-style inn we are staying in tonight provides open-air communal baths using hot spring water and affords a wonderful view of Kofuku-ji Temple’s five-storey pagoda, which is illuminated at night. Tonight we dine in a traditional style at the Ryokan Asukasou, which serves Japanese kaiseki dishes. (Overnight Nara) BD
Note: We will leave our main luggage at the hotel in Kyoto during our 1 night stay in Nara. An overnight bag will be needed for use in Nara
Kyoto - 3 nights
Day 12: Sunday 24 November, Nara – Kyoto
- Treasures of the Nara National Museum
Our first visit today is to the Nara National Museum, noted for its collection of Buddhist art, including images, sculpture and ceremonial articles.
Shin-Yakushi-ji is a Buddhist temple built in the 19th year of the Tempyo era (747) by Empress Komio as an offering of thanksgiving when Emperor Shomu recovered from an eye disease. It now constitutes a single hall enshrining a powerful image of Yakushi Nyorai, the Healing Buddha, surrounded by clay sculptures of 12 guardians called Juni Shinsho, the Yakushi Nyorai’s protective warriors. In Japanese sculpture and art, the warriors are almost always grouped in a protective circle around the Yakushi Nyorai; they are rarely depicted as single figures. Many say they represent the 12 vows of Yakushi; others believe the 12 were present when the historical Buddha introduced the ‘Healing Sutra’; others claim that they offer protection during the 12 daylight hours, or that they represent the 12 months and 12 cosmic directions, or the 12 animals of the 12-year Chinese zodiac.
The grounds of Horyu-ji house the world’s oldest surviving wooden structures, dating from the Asuka Period (mid-6th-beginning of 8th century AD). Throughout the 187,000-square-metre grounds are irreplaceable cultural treasures, bequeathed across the centuries and continuing to preserve the essence of eras spanning the entire journey through Japanese history since the 7th century. Horyu-ji contains over 2300 important cultural and historical structures and articles, including nearly 190 that have been designated as National Treasures or important Cultural Properties. In 1993 Horyu-ji was selected by UNESCO as part of the World Heritage as a unique storehouse of world Buddhist culture. Following this visit we transfer by coach to Kyoto. (Overnight Kyoto) B
Day 13: Monday 25 November, Kyoto
- Saiho-ji (or ‘Koke-dera’ – moss temple)
- Nishiki-koji Covered Market
We first visit the Tenryu-ji, which dates from the period of shogun Ashikaga Takauji (1339). He commissioned the priest Muso Kokushi – one of Japan’s best known garden designers, who also designed the moss garden at Saiho-ji – to create this garden. Kokushi’s work modified an estate of Emperor Gosaga from 1270. He changed its form to include an Heian-style pond garden with popular, contemporary Chinese aspects. These included most notably a group of seven vertical rocks near the rear shore of its pond. These contrast markedly with Japanese rock work that takes a more horizontal form. This is one of the earliest gardens to show shakkei, the incorporation of borrowed landscape into a garden’s design.
Saiho-ji has the oldest major garden of the Muromachi Period. Originally designed to represent the Western Paradise (or Pure Land) of Amida Buddhism, this so-called ‘strolling garden’ is set in a dark forest and is designed for meditation. It was re-designed by a Zen Buddhist priest, Muso Soseki, who also designed the garden of Tenryu-ji in Kyoto, when it passed to the Zen Buddhist sect. The chief feature of the garden is the ‘golden pond’ with pavilions scattered on its shore and connected by a path that allows controlled views of the garden. The pond is shaped like the Japanese character for ‘heart’ or ‘spirit’. It is divided by islands connected by bridges. The mosses, which give the garden its alternative name (Koke-dera – ‘moss temple’) were established as an economy measure after the Meiji restoration (1868).
Nanzen-ji is one of the most famous Rinzai Zen temples in Japan. It was founded in 1291 by Emperor Kameyama, and was rebuilt several times after devastating fires. At the entrance to the complex one passes through the huge Imperial gate, built in 1628 by Todo Takatora, and into the complex with its series of sub-temples. We will see the hojo, or abbot’s quarters, which is notable for both it’s beautiful golden screen paintings and the tranquil sand and rock garden. We will also explore the sub-temple Konchi-in which was added to the complex in 1605.
In the late afternoon we shall walk through the traditional 17th-century Nishiki-koji covered market, which has for centuries been the focus of food shopping in the city. You may wish to try Japanese pickled vegetables or purchase teapots and teabowls from a traditional vendor. Nearby is a Japanese electrical store that shows Japanese consumerism at its height. Spread over five storeys, this extraordinary store offers every imaginable electrical item. We will end the day in the fashionable gallery and restaurant area. (Overnight Kyoto) B
Day 14: Tuesday 26 November, Kyoto
- Heian Shrine
- Tea Ceremony at Kodai-ji Temple
We begin the day with a visit to one of the newest religious sites in Kyoto, the Heian Shrine, which boasts the largest torii (sacred gate) in Japan and lovely gardens. The shrine was built in 1896 to commemorate the city’s 1,100th anniversary and to honour its founder, Emperor Kammu and also to celebrate the culture and architecture of the city’s Heian-past. It is constructed on the site of the original Heian Hall of State but is a smaller and somewhat imperfect recreation of this earlier building. Four gardens surround the main shrine buildings on the south, west, middle and east, covering an area of approximately 33,000 square metres. The gardens are designated as a national scenic spot representative of Meiji-era (1868-1912) garden design.
We then visit the superb Tofuku-ji Hojo, a garden designed in 1939 by Shigemori Mirei. This will be familiar to many who have read books on Japanese gardens for it combines 20th-century design with elements from Japanese tradition. Mirei implements subtle, restrained design themes such as chequer-boards of stone in moss to allow the natural form and colour of maples on the surrounding hills to make full impact.
We end our visit to Kyoto with a visit to the Kodai-ji Temple to experience a tea ceremony. (Overnight Kyoto) B
Matsue - 1 night
Day 15: Wednesday 27 November, Kyoto – Okayama – Matsue
- Kouraku-en, Okayama
- Adachi Museum of Art
- Farewell Dinner at a Local Restaurant
Today we depart Kyoto and travel by train to Okayama where we visit another of the country’s so-called ‘Three Great Gardens of Japan’, Kouraku-en. This garden dates from the Edo period when the daimyo (feudal lord) Ikeda Tsunamasa ordered its construction in 1687. Completed in 1700, it has retained its overall appearance with only a few minor changes made over the centuries. The garden was used for entertaining guests and also as a retreat for the daimyo.
In the afternoon we travel by train to Matsue, where we shall visit the Adachi Museum of Art, located in the rural landscape of the Sinmane region. This is a contemporary art museum set within a large garden, considered by many to be one of the most beautiful gardens in Japan. The museum was founded by Adachi Zenko who felt a strong resonance between the sublime sensibility of the Japanese-style garden and the paintings of Yokoyama Taikan whose work he collected. This is a contemplation garden which visitors observe from various carefully designed points within the museum. Each season reveals itself through different aspects of the garden, and during our visit we can expect the hills that form the backdrop to the vista before us to be a blaze of autumnal colour while vivid reds enliven the foliage of the garden. After checking in to our hotel, we shall enjoy a farewell dinner at a local restaurant. (Overnight Matsue) BD
Note: As we will be travelling by train today, our luggage will be transferred directly to the Matsue hotel.
Day 16: Thursday 28 November, Depart Matsue
- Izumo Shine
- Shimane Museum of Ancient Izumo
This morning we travel from Matsue to the nearby town of Izumo to visit the Izumo-taisha, one of the oldest and most important Shinto shrines in Japan. Its foundation date is not known, but it was already a well established religious complex in the 10th century. The complex comprises of multiple prayer halls and sanctuaries. The artistic and archaeological treasures form this area are displayed next door to the shrine at the Shimane Museum of Ancient Izumo.
After lunchtime at leisure we transfer to Izumo Airport for our flights home. B