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 & dinner indicated in the detailed itinerary where: B=breakfast, L=lunch and D=dinner.
Tokyo - 1 night
Day 1: Thursday 28 March, Arrive Tokyo
- Tour commences at 10.00am in the foyer of the Keio Plaza Hotel
- Welcome Meeting
- Nezu Museum
- Happo-en Garden
- Welcome Dinner
Meeting Point: The tour commences at 10.00am in the foyer of the Keio Plaza Hotel located in the Shinjuku district, Tokyo.
Following a short welcome meeting we drive to the Nezu Museum, showcasing traditional Japanese and Asian works of art once owned by Kaichiro Nezu, a railroad magnate and politician. The museum has a collection of 7000 works of calligraphy, paintings, sculptures, bronzes, and lacquer ware. We will also explore the building’s surroundings – one of Tokyo’s finest gardens.
Happo-en Garen. Meaning ‘beautiful from any angle’, this garden lives up to its name. Here we shall 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.
Tonight we enjoy a Welcome Dinner at our hotel. (Overnight Tokyo) D
Hakone - 2 nights
Day 2: Friday 29 March, Tokyo – Yokohama – Hakone
- Sankei-en Garden, Yokohama
- Hakone Open-Air Museum
- Hakone Jinja Shrine
This morning we depart Tokyo by coach and travel south-west to Hakone. On the way we visit the beautiful Sankei-en Garden, a spacious Japanese style garden in southern Yokohama in which are set a number of historic buildings from across Japan. There is 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 tea houses, the main hall and three storied pagoda of Kyoto’s old Tomyoji Temple. A boxed lunch will be provided.
We then continue to Hakone, located on the shore of Lake Ashi with views across to the iconic Mt Fuji, arguably Japan’s most important landmark, which stands as the symbol of the nation’s identity. It has been pictured countless times, not least in Katsushika Hokusai’s Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji (1826-1833).
We visit the Hakone open-Air Museum, where sculptures by Rodin, Miro and Bourdellemare are exhibited within the garden. The museum has one of the largest collections of work by Henry Moore and over 300 works by Pablo Picasso.
The beautiful Shinto Hakone Shrine sits on the shore of Lake Ashi. Its buildings are hidden within the forest but its presence is announced by huge torii gates at the lake’s edge, and a path leads visitors up lantern-flanked stone steps to the shrine.
Tonight we dine together at the hotel and enjoy a glass of sake with a keiseki dinner of many small and beautifully presented dishes. (Overnight Hakone) BLD
Day 3: Saturday 30 March, Hakone – Kawaguchiko – Hakone
- Itchiku Kubota Art Museum, Kawaguchiko
- Lalique Museum, Hakone
- Hakone Botanical Garden of Wetlands
This morning we drive to Kawaguchiko where we 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 1000 years old. Other parts of the museum are constructed of Ryukyu limestone. The museum’s unique architecture is set against a lovely garden and red pine forest.
After time at leisure for lunch we return to Hakone to visit the Lalique Museum, a collection of over 1,500 Art Nouveau and Art Deco pieces by the French master jeweller and glass artist, including over 200 pieces of jewellery.
We finish our day with a visit to the Hakone Botanical Gardens of Wetland, where we stroll along a boardwalk that leads through a specially designed eco-system of rockeries, ponds, streams and meadows filled with an extraordinary collection of aquatic plants. (Overnight Hakone) B
Kyoto - 6 nights
Day 4: Sunday 31 March, Hakone – Kyoto
- Shinkansen (Bullet Train) to Kyoto
- Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine
- Tofuku-ji Temple Complex
This morning we transfer by coach to Shizuda, from where we take the Shinkansen to Kyoto, 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.
On arrival visit one of the most famous and spectacular sites in Kyoto, the Fushimi Inari Taisha. We will set off from the hotel early to avoid the crowds who come to see the thousands of beautiful vermillion torii (gates) that line the paths to the main buildings of the complex, creating extraordinary tunnels. The shrine is the principal residence of the kami Inari, the Shinto god of rice and commerce, and throughout the complex are numerous statues of foxes, believed to be Inari’s messengers.
Then visit to the superb Tofuku-ji Complex, filled with beautiful and diverse sub-gardens. Hojo-Teien, a garden designed in 1939 by Shigemori Mirei, may 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. (Overnight Kyoto) B
Note: Our luggage will be transported separately to our hotel in Kyoto.
Day 5: Monday 1 April, Kyoto
- Ryoan-ji (Dragon Peace Temple)
- Kinkaku-ji (Temple of the Golden Pavilion)
- Daitoku-ji Buddhist Complex incl. the Ryogen-in, Zuiho-in, Korin-in and Daisen-in
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 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.
We then visit 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, rock-work 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, middle-ground and deep distance.
We conclude the day with a visit to 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 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, Korin-in and Zuiho-in and Ryogen-in. (Overnight Kyoto) B
Day 6: Tuesday 2 April, Kyoto
- Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion)
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.
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.
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). The 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 veranda offers a transition between its dark interior and the light-filled garden.
Our first visit for the day is Renge-ji – a temple garden known for reflecting the beauty of seasonal change. 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. (Overnight Kyoto) B
Day 7: Wednesday 3 April, Kyoto – Nara – Kyoto
- Isui-en Garden
- Yoshiki-en Garden
- Todai-ji Temple
- Touin Teien Garden
- Kofuku-ji Temple
We spend the day in 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 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. Next door is Yoshiki-en, another historic garden named after the Yoshikigawa River that flows between the two gardens. Here we find three gardens – a pond garden, a moss garden and a tea ceremony garden.
We then visit 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, 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.
After time at leisure for lunch we transfer to Touin Teien, a strolling garden on the Nara Palace Site. The area was excavated in 1967 and completely reconstructed in preparation for being opened to the public in 1998. Its layout and structures reflect both Chinese and Japanese styles.
A short distance away is Kofuku-ji, founded in 669. This temple complex contains a five-storey pagoda, 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.
We return to Kyoto were we dine at a local restaurant. (Overnight Kyoto) BD
Day 8: Thursday 4 April, Kyoto
- Heian Jingu Shrine
- Murin-an Gardens
- Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum
Our day starts at one of the newest religious sites in Kyoto, the Heian Jingu Shrine, which boasts the largest torii (sacred gate) in Japan and lovely gardens. The shrine was built in 1896 to commemorate the city’s 1100th 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 beautiful Murin-an gardens, a strolling garden of the Meiji Period. The garden was created by Japanese master gardener Ogawa Jihee in 1894. The garden uses the eastern hills of Kyoto as a viewpoint, which allow it to appear as an extension of the mountain scenery. It has a small stream that is fed by the waters of Lake Biwa, Japan’s biggest lake. Large parts of the garden are lawn, probably an influence of English landscape gardens.
After lunch at a local restaurant we then visit a nearby sake museum and factory that still produces this national beverage using traditional methods. After a tour of the factory where we learn the history of sake, we have the opportunity to sample some of their wares. (Overnight Kyoto) BL
Day 9: Friday 5 April, Kyoto
- Nanzen-ji Temple Complex incl. the Hojo-Teien, Tenju-an, Suirokaku and Konchi-in
- Lunch at a local restaurant
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, and other small gardens of this extensive complex.
Following lunch at a local restaurant, we visit Daigo-ji, a World Heritage Site that is also known at the ‘Temple of the Flowers’. The Shingon Buddhist temple has several small buildings as well as a five-storey pagoda that is the oldest building in Kyoto. Here we can hope to see the beautiful cherry blossom for which the garden is famed! (Overnight Kyoto) BL
Kanazawa - 1 night
Day 10: Saturday 6 April, Kyoto – Kanazawa
- Shinkansen train to Kanazawa
- Tea Ceremony at the Nishida Family Gardens ‘Gyokusen-en’
- Ishikawa-ken History Museum
- Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of Traditional Art & Crafts
This morning we transfer to Kyoto station and take the Shinkansen train to Kanazawa, considered one Japan’s best-preserved Edo-period cities. Kanazawa is a popular place for the Japanese to visit, but perhaps because of its remote location and very cold winters few foreigners make the journey to experience its rich cultural legacies.
After time at leisure for lunch at the Oumi-cho Ichiba market, we visit a former samurai residence belonging to the Nishida family with a beautiful charming garden ‘Gyokusen-en’, where we shall partake in a traditional tea ceremony.
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. 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. We will visit the Ishikawa-ken History Museum that is dedicated to the history of this prefecture.
We finish the day with a visit to the Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of Traditional Art & Crafts. This collection focuses on the 36 different crafts produced in the region, from centuries-old treasures to contemporary works by local craftspeople who maintain these traditional practices. (Overnight Kanazawa) B
Note: Our luggage will be transported separately to our hotel in Matsumoto. An overnight bag will be needed for use in Kanazawa.
Matsumoto - 2 nights
Day 11: Sunday 7 April, Kanazawa – Matsumoto
- Kanazawa Castle (exterior)
- Kenroku-en, Kanazawa
- Higashi-Chayagai District, Kanazawa
- Nomura-ke (restored samurai residence & house garden)
- Train from Kanazawa to Nagano
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.
Across the Asano River is the district of Higashi-Chayagai, 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. 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. This district has been designated as one of Japan’s cultural assets.
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 nullified, 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 artefacts 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.
We then take an afternoon Shinkansen to Matsumoto. (Overnight Matsumoto) B
Day 12: Monday 8 April, Matsumoto – Kiso Valley – Matsumoto
- Nakasendo Highway Walk
- Magome Village
- Tsumago Village
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 some of them have been preserved as a virtual museum of the feudal past.
As we follow the valley we’ll enjoy features of the Nakasendo route, including Kiso Fukushima, the gateway to the sacred mountain of Ontake. We first visit Magome, which means ‘horse-basket’, because this is where travellers were forced to leave their horses before tackling the mountainous roads ahead.
The highway route continues to Tsumago and we will walk part of the way, along the cobbled path that winds through the forested hills, over streams and past charming hamlets.
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. Preserved in the town is Okuya Kyodokan, 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. (Overnight Matsumoto) B
Tokyo - 2 nights
Day 13: Tuesday 9 April, Matsumoto – Tokyo
- Japan Ukiyo-e Museum
- Matsumoto Rising Castle
- Nakamachi-dori Street
We this morning we focus upon Matsumoto itself. We visit the Japan Ukiyoe Museum located a short drive out of the town centre. This privately owned museum in a contemporary building desgined by Shinohara Kazuo, houses the world’s largest collection of traditional woodblock prints (uniko-e).
We then visit 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 remodelled the fortress in 1593 and built the imposing black five-tier donjon that is now the oldest keep in Japan.
We cross the river and stroll through the historic Nakamachi-dori, a street lined with restored white-walled traditional inns, restaurants and antique shops. Here we will enjoy some free time for lunch before boarding our coach and driving to Tokyo. (Overnight Tokyo) B
Day 14: Wednesday 10 April, Tokyo
- Jiyu Gakuen School
- Tokyo National Museum
- Ekouin Nenbutsudo Temple
- Farewell dinner at a local restaurant
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 holds over 110,000 objects, which include more than 87 Japanese National Treasures and 610 Important Cultural Property holdings. The museum’s collections focus on ancient Japanese art and Asian art along the Silk Road but there is also a large collection of Greco-Buddhist art.
During our travels we have encountered many traditional and historic temples and explored the variety of gardens that play such an important role in the complex. Our day concludes with a visit to the Ekouin Nenbutsudo Temple. This is a newly built modern temple in the lively heart of Tokyo. Here we will see the skill with which the architects have utilised the precious space available, and how the traditional components of a temple complex have been reinterpreted in a contemporary structure. In place of a small stroll garden using moss or stone or sand, here bamboo is used to create a green space for contemplation in this busy metropolis.
Tonight enjoy a ‘Farewell Dinner’ at a local restaurant. (Overnight Tokyo) BD
Day 15: Thursday 11 April, Depart Tokyo
- Koishikawa-Korakuen Garden
- Tour concludes at the Keio Plaza Hotel at 12.00pm
We then visit a rare surviving 17th-century strolling garden, located in the west of the city. Koishikawa-korakuen 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 will find waterfalls, ponds, stone lanterns, a small lake with gnarled pines and humped bridges.
Our tour official concludes at the Keio Plaza Hotel at 12.00pm. Please contact ASA if you require assistance with a transfer to either the Narita or Haneda Airports. B