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 meals indicated in the detailed itinerary where: B=breakfast, L=lunch and D=dinner.
Tokyo - 1 night
Day 1: Tuesday 28 October, Tokyo
- Tour commences at 10.00am in the foyer of the Hotel
- Welcome Meeting
- Nezu Museum
- Ota Memorial Museum of Art
- Welcome Dinner
Meeting Point: The tour commences at 10.00am in the foyer of the Hotel. Check-in time is not until 3.00pm, however your luggage may be securely stored until we return from our day’s program at 4.30pm.
We commence with a short welcome meeting which will be followed by a visit to two of the most interesting museums in Tokyo that will provide an excellent introduction to the traditional art of Japan. The Nezu Museum, in a building designed by Kengo Kuma, houses a collection of traditional Japanese and Asian works of art once owned by Kaichiro Nezu, a railroad magnate and politician. At any one time the vast space houses some of the collection’s 7000 works of calligraphy, paintings, sculptures, bronzes, and lacquer ware. The building is set within a beautiful garden.
The nearby Ota Memorial Museum of Art is a delightful museum specialising in Japanese Ukiyo-e, the country’s famous woodblock prints. The museum has a collection of over 14,000 works from all eras of this art, including masterpieces by Kitagawa Utamaro, Katsushika Hokusa (including a print of The Great Wave) and Utagawa Hiroshige.
Tonight we enjoy a Welcome Dinner at our hotel. (Overnight Tokyo) D
Kanazawa - 2 nights
Day 2: Wednesday 29 October, Tokyo – Kanazawa
- Shinkansen (Bullet Train) Tokyo – Kanazawa
- Higashi-Chayagai District
- Nomura-ke (restored samurai residence & house garden)
- 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art
- Evening lecture at the hotel
This morning we travel by 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.
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.
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.
Contrasting ‘Old Kanazawa’ is the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art that opened in 2004 with a design by SANAA architects. The building is circular, opening equally in all directions and transparent. Sustainability is one of the guiding principles when commissioning works, while another is the ‘democratizing’ of contemporary art to make it accessible to all.
We finish our day with a lecture at the hotel, when Mark will provide an overview of Japanese history and some of its most significant moments and people. (Overnight Kanazawa) B
Note: Our luggage will be transported separately to our hotel in Kanazawa.
Day 3: Thursday 30 October, Kanazawa
- Artisan Visits
- Kanazawa Castle (exterior)
- Kenroku-en Garden
- National Crafts Museum
This morning we visit the ateliers and stores of several craftsmen who continue to practice traditional Japanese crafts: papermaking, bamboo weaving and pottery. From these master craftsmen we will learn of the techniques, discipline and philosophies that are essential for the creation of each piece.
We then visit 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 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 finish the day with a visit to the newly opened National Crafts Museum. This collection was previously housed in the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo, relocating to Kanazawa in 2020, and comprises craft, graphic and industrial design work from the Meiji era (1863-1912) to today.
This evening we dine at a charming local restaurant. Hidden behind a traditional façade hung with lanterns, the restaurant specializes in delicious charcoal grilling. (Overnight Kanazawa) BLD
Nara - 2 nights
Day 4: Friday 31 October, Kanazawa – Kyoto – Nara
- Shinkansen Kanazawa – Kyoto
- Horyu-ji Temple Complex, Nara (incl. Chugu-ji Golden Hall and Pagoda)
This morning we take the Shinkansen to Kyoto, and then travel by coach to Nara, a beautiful town that retains the atmosphere of ancient Japan, and from 710 to 784 it was the nation’s first permanent capital. It is home to many of Japan’s oldest temples, particularly Buddhist and Shinto shrines.
On arrival we visit one of Japan’s oldest temple complexes, Horyu-ji, founded in 607 by Prince Shotoku. This extensive Buddhist temple complex was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993 and the Western Precinct is home to the world’s oldest surviving wooden structures – the central gate, the main hall and a five-storey pagoda. (Overnight Nara) BLD
Day 5: Saturday 1 November, Nara
- National Nara Museum, and the annual Shosoin Exhibition
This morning we visit two important temple complexes that are included as part of the UNESCO designated World Heritage Site ‘Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara’. Yakushi-ji was constructed by the Emperor Tenmu in the late 7th century in gratitude for the recovery of the Empress from illness. This Buddhist temple complex has a strictly symmetrical layout, with a main hall flanked by two pagodas. Today it is the headquarters of the Hosso school of Japanese Buddhism.
Toshodai-ji is of the Risshu sect of Buddhism, and its Golden Hall, the kondo, is considered the archetype of the ‘classic style’ of Buddhist temple architecture. The façade of the single story structure is divided into seven bays and topped by a hipped tile roof.
After time at lesiure for lunch we 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.
We finish the day with a visit to the Nara National Museum, one of the pre-eminent national art museums in Japan. The museum houses a marvellous collection of art belonging to the temples and shrines in the area, and is renowned for the collection of Japanese Buddhist sculpture, scrolls, paintings and altar goods. Our visit is timed to coincide with the annual Shosoin exhibition, when artefacts from the treasure house of Todai-ji Temple are selected for special display for a few weeks in autumn. (Overnight Nara) BD
Kyoto - 4 nights
Day 6: Sunday 2 November, Nara – Shiga – Kyoto
- Miho Museum
- Shigaraki Village
This morning we depart Nara and visit a remarkable site in the hills to the north east of the city, Joruri-ji. This Buddhist Temple of the Ritsu sect dates to the mid-eleventh century and the complex holds four national treasures and nine important cultural properties. Of particular importance are the group of nine sitting Amida Nyorai statues, each one symbolizing one of the nine stages of Nirvana, and the group of the Four Heavenly Kings. The temple’s historic garden is one of the few remaining examples of a Paradise garden of the early Heian Period (794-1185); the layout is said to be in the shape of the Sandskritt letter ‘A’, expressing paradise.
Further north we visit the Miho Museum, located in the beautiful Shigaraki mountains, an extraordinary contemporary space designed by I.M. Pei. Home to an impressive private collection of Asian, African and European art, the museum is built into the mountain itself (80% pf the structure is underground), in order to create harmony between the building and the natural landscape. The architecture echoes the temple design of the past, and clearly reflects Pei’s philosophy “that light is the key to architecture”.
A short distance from the Miho Museum is Shigaraki, one of Japan’s Six Ancient Kilns. The development and popularity of Shigaraki ware flourished from the 14th century as the tea ceremony evolved in nearby Kyoto and Nara, and by the Edo period (1603-1867) the kiln produced tea jars, sake bottles, and miso jars, followed by charcoal braziers during the Meiji era (1868-1912). Today, the local craftsmen use traditional techniques to create objects suited to the 21st century, particularly vases, tableware and ceramic planters.
We will enjoy a leisurely visit to Shigaraki village where the proud tradition and history is celebrated, then continue on to Kyoto. (Overnight Kyoto) B
Day 7: Monday 3 November, Kyoto
- Kinkaku-ji (Temple of the Golden Pavilion)
- Afternoon at Leisure
We start the day with a visit 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 then 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 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, Zuiho-in and Ryogen-in. It also celebrates Autumn with special openings of areas of the complex usually closed to the public.
The afternoon is at leisure. You may wish to visit some of Kyoto’s many temples and gardens, stroll along the Philosopher’s Path or explore the city’s many artisan shops selling traditional wares. (Overnight Kyoto) B
Day 8: Tuesday 4 November, Kyoto
This morning we visit Tofuku-ji, a large temple complex founded in the 13th century and is one of the ‘Kyoto Gozan’ or ‘five great Zen temples of Kyoto’. The Hojo, a garden designed in 1939 by Shigemori Mirei who masterfully combined 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. The main gate (sanmon) is a national Treasure and the oldest surviving gate in the country.
This afternoon we escape the crowds that flock to Kyoto to enjoy the glorious autumnal colours, and visit Sekiho-ji, a tranquil shrine with a stroll garden. Founded in 1713, the temple is of the Obaku sect of Zen Buddhism. Stone paths lead visitors through the garden to a bamboo grove where 500 stone statues are arranged, many by famed painter and sculptor Ito Jakuchu. (Overnight Kyoto) BL
Day 9: Wednesday 5 November, Kyoto
- Shimabara Sumiya
Nishihongan-ji is a large temple complex built in 1591. Many of its buildings have been designated as National Treasures, while the complex as a whole is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Nishihongan-ji celebrates the beauty of autumn by opening up buildings that are normally closed to the public. In the central courtyard is an old gingko tree that displays beautiful autumnal colour. The tree is given particular care as it is credited with saving the surrounding buildings from fire in 1864 by ‘spraying’ them with moisture.
Our afternoon is spent in Shimabara, one of the historic courtesan districts, and later also a geisha district of Kyoto. Our focus is the Sumiya, one of the few secular buildings in Kyoto to survive from the Edo period and the only remaining former ageya (‘pleasure house’). The first floor had a banquet room for up to 100 people, facing a large garden to the rear of the property. There was also a smaller banquet room facing an inner garden and three tea houses. The upper story had had smaller rooms that could be opened up for larger parties or closed for privacy. Throughout the Sumiya is adorned with paintings from different phases of the building’s life, along with fascinating insights into the patronage of the establishment. The archives contain poems by noted haiku poets who had a salon here, while the sword rack and sword chest where clients checked-in their katana are testimony to the measures required to prevent outbreaks of violence. (Overnight Kyoto) B
Inuyama - 2 nights
Day 10: Thursday 6 November, Kyoto – Chikubushima – Inuyama
- Hogon-ji Temple, Chikubushima Island
- Tsukubusuma-jinja, Chikubushima Island
- Inuyama Castle (exterior)
Today we drive to Nagahama on the shores of Lake Biwa, and from there we take a short ferry ride to Chikubushima Island. Known locally as the Island of the Gods, Chikubushima is thought to have its own benevolent spiritual energy. It is a beautiful and peaceful place, with temples and shrines tucked away in forested hills. The Buddhist temple Hogon-ji dates to 724, while the nearby Tsukubusuma-jinja is a Shinto shrine and National Treasure that dates to 420.
Returning to the mainland we continue on to Inuyama, where we pay a visit to Inuyama Castle, strikingly situated overlooking the Kiso River. The castle was founded in 1440, although the current buildings date from the 1580s. Once surrounded by barracks, gates and other such buildings, only the keep survives today – the other buildings were demolished at the end of the Edo period in the mid-19th century. (Overnight Inuyama) BLD
Day 11, Friday 8 November, Inuyama – Mino – Inuyama
- Urakuen Garden, Inuyama
- Meiji-Mura (including Frank Lloyd Wright’s Imperial Hotel)
- Mino Tesuki Washi House
Our first visit today is to the tranquil stroll garden located near our hotel, Urakuen. We continue on to Meiji-Mura, an extraordinary open-air architecture museum where buildings from the Meiji (1868-1912), Taisho (1912-1926) and early Showa (1926-1989) eras are preserved in a large park. This was an era when Japan started to open up to the world and started to adopt aspects of Western culture. A highlight of the museum is Frank Lloyd Wright’s Imperial Hotel Lobby and Front Entrance. Built in 1923 in Tokyo, the hotel was demolished in 19767 to make way for a larger hotel, and this front section of the building was dismantled, moved to Meiji-Mura and reassembled. Other notable buildings include schools, a brewery, a military barracks and the 1901 Tomatsu merchant house that survived the bombing of Nagoya during World War Two.
We then visit Mino, a charming town famed for the production of high-quality Mino washi paper – listed as UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage. The historic Mino Udatsu district retains Edo period wooden houses that were the homes and businesses of the washi paper merchants. (Overnight Inuyama) BD
Himeji - 1 night
Day 12, Saturday 8 November, Nagoya – Himeji
- Shinkansen Nagoya – Himeji
- Himeji Castle
This morning we travel by Shinkansen to Himeji a city in the Kansai region famous for the sprawling white castle that dominates the skyline. Himeji was strategically situated on the San’yodo Highway connecting this region with western Japan, and was therefore an important stronghold of the Tokugawa shogunate. It is one of the few original castles for the feudal period, surviving many battles and natural disasters throughout its 800 year history, even incendiary bombing air raids in the final days of World War Two. The UNESCO World Heritage Site comprises a network of 86 buildings, including a six-storey keep and three smaller subsidiary keeps, towers, kitchens, storehouses and gates. Many of the defence systems are still intact and provide a fascinating insight into the brutality of feudal warfare and the innovate architectural features that were developed. (Overnight Himeji) B
Okayama - 1 night
Day 13, Sunday 9 November, Himeji – Engyoji – Jodoji – Himeji
- Mount Shosha Ropeway
- Shinkansen Himeji – Okayama
- Kouraku-en, Okayama
Today we explore the mountains outside Himeji, an opportunity to visit an area of great natural beauty and historic architecture that is not often visited by tourists. We travel up the mountain by the Mount Shosha Ropeway, a kind of funicular that will carry us up the mountain to Engyo-ji, a temple complex spread over a spacious densely forested site. 33 Buddha statues line the path from the ropeway station, and trails through the trees lead from one temple building to the next. We will see the Daikodo (main hall), Jikido (dining hall, now exhibiting the temple treasures) and the Jogyodo.
After returning to Himeji by the ropeway we travel by train to Okayama where we visit one 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. (Overnight Okayama) B
Kurashiki - 2 nights
Day 14, Monday 10 November, Okayama – Teshima – Kurashiki
- Ferry to Teshima Art Island
- Teshima Art Museum
- Return to mainland by ferry
This morning we drive to Uno from where we take a ferry to Teshima Art Island. There are around 3000 mostly uninhabited islands in the Seto Inland Sea, and hidden amongst them are the ‘Art Islands’, where cutting edge museums and extraordinary art installations have brought world-wide fame to the region.
The Teshima Art Museum was designed by architect Ryue Nishizawa and artist Rei Naito. It is intended to resemble a water droplet at the moment of landing. The harmony of nature, art and architecture is enhanced by a natural spring that wells up inside the building, and the two large openings that allow the outside world to enter the museum – even snow on occasion!
Other installations on the island include the Teshima Seawall House, a former teahouse filled with the sound of music boxes, drums and Japanese flute, and Les Archives du Coeur, a small gallery that houses and randomly plays heartbeats from around the world.
After out visit we return to the mainland then continue on to the historic town of Kurashiki. The evening is at leisure to stroll through the Bikan Historic Quarter (old merchant quarter) where traditional 17th century wooden houses line canals. (Overnight Kurashiki) BL
Day 15, Tuesday 11 November, Kurashiki – Naoshima – Kurashiki
- Ferry to Naoshima Island
- Chichu Art Museum
- Lee Ufan Museum
- Farewell Lunch at Benesse House Museum Issen Restaurant
- Return to mainland by ferry
The island of Naoshima in the Seto Inland Sea is home to a number of contemporary art museums and outdoor sculpture exhibitions. The Benesse Corporation installed much of the art on Naoshima and the neighbouring islands, and commissioned the design and construction of several museums by Tadao Ando. This commission included the Benesse House Museum, the Chichu Art Museum and the Lee Ufan Museum.
This morning we take a ferry from the mainland to Naoshima Island and spend a day visiting some of the remarkable art exhibitions, sculpture and architecture the island has to offer. We also enjoy our farewell lunch at the Issen Restaurant at Benesse House Museum, where the focus of the cuisine is on the sustainability and exquisite presentation of each dish.
In the late afternoon, we return to the mainland by ferry. (Overnight Kurashiki) BL
Day 16, Wednesday 12 November, Kurashiki – Matsue – Izumo Airport
- Adachi Museum of Art
- Tour ends at Izumo Airport at 1.15pm
This morning we drive north 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.
We then transfer to Izumo Airport where our tour officially ends at 1.15pm. B