Japan Tour – Discover an Ancient Civilisation23rd June 2017
The busy streets of Tokyo with its megalopolis skyscrapers and stunning backdrop of Mount Fuji captures the all too contrasting sides of Japan’s culture and allure.
Explore the diverse country as we venture through the ancient civilization of shrines & wooden temples, nestled into serene blossom covered foothills. Pick up the pace in the neighbouring neon blur of the world’s most populous metropolitan city, as we travel by bullet train.
It’s only fair to say Japanese culture and history has had an extraordinary influence on the progress of the modern world. On Andante’s Japan Tour we seek to explore the remarkable monuments, from the fiery ceramics of the Jomon era to temples and Shoguns’ castles - with only our best expert in Japanese archaeology.
We start in the electric atmosphere of the capital city. Wander the fast-paced city to find the hidden quiet corners and absorb the local culture with the friendly and welcoming locals. Steeped in tradition, the Japanese culture has many social intricacies which is part of the fun of visiting Japan. So, practice that bow and don’t let your sense of discovery get the better of you - eating or drinking while walking is a social faux pas! Why don’t you take a seat? You’ve got time to soak up that glass of rice wine at your leisure.
What better way to make our exit from Tokyo than on the Shinkansen, one of the world’s fastest trains? The next few days are full of truly superlative scenery, stopping at Hachinohe, home to the Korekawa Archaeological Museum & Aomori, on the north coast of Honshu. We continue along the untamed coastline as we speed towards Nagaoka. We continue through the magnificent Japanese Alps to the inland peaks of Nagano Prefecture.
Our next stop refers back to Japanese religion. Usually a private and family affair, however, the sculpted marvels of Gods are one of the delights of the country. It has influences from Shintoism and Buddhism. It is believed that every living thing in nature contains Gods, which the Japanese honour through their harmonious culture and in the creation of magnificent sculptures dedicated to these Gods.
At the Shakado Jomon site over 1,100 figurines were found and are now exhibited in a local museum. We travel from here, in the midst of Japan’s wine country, on to the Suwa Grand Shrine complex, thought to be one of the oldest shrines in existence. Every six years the Ombashira (or Honoured Pillars) Festival takes place here and sees huge cedars felled and ridden down the mountains. Thankfully this isn't a mode of transport we'll be using for our own descent...
So, what is the difference between Shrines & Temples? Shrines tend to have a huge entrance gate and are traced back to Shinto religion. Temples are usually Buddhist. As we travel through the southern Alps we arrive at Nara & Kyoto. Here, in the former Heian era capital, why not see if you can spot the differences? This compact city boasts no less than 8 UNESCO World Heritage sites and is well worth taking some quality time to explore… and remember to take off your shoes before you enter a temple!
From Gods to Japanese lucky charms, these signify the Japanese importance to superstitions. It’s known that good fortune can be increased by writing ema, these handwritten prayers on wooden boards are then hung around the temple grounds. Have a look as we visit these famous temples and spot prayers written in languages from across the world.
We visit Nara Park and the biggest wooden building in the world, the Todaiji Temple,– home to the famous Great Buddha. Next, we visit the Yakushiji Temple, which was built in the 7th century in a bid to heal the Emperor's ailing wife. Its construction must have done the trick: she succeeded him as Empress Jito towards the end of the century.
Our adventure continues via the Osaka Castle, one of Japan's mightiest landmarks and site of many a vital battle. The Golden Tea Room here has to be seen to be believed – a truly jaw-dropping sight. Eight floors of displays lead up to an observation deck for wonderful views of Osaka itself.
On to Kyoto, where a wealth of temples and world-class sites awaits, remember to look out for ema… And to improve your fortune further, why not pick up a fortune slip? Sometimes found in English, it’s believed if you tie this around a tree in the temple ground your luck is bound to improve. We head for Nijojo Palace, an enormous complex with multiple moats and fortifications. Don't miss the famous nightingale floorsso-named for the bird-like noise potential assassins may have made while attempting to sneak their way across them.
Kinkaku-ji Temple one of Kyoto's main attractions, admire exteriors lacquered with pure gold leaf and enjoy the gorgeous views reflected in the lake. A little way out of the city centre lies Tenryuji Temple, surrounded by stunning mountain scenery. Lose yourself in its well-kept gardens, before making your way to the beautiful bamboo grove. Later, you’ll experience an authentic afternoon tea ceremony at Urasenke Tea Foundation Museum. Another handy tip to consider, never pour a drink yourself! Instead, take it in turns to pour your travel companions a glass. Kanpai! …Or cheers, this is a real highlight of the trip.
We take the bullet train to the hilltop Himeji Castle complex, stood intact on this site for several hundred years. A designated official National Treasure no less, along with five of its other buildings. We explore the castle's sprawling site, including its maze-like paths, originally designed to befuddle potential assailants.
We continue by ferry to the wonderful Miyajima Island – the Island of the Gods. The iconic Itsukushima Shrine is our main stop here. The ‘floating’ shine is just one of many wondrous shrines and temples on the island. Look out from the shrine's wooden boards across the water, to the shores of Hiroshima.
From exploring the ancient sites, we take a turn to a more recent moment in history. We spend a day in Nagasaki, made famous for its destruction by an atomic bomb. The city's Atomic Bomb Museum, built on the explosion's epicentre, is a harrowing reminder of the events and legacy surrounding this terrible event.
As we ride the bullet train back to Tokyo and enjoy the final night of our trip in the city, we return to where the journey first began.
If you enjoyed escaping to Japan, we have two tours leaving in 2018.
Don’t forget the Japanese blossom festival in spring, so reserve your spot on our April departure soon! For more information, have a look at our tour page or to speak to one of our friendly team just give us a call.