Japan - An Exploration of its Arts
Experience the A to Zen of Japanese art and culture with this whirlwind tour through buzzing cities and remote islands. We venture from Tokyo’s Imperial Palace Gardens to some of the world’s largest art collections, imbibing tea ceremonies, origami and cat charms along the way. We’re entranced by classical Noh Theatre, the musical masked drama that has been performed in Japan since the 14th century. We board the bullet train and sail to the famous ‘art island’ of Naoshima, where al fresco installations both delight and disorient their visitors.
Guests can try their hands at calligraphy, painting pottery and wearing a kimono (we will also get the chance to see how traditional kimonos are stitched and dyed in Kyoto, the ancient and imperial capital of Japan).
Castles of the shoguns showcase ornate and elegant gardens, architecture and weaponry. We reflect in the meditative space of Senso-ji Temple and enjoy plenty of free time to discover Tokyo and Kyoto including, of course, its mouth-watering cuisine.
- Cultural Excursion
- Special Access
- All Inclusive
Our overnight flight departs for Tokyo, Japan’s captivating capital – a city like no other on the planet.
We arrive in Tokyo in the late morning, and check into our hotel before lunch. Taking some time to relax after our flight, this afternoon we venture out for a laid-back walk around the Imperial Palace Gardens. In this majestic complex, home to the Emperor of Japan, we find wide moats, immaculate walls and ramparts of the original Edo-jō, the Tokugawa shogunate’s castle – once the world’s largest fortress.
In the evening we unwind over an impressive Japanese meal, and become better acquainted with the rest of our friendly group.
This morning we explore the expansive halls of the Tokyo National Museum, which showcases swords, sculpture, ceramics and other artefacts dating from 10,000 BC to the present. The oldest national museum in the country, it also boasts one of largest art collections in the world. A sublime introduction to Japan’s great masters.
After pausing for lunch, we enjoy a private calligraphy demonstration – taking the chance to try the skill for ourselves.
We round off the day with a visit to Sensō-ji Temple, the oldest and most important Buddhist temple in Tokyo. This vision in resplendent red was built to house the golden image of Kannon, goddess of mercy, which legend states was pulled from the Sumida River by fishermen in 628 AD.
The entire morning is ours to spend in Tokyo as we wish: wander the electronic streets of Akihabara, with its multi-storeyed costume shops and maid cafes; join the crowds traversing the iconic crossroads at Shibuya; wander the eclectic food courts of the city’s massive malls – the choice is yours.
After lunch we have an enchanting encounter at the National Noh Theatre – our opportunity to view a classical mode of musical performance which originated in the 14th century. A marvellous form of Japanese theatrical tradition.
Today we begin at the Nezu Museum, a private collection of Japanese and Asian fine art, established in the 1940s. Here we find a host of treasures, including a stunning 17th-century folding screen, Chinese bronzes from the Shang and Zhou dynasties, and a wide collection of textiles and calligraphy.
Our next stop is Gotoku-ji, the temple of maneki neko or “beckoning cats”, where Japan’s lucky-charm cat cult was believed to have begun. A surreal and beguiling sight.
This afternoon is free for us to explore the rest of this intriguing city at our leisure, before reconvening for dinner as a group.
We kick things up a notch this morning, as we ride the bullet train over to Okayama, keeping our eyes peeled for a glimpse of the monumental Mount Fuji as we go. Eating lunch onboard, we transfer to our hotel on arrival.
In the afternoon we explore Okayama Castle on the banks of the Asahi River, an imposing 16th-century fortress spanning six floors. Known as “Crow Castle” for its charcoal-coloured exteriors, the building was largely destroyed in the Second World War, and restored in the 1960s. Within its walls we find displays that explain the castle’s history, and see the “moon-viewing turret” – the only tower to have escaped the allied bombing.
After breakfast at our hotel we take a boat over the Seto Inland Sea to visit Naoshima Island, with its celebrated assortment of world-class art galleries and outdoor installations. One of our major high points here has to be Benesse House Museum, a peerless blend of lush island scenery and stark modern architecture, in which we find one of Japan’s foremost collections of contemporary art.
We linger on this beautiful island for lunch, and return to Okayama for some free time to stroll the city streets before our dinner.
Kyoto is our destination this morning – a drive back east through wonderful scenery to the country’s former capital.
Following lunch, we enjoy a guided walk through the elegant district of Gion, Kyoto’s old city, famed for its geishas and Medieval streets. It is time for one of our trip’s biggest highlights: a private tea ceremony, conducted in the ritualised style of the 16th century. As part of this elaborate experience we brew our own tea to sip with dinner. We are also all invited to try on traditional silk kimonos. Do not forget your camera…
We pay a visit to the Kyoto National Museum this morning, with its impressive collections of pre-modern costumes and artwork. Don’t miss its exhibit on samurai cultures, or its peerless selection of classical Heian artefacts.
In the afternoon we make our way over to the Nishijin Textile Centre, where we view the intricate art of kimono manufacture in action, and take a close look at ornate fabrics dating back several centuries.
Our day goes from strength to strength as we enjoy a private origami demonstration. Another chance to get hands on with the world of Japanese arts and crafts.
This morning we step back in time at Kyoto’s Imperial Palace. Home to the Imperial Family right up until 1868, the palace has undergone several transformations thanks to repeated fire damage. Its original incarnation dates back as far as 794 AD, and around its carved wooden buildings we find a gorgeous park and gardens.
We continue on to the Nijo Castle complex, the only secular site in the city to achieve UNESCO World Heritage status. Commissioned in 1601 for defensive purposes, the complex contains the cypress construction of Ninomaru Palace, a treasure box of vivid wall paintings and gold leaf. We pay particular attention to the sound of our feet on its floors – designed to squeak in order to alert its inhabitants to any potential assassins…
After a free afternoon in Kyoto, we are treated this evening to a traditional local performance of drama and dance.
We head for Kaga this morning, on Japan’s north-western coast, a city brimming with temples and hot springs. Upon arrival we tour the Kutaniyaki Art Museum, where we view a remarkable collection of regional porcelain dating from the late 1600s to the present day. We also learn about the various intricate drawing styles of Kutani ware.
We continue on to Kanazawa, our base for the night – a city of arts and crafts that is all too often overlooked.
Our action-packed day begins at the ruins of a Kutani kiln, established on this site in 1870. After discovering the story behind the Kutani tradition in a small museum, we go on to see just how well we can paint our own pottery. Another fabulous chance to get creative.
We continue to the UNESCO World Heritage village of Shirakawa-gō, at the foot of the Ryōhaku Mountain range. This remote and picturesque settlement is famous for its unique “gasshō” farmhouses, built in a style that has remained consistent since the 11th century, and which perfectly matches the natural environment.
Later we head to Takayama, a city dating back as far as the Jōmon period of 14,000-300 BC. The residents of Takayama are historically known for their superior carpentry skills, and as we wander through the narrow streets there are plenty of opportunities to admire their ornately-carved houses.
We end the day in the attractive city of Matsumoto, in view of the Japanese Alps.
We start our morning at Matsumoto Castle, the city’s greatest landmark. Built in the 16th century, the building still retains its original features, and is prized as Japan’s oldest fortress. We marvel at the hand-hewn pillars, not to mention the stunning views that reward our ascent to its highest floor.
This afternoon we drive back to Tokyo on a beautiful route lined with mountains.
Our final day is entirely free for us to explore Tokyo in whatever way suits us best. Delve into museums and galleries, stroll through parks, stop at shrines, tour tea houses, stalls and markets – there is so much here to discover.
This evening we reunite for a spectacular farewell meal: a Kaiseki, the traditional multi-course Japanese dinner. A fitting way to round off our rich and wide-ranging itinerary.
After a leisurely morning, our flights depart for home.
- Expert Guide Lecturer
- Tour Manager
- Local Travel - Private a/c coach
- Meals - All meals included with wine at dinner
- Entries & Tips - Entry to all sites in programme; tips included
For full information about Passport validity and Visa requirements as well as Health and Vaccination information please click here.