If you’ve never been to Japan, you’re in for a real treat. First off you'll soak in the antique beauty of Kyoto visiting masterpiece zen temples and gardens. You'll try your hand at some of the traditional Japanese arts such as calligraphy and Ikebana (Japanese flower arranging) which are tied closely to Zen Buddhism. Then we’ll be traveling to the world-famous art islands created by a Japanese billionaire to highlight some of the world's most fascinating artists and architects. Naoshima, aka the art island is surely one of the most fascinating, art-filled destinations you can visit on the planet right now. Imagine an entire island, in fact a series of islands devoted to avant-garde contemporary art and architecture with a little Monet thrown in for good measure. You’ll be fed exceptionally well, enjoying the best cuisine that this Japan has to offer. Join us on this incredible journey that marries ancient culture imbued with Buddhism and Shintoism and both ancient and modern art and artisanship unparalleled in the world.
Here's a day-by-day itinerary for the trip.
It’s a long trip to Japan, so we suggest that you arrive a day early (or more) to rest and recover from your travels. You’re free to stay at whatever hotel inspires you, but we offer as a recommendation the Cerulean Tower. (Note, your stay in Tokyo before the trip start is not included in the trip cost). If you come several days early, we can help you plan some day tours of Tokyo. We have a Day Tour of Tokyo highlights planned as an optional activity today.
If you can’t sleep, we’ll meet extremely early at the fish market for an early Sushi breakfast!
Meet up around 9:00 am in the Lobby at the Cerulean Tower where our guide will take us to the train station. We will train together to Kyoto. (Train tickets included). We will enjoy a box lunch on the train together, a classic thing to do when you travel in Japan.
Upon arrival in Kyoto, we’ll head to our traditional Ryokan and check in.
Later after a bit of a rest and time to unpack. we will enjoy a Calligraphy experience with an expert. Our teacher will explain how calligraphy is related to Zen Buddhism with mindfulness being the key to achieving the elegant brush strokes we’ll be striving for.
Tonight’s meal will be a traditional one at our Ryokan.
In the morning, after our traditional Japanese breakfast, we’ll visit one of the most famous sites in all of Japan, the Golden Pavillion and its extraordinary gardens. As it is spring, you’ll be enriched by all the flowers and bulbs that are blooming at Kinkakuji. Afterwards, we’ll visit the most famous Zen Garden in the world, the Ryoan-ji temple. We’ll have time to sit and contemplate after our guide, Ayumi, explains the importance of the dry zen gardens and what the various elements are metaphors for. Prepare to be blown-away.
If this wasn’t enough for the day, we’ll have the opportunity to lunch at the oldest noodle shop in Japan – over 500 years old dating back to 1465. Here, we’ll enjoy their buckwheat soba noodles and learn how to slurp … a sign in Japan that you really love the food you’ve been offered.
After an enjoyable lunch, we’ll have the pleasure of visiting the Heian shrine and its scenic garden with our expert.
This afternoon is reserved for instruction and participation in the iconic tea ceremony which will illuminate for us the concept of Wabi-Sabi. We’ll experience the famous hospitality of the Japanese people without any words. A profound moment.
Afternoon is free time for rest and relaxation.
Tonight, we’ll head out to savor an Izkaya night – a traditional Japanese pub with yummy nibbles and beer. I bet you’ll discover that this kind pub food is better than any you’ve ever had in the world!
In the morning, we’ll visit the Arashiyama-Sagano area where we’ll see the historic garden at the Tenryu-ji Temple which is also a UNESCO world heritage site. We’ll walk through a bamboo forest to discover a hidden garden and temple Gio-ji which has an interesting story. After our garden time, we’ll enjoy lunch at a temple of tofu and tempura, Izusen, to enjoy a healthy lunch in some truly stunning surroundings.
The description of this restaurant taken from shojincuisine.com is apt; I couldn’t possibly have stated it better. “Leaving behind the frenetic busyness of the modern bustling metropolis of Kyoto, as you step over the threshold of the great gateway that marks the entrance to the vast grounds of Daitokuji, one of the five great Zen temple complexes of Kyoto, you enter into a sacred space that seems timeless and imbued with tranquility. Nestled within this great rambling temple complex, following one of the meandering stone pathways flanked by high earthen walls of secluded little temples and ancient twisting pine trees, you eventually arrive at a small sub-temple called Daiji-in. Within this temple is Izusen, a shojin-ryori (Buddhist vegetarian) restaurant that specializes in teppachi-ryori (Iron-Bowl Cuisine).”
After our stomachs and hearts are full, we’ll have a moment to visit some craft shops nearby to learn a bit about Indigo dying, traditional Kyoto paper called Kurodani washi as well as bamboo crafts. Surely, you’ll want to pick up an artisanal souvenir or two.
This afternoon will be reserved for a very special and unique experience. Ayumi will instruct us on the basics of Ikebana – Japanese flower arranging – which incorporates components of Buddhist/Zen philosophy. You’ll also get to make a Keshiki ike, which is a scenic arrangement using the same concepts we learned about on our garden tours earlier today.
Tonight’s meal and final night in Kyoto will be exciting indeed. We’ll take a little walk through Gion followed by a Geisha show and dinner by the river. Lest you worry, this is a not too-touristy of an experience. Rather, through this elegant introduction, we’ll be able to learn more about this mysterious tradition.
Check out and depart with our guide to Naoshima Island by train and ferry. Today’s lunch will be a packed picnic lunch that we can enjoy as we travel.
On route, we’ll stop at Okayama Korakuen, one of Japan’s most celebrated gardens created 300 years ago for a visit. By the afternoon we’ll arrive at our hotel for the next three nights and check in.
Our unique minimalist-style boutique hotel My Lodge is a project in conjunction with the home brand Muji, and lucky for us all of our rooms have sea views. Take a rest, relax, unpack and discover the hotel and its surroundings.
This evening, we’ll have the unique chance to view the Open Sky Exhibit, James Turrell’s installation, around sunset. This nature/art experience will certainly move you. It’s a good introduction of what’s in store for you on this very special Japanese island.
Tonight’s meal will be back at the hotel’s French/Japanese fusion restaurant. After your meal, at the hotel’s bar we’ll enjoy a Japanese whiskey tasting. Think you don’t like whiskey? Japanese whiskey – smooth with a touch sweet – will change your mind!
Today we’ll head out to see the highlights of this magical isle.
We’ll check out the Chichu Art Museum designed by famed Japanese architect Tandao Ando with works by artists as diverse as Walter DeMaria and Claude Monet. We’ll follow up our private tour with the Chichu Garden designed as an homage to Claude Monet’s Giverny.
After all this, we’ll certainly be getting peckish. Today’s lunch at the museum will be Kaiseki cuisine based around the seafood found in the local waters at Issen.
This afternoon we’ll visit the art and architecture project based around water by Architect Hiroshi Sanbuichi.
Tonight’s meal, just to switch it up a bit, will occur at a funky rock-n-roll, American-style diner – Shioya – that is completely kitch and over the top.
Today we’ll have the opportunity to visit nearby Teshima island by ferry. At the port upon arrival, we’ll have a photo opportunity with Yayoi Kusama’s giant pumpkin.
In Teshima we’ll head over to the Teshima Museum designed by Ryue Nishizawa with an installation by Rei Naito. The artist tells us “By immersing calmly in this space, feeling united with nature, we may sense the joy of life on earth.”
As if that wasn’t enough, we’ll then visit the Yokoo House which is a renovated old village house and barn which faces the port. Here we will find 11 works of art both inside and out by artist Tadanori Yokoo.
Depending on the weather, today’s lunch will be at the open-air community-based kitchen, Shima which focuses on local produce.
After lunch we’ll relish a unique sound and art experience. The French artist’s installation, Les Archives du Couer, translates literally to the archives of the heart was conceived and created by artist Christian Boltanski who has recorded thousands of heartbeats from around the world to create his one-of-a-kind piece of art. We’ll even have the chance to add our own.
We’ll ferry back in time to our hotel on Naoshima Island for you to enjoy a rest at the hotel and to pack up for tomorrow’s departure.
Before our last dinner, you’ll have an opportunity to take a steam and sauna at I Love Bath, a fun and funky bathhouse and art project, and put some last-minute finds in your journals.
Tonight’s farewell meal will be celebratory sushi at the New Oympia. In Japan sushi is not an everyday thing; it’s considered a special meal for celebrations. Tonight, we’ll celebrate our new catalog of experiences, our gorgeous journals which we’ll cherish forever almost as much as the new friendships we’ve made. Sake toasts will be abundant as are lasting friendships we’ve made.
After our breakfast, for those of you not continuing with the Trip Extension, we’ll have to bid each other adieu, or perhaps we shall say “Mata zehi” (I had a great time and hope to see you again soon!) Your return to the Tokyo airport will be all arranged for you.
For those joining the Kobe/Onsen Experience, more marvels are ahead!
After your in-depth art experience, why not continue on to the Kobe region to the famous Royal Onsen town of Arima. Onsen means hot spring in Japanese, a bath where the water has been heated by the earth. In an onsen, the minerals in the water make the experience totally unique. Onsens are especially enchanting when experienced in the open air. The Arima hot springs have been a destination since they were discovered more than 1,300 years ago. Unlike other hot springs, these are not volcanic and are rich in minerals. The major springs here are divided into golden springs (kinsen) and silver springs (ginsen). The silver are carbonated and rich in radium which improves blood circulation and can help with a myriad of health issues. Drinking these waters is renowned to boost your immune system.
After traveling to Kobe, we’ll check in to a charming traditional Onsen Inn, Tosen Goshobo. Founded in the 12th century and beloved by Junichiro Tanizaki and other Japanese novelists, Tosen Goshobo is the oldest of the hot-spring inns at Arima. Note: The Japanese rooms have traditional futon beds.
During our two days in Arima, we’ll relax and soak up the minerals and walk away healthy and refreshed. As we are in the land of Kobe, we’ll also enjoy some of Japan’s famous Wagyu beef at our hotel the first night.
On day two, we’ll explore the small town of Arima with a guide, then head to Kobe for a sake museum tour to learn about how this quintessential Japanese rice wine is made. Tastings are a must! Back in Arima we’ll stop for lunch in a homey cafe known for its delicious Japanese comfort food.
Later we’ll tour the Tosen Shinto Shrine and for those who wish, a ride on the ropeway to the top of the mountain will reveal stunning views.
A sake bar with yummy snacks tonight will be our final farewell get together.
Today is our final day in Japan, but I suspect it will not be the last time you visit. Once you've experienced this unique country, with its rich history, culture and traditions, you'll be thirsting for more.
But for this visit, we'll bid each other goodbye. We’ll return to Tokyo for our flights home. But Japan will stay with us forever!
In the heart of Kyoto, Kyomachiya Ryokan Sakura Urushitei offers Japanese-style accommodation with modern facilities and traditional design.
A minimalist boutique hotel with gorgeous sea views.
After your in-depth art experience, why not continue on to the Kobe region to the famous Royal Onsen town of Arima?
Everything is included that is stated above
All meals, all drinks at meals including sake/beer/wine
All guides, masters and experts as well as all classes
Entry tickets into all temples and gardens
All transfers to and from the airport
Alcoholic beverages beyond what is mentioned
Spa treatments beyond what is mentioned
Hotel and meals in Tokyo
Trip and Medical Insurance (required)
You will want to fly into Tokyo's Narita Airport.
The trip officially starts on Monday April 19, but if you are traveling across an ocean to get to Tokyo, you may want to consider arriving a day early so you have time to relax and get acclimated to the local time zone. If you do decide to arrive early, please let us know and we will take care of booking your room for you.
We will have a zoom call about 6 weeks before the trip starts to discuss all that information and give you a packing list. Here is a great website that we love that will help you with packing and travel trips.
The mornings might start off on the cooler side, but the temps will rise during the day. Expect mid 60's. You might want to bring a light raincoat just in case.