Spring Gardens of Japan

Follow the change from spring to summer as we travel northwards through the great gardens of Honshu and Hokkaido, reveling in a selection of gardens from the traditional to the contemporary.

Begin in Kyoto, imperial capital of Japan for more than a thousand years, visiting the elegantly designed Ryōan-ji rock garden and the Zen Buddhist contemplative garden of Daisen-in, and exploring the tranquil Zen temples of the Golden and Silver Pavilions. Continue to Kanazawa and stroll through the landscape garden of Kenroku-en, one of the most magnificent gardens in Japan.

Travel northward to the island of Hokkaido and visit a diverse range of gardens from wildflower gardens to conifer and broadleaf gardens and English country-style gardens. Explore Dan Pearson’s Tokachi Millennium Forest, and the harmonious sculpture parks of Moerenuma and Ōdōri, where nature and art exist in seamless continuity.

Suggested morning departure from Australia on Cathay Pacific flights, via Hong Kong, to Osaka. Renaissance Tours or your travel agent can assist you with your travel arrangements.

Arrive in Osaka (Kansai Airport) in the evening. For guests arriving on the suggested flights, a transfer is provided to your hotel in Kyoto.

After a morning briefing by Jennifer, begin with a visit to the nearby Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion) whose top two floors are completely covered in gold leaf. It has burned down numerous times throughout its history including, most recently in 1950 when it was set on fire by a fanatic monk. The present structure was rebuilt in 1955.

Continue to the Ryōan-ji Temple, the site of Japan’s famous rock garden consisting of a rectangular plot of pebbles surrounded by low earthen walls, with 15 rocks laid out in small groups on patches of moss. A feature of the garden’s design is that from any vantage point, at least one of the rocks is always hidden from the viewer.

After lunch, enjoy a tour of the elegant Nijō-jō Castle. Built by Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder of the eponymous Shogunate that ruled Japan for more than 250 years, the castle is a striking example of the splendid decorative luxury of the Momoyama period (1587–1615). Afterwards, visit the Kyoto Handicrafts Centre.


This morning visit Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion), a Zen temple at the foot of Kyoto’s eastern mountains. In 1482, shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa built his retirement villa on the grounds of the present-day temple, modelling it after Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion). The villa was converted into a Zen temple after Yoshimasa’s death in 1490. Stroll along the Philosophers’ Path which follows a quiet tree-lined canal connecting Ginkaku-ji to the extensive buildings and grounds of one of the world’s largest Zen temples, Nanzen-ji.

After lunch, visit Sanjūsangen-dō, a uniquely shaped long hall rebuilt in 1251 to house its central image of the thousand-armed bodhisattva Kannon. It is also surrounded by 1,000 gilt bronze images of Kannon.

Continue to the new wing of the Kyoto National Museum, designed by the internationally acclaimed architect Taniguchi Yoshio, for an introduction to the traditional arts of Japan.


In the morning, depart Osaka for Nara. Established in 710, this was Japan’s first permanent capital before it was moved to Nagaoka in 784.

After lunch in a local restaurant, visit Tōdai-ji Temple, which dates back to the 8th century. Amongst the many Buddhist images housed at Tōdai-ji is the Great Buddha, reputedly one of the largest wooden structures in the world.

Continue to the excellent Nara National Museum before returning to Kyoto.


In the morning visit to the Miho Museum nestled among the verdant Shigaraki Mountains. Designed by the renowned architect, I. M. Pei, the museum was funded and named after Koyama Mihoko, a textile business heiress and one of the wealthiest women in Japan. The museum houses the Shumei Family Collection of rare treasures from the ancient world and traditional Japanese art.

Continue to Arashiyama-Sagano. Known for its scenic beauty, narrow streets, old villas and temple compounds, it was favoured by noble classes 1,200 years ago. Enjoy a walk through the area’s vast bamboo grove.


This morning visit Saihō-ji (Koke-dera), an ancient temple said to have been established by the monk Gyōki during the Nara Period (710 – 794), and later converted into a Zen temple by the monk Musō Soseki, in 1339. The precincts are covered by more than 120 types of moss, resembling a beautiful green carpet, hence its other name, Koke-dera, which literally means ‘Moss Temple’.

After a break for lunch, visit the Daitoku-ji temple complex consisting of nearly two dozen sub-temples, and one of the best places in Japan to see a wide variety of Zen gardens such as Daisen-in, a Zen contemplative garden. The garden has been interpreted as an allegory of life, from the turbulence of its beginning to the calm and wisdom of old age.


In the morning, drive to Kanazawa. To this day, Kanazawa has retained a strong cultural identity, being the site of traditional ceramics, lacquer and kimono production, and home to Kenroku-en, one of Japan’s most beautiful gardens, and the innovative 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art.

After lunch at a local restaurant, visit the Higashi Chaya district, famous for its teahouses, well preserved buildings, and cobbled narrow lanes.


Following a talk on classical Japanese garden design by Jennifer, the morning is spent exploring the Kenroku-en Garden, a strolling- style landscape garden combining the six attributes of a perfect Japanese garden. It is regarded as one of Japan’s most beautiful gardens Once the garden of Kanazawa Castle, it was opened to the public in 1874.

Afternoon at leisure to spend more time in the garden, or visit the nearby 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, which opened in 2004, to explore emerging new work in visual arts, design, craft, fashion, architecture and film.


Check out of the hotel and transfer to Komatsu Airport for a flight to New Chitose Airport, the gateway to Hokkaido (included in tour price).

On arrival, drive across the south of Hokkaido to Obihiro, the provincial capital of the largely rural region of Tokachi.


Following a morning talk on contemporary garden design, today enjoy three very different garden experiences.

Begin with a visit to Rokka-no Mori, which displays the six flower varieties of Tokachi (Gentiana triflora, Sweetbrier, Trillium camschatcense, Erythronium japonicum, and Caltha palustris var. barthei) which blossom across the seasons. Throughout the garden are scattered old, rustic houses brought from Croatia that serve as art museums.

Later, enjoy lunch followed by a visit to Tokachi Hills garden, surrounded by three different types of garden: a colourful border garden, an English-style garden and the natural native untouched wildflowers of Tokachi.

Finish with a visit to Manabe Garden, famous as the first conifer garden in Japan but also featuring many species of verdant broadleaf trees.


Departing Obihiro, spend the morning at the Tokachi Millennium Forest. Designed by Dan Pearson, the internationally-renowned British garden designer, the Tokachi Millennium Forest was created under the theme of a Hokkaido garden that is harmonised with nature. The garden involves four concepts: the Earth Garden that features undulated grassland and magnificent views; the Forest Garden, alive with flowers and plants; the Meadow Garden, boasting beautiful scenery of well-known Tokachi flowers and plants; and the Farm Garden with its theme of agriculture coexisting with nature.

In the afternoon, continue north, via the lavender fields of Furano and Biei, to Asahikawa.


Begin with a visit to Ueno Farm, modelled on an English country-style garden, featuring hardy perennials that have been rearranged to suit the Hokkaido climate. Ueno Farm is the creation of renowned Japanese garden designer Sayuki Ueno.

Continue to the Daisetsu Mori-no Garden. Overlooking the Daisetsu mountain range, Daisetsu Mori-no Garden is a ‘forest garden with flowers’, where more than 700 kinds of flowers bloom throughout the year.


Depart Asahikawa for a leisurely day’s drive to Sapporo, stopping on the way to visit Moerenuma Park, a large, contemporary park on the outskirts of Sapporo designed by American-Japanese sculptor Isamu Noguchi. The concept of the park is that ‘the whole is a single sculpture’, a fusion of nature and art. Moerenuma is a park for all seasons with cherry blossoms in the spring, a fountain and wading pools for the summer, colourful foliage in the autumn and cross-country skiing and sledding during winter.

Late afternoon arrival at your hotel in the heart of Sapporo, the capital of Hokkaido.


Our exploration of Sapporo begins at Ōdōri Park, filled with sculptures, fountains, lilac, acacia plants and flowerbeds. See the Sapporo Clock Tower and the former Hokkaido government office building (1881), known as ‘Red Brick’. Continue to Hokkaido University Botanical Gardens, established in 1886, which preserve a small part of the forest which formerly covered the Ishikari Plain. In addition, there is an alpine garden, a greenhouse and a small museum to Hokkaido’s indigenous people, the Ainu.

The afternoon is at leisure to further explore Sapporo on your own. Tonight, celebrate the conclusion of the tour with a special farewell dinner with Jennifer and fellow travellers.


Tour arrangements conclude after breakfast.

For guests departing on the suggested mid-afternoon Cathay Pacific flight, an early afternoon transfer to New Chitose Airport is included.

Overnight in flight.


Morning arrival in Australia.

Per person, twin-share*

AUD 11,250

Single Supplement – twin room for sole use**

AUD 2,250

Single Supplement – single room for sole use**

AUD 1,350

Deposit per person (at time of booking)

AUD 500

**For this tour we are offering a choice of ‘single supplements’. Choose from a twin room (20-25 sq m) for sole use OR a single-bedded room. Please note: Japanese single-bedded rooms range in size from 15 to 18 sq m. These are suitable for smaller travellers with limited luggage. They are not recommended for larger persons, nor for single travellers with a large amount of luggage. Single travellers may also request to share; please advise at time of booking.

Final payment due

30 March 2018

Tour code


Fitness level

Please see booking conditions for fitness level definitions.

Suggested airline

Cathay Pacific
Please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for current airfares and flight reservations.


Australian and New Zealand passport holders do not require visas to visit Japan.

Tour price includes

  • Accommodation in centrally located 4 star hotels with breakfast daily (B)
  • Meals as per itinerary (L = Lunch, D = Dinner), including local beer, juices and soft drinks
  • Economy Class flight from Kanazawa to Sapporo on All Nippon Airways
  • Talks by your tour leader, Jennifer Stackhouse
  • Comprehensive sightseeing including local guides and entrance fees as per itinerary
  • Transportation throughout on comfortable air-conditioned coaches
  • Airport/hotel transfers on tour arrival and departure if travelling on suggested flights
  • Gratuities for local guides and drivers
  • Hotel porterage (one piece per person)

Tour price does not include

  • International airfares please contact renaissance Tours or your travel agent for assistance
  • Airport/hotel transfers on arrival and departure if not travelling on suggested flights
  • Airport porterage
  • Items of a personal nature, including telephone, laundry, taxis, minibar, room service etc.
  • Travel insurance (a condition of travel; please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for assistance)


Your hotels
KyotoKyoto Monterey Kyoto ****
Kanazawa – ANA Crowne ****
Obihiro – Hokkaido Hotel ****
Asahikawa – Asahikawa Grand Hotel ****
Sapporo – Keio Plaza Hotel ****

NB. Hotels of similar standard may be substituted