Autumn Gardens of Japan
Delight in autumn’s colourful panorama of traditional Japanese gardens and contemporary designs through a unique tour of Hokkaido and northern Honshu.
Hokkaido, less populated than the rest of Japan, boasts a sophisticated capital, Sapporo, encapsulating culture and tradition within its gardens. Savour the flavours of Sapporo’s famous ramen whilst marvelling at the orderly design of the city’s trees and parks from ideal vantage points high above the city. Marvel at Isamu Nogochi’s Moerenuma Park and the Sculpture Garden of the Sapporo Art Park.
Then, explore the Tokachi region following the so-called ‘Hokkaido Garden Path’ and relax in the hot springs in Daisetsuzan National Park.
On the main island of Honshu, at Matsushima Bay and in Tokyo, explore some of Japan’s most famous classical gardens, ranging from ancient temple gardens to the much-loved Japanese ‘strolling garden’ and the gardens of the Imperial Palace. Throughout, discover the unique Japanese aesthetic of gardens, art and the changing seasons.
Arrive in Sapporo in the evening on suggested flights and transfer to your hotel (group transfer included in tour price if travelling on suggested flights). Renaissance Tours or your travel agent can assist you with your flights and other travel arrangements, including travel insurance (a condition of travel), accommodation before or after the tour and a room category upgrade.
The capital of Hokkaido and Japan’s fifth largest city, Sapporo is famous for its ramen (noodles), beer and the annual snow festival held in February. Designed by European and American architects in the late 19th century, Sapporo is shaped by its wide grid of tree-lined streets and ample public parks. The city became world famous in 1972 when the Olympic Winter Games were held here.
In the morning, join your tour leader Elizabeth Swane for a welcome briefing. Today’s exploration of Sapporo begins at Odori Park, filled with sculptures, fountains, lilac trees, acacia plants and flowerbeds. See the Sapporo Clock Tower and the former Hokkaido government office building (1881), known as ‘Red Brick’.
Following a welcome lunch with Elizabeth and fellow travellers, enjoy Hokkaido’s famous autumn colours at Moerenuma Park, a large, contemporary park on the outskirts of Sapporo designed by American-Japanese sculptor Isamu Noguchi. 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.
Enjoy a morning walk in the Hokkaido University Botanical Gardens. Established in 1886, the Botanical Gardens 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 Ainu museum.
Then, visit the Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art, which features works by Hokkaido-associated painters and sculptors, an acclaimed collection of glassworks ranging from Art Nouveau to the Modern period and works by the ‘School of Paris’ painters including Jules Pascin.
After lunch, the afternoon is at leisure to further explore Sapporo at your own pace.
This evening, enjoy a night view of Sapporo from the JR Tower Observation Deck.
Today begins with a visit to the Makomanai Takino Cemetery, a site designed by architect Tadao Ando containing a giant Buddha surrounded by a hill of lavenders and facing a reflection pool. The site includes replicas of Easter Island statues, Assyrian winged bulls and Stonehenge.
Then, wander through the Sculpture Garden of the Sapporo Art Park, set on a beautiful green hillside with a sprawling collection of 75 contemporary artworks by Japanese and international artists.
After lunch, depart Sapporo for an afternoon’s drive across the south of Hokkaido to the largely rural region of Tokachi. Here you join the ‘Hokkaido Garden Path’, a 200km garden tour route stretching from Tokachi through Furano to Asahikawa in the centre of the island.
Arrive in Tokachigawa in the late afternoon.
Today, enjoy three very different garden experiences.
Begin with a visit to Rokka-no Mori, which displays the flower varieties of Tokachi, which blossom through the seasons. Throughout the garden are scattered old, rustic houses brought from Croatia that serve as art museums.
After lunch, stroll through Tokachi Hills garden, surrounded by three different types of gardens: a colourful border garden, an English-style garden and the natural native untouched wildflowers of Tokachi.
Finally, explore Manabe Garden, famous as the first conifer garden in Japan but also featuring many species of colourful deciduous trees.
Spend the morning exploring the Tokachi Millennium Forest. Designed by Dan Pearson, internationally-renowned British garden designer, the Tokachi Millennium Forest was created under the theme of a Hokkaido garden that is in harmony with nature. The garden involves four concepts: the Earth Garden, which features undulating grassland and magnificent views; the Forest Garden, where one can feel the life of flowers and plants; the Meadow Garden with its curving boardwalk through informal drifts of colourful Tokachi flowers, and the Farm Garden, with its theme of agriculture coexisting with nature.
In the afternoon, visit the Obihiro Museum of Art, a gallery focused on the works of artists from the Obihiro region.
Depart the Tokachigawa region for the Daisetsuzan National Park located in the mountainous centre of the island.
On the way, stop for lunch and a visit to 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.
Arrive in the late afternoon at the hotel near Higashikawa in the Daisetsuzan National Park, famous for its vivid autumn colours.
This morning, take the ropeway up Mount Asahidake, the highest peak in Hokkaido (2,291 metres) and one of the earliest spots in Japan to see autumn colours, which typically start appearing from early September around the mountain peak before slowly making their way down to the valley floor by around mid-October.
The afternoon is at leisure to enjoy the hot springs or walks from the hotel.
Depart Daisetsuzan National Park for a leisurely day’s drive back to Sapporo.
Stop to visit 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.
After lunch, continue to Sapporo, arriving in the late-afternoon.
This morning transfer to Sapporo Airport for a midday flight to Sendai and continue to nearby Matsushima, famous for the stunning natural beauty of its bay, historic temples and superb gardens. The area has been designated as one of the three most scenic sites of Japan.
This morning, visit the Tōhoku History Museum, which houses finds from various archaeological sites in the Tōhoku region of northern Japan. Then, visit Shiogama, a large Shinto shrine complex believed to be over 1,200 years old. Containing a wealth of history, fifteen of its buildings, which were built during the Edo Period, have been declared important cultural treasures.
After lunch, enjoy a cruise around the islands of Matsushima Bay. Some 260 islands, large and small, covered by black and red pines and light grayish-coloured rocks, are scattered throughout the picturesque bay.
End the day with a stroll through Zuiganji Temple. Founded in 828, it is one of the region’s most famous and prominent Zen temples and its temple grounds feature a magnificent avenue of cedar trees, caves that were once used for meditation and lovingly tended gardens.
This morning, explore Entsuin Temple, built in 1646 to house the mausoleum of Date Mitsumune, the son of the ruling local feudal lord Date Terumune. The temple grounds feature a variety of traditional Japanese garden styles, including a moss and maple garden with a heart-shaped pond, a Western-style rose garden and a cedar grove for meditation.
Depart Matsushima for Sendai and visit the Rinnoji Temple, founded in 1441. The exquisite inner gardens, filled with strolling paths, ponds and bridges, well-tended trees, flowers and plants, and a three-storied pagoda are a perfect example of the Japanese skill of recreating a landscape in miniature.
Later, take the Shinkansen (‘bullet train’) from Sendai to Tokyo (train ticket included in tour price). Arrive in Tokyo in the late-afternoon.
Today’s exploration of Tokyo’s gardens begins with a visit to the Rikugi-en Garden, often considered Tokyo’s most beautiful Japanese landscape garden. Built around 1700 for the 5th Tokugawa Shogun, Rikugi-en literally means “six poems garden” and reproduces in miniature 88 scenes from famous poems.
After lunch, visit the Tokyo National Museum, located in Ueno Park and established in 1872. It is the oldest Japanese national museum, the largest art museum in Japan and one of the largest art museums in the world. Designated in 1873, Ueno Park was the first public park in Japan. Known as one of the best spots in Tokyo for cherry blossoms, Ueno is also wonderful for its autumn leaves, with brilliant maples and ginkgos everywhere.
In the morning, visit the East Garden of the Imperial Palace, created on the grounds of the former Edo Castle, the residence of the Tokugawa shogun who ruled Japan from 1603 to 1867 and the Emperor Meiji who resided there from 1868 to 1888 before moving to the newly constructed Imperial Palace.
The afternoon is at leisure to further explore Tokyo at your own pace. You may want to visit the Ginza shopping district or explore more of Tokyo’s parks.
This evening, celebrate the conclusion of the tour with a special farewell dinner with Elizabeth and fellow travellers.
Tour arrangements conclude with a transfer to Tokyo Haneda Airport for suggested evening flights to Australia. Renaissance Tours or your travel agent can assist you with your flights and other travel arrangements, including additional nights’ accommodation either before or after the tour and travel insurance (a condition of travel).
Note: At time of publication (November 2023), most but not all garden visits were confirmed. Private owners, in particular, are reluctant to commit more than two to three months prior to the visit. Therefore, while we undertake to operate the tour as published, there may be some changes to the itinerary.
Per person, twin-share
Deposit per person (at time of booking)
Final payment due
25 July 2024
Room category upgrade available on request; please enquire with us.
Tour price includes
- Accommodation in 4-star hotels with breakfast daily (B)
- Meals as per itinerary (L=Lunch, D=Dinner), including wine with dinners
- Transportation throughout on comfortable air-conditioned coaches
- Comprehensive sightseeing, including local guides and entrance fees as per itinerary
- Airport transfers on arrival and departure
- Economy class flight from Sapporo to Sendai
- Shinkansen train from Sendai to Tokyo
- Expertise and insights by your tour leader, garden expert Elizabeth Swane
- Gratuities for local guides, drivers and wait staff
- Hotel porterage (one piece per person), where available
Tour price does not include
- International airfares (please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for assistance)
- Airport porterage
- Hotel porterage in some hotels
- Items of a personal nature (e.g. telephone, laundry, room service, minibar, taxis )
- Travel insurance (a condition of travel; please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for assistance)
Sapporo – Sapporo Grand Hotel****+
Tokachigawa – Kangetsuen Hotel Tokachigawa****+
Higashikawa – Hotel La Vista Daisetsuzan****
Matsushima – Matsushima Century Hotel****
Tokyo – New Otani Garden Tower****
N.B. Hotels of a similar standard may be substituted.
Hotels in Japan
Please note that there are a limited ‘double-bedded’ rooms available in most Japanese hotels. Most rooms for two persons sharing are ‘twin-bedded’ (i.e. two beds).
Tour code: GD2404
Fitness level: Above Moderate
Please see Terms & Conditions for fitness level definitions here.
Suggested airline: Japan Airlines
Please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for current airfares and flight reservations.
Australian and New Zealand passport holders do not require a visa for Japan.
Download booking form here.