Japanese Gardens, Art and Architecture
Discover the timeless beauty of Japanese autumn gardens and contemporary art and architecture in the company of garden writer and Japanophile Genevieve Jacobs.
While Japan is renowned for its traditional garden culture, in recent decades the country has embraced the contemporary in striking art and architecture, often set in magnificent man-made spaces and dramatic natural environments.
From Tokyo to Kyoto, visit Japan’s most famous gardens, as well as ground-breaking art and architecture, including tranquil Takayama, Shinto shrines on Miyajima Island, landscape gardens in Kanazawa and contemporary art museums in Kyoto.
Depart Australia or New Zealand in the morning on suggested Japan Airlines to Tokyo Narita Airport. Renaissance Tours or your travel agent can assist you with your flights and other travel arrangements.
Arrive in Tokyo Narita Airport on suggested flights in time for a group transfer to the hotel at 18:30.
For those arriving on other flights, transfer to the hotel on shuttle limousine (included in tour price).
This morning, join Genevieve and fellow travellers for a welcome breakfast and briefing.
Visit the Imperial Palace East Gardens, part of the inner palace. The gardens are the former site of Edo Castle’s innermost circles of defence: the honmaru (main circle) and ninomaru (secondary circle).
Continue to Tokyo’s largest and most famous Shinto shrine, Meiji Jingu. Located in an evergreen forest of approximately 70 hectares in the middle of Tokyo, the shrine is dedicated to the divine souls of Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shoken.
Following lunch, continue to the Mori Art Museum, a contemporary art museum founded by real estate developer Minoru Mori. The museum is located on the 52nd and 53rd floors of the Mori Tower, offering spectacular views from the panoramic observation deck.
Dinner is at a local restaurant.
In the morning, explore the large public Ueno park situated in central Tokyo. The park grounds were originally part of Kaneiji Temple, a family temple of the ruling Tokugawa clan during the Edo period. Visit Tokyo National Museum located within the park, housing the largest collection of national treasures and important cultural items in the country.
After lunch, visit Koishikawa Kōraku-en Garden, one of Tokyo’s oldest Japanese gardens. This beautiful Japanese landscape garden represents famous Japanese and Chinese scenes in miniature, dating from the early Edo period.
Dinner tonight is at a local restaurant.
Check out of the hotel in the early morning in advance of a high-speed train trip from Tokyo to Takayama (included in tour price).
On arrival, enjoy a walking tour of Takayama’s beautifully preserved old town. Many of the buildings and streets date back to the Edo period, with some open to visit, providing a glimpse behind the façade into the former living quarters of local merchants.
Dinner is at a local restaurant.
Travel to the mountainous region of Shokawa Valley and discover the traditional town of Shirakawa-go, much celebrated for its historic Minka houses. Remote and isolated from the rest of the world for hundreds of years, the region developed a specific architectural style with exceptionally strong thatched roofs houses to support the weight of snowfalls.
Return to Takayama and enjoy an afternoon at leisure to further explore the city.
Journey to Kanazawa, a city that has retained a strong cultural identity with traditional ceramics, lacquer and kimono production. Discover the picturesque Nagamachi district, formerly home to the region’s samurai, and continue to Omicho fish market for lunch.
In the afternoon, visit the innovative 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art and explore emerging new work in visual arts, design, craft, fashion, architecture and film.
Continue to the Higashi Chaya district, famous for its teahouses, well preserved buildings and narrow cobbled lanes. Dinner tonight is at a local restaurant.
Today, explore the Kenroku-en Garden that used to be the outer garden of the Kanazawa castle. Kenroku-en Garden (the ‘garden of six elements’) combines the six attributes of a perfect Japanese garden. This strolling-style landscape garden is considered one of Japan’s most beautiful gardens, with seasonal floral displays, ponds, streams, stone lanterns and tea houses.
The remainder of the afternoon and the evening are at leisure to continue your exploration of Kanazawa at your own pace.
Check out of the hotel and transfer to Kanazawa train station for a morning train to Hiroshima (included in tour price).
On arrival in Hiroshima, visit the Peace Memorial Park, created in memory of 06 August 1945 when the first atomic bomb in history was dropped on Hiroshima. Amongst the many memorials and museums in Peace Park are the Peace Memorial Museum, which surveys the history of Hiroshima and the advent of the atomic bomb, and the A-Bomb Dome, all that remains of the former Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, one of the few buildings to remain standing.
Enjoy some free time in the afternoon, followed by dinner at a local restaurant.
Today, journey by train and ferry to the island of Itsukushima, popularly known as Miyajima (or ‘Shrine Island’). Itsukushima is perhaps most famous for the Itsukushima Shrine, established during Empress Suiko’s reign and today a UNESCO World Heritage-listed site. The shrine and its torii – the traditional Japanese gate found at the entrance or within Shinto shrines – are designed to withstand the Seto Inland Sea’s strong tides.
Return to Hiroshima by ferry in the late afternoon.
Check out of the hotel and transfer to the Adachi Art Museum in Yasugi. Set within a superb and unique garden, the museum was built to house the collection of modern Japanese paintings, ceramics and sculptures of local businessman and collector Zenko Adachi.
Continue to the small city of Takahashi located in the mountains to the north of Okayama, for a visit to the Raikyu-ji Temple, a Zen temple of the Rinzai sect that dates back to 1504. The beautifully constructed garden within the temple grounds is a Penglai Zen ‘dry garden’ constructed by Kobori Enshu, one of the founders of the Japanese tea ceremony, who is renowned for his architecture, garden design, calligraphy and poetry.
Arrive at Okayama and check in to the hotel. Enjoy dinner at a local restaurant.
This morning, visit Koraku-en Garden, one of the most famous landscape gardens in Japan (along with Kanazawa’s Kenroku-en). Koraku-en is a spacious garden that incorporates the typical features of a Japanese landscape garden, including a large pond, streams, walking paths and a hill that serves as a lookout point.
Then, continue to Okayama Castle. Also known as ‘crow castle’ due to its black exterior, Okayama Castle was built in 1597 in the style of the Azuchi-Momoyama period. The original castle was destroyed in the last year of World War II, but a reconstruction was made in 1966.
Enjoy an afternoon at leisure to further explore the city.
This morning, depart Okayama for Kyoto. With its hundreds of temples and gardens, Kyoto was the imperial capital between 794 and 1868, and remains the cultural centre of Japan.
Discover the Arashiyama-Sagano area situated on the western outskirts of Kyoto. The area is known for its scenic beauty, narrow streets, old villas and temple compounds. Walk through the area’s vast bamboo groves before dinner at a local restaurant.
Today, discover the elegant Nijō-jo Castle, built by the first Tokugawa Shōgun, a striking example of the splendid decorative luxury of the Momoyama period (1587–1615). Then visit the Kyoto Handicrafts Centre.
In the afternoon, visit the Ryōan-ji Temple, which houses the famous Zen rock garden. Ryōan-ji is 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.
Continue to the nearby Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion) whose top two floors are completely covered in gold leaf. Built in 1397 as a villa for Shōgun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, it has burned down numerous times throughout its history including twice during the Ōnin War, a civil war that destroyed much of Kyoto. It burned down once again in 1950, when it was set on fire by a fanatic monk. The present structure was rebuilt in 1955.
This morning, visit the Kyoto National Museum for an introduction to the traditional arts of Japan. Continue to Sanjūsangen-dō, a uniquely shaped long hall rebuilt in 1251 to house its central image of the thousand-armed Bodhisattva Kannon, surrounded by 1,000 gilt bronze images of Kannon.
In the afternoon, explore Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion), a Zen temple at the foot of Kyoto’s eastern mountains. In 1482, Shōgun Ashikaga Yoshimasa built his retirement villa on the grounds of today’s temple, modelling it after Kinkaku-ji (which we visited yesterday). 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.
In the morning, visit Saihō-ji (Kokedera), an ancient temple said to have been established by the monk Gyōki during the Nara period (710 – 794), later restored and 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, Kokedera, which literally means ‘Moss Temple’.
After lunch, explore 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. One part of the garden is an allegory, the other is designed for meditation.
Continue to an indigo-dying workshop and discover the fascinating secrets of this valuable blue dye and the techniques used for centuries in Japanese textiles and handicrafts.
Note: Tickets to visit Saiho-ji (Kokedera) will be available only two months prior to the visit. Therefore, while we undertake to operate the tour of the garden as published, this is subject to change.
Today, spend the day at the fascinating Miho Museum nestled among the verdant Shigaraki Mountains. The museum houses the Shumei Family Collection of rare treasures from the ancient world and traditional Japanese art.
This evening, celebrate the conclusion of the tour with a special farewell dinner with Genevieve and fellow travellers.
Tour arrangements conclude after breakfast.
For those departing Kyoto today, make your way to Ōsaka Kansai Airport for suggested Japan Airlines flights to Australia or New Zealand.
Renaissance Tours or your travel agent can assist you with your flights and other travel arrangements, including any additional nights’ accommodation, either before or after the tour.
*#SSU – Single supplement (limited rooms available) AUD 2,650
[*#SSU = a smaller room will be provided in Tokyo, Kanazawa and Okayama (usually has a single bed) and a double room in Takayama, Hiroshima and Kyoto]
*DSU – Single supplement AUD 3,750
(*DSU = double room for sole use throughout the entire tour)
*Single travellers may request to share.
Please advise at time of booking.
Please note that there are limited double-bedded rooms available in most Japanese hotels. Most rooms for two persons are twin-bedded.
Final payment due
03 September 2019
Please see Terms & Conditions for fitness level definitions.
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 to visit Japan.
Tour price includes
- Accommodation in 4-star superior hotels with breakfast daily (B)
- Meals as per itinerary (L = Lunch, D = Dinner), including drinks with welcome and farewell dinners
- Airport/hotel transfer on arrival in Tokyo (either group or individual limousine shuttle transfer)
- Talks throughout with your tour leader, Genevieve Jacobs
- Comprehensive sightseeing, including local guides and entrance fees as per itinerary
- Train tickets from Tokyo to Takayama and from Kanazawa to Hiroshima
- Comfortable air-conditioned coach transportation
- 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)
- Hotel/airport transfer on departure in Kyoto
- Items of a personal nature (e.g. telephone, laundry, mini-bar, taxis etc.)
- Airport porterage
- Travel insurance (a condition of travel; please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for assistance)
Tokyo – Cerulean Tokyu Hotel ****
Takayama – Hotel Associa Takayama Resort ****
Kanazawa – Hotel Nikko Kanazawa ****
Hiroshima – Rihga Royal Hotel Hiroshima ****
Okayama – Hotel Grandvia ****
Kyoto – Rihga Royal Hotel Kyoto ****
NB. Hotels of a similar standard may be substituted