Kondopaito Pagoda, Koyasan. (Photo credit)

May 13-21, 2017
Plan your arrival in Kyoto for May 12, 2017
Plan your departure from Osaka for May 22, 2017

Join Amy Osaki for a special trip to explore the heritage of Japan. Step into thousands of years of Japanese history in Kyoto. Visit the Imperial Palace which still serves as the Kyoto residence of the emperor. Experience some of the finest Japanese gardens at Kenrokuen in Kanazawa, Korakuen in Okayama, and Ritsurin-Kōen in Takamatsu. Plunge into the riches of 20th and 21st century art at the 21st century Museum of Contemporary Art, the I. M. Pei designed Miho Museum, and the Tadao Ando designed Benesse Art Site on Naoshima, an island in the Seto Inland Sea. On neighboring Shikoku, visit the former home and studio of the Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi. In the interior of Shikoku you’ll experience a portion of the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage, an eleven hundred year old, 800 mile long route that encircles the island. This pilgrimage is closely associated with the life of Kōbō Daishi, a ninth century Buddhist monk, civil servant and scholar much revered in Japan for his wisdom and benevolence. (During your time in Kyoto and at Koyasan you’ll visit other sites significant to the life of Kōbō Daishi.) This trip is timed to catch spring in Japan. Depending on the vagaries of the season, we may be able to enjoy the purple tresses of wisteria along with blossoming azalea, rhododendron and iris. Whether this is your first trip to Japan (or one of many) you’re invited to join Amy for an experience that combines the well-known attractions of Japan with lesser-known adventures off-the-beaten-path.

Pre-tour excursion: On the morning of May 12, we will offer a pre-tour visit to some of Kyoto’s signature sights that are not included in this itinerary: Kinkaku-ji (the Gold Pavilion), Ginkaku-ji (the Silver Pavilion) and the mountainside temple of Kiyomizudera. There will be no cost for this pre-tour program except for the cost of transport and admission (maximum cost of about $50 including local guide, admissions and transport). If you are planning to arrive in Kyoto on May 11 or earlier, let us know if you would like to participate in this pre-tour excursion.

The gardens of Kenrokuen, Kanazawa. (Photo credit)

Day 1 – Kanazawa
Overnight Kyoto
Lunch & dinner included
Travel by train to the city of Kanazawa sometimes called “little Kyoto” because of its rich history and strong craft traditions. Visit the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa which opened in 2004 and was designed by the architectural firm of SANAA (which also did the recent renovations of the Museum of Modern Art in New York). After lunch, visit the garden of Kenrokuen considered one of the top three Japanese gardens. Return to Kyoto by train for dinner and overnight.

Miho Museum interior. (Photo credit)

Day 2 – “The Miho”
Overnight Kyoto
Breakfast, lunch & dinner included
From Kyoto, journey southeast to the I. M. Pei designed Miho Museum. This $215 million project opened in 1997 and houses the private collection of Mihoko Koyama and her daughter Hiroko. Here, the philosophy that “spiritual fulfillment lies in art and nature” serves as the theme for the museum and its installations. The setting, the building, and the art (which includes treasures of porcelain, sculpture, jewelry, textiles from Japan, Egypt, China and Iran) all combine to create a spectacular experience. We will have lunch at the Miho Museum. Return to Kyoto for dinner and overnight.

The Sakuheimon, one of the outer gates to the Kyoto Imperial Palace. (Photo credit)

Day 3 – “The Imperial Capital”
Overnight Kyoto
Breakfast & lunch included
Kyoto was the capital of Japan for over 1,000 years beginning in the very late eighth century. It was built as a scaled representation of the seventh century Chinese Tang dynasty capital of Chang’an (modern day Xi’an). We are requesting special permission to visit the Imperial Palace (Kyōto Gosho) which is still the emperor’s residence in Kyoto under the control of the Imperial Household Agency. The current palace dates from 1855, but it preserves the ambiance of the period when Japan’s imperial dynasties ruled from this seat of power. After lunch we’ll visit the temple of To-ji founded in the eighth century as one of the “guardian” temples of the Imperial capital. The temple features a five-story pagoda (Japan’s tallest) dating from the mid-seventeenth century. Here we’ll begin to learn about Kōbō Daishi, the ninth century monk who was granted the stewardship of To-ji in 823. Today, To-ji remains one of the three most important sites associated with the life of Kōbō Daishi. Enjoy this final evening in Kyoto with dinner on your own.

Korakuen, Okayama. (Photo credit)

Day 4 – Korakuen and Noguchi’s Studio
Overnight in Takamatsu
Breakfast, lunch & dinner included
Journey west from Kyoto to the city of Okayama. Savor the beauty and peace of the exceptional eighteenth century garden at Korakuen, the second of three gardens on our trip. Along with Kanazawa’s Kenrokuen, Korakuen is widely regarded as one of the “top three” landscape gardens in Japan. The reconstructed Okayama Castle (Okayama-jō) originally built in the 16th century and colloquially known as the “crow castle” because of its black exterior serves as a fitting backdrop to the gardens. Following the visit to Korakuen, travel across the Inland Sea via the Seto Ohashi (bridge) to the island of Shikoku. Continue to the small village of Mure known for centuries for the skill of its stone carvers and the quality of the stone from nearby quarries. It was this stone that drew Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi here from his home in New York. His home, studio, and garden are today a spectacular museum and tribute to his exceptional artistry. Upon Noguchi’s death in 1988, the New York Times called him, “a versatile and prolific sculptor whose earthy stones and meditative gardens bridging East and West have become landmarks of 20th-century art.” Tour the site viewing 150 of Noguchi’s sculptures, some still in the process of being sculpted. At the end of the visit travel the short distance to Takamatsu where you’ll spend the evening.

Yayaoi Kusama’s “Pumpkin” on Naoshima. (Photo credit)

Day 5 – Benesse Art Site
Overnight on Naoshima
Breakfast, lunch & dinner included
At the port of Takamatsu you’ll board a boat that will ferry you across the Seto Inland Sea to the island of Naoshima and the Benesse Art Site Naoshima. In response to the growing migration away from the isolated islands of Japan the publishing firm, Benesse House, created a stunning art museum on Naoshima. Revel in the revitalizing impact of this visionary contemporary art museum. Here, you’ll find two museums designed by Tadao Ando (Benesse House and the Chichu Art Museum) as well as a host of site-specific art installations from leading international contemporary artists. Spend today touring the Benesse House, Lee Ufan and Chichu Art Museums. Then dine and settle into your overnight accommodations at the Benesse House Hotel Park. PLEASE NOTE: Accommodations at Benesse House are pending confirmation in November 2016.

The classic view of Ritsurin, Takamatsu. (Photo credit)

Day 6 – Naoshima and Ritsurin Koen
Overnight in Takamatsu
Breakfast and lunch included
This morning, continue your exploration of Naoshima. In the seaside village of Honmura, experience site-specific installations that have been created by artists in houses and even in an old shrine. There are seven art sites in the village with the most recent art created in 2009. Also visit the Tadao Ando Museum. In the afternoon, travel by ferry south to Takamatsu on the island of Shikoku. Here, you’ll visit the third of our trio of famous Japanese gardens: Ritsurin-Kōen (“Chestnut grove garden”) with its spacious grounds encompassing several ponds and hills. Following the visit to the garden, enjoy dinner on your own, and then settle into your hotel for the evening.

Day 7 – The 88 Temple Pilgrimage
Overnight in Tokushima 
Breakfast, lunch & dinner included 
Kōbō Daishi was born in northern Shikoku in the late eighth century not too far from Takamatsu. Today we’ll experience a portion of the 88 Temple Pilgrimage, a route closely associated with his life. Travel by bus from Takamatsu south into the foothills to the Henro Center where you’ll learn about the pilgrims (henro) who travel from all over Japan and from throughout the world to complete the pilgrimage. Later, you’ll visit both the last and the first temples on the pilgrimage route–Okubuji (Temple #88) and Ryozenji (Temple #1). Consider purchasing a temple stamp book (called a nokyocho). At each temple office, you can have someone stamp your book with the vermilion stamps bearing the temple’s name. Then, using a calligraphy brush, symbols representing the main deity of the temple are handwritten in your book. You can acquire a blank book that you can use for any temple in Japan or a special book made specifically for the 88 Temples on Shikoku. Perhaps you will return and complete the entire route! Arrive in Tokushima where you’ll enjoy dinner and an overnight stay.

Spring at Ryozenji, Temple 1 on the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage. (Photo credit)

Day 8 – Journey to Koyasan
Overnight at Koyasan
Breakfast, lunch  & dinner included
From Tokushima Port, ferry across the Seto Inland Sea to Wakayama from where you’ll continue your journey to Koyasan, the sacred temple compound high in the Kii Mountains southwest of Osaka.  Koyasan, perhaps Japan’s holiest place (and a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site), invites you to leave modern Japan behind and immerse yourself in the place that writer Pico Iyer described as “consecrated to everything old and changeless and hushed.” There are 117 temples in the Koyasan complex. You’ll have the opportunity to spend the night in simple but comfortable temple lodgings known as shukubo in Japanese. In the late afternoon, walk the tranquil cedar-lined paths to the mausoleum of Okunoin, the final resting place of Kōbō Daishi. Return to the temple lodging, dine, and enjoy the evening in your traditional room where you’ll sleep on a futon on the tatami mat.

Day 9 – Koyasan
Overnight in Osaka
Breakfast, lunch  & dinner included
All are welcome to attend the early morning service at the temple in Koyasan. After breakfast, visit the 16th-century Kongobuji (mother temple of Shingon Buddhism noted for its painted doors), the stunning orange-colored Konpondaito pagoda, and the Reihokan Treasure Museum which houses a collection of the important cultural properties of Koyasan. Descend the holy mountain by funicular and then travel to Osaka by train. Enjoy a farewell dinner and overnight in Osaka.

Other Details about this Trip
Trip Dates
: May 13-21, 2017
Trip Leader: Amy Boyce Osaki
Price: $5,695 (A deposit of $400 is required to guarantee your reservation)
Single Room for entire trip: $500. Please note that the single room accommodations may not be available at Koyasan on the evening of Day 8.

Meeting Point: The trip begins at the hotel in Kyoto on the morning of May 13, 2017.
Departure Point: The trip concludes after dinner on May 21, 2017 at the hotel in Osaka. However, your overnight lodging in Osaka this evening and breakfast the following morning are included in the trip price.
Lodging: Nine nights of lodging in hotels/inns. Please note that the evening of Day 8 will be spent in a traditional Japanese inn. At this inn bathing and toilet facilities will be shared. On this evening, you can expect separate facilities for men and women with showers and a hot water tub (ofuro) intended for use only after showering. On the other evenings you can expect private hotel rooms (either Western or Japanese-style) with private bathing facilities. Please note that your lodging in Kyoto on the evening of May 12 (the night before the trip begins) is not included in the trip price, but we will be happy to book accommodations for you on that evening.
Meals: Nine breakfasts, nine lunches (packed lunch or restaurant depending on the day), and seven dinners are included. Meals are normally Japanese-style.
Also included in the trip price: Access to museums and attractions, admission to all sites, all ground transportation, expert insights into the art and culture of Japan provided by your trip leader and local experts.
Not included in the trip price: Airfare, excess baggage charges, personal insurance, meals not mentioned in the itinerary, and all items of a personal nature such as drinks, laundry, telephone, and internet access. Lodging in Kyoto on the evening of May 12 is not included in the tour price.
Pre-tour excursion: On the morning of May 12, we will offer a pre-tour visit to some of Kyoto’s signature sights that are not included in this itinerary: Kinkaku-ji (the Gold Pavilion), Ginkaku-ji (the Silver Pavilion) and the mountainside temple of Kiyomizudera. There will be no cost for this pre-tour program except for the cost of transport and admission (maximum cost of about $50 including local guide, admissions and transport). If you are planning to arrive in Kyoto on May 11 or earlier, let us know if you would like to participate in this pre-tour excursion.

Resources for Further Learning

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Origami cranes in Kyoto. (Photo credit)