• Japan

Overview

Buddhism trickled into Japan during the early 6th century. Shintoism was the primary religion at the time, but as years passed, Buddhism became widely accepted & incorporated into the Shinto way of life. During the 1100s, Zen Buddhism flourished throughout western Japan. Today, there are more than 9 million practicing Zen Buddhists in the country. 
On this 10-day tour, you’ll learn about multiple sects of Buddhism as you explore several museums & ancient religious sites that show how age-old beliefs defined Japan’s history & culture.

Highlights

  • Tokyo – Visit the nation’s capital to learn about the attempted separation of Shintoism & Buddhism during the Meiji period & see a variety of Zen Buddhist art.
  • Kamakura – Tour two of the five great Zen Buddhist temples.
  • Kyoto – Practice meditating alongside Buddhist monks & learn about the significance of each temple’s landscaping & architecture.
  • Uji – Sample a variety of green teas during a plantation tour & stop by the temple etched on the Japanese 10-yen coin.
  • Nara – Explore one of Japan’s most well-preserved historic cities to see the largest bronze Buddha & oldest wooden temple in the world!
  • Mount K?ya – Learn about the founding of Shingon Buddhism at the largest cemetery in Japan & enjoy a traditional Shojin-Ryori dinner with Buddhist monks.

Sample Itinerary

Day 1: Tokyo

Arrive at Narita International Airport where you’ll meet your guide & drive into Tokyo. Check into your hotel before grabbing a bite to eat for dinner. The rest of the evening is free to explore the city’s nightlife or rest at the hotel.

Day 2: Tokyo

Begin a full day tour of Tokyo, starting at the Meiji Shrine. The Shinto temple is located across from Yoyogi Park, which blocks out the noise from the busy city. Cleanse your hands & face in the fountain before walking through the temple grounds. Afterward, you’ll watch a dramatic Kagura dance performance, depicting ancient Shinto legends & myths. 
Then, venture to the Asakusa district to see the oldest & largest temple in Tokyo, Senso-ji. Spend some time at the nearby Nakamise shopping strip before heading over to the National Museum. This is one of the largest art history museums in the world, featuring multiple collections from ancient Zen Buddhist schools. Enjoy dinner before returning to your hotel.

Day 3: Tokyo – Kamakura – Tokyo

Drive an hour south to Kamakura. Here, you’ll visit two of the five great Zen Buddhist temples - Kencho-ji & Engaku-ji. Though both were built during the 13th century, Kencho-ji is known as the oldest Zen training monastery in the country. The second temple, Engaku-ji, memorializes Japanese samurais & warriors who sacrificed their lives during the Mongol invasions. 
You’ll then visit Kamakura’s most treasured temple called the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu. A series of torii gates create a pathway through the center of the city, leading up to the temple shrine & museum. 
Next, wrap up your day tour at the Great Buddha of Kamakura, located within the Kotokuin Temple. This giant bronze statue was built in 1252 & stands 37 feet tall. Return to Tokyo for dinner & a good night’s rest.

Day 4: Tokyo – Kyoto

Take the bullet train to Kyoto, former capital of Japan. Begin with a visit to one of the city’s smaller temples, Koryu-ji, home to the prized Miroku Bosatsu Buddha statue. Before dinner, stop by Japan’s famous rock garden located in the Ryoanji Temple. The garden is comprised of 15 large rocks surrounded by millions of tiny rectangular pebbles. If you stand at different angles, you’ll notice that one rock is always hidden from your site. Check into your hotel & spend the evening exploring the city.

Day 5: Kyoto

Spend the morning practicing Za-Zen at the Jounji temple. Here, you’ll learn about the importance of Zen in Japanese culture & how it’s incorporated into Buddhist practices. You’ll also try your hand at transcribing Sutra mantras & have tea with Buddhist monks. 
Then, visit the Zen Garden at the Konchi-in Temple with a pond of water lilies, rock garden, and an aqueduct that once carried water & goods to Kyoto. Your visit will include a traditional tea ceremony, where you can see how matcha is prepared & served, as well as an architectural tour of the temple grounds. 
End your day with a tour of the golden Kinkaku-ji temple. This Zen pavilion is best known for its pure gold leaf adornment. The rest of the evening is free to spend at your leisure.

Day 6: Kyoto – Uji – Kyoto

Drive south to the town of Uji, where you’ll spend the day at the By?d?-in temple. This tranquil shrine has been named a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site is etched on every 10-yen coin in Japan. Over the years, multiple fires destroyed all the temple’s buildings except for the Hoo-do (“Phoenix”) Hall. As you walk through, you’ll notice the phoenix statues atop the temple roof and the sacred Amida Nyoria Buddha statue. 
Uji is also famous for its tea. Visit a plantation to learn how the leaves are grown, harvested & processed. You’ll also sample a variety of green teas before returning to Kyoto.

Day 7: Kyoto – Nara

Nara was Japan’s imperial capital from 710 – 794. It’s one of the most well-preserved & memorable cities in the country with its array of temples & friendly wild deer. As you stroll through Nara Park, you’ll come across the National Museum. Here, you’ll see multiple collections of Japanese art that show the influence of Buddhism through the country’s history. It’s also likely to come upon flocks of tame deer roaming through the park, looking for a snack. But watch out! They’re known to snatch anything resembling food out of your hands. 
You’ll then walk to the Todai-ji temple, which houses the largest bronze Buddha statue in the world. This 50-foot monument weighs more than 500 tons! 
Finish up your day tour at the oldest wooden building in the world. Though only 20% of the structure contains its original wood, the H?ry?-ji temple has survived multiple fires & battles since its development in 670 AD. Check into your hotel & spend the evening exploring Nara.

Day 8: Nara – Mount K?ya

Drive to Mount K?ya. Upon arrival, walk through the Okuno-in cemetery. As you walk along this mile-long path, you’ll notice more than 200,000 tombstones lining each side. The mountain’s temple was founded by the father of Shingon Buddhism, Kobo Daisha. 
After a hike across the mountain, retire to your shukubo mountain temple hotel. This evening, you will have a traditional Shojin-Ryori dinner alongside Buddhist monks. The meal itself does not contain any meat, fish, or animal bi-products.

Day 9: Mount K?ya – Osaka

After breakfast, descend the mountain by cable car & take the bullet train to Osaka. The day is free to visit the city’s many temples & sample a variety of foods like sushi, Japanese Barbeque & authentic ramen noodles.

Day 10: Osaka

Ferry to Kensai International Airport & begin your journey back home.