• Japan

Overview

After Chinese Buddhism trickled into Japan during the 6th century, forming a spiritual connection with nature became increasingly important to the Japanese people. Buddhist gardening & landscaping techniques were added to ancient Japanese temple shrines, which played a role in the formation of Shinto-Buddhism. On this 14-day journey through Japan, you’ll learn about the significance of different landscaping techniques & ancient temples as you find your Zen.

Highlights

  • Tokyo – Visit the city’s most well-known gardens & discover the secrets of nursing Japanese bonsai trees.
  • Kanazawa – Journey through this well-preserved, artistic town, where you’ll visit one of the Three Great Gardens of Japan & meet with local artisans who will show you how to make pottery, art prints & more!
  • Kyoto – Stroll through a few historic rock gardens & a temple surrounded by more than 120 variations of moss!
  • Yasugi – Tour the world-renowned Adachi Museum of Art, featuring an award-winning garden & 1,300 works of classical Japanese art.
  • Matsue – See Japan’s oldest-known shrine & marvel at the brilliant sunset as you hike through Daisen-Oki National Park.
  • Hiroshima – Learn about WWII from a Japanese perspective & how peaceful relations with the US formed after the war.
  • Miyajima – Ferry to one of the most scenic spots in Japan, also known as the “Island of the Gods.”
  • Kobe – Spend your last evening in Japan tasting delicious Kobe beef & admiring the city’s architecture via cable car.

Sample Itinerary

Day 1: Tokyo

Fly into Narita International Airport where you’ll meet your guide & transfer to the hotel. Afterward, walk through the largest & oldest temple in Tokyo named Senso-ji & do some shopping at the Nakamise Strip. 
Before dinner, you’ll take a brief tour of the National Museum to observe a variety of Japanese art including buddha statues, samurai swords, woodblock prints & more. You can also stroll through the museum gardens & learn about the symbolism behind its impeccable landscaping. The evening is free to explore the city or rest at the hotel.

Day 2: Tokyo

This morning, you’ll find yourself surrounded by hundreds of trees at the Shunkaen Bonsai Nursery. Learn about the variations of bonsai trees, their significance in Japanese culture & how to care for one yourself. 
Then, visit the Imperial Palace & its surrounding gardens. Here, you’ll see the foundations of Edo Castle, former home of the Tokugawa shogun & first modern emperor of Japan. You’ll also visit Emperor Meiji’s temple shrine. The evening is free to spend at your leisure.

Day 3: Tokyo – Omiya – Tokyo

The Omiya Bonsai Village is made up of multiple nurseries tended to by families & former commercial gardeners since 1925. Walk through each nursery & learn their secrets to growing, caring for & shaping a bonsai. Return to Tokyo & spend the rest of the day exploring the city.

Day 4: Tokyo – Kanazawa

Board the bullet train for Kanazawa, a city that has never seen the effects of war or natural disaster. Because of this, visitors can experience 400 years of untouched, authentic Japanese culture. Spend the afternoon sampling delicious local cuisine like Jubinu stew, sushi & Fuku-Ume pastries. Walk around the city’s shopping districts before dinner & hotel check-in.

Day 5: Kanazawa

After breakfast, drive to the Kanazawa Castle to tour the grounds & its adjacent gardens. Since 1580, the castle was ruled by the Maeda clan for 14 generations & later became Kanazawa University in 1949. The Kenroku-en is one of the Three Great Gardens of Japan, featuring the oldest natural water fountain in the country & a historic teahouse that miraculously survived one of many great castle fires. 
As you walk around town that evening, you’ll visit with local artisans to see how printed silk, washi paper & lacquerware are made. Grab dinner around town & return to the hotel. 

Day 6: Kanazawa – Kyoto

Take the bullet train to Kyoto. Spend the day at two of the country’s most well-known temples including the Kiyomizu-dera & Kinkaku-ji. Both have been classified as UNESCO World Heritage sites. 
Then, eat dinner in the Rakusui- teien garden, where you’ll learn about Jihei Ogawa. This Japanese landscaping pioneer also created other iconic gardens like the Murin-an & Heian Shrine. Return to the hotel for a relaxing evening.

Day 7: Kyoto

Today, you’ll visit a variety of gardens to learn how each design reflects Japanese culture & history. Start at the Ryoan-ji temple to see its Zen rock garden, made of 15 large stones & millions of surrounding square pebbles. No matter where you stand, one stone will always be hidden from your view. Then, walk through the Daitoku-ji temple’s Daisen-in & Zuiho-in gardens. 
You’ll notice the Daisen-in’s distinct Chinese features & Zuiho-in’s Christian symbols. The evening will be spent at a tea ceremony, where you’ll see how matcha is prepared & served.

Day 8: Kyoto

Tour Kyoto’s renowned Garden Museum, designed by Mirei Shigemori. During his lifetime, he was commissioned to landscape more than 240 gardens throughout the country. 
After lunch, stop by the Entsu-ji temple to learn about the art of Shakkei or “borrowed landscaping,” which incorporates natural scenery (like Mount Hiei) beyond the garden itself. Then, stop by the Saiho-ji temple garden, covered by more than 120 variations of moss. Enjoy dinner in downtown Kyoto & take in all the city has to offer.

Day 9: Kyoto – Uji – Kyoto

Drive south to Uji, a small town known for its tea plantations & the Byodo?-in temple. You may recognize this shrine as it’s etched on every 10-yen Japanese coin! Your guide will explain the significance of the temple’s Jodo-style garden, complete with a pond, bridge & main hall dedicated to the mythical Phoenix & Buddha. 
After, tour a nearby tea plantation to learn how green tea is grown, harvested & distributed. You’ll also sample a variety of teas before returning to Kyoto for a night on the town. 

Day 10: Kyoto – Yasugi – Matsue

Board the train & head to the small town of Yasugi. Here, you’ll visit the Adachi Museum of Art founded by Adachi Zanko. Its stunning garden & diverse art collection draws hundreds of thousand spectators from all over the world each year. Adachi created this museum to spark a worldwide interest & respect for Japanese art & landscaping. 
Then, drive to Matsue Castle, one of the few original fortresses standing in Japan. It has stood the test of time, lasting through numerous fires, natural disasters & wars since 1607. You’ll also enjoy a breathtaking sunset over the mountains of Daisen-Oki National Park. Sit down for dinner before checking into your hotel.

Day 11: Matsue

Begin your day at Izumo Taisha, the oldest shrine in Japan. While no one knows exactly when the temple foundations were laid, it’s said to have existed during the early 700s. It is also dedicated to the deity of marriage & relationships. The rest of the day is free to explore local sites like the Iwami Ginzan, Japan’s largest silver mine, which operated for more than 400 years! Overnight in Matsue.

Day 12: Matsue – Hiroshima – Miyajima

Drive from Matsue to the historic city of Hiroshima, where you’ll learn about WWII from a Japanese perspective at the Peace Memorial Park & Museum. Your guide will explain how the city was rebuilt, the effects of the war on the Japanese people & how peaceful relations began with the US. You’ll then ferry to the island of Miyajima where you’ll enjoy dinner & check into your hotel. The evening is free to explore the island.

Day 13: Miyajima – Hiroshima – Kobe

At high tide, the Itsukushima temple shrine & its massive torii gate seem to float atop the sea. This UNESCO World Heritage Site has been around since the 500s & survived numerous natural disasters like Typhoon Songda in 2004. 
After visiting this sacred temple, ascend by cable car to the top of Mount Misen. View the island’s vibrant forests & historic sites from 500 meters up. Descend to the short & ferry back to Hiroshima. 
From there, take the bullet train to Kobe, famous for its beef & stunning architecture. Enjoy a traditional dinner & spend some time exploring the city’s light life. 

Day 14: Kobe – Osaka

Ferry to Osaka’s Kansai International Airport & begin the journey home.