2020 Garden and Art Tour Japan
An unforgettable 15-day journey to Japan’s most iconic destinations to see the nation’s top three gardens and experience a stunning selection of Japanese art
The 2020 Garden and Art Tour Japan visits many wonderful gardens including three of Japan’s most revered gardens. All different and all based in spectacular locations across Japan. Many gardens are attached to some of Japan’s iconic temples, museums, galleries and historical villas. Through the prism of the Japanese gardens, you will gain a rich insight into Japan’s unique culture and traditions, its art, history and modern-day life. A great introduction to the country itself!
As well as a garden tour of Japan, this holiday includes some of Japan's best museums (galleries). The wide selection of art has to be seen to be believed, particularly the way some of the Japanese gardens integrate into the art. see the list of gardens and art installations covered by this tour at the bottom of the page
The tours take place in May and October – an ideal time of year to visit Japan. The weather is typically warm and sunny, and the gardens are at their best. The tours are not designed specifically for horticulturists or garden experts (though always welcome), but rather for general lovers of gardens and art who want to explore Japan and learn more about its deeply fascinating culture.
Places visited: Tokyo, Hakone, Kanazawa, Kurashiki, Okayama, Imbe, Yasugi, Naoshima and Kyoto
Group size: Min 6, Max 8
Transport: Bullet train, express & commuter trains, ferry, bus and taxi
Accommodation: Four-star hotels and equivalent Japanese style inns
Fitness level: Moderate (please refer to FAQ)
Tour type: Signature
Explore the sublime gardens of Kenrokuen and Korakuen
Stay at Naoshima, the contemporary art island made famous by Benesse
Visit the most awarded garden in Japan at Adachi Museum of Art
Enjoy the tea ceremony in a tea master’s own home
Feast on some beautifully presented food
Interact firsthand with a prominent Bizen-ware potter
Soak in an onsen at a Japanese traditional inn in Hakone
Day 1: Arrival
Welcome to Japan! On arrival at one of Tokyo’s international airports, you will be met by a Journey to the East guide and escorted to your hotel in Tokyo. After a good night’s sleep, you will be ready to start the first full day of your 2020 Garden and Art Tour Japan.
Day 2: Tokyo
Meet with your guide after breakfast for orientation in your hotel before you begin your exploration of Tokyo. Tokyo is one of the world's most populous cities. With its soaring towers and secret quiet spots it displays amazing contrasts. Japan’s capital is steeped in great history and culture, stemming back to when it became the seat of power in 1603 when the new shogun moved here.
The first visit is to Hamarikyu Garden, one of the traditional gardens in central Tokyo. The garden is alongside Tokyo bay. These traditional gardens and the Japanese tea-house on an island where we pause a quiet cup of tea. You get your first glimpse of the old and the new, with the modern day skyscrapers towering over this serene garden scene.
Asakusa is the next experience at the most popular and oldest temple of Tokyo, Senso-ji. The surprising connection between this Buddhist temple and the Shinto shrine next door will help you to understand the relationship between Japan's two main beliefs, Shintoism and Buddhism. Over a tempura lunch we talk about Tokyo amidst this curious feeling of olden day Tokyo co-existing with modern Tokyo.
In the afternoon, a visit to the Omiya Bonsai Village area will expose you to more about the art of bonsai and the care and preservation of these beautifully manicured miniature trees.
The day ends with a welcome dinner at a restaurant with great night views – a degustation meal of modern Japanese cuisine.
Day 3: Tokyo
We are off to see Nezu Museum, located in a quiet backstreet of fashionable Aoyama. Here you will have the chance to enjoy the contemplative Japanese garden surrounding the museum building itself. The museum has one of the finest collections of Japanese and East-Asian pre-modern art.
The tree-lined shopping boulevard of Omotesando is next on the agenda and we see Tokyo's contrasts busy at work again. The world’s super-brands sit comfortably alongside edgy Japanese fashion designers and the teen pop culture of Harajuku. You will also visit Ota Memorial Museum of Art to witness some exemplary samples of traditional ukiyo-e wood-block prints.
Afternoon is free for you to explore this fascinating megalopolis. You may like to visit Ueno for its National Museum (a great place to help you get a handle on the adventure you have undertaken) or one of the many other art museums. Of course, Nishonbashi is always a great choice for traditional art and craft shops. Let us know if you have particular interests, and we will make a suggestion.
Day 4: Hakone
Today you will travel by express train for a lovely overnight trip to Hakone, a scenic hot springs resort area located in the mountains near Mt Fuji and renowned for its natural beauty and world-class art.
First stop is the walk-through gardens of the Hakone Open-Air Museum. The amazing sculptures from the likes of Henry Moore and Rodin are set against a spectacular backdrop of maple and cherry trees. We will also visit Narukawa Art Museum to give you an opportunity to experience the exquisite view of Mt Fuji from across Lake Ashinoko and see modern-day Japanese paintings.
Tonight you will have your first chance to stay in a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn, where you can experience an authentic kaiseki-style banquet and a soak in a hot-spring onsen bath.
Day 5: Hakone to Tokyo
Time to take a breath! After a relaxed start in Hakone we wend our way back to Tokyo.
Although today is an 'easy' day, you already know that Tokyo has heaps to see, so when we get back to Tokyo you can explore a bit more if you wish. (The Journey to the East team will be happy to give away some of their own special nuggets of information, just ask!)
Day 6: Kanazawa
The Shinkansen (bullet train) whisks you away from Tokyo to the city of Kanazawa. Kanazawa is commonly known as “Little Kyoto” on the Japan Sea side and is home to Kenrokuen Garden, a castle garden dating back to the 17th century and which is regarded as one of three great gardens of Japan. You will have the opportunity to explore this garden and contemplate the beauty of its sublime design.
With its historical heritage as a wealthy castle town, Kanazawa offers a huge array of cultural attractions. Beautifully preserved and reasonably small in scale, Kanazawa is best explored on foot. You will also visit the neighbouring Kanazawa Castle Park with its feudal castle buildings.
The next stop is 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, noteworthy for the unusual glass cylinder structure which envelopes the building to reduce its environmental footprint.
Day 7: Kanazawa
This morning you will visit the Higashi Geisha District, a well-preserved area of narrow streets where immaculately presented geisha would have entertained wealthy patrons in slatted wooden tea houses. Here you will visit Gold-leaf museum, the Kanazawa’s number one traditional craft.
In the afternoon, you can wander around the backstreets of Kanazawa yourself and explore the many temples, galleries and craft shops offering all sorts of exquisite kimono, gilded lacquerware and local sake products. Or why not visit the Nagamachi district, the old part of Kanazawa where the samurai and their daimyo lords once resided. Charming and atmospheric, the winding old streets of this district are full of timber-clad houses and canals.
Day 8: Kurashiki
After a couple of days in Kanazawa, you head for the cute town of Kurashiki onboard super-express trains. Kurashiki was a prosperous trading town during the feudal era. This delightfully historic and picturesque town has maintained its charming streetscape of traditional black-and-white storehouses, merchant residences and canals lined with willow trees.
Kurashiki is the home of the Ohara Museum of Art, which has a superb collection of ceramics, paintings and antiquities from Japan, China and other ancient civilizations.
The day concludes with a 'French' style dinner enjoyed with the group.
Day 9: Okayama and Imbe (Bizen)
A short train ride will take you to the small regional town of Imbe, which has been producing Bizen ceramic-ware for some 1000 years. Bizen-ware is still highly prized among pottery enthusiasts both in Japan and overseas. You will have the chance to wander through the galleries, craft shops and working kilns and engage firsthand with one of Imbe’s most prominent potters in his own studio and private garden.
Another short train ride and you arrive in Okayama, for a tour of the sublime Korakuen Garden. This special garden has been recognized as being one of the three most beautiful gardens in Japan. Initially completed in 1700, Korakuen is prized for being a great example of the “scenic promenade” garden style, which reveals a new view to the visitor on every turn along its meandering path. With vast lawns, ponds, streams, flower gardens and tea houses, a visit to Korakuen is an unforgettable introduction to the Japanese garden tradition.
On return to Kurashiki, you will enjoy a local speciality sushi dinner.
Day 10: Yasugi (Adachi Museum)
For the guests of the 2020 Garden & Art Tour Japan, we believe memories of this day will last with you forever. You travel by train to Yasugi, a rural town on the western coast of Japan’s main island, to visit the garden at the Adachi Museum of Art. This has been nominated Japan’s most popular garden for 12 consecutive years.
Designed in the “borrowed scenery” style, the mountainous backdrop to this extensive garden makes it appear that the mountains are a seamless part of the garden itself.
When viewed from the large plate-glass windows inside the museum building, the six separate gardens that make up the outside garden are effectively framed by the window to create six “living pictures”. The Japanese ceramics, paintings and fine wood carvings displayed in the museum’s exhibition complete a perfect day.
You return to Kurashiki to spend the evening at your leisure.
Day 11: Naoshima (Art Island)
A mini-bus and ferry take you to Naoshima, an island which once was home to just a few remote fishing villages. Naoshima known colloquially as the 'Art Island" is in Japan’s magical Seto Inland Sea.
Thanks to Benesse Corporation and the visionary Naoshima Art Project, Naoshima today has been transformed into a cutting-edge contemporary art island visited by leading architects and artists from all over the world.
The architecture alone is simply amazing. You will spend time on the island visiting the galleries, architecture and sculptures of Ando Tadao, Lee Ufan and many others. While we guarantee the artwork will spark debate, we know you will also enjoy the laid-back atmosphere and stunning natural scenery of the Inland Sea.
Day 12: Kyoto
Leaving the relaxed island environment behind, today you will journey by bullet train to Kyoto, that most iconic of cities. With over 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites (at last count!), Kyoto is the historical heart of Japan’s culture and the guardian of many of its ancient traditions.
Originally made capital way back in 794, present-day Kyoto offers an incredible range of contemplative gardens often associated with the ancient temples and shrines. Kyoto is also well known for exclusive shops and restaurants as well as otherworldly cultural performances by noh and kabuki actors.
After some rest at hotel, this evening you will take a deep dive into Japanese culture by learning about the “Way of Tea”, the Japanese tea ceremony. The tea master will take you through the history and philosophy of the tea ceremony ritual and the individual steps and utensils involved in preparing the ultimate bowl of frothy matcha tea. You will try the matcha and the special Japanese sweets served as part of the tea ceremony experience.
Day 13: Shigaraki (Miho Museum)
Today you make a day visit to the stunning Miho Museum. Here you can experience a thorough immersion into the world of art, architecture and landscape design.
Renowned architect I.M. Pei designed this museum with much of the site built into a forested hillside. It was built to house an extensive private collection of some 2000 antiquities from ancient civilizations.
The contrast of the glass and steel structure of the museum’s roof against the surrounding natural environment is spectacular. It is this seamless integration of the man-made with the natural which is a real highlight. Past guests have said this visit ranks as one of the most impressive days of the tour.
You return to Kyoto to enjoy rest of the afternoon and evening at your leisure.
Day 14: Arashiyama
At Arashiyama, at the foot of the mountains around Kyoto, you visit a superb example of a Japanese-style “stroll” garden at Tenryuji Temple. Moving on we wander through the bamboo grove of Arashiyama, famous for its extensive forest of thick bamboo stands and ethereal light.
The historic villa of Okochi Sanso, built on a hill-side offers magnificent views of Kyoto. The sprawling gardens, villa and tea house showcase the Japanese garden aesthetic at its very best. At Lunch you will taste Kyoto’s traditional tofu cuisine, a local specialty with roots in Kyoto’s Buddhist vegetarian past.
In the afternoon, you will visit a selection of Kyoto’s finest temples to view their splendid gardens including the big landmark temples such as Kinkakuji and Ryoanji.
We will gather one more time in the evening for a final meal. A maiko (young geisha) joins us for a private performance during dinner at a shabu shabu hot pot restaurant serving premium-wagyu beef.
Day 15: Bon-Voyage
This morning you will check out of your hotel after breakfast and your 2020 Garden and Art Tour Japan concludes.
(For those who have opted for post-trip extensions, we will liaise with you separately about your itinerary.)
Please note that there may be slight changes to the itinerary described above to accommodate changes in train timetables, opening hours to attractions, and hotel and restaurant availability.
- 14 nights accommodation (including 1 night in traditional inns)
- Breakfasts, lunches and dinners as indicated
- All local transport (train, bus and taxi) including 14-day Japan Rail Pass
- Pre-loaded Suica card
- Locally licensed English speaking tour guides
- Most cultural activities and entry fees included in itinerary
- Luggage transfers (1 piece per person)
- Meet and greet service at the airport on arrival and transfer to hotel by public transport
Does not include:
- International and domestic airfare
- Travel insurance
- Alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages
- Tips and gratuities (not routinely expected in Japan)
- Transport other than JR services and covered by Suica
- Personal expenses (laundry, coin-locker, internet, telephone etc.
- Visa (if required)
The 2020 Garden and Art Tour Japan selection of gardens and art installations
- Hamarikyu Garden - with the quiet tea house in the middle of the city
- Nezu Museum - Japanese and East-Asian pre-modern art and fabulous gardens
- Ota Memorial Museum of Art - Traditional ukiyo-e wood-block prints.
- Omiya Bonsai Art Museum
- Hakone Open-Air Museum - Amazing garden and sculptures
- Narukawa Art Museum - Modern-day Japanese paintings
- Kenrokuen Garden - 17th century castle garden
- 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art - Inspiring site-specific art
- Ohara Museum of Art - Ceramics, paintings and antiquities
- Korakuen Garden - One of Japan's top 3 gardens
- Adachi Museum - “Borrowed scenery” Garden
- The 'Art Island' - cutting-edge contemporary art
- Miho Museum - 2000 antiquities from ancient civilizations
- Numerous gardens attached to temples all over the city