For May 2021 we’re excited to introduce this new itinerary in Japan that will differ entirely from the very popular tour that we’ve been running since 2014. Starting from Tokyo and finishing in Hiroshima this 13-night program will show us Honshu — Japan’s main island — more in-depth than the standard highlights type of tour.
HAKONE – A day trip out of Tokyo, Hakone boasts world-class art museums, walking trails, and gorgeous mountain and lake scenery with sacred Mt. Fuji dominating over the entire setting. Hakone Open-Air Museum is home to a rich assortment of 19th and 20th century sculptures and installations by leading Japanese artists as well as Rodin, Miró, Picasso, and Henry Moore. We get around, in part, with a gondola ride in the hills and a cruise on Lake Ashino.
KANAZAWA – A feudal-era capital that in its heyday rivaled Kyoto as a center for the arts, a vibrant artisan tradition is still present here along with one of Japan’s top gardens — Kenroku-en — dating from the 17th century. Kanazawa also has an excellent contemporary art museum; a rich food culture that draws heavily from the nearby Sea of Japan; beautifully preserved samurai and geisha districts; and a wonderful market. It also produces 98 percent of Japan’s gold leaf.
OSAKA – Japan’s third-largest city (Yokohama is second, but it’s rather an extension of Tokyo) Osaka is an urban extravaganza with locals who are known to be more approachable than Tokyoites. A dazzling nighttime sensory experience with neon lights, animated signage, and flashy video screens awaits. And oh, the food – the city’s unofficial slogan is kuidaore (eat until you drop), and its most famous street food is takoyaki (grilled octopus dumplings) – yum!
HIMEJI-JO – Reputedly one of Japan’s most magnificent castles, and one of the rare originals dating from the 16th century, Himeji-jo is big and well-preserved. The white plaster facade and generally elegant appearance have earned it the nickname of White Egret Castle, and it has starred in its fair share of roles in Japanese movies.
BIZEN POTTERY – A historic ceramic-making center Bizen has been renowned for its pottery since the Kamakura period (1185-1333). We stop at a hospitable artisan family, with deep roots in the area, who show us their kilns and explain the process of creating this highly prized pottery with an opportunity to purchase their beautiful creations.
KURASHIKI – This town possesses a well-preserved atmospheric merchant quarter and picturesque willow-draped canal. Small lanes are lined with old wooden houses and shops. The Ohara Museum of Art houses a fine collection of mostly Western paintings, prints, and sculpture and was established by a local textile magnate in the early 20th century.
NAOSHIMA – A rural island that has now become a world-class center for contemporary art Naoshima has hosted many of Japan’s well-regarded architects who have contributed their work, designed to enhance the island’s natural beauty. It’s a captivating blend of avant-garde and gorgeous natural settings. Museums and numerous outdoor sculptures dot the island, and creative types from around Japan have set up small businesses here.
MATSUE – This area, on the Sea of Japan, introduces us to the Izumo Taisha – one of Japan’s most famous Shinto shrines. As old as Japanese recorded history the shrine is dedicated to the god of marriage and bringer of good fortune. Also in this area is the Adachi Museum of Art with its stunning gardens widely considered as among the best in Japan. Staying two nights at a traditional Japanese ryokan with hot spring baths and extraordinary kaiseki (multi-course) dinners is another highlight in this region.
HIROSHIMA – Visiting the excellent Peace Memorial Museum, while sobering, is an important history lesson that bears repeating. The adjacent park, designed by noted modernist Tange Kenzo, offers opportunities for reflection. Despite its tragic past the cosmopolitan city is very much forward-looking, alive, and is known for its good food, including okonomiyaki (delicious savory pancakes).
MIYAJIMA – This small charming island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, its star attraction being the 50-foot-tall vermilion torii gate which seems to float at high tide – often described as one of Japan’s best views. Mt. Misen, considered sacred, has a 360-degree view of the mainland and the islands of the Seto Inland Sea from the summit, which is reached by gondola.