Cherry Blossom and the Art of the Japanese Garden
Travel with John Patrick, landscape architect, author and former presenter on ABC TV’s Gardening Australia when Japan’s countryside explodes into symphonies of glorious cherry blossom.
Visit a diverse range of Japan’s traditional gardens, including Kinkaku-ji (the Golden Pavilion) & Ryoan-ji (Dragon Peace Temple) in Kyoto, Isuien Garden in Nara and Kenrokuen Garden in Kanazawa. We also visit a number of small gardens by special appointment.
Explore some of Japan’s splendid art collections, including Tokyo’s Suntory Museum of Art and the National Museum, the National Treasure Museum in Nara, and the magnificent collection of kimonos at Itchiku Kubota Art Museum at the foot of Mt Fuji.
Visit the Jiyu Gakuen School in Tokyo, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright when he lived in Japan.
Experience Japan’s unique culture at a tea ceremony at Kodai-ji Temple in Kyoto and lunch at the delightful teahouse of Happoen Garden in Tokyo.
View the great Buddha at Nara’s impressive Todai-ji Temple, the world’s largest timber building.
Explore the historic Kiso Valley, witnessing the distinctive wooden architecture of the Edo era.
Stay one night in Nara in a Ryokan – a traditional Japanese inn (or at the heritage Nara Hotel offering western-style accommodation).
Sample an array of traditional cuisine types, including shabu-shabu, teppan-yaki, oskashi and kaiseki.
Kazumasa Kubo, an internationally renown master of ikebana and artistic flower arranging, will give a special private demonstration of his work in Tokyo
The tour has been timed to visit Japan when its countryside explodes into symphonies of glorious cherry blossom. In historic centres like Kyoto and Nara and in Tokyo you’ll discover how Japan’s gardens can be experienced on many levels and are renowned for subtly combining artifice and nature, blurring the boundaries between garden and landscape. Some gardens are tiny and minimalist, conveying subtle meanings through ingenious combinations of moss, stones, rock and water. Others are grand, framing rich palaces and temples like Tokyo’s Imperial Palace Garden. In Kyoto we combine garden visits with expressions of traditional Japanese culture like tea ceremonies, geisha rituals and cuisine. Kyoto gardens include such extensive, ancient temple and garden complexes as Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion), Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion) and Ryoan-ji – the famed Dragon Peace Temple. Throughout, garden visits are also combined with an appreciation of Japan’s traditional architecture and great museums to enrich your understanding of Japanese aesthetics. In 8th-century capital Nara, architectural treasures, great collections and fine gardens include the Todai-ji Temple, the world’s largest timber building, Kofuku-ji Temple with a five-storey pagoda and treasure trove of Buddhist statues; we also visit Nara National Museum. At Kanazawa we explore traditional construction techniques at Kanazawa Castle, Nagamachi Samurai Residence and Higashichaya District’s many old Samurai houses. Kanazawa’s Kenrokuen Garden is the ‘garden of the six sublimities’. In Tokyo highlights include Happoen Garden where ladies in kimonos serve lunch in a delightful teahouse before we stroll through the gardens viewing 200 year-old bonsai trees. Rikugien Garden (c. 1700) is utterly Japanese, with manicured grass, artfully contorted pine trees held up by wooden supports, wooden tea houses, crooked rustic bridges over gurgling streams and a lake filled with carp and tiny turtles. Tokyo National Museum and Suntory Museum of Art offer masterpieces to further inspire you. We also make a very special day tour to villages in Kiso Valley, carefully preserved monuments to Japan’s feudal past, and stroll Japan’s greatest natural symbol, Mt Fuji.
15-Day Cultural Garden Tour of Japan
Overnight Tokyo (1 night) • Kawaguchiko (1 night) • Matsumoto (2 nights) • Kanazawa (1 night) • Kyoto (3 nights) • Nara (1 night) • Kyoto (2 nights) • Tokyo (3 nights)
Tokyo – 1 night
Day 1: Wednesday 27 March, Arrive Tokyo
Arrival transfer for those travelling on the ASA ‘designated’ flight
Welcome Evening Meal
After our arrival at Narita Airport those taking the ASA ‘designated’ flight transfer by private to the Hotel New Otani Tokyo. This hotel stands within a beautiful traditional Japanese garden originally designed for the daimyo (feudal lord) Kato Kiyomasa Lord of Kumamoto in Kyustiu over four hundred years ago. This garden is well worth strolling through and will introduce you to many facets of the Japanese gardens we shall visit in the coming weeks. Tonight we enjoy a welcome evening meal at our hotel. (Overnight Tokyo) D
Kawaguchiko – 1 night
Day 2: Thursday 28 March, Tokyo – Kawaguchiko
Itchiku Kubota Art Museum
Today we depart Tokyo by coach and travel west to the iconic Mt Fuji, the largest volcano in Japan. This is Japan’s highest peak at 3776m. It last erupted in 1707 and forms a near perfect cone. Mount Fuji is arguably Japan’s most important landmark, which stands for the nation’s identity. It has been pictured countless times, not least in Katsushika Hokusai’s Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji (1826 – 1833).
On the way to Mount Fuji we visit the beautiful Sankei-en Garden, a spacious Japanese style garden in southern Yokohama, in which are set a number of historic buildings from across Japan. There is a pond, small rivers, a profusion of flowers and wonderful scrolling trails. The garden, built by Hara Sankei, was opened to the public in 1904. Among the historic buildings in the park are the elegant residence of a daimyo (feudal lord), several tea houses, and the main hall and three storied pagoda of Kyoto’s old Tomyoji Temple.
In Kawaguchiko we will visit the Itchiku Kubota Art Museum. When the artist Itchiku Kubota was young, he encountered an example of ‘Tsujigahana’ at the Tokyo National Museum. ‘Tsujigahana’ was a technique used in dying kimonos during the 15th and 16th century, an art that was later lost. Kubota-san revived the art and created a series of kimonos decorated with mountain landscapes in all four seasons and Mount Fuji. These kimonos are displayed in a breathtaking setting. The main building is a pyramid-shaped structure supported by 16 Hiba (cypress) wooden beams more than 1,000 years old. Other parts of the museum, displaying an antique glass bead collection, are constructed of Ryukyu limestone. The museum’s unique architecture is set against a lovely garden and red pine forest. Tonight we dine together at the hotel. (Overnight Kawaguchiko) BD
Note: Our luggage will be transported separately to our hotel in Nagoya. An overnight bag will be needed for use in Kawaguchiko.
Matsumoto – 2 nights
Day 3: Friday 29 March, Kawaguchiko – Matsumoto
Fifth Station of Mt Fuji
Nakamachi Street and Kurassic-kan
Matsumoto Rising Castle
We start our day with a visit to the Fifth Station (Kawaguchi-ko) at the Fuji Five Lakes, and from here we can enjoy a spectacular view of the snow-capped peak (weather permitting). A gentle stroll will allow us to identify some of the native flora of this region of Japan.
We then travel to Matsumoto. On arrival in the town, we walk through the historic Nakamachi-dori, a street lined with white-walled traditional inns, restaurants and antique shops. Here we visit the Nakamachi Kurassic-kan, an historic sake brewery with black-beamed interiors and traditional plaster-work outside. We cross the river to walk along the market street Nawate-dori before arriving at Matsumoto-jo, the imposing castle approached across a moat. Matsumoto-jo was founded by the Ogasawara clan in 1504 but it was another lord, Ishikawa, who remodeled the fortress in 1593 and built the imposing black five-tier donjon that is now the oldest keep in Japan. From the top of the tower we enjoy spectacular views of the town and surrounding mountains. (Overnight Matsumoto) B
Day 4: Saturday 30 March, Matsumoto – Kiso Valley – Matsumoto
Nagiso Town Museum
Today we drive out of Matsumoto and head to the Kiso Valley for a taste of how Japan looked prior to urbanisation. Developed by Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu as one of the five main highways linking his capital Edo (Tokyo) with the rest of Japan, the valley contains eleven post towns and some of them have been preserved as a virtual museum of the feudal past.
As we follow the valley we’ll enjoy features of the Nakasendo route, including Kiso Fukushima, the location of a major barrier, but today the gateway to the sacred mountain of Ontake.
Tsumago was a ghost town 30 years ago, with its traditional Edo-era houses on the point of collapse. Its restoration sparked the idea of cultural preservation in Japan. The pedestrian-only street is similar to that once encountered by lords and their samurai centuries ago. The highlight of Tsumago is Okuya Kyodokan, a folk museum inside a designated post inn, where the daimyo’s (feudal lord) retinue rested. On the opposite side of the street the Kyu-honjin is where the daimyo used to stay. We will also visit Magome, which means ‘horse-basket’, because this is where travellers were forced to leave their horses before tackling the mountainous roads ahead.
Our final visit for the day is to the Nagiso Town Museum. Opened in 1995, the Museum has three divisions: Tsumago Post Town Honjin, a sub-honjin, and a history museum. (A honjin is a temporary residence for a lord or dignitary to stay in when traveling to and from the shogunate capital of Edo.) The present building of the subhonjin was built in 1878 utilising Japanese cypress throughout, a type of wood proscribed for ordinary construction during the Edo period (1600 –1868). The History Museum contains historical materials of Nagiso Town and history of the trust organisation dedicated to the preservation of historic towns, villages, and neighborhoods. From here we return to Matsumoto, where you can explore the city on your own and enjoy dinner at a traditional restaurant. (Overnight Matsumoto) B
Kanazawa – 1 night
Day 5: Sunday 31 March, Matsumoto – Kanazawa
Ishikawa Prefectural Museum for Traditional Products and Crafts
Nomura Samurai Residence
This morning we travel by coach to Nagano, where we board the new Shinkansen Superexpress train to Kanazawa. The Japanese visit Kanazawa in droves but perhaps because of its remote location and very cold winters few foreigners make the journey to experience its rich cultural legacies.
On arrival we visit the Prefectural Arts Museum & Craft Centre located at the edge of the gardens and designed to harmonise with its landscape. The museum was established to showcase the fine arts and crafts of Ishikawa, a Prefecture whose culture of fine arts and traditional crafts compares with that of Tokyo and Kyoto. Highlights of its collection include feudal daimyo utensils using the Kaga Makie technique and a huge range of Kutani porcelain collection from Ko-kutani (Old Kutani). The museum also exhibits works by numerous ‘living national treasures’ whose works relate in some way to Ishikawa Prefecture.
The feudal atmosphere of Kanazawa still lingers in the Nagamachi district where old houses of the Nagamachi Samurai line the streets that once belonged to Kaga Clan Samurais. The T-shaped and L-shaped alleys are distinct characteristics of the feudal town, and the mud doors and gates of the houses remain the same as they were 400 years ago. The houses with their samurai windows (bushimado) and mud walls under the yellow Kobaita wooden roofs, which were protected from snow by straw mats (komo), evoke a bygone era. We shall visit the Nomura Samurai Family Residence to develop fort a Samurai’s daily life was like during the feudal period. The garden inside the Nomura Residence has trees that are over 400 years old as well as various beautiful lanterns.
Across the Asano River is the district of Higashi-Chayamachi, Kanazawa’s most famous geisha district. Many of the tall wooden-latticed houses on the narrow streets are still used by geisha for high-class entertainment as they have done since 1820 when the area was established as a geisha quarter. You can take tea (without geisha) at Shima House for a chance to experience its refined and elegant atmosphere. Like Kyoto’s Gion, this district has been designated as one of Japan’s cultural assets. (Overnight Kanazawa) B
Note: Our luggage will be transported separately to our hotel in Kyoto. An overnight bag will be needed for use in Kanazawa.
Kyoto – 3 nights
Day 6: Monday 1 April, Kanazawa – Kyoto
Kanazawa Castle, Kanazawa
Kenrokuen Garden, Kanazawa
Gion District, Kyoto
Our first destination this morning is Kanazawa Castle, the seat of power of the local Maeda clan, hereditary feudal lords (daimyo) of the Kaga province from 1583. Burnt down on a number of occasions, only the superb Ishikawa Gate and the Sanjikken Nagaya samurai dwelling house survive from the original construction.
Kenrokuen Garden is Kanazawa’s prime attraction and one of the three most famous gardens in Japan, along with Korakuen (Okayama) and Kairakuen (Mito). Kenrokuen was once the outer garden of Kanazawa Castle and there has been a garden on the site since the late 1600s. The original garden, begun by the fifth Maeda lord, Tsunonori Maeda, was called Renchi tei but it was almost entirely burnt out in 1759. It was restored in the 1770s and in 1822 became known as Kenrokuen, a name that means, ‘the garden of six sublimities’ or, ‘a garden combining the six aspects of a perfect garden’. These six features were what the Chinese traditionally believed were necessary for the ideal garden – spaciousness and seclusion, artifice and antiquity, water-courses and panoramas: all these characteristics are to be found in the 25 acres of this beautiful garden.
We then transfer to the train station to take the train south the Kyoto. Kyoto was the capital of Japan from the late 8th century (circa 794 AD) until 1868, when the court was moved to Tokyo. It is home to 17 World Heritage Sites, 1600 Buddhist temples and 400 Shinto shrines, yet much of the city centre is modern. One of the finest of its contemporary buildings is its dramatic railway station.
We begin our exploration of Kyoto with a glimpse of a vanishing world – the district of Gion, home to geisha houses and traditional tea houses. Although the number of geishas has declined over the last century the area is still famous for the preservation of forms of traditional architecture and entertainment. To experience the traditional Gion, we stroll along Hanami-koji, a street lined by beautiful old buildings including tea houses where you may be able to glimpse a geisha apprentice. Contrary to popular belief Gion is not a red-light district, nor are geishas prostitutes. Geishas are young girls or women extensively trained as entertainers and skilled in a number of traditional Japanese arts such as classical music and dance as well as the performance of the exacting rituals of a Japanese tea ceremony. (Overnight Kyoto) B
Day 7: Tuesday 2 April, Kyoto
Kinkaku-ji (Temple of the Golden Pavilion)
Daitoku-ji Buddhist Complex incl. the Ryogen-in
Ryoan-ji (Dragon Peace Temple)
Kyoto is notable for its extraordinary diversity of Japanese gardens, including many of the finest traditional temple gardens. Our first visit in Kyoto is to the Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji). During the 15th century the Chinese Sung Dynasty exercised an enormous influence in Japan as artists, poets and Zen priests were gathered together by Yoshimitsu, the third Ashikaga shogun (1358-1409). Yoshimitsu began construction of the Golden Pavilion just before he retired in 1394, handing power to his nine-year-old son so that he could move to his estate. Little of his work remains but we can sense the character of the garden in its pond, rockwork and extensive plantings.
The pavilion at Kinkaku-ji recalls Sung period architecture but it is a recreation, having been burned down in the 1950s. The present building is an exact replica except that where Yoshimitsu proposed only to gild the ceiling of the third storey with gold; now the whole building is gilded. Yoshimitsu positioned his palace on the edge of a lake. The ground floor was a reception room for guests and departure point for leisure boating, the first storey was for philosophical discussions and panoramic views of the lake while the upper floor acted as a refuge for Yoshimitsu and was used for tea ceremonies. The size of the gardens is increased visually by the water’s convoluted edge, the use of rocks and clipped trees and by visually ‘borrowing’ a distant view of Mt Kinugasa that creates a sense of gradation between foreground, middleground and deep distance.
We next visit Daitoku-ji, a large complex of Zen temples with prayer halls, religious structures and 23 sub-temples with some of the most exquisite gardens in Kyoto, some quite small, including raked gravel gardens and, in the Daisen-in, one of the most celebrated small rock gardens in Japan. The Japanese consider Daitoku-ji one of the most privileged places to study and it is associated with many of Japan’s most famous priests. Unlike many of the larger public Buddhist temples of earlier sects, the Rinzai sect monasteries were intimate, inward looking and remained isolated from the outside world.
The temple received imperial patronage and thus grew out from its centre in an organic way. A transition occurred as the complex expanded from a formal centre to semiformal and informal precincts. The central north-south walkway is most formal with wide paths to accommodate processions and ceremonies, while to the side are sub-temples with gates. As you walk through one of these gates you immediately come upon a less formal world with narrow paths, turns and walkways. The temple site contains a number of notable gardens including Daisen-in, Korin-in, Koho-an, Hogo and Ryogen-in.
We conclude the day with a visit to Ryoan-ji – the Dragon Peace Temple. No other garden in the world is so simple, elegant and refined. The garden comprises 15 rocks in a sea of raked gravel surrounded by a compacted mud wall coated in oil that is in itself a national treasure. The garden dates from 1500 as part of a temple of the Renzai sect of Zen Buddhism. The temple burned but was reconstructed in its original form. The garden constitutes the supreme example of a dry garden where gravel and rock symbolise plant and water elements. Indeed, apart from the moss on the rocks, no other plants grow in it. The meaning of the garden remains unknown. It might symbolise islands in a sea, mountains seen through clouds or tigers and cubs crossing a river, but this doesn’t matter since this is a garden to encourage contemplation, the enclosing wall separating the visitor from the world outside, and the verandah creating a horizontal boundary. (Overnight Kyoto) B
Day 8: Wednesday 3 April, Kyoto
Lunch at the Grand Prince Hotel
Ginkaku-ji (Temple of the Silver Pavilion)
Today we will visit a number of Kyoto’s great gardens. Our first visit for the day is to Renge-ji, a diminutive garden that captures the essence of Japanese gardens with a central pond surrounded by plantings linking to the hillside beyond. Stones, bridge and plantings are all reflected on the water-surface, giving a sense of spaciousness.
Shisen-do is an intimate garden, of personal taste rather ostentatious public display. Its street walls mask the tranquillity and beauty to be found within. Raked sand, clipped azaleas and the tree covered hillsides of Higashiyama form the main components of this garden designed by Ishikawa Jozan (1583–1672). Clipped azaleas give way to natural vegetation beyond the garden boundary but it is the close harmony between the indoor spaces of the pavilion and the garden beyond that is most striking. The verandah offers a transition between its dark interior and the light-filled garden.
Following lunch at the Grand Prince Hotel we visit Ginkaku-ji. Originally constructed as the retirement villa of the Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa (1435–1490), the Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion) became a Zen temple upon his death. The garden is complex, comprising two distinct sections, a pond area with a composition of rocks and plants, and a sand garden with a truncated cone – the Moon-Viewing Height – suggesting Mt Fuji, and a horizontal mound – the Sea of Silver Sand – named for its appearance by moonlight. An educational display at the garden contains good moss and weed moss to allow you to tell the difference. (Overnight Kyoto) BL
Nara – 1 night
Day 9: Thursday 4 April, Kyoto – Nara
Nara Park (Nara-koen) including the temples of Todai-ji and Kofuku-ji
Traditional Japanese bath (optional)
We leave Kyoto by coach for the ancient Japanese city of Nara, the national capital prior to Kyoto. During this period Buddhism became firmly established in Japan under the patronage of nobles who sponsored the buildings and works of art that we shall visit.
Our first destination is to the impressive Todai-ji, founded in 745 by Emperor Shomu. Although rebuilt following a fire in 1709 to two-thirds of its original size it neverheless remains the largest timber building in the world. Two seven-metre tall guardian gods flank the entrance, (known as the nandai-mon), to the great Buddha Hall, the Daibutsu-den, which houses the 15-metre tall bronze statue of the great Buddha. The original casting was completed in 752, when an Indian priest stood on a special platform and symbolically opened its eyes by painting on the Buddha’s eyes with a huge brush. This ceremony was performed before the then retired Emperor Shomu, his wife Komio and the reigning Empress Kogen, together with ambassadors from China, India and Persia. Your visit will be a truly amazing experience.
We then visit the wonderful Nara-koen complex. It contains a five-storey pagoda, part of the Kofuku-ji founded in 669, a fine collection of Buddhist statues in the kokuhokan (National Treasure Building) and a 15th-century hall to the north of the pagoda. The kokahokan is a treasure trove of early Buddhist statues and although it is not large, each piece has been carefully chosen as a masterpiece of its style and period.
Our final visit is to the small Isuien garden, a traditional Japanese garden notable for its extensive use of moss and its exquisite tea pavilion. From here you might like to stroll through some of Nara’s historic streets or try a traditional Japanese bath (sento: public bath; onsen: hot spring bath). The traditional Japanese-style inn we are staying in tonight provides open-air communal baths using hot spring water and affords a wonderful view of Kofuku-ji Temple’s five-storey pagoda, which is illuminated at night. Tonight we dine in a traditional style at the Ryokan Asukasou on Japanese kaiseki dishes. (Overnight Nara) BD
Note: We will leave our main luggage at the hotel in Kyoto during our 1 night stay in Nara. An overnight bag will be needed for use in Nara
Kyoto – 2 nights
Day 10: Friday 5 April, Nara – Kyoto
Treasures of the Nara National Museum
Our first visit today is to the Nara National Museum noted for its collection of Buddhist art, including images, sculpture, and ceremonial articles.
Shin-Yakushi-ji Temple was built in the 19th year of the Tempyo era (747) by Empress Komyo as an offering of thanksgiving when Emperor Shomu recovered from an eye disease. It now constitutes a single hall enshrining a powerful image of Yakushi Nyorai, the Healing Buddha, surrounded by clay sculptures of 12 guardians called Juni Shinsho, the Yakushi Nyorai’s protective warriors. In Japanese sculpture and art, the warriors are almost always grouped in a protective circle around the Yakushi Nyorai; they are rarely depicted as single figures. Many say they represent the 12 vows of Yakushi; others believe the 12 were present when the historical Buddha introduced the ‘Healing Sutra’; others claim that they offer protection during the 12 daylight hours, or that they represent the 12 months and 12 cosmic directions, or the 12 animals of the 12-year Chinese zodiac.
The grounds of Horyu-ji Temple house the world’s oldest surviving wooden structures, dating from the Asuka Period (mid 6th – beginning of 8th c.AD). Throughout the 187,000-square-metre grounds are irreplaceable cultural treasures, bequeathed across the centuries and continuing to preserve the essence of eras spanning the entire journey through Japanese history since the 7th century. Horyu-ji contains over 2,300 important cultural and historical structures and articles, including nearly 190 that have been designated as National Treasures or important Cultural Properties. In 1993 Horyu-ji was selected by UNESCO as part of the World Heritage as a unique storehouse of world Buddhist culture. Following this visit we transfer by coach to Kyoto. (Overnight Kyoto) B
Day 11: Saturday 6 April, Kyoto
Saiho-ji (or ‘Koke-dera’ – moss temple)
Nanzen-ji (Hojo and Konchi-in)
Nishiki-koji Covered Market
We first visit the Tenryu-ji. It dates from the period of shogun Ashikaga Takauji (1339) who commissioned the priest Muso Kokushi, one of Japan’s best known garden designers who also designed the moss garden at Saiho-ji to create this garden. Kokushi’s work modified an estate of Emperor Gosaga from 1270. He changed its form to include an Heian-style pond garden with popular, contemporary Chinese aspects. These included most notably a group of seven vertical rocks near the rear shore of its pond. These contrast markedly with Japanese rock work that takes a more horizontal form. This is one of the earliest gardens to show shakkei, the incorporation of borrowed landscape into a garden’s design.
Saiho-ji Temple has the oldest major garden of the Muromachi Period. Originally designed to represent the Western Paradise (or Pure Land) of Amida Buddhism, this so-called ‘strolling garden’ is set in a dark forest and is designed for meditation. It was re-designed by a Zen Buddhist priest, Muso Soseki, who also designed the Tenryu-ji garden in Kyoto, when it passed to the Zen Buddhist sect. The chief feature of the garden is the ‘golden pond’ with pavilions scattered on its shore and connected by a path that allows controlled views of the garden. The pond is shaped like the Japanese character for ‘heart’ or ‘spirit’. It is divided by islands connected by bridges. The mosses, which give the garden its alternative name (Koke-dera – ‘moss temple’) were established as an economy measure after the Meiji restoration (1868).
Nanzen-ji is one of the most famous Rinzai Zen temples in Japan. It was founded in 1291 by Emperor Kameyama, and was rebuilt several times after devastating fires. At the entrance to the complex one passes through the huge Imperial gate, built in 1628 by Todo Takatora, and into the complex with its series of sub-temples. We will see the hojo, or abbot’s quarters, which is notable for both it’s beautiful golden screen paintings and the tranquil sand and rock garden. We will also explore the sub-temple Konchi-in which was added to the complex in 1605.
In the late afternoon we shall walk through the traditional 17th-century Nishiki-koji covered market, which has for centuries been the focus of food shopping in the city. You may wish to try Japanese pickled vegetables or purchase teapots and teabowls from a traditional vendor. By contrast we will visit a Japanese electrical store where you will see Japanese consumerism at its height. Spread over five storeys, this extraordinary store offers every imaginable electrical item. We will end the day in the fashionable gallery and restaurant area. (Overnight Kyoto) B
Tokyo – 3 nights
Day 12: Sunday 7 April, Kyoto – Tokyo
Tea Ceremony at Kodai-ji Temple
We begin the day with a visit to one of the newest religious sites in Kyoto, the Heian Shrine, which boasts the largest torii (sacred gate) in Japan and lovely gardens. The shrine was built in 1896 to commemorate the city’s 1100th anniversary and to honour its founder, Emperor Kammu and also to celebrate the culture and architecture of the city’s Heian-past. It is constructed on the site of the original Heian Hall of State but is a smaller and somewhat imperfect recreation of this earlier building. Four gardens surround the main shrine buildings on the south, west, middle and east, covering an area of approximately 33,000 square metres. The gardens are designated as a national scenic spot representative of Meiji-era (1868–1912) garden design.
We then visit the superb Tofuku-ji Hojo, a garden designed in 1939 by Shigemori Mirei. This will be familiar to many who have read books on Japanese gardens for it combines 20th-century design with elements from Japanese tradition. Mirei implements subtle, restrained design themes such as chequer-boards of stone in moss to allow the natural form and colour of maples on the surrounding hills to make full impact.
We end our visit to Kyoto with a visit to the Kodai-ji Temple to experience a tea ceremony. We then transfer to the station and take the JR Super Express train to Tokyo. (Overnight Tokyo) B
Day 13: Monday 8 April, Tokyo
Jiyu Gakuen School
Suntory Museum of Art
Shabu Shabu Lunch at Kisoji Restaurant
We begin our day with a visit to the Jiyu Gakuen School. This is a beautifully preserved building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1921, one of 12 buildings the American designed during the two years he lived in Japan. Only three of Wright’s buildings survived the 20th century, and we shall be taken on a tour of this very special building.
The Suntory Museum of Art was founded in Tokyo’s Marunouchi district in 1961 as the cultural arm of a famous distillery. ‘Beauty in Everyday Life’ has been the theme of the Museum since its establishment when the then President of Suntory, Keizo Saji, developed what is now a 3,000-piece collection containing one National Treasure and 12 Important Cultural Properties among its priceless ceramics, folding screens, kimonos, lacquer ware, textiles and glasswork. Its aim is to relate old things to the new, present beauty over time, and to represent beauty without regard for cultural frontiers of countries and races.
To enhance this philosophy of fusing the ‘traditional’ with the ‘contemporary’, the Museum relocated in 2007 to its current Tokyo Mid-town location to be part of the art district known as Roppongi art triangle. Architect Kengo Kuma, whose aim was to create ‘a Japanese-style room in the city’, designed its new home using new technology and traditional Japanese design elements. The architect’s signature vertical lattice design covers the exterior, while the interior features a sliding 10-metre-high lattice that controls the flow of light. Natural materials like laminated paulownia wood for the interior lattice, washi for the atrium walls, and recycled whiskey barrel wood (a connection to the Suntory distillery) for the flooring create a feeling of warmth throughout the building.
We take a break in the middle of the day to enjoy a lunch at the traditional Kisoji Restaurant whose specialty is shabu-shabu: thin slices of beef cooked in boiling water at your table and dipped in sauce.
Our last garden visit today is to the Rikugien garden which is all that a traditional Japanese garden should be: manicured grass, artfully contorted pine trees held up by wooden supports, wooden tea houses and moss-encrusted stone lanterns, crooked rustic bridges over gurgling streams, a lake filled with carp and tiny turtles. Built around 1700 by Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu, grand chamberlain of the fifth shogun, Rikugien means ‘six poems garden’ and reproduces in miniature 88 scenes from famous poems. While some traditional Japanese gardens are meant to be contemplated from a fixed spot, Rikugien is a typical example of a so-called ‘strolling garden’ and we will meander through the network of walking paths as we enjoy the afternoon. (Overnight Tokyo) BL
Day 14: Tuesday 9 April, Tokyo
Tokyo National Museum
Demonstration by Kazumasa Kubo of the Japanese art of flower arranging
Farewell Lunch at Happoen Gardens Teahouse
Ginza Shopping Area
Established in 1872, the Tokyo National Museum is the oldest and largest museum in Japan. The museum holds over 110,000 objects, which include more than 87 Japanese National Treasures and 610 Important Cultural Property holdings. The museum’s collections focus on ancient Japanese art and Asian art along the Silk Road but there is also a large collection of Greco-Buddhist art.
Meaning ‘beautiful from any angle’, the Happoen garden lives up to its name. On arrival we shall be given a demonstration in Japanese flower arranging by internationally renown master Kazumasa Kubo, who has studied the tradition of ikebana, and adapted it into his own style. Following a farewell lunch at the garden’s delightful tea house, where ladies in kimono will serve you matcha (green tea) and okashi (variety of snacks), a stroll through the gardens will reveal 200 year old bonsai trees, a stone lantern said to have been carved 800 years ago, and a central pond.
In the afternoon we visit a rare surviving 17th-century strolling garden, located in the west of the city. Koishikawa-korakuen was designed in part by Zhu Shun Shui, a Ming dynasty refugee from China, and the garden recreates both Japanese and Chinese landscapes. Here we will find waterfalls, ponds, stone lanterns, a small lake with gnarled pines and humped bridges.
We finish our day with a visit to Ginza. When Tokugawa Ieyasu moved his capital to Edo in 1590, Ginza was swampland. In 1612 the area was filled in and the silver mint was built here giving Ginza (‘Silver Place’) its current name. The area was completely destroyed by fire in 1872 after which the Meiji government ordered it rebuilt in red brick to the designs of English architect Thomas Waters. This new incarnation seems to have set its course for all things Western and modern, turning the area into one of Tokyo’s great shopping-centres. (Overnight Tokyo) BL
Day 15: Wednesday 10 April, Depart Tokyo
Imperial Palace Plaza
Ekouin Nenbutsudo Temple
Airport transfer for participants departing on the ASA ‘designated’ flight
Our last morning in Japan begins with a visit to the Japanese Imperial Palace Plaza, the home of the reigning emperor of Japan and his family. We will enter via the Nijubashi, where two picturesque bridges span the moat. The Higashi Gyoen, or East Garden, was opened to the public in 1968 and provides an attractive environment in which to stroll and relax.
During our travels we have encountered many traditional and historic temples and explored the variety of gardens that play such an important role in the complex. Our program concludes with a visit to the Ekouin Nenbutsudo Temple. This is a newly built modern temple in the lively heart of Tokyo. Here we will see the skill by which the architects have utilised the precious space available, and how the traditional components of a temple complex have been reinterpreted in a contemporary structure. In place of a small stroll garden using moss or stone or sand, here bamboo is used to create a green space for contemplation in this busy metropolis.
At the conclusion of the visit participants travelling on the ASA ‘designated’ flight will transfer by private coach to the Narita Airport for their flight home. B