Delight in autumn’s colourful panorama of traditional Japanese gardens and contemporary designs with horticulturist Helen Young and Japanophile John McBride through a unique tour of Hokkaido and northern Honshu.

Classical and contemporary gardens of Northern Japan

05–20 October 2020 (16 days)



Delight in autumn’s colourful panorama of traditional Japanese gardens and contemporary designs with horticulturist Helen Young and Japanophile John McBride through a unique tour of Hokkaido and northern Honshu.

Savour the flavours of Sapporo’s famous ramen whilst marvelling at the orderly design of the city’s trees and parks from ideal vantage points high above the city. Explore the cutting-edge design at Isamu Nogochi’s Moerenuma Park and the Sculpture Garden of the Sapporo Art Park.

Then, explore the Tokachi region following the so-called ‘Hokkaido Garden Path’ and relax in the hot springs in Daisetsuzan National Park.

Explore Furano’s Kaze no Garden as well as the lush garden landscapes that surround Kamakura’s temples before visiting Tokyo’s most prized gardens, including the poetic Rikugi-en Garden.



• Visit Isamu Noguchi’s Moerenuma Park in Sapporo and Dan Pearson’s Tokachi Millennium Forest
• Admire private gardens, sculpture gardens and botanical gardens along the ‘Hokkaido Garden Path’
• Explore the Tokachi rural region and relax at a hot-spring resort in the Daisetsuzan National Park with spectacular autumn colours, surrounded by mountains, waterfalls and gorges
• Wonder at the magnificent Kaze no Garden in Furano and visit Kamakura’s beautiful Zen temples and gardens
• See Tokyo’s most prized garden-scapes, including the renowned Rikugi-en Garden
• Delight in exquisite gastronomy and experience Japan’s unique and refined cuisine



Monday 05 October 2020 / Depart Australia / New Zealand – Sapporo

Depart Australia or New Zealand in the morning on suggested Japan Airlines flights to Tokyo Narita Airport. Renaissance Tours or your travel agent can assist you with your flights and other travel arrangements.

Arrive at Tokyo Narita Airport in the late afternoon and transfer to the domestic terminal for suggested evening flight to Sapporo. Arrive in Sapporo in the late evening and transfer to your hotel (transfer included in tour price).

Sapporo is the capital of Hokkaido and Japan’s fifth largest city. Sapporo is famous for its ramen (noodles), beer and the annual snow festival held in February. Designed by European and American architects in the late 19th century, Sapporo is shaped by its wide grid of tree-lined streets and ample public parks. The city became world famous in 1972 when the Olympic Winter Games were held here. (B)


Tue 06 Oct / Sapporo

This morning, join Helen, John and fellow travellers for a welcome briefing. Then, begin the day’s sightseeing with a visit to Odori Park, filled with sculptures, fountains, lilac, acacia plants and flowerbeds. See the Sapporo Clock Tower and the former Hokkaido government office building (1881), known as ‘Red Brick’.

Following a welcome lunch, enjoy your first taste of Hokkaido’s famous autumn colours during an afternoon walk in the Hokkaido University Botanical Gardens. Established in 1886, the Botanical Gardens preserve a small part of the forest which formerly covered the Ishikari Plain. In addition, there is an alpine garden, a greenhouse and a small Ainu museum. This evening, enjoy a night view of Sapporo from the JR Tower Observation Deck. (BL)


Wed 07 Oct / Sapporo

In the morning, visit Moerenuma Park, a large, contemporary park on the outskirts of Sapporo designed by American-Japanese sculptor Isamu Noguchi. On the concept of “the whole being a single sculpture” and the park as a fusion of nature and art, Moerenuma is a park for all seasons with cherry blossoms in the spring, a fountain and wading pools for the summer, colourful foliage in the autumn and cross-country skiing and sledding during winter.

Spend the afternoon exploring the Bibai Sculpture Park, a 17-acre park containing 40 sculptures by internationally renowned sculptor Kan Yasuda. The park was initially created to revitalise the city of Bibai with new arts and culture while preserving the surrounding natural environment. (BL)


Thu 08 Oct / Sapporo – Tokachi

Today begins with a visit to the Makomanai Takino Cemetery, a site designed by architect Tadao Ando containing a giant Buddha surrounded by a hill of lavenders and facing a reflection pool. The site includes replicas of Easter Island statues, Assyrian winged bulls and Stonehenge.

Then, visit the Sculpture Garden of the Sapporo Art Park, set on a beautiful green hillside with a sprawling collection of 75 contemporary artworks by Japanese and international artists.

After lunch, depart Sapporo for an afternoon’s drive across the south of Hokkaido to the largely rural region of Tokachi. Here you join the ‘Hokkaido Garden Path’, a 200km garden tour route stretching from Tokachi through Furano to Asahikawa in the centre of the island.

Arrive at the hotel in Obihiro in the late afternoon, our base for the next three nights. (BLD)


Fri 09 Oct / Tokachi

Today enjoy three very different garden experiences.

Begin with a visit to Rokka-no Mori, which displays the flower varieties of Tokachi which blossom through the seasons. Throughout the garden are scattered old, rustic houses brought from Croatia that serve as art museums.

Later, enjoy lunch followed by a visit to the Tokachi Hills garden, surrounded by three different types of garden: a colourful border garden, an English-style garden and the natural native untouched wildflowers of Tokachi.

Finish with a visit to Manabe Garden, famous as the first conifer garden in Japan but also featuring many species of colourful deciduous trees.  (BLD)


Sat 10 Oct / Tokachi

Spend the morning exploring the Tokachi Millennium Forest. Designed by Dan Pearson, the internationally-renowned British garden designer, the Tokachi Millennium Forest was created under the theme of a Hokkaido garden that is harmonised with nature. The garden involves four concepts: the Earth Garden that features undulating grassland and magnificent views; the Forest Garden, where one can feel the life of flowers and plants; the Meadow Garden with its curving boardwalk through informal drifts of colourful Tokachi flowers, and the Farm Garden with its theme of agriculture coexisting with nature.

In the afternoon, visit the Obihiro Museum of Art, a gallery focused on the works of artists from the Obihiro region.

Then, enjoy a talk by Helen followed by dinner at the hotel. (BD)


Sun 11 Oct / Tokachi – Sounkyo

Depart the Tokachi region for the Daisetsuzan National Park located in the mountainous centre of the island.

On the way, stop for lunch and a visit to Daisetsu Mori-no Garden. Overlooking the Daisetsu mountain range, Daisetsu Mori-no Garden is a ‘forest garden’ with flowers, where more than 700 kinds of flowers bloom throughout the year.

Arrive in the late afternoon at Sounkyo Hot Springs, a resort town in Daisetsuzan National Park, surrounded by towering mountains, waterfalls and gorges. A ski resort through the winter, Sounkyo is famous for its vivid autumn colours. (BL)


Mon 12 Oct / Sounkyo

This morning take the ropeway and chairlift up Mount Kurodake, one of the earliest spots in Japan to see autumn colours, which typically appear at the beginning of September around the mountain peak. In the upper elevations the colours are usually best in the second half of September and then slowly make their way down to the valley floor by around mid-October.

The ropeway takes you up to the 5th Station of Mt Kurodake at an altitude of 1,300m. After a short walk, continue by chairlift to the 7th Station at an altitude of 1,520m from where there are splendid views of the summit (1,964m).

The afternoon is at leisure to enjoy the hot springs or many walks from the resort. (BD)


Tue 13 Oct / Sounkyo – Furano

Depart Sounkyo Hot Springs for a leisurely day’s drive to Furano.

En route, visit Ueno Farm, modelled on an English country-style garden, featuring hardy perennials that have been rearranged to suit the Hokkaido climate. Ueno Farm is the creation of renowned Japanese garden designer Sayuki Ueno.

After lunch at a local restaurant, drive to Furano in the afternoon. (BL)


Wed 14 Oct / Furano – Kamakura

This morning, explore Kaze no Garden (“Windy Garden”), an English-style garden, made possible in Japan by the unique climate of Hokkaido.

Then, transfer to Sapporo Airport for an afternoon flight to Tokyo (flight included in tour price). Continue to nearby Kamakura, our base for the next two nights. (BLD)


Thu 15 Oct / Kamakura

Kamakura flourished in the 13th century as Zen Buddhism was introduced to Japan, and the city today is home to an abundance of Zen gardens and Buddhist temples.

Begin the morning with a visit to Hokoku-ji and Jomyo-ji Temple, both sites lying in the hills of eastern Kamakura and surrounded by lush gardens. Then, enjoy a walk to Tsurugaoka through Sugimoto Temple and the beautiful gardens of the suburbs of Kamakura.

After lunch, continue the exploration of Kamakura’s Zen history with visits of Kenchoji and Engaku-ji Temples, ranked first and second among the five great Zen temples of Kamakura. For the energetic, take part in an optional mountain hike to the Great Buddha at Kotoku-in Temple. (BLD)


Fri 16 Oct / Kamakura – Tokyo

This morning, discover Kotoku-in and the Great Buddha, a thirteen-metre-high bronze sculpture of Amida Buddha dating to the 1250s AD. The Buddha originally had a wooden iteration in its place, which took 10 years to build but lasted only five years before being damaged by a storm and needing replacing.

Continue to Hase Temple, a Buddhist temple famous for its nine-metre-high statue of Kannon, an early 8th century carving of a Buddhist figure associated with compassion. The grounds of the temple are also home to over 50,000 Jizo statues.

Depart Kamakura in the afternoon for Tokyo, and spend the evening at leisure. (BL)


Sat 17 Oct / Tokyo

This morning, explore Rikugi-en Garden, often considered Tokyo’s most beautiful Japanese landscape garden. Built around 1700 for the 5th Tokugawa Shogun, Rikugien means literally “six poems garden” and reproduces in miniature 88 scenes from famous poems.

This afternoon, wander the Asakura Sculpture Museum, once the home and studio of sculptor Fumio Asakura, and now featuring many of his bronzes, his library and other collectibles, including painting, pottery and gardens. (BLD)


Sun 18 Oct / Tokyo

Today, visit the Nezu Museum, formerly known as the Nezu Institute of Fine Arts. It is home to the private collection of Nezu Kaichiro, a selection of pre-modern Japanese and East Asian art.

After lunch, explore Shinjuku Gyo-en, originally a residence of the Naito family in Japan’s Edo period, and now a national park. It features 58 hectares of gardens, ranging from English and French to traditional Japanese garden styles. (BL)


Mon 19 Oct / Tokyo

This morning, explore the area around Tokyo Olympic Stadium and see how the city transformed for the 2020 Summer Olympics with a new National Stadium designed by architect Kengo Kuma.

After lunch, enjoy the remainder of the afternoon at leisure to further explore Tokyo at your own pace.

This evening, celebrate the conclusion of the tour with a special farewell dinner. (BLD)


Tue 20 Oct / Depart Tokyo

After checking out of the hotel in the morning, travel to Kiyosumi-tei, a tranquil park in the heart of Japan’s bustling metropolis and concrete jungle. Designed around a large pond which serves as home to ducks and turtles, the garden is a lovely place to stroll.

After lunch, transfer to Tokyo Narita airport (transfer included in tour price) for suggested evening Japan Airlines flights to Australia. Renaissance Tours or your travel agent can assist you with your flights and other travel arrangements, including any extra nights’ accommodation, either before or after the tour. (BL)

Note: At time of publication (July 2019), most but not all garden visits were confirmed. Private owners, in particular, are reluctant to commit more than two to three months prior to the visit. Therefore, while we undertake to operate the tour as published, there may be some changes to the itinerary.

  • Renaissance Tours: Autumn Colours of Japan Download

Helen's enthusiasm was infectious and I learnt a lot from her regarding plants. This was my first ever group tour to a garden festival, and also with Renaissance Tours. I would definitely travel with Helen again as a tour leader.
Pauline Y. / Singapore Garden Festival 2018


Prices in $AUD

Per person, twin-share: AUD 16,750
Single supplement*: AUD 3,500
Deposit per person (at time of booking): AUD 1,000
Final payment due: 06 August 2020

*Single travellers may request to share. Please advise at time of booking.

Tour code: GD2001

Fitness level: Above Moderate
Please see Terms & Conditions for fitness level definitions.

Suggested airline: Japan Airlines
Please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for current airfares and flight reservations.

Visa: Australian and New Zealand passport holders do not require a visa for Japan.

Tour price includes:

• Accommodation in 4- and 5-star hotels with breakfast daily (B)
• Meals as per itinerary (L = Lunch, D = Dinner), including drinks with dinners
• Comprehensive sightseeing, including local guides and entrance fees as per itinerary
• Transportation throughout on comfortable, air-conditioned coaches
• Economy Class flight from Sapporo to Tokyo (20kg luggage allowance)
• Airport/hotel transfers on arrival in Sapporo and on departure in Tokyo if travelling on suggested flights
• Lectures and talks with your tour leaders, Helen Young and John McBride
• Gratuities for local guides and drivers
• Hotel porterage in Sapporo, Kamakura and Tokyo (one piece per person)

Tour price does not include:

• International airfares (please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for assistance)
• Transfers on arrival and departure if not not using group transfers
• Items of a personal nature (e.g. telephone, laundry, mini-bar, taxis etc.)
• Hotel porterage in Obihiro, Sounkyo and Furano
• Airport porterage
• Travel insurance (a condition of travel; please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for assistance)

Your hotels:

Sapporo – Grand Hotel****
Obihiro – Hokkaido Hotel****
Sounkyo – Hotel Taisetsu****
Furano – New Furano Prince Hotel****
Kamakura – Kamakura Prince Hotel****
Tokyo – Cerulean Tower Tokyu Hotel *****

N.B. Hotels of a similar standard may be substituted.

Please note that there are a limited number of ‘double-bedded’ rooms available in most Japanese hotels. Most rooms for two persons sharing are ‘twin-bedded’ (i.e. two beds).