On this unique tour to Hokkaido and northern Honshu, discover a colourful panorama of classical Japanese gardens and contemporary garden design during the glorious autumn season.

Autumn Colours of Japan

– Classical and contemporary gardens of northern Japan with Helen Young

On this unique tour to Hokkaido and northern Honshu, discover a colourful panorama of classical Japanese gardens and contemporary garden design during the glorious autumn season.

Somewhat akin to Australia’s Tasmania, Hokkaido is less populated than the rest of Japan, boasts a sophisticated capital Sapporo, features a rugged landscape and has its own distinctive outdoors culture. Over a week here, follow the ‘Hokkaido Garden Path’, explore exciting contemporary gardens, stay in a hot spring resort in the mountains and marvel at the beauty of the changing season all around you.

On the main island of Honshu, at Matsushima Bay and in Tokyo, you will discover some of Japan’s most famous classical gardens, ranging from ancient temple gardens to the much-loved Japanese ‘strolling garden’ and the gardens of the Imperial Palace. Throughout, discover the unique Japanese aesthetic of gardens, art and the changing seasons.



  • Explore private gardens, sculpture gardens, botanical gardens and nurseries along the ‘Hokkaido Garden Path’
  • Visit Dan Pearson’s Tokachi Millennium Forest and Isamu Noguchi’s Moerenuma Park
  • Relax at a hot spring resort in Daisetsuzan National Park
  • Stay at Matsushima Bay, ranked as one of the ‘three most scenic sites of Japan
  • Finish in Tokyo with visits to the Imperial Palace gardens, Asakusa, the National Museum and Rikugien Garden



Morning departure from Sydney on Japan Airlines to Tokyo (same-day connections ex-MEL, BNE, CBR. Previous day connections ex-PER, ADL, DRW). Late afternoon arrival and transfer to an evening flight* (2 hr) to Sapporo.
Late evening arrival at your hotel in Sapporo, 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.

*This flight is included if booking the tour including flights. If booking the tour without flights, you must add the cost of this flight – please check with Renaissance Tours for flight details and costs.

Your exploration of Sapporo begins at 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’, and finish with a visit to the summit of Mt Moiwa, accessed by a cable car, offering a magnificent view over the city.

Following a welcome lunch, enjoy your first taste of Hokkaido’s famous autumn colours during an afternoon walk in 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. (BL)

Today begins with a visit to the Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art, which features works by Hokkaido-associated painters and sculptors, an acclaimed collection of glassworks ranging from Art Nouveau to the Modern period and works by the ‘School of Paris’ painters including Jules Pascin.

After lunch, spend the afternoon in the Hokkaido University Botanical Gardens. Established in 1886, the Botanic Garden preserves 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. (BL)

Depart Sapporo for a morning’s drive to the largely rural region of Tokachi. Here you join the ‘Hokkaido Garden Path’, a 200 km garden tour route stretching from Tokachi through Furano to Asahikawa in the centre of the island.

Arriving around midday, enjoy lunch followed by a visit to 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.

Continue to Manabe Garden, famous as the first conifer garden in Japan but also featuring many species of colourful deciduous trees.
Late afternoon arrival at your hotel in Obihiro, your base for the next three nights. (BLD)

Today enjoy three very different garden experiences.
Begin with a visit to ‘Taishirou’s Forest’, a ‘wild garden’ full of flowers and plants that particularly bloom in Japan’s north. Continue to Rokka-no Mori, which displays the six flower varieties of Tokachi (Gentiana triflora, Sweetbrier, Trillium camschatcense, Erythronium japonicum, and Caltha palustris var. barthei) which blossom through the seasons. Throughout the garden are scattered old, rustic houses brought from Croatia that serve as art museums.

Finish with a visit to Oomori Country Garden, the creation of a garden-designer couple who now provide seedlings to other popular gardens and garden designers in Japan. Many kinds of indigenous and imported flowers bloom throughout the year from spring to autumn. (BL)

Today is devoted to a full-day visit to 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 undulated grassland and magnificent views; the Forest Garden, where one can feel the life of flowers and plants; the Meadow Garden, boasting beautiful scenery of well-known Tokachi flowers and plants, and the Farm Garden with its theme of agriculture coexisting with nature. Expect a blaze of autumn colours in the stunning natural and cultivated landscapes. (BD)

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.
Late afternoon arrival 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. (BLD)

This morning take the Ropeway 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, 300 m. Fit tour members may choose to continue by chair lift and a steep 60-90 minute climb to the summit (1, 964 m) which rewards walkers with views into the interior of the Daisetsuzan mountains.

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

Depart Sounkyo Hot Spring resort for a leisurely day’s drive back to Sapporo.
In the morning, stop to 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 Saluki Ueno.

Later, stop to visit Moerenuma Park, a large, contemporary (2005) 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.

Late afternoon arrival and overnight in Sapporo. (BLD)

This morning transfer to Sapporo Airport for a midday flight* to Sendai and continue to nearby Matsushima for a stay of three nights. Matsushima is famous for the stunning natural beauty of its bay, historic temples and superb gardens.

*This flight is included if booking the tour including flights. If booking the tour without flights, you must add the cost of this flight – please check with Renaissance Tours for flight details and costs. (BD)
This morning, visit Shiogama, a large Shinto shrine complex believed to be over 1,200 years old and the protector of fishermen and safe childbirth. The shrine contains a wealth of history and fifteen of its buildings, which were built during the Edo Period, have been declared important cultural treasures. Famous for its cherry blossoms in the spring (over 300 cherry trees are planted around its grounds) Shiogama is equally beautiful in the autumn.

After lunch at a local restaurant, enjoy a cruise around the islands of Matsushima Bay. Some 260 islands, large and small, covered by black and red pines and light grayish-coloured rocks, are scattered throughout the picturesque bay. The view of Matsushima changes from place to place and from season to season, and the area has been designated as one of the three most scenic sites of Japan. (BL)

This morning you will visit the Zuiganji and Entsuin temples. Founded in 828, Zuiganji is one of the region’s most famous and prominent Zen temples. In addition to its historic buildings and art museum, the temple grounds feature a magnificent avenue of cedar trees, a number of caves that were used in the past for meditation and lovingly tended gardens for strolling, admiration and contemplation.

Entsuin Temple was built in 1646 next to Zuiganji Temple, to house the mausoleum of Date Mitsumune, the son of the ruling local feudal lord Date Terumune. The temple grounds feature a variety of traditional Japanese garden styles including a moss and maple garden with a heart-shaped pond, a Western-style rose garden, a moss and rock garden and a cedar grove for meditation at the back of the temple grounds.
The afternoon is at leisure to further marvel at Matsushima Bay, spend more time in the gardens, visit the local fish market or simply enjoy the leisure facilities of your resort-style hotel. (BD)

Depart Matsushima for a visit to the Rinnoji Temple, Sendai. The temple was founded in 1441 by Date Mochimune, a member of the Date clan that later controlled large parts of northern Japan in the Edo Period. The exquisite inner gardens, with their strolling paths, ponds and bridges, well-tended trees, flowers and plants, and a three-storied pagoda are a perfect example of the Japanese skill of recreating a landscape in miniature.

After lunch at a local restaurant, take the Shinkansen (‘bullet train’) from Sendai to Tokyo (2 hours). (BL)

Your exploration of the gardens of Tokyo begins with a visit to the East Garden of the Imperial Palace, created on the grounds of the former Edo Castle, the residence of the Tokugawa shogun who ruled Japan from 1603 to 1867 and the Emperor Meiji who resided there from 1868 to 1888 before moving to the newly constructed Imperial Palace.

Continue to the bustling Asakusa District. After lunch at a local restaurant, visit Sensoji, Tokyo’s most popular and famous Buddhist temple, dating back to the 7th century. The temple is approached via the Nakamise, a shopping street with a variety of traditional, local snacks and tourist souvenirs.

Finish with a visit to Rikugien Garden, often considered Tokyo’s most beautiful Japanese landscape garden. Built around 1700 for the 5th Tokugawa Shogun, Rikugien literally means “six poems garden” and reproduces in miniature 88 scenes from famous poems. (BL)

Enjoy a morning visit to the Tokyo National Museum, located in Ueno Park.
The Tokyo National Museum, established in 1872, is the oldest Japanese national museum, the largest art museum in Japan and one of the largest art museums in the world. Designated in 1873, Ueno Park was the first public park in Japan. Known as one of the best spots in Tokyo for cherry blossoms, Ueno is also wonderful for is autumn leaves, with brilliant maples and ginkgos everywhere.

This afternoon is at leisure to further explore Tokyo on your own. You may want to visit the Ginza shopping district or explore more of Tokyo’s parks. This evening, celebrate the conclusion of the tour with a special farewell dinner. (BD)

After a morning at leisure, transfer in the mid-afternoon to Tokyo Narita Airport for an evening departure on Japan Airlines. Overnight in flight. (B)

Early morning arrival in Sydney and connections to MEL, BNE, CBR, ADL, PER, ADL, DRW.

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ATTENTION: Single Travellers
For this tour we are offering a choice of ‘single supplements’. Choose from a twin room (20-25 sqm) for sole use OR a single-bedded room. NB. Japanese single-bedded rooms range in size from 15 to 18 sqm. These are suitable for smaller travellers, with limited luggage. Not recommended for larger persons, or single travellers with a large amount of luggage.

Per person, twin-share AUD 11,950
Single supplement (double/twin room for sole use)* AUD 2,650
Single supplement (single room for sole use)* AUD 1,050 NOW SOLD OUT

Reduction without flights** -AUD 1, 000
Deposit (per person) at time of booking AUD 500
Final payment due 01 August 2017
*Single travellers may request to share. Please advise at time of booking.

** Tour price includes international and domestic flights on Japan Airlines. If booking the tour without flights, you must add the cost of domestic flights (Tokyo – Sapporo / Sapporo – Sendai) – please check with Renaissance Tours for flight details and costs.

Tour Code GD1705

Fitness level: Above Average
Please see booking conditions for fitness level definitions.

Flights (included): Japan Airlines

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

Tour price includes:
• Return international and domestic flights (economy class) on Japan Airlines ex-SYD
• Accommodation in centrally located superior four-star hotels with breakfast (B) daily
• Meals as per itinerary (L=Lunch, D=Dinner)
• Comprehensive sightseeing, including local guides and entrance fees as per itinerary
• Transportation throughout in comfortable air-conditioned coaches
• Tourist Class shinkansen SENDAI – TOKYO
• Hotel porterage
• Transfers on arrival and departure if travelling on suggested flights on day of tour arrival and departure

Tour price does not include:
• Additional cost for earlier departures or later returns
• Transfers on arrival and departure if not travelling on suggested flights on day of tour arrival and departure
• Connecting flights ex-MEL, BNE, CBR, ADL, PER, DRW.
• Overnight at Sydney Airport hotel (if required, ex-DRW, ADL, PER)
• Domestic flights Tokyo – Sapporo / Sapporo – Sendai if booking tour without flights
• Items of a personal nature, including telephone, laundry, taxis, room service, etc.
• Drinks with meals
• Travel insurance (required: please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for assistance)

Your hotels ****+
Sapporo – Grand Hotel
Obihiro – Hokkaido Hotel
Sounkyo – Hotel Taisetsu
Matsushima – Hotel Century
Tokyo - Shibuya Excel Hotel