The richness of Japan’s history and art is immediate and tangible, but the culture that produced it often seems impenetrable. Move beyond appearances on this popular 15-day tour and gain comprehensive insight into the beauty and mystique of this wonderful land, from its Shinto shrines, Buddhist temples and Zen gardens to its hypermodern cities and contemporary quirks. Explore old and new world Tokyo, understand the devastation at Hiroshima, and enjoy 6 days in Kyoto, discovering its temples, museums and traditions, with a day trip to Nara, the ancient capital.
Hyper-modern Tokyo’s bright lights and a staggering range of museums
Kyoto’s Zen temples and stone gardens, colourful geisha and historic arts and crafts
Kanazawa’s famed Kenrokuen, one of Japan’s most significant and seasonal gardens
The moving display of human resilience at Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial
Speeding through the countryside on the Shinkansen or bullet train
Kaiseki dining: a multi-course, seasonal meal perfectly complemented by traditional Japanese architecture
Days 1–4: Explore Tokyo’s Koishikawa-Korakuen garden, Senso-ji Temple, the National Museum, Hokusai Museum and the privately owned Nezu and Ota museums.
Days 5–6: Bullet train to Kanazawa; visit the Samurai district, teahouses and Kenrokuen garden.
Days 7–8: In Hiroshima, visit the Peace Memorial and Miyajima’s Itsukushima shrine.
Days 9–12: Bullet train to Kyoto. Stroll through the geisha district, encounter Zen Buddhism in temples, shrines and gardens, and participate in a traditional tea ceremony.
The tour begins at our hotel in Tokyo and ends with a transfer to airports in Osaka. Qantas, Japan Airlines and ANA offer daily flights from Australia to Tokyo’s Haneda or Narita Airports, with return connections through Tokyo from Osaka. Contact us for quotes and bookings.
Included meals are shown with the symbols B, L and D.
Monday May 10: Arrive Tokyo
The tour commences in the Tokyo hotel this evening. Your tour leader will meet you in the lobby before a light dinner in the hotel. Overnight Tokyo (D)
Tuesday May 11: Tokyo
Our touring commences with a visit the Edo period garden of Koishikawa Korakuen built in the Tokyo residence of the ruling Tokugawa family. As with most traditional Japanese gardens, Korakuen seeks to reproduce famous landscapes in miniature using ponds, stones, trees and man-made hills to replicate Japanese scenery. We continue to the colourful and popular Sensoji Temple in Asakusa, one of Tokyo’s oldest neighbourhoods. After lunch we visit the Sumida Hokusai Museum, opened in late 2016 and dedicated to the Ukiyo-e artist Katsushika Hokusai, best known for his iconic works The Great Wave Off Kanagawa and Red Fuji. Tonight we enjoy a welcome dinner in a local Japanese restaurant. Overnight Tokyo (B, L, D)
Wednesday May 12: Harajuku Museums and Meiji Shrine
This morning we head to the vibrant and fashionable suburb of Harajuku where our first stop is the Nezu Museum to see its large collection of calligraphy, painting, bamboo, sculpture, ceramics and textiles. After lunch we visit the Ota Memorial Museum of Art to view its fantastic collection of Ukiyo-e woodblock print and painting masterpieces by renowned artists such as Hokusai, Hiroshige and Utamaro. This afternoon we visit the Meiji Shrine, a Shinto haven of peace and tranquillity in the bustling city and dedicated to the reformist Emperor Meiji who led the end of feudalisation and the modernisation and westernisation of Japan. Overnight Tokyo (B, L)
Thursday May 13: National Museum
Our day starts with a visit to one of Tokyo’s best-kept secrets the Nezu Shrine surrounded by a multitude of vermillion torii gates. After free time for lunch, we visit the National Museum in Ueno park which contains a large collection of Japanese artwork, cultural items and historical artefacts from ancient times to the 19th century. The afternoon is free to continue exploring more or Ueno’s museums or discover another of Tokyo’s fascinating districts. Overnight Tokyo (B)
Friday May 14: To Kanazawa & Kenrokuen
From Tokyo station, we take Japan’s newest bullet train west to Kanazawa, packing only hand luggage for the next two nights. Your large suitcase will be transported by road to meet you in Hiroshima. During the Edo period, it was the second largest feudal seat after Tokyo’s Tokugawa clan. The city, like Kyoto, was left untouched by air raids during World War II and the old sections remain largely intact. This afternoon we visit Kenrokuen, considered one of Japan’s most beautiful gardens and designed using the six essential attributes that make a perfect garden; spaciousness, seclusion, artificiality, antiquity, abundant water and broad views. Located next to Kanazawa Castle, the garden would have served as the outer garden for the castle and the flowering trees are chosen to provide differing aspects according to the season. We visit the castle which was the seat of the powerful Maeda clan. The castle has burnt down several times with only two storehouses and the gate surviving the most recent fire of 1881. A project to reconstruct sections of the castle is ongoing. Enjoy a multi-course traditional kaiseki dinner this evening, prepared with fresh local ingredients aligned to the season and a good opportunity to try some local sake. Overnight Kanazawa (B, D)
Saturday May 15: Kanazawa
This morning we walk through the samurai district with its narrow lanes, remaining wood houses and water canals. We stop at the Nomura house, a restored samurai residence displaying artefacts from the samurai era. After time to stroll through the local Omicho produce and seafood markets we explore the Higashi Chaya tea house and entertainment district. A Chaya is a teahouse where guests are entertained by geisha who perform song and dance on traditional instruments. Overnight Kanazawa (B)
Sunday May 16: To Hiroshima
Today we board a limited express thunderbird train to Osaka before changing to the bullet train to Hiroshima. On arrival, we check in before touring Japan’s most haunting and significant memorial, the Atomic Bomb Dome. The former industrial promotion hall was closest to the hypocentre of the nuclear bomb and along with the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum serves as a stark reminder of the horrors of war. This evening for dinner we try the local speciality, Okonomiyaki, a type of pancake filled with vegetables and seafood or pork. Overnight Hiroshima (B, D)
Monday May 17: Miyajima
We travel the short distance by ferry to Miyajima, famous for the large torii gate that appears to float on the water at high tide. The gate symbolises the entrance to Itkushima Shrine, a site sacred to both Shintoism and Buddhism. The shrine, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a large complex of hall and pathways built on stilts so that commoners could visit without defiling the island with their footprints. We enjoy a lunch of the local conger eel, a speciality of the island, before we return to Hiroshima this afternoon. Overnight Hiroshima (B, L)
Tuesday May 18: To Kyoto
We board the bullet train to Kyoto, travelling only with our hand luggage as the large suitcases will once again be transported by road. On arrival, we visit the Kiyomizu Temple complex built entirely without using nails. The temple was first constructed in 798 but the present-day building is a re-construction from 1633. The main hall has a large veranda that juts out over the hillside and commands an excellent view of the city. From here it is a gentle walk down the hill through the shops and teahouses of the Higashiyama district. This evening we have dinner in a local restaurant. Overnight Kyoto (B, D)
Wednesday May 19: Art in Kyoto
Today we visit Sanjusangendo, Japan’s longest wooden structure housing 1001 statues of Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy. This afternoon we stroll through the streets of Gion, Kyoto’s famed entertainment district and centre of traditional arts. The picturesque streets are filled with shops, restaurants and traditional wooden Ochaya (teahouses) where geiko entertain wealthy businessmen. Overnight Kyoto (B)
Thursday May 20: Golden Temple
Early this morning we head to Ryoanji temple, the finest example of a Zen rock garden in Kyoto. A short distance away is the spectacular Kinkakuji, Golden Pavilion. It is difficult to believe the temple was razed to the ground in 1950 by a crazed young monk whose story was told in celebrated novelist Yukio Mishima’s The Temple of the Golden Pavilion. After lunch in the city centre we partake in the traditional Japanese tea ceremony in the grounds of a temple in Southern Higashiyama. Overnight Kyoto (B, L)
Friday May 21: Silver Temple
Today we visit Ginkakuji, the Temple of the Silver Pavilion. Original plans to cover the main structure in silver foil like the Golden Pavilion were never realised and the building is now covered in black lacquer. The wooded grounds covered in mosses feature a sand garden with a carefully structured sand mountain designed to resemble Mt Fuji. Outside the temple is the Philosopher’s Path, where we enjoy a pleasant stroll alongside the tree lined canal. We also visit the Hosomi Museum which features a private collection of 1000 Japanese artworks. This afternoon we visit the Daitokuji temple complex and its two dozen sub temples and their associated Zen gardens. The complex grew into a centre for Tea Ceremony associated with the master practitioner, Sen-no Rikyu in the 15th century. Overnight Kyoto (B)
Saturday May 22: Nara
We travel to Nara, Japan’s first permanent capital and second only to Kyoto in cultural significance with World Heritage status. We visit Todaiji, constructed in 752 as the main temple of all provincial Buddhist shrines in Japan. The main hall houses the 15-metre-tall bronze statue of Buddha (Daibutsu). We also visit the Kasuga Taisha, dedicated to the protection of the city and built by the powerful Fujiwara clan who ruled during the Nara and Heian periods. After lunch near the shrine we head to Fushimi Inari Shrine in the south of Kyoto. Famous for its thousands of vermillion gates leading up the wooded paths, the shrine is dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. The shrine is decorated with statues of foxes which are Inari’s messenger. Overnight Kyoto (B, L)
Sunday May 23: Nijo Castle
This morning we visit Nijo Castle the residence of the Tokugawa shoguns in Kyoto for over 260 years from 1603 to 1868. The castle is surrounded by a wide moat and, large stone walls and contain gardens filled with groves of plum and cherry trees. Inside, gilded screens painted in rich colours, depict scenes from nature. The castle is most known for it’s wooden ‘nightingale floors’ that squeak when stepped on, alerting the guard to intruders. This evening we gather for a farewell dinner in a local kaiseki restaurant where a Maiko will entertain us with a traditional dance performance. Overnight Kyoto (B, D)
Monday May 24: Depart
The tour concludes after breakfast. Transfers have been arranged to either Kansai or Itami airports in Osaka for passengers booking their flights through Academy Travel. (B)
Dr Kathleen Olive
A literary and cultural historian with a PhD from the University of Sydney, with particular expertise in Italy, Spain and Japan.
Dr Kathleen Olive is a literary and cultural historian with close to 15 years’ experience leading tours to Italy, Spain, France, Turkey, Japan and the United States. She has a strong personal interest in the visual arts, interior design, fashion history and contemporary fiction.
Kathleen holds a BA with first class Honours and a PhD, both from the Department of Italian Studies at the University of Sydney. For a number of years she worked as a lecturer at the University of Sydney and the University of Technology, Sydney, teaching Italian language, literature and history. Kathleen continues to teach, as a national lecturer for the Australian Decorative and Fine Arts Society (ADFAS), and in adult education courses in Sydney. In 2015, her edition of the Codex Rustici (a 15th-century commonplace book that Kathleen worked on with Nerida Newbigin, for her doctoral studies and for publication) was presented to Pope Francis on his first official visit to Florence.
Kathleen’s historical and artistic knowledge stretches from the Middle Ages through to the early 20th century. In Italy she has led numerous tours focusing on the medieval and Renaissance periods. In Spain she has a particular concentration on the “Convivencia” of Islamic, Christian and Jewish cultures in the south, and on the medieval pilgrimage routes of the north. Her tours of the USA’s north-east have focused on American collectors and their Gilded Age reinventions of European glory days, and in Japan she is particularly interested in contemporary design, from fashion to architecture. Kathleen speaks fluent Italian, is conversant in Spanish and understands French.
Kathleen was first involved on a tour to Italy in 2003 and it sparked her passion for on-the-spot communication of art and history. Since 2010 she has worked exclusively for Academy Travel, leading 6 tours a year. She has designed a number of our popular tours, from the Florence residential, to surveys of the courts of Renaissance Italy and of central Italy’s villas and gardens, as well as “twin city” tours to Palermo and Naples and to Florence and Rome. Closer to home, Kathleen is leading Academy Travel’s inaugural tour to Japan and our popular tours to Tasmania.
We asked Kathleen, what do you enjoy most about leading a group tour?
“I really enjoy travelling with groups who share interests in the history, culture and even food of a destination. It means that those personal connections are there right from the beginning, just waiting to be made.”
“There’s nothing I enjoy more than finding out the particular interests of my fellow travellers – an artist, a dish they love eating, their memories of a particular place – and finding a way to make an experience happen for them. That might mean recommending a particular wine bar, directing them to a museum that features artists they already like, or suggesting the best time of day for a view over a town. It’s so satisfying to be involved in making these kinds of memories for people.”
“Many of the people I travel with comment on my passion for the places I visit. It’s not just that I know my names and dates – it’s that I really enjoy bringing out the connections between history and art, for example, or between landscape and food. I never grow tired of injecting this kind of life into ‘dry’ academic knowledge.”
Unless otherwise stated in the itinerary, our tours include the following:
Any flights mentioned in the itinerary that take place during a tour
Land travel by private air-conditioned coach. Where appropriate, taxis or public transport are also used for short distance travel on some tours
All accommodation in hotels or apartments as stated in the itinerary
Breakfasts, lunches and dinners specifically stated as included in the itinerary
Drinks at welcome and farewell meals. Other meals may not have drinks included
Background talks on tour, site notes and online resources
Services of tour leader throughout tour
All entrance fees to sites mentioned in the itinerary
Local guides at some sites
Tips for drivers, local guides and restaurants for included meals
Costs involved in obtaining visas for countries visited, where required and when stated as included
Tours begin either at the arrival airport or the first hotel, depending on the itinerary. If you have booked your international flights with Academy Travel and arrive before the tour commences, we will provide airport to hotel transfers to the closest main city on your arrival, and to the closest airport at the end of the tour. These may be either individual or group transfers.
What is not included in the tour price?
Our tours do not include the following:
Return international/domestic air travel unless those flights take place during the tour
Special taxes and airport levies that can only be paid in cash at the destination. We will advise you of these charges (if any) before you depart
Travel insurance. We require all participants to have comprehensive travel insurance. A typical policy for one of our tours will cost from $160 upwards, depending on your age, pre-existing medical conditions, the countries you are visiting and the overall length of your trip
Lunches and dinners not specifically mentioned as included in the itinerary
Personal expenses such as laundry and phone calls
Costs associated with any activity mentioned as “optional” in the itinerary, or any suggested free time activity