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 16-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 a week in Kyoto, discovering its temples, museums and traditions, with day trips to Nara, the ancient capital, and the bamboo groves of Arashiyama.
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
Soaring bamboo groves in Arashiyama and Japan’s early capital, Nara
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, Nezu and Ota museums and Ginza’s exclusive boutiques.
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.
Days 13–14: Day trips to Arashiyama and Nara.
Days 15–16: Discover Nishiki market and Kyoto’s many traditional crafts.
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.
Friday November 6: Arrive Tokyo
The tour commences in the Tokyo hotel this evening. Your tour leader, Ann MacArthur will meet you in the lobby before a light dinner in the hotel. Overnight Tokyo (D)
Saturday November 7: 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 in a nearby restaurant, 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. Tonight we enjoy a welcome dinner in a local Japanese restaurant. Overnight Tokyo (B, L, D)
Sunday November 8: 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)
Monday November 9: Roppongi
Today we head to Roppongi to visit the Mori Art Museum which presents innovative exhibitions of modern art. The museum’s 52nd floor location atop the Mori Tower also affords us wonderful views of Tokyo and beyond with the possibility of seeing Mt Fuji if the weather is clear. We then head to the famed Ginza district this afternoon where there is free time to wander through the boutique shops and glamorous department stores. Overnight Tokyo (B)
Tuesday November 10: To Kanazawa
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)
Wednesday November 11: Kenrokuen
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)
Thursday November 12: 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)
Friday November 13: 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)
Saturday November 14: 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 in the Pontocho dining strip. Overnight Kyoto (B, D)
Sunday November 15: Art in Kyoto
Today we visit Sanjusangendo, Japan’s longest wooden structure housing 1001 statues of Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy. This afternoon we visit the National Museum to see the collection of archaeological relics, sculptures, ceramics and costumes. Overnight Kyoto (B)
Monday November 16: 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)
Tuesday November 17: 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. 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)
Wednesday November 18: Arashiyama
Today we venture outside of Kyoto to Arashiyama and the world class 14th-century Zen garden at Tenryuji against the backdrop of the Arashiyama mountains. After a vegetarian temple lunch in the gardens we explore the Sagano Bamboo Grove, forming a canopy over the footpath. This has become one of the most photographed sites in Japan. Returning to Kyoto we visit Nijo Castle built in 1603 as the Kyoto residence of the Edo period Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu. Overnight Kyoto (B, L)
Thursday November 19: 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)
Friday November 20: Free day
Today is at leisure to simply relax, shop or enjoy the many attractions of Kyoto not covered on the tour. We recommend a visit to Nishiki markets and a wander through the basement food halls of the local department stores. We gather for a farewell dinner in a local restaurant. Overnight Kyoto (B, D)
Saturday November 21: 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)
One of Australia’s foremost experts in Japanese art and culture, she has over 20 years’ experience as a museum educator.
Ann holds degrees in Asian art and management from two US universities and from 1993 to 2015 was Senior Coordinator of Asian Programs for the Art Gallery of NSW. She speaks fluent Japanese and has led seven previous cultural tours to Japan, for the Art Gallery of NSW and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney.
Ann was a curator for the Reflections of Asia exhibition at the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences in 2018. From 2019, Ann has been manager for the Buddhist Council of New South Wales, the peak body for Buddhist temples and centres in NSW and the ACT. Supporting member organisations from the variety of traditions and cultures from Sri Lanka to Tibet, China and the West, the role has been a natural extension of her Asian art background.
Ann played a key role in several of Australia’s most memorable exhibitions of Asian art and culture, including the highly-successful Buddha: radiant awakening held at the Art Gallery of NSW. As well as tour leading, Ann’s professional experience includes public lecturing and devising education programs relating to exhibitions.
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