Japan is a land of many characters, its beauty reaching far beyond the cherry blossoms of springtime or the russet hues of the autumn leaves. Much is to be gained from travelling to Japan in the winter when Mt Fuji and the Japanese Alps are at their best, covered in a white blanket, and the snow monkeys warm themselves in the steaming hot springs. Colourful regional delicacies adorn seasonal tables, the galleries are quiet, the gardens austere in their beauty and the temples are true places for peaceful contemplation.
Tokyo’s new museum dedicated to the woodblock prints of Hokusai, designed by architect Kazuyo Sejima of SANAA
Mt Fuji and Itchiku Kubota’s stunning seasonal kimono project in the Japanese lake district
Snow monkeys soaking in mountain hot springs, against the backdrop of the soaring Japanese Alps
Samurai culture, Edo-era artisans and rural Japanese life in Takayama and Shirakawa-go
Naoshima Art Island on the Inland Sea: world-class sculpture and Tadao Ando’s architecture
Traditional arts and crafts in Kyoto, the cradle of Japanese culture
Days 1–3: Explore a selection of Tokyo’s best galleries and museums.
Days 4–5: See Kamakura’s serene Great Buddha. Admire Mt Fuji, the Itchiku Kubota Kimono Museum and the Okada Museum in Hakone.
Days 6–8: Travel into the Japanese Alps to see snow monkeys, exploring historic Takayama and the village of Shirakawa-go.
Days 9–10: Admire Naoshima and Teshima’s site-specific artworks, set against the backdrop of Tadao Ando’s architecture on the Seto Sea.
Day 11–14: Appreciate the seasonal beauty of Koraku-en Garden. Take the bullet train to Kyoto, to discover its gardens, shrines and the stunning Miho Museum.
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 20 January: Arrive
The tour commences at our hotel in Tokyo. Your tour leader, Dr Kathleen Olive, will meet you in the lobby before a light dinner in the hotel. Overnight Tokyo (D)
Tuesday 21 January: Old Edo
Our touring commences with a visit to the Edo Museum. The permanent exhibition takes the visitor on a journey through the 400-year history of Tokyo since the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu established his government in Edo. Lifesized models recreate the architecture of the time and depict the day-to-day lives of the people during the period. We also 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. After lunch we take a walking tour of Sumida, where Hokusai was born and spent most of his life, and take a cruise on the Sumida River into Tokyo Bay. This evening we gather for a welcome dinner in a local sukiyaki restaurant near our hotel. Overnight Tokyo (B, L, D)
Wednesday 22 January: National and Nezu Museums
This morning 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. We then travel along Omotesando, Tokyo’s version of the Champs-Élysées, to the Nezu Museum. Located in fashionable Aoyama, it boasts a large collection of calligraphy, painting, bamboo, sculpture, ceramics and textiles. There is time to wander through the winding paths of the beautiful garden or admire the ponds and stone lanterns from the café. This afternoon we head to 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. Overnight Tokyo (B)
Thursday 23 January: Kamakura
We depart by coach for Kamakura, the political centre of medieval Japan and birthplace of the first military government of Shogun Minamoto Yoritomo in 1192. Sometimes called the Kyoto of Eastern Japan, Kamakura is known for its elegantly landscaped Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. We visit Engakuji, built into the slopes of Kamakura’s forested hills. The temple was founded to pay respects to the souls of those killed in Kublai Khan’s attempted invasions of Japan in 1272 and 1281. We also visit the lovely bamboo grove and Zen rock garden at Hokokuji Temple. At Kotokuin Temple we see the Great Buddha or Daibutsu, an 11.4-metre-high bronze statue of the Amida Buddha sitting peacefully in the open air. Hasedera Temple houses the eleven-headed gilded wooden statue of Kannon, Goddess of Mercy, and also preserves a small Kannon Museum. Our day concludes with dinner at our hotel in Hakone. Overnight Hakone (B, L, D)
Friday 24 January: Hakone
Today we visit the Kubota Itchiku Kimono Museum; perched on the shores of Lake Kawaguchiko, the building is constructed from Okinawan limestone and coral. After rediscovering a traditional silk-dyeing technique lost since the 16th century, Itchiku Kubota dedicated his life’s work to producing an extraordinary collection of kimono using this technique. Themes reflecting the four seasons were of paramount importance for Kubota’s pieces and this is represented in his incomplete masterpiece, The Symphony of Light, comprising 36 kimono highlighting the beauty of nature. We drive into the hills surrounding Hakone and stop in at the privately-owned Okada Museum of Art, set in an expansive garden complete with teahouse. The museum houses a large collection of East Asian ceramics, sculptures and paintings from the modern era to antiquity. Overnight Hakone (B, L)
Saturday 25 January: Yudanaka
We depart Hakone for Nagano prefecture in the Japanese Alps. The pristine waters coming from the mountains make Suwa an ideal place for making sake, and we stop at one of the many breweries to sample the national drop. This afternoon we visit Matsumoto Castle, a listed National Treasure and the most complete and beautiful of Japan’s original castles. We continue to Yudanaka Onsen, a hot spring resort where we spend the evening sleeping in a traditional Japanese ryokan. Overnight Yudanaka (B, L, D)
Sunday 26 January: Snow Monkeys
Today we visit the Jigokudani Monkey Park to see the population of some 200 Japanese macaques that inhabit the park, frolicking and lounging in the warm waters provided by the hot spring. With no fences, the monkeys can be observed up close, interacting and displaying natural behaviours in their various social groups. We continue this afternoon to the picturesque town of Takayama. Overnight Takayama (B, L, D)
Monday 27 January: Takayama and Shirakawa-go
This morning we stroll through the morning market where stallholders sell local crafts, vegetables and flowers, and wander through the beautifully preserved streets and Edo-era houses built by wealthy merchants in the old town. We visit the Festival Float Museum, where elaborately decorated floats – some several hundred years old and used in Takayama’s annual autumn and spring festivals – are on display. This afternoon we travel to the World Heritage-Listed village of Shirakawa-go. The historic village, set against a serene mountain backdrop, consists of traditional houses with steep thatched roofs called Gassho-zukuri, translating as ‘constructed like hands in prayer’. Some houses are over 250 years old. Overnight Takayama (B, D)
Tuesday 28 January: To Naoshima
Today we board a local express train to Nagoya station where we transfer to the bullet train to Okayama, packing only hand luggage for the next two nights. Your large suitcase will be transported by road to meet you in Kyoto. At Okayama we take a coach to the port at Uno and embark on a ferry to Naoshima, arriving at Benesse House in the late afternoon. Overnight Naoshima (B, D)
Wednesday 29 January: Art by the Seto Sea
We spend the day exploring the various art sites on Teshima and Naoshima. Benesse House Museum, designed by Tadao Ando and overlooking the Seto Sea, puts the Japanese ethos of the coexistence of art, nature and architecture into practice by displaying art in all parts of the building, in the surrounding forest and even along the seashore. The museum boasts work by Andy Warhol, David Hockney, Cy Twombly and Yayoi Kusama, to name a few. We visit the Chichu Art Museum, integrated with its surroundings through its mostly underground construction and permanently housing pieces by Claude Monet, Walter De Maria and James Turrell. A recent addition to the island’s art sites is the Lee Ufan Museum, featuring paintings and large installations made from stone, concrete and wood by the contemporary Korean artist. Overnight Naoshima (B, D)
Thursday 30 January: Korakuen
We return to the mainland by ferry and coach and visit Korakuen, considered one of Japan’s three most beautiful landscaped gardens. Built on the orders of the local feudal lord over 300 years ago, the garden has maintained its original layout and appearance from the Edo period, due to the accurate records kept by the garden’s designers. The garden features spacious lawns (a unique feature for a Japanese garden!), a crane aviary, plum and cherry and maple groves, and three species of camelia that should be in flower at the time of our visit. This afternoon we travel by bullet train to Kyoto, our home for the next three nights. Overnight Kyoto (B, L, D)
Friday 31 January: Kinkakuji and Miho Museum
This morning we head to the spectacular Kinkakuji or 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. A short distance from Kinkakuji we stop for some quiet contemplation at Ryoanji temple, the finest example of a Zen rock garden in Kyoto. In the afternoon, we travel into the Shigaraki Mountains outside of Kyoto to the Miho Museum, designed by I.M. Pei to fulfill the founder’s vision of promoting beauty, peace and joy through art. We have lunch in the restaurant and explore the collection of Japanese art, tea utensils, Shinto and Buddhist art, paintings, calligraphy, lacquerware and ceramics, along with ancient art from areas such as Egypt, western Asia, Greece, Rome, southern Asia and China. Overnight Kyoto (B, L)
Saturday 1 February: Temples and Shrines
Today, we head to northern Kyoto, a less-travelled part of the city, to Enkoji temple, founded by the Edo-period shogun, Ieyasu Tokugawa, and used as a school for the common people. The temple has a stone garden, bamboo path and pond. There are wonderful views over the temple from the small hill behind the garden. Nearby Shisendo temple was the retirement villa of a former samurai, classical Chinese scholar and landscape architect. The temple’s name translates as ‘hall of the great poets’, named for the works of 36 Chinese poets displayed in the main hall. Returning to central Kyoto, we visit the Heian Shrine, a partial reproduction of the original Imperial Palace from the Heian period. Our final stop is at the Museum of Traditional Crafts, where we see examples of Kyoto’s finest traditional industries including, lacquerware, textiles, woodworking and basketry. This evening we enjoy a farewell dinner in a traditional kaiseki restaurant. Overnight Kyoto (B, D)
Sunday 2 February: Depart
The tour concludes after breakfast in the hotel. 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.”
Hotels on this tour have been chosen both for location and comfort, with the Hakone Hotel offering views of Mt Fuji.
The Takayama Hotel is a modern Western-style hotel, a short drive from but not within walking distance of the old town, where there are no hotels large enough to accommodate a group.
Our one night in Yudanaka has us staying at a traditional Japanese-style ryokan. Floors consist of tatami matting with well-padded, comfortable and warm futon bedding laid out on the floor for sleeping at night: you will need to be able to get up from the floor to get into and out of your futon. Each room has a private bathroom but the ryokan has its own onsen facilities, offering communal hot spring baths (separated by gender).
What is included in the tour price?
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 public transport is 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
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?
Open-age 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
Costs involved in obtaining visas for countries visited, where required
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
You will be asked to sign an acknowledgement of these conditions when you book a place on a tour.
A deposit of $500 per person is required to confirm your booking on a tour. Final payment of the tour fee, insurance and any additional travel will be due 60 days before departure.
If you decide to cancel your booking the following charges apply:
More than 60 days before departure: $500*
60-45 days before tour start: 25% of total amount due
44-15 days before tour start: 75% of total amount due
14 days or less before departure: 100% of total amount due
*This amount may be credited to another Academy Travel tour within 12 months of the original tour you booked.
Unused Portions of the tour
We regret that refunds will not be given for any unused portions of the tour, such as meals, entry fees, accommodation, flights or transfers.
Academy Travel requires all participants to obtain comprehensive travel insurance. We offer a comprehensive policy with a reputable insurer if required.
Passport and Visa
A valid passport is required for all international travel. If you do not hold an Australian passport you may require a re-entry permit. Some countries require a visa to be issued before you depart Australia. We will advise you of all passport and visa requirements, but it is your responsibility to ensure that you meet passport and visa requirements before you depart.
Will the tour price change?
If the number of participants in a tour is significantly less than budgeted, or if there is a significant change in exchange rates Academy Travel reserves the right to amend the advertised price. If this occurs you will be given the option of cancelling your booking and obtaining a full refund. If an Academy Travel tour is forced to cancel you will get a full refund of all monies paid.
Will the itinerary change?
Occasionally circumstances beyond the control of Academy Travel make it necessary to change airline, hotel or to make slight amendments to daily itineraries. We will inform you of any changes as soon as they occur.
Full and final payment for the tour, airfare travel, insurance and any additional travel you book is due 60 days before departure. Payment may be made by bank deposit, cheque, cash or credit card. Please note there is a surcharge for payments made by credit card.
Academy Travel reserves the right to decline the booking or terminate the holiday of any traveller.