Momijigari-Hunting Autumn Foliage in Japan

Itinerary: Japan - Journey to Japan

1 November to 22 November 2024

We have designed this tour to encompass natural beauty and heritage; the continuing work of its craftspeople; art and architecture both old and new; its history and relations with neighbours; and modern Japan and its position in the world. We will arrive in Japan during the time of Momijigari, or ‘Autumn foliage hunting’, and we present a variety of superb gardens from all periods of Japanese history, from the aristocratic ‘paradise’-style temple gardens, and the enigmatic Zen Buddhist rock gardens of Kyoto, to the borrowed scenery and the tea gardens of Kanazawa, to the amalgamation of all these various styles in the imposing gardens of the samurai elite. Japanese gardens possess an aura of timelessness, against which background the cycle of the seasons unfolds its pageantry.

On this journey you will:

• spend 5 nights in Japan’s cultural heartland in Kyoto and discover old Japan
• be spell bound by the exquisite beauty of temple gardens in full autumnal beauty
• surround yourself in tranquil scenery at an overnight Buddhist temple stay in Koya-san, home to the most esoteric sect of Japanese Buddhism
• visit the Hiroshima Peace Park for an understanding of the tragedies of Japan’s not so distant past
• wonder at the ‘floating’ torii of Miyajima island
• treat your tastebuds and taste tempura, savour sushi, experience a kaiseki ryori (multi-course) dinner and sip sake
• visit Shirakawa-go, a World Heritage site famous for its traditional thatched ‘gassho-zukuri’ farmhouses
• stroll around Kanazawa’s exquisite Kenroku-en, one of Japan’s top 3 gardens
• spend a memorable night in a traditional Japanese Inn in one of the best-preserved Edo-era towns as you walk along the ancient Nakesendo Highway
• be impressed by the efficiency and ultra-modernity as you zip from city to city on the Shinkansen Bullet Trains
• stroll through Tokyo’s Asakusa district and the neon shopping streets of Ginza

Our Hotels:

We understand that travel isn't all about a fleeting glimpse of popular mass tourist spots, or always staying at luxury hotels, but is also about time, space, privacy and those special destinations and moments that turn your holiday into a truly magical experience. Journey to Japan is a tour for everyone to experience this destination on roads less travelled and explore new horizons rarely encountered. On this adventure, we use carefully selected hotels, but as no trip to this part of the world would be complete without a stay at some of the beautiful heritage and boutique hotels, well positioned for ease of exploration on your own, we have included several. We are considering several hotels we have used in our 2023 Journey to Japan and some new ones but are not confirmed yet and are subject to change. Some of them are: (Kyoto) Karasuma Kyoto Hotel or similar, (Koya san) Sekishoin, (Miyajima) Livemax Resort or similar, (Kanazawa) Hotel Mystays Kanazawa Castle or similar, (Takayama) TBA, (Tsumago) TBA, (Matsumoto) TBA, (Mt Fuji) TBA, (Tokyo) Hotel Edmont or similar

PLEASE NOTE: Hotels are 'indicative' at this stage and subject to change. They will be confirmed closer to departure.

Participants should note that the order of visits and activities described may be modified to accommodate changes in flight schedules, special access to sacred sites, the pathways chosen by our experienced and knowledgeable local guides, local road conditions and unexpected contingencies such as festivals, street processions or religious ceremonies as well as restrictions imposed by local authorities. Local political events may also require a re-scheduling, cancellation, or substitution in the program.

Special Experiences:

Japan has no shortage of traditional cuisine, arts, and crafts which continue to play an important role in the country today. We have included several ‘hands-on’ experiences throughout the Journey, and these may include a gold leaf workshop, traditional indigo dying, and sake tasting. We have included a performance at Gion Corner (premium seats) which will provide a great opportunity to enjoy Japan’s traditional performing arts.


Meals included in the tour price are indicated in the itinerary as per B (breakfast), L (lunch), and D (dinner).

Traditional Japanese Food, Japan
Download detailed printable itinerary: Japan - Journey to Japan - PDF format

Itinerary: (subject to change)

Friday 1 November 2024

Depart your capital city with Singapore Airlines bound for Singapore

Day 1: 2 November 2024 Arrive Kansai

Our Singapore Airlines flight arrives in Kansai at 15.40 on 3 November 2024. For those on the recommended flight, meet our guide on arrival and transfer to Kyoto. If you arrive at another time you will need to make your own way to the hotel in Kyoto. We can help you there.

Day 2: 3 November 2024, Kyoto free am, pm tour, B/Traditional Welcome Dinner

Serving as the imperial capital from the 7th to the 19th centuries, Kyoto contains treasures of traditional architecture, housing classic works of Buddhist sculpture, painting, and calligraphy, as well as villas, gardens and ‘tea architecture’. Begin your exploration of Japan by being introduced to the concepts and aesthetics of the ‘Japanese garden’. From microcosmic compositions of dry gravel and sand and tea ceremony gardens, through spacious landscapes evolved from a dynamic intermixing of traditional Japanese thought based on Shinto and Zen Buddhist ideals and Chinese Buddhist and Daoist philosophies, the garden has often become synonymous with Japanese cultural expression. You will encounter a wide range of garden styles, many of which respond to new trends in contemporary architecture and ways of living that create an intimacy with nature that epitomises the Japanese world view.

The morning is free before beginning our tour.

This afternoon we visit the stunning autumn foliage in the gardens of the Ginkakuji, or Silver Pavilion. Starting with an incredibly scenic approach, the Ginkakuji works its magic on the visitor right from the beginning. Buried in the shadows of Higashiyama’s Mountain range, Ginkaku-ji oozes wabi-sabi (a world view centred on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of appreciating beauty that is "imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete". It is prevalent in many forms of Japanese art,) everywhere from its faded, wooden panels once varnished in black lacquer to its stone garden that invokes a feeling of cleansing and renewal.

The dry garden known as the “Sea of Silver Sand,” is one of the temple’s most interesting features. Raked white sand leads to a towering cone that was landscaped to be a perfect spot for moon gazing. The dry garden is modelled after a celebrated lake near Hangzhou, China, while the sand pyramid is the mirror-image of Mt Fuji. Both sand shapes are religious metaphors for enlightenment, with the moon and its reflection symbolizing an illumination of consciousness. Ginkaku-ji’s moss garden reflects beauty in the inevitable aging process, otherwise known in Zen as ‘impermanence’. Amongst all of Kyoto’s 1600 temples this one remains a firm favourite.

Ginkaku-ji Temple or Silver Pavilion, Kyoto, Japan

Dry Garden, Ginkaku-ji Temple, Sea of Silver Sand, Kyoto, Japan

Moss Garden, Ginkaku-ji Temple, Kyoto, Japan

Next, we visit Kiyomizudera, (literally "Pure Water Temple"), one of the most celebrated temples of Japan. It was founded in 780 on the site of the Otowa Waterfall in the wooded hills east of Kyoto and derives its name from the fall's pure waters. The temple was originally associated with the Hosso sect, one of the oldest schools within Japanese Buddhism. In 1994, the temple was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Kiyomizu-dera Temple or Pure Water Temple, Kyoto, Japan

Today’s tour finishes at the temple followed by free time for some of the best shopping in Japan. Walk down the Sannenzaka shopping street which leads from the temple and pick up some local snacks if hungry. It’s the perfect place to buy gifts for your family and friends, and for yourself as well, of course. It has a very vibrant atmosphere with both sides of the street lined with shops selling sweets, handicrafts, interesting foods such as black sesame ice cream, and Kiyomizu’s finest pottery, called “Kiyomizu-yaki”. Meet the guide at the bottom of the hill at a pre-determined time.

Kiyomizu-yaki, finest pottery, Kyoto, Japan

Meet in hotel foyer in time for our Welcome Dinner.

Day 3: 4 November 2024, Kyoto Day tour, B/L

The Ryoanji garden is the one of the most famous examples of a rock garden—a form which developed during the Muromachi period (1392–1573) with the efflorescence of Zen Buddhism in medieval Japan. This type of garden consists of rocks and pebbles rather than vegetation and water and was mainly created on the grounds of temples for encouraging contemplation. White gravel often symbolizes flowing elements such as waterfalls, rivers, creeks, or sea, while rocks suggest islands, shores, or bridges.

Ryo¯anji garden, Kyoto, Japan

The next stop will be at the Kinkaku-ji or Golden Pavilion. This building was originally a retirement villa of the shogun, and as a symbol of his power and wealth he covered the entire outer surface of the building with gold leaf. The pavilion stands in the middle of a ‘strolling garden’, the large pond of which reflects the Kinkaku-ji like a mirror.

Kinkaku-ji or Golden Pavilion, Kyoto, Japan

After lunch we stroll through the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, one of Kyoto’s top sights and for good reason: standing amid these soaring stalks of bamboo is like being in another world. It’s one of the most photographed sights in the city. But no picture can capture the feeling of standing in the midst of this sprawling bamboo grove – the whole thing has a palpable sense of ‘otherness’ that is quite unlike that of any normal forest we know of.

Japanese water feature, Japan

On the outskirts of Kyoto, a famous indigo artist will show us around their dye studio and inspiring art gallery. Literally soaked into the fabric of Japan’s cultural history, the art of indigo dyeing is as richly diverse and fascinating now as it was when it was first developed centuries ago. Although it is an ancient method, the process of aizome, or indigo dyeing, continues to have a deep influence and importance on fashion even today. You will participate in a workshop to create your own piece of indigo textile.

Indigo Textile dying workshop, Kyoto, Japan

Day 4: 5 November 2024, Kyoto, B/L

It’s a full day and evening which begins with Daigo-ji, a World Heritage Site. Within this National Treasure is the Sanbo- in Garden, which has some 800 stones gathered and donated from feudal lords around the country. They are famous for having been owned by some of the most powerful figures in Japanese history, and there is even a Noh play about them.

Daigo-ji, Sanbo-in Garden, Kyoto, Japan

World Heritage Daigo-ji, Sanbo-in Garden, Kyoto, Japan

Also in the grounds is the Gojonoto, or five-story pagoda, which was completed in 951 and is the oldest of its type in Japan and 38 meters tall.

World Heritage Site Daigo-ji, Sanbo-in Garden, Kyoto, Japan

After this we arrive at one of Kyoto’s iconic sights. Walking through the winding tunnels of vermilion torii gates at Fushimi Inari, is one of the great experiences of visiting the old imperial city. The torii gates stretch to the top of the 233m-high Mt. Inari and it can take about an hour to ninety minutes to reach the top in a leisurely stroll, maybe even stopping for tea, and of course, photographs. We will not encourage anyone to walk very far as its very repetitive after about 100 meters. For those with issues with steep steps, you will be able to visit the first part, then explore the magnificent Shinto Shrines at the entrance.

Winding Tori Gates, Fushimi Inari, Kyoto, Japan

After lunch we visit Kyoto's spectacular Sanjusangendo Hall. Established in the twelfth century, and housing 1001 carved wooden images of Kannon - the Buddhist ‘Goddess of Mercy’, Sanjusangendo is the only such Sentai Kannon-do (one thousand-Kannon hall) left in existence. The principal image in the temple is the 3.3m-tall, seated "1,000-handed Kannon" with eyes made from crystal - carved by Tankei (1173-1256), son of the master Unkei in 1254, and a National Treasure. The images when completed were lacquered and gilded with gold leaf.

Behind the statue of Senju Kannon are the figures of Fujin, the god of wind and Raijin, the god of thunder, who carries circular drums on his back and makes thunder by beating on his drums. The huge Fujin is 3.8m tall, while Raijin is 3.5m in height.

Sanjusangendo Hall, Kyoto, Japan

Explore Nanzen-ji, whose spacious grounds are located at the base of Kyoto's forested Higashiyama mountains and is one of the most important Zen temples in all of Japan. It is the head temple of one of the schools within the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism and includes multiple sub-temples, that make the already large complex of temple buildings even larger.

Time permitting, we may visit one of the most beautiful gardens of Tanjuan. You get the impression that you’ve stepped into a secret garden. As a sub-temple, it features a rock pond and a lush garden that is particularly stunning in the autumn, serving as a worthwhile escape from the crowds that flock to the Nanzen-ji temple complex.

Nanzen-ji, Tenjuan Garden, Kyoto, Japan

Early this evening step back in time and immerse yourselves in Japan’s traditional entertainment district (the “Floating World”) on a walk through the narrow streets of Kyoto's charming Gion district, the centre of geisha culture, which comes alive at night. This is where the bus will leave us, and we have a great opportunity to enjoy Japan’s traditional performing arts at Gion Corner. The program includes chanoyu (the art of preparing tea), koto music, ikebana flower arrangement, bugaku dance, kyogen comedy, and Kyomai dance. Depending on the season, a scene from bunraku puppet theatre or a noh play is performed. The theatre is in Gion Kobu, the largest of the five traditional kagai entertainment districts of Kyoto. The Kyomai dance part of the program is particularly representative of the Gion area and is performed by maiko, apprentices studying to become geiko. Known as geisha in other regions, geiko are traditional female performing artists who entertain guests with dances, songs, music, and games. Following the performance, you are on your own to wander the charming Gion area to find a local restaurant with a taxi share to the hotel.

Geishas, Gion district, Kyoto, Japan

Gion Entertainment District, Kyoto, Japan

Day 5: 6 November 2024, Kyoto, B

After breakfast we drive to Kyoto's largest traditional and contemporary arts and craft emporium. The Kyoto Handicraft Centre sells lacquerware, sake cups, kimono, pottery, pearls, dolls, cosmetics, and more in two buildings. A great opportunity to see and purchase the wide range of exquisite Japanese art forms.

We then drive to the house of Japanese ceramist Kanjiro Kawai who is most closely associated with the Mingei movement which, together with Bernard Leach, Shôji Hamada, and Sôetsu Yanagi, he helped found. The movement celebrated the “unknown craftsman” and emphasized traditional folk crafts, cultures, and values. Trained technically in ceramics, Kawai considered himself a scientist as well as a potter, and his mastery of glazes grew out of a scientist’s interest in experimentation as much as a potter’s desire for a particular colour or effect. Consistent with the Mingei system of beliefs, he worked in the master/apprenticeship model in which students worked alongside the master, learning not only the techniques of their craft but also the cultural values, and equally consistent, Kawai did not accept any of the honours offered him for his work.

A prolific potter, Kawai was also skilled in other arts, among them woodworking, calligraphy, poetry, writing, and sculpture. His home and workshop in Kyoto have been restored and is now a museum showcasing his life and work. His hill-climbing kiln can still be seen at the rear of this house, frozen in time.

Home and workshop of Master Potter Kanjiro Kawai, Kyoto, Japan

The afternoon is free, and the bus will take you to the hotel from which you can visit the Higashiyama and the Nishiki Markets district for you to find lunch and discover its many and varied shops. Nishiki Market is a friendly market to explore and try some Japanese food, but be aware that most of the shops along the market close by early evening. Nishiki Market is a narrow, five block long shopping street lined by more than one hundred shops and restaurants. Known as "Kyoto's Kitchen", this lively retail market specializes in all things food related, like fresh seafood, produce, stunning kitchen knives and cookware, and is a great place to find seasonal foods and Kyoto specialties, such as Japanese sweets, pickles, dried seafood and sushi.

Japanese Restaurant, Japan

Japanese food market, Japan

The Higashiyama District is a popular shopping area that has been serving travellers and temple visitors for centuries. There is a large variety of stores selling Kyoto specialties, food, clothes, and souvenirs. Or for more modern shopping, check out the boutiques, department stores and shopping arcades along Shijo Avenue. Return to hotel by taxi.

Pack an overnight bag for the next 3 nights as your big luggage will be transferred to Kanazawa.

Day 6: 7 November 2024, Kyoto – Koya San Walking tour and temple stay , B/L/D

Check out and bring large luggage to the foyer. Then drive to the lush, misty Kii mountains of Wakayama prefecture, where you’ll find the awe-inspiring Buddhist temple site of Koyasan, founded more than 1,200 years ago. Koyasan is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most important spiritual locations in Japan. It’s the centre of Shingon Buddhism, an important Buddhist sect which was introduced to Japan in 805 by Kobo Daishi (also known as Kukai), one of Japan's most significant religious figures. A small, secluded temple town has developed around the sect's headquarters that Kobo Daishi built on Koyasan's wooded mountain top. It is also the site of Kobo Daishi's mausoleum and the start and end point of the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage.

Buddhist temple site of Koyasan, Kyoto, Japan

Stone Garden on temple site Koyasan, Kyoto, Japan

Our Mt. Koya walking tour includes the Kongo Buji Temple, Kondo Hall, Daito Pagoda, (the spectacular interior of which is a 3-dimensional mandala with the Buddha and Bodhisattvas carved from giant forest trees), and the Reihokan Museum. Then we make our way to the comfortable Shukubo Temple Lodging, for the night. Here you might interact with some of the monks who run the lodgings, learn about the customs of traditional Japanese accommodation, (futon room with private facilities) and enjoy some monastic vegetarian cuisine. Prior to breakfast and departure, you are very welcome to participate in a Buddhist ritual in the temple. (One of the monks will explain what is happening).

Day 7: 8 November 2024, Koyasan – Hiroshima – Miyajima, B/L

Shinkansen Bullet Train, Japan

We may continue our walking tour before returning from Koyasan to Osaka for a Japanese okonomiyaki pancake lunch and take the fast shinkansen Bullet Train to Hiroshima. Here we will encounter remnants of more recent histories and the horrors of war. You’ll visit the Genbaku (A-Bomb) Dome and the Peace Memorial Park and Museum, both of which stand testament to the fateful day in August 1945 when Hiroshima was chosen as target for the first ever wartime use of the atomic bomb. The dome was just metres from where the bomb detonated but retained its shape, and it serves as a reminder and symbol of peace. The memorial park serves the same purpose, and has museums, memorials and monuments dedicated to the memory of victims, education on what lead to the bomb’s use, as well as advocating world peace. In the later afternoon we will head for the serene, enchanting island of Miyajima, reached after a short ferry ride across the Inland Sea.

Day 8: 9 November 2024, Miyajima, B

From ancient times the island with its tall Miyajima peak has been considered sacred, and on its shores stands the Shinto Itsukushima Shrine, whose corridors are reminiscent of the “shinden” style of architecture of the Kyoto court. This morning we visit the large main hall, the complex which contains 20 buildings including a Noh stage and over 300m of corridors. During high tide, the sea flows under the pillars of the buildings, giving them the appearance of floating. Perhaps one of the most stereotypical impressions of Japan is the shrine’s tori or gateway ‘floating’ in the water. The beautiful buildings and untouched forest of the surroundings have been registered as part of the World Heritage. The afternoon is free to relax and explore this tiny island. The size and physical landscape of Miyajima makes it an ideal place for walking. There is the lovely Momiji Park (known as Maple Valley), from where it is possible to walk or take a cable car up to the top of Mt Misen.

Famous torii gate of the Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima, Japan

Day 9: 10 November 2024, Kanazawa, B/L

Early morning ferry to Miyajimaguchi, then local train to Hiroshima, shinkansen to Kyoto enjoying a traditional bento box lunch and taking the Thunderbird Bullet train to Kanazawa. Walk to the hotel with free time to explore for a restaurant for dinner - especially in the station.

Traditional Japanese food presentation

Day 10: 11 November 2024, Kanazawa, B

Kanazawa survived the Second World War without a scratch. This means the city has retained the layout of the roads and the Edo period architecture that defined the look of feudal Japan. Kanazawa’s mysterious tea districts rank among the nation’s most photographed for just that reason, and many historical buildings and old streets have been preserved.

Kanazawa once derived its wealth from rice production and the aristocratic families who benefited from this wealth encouraged and supported many traditional arts and crafts, so that today Kanazawa is still recognised as one of Japan’s foremost centres of culture. Gain an understanding of Japan’s captivating samurai heritage at Nagamachi, a district at the foot of the former Kanazawa Castle, where samurai and their families used to reside. Stroll the atmospheric streets admiring the earthen walled residences, pretty gates, narrow lanes, and canals. And step inside Nomura-ke, the home of a middle-class samurai retainer to the ruling Maeda family. His house and garden have been preserved as an important cultural property and are now museums. This beautiful building provides a rare glimpse into the elegant home life of Kanazawa samurai families in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Once inside you will feel like you have stepped back in time.

Traditional Japanese house

Preserved from the Edo Period, step back in time

Kanazawa is home to the Kenroku-en, one of Japan’s most important and beautiful gardens. In the top 3 gardens of Japan, the name refers to a renowned Sung dynasty Chinese garden which required six attributes of perfection: seclusion, spaciousness, artificiality, antiquity, abundant water and broad views. It has a superb view of its pine trees trained with rope in readiness to bear the weight of winter snows. The elegant villa Seisonkaku, which sits in the grounds, was built for the widow of the 12th-century lord and has wonderful courtyard gardens. After lunch return to the hotel where the rest of the day is free.

Kenroku-en Garden, Kanazawa, Japan

Day 11: 12 November 2024, Kanazawa, B

After breakfast, continue to the most secretive of Kanazawa’s three geisha districts in both its design and feeling of discretion visiting Kazue-machi, made of about twenty households packed tightly between bars and restaurants, in a small labyrinth of alleyways. With a walk along the cobbled riverside street, it’s no surprise that this district was the setting for forbidden romance in the 1978 novel Asanogawa Boshoku (“Asano River Dusk”) by Hiroyuki Itsuki.

Then we have fun creating in a Gold Leaf workshop near Japan’s only museum exclusively showcasing gold leaf production and gilding. Visitors can learn the history of gold leaf through art works and crafted items that feature gilding, including fabrics, pottery, sculptures and works of calligraphy. Just nearby is the Gold Leaf Sakuda, which offers us a gold leaf workshop. Participants select an item they would like to guild and are guided through the gold leaf process.

Afternoon free to explore on your own.

Day 12: 13 November 2024, Kanazawa - Shirakawago - Takayama, B/L

This morning we will journey to Shirakawago in the remote mountains that span from Gifu to Toyama. Declared as UNESCO world heritage site in 1995, the village is famous for their traditional gassho-zukuri farmhouses, some of which are more than 250 years old. Take a stroll through the village and learn the history behind this wonderful UNESCO world heritage site. The name of these distinctive farmhouses translates to "constructed like hands in prayer," because of its resemblance to a Buddhist monk's hands pressed together. They're built to withstand heavy snowfall, and they become especially beautiful once their thatched roofs become coated with fresh snow.

Gassho-zukuri farmhouses, Shirakawago, Japan

Later, we travel to Takayama, renowned for its beautiful old town, where tradition is preserved. Visit the Takayama Jinya - a building from the 17th century which has been preserved as it was from the time of its construction and is still in use today. The Jinya is the former residence of the governor or Daimyo, of the province. In its most glorious period, the Edo government had sixty Jinya throughout the country, but the one in Takayama is the only one still standing today. We then head out on a walk visiting the old town and sake brewery. The freshest sake is the best - find out for yourself how it's made, and what it tastes like!

Takayama Jinya, Takayama, Japan

Old town Takayama, Japan

Day 13: 14 November 2024, Takayama – Magome/Tsumago, B/L

In the morning we transfer to the Magome/Tsumago area for overnight accommodation. Here we visit a section of the ‘Nakasendo Highway’, a trail trudged by feudal lords, samurai, monks, and pilgrims on their regular visits to Edo, now Tokyo, to honour the Tokugawa shogunate. Today you can walk the entire route from Tokyo to Kyoto in about 10 days, but you can choose to walk through some of Japan’s prettiest countryside between the old post stations of Magome and Tsumago. We will pass through lush forests dotted with thundering waterfalls, creeks, and moss-covered bridges, stopping to admire the Shinto dosojin and Buddhist Jizo stone images there to protect travellers. (if walking is not your thing, explore the old town and take the bus as it continues to pick up the walkers ahead). Tsumago is one of the best-preserved towns on the trail. If a ninja jumped out at you from behind an impeccably manicured pine, you’d hardly blink. It’s a living museum with curving narrow paths and traditional dark-wooded buildings or machiya, where shopfronts are decorated with lattice screens that signal the types of wares for sale. The highway once connected Tokyo with Kyoto and was immortalised in the famous woodblock prints of Hiroshige. Cars are prohibited in the main street and cables run underground to maintain the medieval atmosphere of the town.

Waterwheel, Japan

Magome/Tsumago area, Japan

Tsumago-juku, Japan

Day 14: 15 November 2024, Matsumoto, B/L/D

Drive this morning to arrive in Matsumoto and walk through the historic Nakamachi-dori, a street lined with white-walled traditional inns, restaurants, and ‘antique’ shops. Here we visit an historic sake brewery with black-beamed interiors and traditional plaster-work outside. We cross the river to walk along the market street Nawate-dori before arriving at Matsumoto-jo, the imposing castle approached across a moat.

Matsumoto-jo, Japan

We end our day with a visit to the Japan Ukiyo-e Museum, a privately owned art museum that houses the world’s largest collection of Japanese woodblock prints (ukiyo-e). The Sakai family started collecting ukiyo-e in the mid-19th century and subsequent generations built an outstanding corpus of historic and contemporary works.

Ukiyo-e woodblock prints, Japan

Day 15: 16 November 2024, Matsumoto - My Fuji area, B/L/D

We then drive to the Lake Kawaguchiko scenic area at the base of Japan’s sacred Mt Fuji, or Fuji san, visiting the Itchiku Kubota Art Museum. When the artist Itchiku Kubota was young, he encountered an example of ‘Tsujigahana’ at the Tokyo National Museum. ‘Tsujigahana’ was a technique used in dying kimonos during the 15th and 16th century, an art that was later lost. Kubota-san revived the art and created a series of kimonos decorated with mountain landscapes in all four seasons. These kimonos are displayed in a breathtaking setting. The main building is a pyramid-shaped structure supported by sixteen hiba (cypress) beams more than 1000 years old. Other parts of the museum are constructed of Ryukyu limestone. The museum’s unique architecture is set against a lovely garden and red pine forest.

Then it’s a ride the Mount Fuji Panoramic Ropeway (cable car) which ascends 400 meters from the eastern shore of the Lake to an observation deck near the peak of Mount Tenjo. From the observation deck, which sits more than 1000 meters above sea level, there are panoramic views of the lake below and of Mt Fuji itself, (weather permitting). It is not surprising that the nearly perfectly shaped volcano has been worshiped as a sacred mountain and very popular among artists and the people throughout the centuries.

Lake Kawaguchiko scenic area, Japan

Day 16: 17 November 2024, Mt Fuji area - Tokyo, B/L

Journey onwards through the Owakudani valley. The result of a volcanic eruption over 3,000 years ago, this is a volcanic valley with active sulphur vents and hot springs. This area is one of the most famous tourist attractions in Hakone due to its volcanic activity and striking scenic views—you can even catch an amazing view of Mt. Fuji on a clear day. (Due to volcanic gases, the area is sometimes closed). The kuro-tamago, or black eggs, of Owakudani are as famous as they are challenging to look at.

Steaming vents, Owakudani valley, Japan

Kuro-Tamago, Black Eggs, Owakudani, Japan

On to the nation’s capital, and visit the Asakusa district, one of the few areas of the capital that retains the atmosphere of old Edo (now Tokyo). Asakusa grew up as a business district surrounding the Sensoji, otherwise known as the Asakusa Kannon Temple. It is one of Tokyo's most colourful and popular temples.

Asakusa Kannon Temple, Japan

Fascinating Temple of the Asakusa district, Japan

Day 17: 18 November 2024, Tokyo, B/L

City of Tokyo with Mt Fuji, Japan

The Imperial Palace Plaza is the residence for the Imperial Family, located in the centre of Tokyo surrounded by trees, flowers, moats, and the natural scenery of Japan. Although you cannot view behind the walls there's still plenty to enjoy on the palace grounds, including the Lotus Moat and Nijubashi (two bridges that form an entrance to the inner palace grounds).

Then we will visit the magnificent Meiji Shrine, a Shinto shrine dedicated to the emperor Meiji. Entry into the shrine grounds is marked by a massive torii gateway after which the sights and sounds of the busy city are replaced by a tranquil forest. The approximately 100,000 trees that make up Meiji Jingu's forest were planted during the shrine's construction and were donated from regions across the entire country.

At the middle of the forest, Meiji Jingu's buildings also have an air of tranquillity distinct from the surrounding city. Visitors can take part in typical Shinto activities, such as making offerings at the main hall, buying charms and amulets, or writing out one's wish to hang on a wall. If in luck, you may witness a Shinto wedding with its solemn procession of the bride and groom in traditional attire.

Japanese paper lanterns, shinto shrine, Kyoto, Japan

Traditional outfits, Shinto wedding, Japan

Bridge Imperial Palace Tokyo, Japan

Harajuku is the centre of Japan's most extreme teenage cultures and fashion styles, but also offers shopping for adults and some historical sites of interest. The focal point of Harajuku's teenage culture is Takeshita Street and its side streets, which are lined by many trendy shops, fashion boutiques, used clothes stores, crepe stands, and fast-food outlets geared towards the fashion and trend-conscious teens.

Life in Central Tokyo, Japan

Shibuya Crossing is one of Tokyo's most recognizable sights, pictured in countless films, magazines, and blogs. During its busiest times, an estimated 1,000 to 2,500 people forge their way across this intersection every two minutes, enough to quickly fill up a football stadium. The phenomenon gave rise to its nickname "scramble," as pedestrians cross from all directions. Shibuya Crossing walks the line between manic chaos and perfect synchronization.

Shibuya Crossing, Tokyo, Japan

Day 18: 19 November 2024, Tokyo - Nikko - Tokyo, B/L

“Don’t say kekko (die) ‘till you’ve seen Nikko” is an age-old Japanese expression that will develop meaning after our full day tour to this most splendid (and popular) of Japan’s sacred sites. Its history stretches back to the middle of the 8th century, when a hermitage was established by a Buddhist priest that grew to become a major centre of Buddhist learning. During the 17th century, however, the location was chosen as the site for the mausoleum for Tokugawa Ieyasu, the general who wrested control of all Japan and established the shogunate which ruled Japan for 250 years until the Meiji Restoration ended Japan’s feudal era in 1868. The Tosho-gu shrine makes a stark contrast to Buddhist aesthetic ideals of minimalism and ‘nothingness’. Instead, it presents a profusion of red-lacquer, gold leaf, myriad animals, (including the ‘three wise monkeys’), trees, flowers, mythical beasts, Chinese sages and ‘dancing girls’. Many Japanese consider the shrine a vulgar and decadent expression, but as a statement of Japan’s supreme arbiter of feudal power (Iyesau ordered the execution of his wife and son in order to gain ascendancy amongst other feudal lords) it is important to see. We also visit the nearby Lake Chuzenji-ko set amid beautiful montane scenery and the 97 metre Kegon Waterfall, providing a contrast to the urban landscape of Tokyo and surrounding areas.

Toshogu Shrine, Nikko, Tochigi, Japan

Famous monkey wood carvings, see no evil, speak no evil and hear no evil, Toshogu Shrine, Nikko, Tochigi, Japan

Day 19: 20 November 2024, Tokyo Free Day, B/Farewell Dinner

Today is entirely to yourself. Why not start your day by exploring one of Tokyo’s busiest urban hubs: the seething skyscraper-studded city-within-a-city of Shinjuku (the setting for “Lost in Translation” among many other Tokyo films). This is the Tokyo of your imagination: big buildings, flashing lights, crowds of business people, neon lights and busy streets. Or take in some of the contemporary art galleries such as the Musee Como of contemporary Japanese ceramics or the LabPlanets experience. Why not explore more of Japan’s cultural treasures in the National Museum or one of Tokyo’s big Department Stores homewares floors for a huge range of beautiful Japanese ceramics.

Day 20: 21 November 2024, Tokyo check out, B

Check out and transfer to Narita Airport to connect with your flight home.


Day 21: 22 November 2024

Arrive at your home cities.


Japan - Journey to Japan: 1 November to 22 November 2024

Duration: 22 days

Prices and hotels TBA and subject to change due the volatility of the Australian Dollar and other circumstances beyond our control.

From 10 to 14 passengers: Price per person twin share (Land only) TBA
From 15 to 19 passengers: Price per person twin share (Land only) TBA
From 20 to maximum 25 passengers: Price Price per person (Land only) TBA
Please note: 25 passengers is considered a small group for travel in Japan
Single Supplement: TBA


• Pamela Stewart as Tour Director
• Accommodation generally in good hotels with daily breakfast, (confirmed closer to departure)
• Accommodation in traditional Japanese style rooms in Mt Koya, and possibly Miyajima and Magome
• English speaking local guides
• First Class Shinkansen Bullet train tickets and luggage transfer between Kyoto and Kanazawa
• All entrances to the gardens, temples, museums and other sites mentioned in the itinerary
• All applicable taxes
• Special experiences and workshops
• Tips are not required in Japan


• International airfares to Kansai to Osaka and from Tokyo to Australia
• Travel Insurance (compulsory)
• Visa costs
• Meals where not specified in the itinerary
• Any expenses of a personal nature such as hard/soft drinks, laundry, phone/fax calls, etc.


Flights from Australia and return are not included in the price of the tour. We will send the recommended flight options when they are available to book, and ask that you make your own flight reservation. We work in partnership with Helloworld Westfield Marion to provide tickets but you can use your preferred provider. Please ensure you obtain comprehensive travel insurance from the time you make any payment. These are also available through your preferred provider

Sharon Evans
Helloworld, Marion Westfield Mall, Level 2
Westfield Marion
Oaklands Park SA 5046
Telephone: +61 (08) 8358 1949
Fax: +61 (08) 8358 1960
E-mail: Sharon


Please be aware that it is the traveller's responsibility to check on government travel advisories and regulations. Information is changing quickly, and advisories and regulations may change at any time depending on the status decided upon by each country’s government. Be sure to contact DFAT’S Smart Traveller website before booking.

Some changes to the itinerary may occur due to inclement weather or circumstances beyond our control. While we do our best to prevent this happening, it may be unavoidable. It can also happen with little notice so please bear with us if we must make modifications to the itinerary. We may make slight amendments depending on the planned exhibitions at various galleries/museums as they are confirmed closer to departure, or if any of our activities and experiences need to change days or dates. We’ll always let you know of any proposed changes to the itinerary. The order of visits may change depending upon local conditions.

Our hotels are carefully chosen. They are more than comfortable but not luxurious. Like so many things in Japan, rooms will be smaller than what you're used to. The confirmed hotels will be advised shortly but we are requesting most of the same hotels used for the 2023 tour. In the remote mountainous part of the program some hotels are ‘Japanese style’ which means tatami mats with futon bedding on them. Shoes need to be removed before entering, so find some strong comfortable ‘slip-ons’. This applies to temple and heritage architectural visits as well.

Nestled in the mountainous area of Koya san we are offering the experience of staying in an authentic Buddhist temple. You may enjoy the beautiful gardens around the temple, experience temple activities like Ajikan meditation and Buddhist sutra writing, or simply go on a stroll. You can relax in the large onsen filled with spring water and enjoy Buddhist vegetarian meals. The Japanese-style rooms with tatami flooring on which your futon will be laid will provide the atmosphere of a temple, but with modern private conveniences.

Be prepared to pack light and smart for this trip as occasionally you'll be required to carry your own luggage from the coach to your room and hand luggage from train stations to the coach, which can include going up and down flights of stairs (escalators and lifts are available) in crowded areas. Larger luggage will be forwarded from Kyoto to Kanazawa, so it'll be easier to get around in Koya san and Miyajima. You will need to have a smaller overnight/day pack for these 3 nights only.

Autumn in Japan is one of the country’s most beautiful seasons, most would agree. As in other temperate regions of the northern hemisphere, autumn lasts through October and November, and into early December. Temperatures are cool but mild, ranging from about 7 C in the evening in late autumn, to 22 C in the day. Momiji-gari literally means “hunting red leaves,” which is the main draw for many visitors to Japan in autumn. It derives from Momiji (red leaves, or maple tree), and kari (hunting).

The traditional cuisine of Japan is based on rice with miso soup and other dishes; there is an emphasis on seasonal ingredients. Side dishes often consist of fish, pickled vegetables, and vegetables cooked in broth. Seafood is common, often grilled, but also served raw as sashimi or in sushi. Seafood and vegetables are also deep-fried in a light batter, as tempura. Apart from rice, a staple includes noodles, such as soba and udon. Japan also has many simmered dishes, such as fish products in broth or beef in sukiyaki and nikujaga. On Mt Koya there is only traditional Buddhist vegetarian on offer. Please declare seafood or other allergies, aversions, and dietary requirements on the Booking Form.

Taxis in Japan are very honest, safe, and reliable. They can be found and hailed everywhere. Drivers make a great effort to speak some English and ensure you get to your destination.

Being such a mountainous country and with shrines and temples often being on the higher ground, it is sometimes necessary to climb steps which can be large flat stones or slabs of granite. You will be told in advance if any visit includes challenging steps. If you don’t wish to climb there is always plenty to see nearby.


Before booking, please refer to the DFAT website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting:

Please visit or ring 1300 139 281 for information on current Government travel advice.


As we take more travellers to more remote parts of the world, we recognize our obligation to plan and operate our Journeys in a responsible and sustainable fashion. We view this as an environmental, cultural, and social necessity. Above all, we are committed to the well-being of the communities, which are our hosts, the cultural and natural environment that we are there to experience. We also believe that by following these policies we can provide you with more rewarding and interesting experiences.

Prices may fluctuate due to changes in charges, taxes and currency. Prices and flights are correct at time of preparing this program and are subject to availability at time of booking. Special conditions and seasonal surcharges to airfares and package prices may apply depending on date of travel. Flight times are subject to change by the airline.


On International Flight tickets

• Please refer to your individual Booking Terms and Conditions

On land package cost

• Up until 63 days prior to departure, loss of deposit
• Between 64-31 Days: 65 % of land cost
• Between 30-16 Days: 75 % of land cost
• Between 15-2 Days: 90 % of land cost
• Within 1 day-No show: 100% of land cost

For further information, don’t hesitate to contact Zen Oriental Journeys by emailing Lee Grafton or ring 0401 123 347


Bookings will be processed in order of receipt. Any bookings after this date will be accepted subject to visa processing, flight availability, land content and room availability. Such booking must be paid in full after confirmation of your acceptance in the tour. Special conditions and additional charges to airfares and package prices may apply depending on date of booking.

Costs associated with the Asia In-Country Study Tours can be tax deductible. Educators may be able to claim their study tour expenses under a number of tax deduction categories which include: self-education expenses; excursions, school trips and camps if these trips have an educational benefit and are related to the curriculum or extra-curriculum activities of the school; acquisition of teaching aids used for curriculum development and teaching programs. Participants must contact their tax advisor or visit the Australian Tax Office website to confirm eligibility.

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