Top Tour Highlights
Most awarded Japanese gardens, like Kenroku-en and Koraku-en
Learn the breath and depth of great Japanese gardens and their styles from your expert guides.
Overnight at the art island of Naoshima
Be inspired by the contemporary art works on the magical Naoshima Island.
Internationally acclaimed art museums such as Adachi Art Museum and Miho Museum
Appreciate the garden awarded best Japanese garden for 17 consecutive years marvelously framed by the windows of Adachi Museum of Art.
Join in hands-on cultural experiences of bonsai workshop and tea ceremony.
Ancient capital, Kyoto
Be charmed by the ever so popular Japan's old capital Kyoto and its iconic sites such as Kinkakuji, Golden Pavilion.
Hakone and Mount Fuji
Relax at a resort town of Hakone and enjoy onsen hot spring bath overlooking Mount Fuji.
The 2024 Garden and Art Tour of Japan visits a selection of the wonderful Japanese gardens and international standard art museums. The 15-day tour will give you a great grounding of Japan, as you visit Tokyo, Hakone, Kanazawa, Okayama, Kurashiki, Bizen, Naoshima and Kyoto, on your way to exploring the world of garden and art both traditional and contemporary. The tour also includes a variety of accommodation and food styles along with excellent cultural experiences which are the main attractions of people visiting Japan.
The tours take place in May and October – ideal times of year to visit Japan. The weather is typically warm and sunny, and the gardens are at their best. The tours are not designed specifically for horticulturists or garden experts (though always welcome), but rather for general lovers of gardens and art who want to explore Japan and learn more about its deeply fascinating culture.
Day 1: Arrival in Tokyo
Welcome to Japan! On arrival at Narita or Haneda International Airport, you will be met by a Journey to the East guide and escorted to your hotel by public transport.
Today is an arrival day for this small group journey and no group program is scheduled. Your hotel is located right in the middle of Tokyo near the glitzy Ginza. Why not take a stroll, relax and be ready to start the first full day of your 2024 Garden and Art Tour of Japan.
*Many of our guests arrive a day or so early to settle in before the tour starts. We can arrange your additional nights accommodation in the same room as the tour.
Day 2: Tokyo and Omiya
After meeting your guide and fellow travelers at hotel lobby, your Japanese garden and art adventure starts.
This morning, you will firstly visit Hamarikyu Garden, Tokyo's premium Japanese garden. It was built by the ruling Tokugawa family during the Edo era in the 17th century, and remodeled as a public garden and opened to the public in 1946. There are many points of interest including an impressive 300-year-old pine tree very carefully pruned over the centuries into an impressive weeping expanse. After strolling the relaxing garden, you continue your journey northwest, to arrive at the suburb of Omiya in the Greater Tokyo.
Here you will visit the Omiya Bonsai Village. Visiting an outer suburb away from the central Tokyo is an interesting experience in itself seeing how ordinary Japanese people live.
After the visit to the Omiya Bonsai Museum, an opportunity opens up where you can learn more about the art of bonsai, the care and preservation of these beautifully manicured miniature trees, and creating your own bonsai in the friendly bonsai workshop. (*You can't take it home for a biosecurity reason, but the skills are yours to keep.)
Tonight's "Welcome to Japan" dinner is at a modern Japanese restaurant with a great night view of Tokyo.
Day 3: Tokyo
On the second day of Tokyo, you will see a mix of old and modern-day Japan. The highlights include;
- Visiting Meiji Jingu Shrine, historically significant and a magnificent shrine in the thick forest, most surprising in the middle of busy Tokyo,
- Stroll along Omotesando avenue, arguably the most fashionable street in Japan with cutting-edge architecture and the top brands of the world,
- Wander through Ota Memorial Museum which specialises in ukiyo-e (wood print) art, and
- Amble through the wonderful Nezu Museum of Art, designed by Kengo Kuma, where you can enjoy the contemplative Japanese garden and take in one of the finest collections of Japanese and East-Asian pre-modern art.
Day 4: Hakone
Start with a ride on Japan's impressive shinkansen, the bullet train for a lovely overnight trip to Hakone, a scenic hot springs resort area located in the mountains near Mt Fuji.
With its proximity to Tokyo, Hakone has been a popular destination for Tokyoites seeking rest and rejuvenation for centuries. We tour the general Hakone region by private vehicle, travelling through the Izu-Hakone National Park and, depending on the weather, catching glimpses of Mt Fuji up close. While you are here, you will visit Narukawa Art Museum, which is dedicated to the Japanese style paintings (Nihonga). You will also cruise in a 'Viking ship' on Lake Ashi, and take a ropeway over the Owakudani to witness the geothermal activity below that is the source of healing hot spring spa bath.
You’ll be staying at one of Hakone’s premium traditional ryokan with a beautiful garden. Featuring onsen hot spring mineral baths, you’ll experience Japan’s onsen culture firsthand and understand why an onsen visit remains one of the top past-times of the Japanese.
The ryokan will serve a kaiseki multi-course banquet of beautifully presented fresh local produce for dinner.
Day 5: Hakone
This morning you will enjoy a relaxing breakfast at your hotel before embarking on another day in Hakone. Hakone has some outstanding world-class museums and galleries. You will firstly visit the Hakone Open-Air Museum with its amazing outdoor sculptures from the likes of Henry Moore and Rodin set against a spectacular backdrop of maple and cherry trees. You will then visit sublime Okada Museum of Art. It is a private art museum, the largest in Hakone by floor area exhibiting Japanese paintings, oriental ceramics, Asian art and religious art. As well as the art works, enjoy the beautiful garden and natural surrounding.
After lunch, you will get back on shinkansen heading back to Tokyo. This evening is free for you to enjoy the last night in this mega city.
Day 6: Kanazawa
Another shinkansen ride will take you to the city of Kanazawa on the shores of the Japan Sea. Kanazawa is commonly known as “Little Kyoto” and is home to many traditional Japanese arts and cultures, history from the samurai era and the outstanding Kenrokuen Japanese Garden. Today you will visit;
- Kenrokuen Garden, originally designed as a castle garden dating back to the 17th century and regarded as one of the three great gardens of Japan,
- the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, noteworthy for the unusual glass cylinder structure which envelopes the building to reduce its environmental footprint designed by SANAA.
Tonight, you will sample wagyu beef at a teppanyaki restaurant.
Day 7: Kanazawa
This morning you will stroll around the Nagamachi samurai resident district. Your guide will continue taking you on a backstreet walk of Kanazawa exploring some prominent small art galleries including D.T. Suzuki Museum.
Later on, you will visit a tea house in a beautiful Japanese garden to experience 'The Way of Tea' (commonly known as tea ceremony in English), one of the most well-known aspects of Japanese culture.
The rest of the day is free. You can continue your exploration of Kanazawa checking out many craft shops offering exquisite kimono, gilded lacquerware and local sake products. You may like to visit the Higashi Geisha District, a well-preserved area of narrow streets. In days gone by, immaculately presented geisha would have entertained wealthy patrons in slatted wooden tea houses. Here you can visit the Gold-leaf Museum, the Kanazawa’s number one traditional craft.
The evening is free tonight. We are more than happy to make dinner recommendations.
Day 8: Okayama and Kurashiki
After a couple of days in Kanazawa, you head for Kurashiki, which was a prosperous trading town during the feudal era.
On a way, you stop at Okayama, for a guided tour of the magnificent Koraku-en Garden, another one of the three most beautiful gardens in Japan. Initially completed in 1700, Koraku-en is prized for being a great example of the “scenic promenade” garden style, which reveals a new view to the visitor on every turn along its meandering path.
Finally, you will arrive at Kurashiki, your base for the next three days. It is delightfully historic and picturesque town to walk around. It has maintained its charming streetscape of traditional black-and-white storehouses, merchant residences and canals lined with willow trees. Here you visit the Ohara Museum of Art, with a superb collection of ceramics, paintings and antiquities from Japan, China and other ancient civilizations.
You will have a French style dinner at your hotel tonight.
Day 9: Yasugi (Adachi Museum)
Today you travel to Yasugi, a rural town on the western coast of Japan’s main island, to visit the garden at the Adachi Museum of Art. This garden has been nominated Japan’s most popular garden for 17 consecutive years. Designed in the “borrowed scenery” style, the mountainous backdrop to this extensive garden makes it appear that the mountains are a seamless part of the garden itself.
You will also visit the Photography Museum of an award-winning photographer, Shoji Ueda.
You return to Kurashiki to have a free evening.
Day 10: Bizen and Naoshima
A minivan ride will take you to the small regional town of Imbe, which has been producing Bizen ceramic for some 1,000 years. Bizen-ware is still highly prized among pottery enthusiasts both in Japan and overseas. Today you will;
- Engage first hand with one of Imbe’s most awarded potters in his own studio and private garden,
- Visit the ancient climbing kilns, and
- Wander through the galleries and craft shops.
Potentially the biggest surprise of your trip awaits this afternoon. You hop on a ferry across Seto Inland Sea to an art island, Naoshima. This afternoon, you spend time at Ando Tadao Museum and his House Projects.
Tonight, you stay at a sublime Japanese style ryokan on the island and experience Japanese hospitality at its best!
Day 11: Naoshima
Once home to just a few remote fishing villages, Naoshima is now known as the "Art Island" in Japan’s magical Seto Inland Sea.
Thanks to the Benesse Corporation and the visionary Naoshima Art Project, Naoshima has been transformed into a cutting-edge contemporary art island and it is visited by leading architects and artists from all over the world. Today after a relaxing breakfast at your ryokan you;
- Spend time on the island visiting Chichu Museum, Lee Ufan Museum, and Benesse House Museum and its surrounding monuments,
- Also enjoy the laid-back atmosphere and stunning natural scenery of the Seto Inland Sea,
This evening you will cross back to the mainland, and take a shinkansen to your final destination, Kyoto.
Day 12: Kyoto
With 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites (at last count!), Kyoto is the historical heart of Japan’s culture and the guardian of many of its ancient traditions. Originally made capital way back in 794, present-day Kyoto offers an incredible range of contemplative gardens often associated with the ancient temples and shrines.
While Kyoto has many iconic sites, our walking guided tour today will focus on hidden treasures not often found in a guide book. You will visit a select temple gardens, small galleries of local artists, and walk along the ever so attractive backstreets of Kyoto.
In the after you will visit Kiyomizu Temple at the end of Gojo slope, a street filled with Kyoto style ceramic shops.
Day 13: Shigaraki (Miho Museum)
This is another very special day. Past guests have said this visit ranks as one of the most impressive days of the tour.
Today you visit the stunning Miho Museum. Here you can experience a thorough immersion into the world of art, architecture and landscape design.
Renowned architect I.M. Pei designed this museum with much of the site built into a forested hillside. Miho was built to house an extensive private collection of some 2,000 antiquities from ancient civilizations.
The contrast of the glass and steel structure of the museum’s roof against the surrounding natural environment is spectacular. It is this seamless integration of the man-made and the natural which creates today's indelible memory.
Free evening for you to try endless choice of restaurants in Kyoto tonight.
Day 14: Arashiyama
Today you explore Kyoto's western suburb, Arashiyama. At Arashiyama you will;
- Observe superb examples of “stroll” style Japanese gardens at Tenryuji Temple,
- Wander through the bamboo grove, famous for its extensive forest of thick bamboo stands and ethereal light,
- Visit the historic villa of Okochi Sanso, built on a hill-side offers magnificent views of Kyoto. The sprawling gardens, villa and tea house showcase the Japanese garden aesthetic at its very best.
- Lunch is a classic lunch of tofu, a local specialty with roots in Kyoto’s Buddhist vegetarian past,
- Stop at Kinkakuji Temple, better known as Golden Pavilion. The temple is a stunning three-storied pavilion covered in dazzling gold leaf.
We will gather one more time this evening for a final meal. A maiko (young geisha) joins you for a private performance during dinner at a shabu shabu hot pot restaurant serving premium-wagyu beef.
Day 15: Bon Voyage
This morning after breakfast, your 2024 Garden and Art Tour of Japan concludes.
You can return to Tokyo by train or air to fly home, or depart from Osaka’s Kansai International Airport. Perhaps you might like to linger in Japan for a little longer. We will be delighted to plan your personal post-tour extension to show you a different part of Japan. Please see our Model Extension Itineraries for inspirations!
Note: The cost of transfer to your departure airport is not included in our Small Group Tours (as we found many guests choose to stay in Japan a bit longer), however, we are happy to arrange your transfer to next destination or to exit airport in accordance with your plans. Please see our FAQ for more details.
Dates & Prices
2024 Garden and Art Tour of Japan
Per person twin share:
Each guest is personally looked after with one-on-one interactions with our hand-picked, expert tour guides. As part of your investment, this tour includes:
- First-class wisdom and higher standard of individual care and attention
- 14 nights’ accommodation (including traditional Japanese inns)
- All breakfasts
- 4 lunches (9 free choice lunches)
- 9 dinners (4 free choice dinners)
- Airport meet & greet on arrival
- Hotel transfer by public transport on arrival
- All local transport (train and private minivans)
- Pre-loaded Suica card
- Expert English speaking tour guides (locally licensed)
- Cultural activities and entry fees included in itinerary
- Luggage transfers (1 piece per person)
DISCLAIMER: Unless otherwise stated, this tour does not include the costs of international and domestic airfares, transfers on the last day, travel insurance, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, transport during free time, personal expenses (laundry, internet, telephone, coin lockers etc.) and Visa (if required).
Who this Japan tour is for...
This is a perfect tour for people who:
- Want to visit the best Japanese gardens and art museums both traditional and contemporary
- Wish to cover the iconic sites of popular destinations like Tokyo, Hakone, Kanazawa, Kyoto in 15 days
- Enjoy strolling through backstreets with your guide and find hidden gems avoiding the tourist traps
- Join a superbly-organised tour packed with visits and cultural experiences as well as some free time
- Be up-close and interact with locals through public transport
- Experience a variety in style, and typically 4 star boutique accommodation with private bathroom including traditional Japanese ryokan
A specialist company using local guides and the small size of the group make this a fantastic holiday!
Journey to the East was very customer focused and responsive to any queries we had. The tour itinerary, accommodation, and experiences were amazing. The guides are very friendly, helpful, and led us with obvious love for what they were showing us. The small group style has resulted in life-long friendships.
I would be very happy to recommend Journey to the East Tour company to anyone wanting a small group tour with superb variety in art, gardens, food and Japanese experiences. Terrific trip.
Japan is truly magical and the country is beautiful, the contemplative gardens impart a feeling of harmony, the culture is friendly, helpful and everything works well. A trip I will always remember as truly satisfying.
Kathryn Daniels & John Chichester
Exceeded our expectations. We loved everything about the Art & Garden Tour, particularly the companionship a small group of eight added to our holiday.