The origin of the Japanese garden lies in simple, gravel-covered forest clearings where the gods could manifest themselves. Over the centuries the gardens have evolved into an idealised reflection of the natural landscape through the careful use of stone and water features, trees, plants and moss. They are places of exquisite beauty, where the eye is led gently to perfectly framed views, often ‘borrowing’ a distant landscape as part of the picture being created. Trees and plants are carefully chosen for certain qualities of form, colour or texture, all of which combine to create an atmosphere of calm and contemplation. Many of the most notable gardens are in and around Kyoto, the former capital of Japan, and we will base our tour here, exploring both public and private gardens. We have included a variety of different styles: landscape gardens, stroll gardens, pond-and-island, each with its own particular charm and beauty. Autumn is a wonderful time to visit with dramatic colours enhancing the vistas at every turn. There is so much more to Japan than gardens, of course, and we have also included a wide range of other visits and excursions reflecting the unique culture of the country.
Deposit of £300 per person to be paid by end of June to secure the price as things will be more expensive because of the Olympics now being next year
Depart on scheduled overnight fight to Kansai International Airport (Osaka).
Day 2. Arrival and remainder of day free
On arrival in Osaka in the morning we transfer by coach to Kyoto and the Miyako Hotel Kyoto.
All rooms are en-suite with television, hairdryer, mini fridge, in room safe and tea/coffee making facilities. The rest of the day is free to explore independently or relax after the long journey.
Day 3. Ginkakuhi Temple and Hakusa Sonso Memorial Garden
Following breakfast we begin with a visit to the dry landscape garden at Ginkaku-ji or ‘Silver Pavilion’, which was made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994. The garden is both enigmatic and startling, with some classic features such as a platform of sparkling white sand raked into parallel lines, and beside it a 6-ft high cone of sand with a flat top, which could be Mount Fuji, or a mound of rice representing prosperity – or a pile of sand for replenishing the platform.
The pavilion is not actually silver but an austere black and white, although it was the original intention of the Shogun who built it to cover it in silver leaf, just as his grandfather covered Kinkaku-ji (see Day 4) in gold leaf. There is also a classic stroll garden, which complements and contrasts with the dry garden. We then pause at the Nanzenji Temple, established by Emperor Kameyama in 1291. After lunch at a local restaurant, we continue to the Hakusa Sonso Hashimoto Kensetsu Memorial, a private garden on the site of an old paddy field. The garden was created by a painter, Hashimoto Kansetsu, who visited China on more than forty occasions.
He acquired the site at the age of thirty and spent the rest of his life painting here, designing the gardens and teahouses, and collecting the ancient stone lanterns, pagodas and Buddhas that adorn the pathways. You may also enjoy browsing in the adjoining gallery which is home to several of Hashimoto’s paintings – some of his major works appear in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the Pompidou Centre in Paris.
Day 4. Tofuko-ji and Kodaiji Temples
We depart this morning for a visit to the garden of Tofuko-ji temple in Kyoto. Tofukuji is a large Zen temple which was founded in 1236 at the behest of the powerful Fujiwara clan. Its name is a combination of the names of two great temples in Nara that were also associated with the Fujiwara, Todaiji Temple and Kofukuji Temple. The 22 metre tall Sanmon Gate is the oldest Zen gate of its kind, dating back to 1425. Behind the gate is the Hondo (main hall), which is even larger but is a recent reconstruction from 1934. The gardens at Tofukuji are unique for surrounding the building on all sides. Each garden has a different character, employing pebbles, large rocks, moss, trees and chequered patterns We then continue to the seventeenth century stroll garden at the Kodaiji Temple. Afternoon free to explore Kyoto at leisure or optional flower arranging demonstration in a traditional townhouse.
Day 5. Arashiyama District includingTenryuji Temple, Sagano Bamboo path and Saihoji (Moss Temple)
After breakfast we spend the day again in Kyoto, the former capital of Japan beginning with Tenryuji Temple. Known in Japan as the ‘garden among gardens’ this 14th century pond and stroll garden was created on the site occupied by the mountain villa of the Imperial Prince Kaneaki. One of the oldest of its kind, the garden was laid out with a lake shaped like a turtle to reflect Turtle Mountain which rises behind the temple. There are impressive rock groups, such as the Dragon Gate Waterfall and the Isle of the Blessed, which features seven vertical stones symbolizing the Mystic Isles of the Immortals. The garden is informed by Chinese paintings and Zen Buddhism and is one of the best examples of the fusion of Chinese and Japanese garden art forms. Whilst here we will allow time to visit the paths through the famous Sagano Bamboo Forest, which the Ministry of the Environment considers as a part of the soundscape of Japan. Our final visit of the day is to Saihoji Temple, known as the Moss Temple famed for its Moss Garden. Over 120 types of moss are present in the two-tiered garden, which resembles a beautiful green carpet with many subtle shades – it has been registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site Since 1994.
Day 6. Daisen-in Temple, Ryogen-in, Zuiho-In, Kinkakuji and Ryoanji Temples
Today following breakfast, we will have another full day in Kyoto, visiting some outstanding gardens, starting at the complex of temples of Daitoku-ji Here we will visit the Daisen-in temple, a dry-landscape garden of the Muromachi period, featuring some classic white gravel abstract forms and containing a famous boat-shaped rock. Mankind’s fate, relationship with nature and place in the universe are all expressed in this masterpiece of dry-landscaped design. We will also visit the temples of Ryogen-in and Zuiho-in, before enjoying an included lunch at a local restaurant, our next visit is to Kinkakuji temple. The three-tiered Golden Pavilion was constructed originally in 1397 as a retirement villa for the Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu and it was then converted into a temple by his son. The temple was reconstructed in 1955 following an arson attack in 1950 and it is now the focus of this ‘pond-and-island’ garden. It exerts a unifying force on the expansive view of the broad Mirror Lake that spreads out beneath it, partly due to the skillful placement of crags and islands. A path behind leads through a leafy forest. We conclude at Ryoan-ji temple, a famous and enigmatic dry landscape garden that often baffles the Western visitor. Created at the end of the sixteenth century as an aid to contemplation for the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism, it comprises five groups of three stones, on a sea of raked gravel running from east to west. All the stones, except one, appear to point upstream and all the stones, except one, are visible from any one viewpoint. There have been many interpretations of the garden’s meaning – islands, mountains piercing low clouds, tiger cubs crossing water – and you are welcome to formulate your own theory! It is generally agreed however that the gravel represents the void, the idea of emptiness being central to Zen philosophy, and as you gaze upon this barely furnished garden you are encouraged to fill the void with the fruits of your imagination and let Ryoan-ji’s tranquillity spread its magic.
Day 7. Day free
A full day free to recharge your batteries. A range of optional excursions will be available or you may wish independently to take the iconic bullet train from the nearby station to Tokyo.
Day 8. Todaiji Temple and Isuien Garden, Nara
After breakfast we head out of the city south to Nara, once Japan’s capital. Here we will first of all visit the Todaiji Temple, an ancient Buddhist Temple complex, dating back to the 8th century. An UNESCO World Heritage Site, its great hall contains the world’s largest bronze statue of the Buddha. We then head to Isui-en, the only walking garden in Nara, covering some 13.5 hectares, divided into two, each featuring a pagoda. Lunch at a local restaurant and a visit to the Shinto Kasuga Grand Shrine, dating back some 1200 years, renowned for its many bronze lanterns internally and some three thousand stone lanterns that line the path through the deer park to the shrine. We will also enjoy Nara Park, where over a thousand tame deer roam free. In pre-Buddhist times they were said to be messengers from the gods and today they enjoy the status of National Treasures. Return to Kyoto.
Day 9. Heianjingu Shrine and Handicraft Centre
After breakfast we head to the Shinto Heianjingu Shrine and garden in the centre of Kyoto. The shrine was designed in the late 19th century for the 1100th as a reproduction of the Heaian Emperor’s Palace. The beautiful gardens were created by renowned gardener Ogawa Jihei VII, also known as Ueji, who created the garden over a 20-year period. The water used in the ponds comes from the Lake Biwa Cana and are home to the Yellow pond turtle and Japanese pond turtle, which visitors may feed with food sold around the ponds. Late morning we will visit the Handicraft Centre before a final afternoon free to explore independently or take an optional tour.
Transfer to Osaka Airport for return daytime flight to Heathrow.
Where you stay
Miyako Hotel, Kyoto (or similar) Large, modern four-star standard hotel, located in the heart of the city, next to the station. Facilities here include four restaurants, two bars, shopping arcade, beauty salon and comfortable bedrooms with all modern amenities.
Included in the price
• Return flights with British Airways (or similar) from London Heathrow to Osaka (subject to flight schedule being confirmed in late 2020)
• Eight nights’ accommodation on bed and breakfast basis at the four-star Miyako Hotel, Kyoto, based on shared occupancy of a twin/double room
• Transfers and itinerary as detailed including entrance fees
• Four lunches
Optional excursions and activitie
• Visit to the Geisha district of Gion (dinner with a maiko) £109 per person
• Traditional Rickshaw ride in Kyoto £44 per person
• Flower arranging demonstration £57 per person
Single supplement £840
Based on a group of 25 passengers Price varies (requires a minimum of 15 people to operate) from £3,379 to £3,579 per person