Japan celebrates Golden Week with festivals of azalea, peony and wisteria. Our journey begins deep in the mountains of Nikko and then travels across four islands of the archipelago: Honshu, Shikoku, Kyushu and Naoshima. Tunnels of wisteria are a highlight. Visit Tokyo, Matsue, Okayama and Takamatsu.
Meet your Tour Leader, Graham Ross in the departure lounge at Sydney International Airport then depart on our daytime flight to Tokyo.
The day starts with a blast at Ashikaga Flower Park in Tochigi prefecture to see the world’s finest collection of wisteria. The Wisteria Festival will be in full swing with tunnels, arbours, arches and bridges smothered in weeping wisteria in white, mauve and pink. We’ll admire the 140-year-old ‘Great Wisteria’, a double petalled variety which spreads 1,000 square metres. We’ll track down wisteria flavoured ice cream then head into the mountains to Nikko. Lunch will be at the Kanaya Cottage Inn when we’ll learn about its fascinating history and guests of the Hotel Kanaya. Check into the charming Nikko Kanaya, the oldest western style hotel in Japan. Dinner tonight is western-style, silver service.
Another dazzling flower festival today, the fields of beautiful baby blue eyes or nemophila at Hitachi Seaside Park overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Ibaraki Prefecture. Nemophila covers Miharashi Hill, the tallest point in the park, with four million blossoms. Walk through the Seaside Park, and view the tulip display in the forest. Dinner included tonight at the Kanaya. We’ll meet in the cosy whisky bar for a pre-dinner drink.
The day will start with a special visit to the Toshogu shrine, built in 1542 to honour the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate. Next door is the Rinnoji Temple Garden, a charming pocket-sized teahouse garden with Japanese maples bursting into leaf and azaleas flowering on the lake edge. The natural beauty of the place, its spiritual importance and its unique architecture still casts a spell on travellers today. Giant cryptomerias over 1000 years old, overlook the turbulent waters of the Daiya River and morning mists wrap mountain views. The entire site is World Heritage listed.
On the way to Tokyo, we’ll walk a little of the ‘Sacred Way’, an ancient road of Japanese Cedars, once the path from Tokyo to Toshogu Shrine. Omiya Bonsai Village and Museum will be our next stop and hopefully a chance to see a wisteria bonsai.
Arrive in Tokyo and check into the Hotel New Otani with dinner included. Stroll through the lush 400 year old gardens.
Incandescent colour at the Festival of Azaleas today at Shiofune Kannon Temple northwest of Tokyo. The garden surrounds an ancient 1300-year-old Buddhist temple, known as the ‘Temple of Flowers’ because of its extensive planting of 17,000 Japanese azaleas. Level pathways zigzag through the valley so you can walk through banks of colourful azaleas to reach the giant Buddha statue at the top for a beautiful bird’s eye view. Return to our hotel with the afternoon free.
Meet up again for an early evening stroll around Kameido Tenjin Shrine, the best place in Tokyo to see wisterias, lit beautifully at night. Stroll beneath arbours of fragrant wisteria that were planted in the Edo period.
Nezu Shrine, established in 1705 as a Shinto shrine, is famous for its incredible 300-year-old azalea garden displaying 3,000 azalea plants of 100 species, including rare varieties such as Fuji-tsutsuji (tiny bean-size flowers), Hanaguruma (pinwheel-like flowers), and Karafune (black azalea). Then it’s all about peonies in the month-long peony festival in Tokyo’s Ueno Park at the Toshogu Peony Garden, which was opened in 1980 to commemorate friendly relations between China and Japan. Peonies are displayed fronting snow fences woven from straw in winter and shielded with brightly coloured Japanese parasols in spring – it’s a real delight! The remainder of the day is free for relaxation, shopping or to explore new areas of Tokyo.
We take a short flight to Shimane Prefecture for a taste of old Japan at Matsue, famous for its a feudal castle, one of the few remaining medieval castles built of wood from the early 1600’s. It sits on a hill with commanding views of Izumo below, we can walk to the top to enjoy the view. Walk along the canal on Shiomi Nawate, an ancient street lined with timber samurai houses. Check into Hotel Gyokusen, a Japanese ryokan with onsen. A treat tonight with a Japanese banquet dinner at the hotel.
Peony heaven today at Yushien Garden, a treasure trove of peonies in an area famous for ginseng and peonies. Located on the sparsely populated Daikonshima Island in the middle of brackish Lake Nakaumi lies this exquisite Japanese garden full of mist, maples, ponds, waterfalls and stone bridges. You’ll come across a little timber house with a collection of fish tanks in the portico. Inside its cool and the peony display is breathtaking. Wandering on, we admire the local peony growing competition with peonies as large as your face.
Next stop is the Adachi Museum of Art’s meticulous celebrated garden, awarded the best garden in Japan. Founded by Adachi Zenko in 1980 as a way of combining his passions for Japanese art, garden design and the works by Japanese painters and ceramicists. A true lover of gardens, Adachi collected each of the pines and stones himself for the six picture or ‘scroll’ gardens: the Karesansui Garden, the Garden of White Sand and Green Pine, the Moss Garden and the Pond Garden which you view from windows inside the museum. This garden crystallises the Japanese landscape – depicting its island geography, forests, bamboo glades, pine-topped mountains, rushing rivers, mountain crags and surrounding sea.
Okayama this morning by train to visit Kōraku-en, one of the Three Great Gardens of Japan (along with Kenroku-en and Kairaku-en). This quintessential Japanese garden was created 300 years ago by the daimyo (domain lord) Ikeda Tsunamasa, lord of Okayama, as a symbol of the power of the Samurai. See wisteria, zig-zag bridges, mounds of azaleas, streams lined with iris and a tea plantation. With the spectacular backdrop of Okayama Castle, the garden is designed as a circuit to experience the magic of the borrowed landscape, particularly Yuishinzan Hill. The Daimo loved the peace of the rest house, Ryuten, where he went to relax and watch the water flowing below. Walk past the famous Japanese cranes that breed here. Check in to Granvia Hotel Okayama for the next four nights.
It’s a short ferry trip today to Naoshima, the tiny art island in the Seto Inland Sea that is now famous for its modern art museums, architecture and sculpture. Much of Naoshima’s art was installed by the Benesse Corporation, designed by the well-known Japanese architect Tadao Ando. It’s about the coexistence of nature, architecture, art and the revitalisation of a small fishing community. Benesse House is a place where people can explore art, nature and architecture. The complex is intended to blend into the natural environment of Setonaikai National Park. Chichu Art Museum was built mostly underground, so views of the natural beauty of this setting on the Seto Inland Sea are not interrupted. Artworks by Claude Monet, James Turrell and Walter De Maria are on permanent display. Take the ferry back to Okayama.
Our coach will take us to Japan’s fourth main island of Shikoku across the Great Seto Bridge which is the longest series of double-decker bridges in the world. Our destination is the sublime Ritsurin Garden in the city of Takamatsu. Built by local feudal lords during the early Edo Period, it’s considered one of the best gardens in Japan. It’s divided into a Japanese style garden in the south and western style garden in the north; all are set in front of the wooded Mt. Shiun which serves as a wonderful background and great example of borrowed scenery. Return to Okayama with the afternoon free.
A fun day travelling by Shinkansen (Bullet train) west through Hiroshima to the southern-most island Kyushu. The famous wisteria arches await today at Kawachi Wisteria Garden, a private garden in the hills south of central Kitakyushu, famous for its spectacular planting of wisteria. Two tunnels each 100 metres long are planted with different species of wisteria, ranging from white, lilac, pink, mauve to dark purple. A viewpoint at the top of the hillside garden allows for views across the sea of wisteria and the surrounding valley. Then head to the heritage port town of Moji for lunch and a harbour walk. Return to Okayama. Farewell dinner included tonight.
Optional visit this morning to the old picturesque town of Kurashiki with its preserved canal area that dates back to the Edo Period (1603-1867), when the city served as an important rice distribution centre. The name Kurashiki translated as town of storehouses where rice was kept. Local shopping is excellent here with Japanese denim and local ‘Bizen’ ceramics in high demand. Or visit the art gallery with many famous paintings by European masters. Afternoon transfer to Okayama Airport for homeward flights.
You will be contacted by a Ross Tours Travel Manager to confirm your details and preferred method of payment.
Please refer to the Ross Garden Tours standard terms and conditionsBook This Tour