Graham Ross will tell you autumn is his favourite season with richly coloured gardens and landscapes. He’ll take you to ‘Master’ gardens to appreciate exquisite design. Share ancient traditions on this journey; it’s more than a holiday, it’s the total Japanese experience.
Meet your tour leader at Sydney International Airport for your evening flight to Tokyo.
Early morning arrival into Tokyo, meet your local guide and transfer to hotel. Early check-in to our hotel, the New Otani. This afternoon visit the extensive, world class chrysanthemum exhibition at Shinjuku Gyoen since 1929. Welcome Dinner tonight.
Rikugien Garden is your destination this morning, a strolling garden laid out in 1695 and restored in the 18th century. Once the residence of powerful Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu, there are 88 stops around the lake, symbolic representations of classical Japanese literature. The rhythm achieved by alternating dark and bright zones, spacious and confined areas, sunlit groves and mysterious forests, produces virtually a musical effect. The massed planting of Japanese maple along the river should set the scene for autumn.
Today our coach takes us to Nikko, an ancient imperial retreat north of Tokyo. On the way, we’ll stop at Omiya Bonsai Village home of some of Japan’s finest Bonsai. Visit the superb Omiya Bonsai Art Museum which houses a stunning collection of ancient bonsai masterpieces, some are 1,000 years old. Later we stop to see the Sacred Way of ancient Cryptomeria Cedar trees before visiting the recently restored original 18th C Kanaya Hotel Samurai House. Check into the historic Nikko Kanaya Hotel for two nights. It is the oldest Japanese resort hotel with more than 100 years of traditions. Dinner included at our hotel tonight.
Sightseeing today includes a walking tour of the nearby Toshogu Shrine, built in 1542 with its ornate Yomeimon Gate. Rinnoji Temple is located on the avenue leading up to the shrine and contains three gigantic gilded wooden images of Buddha. Here Shintoism and Buddhism combine to commemorate the Taiyuin Mausoleum for Iemitsu, third in line of the ruling Tokugawa Shogunate Family. Hear the history behind this sacred region and its traditions.
See the giant cryptomerias over 1000 years old, the Shinkyo Sacred Bridge across the turbulent waters of the Daiya River, and giant bronze and stone lanterns all wrapped in a mountain mist and maples dotted amongst the lush green. The entire site is World Heritage Listed. This afternoon walk through the home and garden of the Tamozawa Imperial Villa, the summer residence of the royal family. The remainder of the day is at leisure to soak in the tranquil atmosphere of this quaint town. Dinner included tonight
Cross the spine of Japan’s main island with forests of Japanese Cryptomeria cedar, Chamaecyparis cypress trees and millions of different maples in stunning autumn colour. Take a short Shinkansen (Bullet Train) to Kanazawa the capital of the Ishikawa Prefecture and once a feudal castle town, home to the powerful feudal Maeda clan. On arrival, we walk the famed Samurai district where their families still live today and visit a Samurai home with a small but exquisite traditional garden.
Visit Kenroku-en Garden, famous for its mature conifer trees and channel gardens of water iris. Kenroku-en combines the six essential features of true gardens: vastness, symmetry, solemnity, coolness, antiquity and pleasure. Japan’s first water fountain can be seen here surrounded by Japanese maples. This is one of Graham Ross’ favourite gardens in the world. The unique stone lanterns, a symbol of Kanazawa City, are beautifully canopied with delicate maples in autumn colours. Lunch is included today. The remainder of the day is free. Kanazawa is famous for traditional arts & crafts, gold leaf and Kutani – ware porcelain. Graham will direct you to the best shopping areas.
A very different experience commences today as we travel deep into the snow-capped Japanese Alps to visit Shirakawa-go Village nestled in a rural setting reminiscent of old Japan. Listed by UNESCO in 1995 as a World Heritage Site, Shirakawa-go is famous for its steeply thatch-roofed traditional farmhouses called Gassho Zukuri style from over 250 years ago. The architecture, horticulture and cuisine of the region will make this a unique experience of the tour. Overnight stay at a traditional Japanese Ryokan, including a Japanese style dinner. This will be a memorable evening.
Travel to Kyoto by bullet train. On arrival visit Nijo Castle, dating from 1603 and famous for its fortress-like interior and ingenious escape routes of the Tokugawa Shogun. The garden here, Ninomaru Garden, is planted with ancient, beautifully manicured pine trees. A special dinner tonight attended by a Maiko/Geisha and shamisen performance after a walk through the adjacent 16th C private garden.
Visit the Silver Pavilion (Ginkakuji Temple) dating back to 1489. This famous temple and it’s Zen garden, formerly the villa of Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa, silver in name only, he died before the silver leaf could be applied. See raked and moulded gravel mounds that represent sea and mountains. Designed in the ‘Zen’ style, this serene garden features ancient pines, ginkgos, maples and hundreds of other autumn trees. At Hakusasonso witness a traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony performed in the beautiful garden built in 1915. This private garden is a showcase of Japanese plants and Chinese statuary. Our Tea Master is a descendant of the famous artist Kansetsu Hashimoto who created this villa garden and museum.
Early morning visit to Kinkakuji Temple (Golden Pavilion) built in 1397 by Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, which he used for entertaining, contemplation and to view the expansive landscape. This three-tiered pavilion glows with a covering of 18-carat gold leaf. Admire the perfect reflection on the broad Mirror Lake before it. See the Shogun’s bonsai that become a garden masterpiece.
Ryoanji Temple is our next stop, renowned throughout the world as Japan’s finest example of a rock and sand garden (seki-taki). Take time here to reflect on the meaning of these raked patterns and enigmatic placement of rocks. It is also home of the stone water-basin, Tsukubai, engraved with famous Zen script. The outer is planted with hundreds of exquisite maples and rare Japanese Cedar tree varieties. Dinner included tonight at a local Shabu Shabu restaurant.
Travel to Nagoya by bullet train. Visit the iconic Nagoya Castle and spectacular chrysanthemum exhibition. A special treat today to walk through the recently restored, magnificent Hommaru Palace and see the lavish rooms. Precision timber joinery and artworks in the palace are breathtaking. Master craftspeople went to great lengths to recreate the opulence of the residence. In the afternoon visit Nabana No Sato in Mie prefecture. This botanical theme park is a new concept in world-class show gardens covering 30 hectares with beds filled with thousands of flowers including cosmos, roses and dahlias and huge glasshouses overflowing with tuberous begonias and more hanging baskets than you could count. Time this evening to experience the 8.5 million LED light show, voted Japan’s best illumination event. Dinner included tonight.
The Shinkansen to Tokyo this morning, passing Mt Fuji. After a guided city tour, check back into the New Otani Hotel. Farewell dinner tonight at the hotel.
Morning at leisure in Tokyo. Stroll down the famous Ginza, visit Hibiya Park, go shopping or enjoy the many temples this city has to offer. Late check-out is included today. Evening transfer to Tokyo Haneda airport for our overnight flight home.
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