Kyoto is famous for its Buddhist temples, gardens, imperial palaces, traditional wooden houses, kaiseki dining and geisha. Blessed with one of the most distinct cultures on the planet, Japan is home to several unique and defining arts and nowhere else can you find so many Japanese art forms in one place as in the ancient capital of Kyoto.
Kyoto is one of the most culturally rich cities in the world, and the place most travelers dream of when envisioning Japan. It is home to 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites, was the capital of Japan for over a thousand years and remains the heart and soul of traditional Japan. Today, it is a large modern city but retains many of its long-established traditions; it is teeming with beautiful and well-preserved pockets where time seems to move more slowly.
On this exclusive ‘The Way of Kyoto’ Hosted tour we will learn about, well, ‘The Ways’ of Kyoto! The culture of green tea – Sado (茶道), the art of incense appreciation – Kodo (香道), and the art of flower arranging as an art form – Kado (華道), better known as ikebana. We will learn to make wagashi (Japanese sweets), and will try our hand at Kyo-yaki, the general term for pottery created in Kyoto. We will discover an array of delights at an amazing craft market; visit incredible gardens & temples; wander the famous Nishiki market and the fabulous boutique stores of the surrounding area; and we will take a day out in the country to visit the stunning Miho Museum.
Along the way, we will also enjoy various culinary specialties including Kyozushi (Kyoto sushi), yudofu (boiled tofu), Obanzai Ryori (the traditional home style cooking of Kyoto), shojin ryori (vegetarian Temple cuisine), and kaiseki.
This tour really is all about the best of Japanese art & craft, food and amazing local shopping experiences. We will be exploring behind the scenes Kyoto and will learn with local specialists, artisans and makers.
This incredible tour is perfect for first time or returning visitors to Japan; for those looking for a quick, but in-depth, taste of Japanese culture in an amazing city, or for returning visitors who feel the need to have an immersive deep-dive into an incredible culture.
This is a perfect extension of our ‘Autumn in Japan’ Tour.
TBC APRIL 2023 – TBC April 2023
– from $TBC per person Twin Rate
– from $TBC per person Single Rate
*Rates are based on 6 Guests.
*Rates are per person based on Twin Share & Single Room.
*Prices are subject to change until paid in full.
*A ‘Willing to Share’ for Single Travellers may be possible on this tour.
*International Airfares are not included. PLEASE ASK US FOR A QUOTE.
Arrive at Osaka (Kansai International Airport), pass through immigration; collect your luggage and clear customs. Our assistant will meet you just outside of the secure area, and they will take you to the hotel by private van transfer. The journey from Kansai into the city centre takes about 60 minutes or so, depending on traffic. Check into the hotel and relax.
We will meet early evening for a Welcome Drink and a chat through the itinerary for the coming days. This provides a perfect opportunity to get to know each other and become acquainted with the Japanese custom and culture you will be part of in your Kyoto experience.
Arrival time is relatively late this evening, but for those with the energy, we can visit the incredibly atmospheric Hozenji Yokocho, an area with narrow alleys filled with traditional restaurants and izakaya (traditional Japanese pubs). This stone-paved alley, lined with traditional and restored shops and restaurants, is one of the most beautiful streets in Osaka, and it looks like it was magically transported from somewhere in Kyoto. Hozenji Yokocho is located right behind the Hozenji temple, hence the name “Hozenji Yokocho”, which means the alley next to the Hozenji temple.
Overnight: Hotel The Flag, Osaka. (Welcome Drink)
Osaka is one of the busiest cities in Japan and is perhaps most well-known for the towering Osaka Castle, which is a true sight to behold. It was founded in the 16th century by Hideyoshi Toyotomi, a remarkable shogun in the Sengoku period, and is known as the symbol of his power. Osaka Castle, or “Osaka-jo” in Japanese, is one of the most visually spectacular creations in the country, with a history that dates back almost 450 years.
You can climb to the top of the castle (by stairs or elevator) for panoramic views across the city. The castle tower is surrounded by secondary citadels, gates, turrets, impressive stone walls and moats. The Nishinomaru Garden, encompassing the former “western citadel”, is a lawn garden with 600 cherry trees, a tea house, the former Osaka Guest House and lovely views of the castle tower from below.
After this visit, we transfer to Kyoto. This is about a 1.5-hour drive. Check into our hotel and freshen up.
We then meet our Guide and drive to Daitoku-Ji Monastery, one of Japan’s most important sites, aesthetically, historically and culturally. One of Chado’s (the way of tea) most influential figures, Sen no Rikyu, lived and died at Daitokuji; he still rests here. His delicate taste set the standard for all tea masters who followed.
First, we will have late lunch at a nearby restaurant specialising in Zen-style vegetarian cuisine.
We then visit Zuiho-in, one of Daitoku-ji’s sub-temples, where we will meet the abbot, a master of the Way of Tea, to introduce the tea ceremony. (Zuiho-in is a small temple in the monastery whose gardens were created by Shigemori Mirei, the master of modern Japanese gardens.)
When you hear the water splash into the tea bowl, the dust in your mind is washed away –Sen no Rikyu.
The Japanese tea ceremony, Chadō or “The Way of Tea”, is a Japanese tradition steeped in history. It is a ceremonial way of preparing and drinking green tea, typically in a traditional tearoom with a tatami floor. Beyond just serving and receiving tea, one of the primary purposes of the tea ceremony is for the guests to enjoy the host’s hospitality in an atmosphere distinct from the fast pace of everyday life. Tea ceremonies have developed with Zen-inspired simplicity and a greater emphasis on spirituality. The host typically prepares the tea in front of the guests. The main equipment includes the tea whisk (chasen), tea container for the powdered green tea (natsume), tea scoop (chashaku), tea bowl, sweets container or plate, and the kettle and brazier. Each piece of equipment is carefully selected according to circumstance and has its specific place. Towards the end of the ceremony, there will be time to inspect and appreciate the tea bowl by lifting it.
After this mesmerising ceremony, we return to the hotel, and our evening is free.
Overnight: Dhawa Yura Kyoto (B / L / Tea Ceremony)
Ikebana, also known as kado or the “Way of Flowers”, is much more than sticking flowers in a vase. Flower arranging is an art requiring patience and discipline and encourages using other parts of a plant, including the leaves, stems, and stalks. Ikebana is an authentic Japanese art through which you appreciate the beauty of simplicity; everything is considered to the smallest detail, including the size and shape of the flowers, trunks, leaves and branches. The pottery or vase can be attractive and draw attention, or it may be used as a mere holder or container. The focus of Ikebana is on the form rather than a bursting cornucopia of brilliantly coloured masses of blossoms. Ikebana has a spiritual aspect for the people who practice the art form. The ikebana practitioner—through learning a complex system of rules, artistic principles, and symbolic meaning, and by observing the beauty and serenity of nature—strives to incorporate Buddhist concepts of peace, harmony, and reverence into daily life. Ikebana is an opportunity to slow the mind, release stress and be in tune with nature.
From here, we visit Heian Shrine. Heian Shrine has a relatively short history, dating back just to 1895. The shrine was built on the 1100th anniversary of the capital’s foundation in Kyoto – Heian is the former name of Kyoto. A massive torii (gateway) marks the road leading to the shrine. The torii is one of Japan’s largest and tallest gates at 24 meters high. Gracing the shrine are lush gardens located around the main buildings. The garden, spanning 33,000 square meters, is a splendour of overwhelming scenery; in fall, you visit to admire the changing Momiji leaves at the great shrine.
After lunch, we visit the Kyoto Handicraft Center – a store with seven floors of crafts ranging from key chains to hand-painted fans and swords. Visitors can watch artisans create various arts and participate in workshops and classes. There are plenty of high-quality goods that make for the perfect souvenirs: woodblock prints, yukata (light cotton robes like the ones you wear at your ryokan), pottery, and jewelry.
We make a stop at Saryou Housen for afternoon tea. Saryou Housen is one of the city’s finest shops for tea and sweets and is well worth seeking out. The teahouse is a traditional house with a tatami mat-lined dining room. The Japanese-style garden is a pleasure to behold, with its slopes of moss, maple trees, pines, and Andromeda flower bushes. There are few more Kyoto-esque experiences than sipping on matcha while gazing upon a garden.
We return to the hotel, and our evening is free.
Overnight: Overnight: Dhawa Yura Kyoto. (B / L)
Natural indigo has been regarded as a coveted dye for centuries worldwide. Japanese Indigo is taken from the “Tade” plant, unique to Japan, and is famous for giving an intense colour. Compared to other indigo dyes, the natural colour of Aizenkobo in Japan is said to be more reminiscent of an eggplant colour. While the dye’s colour is relatively intense, it takes multiple steps to dye clothes with the Aizenkobo method. Some works require the dye to be applied from 15 to 16 or even 40 to 50 times to achieve optimal results. When done correctly, the dyed clothes have a rich colour and are soft to the touch.
This morning is all about Shibori at Aizen Kobo. The Aizenkobo Workshop is a famous indigo dyeing shop and workshop and is highly regarded for its beautiful works of dyeing. Boasting generations of skilled artisans, the artisans of Aizenkobo are some of the best Kyoto has to offer. The family business first started in the kimono weaving industry but later switched to indigo dyeing. We will tour the building and see the processes.
Lunch at Kanei for soba. It is said that Kanei makes the best soba in Kyoto and soba otaku (freaks) make the pilgrimage here from all over Japan to sample these sublime noodles. The handmade noodles at this humble little soba restaurant genuinely earn the title of artisanal. Few places make their soba noodles with 100% domestic soba, and fewer still make the noodles entirely by hand, but Kanei does both, and the results are sublime.
After our noodles, we will walk through the Nishijin Textile and Weaving district. We visit Orinasu-kan to learn about the Nishijin district’s long history as Kyoto’s textile district, presented in an atmospheric old Kyoto wooden workshop.
We return to the hotel for a rest and refresh.
This evening, we will take a stroll through the atmospheric, lantern-lit alleyway of Pontocho. Ponto-chō district is composed of a single narrow street extending along the Kamogawa River across the bridge from Gion. This unassuming area comes to life at night as the small restaurants, teahouses, and bars that comprise the district light up and open their doors, making it the perfect place to end your night soaking in the atmosphere and enjoying a few drinks.
We return to the hotel, and our evening is free.
Overnight: Overnight: Dhawa Yura Kyoto. (B / L)
Kodo (Koh-do) means “Way of the Fragrance.” Along with Sado (The Way of Tea) and kado or ikebana (The Way of Flower Arrangement), it is one of the three principal classical arts that any woman of refinement was expected to learn. So this morning, we will focus on traditional incense making. We will visit a 200-year-old incense company – Yamado Matsu – and take part in a traditional practice known as kneaded incense. After being introduced to incense materials, we make our own original blend kneaded incense. In ancient Japan, the nobility were used to make their own kneaded incense to rival each other in fragrance. Nowadays kneaded incense is mainly used for room scenting. We all know about the power of the sense of smell, how a scent can instantly transport a person back to a place from their childhood etc. In Japan, the burning of incense and prizing of rare scented wood has been transporting people to a different spiritual plane for many centuries.
Kodo is said to have ten physical and psychological benefits or virtues: Sharpens the senses – Purifies the mind and body – Removes mental or spiritual “pollutants” (kegare) – Promotes alertness – Heals feelings of loneliness – Creates a feeling of harmony even under stress – Even in abundance, is not overwhelming – Satisfies, even in small quantities – Does not decay even over centuries – Does no harm even if used every day. Simply smelling something is like looking at a one-dimensional image. But as you sit there, deeply inhaling and analysing the fragrant smoke, earthy notes of spice or citrus begin to take shape: the story of that particular incense being told.
After lunch, we will take a fragrance factory tour of the Shoyeido Incense Co.
We stop for a coffee at Otafuku, a retro kissaten. Drinking coffee at a kissaten is a different experience in itself. These retro cafes serve ink-black coffee, and their environments recall hints of European belle époque. We’ll have to descend the stairs to this warm little basement café, and as we walk through the door, the din of downtown Kyoto subsides, replaced by cool jazz along the lines of Miles Davis.
En route back to the hotel, we walk through the Nishiki-koji food market, known to the locals as Kyoto daidokoro or Kyoto’s kitchen. There is an eye-popping assortment of fresh seafood, meats, pickles, tofu, miso, Kyoto’s famous vegetable varieties (Kyo-yasai) and many other local delicacies – and of course, there will be plenty of foods to sample. We will also explore the local vicinity, including incredible design and gallery stores, handmade paper shops, a famous Kyoto tea store, antique and textile specialists, and the wonderful depachika (underground food hall) of one of Kyoto’s best Department stores. We’ll visit many shops specialising in items for the cooking and dining enthusiast; think finely crafted chopsticks, placemats, dishes, storage containers, knives and other distinctly Japanese kitchen utensils.
We return to the hotel with our goodies for a rest and refresh.
Overnight: Overnight: Dhawa Yura Kyoto. (B / L)
Today after breakfast, we drive out of Kyoto for a day trip. We will head into the countryside for amazing architecture, art, nature and traditional ceramics. On our journey, you can soak up the scenery of the countryside and the densely forested valleys.
Located outside of Kyoto in the hills of Shiga Prefecture, the Miho Museum is as famous for its unusual architecture as for its impressive collection of historical artefacts. It was designed by the renowned architect I. M. Pei (the Louvre Pyramid, anyone?). It is named after Koyama Mihoko, a textile company heiress and founder of the Shinji Shumeikai spiritual movement. She is also one of Japan’s wealthiest women.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the museum is the design of its structures and how they are integrated into their natural surroundings. This is highlighted in the museum’s approach, which leads through a mixture of artificial and natural environments. The 500m approach to the main building takes your breath away first. As you pass through the beautifully illuminated tunnel and the suspension bridge spanning the hidden valley, you will feel as though you stepped into “Shangri-La” on earth. The inside of the museum continues this theme by contrasting steel and glass with warm stone and panoramic views of the surrounding valleys. The museum’s exhibits consist of works from ancient civilisations and various Asian cultures, with the pieces mainly coming from Koyama’s private collection.
We have lunch at the museum.
We then travel to Shigaraki town, home of the world-famous Shigaraki-yaki (Shigaraki ware). Shigaraki is blessed with a unique clay from the bed of ancient Lake Biwa, and this hillside town has a centuries-long history in pottery making. The central area of Shigaraki retains the nostalgic atmosphere of the old pottery town; its studios, galleries and houses stand close together along the quaint narrow streets, dotted throughout with the remaining traditional-type kilns, anagama (literally “cave kiln”) and noborigama (multi-chambered climbing kiln). On a stroll around the area, we visit some local pottery artisans, where we can talk with them and view their kilns, workshops, and galleries. Most of the studios and galleries in Shigaraki are attached to the potter’s residences, allowing you to see their workspaces and experience parts of the artisan families’ daily life. Many of the ceramic vessels you’ll see when touring Kyoto, and indeed throughout Japan, originate in Shigaraki.
We will also have a hands-on experience creating our piece in a local pottery studio. A workshop welcomes lovers of the art to enable you to produce Shigaraki ceramics using a potter’s wheel or doing it by hand, working up until the final stages of glazing. Shigarakiyaki ceramics tend to be rough in appearance with a special feel and is used to serve traditional kaiseki cuisine. It is very fashionable and evokes ancient forms of Japanese ceramics. Its’ popularity is all thanks to the work of master Kenzo Ogawa, who brought ceramics back into fashion. (The firing process will take several weeks, so your creation will be shipped home once it is completed)
We return to Kyoto and to the hotel. Your evening is free.
Overnight: Overnight: Dhawa Yura Kyoto (B / L)
We will experience “Kyogashi” or the ‘Way of Sweets’ this morning at Kanshundo, in Higashiyama. Wagashi are traditional Japanese confections known for their delicate beauty and their seasonal motifs —thus, they have earned a reputation as “edible art.” Meant to be enjoyed with matcha green tea, these treats perfectly counteract the bitterness of the tea with their sweetness. Sweets have been part of life in Japan for thousands of years. They appear as offerings at festivals and religious ceremonies, are served at traditional tea gatherings and are, of course, enjoyed as everyday snacks. What makes wagashi unique is how their intentional designs of flowers and plants evoke the transient beauty of the seasons. Kyo-gashi is the wagashi of Kyoto, known for its notably subdued, elegant colours, and is meant to be appreciated with all of the five senses. In this workshop, we will learn how to make a few types of delicate Kyoto style wagashi as the teacher instructs us on the techniques used to shape the Kyo-gashi. We will enjoy our finished creations with some delicious matcha green tea.
We will have a lunch reservation at the likes of Tempura Endo Yasaka Honten, one of the best Tempura restaurants in the Gion district.
After lunch, we visit Kodaiji Temple, a Zen Buddhist temple founded in 1605. This temple is a cultural gem, with a splendid garden in all seasons, and has been recognised by the Japanese government as a historic and culturally beautiful spot. The temple gardens are exquisite, with ponds skirted by maples and undercover walkways designed to evoke the curving of a dragon’s back, a bamboo grove, and dry landscape gardens that symbolise the vastness of the ocean.
From here, we walk through the Higashiyama area to the Gion area. Gion is part of the Higashiyama or Kyoto’s ‘Eastern Mountain’ area. We will wander Shinbashi-Dori, Kyoto’s most famous antiques street, which runs straight to the Tatsumi Bridge – a hotspot for Kyoto visitors dressed in beautiful kimonos to stand amidst a backdrop of the Shirakawa Canal and its striking scenery. Just get lost amongst the beautifully preserved streets, awash with traditional wooden machiya houses, tea houses, sweet shops, kaiseki restaurants, and unique boutiques.
We make one last stop at Kagizen Wagashi Shop, one of Kyoto’s oldest and most esteemed tea and sweet shops. It has a serene tea room out back where you can enjoy traditional sweets with cups of thick matcha tea.
We return to the hotel to rest and refresh.
Tonight we will meet in the hotel bar for a Farewell Drink and enjoy a farewell meal at the likes of Tan Kyoto – opened to introduce people to the natural bounty of Kyoto prefecture’s Tango peninsula. The main ingredients in the menu are rice cultivated in-house and vegetables procured from nearby farmers.
Overnight: Overnight: Dhawa Yura Kyoto (B / L / Farewell Dinner)
Your final day. Say farewell to Kyoto!
Enjoy a lazy breakfast and then prepare for our your transfer to Osaka Airport. (B)