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, Kyoto 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 Kyoto 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 ‘Cherry Blossom’s Tour.
09 April 2023 – 16 April 2023
– from $00 per person Twin Rate
– from $00 per person Single Rate
*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 center takes about 60 minutes or so, depending on traffic. Check into our hotel and relax.
We will meet early evening for a Welcome Drink and a chat through the itinerary for the coming days. This provides the perfect opportunity to get to know your host (!) and each other; and also to start to become acquainted with the Japanese custom and culture you will be part of in your Kyoto experience.
For those that have the energy, we will 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 all of 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 literally 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 (and street food!) which is a true sight to behold. It was founded in 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 nice views of the castle tower from below.
After this visit, we will transfer to Kyoto. Check into our hotel and freshen up.
We meet our Guide, and drive to northern Kyoto for a noodle lunch near to Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion and perhaps Kyoto’s most iconic site. Originally built as a retirement villa for the Shogun, after his death it became a Buddhist Temple at his request and is now one of Kyoto’s most famous temples. We then we head further north and visit Ryoanji and its famous Zen rock garden.
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 tatami floor. Beyond just serving and receiving tea, one of the main purposes of the tea ceremony is for the guests to enjoy the hospitality of the host 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.
This afternoon we will visit Camelia Gardens, a traditional house which sits amongst stunning gardens and is over 100 years old – where we will partake in a Tea Ceremony with an expert instructor. The striking surroundings make it one of the most beautiful locations to experience tea ceremony in Kyoto. We are provided with insight into the Tea Master and will take part in a tea ceremony, which allows you to learn about every aspect of Japanese tea culture, from making the tea to the movements involved in serving it.
After this divine ceremony, we return to the hotel, and our evening is free.
Overnight: Kyoto Yura Hotel MGallery (B / L)
We start our day with a visit to the garden of Saihō-ji, acclaimed by many as Kyoto’s most beautiful garden and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage. It is especially famous for its moss garden, for which reason it is also commonly known as Moss temple or Koke-dera. In 1339, the famous Zen monk Musō Soseki became the head priest of the temple and remodelled the garden. For him, creating gardens was part of his zen meditation routine. He founded a lot of temples and built or remodelled their gardens, but Saihō-ji is clearly his masterpiece. Famous monks of different Buddhist sects have been head priests of the temple throughout, but during the Edo period the temple fell into disrepair. They think it must have been at this time that moss slowly encroached the garden until it covered all of it. Today, there are roughly 120 types of moss in the garden.
Lunch will be en-route.
This afternoon, we will experience Wagashi, or the ‘Way of Sweets’. 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 the way their intentional designs of flowers and plants evoke the transient beauty of the seasons. Kyo-gashi is the wagashi of Kyoto, known for its particularly subdued, refined colours, and are 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 return to the hotel and our evening is free.
Overnight: Overnight: Kyoto Yura Hotel MGallery. (B / L)
Ikebana, also known as kado or the “Way of Flowers” is much more than just 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 taken into consideration 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. There is a spiritual aspect to Ikebana 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 quietude 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.
So this morning you will be introduced to essential knowledge about ikebana and the history of its development.
Next we visit Kiyomizu-dera Temple, literally “Pure Water Temple”, and one of the most celebrated temples of Japan. The temple’s veranda juts out of the side of a mountain supported by 13-meter-high wooden columns. The main hall with its distinctive hip-shaped roof of cypress bark rests to the rear of the veranda and houses within it a priceless statue of Kannon Bodhisattva, the goddess of mercy. From the veranda, you get a great view facing west over the city of Kyoto. Several other buildings designated as “national treasures” dot the grounds, as do waterfalls which have entered popular lore. Thus people come to the temple to drink water from the falls by collecting it in tin cups; the water is said to have therapeutic properties, and drinking from the three different streams is said to confer health, longevity, and success in studies.
We will have a lunch reservation at the likes of Tempura Endo Yasaka Honten, one of the best Tempura restaurants in the Gion district.
We will walk through the Higashiyama area / Gion area. Gion is part of the Higashiyama or ‘Eastern Mountain’ area of Kyoto. It’s one of the famous geisha (called ‘geiko’ in Kyoto) districts in the city. 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 kimono to stand amidst a backdrop of the Shirakawa Canal and its striking scenery. Just allow yourself to get lost amongst the beautifully preserved streets, awash with traditional wooden machiya houses, tea houses and sweet shops, kaiseki restaurants and inimitable boutiques
We return to the hotel and our evening is free.
Overnight: Overnight: Kyoto Yura Hotel MGallery. (B / L)
Kodo (Koh-do) literally 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 major 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, and take part in a traditional practice known as Monko, or incense listening; learning how to distinguish the subtle differences that exist between the many varieties of incense. It may seem to be all about the sense of smell, but the secret of kodo is in “listening.” We won’t “smell” (the Japanese verb ‘kagu‘) the incense or fragrant wood, but rather “listen” (kiku) to it, opening up not so much our nasal passages but our heart and spirit. We all know about the power of the sense of smell, how a smell can instantly transport a person back to a place from their childhood etc. Well 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’ll enjoy a visit to the 160-year-old residence and workshop of 4th generation Indigo artisans and learn about the process. Of course, that also means we get to admire all the stunning woven or shibori textiles – lengths of fabric, some apparel such as jackets, scarves, cushions, table mats etc.
Late afternoon we take a 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 renowned vegetable varieties (Kyo-yasai) and many other local delicacies – and of course, there will be plenty of foods to sample. We will also spend some time exploring 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 store. We’ll visit a myriad of shops specializing 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 wee 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.
Overnight: Overnight: Kyoto Yura Hotel MGallery. (B / L)
This morning we will visit the Tezukiri Market. Tezukuri-ichi, literally, ‘handmade market’ is held on the 15th of every month on the grounds of Chion-ji Temple near Kyoto University. Rain or shine, around 150 craftspeople, artisans, and entrepreneurs set up their stalls all over the temple grounds, turning the temple into a vibrant, bustling marketplace. Here, you’ll find stalls selling all manner of handmade arts, crafts and food, including ceramics, jewellery, tote bags, linocut postcards, organic soap, traditional tea bowls, contemporary jewellery, traditional textiles, and even musical instruments.
After the market, we will do a bit of walking. From Chion-ji, we will walk to Ginkakuji & along the Philosophers Path to Eikando.
Ginkakuji Temple, the Silver Pavilion, is the little brother of Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavilion. Originally built as a retirement villa for a 15th-century shogun, Ashikaga Yoshimasa, Ginkakuji is one of Japan’s most classic Zen temples and a prime example of the wabi-sabi aesthetic of beauty in imperfection. It was planned to be covered completely in silver leaf, but the silver coating was never actually applied, and it is now a wooden temple. The dry garden known as the “Sea of Silver Sand,” is one of the temple’s most interesting features. Raked white sand leads to a towering cone that was landscaped to be a perfect spot for moon gazing. It is modelled after a celebrated lake near Hangzhou, China while the sand pyramid is the mirror-image of Mount Fuji. Both sand shapes are religious metaphors for enlightenment, with the moon and its reflection symbolizing an illumination of consciousness.
From the Silver Pavilion, we will continue with our feeling of Zen with a walk on the Philosopher’s Path. The Philosopher’s Walk is a pedestrian path that follows a cherry-tree-lined canal in Kyoto, between Ginkaku-ji and Nanzen-ji. The route is so-named because the influential 20th-century Japanese philosopher Nishida Kitaro is thought to have used it for daily meditation. It takes about 30 minutes to complete the walk (without stopping!).
We will stop en-route to visit Nanzenji Temple. Beating at the heart of Zen since 1386, Nanzen-ji is famed for its massive main entrance, Roman-style aqueduct, and twelve sub-temples serving up tasty temple-fare throughout the sprawling grounds.
From here we return to the hotel for rest and relaxation and your evening is free.
Overnight: Overnight: Kyoto Yura Hotel MGallery (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?), and is named after Koyama Mihoko, a textile company heiress, and founder of the Shinji Shumeikai spiritual movement. She is also one of Japan’s richest 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 man-made and natural environments. What takes your breath away first is the 500m approach to the main building. 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 civilizations and various Asian cultures, with the pieces largely coming from Koyama’s private collection.
We then travel to Shigaraki town, where we will have lunch. Home of the world famous Shigaraki-yaki (Shigaraki ware), Shigaraki is blessed with a special 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, providing you the opportunity to not only see their workspaces but 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 own piece in a local potters 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 was 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.
We will meet in the hotel bar for a Farewell Drink & a Tour re-cap. Your evening is free.
Overnight: Overnight: Kyoto Yura Hotel MGallery (B / L / Farewell Drink)
Your final day. Say farewell in Kyoto after breakfast.
Your guide will be on hand to offer assistance and advice for your journey to the airport. (B)