Artisans of Japan

Destinations: Japan, Kyoto, Nara, Osaka, Tokyo

Trip Duration: 13 days

Max Group Size: 20

Minimum Age: 18

Artisans of Japan Itinerary

Day 1-2: U.S - Tokyo

Depart the U.S. for your flight to Japan. Cross the international dateline and arrive at Narita International Airport where a private driver await to transfer you to tonight’s hotel.

Check into the hotel this evening and free at leisure tonight.


  • Accommodations: ANA InterContinental Hotel Tokyo 
  • Meals Included: Meals Aloft
Day 3: Tokyo

Tokyo boasts the most Michelin starred restaurants, even beating out Paris! Spend the morning learning how to make one of Japan’s most famous dishes, sushi and enjoy eating what you make!

Take a private vehicle to Asakusa and make a brief stop at the Asakusa Culture and Tourism Center. Designed by Kengo Kuma, the tourist center breaks up the traditional layered form of tall buildings into interesting, asymmetric floors.

After a brief tour of the building, venture toward the “Asakusa Kannon” temple. Sensoji, as it is also known, has been in continuous existence for nearly 1,400 years. Dedicated to the Bodhisattva Kannon, this temple has been a popular site for worship since its inception.

On the way into the temple, stroll through Nakamise Street, where various vendors peddle various foods, omiyage (the Japanese word for souvenir), and other trinkets.

The Tokyo Skytree is tallest structure in Japan at 634 meters. Earthquake-proofing the structure created some interesting design problems for the tower forcing the Japanese to come up with innovative answers. From the top observation deck, visitors can enjoy a truly magnificent view of the immense sprawl of Tokyo. But more than just a broadcasting tower, the Skytree sits atop a large shopping complex that includes a planetarium and even an aquarium!

  • Accommodations: ANA InterContinental Hotel Tokyo
  • Meals Included: (B,L)
Day 4: Tokyo

Enjoy a full day out in Tokyo, among its many interesting and varied buildings. Begin with the ancient Meiji Shrine. Dedicated to a former emperor who helped to modernize Japan and accelerate her into the 20th century, this shrine is a beautiful example of Japan’s deep connection with nature and history.

After the Meiji Shrine, walk south to Yoyogi park and the 1964 summer Olympics, Yoyogi National Gymnasium, which is slated to be used in the upcoming 2020 Olympics. Originally designed for swimming and diving events, the area is now used for ice hockey and basketball. Among the unique design elements included by designer Kenzo Tange is offset semi-circle roof structure of both the main building and the secondary structure.

From here, take a walk down the Omote Sando, Tokyo’s Champs de Elysees. Along the way, stop and admire Toyo Ito’s Tod’s Omote Sando Building and Jun Aoki’s Louis Vuitton Omote Sando.

From the end of the Omote Sando, visit the Nezu Museum, recently redesigned by Kengo Kuma. The museum itself houses an interesting collection of ancient art from pre-modern Japan. From the museum, head to one final destination at the 21_21 Design Site, an art space designed by the ubiquitous Tadao Ando.

  • Accommodations: ANA InterContinental Hotel Tokyo
  • Meals Included: (B,L)
Day 5: Tokyo - Kyoto

In the morning, head to Ueno Park. The park used to be the grounds of a temple, which later became the site of a major battle during the Boshin civil war in the 1860’s. On one side of the fighting were forces loyal to the Shogun, and the other side, those loyal to the Emperor. In the end the Imperial forces won the day and afterward turned the ruins of the temple into a park.

Within the park lies the Tokyo National Museum. In addition to holding many great artifacts, the museum’s buildings exemplify the transitional architecture of the Meiji Period, when Japan began its rapid modernization.

After visiting the museum, transfer to Tokyo station, another transitional structure, and step aboard the Shinkansen. Not only are these machines some of the fastest trains in the world, traveling up to 285 kilometers per hour, but they are also some of the most frequent—in some cases leaving the station once every three minutes!

Transfer about 2.5 hours to Kyoto. As the former seat of the Japanese Imperial Court, Kyoto was the capital of Japan for over a thousand years. It was from here that many Japanese customs and traditions emerged. Though Kyoto has changed and adapted to modern times the old ways persist as well.

Disembark from the station and step aboard a private vehicle and transfer to one of Japan’s most ancient shrines. Dedicated to the Shinto deity of agriculture and business, Fushimi Inari is famous for its “Senbontorii,” thousands of torii gates that line its mountain path. An individual, or sometimes an entire company will donate these gates to secure good fortune in business.

Check into the hotel this evening and enjoy dinner at one of the lovely restaurants in the hotel.

  • Accommodations: Kyoto Tokyu Hotel 
  • Meals Included: (B,L,D)
Day 6: Kyoto

Take a stroll through Kyoto’s most famous and popular district, Higashiyama. Here the old ways of Kyoto are still strong and many of her most beautiful temples can be seen. Geiko and Maiko (Geishas) are sometimes seen roaming the streets of the Gion district, moving from one appointment to another as they have for hundreds of years. Meanwhile monks and priests still live and work among the many mountainside temples.

Meet in the lobby and walk to HigashiHonganji temple. This massive structure is part of a larger complex of temples and is head of the Jodo-shin sect of Japanese Buddhism.

Afterwards, head to central Kyoto to visit the Nijo castle, a former residence of the Tokugawa Shoguns, who ruled Japan for nearly three hundred years. Unlike other castles, Nijo’s residence has some unique design elements originally imagined by the early Tokugawa shoguns.

Next is the Yasaka Shrine, located in Maruyama Park, just north of Gion. Then take lunch before walking south through avenues of preserved machiya at Ninenzaka and Sanenzaka. There’s plenty to see here with shops of every kind selling souvenirs and snacks. At the end of this district, find Kiyomizudera. Translated as “Temple of the Pure Water,” so named for the Otawa spring in its center. It is thought that water here can offer special benefits to those who imbibe it such as: long life, success in love, or good grades in school.

Afterward transfer to the temple of Ginkakuji, otherwise known as the Silver Pavilion. This temple is widely known for its beautiful garden and relaxing atmosphere.

  • Accommodations: Kyoto Tokyu Hotel
  • Meals Included: (B,L)
Day 7: Miho Museum & Uji day Trip

Take a private bus about an hour away to the Miho Museum. This museum showcases the legacy of Mihoko Koyama and her private collection of both Asian and Western antiquities. Created by Chinese Architect I.M. Pei, enjoy walking through this unique structural design.

Stop by the suburb of Uji, which sits in between Nara and Kyoto. Step into the temple of Byodoin, an incredible relic of the Jodo Sect of Japanese Buddhism. On the same grounds as the temple lies the Byoudoin Honkan, designed by Akira Kuryu, a museum filled with relics from the Temple’s past on display.

This afternoon return to Kyoto to visit an interesting local project known as Hariyamachi-no-Ie. Designed by local Kyoto architects, this interesting concrete home carries a minimalist design, standing out among its neighbors.

  • Accommodations: Kyoto Tokyu Hotel
  • Meals Included: (B,L)



Day 8: Nara Day Trip

Transfer by private coach to the ancient city of Nara. Though Nara’s tenure as capital was short-lived, it was nonetheless influential in shaping Japan’s history. It was here that Buddhism not only gained a foothold in the country, but also grew in power to rival even that of the Emperor. Nara also has something else to set it apart from most other cities in its thriving population of deer. Considered sacred here, the deer are protected. The animals are quite calm and relaxed around people and can be hand fed special deer crackers sold on the streets. Be careful though, as some animals are not so polite when eating, and they may not only be interested in crackers (so keep all food sealed and out of sight!).

Our visit begins with a very special temple, Todaiji. Built in 752, Todaiji once served as the head temple of Buddhism in Japan. So influential was the temple, that the Imperial court relocated from Nara to Nagaoka to reduce the temple’s influence. Among the many treasures at Todaiji is the Daibutsuen “Big Buddha Hall.” The Daibutsuen is the largest wooden structure in the world, and the Buddha around which it was built stands at a whopping 15 meters.

Later visit an important Shinto shrine at Kasuga Taisha. Lanterns are to Kasuga Taisha what torii gates are to Fushimi-Inari. That is to say, there are thousands of them donated by devotees to the shrine. The shrine was founded at the same time Nara became Japan’s first permanent capital, and has existed ever since. 

Finish the day with Horyuji. Founded in 607, Horyuji Temple has the distinction of containing the world’s oldest wooden structures: it’s main hall, a five-story pagoda, and its main gate are around 1,300 years old. Strangely enough, within the temple is the distinctly Indian style depictions of the Buddha on the pagoda’s wall. The temple also hosts rare artifacts from the Heian period and has an interesting display of Buddhist relics and artwork.

  • Accommodations: Kyoto Tokyu Hotel
  • Meals Included: (B,L)
Day 9: Kyoto - Kurashiki

Before leaving Kyoto, take part in a traditional tea ceremony as served by a master of tea. Tea ceremonies are a performance and much like a dance, the moves are slow, subtle, precise, and carefully scripted. Enjoy a traditional Japanese sweet while the tea master prepares a cup of “matcha”, powdered green tea.

Then head to Kyoto station and board a train for Kurashiki. Once a trading hub of the Edo period, Kurashiki used to be known for its rice granaries. Many wealthy merchants once called this place home and many of their homes still stand today. Since rice storage is no longer a major contributor to the Kurashiki economy, many of its homes and buildings have been converted into museums.  As an old trading hub, Kurashiki used canals and waterways to ship many goods to market. Some of the old canals still exist and along them, many of the old storehouses and merchant homes have been restored.

Among them is the Ohashi House, the former residence of a wealthy merchant from Kurashiki. The house itself is rare for a merchant’s home, as it was built in the samurai style. 

At the opposite end of the canal, find Japan’s oldest museum dedicated to Western Art, the Ohara Museum. Inside visitors can find works from Picasso, Gauguin, and many others. There are also some Japanese works of art, as well as a building dedicated to Kojima Torajiro, who fused Japanese spirit with his Western style of painting.

Check in to the hotel in the later afternoon and then enjoy the evening at leisure among Kurashiki’s cafes and shops.


  • Accommodations: Kurashiki Royal Art Hotel
  • Meals Included: (B,L)
Day 10: Kurashiki - Naoshima

Enjoy a leisurely morning before meeting up in the hotel lobby and disembarking for Okayama city. Much like Kurashiki, Okayama city became influential due to trade.

Among Okayama’s treasures, is its rare garden at Korakuen, considered to be one of the top three landscape gardens in Japan. Though once used only for important state visitors by the local lord, the garden eventually made its way into public hands. This particular property has unique, open areas that one might expect to find a Western garden.

Time permits, we may also visit Okayama Castle, located just beside the park. Unlike many castles that stand today, Okayama castle has a black painted exterior, which earned it the nickname, Crow Castle.

From the gardens transfer southward to Uno and board a ferry for Naoshima, an island dedicated to modern art and architecture, heavily featuring Ando Tadao.


  • Accommodations: Benesse House 
  • Meals Included: (B,L,D)
Day 11: Naoshima

Spend the day on Naoshima visiting various art projects and museums that the island offers by bicycle. Begin with the Chichu Art Museum. Designed by famed Japanese architect Ando Tadao (like many of the other installations here), this museum uses only natural lighting to illuminate the displays. Thus the experience of visiting can vary drastically from minute to minute and hour to hour!

Next visit the Lee Ufan Museum, which a relatively new building dedicated to Korean artist Lee Ufan and designed by the preeminent Ando Tadao. Further on, visit a museum dedicated to the island’s main architect himself, the aptly named Ando Museum. Around Honmura port, there is also the Art House Project, which is a collection of homes that have been turned into works of art by various Japanese artists.

  • Accommodations: Benesse House 
  • Meals Included: Meals on own 
Day 12: Naoshima - Himeji - Osaka

This morning, transfer by motor coach for Himeji city. As the second largest city in Hyogo prefecture after Kobe, Himeji claims its fame through the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Himeji Castle. As one of the few original castles from the feudal age of Japan, Himeji is a remarkable sight. Nicknamed Shirasagijo (White Heron Castle) for its brilliant white exterior, the castle is immensely popular with Japanese and foreign tourists alike.

From Himeji, transfer to Osaka. Founded more than 1400 years ago, Osaka has continuously served in its role as Japan’s most active trading hub. More than just a place of business, Osaka is a center of culture that can only be described as “Kansai.”

In Osaka, visit the Bengoshi Kaikan, a modern office building with unique designs. Later stroll along Nakanoshima, a former wharf that has been reimagined as waterfront. Filled with buildings of varying designs it’s the perfect place for a pleasant afternoon walk.

Check in to the hotel. Then head back out to Umeda by public transit and get a look at JR West’s Osaka Station. This massive hub combines transit, shopping, and business. Underneath it is a vast series of underground walkways linking nearly all the buildings in the immediate area.

Only a short walk from Osaka station is the Umeda Sky Building. The building is actually two towers connected by an observatory at the top, yielding spectacular views of downtown Osaka. From the top it’s possible to see an interesting landmark of Osaka, the Gate Tower building, which has a highway ramp that passes directly through its center.

Enjoy a farewell dinner in Umeda and then return to the hotel.


  • Accommodations: ANA Crowne Plaza Osaka
  • Meals Included: (B,L,D)
Day 13: Osaka - U.S.

After breakfast, transfer to Kansai international airport by private vehicle for your flight home. Arrive in the USA on the same day. (B, Meals aloft)

Amazing Architecture
Delectable Cuisine
Teas and Herbs
Traditional Markets

All accommodations as per program
All domestic land and rail travel within Japan
All meals listed in itinerary
All sightseeing, entertainment, and cultural activities listed in itinerary
Double occupancy accommodations
English speaking guides

Airport arrival and departure transfers
Any compulsory and peak season surcharge
Domestic U.S. and international airfare
Excess baggage charges
Gratuities to local guides and drivers on main tour
Liquor, wine, & beer, and other items of a personal nature
Meals not included in the tour
Passport Fees
Travel insurance



from $8875
per person

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