Emperors and Artisans
3rd – 12th November 2023
A trip to delight all the senses and feed your adventurous spirit. We have designed a journey across an intriguing region of Japan, a pilgrimage of sorts. We will trace the shift of power from Kyoto to Tokyo, following the paths of Emperors and Shoguns. We will follow the Tokaido trail from the Imperial capital of Kyoto to the Shogunal fortress of Edo (modern day Tokyo). Along the route we will explore the Imperial shrine of Ise Jingu and the mausoleum of the Tokugawa Shoguns in Nikko, where great halls were erected to rival the divine power of the Chrysanthemum throne. During our travels we will concentrate on the artisans of this fascinating country, from silk weaving and ceramics to tea whisks and matcha making.
We will start in Kyoto, home to no less than seventeen Unesco World Heritage Sites. We will seek out the best temples, craft museums and gardens full of autumn colour or koyo. We will then move on to an area most tourists do not venture, Ise-Shima. Here we discover Shintoism and the Ama, female free divers. We shall then move from one extreme to another with two nights in Tokyo, a city constantly on the move, full of bright lights and towering contemporary architecture. We will finish in Nikko, with the breathtakingly lavish shogun mausoleums deep within giant cedar woods.
All our hotels have a character in keeping with each area. Kyoto and Tokyo are beautifully sophisticated with wonderful breakfasts. In Ise we will stay in a traditional ryokan with private onsens on each balcony overlooking the forest. In Nikko we stay high above Lake Chuzenji, all rooms have glorious lake views surrounded by the best koyo to be found in Japan. Food will also play a major part in our trip and we will taste a huge range of dishes local to each area.
Friday 3rd November
Our coach will collect us from the airport mid-morning and we will drive to the hotel. Once we have dropped our bags we will head off for a light lunch before exploring Kodai ji Temple. Built in 1606, this will be a perfect introduction to the various themes we will follow during our journey. We will discuss two of our main characters Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Togugawa Ieyasu who both played an important role in Japanese history. We will see our first richly decorated interiors and a striking Zen Garden, complete with two teahouses designed by the great Tea Master Sen no Rikyu. We will then walk back to our hotel though some beautiful streets lined with traditional wooden homes, teahouses and temples.
There will be some time to relax and unpack before we head out to dinner in Gion, the sense of history is everywhere here with some streets still lined with 17th century teahouses and restaurants. We may be lucky enough to glimpse geisha on their way to work, we can chat about this fascinating tradition and see some of the more famous teahouses. We will try shabu shabu for supper, a delicious Japanese version of a fondue.
Saturday 4th November
The day will start early at Sanjusangen-do with the most remarkable vision of 1001 statues of the Buddhist deity. These statues carved out of Japanese cedar dating from the 12th century stretch as far as the eye can see. We will then visit the Kyoto National Museum, which is packed with works deemed ‘National Treasures’. We will pick out the best of the painted screens, scrolls and ceramics. There are some truly breathtaking items here.
For lunch we will have a private room in what was once an old teahouse with a beautiful garden. Our final visit of the day is to Nijo-jo Castle, a World Heritage Site, full of history and wonderful things. We can get an excellent idea of how the Shoguns lived and the idea of hierarchy under Tokugawa rule. There are some fabulous screens and an intriguing nightingale floor. We will walk through the lovely garden on our way out. Supper at a great place which serves Yakitori (a sophisticated version of meat and veg on skewers.)
Sunday 5th November
After a more relaxed start we will visit the house of 20th century ceramist Kawai Kanjiro. Tucked down a small backstreet, the unassuming wooden front hides a perfectly preserved house, studio and ‘noborigama’ kiln. Kanjiro was inspired by Bernard Leach at the age of 21 and went on to build a very successful workshop. The house is not only full of his own works but also those of his contemporaries. We will then move on to the spectacular sight of Ginkaku-ji, Temple of the Silver Pavilion. Small shops line the road to the temple where we could stop for some
matcha tea and perhaps some rather addictive mochi. The pavilion was built by Ashikaga Yoshimasa as a retirement villa. As soon as you enter you are wowed by the skill of the raked garden, with a large cone created in sand known as Kogetsudai or ‘Moon Observing Platform’. The ‘Brocade Mirror Pond’, more of a network of ponds, islands and bridges, winds its way through the garden. A path leads up into the hills giving a fantastic view down over the garden, a perfect way to see the contrast of the raked gravel fields against the brilliant koyo.
Kyoto is renowned for pickling and so for lunch we will visit the one of the oldest pickle stores in the city and learn about the various methods of this ancient craft. We will then visit a traditional merchant’s house in Nishijin, the weavers’ district, where there are 14 original hand-looms still in use. We will be able to watch the silk weavers at work before seeing a selection of their antique Kimono and obi collection. For supper we could try okonomiyaki at a good place we know. A mix of a savoury pancake and omelet which you grill yourself choosing a variety of toppings.
Monday 6th November
The morning will be free for a well-deserved rest, exploring temples and craft museums or shopping. We will be on hand with suggestions. We will meet up for an early lunch before setting off to Ise, the first stage of our pilgrimage route. On the way we will stop at a remarkable traditional house of a chasen master in the mountains. The 500 year-old skill of creating tea whisks has been passed down for 20 generations within the same family and the current master will give us a demonstration before teaching us how to prepare matcha and finish off our own chasen to take home. In this way we will gain a small insight into the ancient tradition of the Japanese tea ceremony. Before arriving at our ryokan, we will search out Meoto Iwa (The Wedded Rocks), just off the coast of Futami. These sacred rocks are bound together by shimenawa rope and can be seen very clearly from the shore.
On arrival there may be time for a quick dip in your private onsen with a view of the forest before a kaiseki dinner in the dining room.
Tuesday 7th November
We will spend the day at Ise Jingu, the most venerated shinto sanctuary in Japan covering a vast area with 125 shrines spread throughout the forest. We will start with the outer shrine of Toyo’uke-daijingu or Geku, created 1,500 years ago to house Toyo’uke no Omikami, the goddess of agriculture and harvests. The structures are simple yet exquisitely crafted, built with unvarnished Japanese cypress with thatched roofs and the striking detail of gold leaf painted on the ends of beams. A far cry from the familiar vermillion torii gates we are used to. The whole site is emersed in nature with a river flowing through.
Lunch will be in the atmospheric and bustling Oharaimachi area, dating from the Edo period to feed the thousands of pilgrims who the visit the shrines. We will then cross the famous Ujibashi bridge, spanning the Isuzu-gawa river and symbolising the passage from the earthly world to the territory of gods. We will visit the most sacred shrine of all, Kotai-jingu or Naiku, the Inner Shrine. The site was dedicated to the sun goddess Amaterasu Omikami 2,000 years ago and is the home to one of the three divine items of Japan’s Imperial Treasures, the Holy Mirror. All Japanese Emperors are thought to be direct descendants of the goddess, adding to the importance of this complex. At both shrines we will find the Kodenchi, this is to be the new site for the sacred spaces as remarkably they are rebuilt every 20 years. It is just a short walk back to our Ryokan, so people are free to return to Oharaimachi to shop or have tea. Dinner will be back at the Ryokan.
Wednesday 8th November
In the morning we will go to the Mikimoto Pearl Island, the birthplace of cultured pearls. There is a fascinating exhibition on how these pearls are created and a museum brimming with pearled treasures. We will also have the rare opportunity, weather permitting, to watch the Ama dive just off the island. The Ama, female free divers, were essential in the early production of pearls and they still continue to dive for shellfish around the coast of Ise-Shima. We will have the treat of meeting these remarkable tough women in one of their ‘resting’ huts further down the coast where we will have lunch. The Ama will cook freshly harvested seafood over a grill in the centre of the hut, while chatting to us (via our translator Joe!). It is truly a very unique experience.
We will start the next leg of our pilgrimage and head towards Tokyo. We will follow the Ise-Shima Skyline which has stunning views over the mountains, forests, sea and islands in the bay. Up here there are hidden temples which we may have time to visit. Our coach will drop us at our train bound for Tokyo. We will arrive in time for a quick rest at the hotel for heading out for dinner close by.
Thursday 9th November
In the morning we will walk though the Ueno Park to the Tokyo National Museum. This vast museum houses an exceptional collection of ceramics, textiles, sculptures and paintings, as well as a delightful assortment of Netsuke. The display changes with the seasons and we will select a few of the best to see. One of the highlights of this museum is the archaeological section with some of the oldest pottery in the world. There are fabulous Jomon figurines and pots from 1000 BC and incredible terracotta Kofun Tomb sculptures from the 6th century.
After lunch there will be two options. Senso ji in Asakusa is the oldest Buddhist Temple in Tokyo and will transport you back to the Edo period, with a five-story pagoda and the iconic large red Lantern of the Kaminarimon or Thunder Gate. You can opt for the bustle of the city here or choose the peace of Rikugi-en. This Edo strolling garden was finished in 1702 for the fifth shogun, Tunayoshi Tokugawa and designed to embody the six elements of Waka poetry. The path leads us around a lake sprinkled with small islands and areas designed to imitate well-known Japanese natural landmarks. There are also some interesting techniques for winter protection which delighted Alys! We could stop at the teahouse overlooking the lake and watch the late afternoon light change over the water. For supper we will go to great traditional restaurant in a lively area near the hotel.
Friday 10th November
Taking an overnight bag, we will set off on the final leg of our pilgrimage to Nikko. The town had already been an important centre for both Shinto and Buddhist worship, but the building of the Tokugawa Mausoleums really put this small place on the map.
We will visit the Tamozawa Imperial Villa, the summer residence of the Imperial family. Parts of the building come from Tokyo and were moved here and enlarged, it is an interesting combination of Edo and early modern Meiji period architecture. The villa has been beautifully restored using traditional techniques and there are interesting displays concentrating on all of the intricate crafts involved in creating a Japanese villa. It also has possibly the most beautiful billiard room I have seen. Views throughout the villa look on to the lovely garden which should be ablaze with colour when we visit. We will then walk to the Kanmangafuchi Abyss and follow the path along the gorge. The way is lined with about 70 stone statues of the Bodhisattva, Jizo all wearing little red crocheted hats. We will drive on to our ryokan overlooking Lake Chuzenji and finish with a kaiseki dinner in our private dining room.
Saturday 11th November
In order to beat the pilgrim rush we will head out early to see the Tokugawa Mausoleums. We will first explore Taiyuin, the mausoleum of the third Tokugawa shogun, Iemitsu. After passing through various brightly lacquered and intricately carved gates, guarded by huge statues of wonderfully fierce Temple Guardians, we follow a line of moss covered stone lanterns to the mausoleum hidden behind the Kokamon Gate or ‘Gate of the Dragon Shrine’. A short walk takes us to the Toshogu Shrine, an incredibly lavish memorial to Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate. It is hard to express how detailed and ornate this complex is. No expense was spared in creating these storehouses, belltowers, halls and shrines coated in rich colours and gold leaf, all set against the perfect backdrop of the dark forest and towering trees.
On our way back, we will drop in to Rinnoji Temple, which was founded by Shodo Shonin who introduced Buddhism to Nikko in the 8th century. Inside we can see three large, gold lacquered wooden statues of Amida, Senju-Kannon and Bato-Kannon, the three deities regarded as Buddhist manifestations of Nikko’s three mountain deities. After a quick lunch of soba noodles we will take the train back to Tokyo for one last farewell dinner.
Sunday 12th November
After a much needed leisurely morning with time to enjoy the hotel’s delicious breakfast. We will head to the airport for our flight home.
Tutors- Alys Fowler, Joseph Nickols and Charlie Winton will lead the trip. All tutors have lectured for AHA for many years and this will be their third trip to Japan. Joe lived and studied in Tokyo and is fluent in Japanese. Alys is bringing her expertise in horticulture to our garden and forest visits. In Tokyo we will be joined by Yoko Hara who knows the city well.
Hotels – In Kyoto we will stay at the Celestine Kyoto Gion, thoughtfully designed with a fusion of Japanese and western style bedrooms. It has a great bar and a sento, communal hot baths. Perfectly located in the Gion district. In Ise we will stay at Ikyu, a ryokan with Japanese style rooms with tatami mats and futons, each room has a private onsen and forest view. In Tokyo we will stay at the Celestine Shiba hotel, a beautifully designed hotel taking inspiration from the Edo period and situated in a good area of the city. In Nikko we will stay at Kai Nikko, an upmarket ryokan with a variety of communal onsens, excellent food and all rooms have lake views. We will return to the Tokyo hotel for our last night. Please note, as is common in many Japanese hotels many of the rooms will be large twin beds.
Celestine Kyoto Website
Celestine Tokyo Website
Kai Nikko Website
Transport – We will make use of the highly efficient train service where possible and a private coach for other journeys. It is essential you are aware that there will be a lot of travelling. For long coach journeys we have broken them up with an interesting stop. The longest journey will be from Ise to Tokyo which will be a combination of coach and train and will be around 3 ½ hours. Nikko is 2 hours by train from Tokyo.
Arriving early – Due to the pace of this trip we would encourage you to arrive a day early to recover from jetlag. You can stay at an airport hotel and meet the group on arrival at the airport or travel on to Kyoto and meet us there.
Ability – You do need to be fit and healthy for this trip. There is a lot of walking, some on uneven terrain. For every temple and villa you need to remove shoes and put on slippers, possibly as many times as ten in a day and there is not always a bench to sit on to do this. As is the case for all our courses, there is a lot of standing while we discuss the works we are looking at. In several of the restaurants we will be sitting on the floor to eat, some places provide a low stool, but not all. You do need to be open minded about food as not all requirements can be catered for in some places and you need to be adventurous!
Breakfasts and Dinners – Dinner is by no means compulsory, but we book a table for the group each night at different restaurants and divide the bill equally between everyone. Dinners at Ise and Nikko are included in the fees and will be kaiseki served in the hotel. Breakfasts in Ise and Nikko will be a Japanese style savoury breakfast.
Flights – We do not book the flights thus allowing you to travel to suit your budget, use airmiles, travel between different airports or on different dates. NB You must book your flight to leave for at least the day before the course starts. We recommend the following with BA:
2nd Nov (arriving 3rd Nov) Heathrow 09.55 – 9.40 Osaka, Itami (via Tokyo) JL0042 and JL0107
12th Nov Tokyo Haneda 13.15 – 18.55 Heathrow BA0006
(In order to book different cities on the BA website click on ‘multi city’. Buying two singles will be a lot more expensive)
Cost – The fees are £5500 which includes accommodation and breakfast, all lunches, three excellent dinners, transfers for the recommended flight, bullet trains, transport when connected with teaching, entrance fees, whisk workshop, tuition, reading lists and local advice. The single room supplement is £500 (double room for single use). Please state on the form if you would be happy to share if available. Not included are the flights, all other suppers and travel insurance. The group will not exceed 16 people.
If you have any queries please email [email protected] or call 01379 871800 (302)
Please note you must book your own flights
Please complete the online application form and pay a deposit of £600 per person via bank transfer.
Please call 01379 871800 or email [email protected] if you have any queries.