Shofukuji Zen Temple, Fukuoka
Shofukuji Zen Temple, Fukuoka

Japan: Temples, Treasures & Traditions


16 days From $9,350

March 22 2019

Still relatively little-known to Western travelers – a legacy of an isolationist society virtually closed to the outside world until the 19th century – Japan’s archaeological heritage today yields an excitingly ‘different’ perspective on the complex mosaic of mankind’s early history. The country’s many state-of-the-art museums and government-sponsored excavations (including the huge Yoshinogari site dating back over 2,000 years) are testimony to the scale and diversity of Japan’s rich cultural inheritance.

After an introductory visit to Tokyo’s world-class National Museum on Honshu island, we focus upon the archaeology of mountainous Kyushu (meaning ‘nine provinces’), most south-westerly and third largest of the country’s four main islands and the closest to continental Asia. Volcanoes, lush forests, beaches and hot springs provide a vivid backdrop to a journey of discovery throughout which the Japanese people’s ancient origins, their flamboyant traditions and enigmatic religions are expertly interpreted for you by our specialist tour leader.

From Shinto shrines and Zen Buddhist temples to ruined castles and restored Dutch houses, serene Japanese gardens to lively moonlit night markets, this is a fulfilling itinerary on which even the everyday can bring its own fascination and surprises. It also provides the bonus of springtime travel in perhaps the most beautiful of Japan’s seasons.

To experience even more of Japan’s colours, delights and sounds, add on an optional extension; Power and Spirituality in Nara and Kyoto, an extra 8 days to explore two or Japan’s historic and vibrant cities.

What's included?

  •  Expert Scholar & Tour Manager
  •  Accommodation
  •  Meals - as per the itinerary
  •  Local Transport
  •  Entries & Tips

Led by...

Dr Ilona Bausch

Dr Ilona Bausch

Dr Ilona Bausch is a Visiting Professor at Kokugakuin University, Tokyo.

Book Now $9,350
Includes deposit: $1,250 Single supplement: $1,600

Tour highlights:

  • Visit Kyushu island’s beautiful ‘other-worldly’ forest temples and formidable medieval castles
  • Travel back to the Japan of bygone eras at expertly preserved and reconstructed archaeological sites like Yoshinogari – and Uenohara, whose recently-discovered pit dwellings may be nearly 10,000 years old
  • Savor the sounds, smells, and tastes of Fukuoka’s evening Yatai street market with its open-air food stalls and local delicacies
  • Learn how Japan first opened up to the outside world, viewing Dutch merchants’ houses and Chinese Buddhist temples
  • Explore authentic Samurai warriors’ houses in the Samurai district of Kitsuki

Tour details

Dates March 22 2019 - April 6 2019
Duration 16 days
Cost $9,350
Single supplement: $1,600
Deposit: $1,250 , balance due by December 28 2018
Activity Level Moderate
Tour code A19JAP

Book Now or call 866-740-5130 if you have any questions

March 22 2019: Itinerary

We arrive in Tokyo and transfer to our hotel. We relax for the rest of the day after our flight, before meeting up this evening for a group welcome dinner.

Meals include: Dinner

Hotel: Grand Nikko Tokyo Daiba

Our opening day begins with a scene-setting introductory talk from our expert scholar before visiting the National Museum in Ueno Park, the oldest of Japan's leading national museums, to view a selection of the premier Japanese artworks and artifacts housed here (including nearly 100 national treasures). After lunch we stroll through the Imperial Palace East Garden, an immaculate 52-acre expanse of moats, lawns, ponds and plantings whose origins go back to the 17th century as the site of Edo Castle - once residence of the Tokugawa shoguns who ruled Japan for nearly three centuries, and afterwards by Emperor Meiji before he moved to the newly-completed Imperial Palace in 1888. If we are lucky, we may see the garden’s beautiful first cherry blossom bursting into bloom.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Grand Nikko Tokyo Daiba

This morning we fly 500 miles south-west to Kyushu, whose distinctive island scenery, culture and atmosphere all coalesce in an attractively ‘different’ Japan whose appeal contrasts with that of mainstream Honshu in many fascinating ways. Upon arrival at Fukuoka we visit the Itazuke ruins and associated museum. Here stand remains of a settlement where rice farming in Japan started. Outside the museum pit dwellings of the village have been restored. After lunch we visit the Kyushu Historical Museum. The excellent displays span Japanese history from the Prehistoric to Edo Periods, with many remains unearthed from local excavations. We round off the day at the Fukuoka City Museum where we learn about the unique history of the city and lifestyle of those who have made their lives here – enriched from cultural exchanges with other peoples from nearby continental Asia – before we transfer to our hotel in nearby Fukuoka.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Hilton Fukuoka Sea Hawk

After breakfast we begin our day with a visit to Oozuka Kofun, one of the finest decorative tumuli in Japan. We then work up an appetite for lunch with a walk in scenic Ohori Park while admiring the nearby turreted ruins of the Edo Period Fukuoka Castle in adjacent Maizaru Park. Our afternoon program takes us to the city’s Asian Art Museum, where innovative exhibitions showcase nearly 3,000 modern and contemporary works from a range of Asian cultures. Our final visit is to the peaceful gardens of Shōfuku-ji temple, its 1195 CE construction making it the oldest Zen temple in Japan. This evening we browse the city’s famous Yatai (meaning “shop stand”) - open-air street-side food stalls selling a wide choice of delicious local delicacies. 

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Hilton Fukuoka Sea Hawk

A short morning drive brings us to the countryside setting of the vast archaeological site of Yoshinogari, Japan’s largest and most important remains from the Yayoi Period (300 BCE to 300 CE), known as the country’s Iron Age. Bronze mirrors and iron weapons are among the wealth of ancient artifacts found among the dozens of pit dwellings (some now reconstructed), elevated store houses and over 2,000 tombs that once stood here. After lunch on site we travel further inland to Onta, a tiny mountain village world-famed for its high-quality porcelain, still made here in the traditional 300-year-old fashion, using mountain clay prepared by water-powered hammers and baked in wood-fired kilns. From here an easy drive brings us back to Fukuoka City.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Hilton Fukuoka Sea Hawk

Our route takes us eastwards today for a morning visit to Usa Jingū at the base of the remote Kunisaki Peninsula. Surrounded by primeval forest, this prestigious and extensive Shinto shrine attracts many pilgrims from all corners of the country. It was founded in its original form in 725 CE and is the head shrine of thousands across Japan dedicated to Hachiman, the god of archery and the deified 15th century Emperor Ojin. After a break for lunch we explore the charming little town of Kitsuki, a "Little Kyoto", boasting an intriguing historic heritage with authentic well-preserved samurai houses, a dramatically situated castle (said to be Japan’s smallest and reconstructed from its medieval predecessor) and a working sake (rice wine) brewery dating back to the 17th century Edo Period. From here it is an easy drive to the coastal spa town of Beppu, our base for two nights.

All meals included

Hotel: Hotel & Resorts Beppuwan

Today we embark on a relaxed and enlightening day in the beautiful Kunisaki Peninsula, amid green landscapes shaped by ancient volcanoes and long regarded as a sacred place for ascetic Buddhist monks to seek spiritual enlightenment. Our journey, focusing on four important temples contrasted in setting and character, travels first to mysterious Futago-ji, nestling amid the forested slopes of Mt. Futago and a Tendai-Buddhist temple with 1,300 years of history. Then comes elegant Fuki-ji, Kyushu’s oldest wooden structure, dating from around 718 CE and designated as a national treasure. Kumano Magaibutsu, our next call, is home to a centuries-old group of Japan’s largest stone relief sculptures of Buddha, carved in the cliffs and rocks. We complete our quartet of temples at Makoto, where we are privileged to view the collection of precious wooden statues rescued from the fire that ravaged the original temple building some 700 years ago.

All meals included

Hotel: Hotel & Resorts Beppuwan

We journey south this morning en route to Saitobaru Kofungun. Mystery still shrouds the origins of this unique and hauntingly beautiful archaeological site near Saito city - and one certainly meriting comprehensive study. Set on a 220-ft height are over 300 great keyhole-shaped, round and flat-topped tumuli (or kofun) burial mounds for prestigious figures from the area - perhaps warriors and clan leaders. Thought to date from between the 4th and 7th centuries, this is one of the largest sites of its type in Japan. Later in the day we drive to the nearby coastal city of Miyazaki, where we spend our evening in pleasant seaside surroundings between the mountains and the ocean.

All meals included

Hotel: Sheraton Grande Ocean Resort, Miyazaki

Today a journey of some 100 miles takes us east through mountain forests to the site of Uenohara, where in 1997 construction workers discovered a series of pit dwellings from the Jōmon Era (13,000 – 300 BCE), the period of Japan’s first major culture. From here we continue to Kagoshima, Kyushu’s southernmost major city, enjoying an attractive setting facing a curving bay and the Vesuvius-like Sakurajima volcano. Our visit begins with gentle exploration of Iso-teien, a traditional Japanese-style coastal garden created in the mid-17th century by the powerful Shimazu Clan, the region’s Edo Period rulers. With small ponds, streams, shrines and a bamboo grove, its effect is dramatically enhanced by the “borrowed” backdrop of the bay and volcano. Our final stop of the day is at Shoko Shuseikan, built as a factory 1865 by the Shimazu clan head - and today an industrial museum nationally important as Japan’s first western-style stone building to incorporate arches in its construction.

All meals included

Hotel: Sun Royal Hotel, Kagoshima

We spend our morning in Kumamoto, a lively city that spreads out beneath the imposing hilltop Kumamoto-jo Castle. Originally built in the 17th century and one of Japan’s three great castles, it has an important place in Kyushu's turbulent history as the island's major government stronghold in the Shogun period. Although earthquake damage in 2016 is requiring major ongoing renovation the castle remains Kumamoto’s major visitor attraction and there is much to admire from the surrounding grounds. After lunch afternoon we board the ferry for a short but refreshing ferry crossing over the Ariake Sea to Nagasaki, our base for the next three nights.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: ANA Crowne Plaza Hotel, Nagasaki

An absorbing day lies ahead, devoted to comprehensive exploration of the reconstructed site of Deshima Island in Nagasaki Bay, a masterly re-creation whose colorful assortment of restored Dutch houses and Chinese Buddhist temples gives vivid insights into Japan’s long isolationist past. Deshima was initially created to house and contain increasingly unwelcome Portuguese traders. Their departure saw the island converted to a Dutch East India Company trading post, finally becoming redundant only some 200 years later when commercial relations with the Western world were relaxed.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: ANA Crowne Plaza Hotel, Nagasaki

Nagasaki’s Museum of History & Culture and Glover Garden provide two visits of contrasting interest this morning.  The modern museum is dedicated to the city’s long history as one of Japan's key international trading ports – while Glover Garden’s open-air museum has a fascinating collection of western-style buildings reassembled around Japan’s oldest extant Western-style house, the home of 19th century Scottish merchant Thomas Glover. Our afternoon is free for independent exploration or to join an optional visit to the historically-important Atomic Bomb Museum.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: ANA Crowne Plaza Hotel, Nagasaki

A short drive north this morning brings us to the Kyushu Ceramic Museum, dedicated to the preservation and advancement of the island’s ceramic art culture and allowing us to see at first hand some of the finest 17th century Hizen porcelain. We continue firstly to ancient Arita, to visit the site of one of Japan’s oldest ceramic kilns - and then to neighboring Imari’s Okawachiyama Pottery Village. It was here in this area rich in kaolin (a vital material in the porcelain-making process) that Japanese porcelain has its earliest roots. There are over 30 traditional businesses still in operation here and our visit allows us to observe local master craftsmen at work in the village. Our day ends with an easy drive to nearby Saga, a city backed by the lush Sefuri Mountains and our overnight base.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Hotel New Otani, Saga

Today begins with a brief drive to Yame, where the Traditional Crafts Museum both displays and sells a host of traditional Yame City handicrafts, ranging from Buddhist altars to delicate paper lanterns, bamboo weaving to Japanese dolls. After lunch we travel to the majestic Shinto shrine of Tenman-gū, set amid plum trees and dedicated to the spirit of revered 10th-century poet and scholar Sugawara no Michizane. We continue to Kanzeon-ji, a serene Buddhist temple founded in the 7th century CE (and home to Japan’s oldest bell), before we make our way back to Fukuoka for our final overnight on Kyushu.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Hilton Fukuoka Sea Hawk

Before leaving Kyushu we pause at the island’s northernmost city to pay a morning visit to the Kitakyushu Municipal Museum of Art, which for nearly 50 years has been home to over 6,000 artworks, both Japanese and Western, including wood-block prints by Hokusai and Utagawa as well as paintings by Bonnard, Degas, Monet, Renoir and Rodin. We then board the impressive bullet train at Kokura station for the 3-hour journey to bustling Osaka on Japan’s main island of Honshu. We spend the last night of our tour here after enjoying a farewell dinner in the city affectionately known as the “nation’s kitchen”.

All meals included

Hotel: Imperial Hotel, Osaka

We transfer to the airport for our individual flights home or onward travel.

Meals include: Breakfast

March 22 2019: Additional Info

March 22 2019: Accommodation

Situated in the Tokyo Bay area in Odaiba, this property is the closest city resort hotel to central Tokyo, a 20-minute monorail and train ride away from JR Tokyo Station. Free WiFi is available throughout the property.

The spacious guestrooms of this hotel feature elegant European-style decor and come with free wired internet access throughout. All rooms include a flat-screen TV with satellite channels, feather pillow and seating area. The upper floors boast panoramic views of Tokyo Bay, as well as views of the Rainbow Bridgeand Tokyo Tower.

Teppanyaki Restaurant Hamayu and the grill restaurant, The Grill on 30th offer spectacular skyline views from the 30th floor. There is also a sushi restaurant, a Japanese and Chinese restaurant in addition to several other cafes and bars on site.

This property is 2 minutes walk from the beach. Overlooking Hakata Bay, the high-rise Hilton Fukuoka Sea Hawk offers 5 dining options. It features a large outdoor pool, a spa and a fitness center.

The spacious air-conditioned rooms at the Fukuoka Hilton feature light natural colours and city or bay views. They are furnished with a flat-screen TV and extra-long beds.

Guests at the Hilton Sea Hawk can soak in the public bath or relax in the sauna or hot tub. The hotel has several shops, an ATM and a concierge. An airport shuttle is available at an additional cost.

A buffet breakfast with Western dishes is offered under a 132 feet high glass ceiling at Brasserie and Lounge Seala. The Hilton offers cuisines ranging from Japanese, Chinese and European.

Hotel & Resorts Beppuwan offers Western-style rooms with free WiFi. A 10-minute drive to Beppu Museum, this hotel features free private parking and a hot-spring bath.

All rooms are equipped with a flat-screen TV and electric kettle. They also come with a private bathroom with bath, shower and hairdryer. Slippers are provided. Some rooms feature tatami (woven-straw) flooring and Japanese futon bedding.

Guests can relax in the sauna or with a karaoke session. During the summer, guests can cool off in the outdoor swimming pool, which offers beach views. Bicycle rental and coin launderette machines are available.

Sheraton Grande Ocean Resort boasts hot springs, swimming pools and golf courses. Guests can enjoy, indoor or outdoor tennis, scuba diving or shopping, or they can relax with a massage at Banyan Tree Spa. Services include a concierge, childcare and free shuttle service within the surrounding area.

Spacious rooms overlook the ocean or golf course through large windows, and they come with a comfortable sofa, a flat-screen TV with satellite channels and movies-on-demand and a minibar. All rooms offer a personal safe, toiletries and a bathroom with a bathtub and a walk-in shower.

At in-house fitness centre The Ocean Club, at a charge you can work out with advice from a personal trainer, try the high-pressure oxygen capsule or participate in classes like yoga, swimming or belly dance. You can unwind in Onsen at Shosenkyu's hot spring baths, while golf lessons and tennis lessons are also available at the hotel.

Buffet restaurant Pine Terrace offers an international spread of dishes, while the resort also offers authentic Japanese, Chines and Italian cuisines. There are 2 bar lounges, karaoke rooms and a café with its own bakery.

Boasting a 13th-floor hot-spring bath overlooking Kagoshima Bay, French and Japanese restaurants and a 24-hour reception, Sun Royal Hotel is 15 minutes from JR Kagoshima-Chuo Train Station on the free shuttle.

Rooms offer views of either Kagoshima city or Sakurajima Island, and include an en suite bath with slippers and amenities. All are air-conditioned, with free wired internet and green tea. Guests can watch satellite channels and pay programes on the LCD TV.

Temmonkan-dori Road is 1.9 miles from the hotel, and Kagoshima University is 1.2 miles away. Bicycles are available for hire.

Massages and saunas offer relaxation, while a concierge is available to help with activities. Currency exchange and luggage storage services are available at the front desk.

The colonial-style Trian serves a daily Western buffet breakfast, and French cuisine and bay views are on offer at the 13th-floor Phoenix. Shichisai offers fresh Japanese dishes. Sky Bar Subaru has cocktails and panoramic views. 

Decorated with classical elegance, Hotel Nagasaki Gloverhill offers 2 dining choices and massage services just 350 yards from Glover Garden. Rooms come with free wired internet, an LCD TV and a private bathroom.

Each air-conditioned room at ANA Hotel Nagasaki Gloverhill has wood furnishings and a seating area. You can make green tea, watch satellite channels or unwind with a soak in the tub.

The hotel has its own beauty shop, and offers dry cleaning services. Luggage storage is provided at the 24-hour front desk.

French restaurant Pave boasts floor-to-ceiling windows and fine cuisine. Junkei serves fusion dishes that combine Chinese and Japanese flavors with fresh local ingredients. 

Hotel New Otani Saga features 3 restaurants, a café-bar and a shopping arcade including beauty treatments. Free WiFi is available. The hotel has a 24-hour reception and charged internet terminals.

Comfortable rooms are air-conditioned and fitted with a flat-screen TV, a minibar and a seating area. Amenities also include an electric kettle, free toiletries and a hairdryer. Yukata robes are provided.

The Saga New Otani offers currency exchange between US dollars and Japanese yen, dry-cleaning services and safety deposit of valuables. Yukata robes and slippers for children and additional amenities like Japanese shogi chess or an air humidifier can be borrowed at the front desk.

Restaurant Lotus offers French dishes in a casual atmosphere, while other restaurants offer Japanese seasonal dishes and contemporary Chinese cuisine. Cafe Green Breeze features floor-to-ceiling windows with garden views, and offers cocktail time from 18:00. Room service is also available.

Situated along the Okawa River renowned for beautiful cherry blossoms, Imperial Hotel Osaka is a prestigious 5-star hotel with elegant guest rooms, a fitness center and various fine dining options.

Featuring chic décor and a relaxing ambience, each spacious room comes with a satellite LCD TV, a fridge and a minibar. A wide work desk and a safety box are also included. The en suite bathroom is fitted with a bathtub and free toiletries.

While staying at Osaka Imperial Hotel, guests can work out at the fitness club and swimming pool at an additional charge, or receive rejuvenating massage treatments in the room or at the on-site salon. The business centre comes with work desks and chargeable internet PCs. A hair salon and a flower shop are also available.

Les Saison restaurant offers panoramic city views and sophisticated French cuisine. Kamon serves fresh seafood and steaks in teppanyaki-style, while lavish Chinese dishes can be enjoyed at Jasmine Garden. 

March 22 2019: Enquiries

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