Itinerary – Traditional and Contemporary Fine Crafts

Day 1: Depart U.S. for Japan

Day 2: Tokyo

Arrive at Narita International Airport, where your tour leader will meet you and assist with the transfer to our hotel in the convenient Shinjuku district, one of Tokyo’s most modern, with tall skyscrapers dominating the neighborhoods. Our hotel is convenient to both public transportation and shopping. You’ll have the evening free to have dinner, relax and rest up for tomorrow. This evening we will have a short, optional get-acquainted reception where we will preview our tour plans. Accommodations: Four Star hotel

Day 3: Tokyo

We’ll begin our day with a visit at Shinto Meiji Shrine, one of Japan’s holiest places, and, with its setting in a magnificent forest of giant trees, a peaceful and beautiful oasis in this bustling modern city. There we’ll hear a lecture on Shintoism, Japan’s indigenous religion, by a temple priest and enjoy a private performance of sacred kagura dance. Kagura is an age-old ritual performed by young shrine maidens as a blessing for important events, such as births, weddings and school examinations. From there, we’ll proceed to the famed Omotesando-dori, known for its wealth of art galleries, designer boutiques and wonderful antique shops. There we’ll have a short architecture tour, followed by free time for shopping, gallery hopping, browsing or a visit to the lively and treasure-filled antiques flea market at Togo Shrine. We’ll have lunch at Fujimamas, a trendy Pan-Asian restaurant that has been featured in the New York Times. After lunch, we’ll go to Maki Textile, which does contemporary hand weaving, for a special presentation of how silks and linens are used to create elegant clothing and accessories. After this enlightening visit with the textile artists of Maki, we’ll break up into smaller groups to explore an antique textiles gallery that offers an exquisite selection of silk and kasuri kimonos, a pottery shop featuring wood-fired Bizen ware, and the wonderful Morita Antique Gallery. We’ll have a spectacular dinner of modern Japanese cuisine in a restaurant atop a skyscraper that offers incredible views of Tokyo and beautiful interior design. Accommodations: Four Star hotel (B, L, D)

Day 4: Tokyo

We’ll begin in Shinjuku, exploring its recently renovated City Hall complex and adjacent buildings of architectural interest, as well as an outdoor art installation, seeing how architecture has evolved from the late 19th C. through today. Later, we’ll have lunch in the Shibuya district, where trendy clubs, cafes, shops and galleries abound in a consumer paradise that is busy, noisy, fun and very much a slice of modern Tokyo. Later we’ll visit several contemporary galleries where we’ll have a chance to meet with artists and gallery owners who know the contemporary art scene in Japan intimately. Our next visit will be with a collector of bamboo basket, to learn about this ancient art and see his impressive collection. After our busy day, you’ll have the evening free to do as you please, whether you’re ready to put your feet up or head back out for a taste of Tokyo’s fine restaurants and nightlife. You’ll also have the option of joining your tour leader for a walking tour of Tokyo’s most exciting entertainment district, Kabuki-cho, followed by dessert. Accommodations: Four Star hotel (B, dessert)

Day 5: Tokyo

We’ll start the day with a visit to Tsukiji Fish Market, the largest wholesale fish market in Asia, where almost 90% of the fish consumed in Tokyo is auctioned off each morning. This will be followed by a tour of a fascinating vegetable and restaurant supply market led by food expert and a friend of Esprit who will teach us about Japanese food. Later we’ll attend a presentation at the renowned and innovative Nuno Textile Gallery. Nuno textiles were part of the recent Surface and Structure exhibition and are considered to be cutting edge modern textile design. After the presentation and browsing in the gallery, you’ll have free time for shopping or exploring the neighborhood. We’ll enjoy lunch with an artist whose work was recently shown in the American Craft Museum’s 7 Continents of Quilts exhibition. We’ll dine with him at Kisso, a Japanese restaurant. In the afternoon we’ll visit Amy Katoh’s shop called Blue and White. Accommodations: Four Star hotel (B, L)

Day 6: Tokyo to Nara

We’ll depart Tokyo by train, stopping along the way to Nara at Shizuoka, at beautiful central Japan city known for miles of tea plantations and views of Mt. Fuji. There we’ll visit the studio of a contemporary basket artist and friend of Esprit. His work is represented by Tai Gallery in Santa Fe, NM and he is known for work so innovative it defies definition in the basket world. After an enlightening visit and a cup of the tea the area is so well known for, we’ll continue by train to Nara, Japan’s first capital. We’ll arrive in afternoon and enjoy a brief tour of the area, beginning our exploration of this city known for its ancient temples and traditional shops, some of which date back to the 8th century. We will be staying at a traditional Japanese inn, where we’ll have our dinner. Accommodations: Traditional Ryokan (B, D)

Day 7: Nara to Kyoto

We’ll begin our day at the Todai-ji Temple complex, entering through the massive wooden front gate, which is supported by 18 pillars and proceed to the Daibutsu-den, which contains Nara’s giant wooden Buddha. Ascending the stone staircase found on a winding garden path, we’ll climb past a slope of stone lanterns to gain the top of the hill and enjoy expansive views of Nara. After a morning of exploring and a delicious lunch of local specialties, we’ll board the afternoon train for Kyoto. Along the way, we’ll stop to visit a charming ceramics artist who works in seihakuji, a beautiful bluish white porcelain that has captured the hearts of ceramics collectors ever since the Chinese perfected it in the Song dynasty. After talking with the artist in his studio and seeing his work, we will bid him good-bye and continue by train to Kyoto. After checking into our hotel, we’ll enjoy a relaxing dinner in the neighborhood. Accommodations: Four Star hotel (B, D)

Day 8: Kyoto

We’ll visit the Zuihoin Temple within the Daitoku-ji Zen Monastery complex, and visit a Zen priest who is also a master of tea. He will perform an authentic tea ceremony, while teaching us about Zen. Following the tea ceremony, we’ll visit the Zuiho-in garden, which is a masterpiece of dynamic design and Koto-in Zen Temple and garden. Koto-in is known for its setting within a bamboo forest and exquisite tearooms overlooking a lush stroll garden. We’ll have lunch at Izusen, a garden restaurant on temple grounds serving Zen-style cuisine. In the afternoon we’ll visit a Kyoto-based artist who works in paper and has her studio in an old kimono factory. She shows her work internationally and is represented by Ronin Gallery in New York. We’ll also visit the studio of a contemporary indigo dye artist whose work is part of the permanent collection of the American Craft Museum. After a full afternoon, we’ll enjoy dinner at Tosai, a restaurant specializing in Japanese fusion cuisine. Dinner will be followed by a private dessert reception for our group at CafĂ© David with proprietor and art collector. While there, we’ll have the opportunity to view his impressive collection of Asian Art, followed by a special musical performance. Accommodations: Four Star hotel (B, L, D and dessert)

Day 9: Kyoto

If you’re an early riser, you may choose to join your tour leader for an early morning Buddhist service, performed by 40 chanting monks, and fire ceremony at Chishaku-in Shingon Temple. Those who attend the service will return to the hotel afterwards for breakfast and to rejoin the group. From there, we’ll head to Sanjusangen-do Temple and its 6 foot tall, 1000-handed Kannon statue, which is a National Treasure. Next, we’ll tour the Kawai Kanjiro Museum which features the work of the late ceramist and is set in his former home and studio. Next, we’re on to Joju-in Temple, a sub-temple of Kiyomizu-dera Temple, where we’ll be guests of the temple priest’s family in their garden and home. The garden, called the “Garden of the Moon,” uses design to create a sense of space in a limited area. In the afternoon, we’ll visit one of Kyoto’s premier textiles galleries, to view the permanent showcase collection. We’ll also have the opportunity to see the current show and enjoy a hands-on presentation by the artist. Accommodations: Four Star hotel (B, L)

Day 10: Kyoto

We’ll start the day with an excursion to the Miho Museum, designed by I.M. Pei in a spectacular mountain setting and home to an exquisite private collection of Asian antiquities. This will be followed by a visit to Shigaraki to see the studio and work of a ceramics artist who creates some of Kyoto’s finest bowls for tea ceremonies. On our return trip to Kyoto, we’ll stop in to visit a bamboo artist. Accommodations: Four Star hotel (B, L)

Day 11: Kyoto

Traveling through a picturesque neighborhood takes us to Rengei-ji, an intimate hideaway in northern Kyoto, where the garden harmonizes perfectly with the adjacent mountains. There, the abbot and his wife will welcome us with whisked green tea served in their tearoom overlooking a babbling brook. Together, we’ll discuss the Tendai sect, which combines Tibetan-style esoteric Buddhism with Japanese Shintoism. Afterwards, we’ll visit the home of a Samurai turned poet, known as Shisendo, the Hall of the Poet Hermits. Lunch will be at one of Kyoto’s oldest inns where we’ll enjoy a shakuhachi flute performance. In the afternoon we’ll visit the studio of a calligraphy master and performance artist. There we’ll see him wield his gigantic brush, dancing across washi paper to create a masterpiece-in-the-moment. Next, we’ll visit the studio of an artist who creates giant pieces of washi paper for use in architectural installations and interior design projects. We’ll end the day with a relaxing dinner at Manzala-tei. Accommodations: Four Star hotel (B, L, D)

Day 12: Kyoto to Naoshima Island

We’ll depart Kyoto in the morning by train, and later in the day complete the final leg of our journey to Naoshima Island by ferry. Upon arrival we’ll check into the spectacular and one-of-a-kind Benesse House, which is both a luxurious hotel and contemporary art museum. As guests of Benesse House, we’ll have a private viewing of the collection in the evening, at our leisure and with no crowds or lines. We’ll spend the afternoon visiting the workshop of a traditional brush maker, learning about this age-old craft and viewing samples of his work. Returning to Benesse House in the early evening, we’ll relax while watching the sunset over the Sea of Japan and then enjoy a wonderful dinner. Accommodations: Benesse House (B, D)

Day 13: Naoshima Island to Kurashiki

After a leisurely breakfast and one last stroll around the outdoor art installations at Benesse House, we’ll take the ferry to Takamatsu. There we’ll go to the Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum, which houses the work of this famous Japanese-American artist and his stone carving workshop. A renowned sculptor, Noguchi was also known for his furniture and interior design, theater and dance sets, drawings, gardens and playgrounds, and fountains, so this promises to be a rewarding visit. After our visit, we’ll travel on to Kurashiki by train. Upon arrival, you’ll have free time to stroll the picturesque Kurashiki canal area with its weeping willows and historic buildings. Tonight we will enjoy our farewell dinner in a local restaurant. Accommodations: Four star hotel (B, D)

Day 14: Kurashiki to Osaka

In the morning, we’ll visit the Ohara Museum to view the collections of Mingei greats Hamada, Munakata, Kanjiro and Serizawa. Later, we’ll take the train to Osaka. There we’ll visit the studio of an artist who creates contemporary glass sculptures. After lunch, you’ll have free time to shop, browse or just relax. Your tour leader can provide helpful directions, tips and suggestions if you’d like to explore further and can also recommend many fine restaurant choices for your last dinner in Japan. Accommodations: Four Star hotel (B)

Day 15: Depart for U.S.

We will depart in the late morning for the Osaka Airport; breakfast is included.

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