Our new spring tour, Samurai and Tatsujin, in April 2019, is designed to complement our fall Japan Now & Then tour, with more of a focus on historical Japan. We still include the wonderful personal visits and experiences for with Esprit is known but curate the trip to focus on the history of Japan and its arts. This tour was designed to be entirely different so there are no repeat visits for those of you who are Now and Then alumni. Bushido, the codes of honor and ideals of the samurai way of life, as well as the art, culture and philosophy of the samurai forms the cornerstone of this tour through Japan. The samurai were the well-known warrior class of Japan who ruled for nearly 700 years and established not only the war crafts (swords, spears, mounted archery, bows, etc.) for which they were known, but were also key players in promoting the finer arts of tea ceremony, calligraphy, poetry, ikebana, Noh theater and numerous other arts. Tatsujin means expert or master. Japan has so many words to describe the artists, craftsmen, chefs, martial arts masters, teachers, Buddhist and Shinto priests and all forms of experts, we use it to convey the essence of this special tour. We will take you through some of the rich and powerful history of Japan, from the time when the samurai class ruled until after the Meiji restoration (1868), including the rise of experts in all areas of art and life during those periods.

We will start the tour in Tokyo with a deep introduction to the Samurai through sword and metal craft and the samurai armament, as well as an introduction to the various families, clans and lineage that make up the history of Japan. An integral part of the tour is a visit to Kamakura, site of the first samurai-led government, before traveling on to Kanazawa, home of the powerful Maeda clan. After visits to artists and craftsman in the Ishikawa and Fukui areas, we wind up in Kyoto, the traditional and cultural heart of Japan. Twelve-hundred-year old Kyoto offers a wealth of opportunity for further in-depth exploration of the impact of the samurai class on the culture and art of Japan, with visits to temples, gardens, shrines and castles, in addition to Esprit’s signature private arts visits. Our 2-night add-on to Nara offers additional experiences at most of the primary sites in the original capital of Japan as well as the unique town of Imai-cho, with its wealth of traditional wooden buildings.

Esprit Japan History Tour Leader - Ron Beimel 2

    Ron Beimel

    Japan Tour Leader
    MIyamoto Musashi (1584-1645)

    It is difficult to realize the true Way just through sword-fencing. Know the smallest things and the biggest things, the shallowest things and the deepest things.


    Learn about the rich history of Japan through the window of the samurai way, budo, which encompassed both the martial and the fine arts.

    φ Explore deep into the samurai’s most valued possession, the katana, and learn about how it’s constructed, valued and was used on the field of battle

    φ Enter the studios of revered artists and craftsmen, the tatsujin (experts), who carry forward Japan’s rich artistic and crafts history. Meet masters of woodworking, makie, bow-making, silversmith and more.

    φ Visit selected galleries and museums in Tokyo and the renowned Miho gallery in Shigaraki

    φ Visit the small city of Kanazawa, second only to Kyoto in its deep samurai and geisha history.

    φ Enjoy a night at an authentic ryokan where you will sleep on futons spread out over tatami-matted floors and enjoy a full kaiseki meal.

    φ Our add-on to Nara will take you to the original capital of Japan, with its UNESCO World-Heritage temples and famous deer park

    φ Ride on Japan’s famous Shinkansen bullet train

    φ Sample a variety of local, seasonal cuisine

    Daily Itinerary - April 14 to 25, 2019

    Depart for Japan on your individually arranged flight.

    Transfer by private car to our downtown hotel, located in the exciting Ginza district.


    Accommodations: Hyatt Centric Ginza
    Meals included: None

    History Tour-Day2-Sword DayToday we will start our exploration of the historical importance of the samurai in Japan and how their study of bushido (samurai codes of living) prepared them for the duties of the ruling class. One of their most enduring symbols is the Japanese sword, the katana, and we will meet with an internationally renowned Japanese sword expert for an introduction into the fine art of not only blade making (considered the world’s finest) but also the fittings, the etiquette and the history of swords. Visits will include the newly re-opened Japanese Sword Museum and the Samurai Museum.

    Accommodations: Hyatt Centric Ginza
    Meals included: Breakfast, lunch

    One of Tokyo’s most fulfilling day trips is to the ancient samurai capital of Kamakura, known for its wealth of temples, its hilly, seaside location and easygoing atmosphere. Kamakura’s most famous monument is the giant bronze Buddha, or Daibutsu, but we will also delve deeper into its history as a center for samurai culture with visits to equally important temples and shrines. The Kamakura Period in Japan lasted about 130 years (circa 1200) and saw the emergence of shogun rule. Shogun were military dictators who usurped power from the hereditary monarchy and held ultimate control of Japan for the next 650 years, through a system of feudal fiefs, each ruled by a lord and backed up by their samurai. Tonight we’ll have dinner back in Tokyo.

    Accommodations: Hyatt Centric Ginza
    Meals included: Breakfast, dinner

    Day5-Nagamachi-Samurai-House-AreaWe travel this morning by Shinkansen (bullet) train to Kanazawa (formerly known as Kaga), a castle town that was ruled by the Maeda family for three centuries after the first lord Toshiie Maeda entered Kanazawa Castle in 1583. Since the Kaga Clan invited many artists and craftsmen to this area, it achieved a high level of craftsmanship that continues to flourish to this day. Today it is a bustling small city. The Kanazawa area was one of the wealthiest in historical Japan and what came with wealth and privilege was the creation of licensed pleasure districts (geisha districts). We will explore the one in Kanazawa known as Higashichaya, which developed in the early 1800’s into the largest of its kind outside of Kyoto and Tokyo. In addition, we will visit the masterfully restored parts of Kanazawa Castle, Kenroukuen, one of Japan’s premier strolling gardens, Myoryu-ji (the Ninja temple), and the Nagamachi samurai district.

    Accommodations: To be advised
    Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch

    Day6-Yamanaka-Wood-TurnerTravel by coach today from Kanazawa to Yamanaka Onsen hot spring village. En route, we will spend time with a wood turner at his home and studio and see him create one if his simple, yet masterfully turned bowls. Our next stop will be for lunch and a visit to a nearby makie artist (lacquerware exquisitely decorated with gold). We will arrive early at Yamanaka Onsen and our traditional ryokan inn for the night, the premier Kayotei, where we will enjoy a multi-course kaiseki banquet of local specialties and sleep on futon beds spread out on tatami-matted floors. Bathe in the onsen’s gender-separate hot spring baths or enjoy a short hike along the Kakusenkei Gorge. Spring trees should be in bloom in this mountainous area.

    Accommodations: Kayotei Ryokan
    Meals included: Breakfast, lunch, dinner

    Day7-Imadate-Washi-Paper-MakingToday we will enjoy some of Esprit’s special cultural visits in Fukui Prefecture, en route to Kyoto. Our first stop will be at the Takefu Knife Bridge foundry where world famous Japanese culinary knives are made by hand. Next, we will enjoy a special tea ceremony at Eichezen Togeimura Ceramics Park, followed by a short tour of the Fukui Prefectural Ceramics Museum. Afterwards, we go to Imadate village to learn about the art of handmade washi paper making. We end the day with a short train ride to Kyoto. Our hotel is within blocks of Kyoto’s famed Gion district, which will be bustling with tourists snapping photos of beautifully dressed geisha as they hurry on their way to teahouse engagements on this Saturday night

    Accommodations: Celestine Gion Kyoto
    Meals included: Breakfast, lunch, dinner

    Day8-Noh-WorkshopWe will start our day with a visit to the austere Ryoan-ji, a quintessential Japanese dry garden and UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is one of the world’s most famous gardens as well as one of its first abstract art installations, dating back to the late 1400’s. Afterwards, we will visit 700-year old Myoshin-ji, the largest Zen Monastery in Japan. After strolling through the formal central precinct passing one sub-temple after another, with their white-washed walls and open gates revealing unique entry gardens, we will come to Ryusen-an, one of 36 quiet, reflective sub-temples and normally closed to the public. We will be meeting with the abbot, who will share with us over 100 fusuma paper doors, each with a Nihonga painting, recently commissioned to celebrate the temple’s 500-year anniversary. After lunch, we move on to a Noh theater for a private demonstration and workshop to learn the foundation of this continuously performed 600-year old art and its little-known, yet critically important, ties to the world of the samurai.

    The rest of the afternoon will be free time.

    Accommodations: Celestine Gion Kyoto
    Meals included: Breakfast, lunch

    Day9-Kyoto-Bow-MakerOur first stop this morning is the studio of an 8th generation traditional silversmith, located in the heart of the old merchant district. The workshop’s chief journeyman will demonstrate how she transforms sheets of silver into stunning implements for the tea ceremony. We will follow this with a stop at the working studio of a 21st generation bow maker whose family supplied bows to samurai for nearly 700 years, for an introduction to the art of making Japan’s unique bamboo longbows. Afterwards, we will have a demonstration of iado (a martial art of swords) and kyudo (Japanese archery), so you can see the weapons of samurai in action, as well as learn more about the training that the samurai class (both men and women) embraced in order to hone their skills. Tonight we will enjoy a group dinner.

    Accommodations: Celestine Gion Kyoto
    Meals included: Breakfast, dinner

    Day10-Miho-TunnelToday we travel by coach to nearby Shigaraki. On the way, our first stop is the home and workshop of the Mori family,who have been growing and fermenting indigo dyestuff, and dyeing in the traditional way since the late 1800’s. We will continue deep into the countryside to the Miho Museum, designed by I.M. Pei and completed in 1997, to see their world-renowned Asian art collection. Shigaraki is also one of Japan’s renowned pottery towns dating back to the 1200’s, and we will visit the workshop of a local potter, who makes functional stoneware with the local light-colored gritty clay that is fired without glaze for six days in a wood-fired kiln. After seeing his kiln and a brief demonstration, we will hear an explanation of the distinctive surface effects for which Shigaraki is known.

    Accommodations: Celestine Gion Kyoto
    Meals included: Breakfast, lunch

    Day11-Nijo-CastleWe start the day at Nijo Castle, one of the last remaining original castles in Japan. The buildings are in excellent condition with door, wall and ceiling paintings by some of the greatest artists of the early 1600’s. The ornately carved wooden transoms are the largest single block wood carvings in the world. The castle is especially famous for its “Nightingale floors,” a medieval security technique where floors were constructed to squeak when walked upon, alerting residents of unwanted intruders. Next, we visit to Shisendo, a 400-year old retirement home and garden of a samurai. This site is a masterpiece in site design, with 20% of the property dedicated to the entry, creating a dramatic transition from the street. It now functions ias a Soto Zen temple. The remainder of your day will be free time for touring of Kyoto on your own. Tonight we will gather to enjoy a farewell dinner at a local restaurant.

    Accommodations: Celestine Gion Kyoto
    Meals included: Breakfast, dinner

    The morning is free to take in the sights, shop or simply stroll Kyoto’s varied neighborhoods one last time. Transfer by reserved van shuttle, per individual flight times, for your pre-arranged return flight from Osaka Kansai International Airport or Osaka Itami Airport.

    Meals included: Breakfast


    Tour-Day13-ImaichoTravel today to the small, delightfully preserved town of Imai-cho, near Nara. This small town, which dates back to the 14th century still has about 500 traditional houses, retaining the appearance it has had since the Edo period. It is the largest preservation district for traditional buildings in Japan. Visit the home of former samurai families and merchants to see how they lived centuries ago. After some time exploring, travel on to Yagi-cho for lunch and to see another residential area with 300 traditional structures. Afterwards, we will proceed  to 1400-year old UNESCO world heritage site Horyu-ji, located on the outskirts of Nara. It is one of Japan’s oldest temples, founded by Prince Shotoku, who is attributed with having spread Buddhism throughout Japan in the early 600’s. This extraordinary treasure in an intact functioning monastery setting, preserves a classic Chinese architectural style that cannot be seen anywhere in Asia, including China, itself. Horyu-ji’s extensive original wooden buildings include a five-story pagoda with a large central gate. We will arrive at our centrally located hotel by the end of the day and have a group dinner this evening.

    Accommodations: Noborioji Hotel
    Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch Dinner

    Day12-Nara-Todaiji-BuddhaToday we will explore Nara’s most famous sites. within a UNESCO world heritage area. Nara was Japan’s first permanent capital and was established in the year 710. Due to its historic past Nara is filled with historic treasures as well as some of Japan’s oldest Buddhist temples. We start at Nara Park, the location of many of Nara’s main attractions. The park is made home by hundreds of freely roaming deer. Considered as messengers of the gods, Nara’s deer are designated a National Treasure and a symbol of the city. Todai-ji, the Great Eastern Temple, is one of Japan’s most famous and historically relevant temples and inspired by temple construction of China’s Tang Dynasty in the 700’s. Kasuga Taisha is Nara’s most celebrated Shinto shrine. It was established in the same year as the capital and is dedicated to the protecting deity of the city. Kasuga Taisha is famous for its many lanterns which are donated by worshippers and is now home to a fine, small historical museum. Remainder of the afternoon free to explore and dine on your own.

    Accommodations: Noborioji Hotel
    Meals included: Breakfast, lunch, dinner

    You’ll have the morning free to take in the sights, shop or simply stroll Nara one last time. Transfer by reserved van shuttle, per individual flight times, for your pre-arranged return flight from Osaka Kansai International Airport or Osaka Itami Airport.

    Meals included: Breakfast

    Note: The itinerary will be finalized approximately 30 days prior to departure. Artist visits are subject to availability and the schedules of our Japanese colleagues. A final itinerary will be sent to you about two weeks prior to departure. The itinerary and visits are subject to change at any time.


    Pricing, Sample Video, and Materials

    Price: $8,550 USD

    Registrations will be accepted after July 23, 2018.

    Tour Price Includes:

    Accommodations for ten nights in 4-star hotels: Hyatt Centric Ginza Tokyo, Kanazawa hotel TBD,  Kayotei* and Celestine Gion Kyoto, based on sharing a room.*
    Daily breakfast and additional meals as indicated (five lunches and four dinners)
    Round-trip airport transfers by private car (Tokyo) and reserved, shared van shuttle (Kyoto)
    All internal trains and buses for the tour, including riding on Japan’s famous Shinkansen “Bullet train” in Green Car (first class).
    Baggage shipping for one bag per person from Tokyo to Kyoto
    Informative commentary by an Esprit tour leader who is fluent in Japanese, using our unique radio headset system.
    Admissions and local transportation

    *Please note we may have limited numbers of King rooms available at the hotels; most rooms will be twin-bedded. If you would like us to inquire about double rooms or upgraded rooms to get a double, please let us know at the time of registration.

    Single supplement information is available upon request.   Singles are limited.

    *A stay at a Japanese Ryokan involves sleeping on the tatami matted floors on futon beds.  We have chosen this ryokan for its location and desirability. There is only one room with beds, so if it is critical that you have a bed for this night, please inquire as to its availability. Rooms are also available with private onsen baths for an additional fee.

    Group size is limited to 16.

    Price may be adjusted at the time of final payment for currency fluctuation.



    Price: $1650 USD

    The extension will run with a minimum of four participants and no maximum. In the event the extension is not available due to insufficient enrollment we can discuss options for traveling on your own to Nara.


    Extension Price Includes:

    Accommodations for two nights in the Noborioji Hotel, based on sharing a room.
    Daily breakfast and additional meals as indicated (two lunches)
    All transport for the tour by coach, local train or taxi
    Informative commentary by an Esprit tour leader who is fluent in Japanese, using our unique radio headset system (if numbers require this).
    Baggage shipping for one bag to Osaka Kansai Airport (we will travel with overnight bags only)
    Admissions and local transportation


    Note: The itinerary will be finalized approximately 30 days prior to departure. Artist visits are subject to availability and the schedules of our Japanese colleagues. A final itinerary will be sent to you about two weeks prior to departure. The itinerary and visits are subject to change at any time.

    Preview of some of the visits for this tour:


    Bow Maker

    Budo Center



    Downloadable Samurai and Tatsujin Tour Itinerary –

    Esprit Travel – Samurai and Tatsujin – April 2019

    Note: The itinerary will be finalized approximately 30 days prior to departure.  Artist visits are subject to availability and the schedules of our Japanese colleagues.  A final itinerary will be sent to you about two weeks prior to departure.   The itinerary and visits are subject to change at any time.