Join Esprit Travel on a magical garden tour of Japan.  Our primary focus will be one of Japan’s most charming cities, Kyoto, and its many spectacular gardens.  We will also journey a little further afield, with day trips outside of Kyoto to visit Kanazawa’s famed Kenroku-en garden as well as gardens and picturesque countryside outside Kyoto, in Ohara.  We will give you a context for understanding Japanese gardens by introducing you to the culture, crafts, neighborhoods, people and history that make Kyoto such a treasure.

Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828)

In the city fields
Contemplating cherry trees
Strangers are like friends


φ Get an education in Japanese landscape design–from sand and stone meditation gardens to more contemplative settings with water features, from strolling gardens to scroll gardens seen from a sitting position, and more.

φ Learn how gardens and landscape design play a part in day-to-day life in Japan

φ Visit the famous Moss Temple Garden as well as a private 200-year old villa

φ Enjoy a walking tour of the centuries’ old wooden Gion Geisha district

φ Visit Kenroku-en strolling garden in Kanazawa, one of Japan’s three famous large strolling parks from the feudal era

φ Enjoy private meetings with talented residents of Kyoto, from artisans to warm and welcoming Buddhist monks

φ Stroll through charming neighborhoods

φ Enjoy a thought-provoking introduction to Buddhism and Shinto.

φ Experience a variety of Japanese cuisine, including seasonal favorites.

Daily Itinerary


Depart for Japan on your individually arranged flights.


Esprit Travel Garden Tour - Moss Garden

Travel by shared shuttle transfer from your Osaka arrival airport to our downtown hotel, the Royal Park Kyoto, located in central Kyoto near shopping and restaurants. The evening is free upon arrival.

Accommodations: Royal Park THE Kyoto


Esprit Japanese Garden Tour - Koto in

Begin an educational and informative journey into Kyoto’s fascinating gardens, religions and culture.  We’ll start our tour at Daitoku-ji Zen monastery, where we’ll join a tea master for an experience of the Way of Tea. One of the monastery’s showpiece gardens is at Zuiho-in,  featuring vigorously raked gravel and a fine arrangement of stones and moss. Next is Koto-in, a temple dedicated to the practice of tea, set in a tea garden atmosphere of bamboo, maples and moss. The dramatic entry and the interplay of the 400-year-old buildings and tea rooms with the gardens is exceptional.  On our final garden this morning, we visit the sub-temple, Ryogen-in, with five dry gardens. Lunch will be on the monastery grounds.  Beautifully presented, multi-course Buddhist vegetarian cuisine is served in red lacquer bowls. Later, we’ll visit the home and studio of a calligraphy master and performance artist to see him wield his gigantic brush, literally dancing across the paper to create a masterpiece-in-the-moment. We’ll end the day with a short walking tour of Kyoto’s downtown district, ending at our hotel. Dinner is at your leisure this evening.

Accommodations: Royal Park THE Kyoto
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch


Esprit Travel Japanese Garden Tour - Bamboo Forest

We begin today in Western Kyoto in Arashiyama at Tenryu-ji, one of the oldest gardens in Kyoto, a large scroll garden and classic pond dating from the early 14th century. The garden was designed by Muso Kokushi, a renowned priest, diplomat, meditation teacher and garden designer. After a short walk through the Bamboo Forest, we will have a tour of the Hogon-in villa, which is not open to the public. We have secured a special appointment that allows our group to explore the main villa building (usually reserved for private temple-related events). Built in the 1800’s, this sukiya-style (tea-ceremony inspired aesthetic) home is an exceptional example of fine wood finishing and exquisite attention to detail. We will begin our visit there with a leisurely guided stroll through the large, mossy green garden. Our guide there will be a master gardener garden historian who acted as staff consultant to the project. After our group lunch, we head for a special arranged visit to Moss Temple gardens, established in the 8th century.  Hear the priests chant the Heart Sutra in the main hall. Participants may choose to try their hand at calligraphy as a focusing exercise before entering the mystical five-acre stroll garden.  We leave this area and proceed to a brief visit at a Bonsai nursery, followed by an appointment at a private home and studio in the Nishijin textile district.  Here we will meet a 5th generation master of gold leaf. In his beautifully preserved, traditional Kyoto-style merchant house, he will introduce you to his intricate process used to create custom obi (sash belts for kimono) as well as show us his machiya-style garden which has been featured in Japanese publications.  We will return to our hotel before heading out for a group dinner this evening.

Accommodations: Royal Park THE Kyoto
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner


Esprit Japanese Garden Tour-Day5-Ginkakuji-Arnold Caplan

For today’s touring, we start at Nanzen-ji Zen monastery complex, home to three distinctly different dry gardens. From there,  we’ll stroll along the famed Philosopher’s Walk,  stopping along the way at a couple of private gardens as well as to see interesting residential entry gates and gardens.  We will enter Jodo temple, Honen-in, to see its dramatically-placed, thatched entry gate set in a dimly-lit wild camellia forest. After lunch, we’ll end our walk at 15th century Ginkaku-ji, the Silver Pavilion, where we’ll enjoy the juxtaposition of a green garden and pond with abstract sand sculptures. Finally, we have planned a presentation with a Japanese ceramics expert at his gallery, with works representing a wide range of styles, both traditional and contemporary. His gallery is located in a well-preserved sukiya-style house and garden.

Accommodations: Royal Park THE Kyoto
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch


Esprit Japanese Garden Tour - Kiyomizu

We start today at Kiyomizu-dera Temple and its panoramic views of the city. There we’ll be guests of the temple priest’s family in their garden and home. The 400-year old scroll garden, called the “Garden of the Moon,” uses traditional design to create a greatly expanded sense of space.  After free time for strolling in the area, we will meet for a Kyoto-style tofu lunch. Next, we’ll stop at a craftsman wooden house, the former home and studio of potter Kawai Kanjiro.  From there, we head to Sanjusangendo Hall, a 900-year old structure that holds one of Asia’s most significant collections of statuary in Japan’s longest wooden building. Finally, we visit Chishaku-in Temple with its garden that overhangs a pond.  Sample some of the exquisite cuisine that Kyoto has to offer while on your own for dinner tonight.

Accommodations: Royal Park THE Kyoto
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch


Esprit Japanese Garden Tour-Day7-Sanzen-in Ohara-Pamela Parisi-

We start our day at Shisendo, the Hall of the Poet Hermits, the former home of a samurai which was later converted to a Soto Zen temple.  After exploring the highly complex, yet deceptively simple transitional entry area, we enter to find a rustic, sukiya-style home and scroll garden.  Next, we proceed to Rengei-ji Temple, where the temple’s abbot will introduce us to his scroll garden and invite us in for tea in a special tea room overlooking a natural stream. Often overlooked, this stunning garden and temple inspired architectural genius I.M. Pei. From there, we head to the mountain town of Ohara, just outside Kyoto, which offers us an experience of rural life in Japan to visit to a simple farmers market and a natural plant dye studio. Lunch is at Wappado, a restaurant run by a master chef and his wife, who grow much of their own organic produce and rice in Ohara. The meal is served in their restored old farmhouse. After lunch there will be free time to browse. You can visit Jakko-in, a Buddhist nunnery with a rustic garden, and stroll neighborhoods with large farm houses, vegetable gardens and rice paddies intermingled. At this time of year, the rice fields are flooded and the new growth can be seen and all of the small vegetable plots are filled with greens. We will regather to visit Sanzen-in Temple, a 1000-year old country temple and its two gardens (an exquisite gem that you often see in photographs.) before returning to downtown Kyoto.

Accommodations: Royal Park THE Kyoto
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch


Esprit Japanese Garden Tour - Fushimi Inari

At 800-year old Tofuku-ji Zen monastery, you can see monumental Sino-Japanese-style buildings, dramatic bridges spanning the river gorge and stark stone and sand gardens that present many photographic opportunities at this UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Most of the gardens within the sub-temples were designed by Mirei Shigemori. We travel to Fushimi Inari Shrine to explore part of the long tunnel made up of 10,000 orange torii gates that wind their way through the hills. Next, we will return to Shijo for free time for lunch.  After lunch, we will have a walking tour of the historically preserved Gion district, home to one of the five communities of geisha in Kyoto followed by a presentation at a bamboo shop.  For our group dinner tonight, we’ll dine in a restored 19th century manor house with a garden designed by Jihei Ogawa, lit up for our enjoyment at night.

Accommodations: Royal Park THE Kyoto
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch


Esprit Japanese Garden Tour - Kenrouen

Today, we leave early by train, north to Kanazawa.  Kanazawa 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.  We start our touring at Nomura Garden at the home of a former samurai, in the Nagamachi Samurai quarter.  After a light lunch, we visit the Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of Traditional Arts & Crafts to have a tour that highlights the arts of the area. We end at Kenroku-en gardens, a large municipal park containing a very famous, meticulously maintained strolling garden that also dates back to the feudal era.  We will return by train to Kyoto late in the afternoon.

Accommodations: Royal Park THE Kyoto
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch

DAY 10

Esprit Japanese Garden Tour - Kinkakuji

Starting at Ryoan-ji, we’ll see the 500-year-old garden which is actually a very early example of abstract installation art, then walk on to Myoshin-ji monastery’s Taizo-in. There we’ll view a private garden designed by famed painter, 16th century Kano Motonobu, guided by Daiko Matsuyama-Osho-sama, vice-abbot of Taizo-in. He will also show us a modern stroll and pond garden designed by Kinsaku Nakane located next door that uses small-leafed satsuki azaleas to create a scene of vast rolling mountains. We end the morning at one of Kyoto’s most famous sites, 14th century Kinkaku-ji Gold Pavillion, with its finely executed pond as well as an often overlooked masterpiece waterfall. The afternoon is free time to explore some of Kyoto on your own.  We will gather tonight, one last time, for our farewell dinner.

Accommodations: Royal Park THE Kyoto
Meals: Breakfast, Dinner

DAY 11

You’ll have the morning 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 return flight from Osaka Kansai International Airport or Osaka Itami Airport.

Meals: 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.



To Be Advised

Note: Actual visits and events will be finalized approximately 30 days prior to departure to allow for the inclusion of special exhibitions, visits and events, and are dependent on the schedules of our Japanese colleagues. A final itinerary will be sent to you about two weeks prior to tour departure. The itinerary is subject to change at any time.

Sample Visit Video's


Esprit Travel - Japanese Garden Tour (Downloadable Itinerary)
Note: Actual visits and events will be finalized approximately 30 days prior to departure to allow for the inclusion of special exhibitions, visits and events, and are dependent on the schedules of our Japanese colleagues. A final itinerary will be sent to you about two weeks prior to tour departure. The itinerary is subject to change at any time.