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Japanese Gardens & the Art of Bonsai

10 Nightsfrom £4995.00 pp

Tour Overview

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We may be exploring the ‘Art of Bonsai’ but don’t be mistaken, this is anything but a small exploration of Japan. The natural wonders here are many-fold... and wherever you travel you are never too far from something truly special.

The art form of Bonsai is all about contemplation, making it a perfect study for a well-paced garden tour.

Bonsai professionals in Japan commonly follow one of two paths – they can become bonsai sellers or bonsai creators. We visit people who have followed both paths at Bonsai Kisshoen, and Bonsai Aichien. At the Omiya Bonsai Museum we view a collection of more than 100 bonsai masterpieces and bonsai-related artefacts, including: bonsai pots, and miniature landscape stone (suiseki). The Mansei-en Bonsai Garden has long been a favourite destination for Bonsai enthusiasts travelling into Japan. Amongst their displays of over 120,000 plants, Kyoto Botanical Gardens have a dedicated bonsai section. There is also a fascinating forest zone with precious specimens unique to the Yamashiro Basin and many maple varieties.

We have also selected some of the very best gardens that Japan has to offer, including the outstanding Kenrokuen Garden in Kanazawa, rated as one of the top three gardens in Japan. In Kyoto these include Ginkakuji a UNESCO World Heritage Site often named as the top garden in region. In Tokyo, highlights include the Imperial Palace East Garden and the Hamarikyu garden, an oasis of tranquillity in the heart of the bustling city.
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Tour Itinerary Back to top of page

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Wednesday 4 April 2018
Depart on scheduled overnight flight from London Heathrow to Kansai International Airport (Osaka). Please note that regional flight connections, flight upgrades and/or overnight accommodation before or after the tour are available on request.

Thursday 5 April 2018
On arrival in Osaka in the morning we transfer by coach to Kyoto and the Crowne Plaza ANA Hotel Kyoto. All rooms are en-suite with television, hairdryer, mini fridge, in-room safe and tea/coffee making facilities.  The hotel boasts four restaurants and has on-site fitness facilities.  The rest of the day is at leisure.

This evening a welcome drink and dinner are included.

Friday 6 April 2018
Following breakfast we begin with a visit to the dry landscape garden at Ginkaku-ji or ‘Silver Pavilion’, which was made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994. The garden is both enigmatic and startling, with some classic features such as a platform of sparkling white sand raked into parallel lines, and beside it a 6-ft high cone of sand with a flat top, which could be Mount Fuji, or a mound of rice representing prosperity – or a pile of sand for replenishing the platform. The pavilion is not actually silver but an austere black and white, although it was the original intention of the Shogun who built it to cover it in silver leaf, just as his grandfather covered Kinkaku-ji (see Day 4) in gold leaf. There is also a classic stroll garden, which complements and contrasts with the dry garden.

Our next visit is to the private garden of Hakusasonsou in the site of an old paddy field. The garden was created by a painter, Hashimoto Kansetsu, who visited China on more than forty occasions. He acquired the site at the age of thirty and spent the rest of his life painting here, designing the gardens and teahouses, and collecting the ancient stone lanterns, pagodas and Buddhas that adorn the pathways.

You may also enjoy browsing in the adjoining gallery which is home to several of Hashimoto’s paintings – some of his major works appear in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the Pompidou Centre in Paris.   

We continue to Kyoto Botanical Garden which displays over 120,000 plants covering more than 13,000 species. Special features include a rose garden with 2,000 bushes, a 4,600 square metre conservatory, two iris gardens, a bonsai collection, a wild garden, eight sections for Japanese native plants and a forest zone. Around four ponds are precious specimens of trees unique to the Yamashiro Basin and many varieties of maples.

Our final visit is to the Bamboo Forest Path in Sagano, a strange, otherworldly forest of dense bamboo, whose soaring trunks shade the path, their leaves rustling musically in the breeze.

Evening at leisure.

Saturday 7 April 2018
After breakfast we head to one of the principal Zen temples in Kyoto, Tofukuji Temple. Founded in 1236, the temple is best known for its massive Sanmon Gate which stands 22 metres high and is the largest of any Japanese Zen temple. The Zen gardens can be found within the Hojo (Abbot’s Hall) and are the work of Mirai Shigemori (1896 – 1975), who installed them in 1939 using mostly moss and gravel. A small stream, known as Sengyokuken runs through the garden and is traversed by three bridges, the most famous of which is the Tsuten Bridge.

We then travel to Koju-en Shohin Garden, a specialist nursery that holds a large collection of Shohin Bonsai trees, both deciduous and coniferous, beautifully arranged in an urban garden setting.

Following our visit we transfer to Ryoan-ji temple, a famous and enigmatic dry landscape garden that often baffles the Western visitor. Created at the end of the sixteenth century as an aid to contemplation for the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism, it comprises five groups of three stones, on a sea of raked gravel running from east to west. All the stones, except one, appear to point upstream and all the stones, except one, are visible from any one viewpoint. There have been many interpretations of the garden’s meaning – islands, mountains piercing low clouds, tiger cubs crossing water – and you are welcome to formulate your own theory! It is generally agreed however that the gravel represents the void, the idea of emptiness being central to Zen philosophy, and as you gaze upon this barely furnished garden you are encouraged to fill the void with the fruits of your imagination and let Ryoan-ji’s tranquillity spread its magic.

Our final visit is to Kinkaku-ji temple. The three-tiered Golden Pavilion was constructed originally in 1397 as a retirement villa for the Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu and it was then converted into a temple by his son. The temple was reconstructed in 1955 following an arson attack in 1950 and it is now the focus of this ‘pond-and-island’ garden. It exerts a unifying force on the expansive view of the broad Mirror Lake that spreads out beneath it, partly due to the skilful placement of crags and islands. Evening at leisure.

Sunday 8 April 2018
After breakfast we check out of our hotel and take the world famous bullet train from Kyoto to Nagoya. Upon arrival we will visit the intimate Bonsai garden of Kissho-en.

Our next stop is at Bonsai Aichi-en Nursery where we will discover a sea of Bonsai tress created by Junichiro Tanaka, a fourth generation bonsai professional. Tanaka specialises in black pines and his unique miniature creations attract visitors from all over the world.   

We will then check in to our comfortable accommodation at the Westin Nagoya Castle Hotel, which offers spectacular views of the 16th century castle which was destroyed during the Second World War and will be fully reconstructed by 2018. All rooms in the hotel have private facilities and include a TV, Wi-Fi access, hairdryer, and tea and coffee making facilities. Evening at leisure.

Monday 9 April 2018
Following breakfast this morning we transfer to Tokoname – a city renowned for its bonsai pottery making which is a tradition that stretches back 900 years. Upon arrival in the city we will enjoy a walking tour along the many pottery footpaths before visiting Nobori Gama one of the locations of Six Ancient Kilns of Japan. Established in the medieval period, Tokoname’s kilns are some of the oldest ceramic pot producers in Japan. Many of the traditions used to design pots in the 12th century are still alive today, with the bonsai pots and redware tea pots recognised by the Japanese Government as a National Cultural Asset and given protected status.

We will then explore Tokoname on foot by way of Dokanzaka Street, where the walls and the path itself are constructed from old ceramic pipes and shochu bottles. Along this mesmerising path are a number of brick chimneys that have been preserved from the Meiji Period.

We finish our time in Tokoname at the Ceramic Mall in Chita Peninsula where we will have plenty of time to enjoy a spot of pottery shopping before returning to our hotel in the evening.

Tuesday 10 April 2018
After breakfast we check out of our hotel and take the express train from Nagoya to Kanazawa Station. Upon arrival we will pay an afternoon visit to Nishida Family Garden (Gyokusen-en). This luscious garden blends greenery and lava stones to form a serene sense of beauty and tranquillity. The garden has a very long history, having existed for 120 more years than Kenroku-en. The Nishida Family Garden took around 100 years to truly complete and everywhere in the garden you can see the level of commitment to horticultural  excellence, such as the stepping stones containing inscribed stones from all over Japan.

We will then transfer to Kanazawa Castle Park where we can expect to see spring’s explosion of pink and white cherry blossoms that surround the castle grounds.

Later in the afternoon we check into our comfortable accommodation at the ANA Crowne Plaza Hotel Kanazawa. All rooms have private facilities and include air conditioning, TV with satellite channels, and tea and coffee making facilities. The hotel also boasts five restaurants serving a range of Japanese and Chinese cuisines.

Evening at leisure.

Wednesday 11 April 2018
Following breakfast we will visit one of Japan’s three most beautiful gardens – Kenroku-en. The name Kenrokuen translates as ‘The Garden Displaying Six Qualities’, these being spaciousness, seclusion, artistic intent, maturity, abundant water and striking vistas, and the garden has been a National Site of Scenic Beauty since 1922. Kenroku-en was created as the outer garden of Kanazawa Castle over a 200-year period, from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century. The large garden was designed to offer the strolling visitor a range of views that bring to mind the natural scenery. The informal design includes two large ponds and a stream that winds through the gardens, planted with irises and flanked by cherry trees. The stream is crossed by a variety of traditional bridges and a series of stepping-stones arranged like flying geese. On the bank of the Misty Pond is the famous two-legged stone lantern. Look out too for the elaborate bracing system on some of the taller trees, designed to prevent the breakage of branches by the weight of winter snow.

We will then have some time to explore the historic Higashi Chaya Street. A chaya translates as a teahouse in which guests are entertained by geisha who perform song and dance. The Higashi District has two chaya, the Shima Teahouse and Kaikaro Teahouse which we would highly recommend (not included).

In the afternoon we will have the opportunity to further explore Kanazawa at our own leisure before returning to the hotel.

Thursday 12 April 2018
This morning we check out of our hotel and travel by bullet train from Kanazawa to Tokyo. Upon arrival in Japan’s capital city we will visit the Imperial Palace East Gardens. The first Tokugawa shogun began building a castle here in 1590 which over the years after successive upgrades became the largest castle in the world. Now the Emperor and Japanese Royal Family live in the western part of the grounds in the Imperial Palace, rebuilt after the previous one was bombed in World War II. Only part of the grounds are open to the public. In addition there is an exhibition of artefacts given to emperors over the years. The garden itself has a fine collection of bamboo and Japanese spring blossom.    

We continue to the Koishikawa Koraku-en Gardens, one of Tokyo’s best stroll gardens. Construction of the garden commenced in 1629 and finished some 30 years later. The garden represents larger landscapes in miniature including the recreation of Japan’s Kiso River and Rozan, a famous Chinese sightseeing mountain. In the middle of the large pond is Horai island, a beautiful composition of stone and pine trees.

We continue to our comfortable accommodation the five-star Prince Park Tower Hotel which is centrally located in the Shiba Park district of the city. Evening at leisure.

Friday 13 April 2018
After breakfast we will spend a full day in Omiya, a Japanese village devoted solely to the art of Bonsai. The village of Omiya was established in 1925 and all residents were required to possess ten or more bonsai trees and allow public access to their bonsai gardens. Since the 1920s Omiya has grown in fame and recognition with the first Bonsai World Convention being held in the village in 1989. We will begin our exploration of Omiya with a visit to the Bonsai Art Museum. Opened in 2010, the museum boasts a collection of more than 100 bonsai masterpieces as well as rare bonsai pots, miniature landscapes and woodblock prints.

Following our visit to the museum we will then have the opportunity to visit six of the most renowned Bonsai gardens in Omiya. We will begin with the oldest garden in the village, Mansei-en, an elegant garden which recreates the essence of deep mountains and dark valleys. Afterwards, we will explore Toju-en, a garden which specialises in the popular  Goyo-matsu and smaller bonsai varieties. We then enjoy the 300 varieties of bonsai that can be discovered at Kyuka-en. We continue to Seikou-en, famous for creating the Saika variety of Bonsai. Following this visit we continue to Shosetsu-en in which the Bonsai are arranged to the theme of ‘beauty in space’. Finally, we explore Fuyo-en which places most of its focus deciduous trees which can be enjoyed throughout the year.

Evening at leisure.   

Saturday 14 April 2018
After breakfast, we begin the day with a visit to the Senso-ji Temple, Tokyo’s most sacred temple. Inside a golden image of Kannon (the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy) is enshrined which allegedly was fished out of the nearby Sumidagawa River by two fishermen in 628. The image has remained on the same spot ever since throughout successive rebuildings of the temple. In front of the temple is a large incense cauldron: the smoke is said to bestow good health and you will see visitors rubbing it onto their skin and clothes. Directly in front of the Senso-ji Temple lies the Nakamise-dori, the temple’s shopping precinct, where you will have free time to browse through the stalls which sell everything from haircombs, fans and kimonos to wigs and genuine Edo crafts. There is even a stall where you can buy freshly shaved seaweed – and if you’re lucky you may even see the process itself taking place!

Later we take a cruise on the Sumida River from Asakusa to Hamarikyu and we continue to the Hamarikyu Garden where General Grant stayed with the emperor in 1895, now a popular place for relaxation. It is hard to imagine such a place of tranquillity right in the heart of the hustle and bustle that is Tokyo. Hamarikyu has the only seawater pond in Tokyo and it also boasts a 300 year old Black Pine – one of the largest in the country. The garden was part of the official hunting ground of the Tokugawa Shogunate in the 17th century and has now been designated a special place of beauty by the National Government.  

We are then free to enjoy some free time in Tokyo before returning to a local restaurant for a farewell dinner.

Sunday 15 April 2018
Sadly, we check out of our hotel today and transfer by coach to Narita Airport, for our flight home, due to arrive at London Heathrow in the evening.

What's Included Back to top of page

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  • 3 nights’ bed and breakfast at the ANA Crowne Plaza Hotel, Kyoto (or similar);  2 nights’ bed and breakfast at the Westin Nagoya Castle (or similar); 2 nights’ bed and breakfast at the ANA Crowne Plaza Hotel, Kanazawa (or similar); 3 nights’ bed and breakfast at The Prince Sakura Tower Tokyo (or similar)
  • Dinner and welcome drink on first evening and a farewell dinner on the final evening
  • Flight from London Heathrow to Osaka, returning from Tokyo (regional flight connections and flight upgrades available on request)
  • Comfortable coaching throughout and transfer by Bullet Train from Kyoto to Nagoya and Kanazawa to Tokyo. Limited Express Train from Nagoya to Kanazawa
  • Visits to Ginkakuji Temple, Hakusansonsou, Kyoto Botanical Garden, Sagano Bamboo Path,  Tofuku-ji Temple,  Koju-en Shohin Garden, Ryoan-ji Temple, Kinkaku-ji Temple, Kissho-en Nursery, Aichi-en Nursery, Nobori Gama, Dokan Zaka Street, Ceramic Mall, Nishida Family Garden, Kanazawa Castle Park, Kenroku-en Garden, Higashi Chaya Street, Imperial Palace East Garden, Koishikawa Koraku-en Garden, Omiya Bonsai Museum, Mansei-en, Toju-en, Kyuka-en, Seikou-en, Shosetsu-en, Fuyo-en, Senso-ji Temple, Sumida river cruise and Hama-rikyu Garden. 
  • Services of a horticulturist as Brightwater Holidays guide plus local English-speaking guides

Supplements Per Person Back to top of page

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  • Single room supplement        £900.00
  • Insurance                                prices on request

Departure Points Back to top of page

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