Hidden Japan: Art & Culture
- Duration14 Nights
- StylePrivate Tour
- When to GoFeb-May & Sep-Nov
- Price GuideFrom $6,524 Per Person
At a Glance
- Private airport transfer from Osaka Kansai Airport to your Kyoto hotel
- Day trip to the Uji green tea region with matcha-influenced lunch
- Free time for self-guided exploration or side trips
Ine, Amanohashidate, and Kyotango
- Transfer to Amanohashidate by train
- Guided tour of Amanohashidate, then speedboat into the fishing village of Ine
- Two nights in a private ‘funaya’ boathouse, including bento breakfast and dinner reservations in the village
- Explore Ine by e-bike and private boat tours
- Guided tour of Kyotango’s artisans with visits to a swordsmith, silk weaver, and sake brewery
- Continue to Kinosak Onsen by private car
- Two nights in an authentic ryokan
- Cycling tour around Kinosaki, visiting the fishing port, wetlands, and kamaboko shop
- Transfer to Kurashiki by train
- Walking tour of the Bizen pottery kilns and galleries
- Transfer to Naoshima by train and ferry
- Two-night stay at the famous Benesse House
- Self-guided exploration of Naoshima covering the Ando Museum, Benesse Museum, Yayoi Kusama pieces, and more
- Day trip to Teshima island to visit the Teshima Art Museum, Teshima Yokoo House, and Les Archives du Coeur
- Transfer to Takamatsu by ferry and train
- Crafts tour of Takamatsu focusing on Sanuki lacquerware and Temari
- Guided tour of the Ritsurin Gardens
- Final train transfer to Osaka and overnight stay
- Private departure transfer to Osaka Kansai Airport
Meet Our Expert
I am totally captivated by Asia. Having lived in Singapore, Nepal, South Korea and Hong Kong, travelled extensively across all of our destinations in Asia, and worked in luxury travel for many years, curating exceptional trips comes naturally to me.
- 10 nights in 4 star boutique hotel accommodation with daily breakfast
- 2 nights in 4-star ryokan accommodation with breakfast and dinner
- 2 nights in private funaya boathouse with bento breakfast delivered each day
- 2x further lunches during Kyoto and Kyotango tours
- Private arrival and departures transfer from/to Osaka Kansai Airport
- Individual train tickets for all mentioned train travel in Ordinary Class
- Pre-loaded public transport card
- Privately guided tours and experiences as described, including all entrance fees and any local transport included in tours
- Comprehensive self-guide travel pack and app
- 24/7 support from our dedicated staff
- Flexible, personalized itinerary based on your interests
What's not Included
- International flights from your country of origin
- Tips or gratuities to guides, drivers, hotel staff
- Any meals, tours, or activities other than those specifically mentioned in itinerary
- Incidental local expenses - souvenirs, laundry, taxis, etc
- Travel insurance - we strongly recommend you purchase travel insurance as soon as you have booked your trip.
Day by Day Itinerary
- Day 1
Kyoto: Private transfer from Osaka Kansai Airport to Kyoto hotel
Welcome to Japan! You will be met in the arrivals hall by our local representative, who will welcome you to Japan and go through any immediate questions you might have. You will then be assisted to a private car in which you’ll enjoy a relaxed, hassle-free transfer to your hotel in Kyoto. Dependent on traffic, this transfer will take around 90 minutes.
The former capital of Japan, Kyoto is the country’s cultural and historical heart, home to over 2,000 shrines and temples, four geisha districts, an Imperial palace and castle, magnificent gardens, famous bamboo groves, and a multitude of cultural activities. It is also one of Japan’s most enchanting cities with everything from spectacular gardens and shrines to ancient temples, geishas, castles, and traditional teahouses. It’s famous for its food too, a great place to sample all the main classics and sublime kaiseki cuisine.
- Day 2
Kyoto: Day at leisure with optional tours
Today is free to explore Kyoto as you wish. There is so much here, from stunning gardens and ancient temples to winding alleyways. Perhaps head out early to shop in Nishiki Market, gathering up local goodies for a later picnic in the grounds of the Imperial Palace. Away from the city center, the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove in western Kyoto is a magical wonderland of soaring bamboo trees, some of which tower more than 65 feet. When the sun filters through the darkness, walking in feels like walking into a dream. You can also continue to the Tenryuji Temple and Okouchi Sanso Garden, or Nijo Castle with its spectacular gardens and famous nightingale floors, an anti-ninja security measure designed to make chirping sounds when walked upon.
There are also many day trips possible from Kyoto: to the busy city of Osaka, Himeji with its’ fine castle, or Kobe with its excellent wagyu beef. The closest day trip is Nara, former capital of Japan from 710 to 784 AD. Here you can take in the largest wooden building in the world, Todaiji Temple, which also hosts the country’s largest Buddha. You’ll also marvel at Nara’s most celebrated shrine, Kasuga Taisha, and perhaps visit Nara Park, often referred to as Deer Park, home to more than a thousand free-roaming deer. All of these trips can be covered by your included JR rail pass.
- Day 3
Kyoto: Green tea tour of Uji
This morning you will travel by local train to Uji, a small station around 30 minutes outside Kyoto. Here meet local guide then set off for a stroll around this small, charming town and learn about its fascinating history while trying various matcha-ﬂavoured snacks and drinks, such as matcha pastries, matcha beer, and matcha gyoza. Visit local tea shops that line the city’s picturesque streets, and learn about the differences between leaf tea and powdered tea in terms of taste and brewing methods.
Enjoy a delicious lunch of tea-seasoned ramen noodles before moving on to a delightful hands-on matcha making and tasting experience. Guests will grind their own matcha and then learn how to whisk the perfect bowl of green tea. There will be time after this to purchase some tea to take home as a memory of this lovely experience.
Cross the Uji River to visit to the historic Ujigami Shrine, a lesser-known destination set away from the town in a quiet forest. The main hall here is the oldest Shinto hall in Japan, and the lush setting demonstrates the connection between nature and the gods in Shintoism.
Finish with a dessert at Uji’s oldest teahouse. Try matcha rice dumplings or a roasted tea affogatto ice cream, among other mouth-watering choices.
- Day 4
Ine: Transfer to Ine by train and boat; guided tour of Amanohashidate en route
This morning you’ll board a local train out to the coastal town of Amanohashidate. On arrival you’ll meet a local guide to explore, visiting it’s famous sandbar which is counted among the three most beautiful views in Japan, then later Motoise Kono Shrine, said to be where sake was first offered to the gods. Finish by taking the cable car up to Kasamatsu Park and enjoy the incredible view of Amanohashidate’s sea bridge from above.
You’ll then say goodbye to the guide and board a private speed boat up the coastline to the tranquil fishing village of Ine, where you’ll be staying for the next two nights in a converted funaya (boathouse).
Private Funaya Boat HouseRead More
- Day 5
Ine: Explore Ine village on foot, by bicycle, and by boat
A unique village of over 200 funaya (boat houses) built right on Ine Bay, where people have lived in harmony with the mountains and sea for generations. Ine is the only spot in Japan to experience this kind of waterside scenery. Still unknown to most travelers, it’s a truly special destination where sustainable travel is carefully managed to prevent over-tourism.
This morning you will enjoy an e-bike tour of the village. Make your own way to the tour start point at the Ine Tourist Information Center in the middle of the village The length of Ine Bay is 5km, with a hilly terrain and narrow roads, making it perfect for cycling as cars are rarely present. The tour includes highlights such as visiting a boat house and being introduced to traditional fishery tools and festival boats.
Later in the afternoon hop in a boat and enjoy a sea taxi tour of Ine bay. This is a fun chance to see the town from a waterside perspective and learn how this amazing village developed. Tickets are also provided to enter three preserved boathouses to see how past generations lived. Stop at one of the local cafes for a snack and coffee, browse handmade crafts at the visitors center, or wander the village’s picturesque narrow roads.
- Day 6
Kinosaki Onsen: Meet the artisans of Kyotango, then transfer to Kinosaki-Onsen
This morning you’ll be picked up from your Ine accommodation by a private guide. Together you’ll set off by private vehicle to nearby Kyotango, for a full day discovering its artisanal craftspeople.
First visit an authentic sword forge, meeting three exceptional swordsmiths whose craftsmanship has been bestowed the Award of Excellence from The Society for Preservation of Japanese Art Swords. Learn the history of samurai swords and how the weapons changed over time, with an opportunity to hold some of the newly forged swords and admire the details.
Right around the corner, enter a workshop to witness one of the most fascinating forms of textile work. The area of Kyotango is known for producing the highest quality Kimono silk, and here at Tamiya Raden weaving workshop you’ll find highly-skilled artists weaving mother of pearl into the silk to create incredibly exquisite pieces. The stunning work created here has been featured in Paris Fashion Week and in collections with Louis Vuitton.
Move on to a delightful cooking experience in the kitchen of a respected local food educator. The Kyotango region holds the international record for a community with the highest number of citizens over 100 years old, and researchers believe this is because of specific foods that are local to this area. In fluent English, she will teach you traditional cooking techniques and recipes that can be applied in your own kitchen upon returning home.
After enjoying a delicious lunch here your guide will transport you privately over to Kinosaki-onsen, arriving late afternoon – just in time for a dip in the springs before dinner!
Nishimuraya HonkanRead More
- Day 7
Kinosaki Onsen: Guided cycling tour of the village and fishing port
Today you will get to explore the stunning rural landscapes that are just a short pedal away from Kinosaki Onsen. Accompanied by a local guide, you will cycle through charming rural homes, lush green rice paddies, and picturesque spots along the Maruyama River and Japan Sea Coastline. Along the journey, the guide will share some interesting 8th Century folklore tales about the sightseeing spots.
During the tour, you will stop at the famous Futakata Kamaboko, a specialty shop that offers delicious Japanese fish cakes (kamaboko) in various flavors like shrimp, cheese, vegetables, and fish caught from the nearby ocean. You will also try the chikuwa-pan, a cylindrical fish cake made from bread with cheese inside.
The tour will take you to Tsuiyama Fishing Port, famous for its fresh catches of fish and crab. You will cycle through the Toshima Wetlands, providing you with another quintessential view of the Japanese countryside.
- Day 8
Kurashiki: Train transfer to the ‘town of storehouses’
After one last soak in the onsen you will depart Kinosaki this morning, crossing over to the south coast of Japan and the charming small city of Kurashiki. Arrive Kurashiki early afternoon and have the afternoon free to explore. This quaint canal town served as an important rice distribution center in the Edo Period (1603-1867). In fact, the name “Kurashiki” can be roughly translated as “town of storehouses”, which refers to the storehouses in which the rice was kept.
These white-walled former storehouses have been beautifully preserved and many have been converted into museums, boutiques and cafes. The combination of these warehouses, the narrow streets and the canals running through the city, make this a perfect spot for exploring souvenir & craft shops and sipping tea or coffee in cafes.
Royal Park Hotel KurashikiRead More
- Day 9
Kurashiki: Guided tour of the Bizen pottery village
This morning you’ll be picked up by a local guide then set off by train to the Bizen Pottery Village, just outside Kurashiki.
During the tour, you will stroll around the quaint streets of Bizen and explore the various galleries and small works of pottery. You will also meet an 18th generation pottery master, Hideaki Kimura, who will give you insights into the deep history of the village, its different galleries, and kilns.
Make a stop at the Amatsu Shrine and meet the priest for a short Shinto ceremony to wish for good pottery to be made for the year. There will be time to also speak with the priest and ask questions about his life and the importance of pottery to the local community.
After the walking tour, Mr. Kimura will show you his pottery kiln and guide you in making your own pottery by hand. The pottery you make will be put in the kiln for firing and will be sent to your home overseas once completed. After making the pottery, you will enjoy some more fascinating conversation over a cup of ‘matcha’ green tea in a Bizen ware bowl.
Say goodbye to Mr. Kimura at the station and transfer back to Kurashiki with the guide.
- Day 10
Naoshima: Transfer to the ‘Art Island’ by train and ferry
Depart Kurashiki this morning, taking the train further along Japan south’s coast to Okayama, then changing to a local train to the small port of Uno. From Uno you’ll take a 15-minute ferry ride across the Seto Inland Sea to Naoshima – Japan’s world-famous ‘art island’.
After docking at Miyanoura Port in the immediate vicinity you’ll find the iconic red pumpkin sculpture created by Yayoi Kusama, and the I ❤ U artist-designed public bathhouse, showcasing various styles of wall art and design.
A 5-minute taxi ride or 15-minute cycle takes you across to the eastern side of Naoshima, where you’ll find the Ando Museum, dedicated to world-renowned architect Tadao Ando – personally responsible for Naoshima’s emergence as a cultural isle. Ando himself developed the interior design of the museum using his signature minimalist style, standing in striking contrast to the façade, which is a traditional Japanese-style house.
From here, a local bus takes you down to Tsutsuji-so, where you’ll find your accommodation at Benesse House, a pleasant beach, and the most iconic of Naoshima’s public sculptures, Yayoi Kusama’s Yellow Pumpkin.
Benesse HouseRead More
- Day 11
Naoshima: Full day e-bike tour around Naoshima
This morning meet an art-enthusisant local guide, who will take you on electric bikes for a scenic ride around the Mediterranean-like island.
Your first stop will be at Naoshima’s port area, where your guide will provide an overview of the district’s architectural transformation. You will then proceed to visit several House Projects, which are renovated homes featuring unique and meaningful art interiors that offer tangible memories of the island’s past and present. Your guide will recommend a route that covers approximately five of these sites, and will work with you to determine the most interesting locations based on your preferences.
Afterward, you will enjoy lunch at a local café before heading to the sprawling Benesse Museum. This world-renowned museum is one of Japan’s most important centers for contemporary art, and its beautiful campus is sure to delight visitors. At Benesse Park, you can stroll along the coast and see the famous seaside Yellow Pumpkin of Yayoi Kusama. Please note that the Benesse area is only accessible by foot, so you will have to park your bikes nearby.
Finally, you will hop back on your bikes and cycle back to the port to bid farewell to your guide.
- Day 12
Takamatsu: Explore the art of Teshima island, then transfer to Takamatsu
Today we recommend a self-guiided tour of neighboring Teshima Island before you transfer on to Takamatsu.
Teshima, a rural island in the Seto Inland Sea, with uncountable rice paddies and stunning coastlines, is mostly known for its exhibitions of contemporary art. In past years, both locals and foreigners have come to the island to visit the Les Archives du Cœur, the Teshima Yokoo House, and, last but definitely not the least, the magnificent architecture of the Teshima Art Museum.
Stop at the Teshima Art Museum, a 2,400 sqm concrete shell that stands on top of rice terraces, created out of the vision of artist Rei Naito and architect Ryue Nishizawa. Continue to visit with Les Archives du Cœur. Designed by the French artist, Christian Boltanski, who is fascinated with and has explored themes on life and death, this enchanting place permanently holds recordings of the heartbeats of people throughout the world.
Last stop on Teshima Island will be the Teshima Yokoo House. This traditional house has been remodeled through the cooperation of artist Tadanori Yokoo and architect Yuko Nagayama.
JR Clement HotelRead More
- Day 13
Takamatsu: Guided tour of Takamatsu
Meet a local guide at Takamatsu Station or nearby hotel at 09:00. Head to the Sanuki Lacquer Art Museum, a small private museum run by a local couple who are passionate about regional crafts. The galleries here showcase lacquerware as well as other forms of local art.
Learn the basics of Sanuki lacquer with a hands-on experience creating a personal set of wooden chopsticks. Once the lacquer has dried, the completed chopsticks will be mailed to guests’ Japanese hotel or international address.
Head to the Kagari Temari Preservation Association, a small crafting society with a workshop in a neighbourhood kindergarten. The head of the organization is Eiko Araki, a celebrated temari master leading the effort to preserve this folk art. Discover the history of these beautiful embroidered spheres with Araki and create a temari of your own using traditional techniques and materials.
- Day 14
Osaka: Guided tour of Ritsurin Gardens, then transfer to Osaka
This morning you’ll be picked up from the hotel by a private guide then escorted by taxi to Ritsurin Garden, a magnificent landscape that traces its roots back to the late 16th century. This was once the private garden belonging a line of feudal lords, but was opened to the public in 1875. Though it is not counted among the exclusive list of Japan’s three finest gardens, there is constant debate over which of the trio Ritsurin could easily replace.
Stroll the winding lanes of the massive garden; up hills to admire scenic viewpoints, over picturesque wooden bridges spanning six ponds, and through groves of carefully pruned 300-year-old pine trees.
Board a wooden boat for a short ride through the garden and see the landscape from a unique perspective. Historic building are dotted among the landscape. Enter quaint pavilions and rest houses, and admire local folk art in several museums.
Proceed by train to a local bonsai farm. This is where expert gardeners care for tiny trees and turn pine saplings into miniature works of art. Learn the secrets of the trade from the staff and marvel at row after row of unique bonsai. With this visit, it’s easy to understand how Takamatsu has earned its reputation as a top producer of these charming little trees.
Your guide will drop you back Takamatsu Station where you’ll jump on an onward bullet train to Osaka, spending a final; night in Japan’s second city, famed for its dining and nightlife.
- Day 15
Osaka: Departure transfer to Osaka Kansai Airport
Sadly it is time to say ‘sayonara’ to Japan. At the appropriate time today you will join a shuttle transfer from your hotel direct to Osaka Kansai International Airport for your return flight home. The transfer will take around 45 minutes and will be booked to time in with your intended check in time.
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