After an introductory visit to Tokyo’s world-class National Museum on Honshu island, we focus upon the archaeology of mountainous Kyushu (meaning ‘nine provinces’), most south-westerly and third largest of the country’s four main islands and the closest to continental Asia. Volcanoes, lush forests, beaches and hot springs provide a vivid backdrop to a journey of discovery throughout which the Japanese people’s ancient origins, their flamboyant traditions and enigmatic religions are expertly interpreted for you by our specialist tour leader.
From Shinto shrines and Zen Buddhist temples to ruined castles and restored Dutch houses, serene Japanese gardens to lively moonlit night markets, this is a fulfilling itinerary on which even the everyday can bring its own fascination and surprises. It also provides the bonus of springtime travel in perhaps the most beautiful of Japan’s seasons.
- Visit Kyushu island’s beautiful ‘other-worldly’ forest temples and formidable medieval castles
- Travel back to the Japan of bygone eras at expertly preserved and reconstructed archaeological sites like Yoshinogari – and Uenohara, whose recently-discovered pit dwellings may be nearly 10,000 years old
- Savor the sounds, smells, and tastes of Fukuoka’s evening Yatai street market with its open-air food stalls and local delicacies
- Learn how Japan first opened up to the outside world, viewing Dutch merchants’ houses and Chinese Buddhist temples
- Explore authentic Samurai warriors’ houses in the Samurai district of Kitsuki
WHAT TO EXPECT
Led by Ilona Bausch
Friday, March 22: ARRIVE IN TOKYO
We arrive in Tokyo and transfer to our first hotel. We take the rest of the day to relax after our flight, before coming together for our welcome dinner as a group.
Saturday, March 23: TOKYO
We begin our first full day of the tour with an opening lecture from our expert scholar for an early introduction to the area. Following this we head out to the National Museum, the oldest museum in the country, where we spend the rest of the morning viewing some of the thousands of Japanese artworks and artifacts housed on site; a stunning selection with pieces dating back over several millennia.
After pausing for a local lunch, we visit the Imperial Palace East Garden, an immaculate expanse of moats, lawns, ponds and plantings dating back to the 17th century, when this spot was the site of Edo Castle. We return to our hotel for a delectable dinner of Japanese cuisine.
Sunday, March 24: FUKUOKA
This morning we transfer to Haneda Airport for a short flight west to the island of Kyushu and its capital, Fukuoka. Upon arrival we drive to the mountainous city of Dazaifu, a regional capital during the Nara period.
After lunch, we explore Dazaifu Tenman-gū — a majestic Shinto shrine dedicated to the spirit of Sugawara no Michizane, a revered 10th-century poet and scholar. Our next stop is the Kyushu Historical Museum, where we find numerous remains unearthed from local excavations. We round off the afternoon at Kanzeon-ji Temple, the 7th-century home to various artifacts from the Nara and Heian periods, including wooden statues, masks, and a historic bell.
Monday, March 25: FUKUOKA
Our fourth day begins at Yoshinogari, a large Yayoi Period archaeological site dating from around 300 BCE to 300 CE, featuring reconstructed prehistoric dwellings. Many fascinating objects have been found here, including ancient bronze mirrors and iron weapons.
After taking lunch on site, we continue on to Onta, a village famed for its traditional pottery. Onta’s most famous export is still made here in the traditional fashion. Its mountainous clay is prepared by water-powered hammers (kara-usu) and baked in wood-fired kilns – a process that has been ongoing since the early 18th century.
Tuesday, March 26: FUKUOKA
We start today at the Fukuoka City Museum, where permanent exhibits present the history of the city, and the people who have made their lives here. The museum’s star attraction is undoubtedly the King of Na Gold Seal, a national treasure dating from 57 CE. Next, we take a stroll in the scenic Ohori Park, and admire the nearby ruins of Fukuoka Castle, which sit atop the country’s only existing remnants of a korokan, an ancient guest house for foreign diplomats.
Following lunch, we continue on to the Asian Art Museum, where innovative exhibitions showcase modern and contemporary works from a number of Asian cultures. We round off our afternoon with a visit to Shōfuku-ji Zen temple. The temple was completed in 1195, making it the first Zen temple in Japan – and a highly significant landmark. This evening we browse the city’s famous Yatai – open air food stalls selling a wide variety of local delicacies.
Wednesday, March 27: BEPPU
After breakfast we drive east to Usa Jingū, a prestigious and expansive Shinto shrine surrounded by primeval forest. Founded in the 8th century, the shrine has strong imperial links, and continues to attract a large number of pilgrims from all corners of the country.
We spend our afternoon touring the intriguing historic quarters of Kitsuki, a small castle town famed for its samurai districts, with authentic samurai houses still open to be explored. The town also contains a sake brewery, which dates from the Edo Period and continues to be used today.
Thursday, March 28: BEPPU
This morning we embark on a full and exciting day of temple visits, beginning with those on the Kunisaki Peninsula. As part of our tour we visit enigmatic Futago-ji, nestling in the forested slopes of Mount Futago; elegant Fuki-ji, the oldest wooden structure in Kyushu, dating from around 718 CE, and Kumano Magaibutsu, home to the largest stone carvings of Buddha in Japan. We also enter Makiodo Temple, where we view a collection of precious wooden statues rescued from the fire which ravaged the original temple building some 700 years ago.
Friday, March 29: MIYAZAKI
We depart for Saitobaru Kofungun, a site in Saito city comprising of hundreds of tumuli (or kofun) – burial mounds for some of the area’s most prestigious figures. Thought to date from between the 4th and 7th centuries, this is one of the largest sites of its type in Japan and is well worth a detailed visit.
Later we continue to the city of Miyazaki, where we spend our evening pleasantly located between the mountains and the coast.
Saturday, March 30: KAGOSHIMA
Today’s journey takes us east through mountain forests to Uenohara, where a series of Jōmon-era pit dwellings were discovered by construction workers in 1997 – an amazing find thought to be almost 10,000 years old.
We continue to Kagoshima, a friendly seaside city overlooked by the majestic (and active) Sakurajima volcano. Here we find Iso-teien, a wonderful formal garden originally created for Shimazu Mitsuhisa, the region’s ruler in the 17th century. Our final visit of the day is to Shoko Shuseikan, a 19th-century factory-turned-museum, where Western industrial technology was first introduced to Japan.
Sunday, March 31: NAGASAKI
We spend our morning in Kumamoto, a city that surrounds the imposing Kumamoto-jo Castle. Both sustained damage in the April 2016 earthquakes, but the castle remains one of Japan’s largest forts, and there is much here to admire from over 500 years of its history.
This afternoon we take a reviving ferry ride across the Ariake Sea to Nagasaki, the location of our next hotel, and our home for the next three nights.
Monday, April 1: NAGASAKI
Our entire day is spent exploring the reconstructed site of Deshima Island. This artificial island was originally created in Nagasaki Bay in order to house and contain Portuguese traders, but soon became a place where Dutch merchants were confined to do their business from the 17th to the 19th centuries. Deshima became redundant only when commercial relations with the Western world were relaxed. Here we view an assortment of restored Dutch houses and Chinese Buddhist temples – an extraordinary window on to Japan’s isolationist past.
Tuesday, April 2: NAGASAKI
We continue our exploration of Nagasaki today, beginning with the Nagasaki Museum of History and Culture. Its permanent exhibits are centered around the theme of “overseas exchange” and contain many thousands of significant items from the Netherlands, China, and Korea – remnants of Nagasaki’s position as the only city allowed to trade with foreign countries. We cap the morning with a visit to Glover Garden, which was built for the Scottish merchant Thomas Blake Glover, and is home to Japan’s oldest extant Western-style house.
This afternoon we enjoy free time to spend in the city at our leisure. Those who wish to may make an optional visit to Nagasaki’s Atomic Bomb Museum for an opportunity to learn more about the horrific 1945 attack that killed at least 129,000 people.
Wednesday, April 3: SAGA
Today we head to Kyushu Ceramic Museum, enabling us to get up close to some of the finest 17th century Hizen porcelain. Continuing on the theme of ceramics, we next make our way to Arita to visit the site of one of the oldest kilns in all of Japan.
Moving on to Imari, we find Okawachiyama Pottery Village, where Japanese porcelain has its earliest roots – this being an area rich in kaolin, an essential material in the porcelain-making process. We see many skilled craftsmen hard at work in the village, with over 30 traditional businesses still in operation.
Tonight, we stay in Saga, a city bordering the lush Sefuri Mountains.
Thursday, April 4: FUKUOKA
We travel to Yame for a visit to the Traditional Craftwork Center. The attraction displays and sells traditional Yame City handicrafts, ranging from Buddhist altars to delicate paper lanterns, and is the perfect place to pick up some authentic souvenirs. It is also the site of the largest Buddhist altar in Japan.
We return to Fukuoka, where there will be time to unwind and take things at our own pace this afternoon. Visit the city’s exquisite boutiques, enter some of the local temples, or stroll through one of the traditional Japanese gardens.
Friday, April 5: OSAKA
Kitakyushu’s modern Municipal Museum of Art has been home to masterpieces of Japanese art since opening its doors in 1974, displaying them alongside certain pieces from Western artists. We explore its exhibits this morning before taking the Shinkansen, or bullet train, from Kokura Station. We head directly to Osaka, a city affectionately known as the “nation’s kitchen”, where we enjoy a rousing farewell dinner as a group and settle in for our final night on tour.
Saturday, April 6: DEPART KANSAI
We transfer to the airport for our individual flights home or onward travel.