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JAPAN leaf-peeping in the land of the rising sun - 16th November 2021; 13 nights

We have been contemplating visiting this extraordinary country for some time now and after much deliberation, have made the decision to go, not to Hokkaido in Winter as so many photographers do, but to put together an autumn tour to celebrate Koyo (colourful leaves) which we feel will provide a much more immersive cultural experience.

This tour is the rescheduled version of the one planned for October 2020 before we knew that the world would turn and all our carefully laid plans turn to ashes. We now leave a couple of weeks later in order that we can experience the autumn colour at its peak.

We are very fortunate to have the opportunity to work alongside Denis Hocking and benefit from the extensive knowledge that he has accrued after many visits. He has helped us build what we feel will be an itinerary to remember; one which enables us to discover the history, identity and essence of Japan.

When autumn deepens, Japan is draped in a symphony of red and yellow hues from the fields and mountains to the cities. A transformation thought by many to be one of the most beautiful in the world.

Known as momijigari, the Japanese venture out to appreciate the glory of this natural phenomenon. It is a custom that dates back to the 8th century.

The excitement of the arrival of autumn colour runs deep in Japanese culture.

It is woven into the language. A baby's hands are described as being “ like tiny maple leaves”. To become red-faced with embarrassment is to “scatter autumn leaves”.

It appears on the menu. Momiji tempura is a delicious treat of maple leaves which have been salted or sugared and then fried in tempura batter.

Its beauty has inspired the patterns and designs of kimonos and yukatas that are commonly worn during autumn.

TEA HOUSE
Happo-en gardens - home to centuries-old bonsai trees, a koi pond, and cherry trees and fall foliage that make for some of the best seasonal views in the city

TOKYO

We will begin our tour in Tokyo (where else?) where we will convene in the early evening to meet and greet and start to become acquainted with this very different culture. The Imperial Palace Gardens and the Happo-en (garden of eight views) are just two of the many attractions.

The neon lights up the city - we will visit Ginza  and the famous Shibuya Crossing, looking to take inspiration from the boundless energy of this extraordinary place.

While this tour is about embracing the traditional together with the Japanese heritage, we are not completely blinkered to the attractions of the modern age. The extraordinary digital art museum makes visitors part of the art and will give us plenty of ideas for creative interpretation.

MORI building, Tokyo
Yayoi Kusama has her own museum in Tokyo

LEAVING THE CITY....

A visit to Japan is not complete without a journey on the famous bullet train. The Shinkansen will speed us across country to Kanazawa in Gran Class luxury. From here we will begin our cultural adventure.

Bullet train

KANAZAWA

We will make time to visit the teahouse district with its perfectly preserved wooden buildings and working geisha houses.

Other attractions include gold leaf production which dates back 400 years and today is one the city’s many flourishing traditional crafts - it is possible to see the gold leaf being made and visit one of the many stores in town selling gilded handicrafts.

We will also have the opportunity for a hands-on experience with gold leaf in order that we can come away with our own hand-crafted memento.

Also on the agenda is a trip to one of Japans three most beautiful gardens - the delightfully titled 'garden of the six sublimities' or Kenrokuen. These refer to spaciousness, seclusion, artificiality, antiquity, abundant water and broad views, which according to Japanese landscape theory are the six essential attributes that make up a perfect garden.

Pine trees with their protection against the winter snow
Geisha

NOTO PENINSULA

The Noto Peninsula is one of the most remote areas of Japan's main island, Honshu. Located on the central western coast of Japan, it is somewhat isolated on the opposite side of the “Japanese Alps” from the sprawling cities such as Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka.

The Noto Peninsula is characterized by its rough, coastal nature making it a harsh place to live. To an extent the locals live off of fishing and farming here. Lacquerware is one of the arts the region prides itself on along with its famous Kiriko Lantern festivals.

Facing north-west, the rice paddies of Shiroyone make a magnificent spot for watching the sunset. The setting sun reflects in the ocean and the many water filled rice paddies, transforming the fields into a huge art installation.

During the fall and winter season (mid-October to mid-March), 21’000 LED lights are installed along the edges of the individual fields. The lights are charged by solar panels during the day and then turn on at night. This makes for a real art installation, even in the winter time when the fields aren’t flooded.

TOJINBO

The rugged cliff formation known as Tojinbo spans a kilometer of northern Fukui's coastline. Eroded by the raging waves of the Sea of Japan, these giant basaltic pentagonal and hexagonal columns of rock are a rare geological phenomenon found in only two other places in the world. Tojinbo is officially designated a natural monument.

from top, Wajima Harbour, Noto Peninsula, lacquerware, Noto Peninsula, Okunoto Salt Farm Village

As we travel along this coast we will experience many more diverse aspects of the Japanese culture. From the salt farm to the Sojiji Temple with perhaps a stop to see the lacquerware for which the region is well known, the drive will enable us to deepen our understanding of this fascinating land.

LAKE BIWA

One of the 20 oldest lakes in the world, dating back 4 million years, and one of the most scenic spots in Japan , Lake Biwa holds an enormous cultural and historical significance for the country. References to the iconic lake can be found in numerous great works of literature, especially in poems and stories about the great battles that have been fought in its vicinity.

While in the area we will visit a floating temple and enjoy the regal majesty of some 600-year old pine trees.

KYOTO

From here we travel to Kyoto which served as Japan's capital and the emperor's residence from 794 until 1868. It is one of the country's ten largest cities with a population of 1.5 million people and a modern face.

We will visit the famous (and much photographed!) bamboo forest, together with the Torii Gates. Distant mountain views, a zen temple and more majestic gardens will continue to enchant us.

GEISHA - DINNER AND DANCE

A private ochaya experience for our group

We have arranged a very special experience while in Kyoto. We will visit TENRYU-JI Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and while we are there we will be given access to parts of the temple not normally open to the public .

A geisha dinner is the highest form of entertainment and hospitality and we are delighted to have been given the opportunity to experience a part of traditional Japanese culture that is impossible to find outside of Japan.

We will enjoy a private Kaiseki Dinner at the Arashiyama Kumahiko restaurant. Described by the chef, Antony Bourdain as the world's finest meal, Kaiseki is a multi-course feast whose primary objective is to convey respect, offer excellence in every detail and make guests feel special and at ease. Sake is the drink most commonly served, although tea is also available.

We will eat and drink while entertainment is provided by geisha. They will sing, dance and engage with us, allowing us an unparalleled view of their elaborate costumes and make up.

To finish this special evening, we will visit the Hogon-In Temple. Arguably the most beautiful garden in the Arashiyama area, Hogon-In Temple is a must-see for everybody visiting the area. It gets extremely crowded however we have organised a private viewing in order that we can fully appreciate the gardens and the special autumn illuminations.

ZEN TEA CEREMONY IN KYOTO ZEN TEMPLE

The essence of Zen practice is to achieve mindfulness in every single act of our existence. And so is with brewing and drinking tea.

By immersing ourselves in the wabi sabi aesthetic of the tea ceremony we will see a very different side to Japan. We will experience an authentic private Zen Tea Ceremony performed by a skilled Zen Monk in a Tea House. We can take photographs during the ceremony.

We will follow this with a private meditation session conducted by a certified Zen monk.

MOUNT KOYA

Mount Koya (高野山, Kōyasan) is the centre of Shingon Buddhism. A small, secluded temple town has developed around the headquarters on Koyasan's wooded mountaintop.

We will experience an overnight stay at a temple lodging (shukubo) where we will be fully immersed in the monk's lifestyle, eating vegetarian monk's cuisine (shojin ryori) and attending the morning prayers. Around fifty temples offer this service to both pilgrims and visitors.

Various ceremonies are on offer - fire ritual, evening cemetery tour and morning prayers will give us a different view of spiritual life in Japan.

Okunion cemetery - one of Japan's most sacred sites
Shukubu (temple lodging) where we will experience a monk's simple life
TORODO HALL

Torodo Hall (Hall of Lamps) is Okunoin's main hall for worship. Inside the hall are more than 10,000 lanterns, which were donated by worshipers and are kept eternally lit.

WASHI

One very special excursion will be to a paper store. Traditional handmade Japanese paper is collectively known as washi. It has an understated translucency, a subtly irregular texture and an indisputable beauty. Rembrandt started experimenting with washi around 1650, long before the Japonism boom in Europe. Picasso and Chagall were among the later artists to fall under the spell of Japanese paper.

SUMMING UP

The experiences we hope to encounter are too numerous to mention one by one and a certain degree of flexibility is needed with such a schedule. We would hope to visit a traditional Japanese market, avail ourselves (not obligatory!) of an onsen (Japanese hot spring - or public bath) and immerse ourselves in as much of the Japanese culture as we possibly can in the space of a fortnight.

The tour is 14 days in total and commences in Tokyo on the evening of the 16th November 2020. Although much of the accommodation will have western-style facilities, we will also be staying in some very traditional inns where there is no wifi, food choices are very limited and where we will be sleeping on traditional futons on tatami mats on the floor. It is not a very strenuous tour but a certain degree of flexibility is needed with regard to living arrangements.

This is not a classic photographic tour - our objective is an impressionistic vision and this is what we teach. Of course people are free to pursue their own ideas but we do not commit to slavishly getting up for every sunrise.

All the accommodation chosen is of a very high standard and all rooms have single accommodation with private washing facilities. After we arrive in Kanazawa our transport around the region will be by private coach.

歓迎 ......Hope you can join us!