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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 (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.
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.
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.
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.