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  • Gain a comprehensive understanding of historical and contemporary Japanese art and culture

  • Visit fascinating temples, including Horyu-ji, the oldest surviving temple in Japan, containing important early Buddhist art treasures

  • Discover beautiful Japanese garden design, with visits to an array of sites including Okayama’s Koraku-en Garden, one of Japan’s best landscape gardens

"I enjoyed every minute of this tour. It was brilliantly organised"

– ACE customer on the 2023 Japan: History, Art & Landscape tour led by Alex Koller

Japan is a country of cultural riches and varied landscapes: while it is famed for traditions such as the tea ceremony as well as its modern technological achievements, a closer inspection reveals a much broader range of traditions and aesthetic sensibilities. For centuries, the arts of Japan were synonymous with Buddhist culture, and these will be a focus of our tour, from the the art collections of Tokyo and Nara to the fine temples to be found in Kyoto and its environs.


Japan’s history is palpably experienced at castle sites such as Inuyama, Himeji and Edo – now the Imperial Palace – in the heart of Tokyo. Military architecture of this variety can be related to vernacular building traditions that survive in the form of traditional farmhouses in mountain settlements like Shirakawa-go. We hope to include an overnight stay in a historical building of this type during our tour.


We will also encounter historical vernacular architecture at open-air museums such as Gassho-zukuri Minkaen and Shikoku-mura, and in surviving historical districts in Kanazawa and Kurashiki. The latter boasts perfectly preserved Edo period streets, with the Bikan historical quarter featuring beautiful buildings surrounding a willow-lined canal.


Our itinerary includes visits to a wealth of gardens. The richness of Japanese garden design is evident at a number of temple and castle sites but especially at the large-scale strolling gardens of the Edo period, such as Kenroku-en in Kanazawa, Ritsurin in Takamatsu and Koraku-en in Okayama. Koraku-en is regarded as one of Japan’s best landscape gardens, with its winding paths, ponds and views of the reconstructed Okayama Castle serving as ‘borrowed scenery’.


Further highlights will include Ueno Park in Tokyo, an early example of a public park, and the famous Zen gardens of the Ryoan-ji and Ginkaku-ji in Kyoto.


As well as fine art, architecture and garden design, this tour will delve into the rich heritage of Japanese applied arts, with visits to a Kutani kiln and a gold leaf demonstration in Kanazawa.


Japan is notable for its highly varied countryside, and we will experience a diversity of beautiful scenery during our journeys – from the cedar forests of Northern Honshu around Nikko, where the Tosho-gu Grand Shrine offers a contrast of deep forests and sophisticated architecture, to the coastline on the Pacific Ocean, the Japan Sea and the Seto Inland Sea. We will also take in the mountains of central Japan and, weather permitting, enjoy views of Mount Fuji.


In addition to exploring traditional culture, this tour offers an opportunity to gain an understanding of the transformation of old Edo into modern Tokyo, and to get a feel for life in contemporary Japan, with the chance to enjoy local cuisine and to use the highly efficient and well-known Shinkansen ‘bullet train’. 


This tour will be led by art historian Alex Koller, PhD. Alex studied in Vienna, Salzburg and Cambridge and is an accomplished linguist. He has been leading tours since 1998, and his experience ranges from Japan and Southeast Asia to Russia and Eastern Europe. As a result of his travels to the Far East, Alex has developed a keen interest in Buddhist art and architecture.



We hope to include a special opportunity on this tour to stay overnight at a traditional house in the mountain village of Shirakawa-go. The stay will involve sharing Japanese-style rooms with futons, split by gender, with 3-4 people per room. The facilities comprise shared bathrooms and toilets, separated by gender. This authentic and immersive experience will offer participants the opportunity to see Shirakawa-go without the crowds, and enjoy dinner prepared by our hosts and served at the houses in Japanese style. This accommodation and the precise arrangements will be confirmed nearer to departure.


We will stay at hotels of three and four-star standard during the rest of the tour.


Tour Code

Included: return airfare, accommodation based on sharing a twin or double bedded room (except overnight stay in Shirakawa-go), fifteen breakfasts, five lunches (one light), eleven dinners with water & tea/coffee, excursions & admissions, gratuities & all taxes.

Not Included: travel insurance, single room supplement (except overnight stay in Shirakawa-go) £1395.

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