Wabi-Sabi Japan; Zen Gardens & Historic Temples

  • March 30 – April 5th, 2021
  • Japan
  • Japan
  • March 30 – April 5th, 2021
  • 6 Nights / 7 Days
  • 6-10 Guests

Overview

Cherry Blossom time in Japan is known the world over. For most of us, this will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to witness the explosion of blossoms while experiencing Japan using the little-known entry-way point of Wabi-Sabi. Learning about Wabi-Sabi will allow us to understand Japanese culture in a far deeper way than by a simple sightseeing trip. In 2020, peak Cherry blossom day in Kyoto was April 1st, and while there is no way to predict the weather, history shows us that peak bloom in this region usually occurs between the end of March and the beginning of April. The plum trees bloom just before; with any luck we’ll be able to see some of both!

Highlights

  • Sushi Breakfast in Tokyo at the former fish market
  • Indulging in a Royal Kaiseki Feast
  • Visiting the Golden Temple Kinkaku-ji
  • Contemplating at the most famous Zen Garden in the World
  • Eating at a 400-year-old Noodle House
  • Seeing the Largest Buddha in the World in the original capital
  • Eating at a 2-Michelin star restaurant
  • Taking a carriage trip through cherry and plum trees in full blossom
  • Climbing up the hill through the hundreds of red Tori gates
  • Learning Ikebana, Japanese Flower Arranging
  • Practicing a traditional Japanese tea ceremony
  • Spending the night in a Zen Buddhist Monastery

What is Wabi Sabi? Wabi Sabi is an integral part of the Japanese culture and it’s intertwined with Buddhism. According to Wikipedia, “In traditional Japanese aesthetics, Wabi-Sabi is a world view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”. However, Wabi-Sabi is so much more than the look of things. It’s a feeling that is embodied by something with age or cracks. From Japanology: “Both life and art are beautiful not because they are perfect and eternal, but because they are imperfect and fleeting.”

A number of years ago, I read a book about Wabi-Sabi and become very interested in the topic. As you can see, it hints of spirituality but also involves things, your home, your outlook on life and so on. I have also become interested in Buddhism in the most practical sense – using meditation to quiet my brain and using mindfulness to live a happier life. My goal in presenting this Unique Trip to you is to join together and delve deeply into this lesser known aspect of Japanese culture, which is at the center of everything. The tea ceremony, the art of flower arranging (Ikebana), and the asymmetry of the Zen gardens are all major components of Wabi-Sabi.

We’ll headquarter ourselves in the center of Old Japan – the beautiful magical city of temples and zen gardens – Kyoto. We’ll visit the old capital of Nara and see the largest Buddha in the world. We’ll experience an authentic tea ceremony and discover how people will study this discipline for their entire lives and still not call themselves masters.

We’ll learn about Raku, the art of Japanese pottery and we’ll learn why the imperfections are what make them priceless. We’ll take a class on Ikebana and learn why asymmetry is the goal of everything aesthetic in the east as opposed to our Western love of symmetry.

The Japanese look at the world completely differently than we do and discovering this difference and wading deeply into the pool of eastern, Japanese Zen philosophy will bring us a completely unique and more full understanding of Japan, from the inside out. With our knowledge we’ll be able to understand Japanese people worldwide and we’ll begin to know why many people become intrigued and then even obsessed with this otherworldly culture that adores beauty, simplicity and nature. All along the way, on this small group trip which is ladies-only (like all the GG2P trips), we’ll be accompanied by masters, local guides and experts.

Itinerary

Day 0 – March 29th, Monday

Travel to Japan

We encourage you to fly into Tokyo on Mon March 29 so you have time to rest and recover from your long journey. Stay at the hotel of your choice; recommendations will be made available. (Note: This night’s hotel is not included in the trip cost). If you can’t sleep Mon night/ Tues morning, we’ll meet at 5am at the fish market for an early Sushi breakfast. While the market isn’t what it once was because the main market has moved outside of town to a new venue, the small outer stalls remain open and this is one of the very best ways to experience sushi in all of Japan.

Day 1 – March 30th, Tuesday

Travel to Kyoto

Meet up in Tokyo on Tuesday the 30th to take the train to Kyoto where we’ll stay for five nights. (Train travel is included). As the home of kaiseki (multi-course) dining, tofu, shojin ryori cuisine (Zen Buddhist Vegetarian Cuisine), and the traditional Japanese tea ceremony, Kyoto is a serious foodie haven.

The train arrives mid-day in Kyoto. Upon arrival, we’ll check into our Hotel The General Kyoto Bukkoji Fuyacho and get settled in. Our hotel specializes in the Japanese minimalist design aesthetic while taking much from history. They collaborate with artists and have their own tearoom, gym and yoga studio. The hotel is situated in central Kyoto a short walk away from the Nishiki Historic market and the Gion Geisha district.

This evening over sake and drinks we’ll learn about the concept and history of Wabi-Sabi, something we’ll revisit each day.

Tonight, we’ll get to experience a traditional royal Kaiseki feast, a 10-course meal focused on season ingredients.  If you’ve never experienced it, this is guaranteed to blow your mind! (Note: Don’t worry they serve it to you in very small courses).

Day 2 – March 31st, Wednesday

Temples, Tea and Cherries

Today we’ll visit the top two temples in Kyoto, the golden temple Kinkaku-ji & Kiyomizudera, plus we’ll visit the key cherry blossom walks & sights. We’ll lunch at the oldest noodle house in Japan, which is over 400 years old.

This afternoon we’ll learn about the Tea ceremony which is more involved and fascinating that you might ever have imagined. You’ll learn the traditional customs and exactly how to sip your tea in the private tatami room of our hotel.

Tonight, we’ll enjoy a Whiskey tasting. Japanese whiskey is so good even a non-whiskey drink will enjoy it. The tasting will be followed by Okonomiyaki at a place which is famous for it. Okonomiyaki is a cabbage pancake, traditional Japanese comfort food, which sounds very odd but its scrumptious!

After our meal we’ll visit 600 cherry trees all lit up in Maruyama Park which has been created specifically for night viewing.

Day – 3 April 1st, Thursday

Japanese Garden Day – Zen Gardens and Ikebana

Today we’ll see the top two Zen gardens in Kyoto – the Ryoan-ji Temple & Heian Jingu shrine and garden with an expert.

We’ll lunch at a tofu temple and in the afternoon, we’ll discover Ikebana. This is traditional Japanese flower arranging. We’ll have a hands-on class back at our hotel.

Tonight, we’ll change things up by trying a unique Japanese meal created by one of the top Kyoto chefs. Ifuki has 2 Michelin stars and specializes in “Sumibi Kappo” cuisine which is cooking in front of the diner using live fire to add a rich smoky flavor and aroma to the dishes.

Day – 4 April 2nd, Friday

Buddha, Nara and the Torii Gates

Today we’ll head out to Nara for the day. Nara is the old capital of Japan. Here we’ll see the largest Buddha in Japan and then pet and feed the tamed deer that walk on the property of the Kasuga Grand Shrine which dates back 1300 years. At the temple we will meet with a monk who will help us learn a bit about Zen Buddhism as practiced by the Japanese. We’ll also explore the nearby Kasugataisha Manyo Botanical Gardens.

We’ll have a light lunch of Udon noodles at Mizuya Chaya sitting outside if the weather if fine.

As we head back to town, we’ll stop at the Fushimi Inari Tori Shinto Shrine which you’ve probably seen photos of on Instagram. For those hearty souls, we’ll walk up to the top! This shrine dates back more than 500 years and is the principal shrine for this sect of Shinto priests and monks. The shrine is dedicated to the gods of rice and sake, something we’ll be dedicating ourselves to during this trip!

Tonight’s meal will be simpler, taken at a casual local place where we’ll try yakitori or tonkatsu with Japanese beer at a nearby Izkaya, (a Japanese pub).

Day – 5 April 3rd, Saturday

Pottery, Fabric, Geishas and Sushi!

Today we’ll learn a bit about Japanese Pottery and why Raku commands such extremely high prices. We’ll also learn about and then have the chance to purchase some of the iconic hand-dyed Japanese indigo fabrics. We’ll also learn a bit more about the world of the geisha and we’ll have some free time for shopping. Today, we’ll have a tempura lunch.

Tonight, we’ll splurge on a sushi dinner at Izuju in the Gion District. This place has been open for 100 years. Beyond regular sushi and rolls, Izuji serves hakozushi, which is boxed sushi, small, neat squares of rice topped with roasted fish as well as inari sushi, rice stuffed into pockets of fried tofu.

Day – 6 April 4th, Sunday

Zen Temples on a Mountaintop

Today we head to Mt. Koya-san via train and funicular. After checking into our monastery, we’ll visit some of the most historic and interesting temples and make an offering. Tonight, we have the unique chance to spend the night at a Buddhist Monastery and enjoy sample Shojin Ryori cuisine, aka a vegetarian feast.

Day – 7 April 5th, Monday

From Calmness to the Big City

Today we’ll take an early hike up into the mountains to watch the sunrise and then we’ll take part in a prayer ceremony with the monks. This is something you won’t ever forget. After breakfast we’ll check out and head back to Tokyo by train.

We Recommend that you stay one more night in Tokyo before flying out (not included).

->An Optional extension trip to Hakkone for 2 nights of Onsen (Japanese baths) can be arranged.  Please inquire.

Trip Cost

$4,980

What’s included:

Everything is included that is stated above. All lodging in Kyoto and Mount Koya-san, all meals, all drinks at meals including sake/beer/wine, all guides, masters and experts, entry tickets into all temples and garden, train tickets and other transportation plus all classes. All transportation during the 7 days and 6 nights is included.

What’s not included:

Trip insurance which is highly recommended, your flight to Japan and the transfer to your hotel from the airport as well as your stay(s) in Tokyo. Any souvenirs you might wish to buy plus extra alcoholic drinks beyond those offered at meals.

Note: For our one-night stay in Mt Koya-san all of us will be sharing rooms because that’s how it works at the monastery.

I’m interested, so what do I do next?

If you have questions, press the Inquire Now button above, and complete the form. We’ll get back to you ASAP.

If you’d like to come, press the Reserve Now button above. You will be prompted to complete a form with your pertinent details, put down a refundable $250 deposit, and . schedule a time to speak with a GG2P representative. We like to speak with everyone before they embark on their first trip with Girls’ Guide to Paris & Beyond. This allows you to ask any questions or voice any concerns you may have. These are intimate, small group trips; a quick yet personal conversation allows you to get to know how our trips work and make sure it’s right for you. If it’s not, we’ll immediately refund your $250 deposit.

If it’s a Go! after your call, we’ll bill you for 25% of the trip’s cost (less the $250 deposit you already paid) and your place is reserved. This is non-refundable; you’re committed to the trip. The balance is due approximately 2 months before the trip.

Our cancellation policy is here.

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