Cherry Blossom time in Japan is known the world over…..we will have what is most likely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to witness the blossoms plus we’ll be experiencing Japan using the little known entry-way point of Wabi-Sabi. Learning about this concept will allow us to understand Japanese culture in a much deeper way than by a simple sightseeing tour. This year’s 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 occurs in general at the end of March and the beginning of April in this region. The plum trees bloom just before.
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….its 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.
I read a book once 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 Tour to you is to join together and delve deeply into this lesser known aspect of Japanese culture but which is at the center of everything. The tea ceremony, the art of flower arranging – Ikebana, 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 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 tour which is ladies-only like all the GG2P we’ll be accompanied by masters, local guides and experts.
March 28- April 4, 2020
March 27 Arrive on Friday to Tokyo, rest and recover from your long journey at hotel of your choice, recommendations will be available. (Note: this night’s hotel is not included).
28 Travel to Kyoto
Meet in Tokyo and take the train to Kyoto. Stay 5 nights here. (Train travel is included)
If you can’t sleep in today we’ll meet at 5am at the fish market for an early breakfast of Sushi. 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.
Mid-day train to Kyoto, upon arrival we’ll check into our Hotel or Villa and get settled in.
There are two places to stay and you will be able to choose especially if you book early. We will be doing a lot of our classes (like the Ikebana flower class) at the villa. The villa has one tatami style room with futons, the traditional way to sleep for the Japanese. I’ve done it and its absolute bliss unless you have a hard time getting down to the ground (IE an injury or severe arthritis).
The hotel is Hotel Carta with normal beds and its only a 5 minute walk to the Villa.
The hotel and Villa are in the Gion district, aka the Geisha district. It’s one of the most charming places to stay in Kyoto. Learn a bit more about the area here.
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 this it is guaranteed to blow you away! Don’t worry they serve it to you in very small courses.
3/29 Temples, Tea and Cherries
Today we’ll visit the top 2 temples in Kyoto, the golden temple Kinkaku-ji as well as Kiyomizurdera plus we’ll visit the key cherry blossom sights.
We’ll lunch at the oldest noodle house in Japan, which is over 400 years old.
PM This afternoon we’ll learn about the Tea ceremony which is a lot more involved and fascinating that you might ever have imagined.
Tonight we’ll have a Whiskey tasting, Japanese whiskey is so good even a non-whiskey drink will enjoy it. The tasting will be followed by Okonomiyaki at one of the hot spots known for this Japanese comfort food. Note: Okonomiyaki is a cabbage pancake which sounds unusual but its magnificent!
After our meal we’ll visit 600 cherry trees all lit up in Maruyama Park which has been created specifically for night viewing.
3/30 Japanese Garden Day – Zen Gardens and Ikebana
Today we’ll see the top 2 Zen gardens in Kyoto – the Ryoan-ji Temple & Heianjingu. After our visits, we’ll lunch at a tofu temple where we will be able to taste the distinct difference between the tofu we buy at the store and homemade tofu.
This afternoon we’ll learn about Ikebana. This is traditional Japanese flower arranging and every placement of a flower stands for something elemental.
Tonight we’ll change things up by trying a modern Japanese meal created by one of Kyoto’s top chefs.
April 1st Buddha, Nara and Toriis
Today we’ll head out to Nara, the oldest capital of Japan, for the day. Here we’ll see the largest Buddha in the country and pet and feed the tamed deer that walk on the shrine’s property. 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 have a light lunch in Nara.
As we head back to town we’ll stop at the Tori Shinto Shrine famous for the many hundreds of bright red-orange Tori gates you pass through as you walk up to the top!
Enjoy a simple meal tonight at a casual local place, where we’ll try yakitori or tonkatsu washed down by Japanese beer at an Izkaya, aka a Japanese pub.
4/2 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 hand-dyed Japanese indigo fabrics and later have the chance to purchase some of this iconic, beautiful fabric fashioned into clothing and home goods . We’ll also learn a bit more about the world of the geisha and later enjoy some free time for shopping or photography.
Tonight we’ll splurge on an incredible, unforgetable sushi dinner.
4/3 Zen Temples
Today we head to Mt Koya-san via train and funicular. This mountain is a Mecca for Zen Buddhists and once housed hundreds of monasteries. There are no cars allowed here, so it is as peaceful as any place in Japan. Here we’ll check out some of the most historic and interesting Buddhist Temples and make an offering. We will have the chance to spend the night at a Buddhist Monastery with time left to soak in their Onsen baths before we relish a vegetarian feast for nightly meal.
4/5 From Calmness to the Big City
Enjoy an early hike up into the mountains to watch the sunrise. Take part in a prayer ceremony with the monks, this is something you won’t ever forget. Head back to Tokyo by train.
We Recommend that you stay one more night in Tokyo before flying out.
An Optional add-on trip to Hakkone for 2 nights of Onsen (Japanese baths) can be arranged.
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 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 as well as your stay in Tokyo. Any souvenirs you might wish to buy plus extra alcoholic drinks beyond those offered at meals.
Cost is $5995
Save $600 if you wish to share a room in Kyoto.
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.
To save your spot email Doni Belau at [email protected] and we will schedule a call with you. Once you decide to commit GG2P will ask you to pay your deposit of $1500. Your balance will be due by about 8 weeks before the trip departs.