Exploring Japan Farther Afield! For May 2021 we’re excited to introduce this new gay group itinerary in Japan that will differ entirely from the very popular tour that we’ve been running since 2014. Starting from Tokyo and finishing in Hiroshima this 13-night program will shows us Honshu — Japan’s main island — more in-depth than the standard highlights type of tour. Japan will provide you with a wonderful feel for the country's various highlights and reveal the intriguing nature of today's Japan — so modern and yet heavily steeped in its traditions.
Hakone – A day trip out of Tokyo, Hakone boasts world-class art museums, walking trails, and gorgeous mountain and lake scenery with sacred Mt. Fuji dominating over the whole. Hakone Open-Air Museum is home to a rich assortment of 19th and 20th century sculptures and installations by leading Japanese artists as well as Rodin, Miró, Picasso, and Henry Moore. We get around, in part, with a gondola ride in the hills and a cruise on Lake Ashino.
Kanazawa – A feudal-era capital that in its heyday rivaled Kyoto as a center for the arts, a vibrant artisan tradition is still present here along with one of Japan’s top gardens — Kenroku-en — dating from the 17th century. Kanazawa also has an excellent contemporary art museum; a rich food culture that draws heavily from the nearby Sea of Japan; beautifully preserved samurai and geisha districts; and a wonderful market. It also produces 98 percent of Japan’s gold leaf.
Osaka – Japan’s third-largest city (Yokohama is second but it’s rather an extension of Tokyo) Osaka is an urban extravaganza with locals who are known to be more approachable than Tokyoites. A dazzling nighttime sensory experience with neon lights, animated signage, and flashy video screens awaits. And oh, the food – the city’s unofficial slogan is kuidaore (eat until you drop), and its most famous street food is takoyaki (grilled octopus dumplings) –yum!
Himeji-jo – Reputedly one of Japan’s most magnificent castles, one of the rare originals dating from the 16th century, Himeji-jo is big and well-preserved. The white plaster facade and generally elegant appearance have earned it the nickname of White Egret Castle, and it has starred in its fair share of roles in Japanese movies.
Bizen Pottery – A historic ceramic-making center Bizen has been renowned for its pottery since the Kamakura period (1185-1333). We stop at a hospitable artisan family, with deep roots in the area, who show us their kilns and explain the process of creating this highly prized pottery with an opportunity to purchase their beautiful creations.
Kurashiki – This town possesses a well-preserved atmospheric merchant quarter and picturesque willow-draped canal. Small lanes are lined with old wooden houses and shops. The Ohara Museum of Art houses a fine collection of mostly Western paintings, prints, and sculpture and was established by a local textile magnate in the early 20th century.
Naoshima – A rural island that has now become a world-class center for contemporary art Naoshima has hosted many of Japan’s well-regarded architects who have contributed their work, designed to enhance the island’s natural beauty. It’s a captivating blend of avant-garde and gorgeous natural settings. Museums and numerous outdoor sculptures dot the island, and creative types from around Japan have set up small businesses here.
Matsue – This area, on the Sea of Japan, introduces us to the Izumo Taisha – one of Japan’s most famous Shinto shrines. As old as Japanese recorded history the shrine is dedicated to the god of marriage and bringer of good fortune. Also in this area is the Adachi Museum of Art with its stunning gardens widely considered as among the best in Japan. Staying two nights at a traditional Japanese ryokan with hot spring baths and extraordinary kaiseki (multi-course) dinners is another highlight in this region.
Hiroshima – Visiting the excellent Peace Memorial Museum, while sobering, is an important history lesson that bears repeating. The adjacent park, designed by noted modernist Tange Kenzo, offers opportunities for reflection. Despite its tragic past the cosmopolitan city is very much forward-looking, alive, and is known for its good food, including okonomiyaki (delicious savory pancakes).
Miyajima – This small charming island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, its star attraction being the 50-foot-tall vermilion torii gate which seems to float at high tide – often described as one of Japan’s best views. Mt. Misen, considered sacred, has a 360-degree view of the mainland and the islands of the Seto Inland Sea from the summit, which is reached by gondola.
This program is subject to change. While the broad stroke of the itinerary will not be altered, we reserve the right to revise some of the specific sights visited at each destination.
Day 1 - Friday, May 07, 2021
With your own air arrangements you'll arrive at one of the Tokyo airports (Narita NRT or Haneda HND) and then make your way to our group hotel in the city center near Tokyo Station. There are numerous options for getting into the city - with a very wide range of costs for these services - so we have not included the cost of a private transfer in the tour price. Please see “Arrival & Departure Logistics” for information regarding transfer options and costs.
We'll come together in the early evening and enjoy a welcome drink, get to know our fellow
travelers, and have a trip briefing before heading out for our welcome dinner.
Please Note: If you would like us to arrange any pre-tour nights at the group hotel in Tokyo, please let us know. We will not be visiting any sights in Tokyo itself, so you may want some extra days here. Additionally, it would be helpful toarrive a day or two beforehand to shake off jet lag and/or to add a buffer in case of any travel hiccups
Meals: Welcome Drink, Dinner
Overnight in Tokyo
Day 2 - Saturday, May 08, 2021
We jump on a “bullet train” for the quick ride to Hakone (about 30 minutes) where we’ll meet a private bus that will take us around the Hakone area for the day. This hot springs resort area is a good place for a view of Mt. Fuji (assuming the clouds cooperate).
The day is spent visiting the Hakone Open-Air Museum (with a fine collection of 19th-and 20th-century Western and Japanese sculpture); a short cruise on Lake Ashi; riding a gondola to take in the mountain views. Historically, Hakone was an important checkpoint on the route between imperial Kyoto and the shogun in Edo (now Tokyo).
Return to Tokyo by bullet train.
Dinner this evening is open, and there’s no shortage of good restaurants in Tokyo to choose from!
Overnight in Tokyo
Days 3 & 4 - Sunday & Monday, May 09 & 10, 2021
Again we board a bullet train, this time to the city of Kanazawa (approximately 2½ hours) over on the Sea of Japan side of the country.
Note: There is scarcely any space on Japanese trains (even the bullet trains) for large suitcases. This is why luggage delivery services are so common here. We will do as the Japanese and have our main luggage forwarded to Osaka, where we’ll be reunited with it two days later. This means you have to prepare a small bag to take with you to Kanazawa for two nights. This bag should be light enough to place above your seat in the overhead luggage rack.
Kanazawa represents the union of Old Japan with a modern trendsetting city. We’ll stroll the former samurai quarter with its picturesque canals and 300-year-old buildings as well as the wooden facades of the former geisha district with its lovely old homes and present-day shops. We also spend time in what is considered one of Japan’s best gardens: Kenroku-en. This historic garden covers some 25 acres. The translation of the name means “Garden of Six Qualities,” those being spaciousness, artistic merit, majesty, abundant water, extensive views, and seclusion. (The last quality is questionable nowadays.)
Renowned for traditional crafts such as gold leaf, dyed silk, lacquerware, and pottery, Kanazawa can also boast the impressive 21st-Century Museum of Contemporary Art.
Meals Day 3: Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner
Meals Day 4: Breakfast & Lunch
Overnights in Kanazawa
Days 5 & 6 - Tuesday & Wednesday, May 11 & 12, 2021
We board a train bound for Kyoto (no bullet train on this route) with travel time around 2¼ hours. A bus will meet us for a transfer to lunch, which will be followed by a visit to the Byodo-in temple - one of the loveliest Buddhist structures in Japan and an 11th-century UNESCO World Heritage site whose image graces the ¥10 coin. The landscaped garden and pond reflect the paradise of the Amida Buddha whose large statue sits in the temple, viewing those below him.
From Kyoto we continue to vivacious Osaka with its friendly inhabitants and which has been known as Japan’s Kitchen since the 17th century. After settling in at the hotel for a bit we’ll reconvene and stroll the nearby Dotomburi quarter – the heart of Osaka’s nightlife in all its blazing neon glory and a culinary treasure trove. After enjoying our Osaka dinner we’ll amble back to the hotel - or you may wish to extend your evening at one of the many bars in the district.
The next day we spend entirely in Osakato get a feel for this “friendly competitor” to Tokyo.
We begin at the Osaka Museum of Housing and Living - a life-sized reproduction of an 1830s Osaka neighborhood with shophouses, drugstores, an old-style public bath. From there we walk along Tenjinbashi-suji. This is the longest shopping street in Japan, a covered arcade stretching more than a mile with very much a neighborhood atmosphere. This leads us to PuraraTenma, a bustling non-touristy local market (wholesale and retail) featuring vendors with fresh produce, local gourmet specialties, and street food.
Shitennoji is also on our program. One of the most important historic sights in Osaka this is the oldest Buddhist temple in Japan, founded in 593 AD (though what stands today isn’t original). There’s also a pretty garden here.
After lunch we go up - up to the highest point in Osaka and the tallest building in Japan - to take in the stunning 360º panoramaover the entire Kansai region.
We pass through Shinsekai (literally “new World”),a neighborhood built in 1912 to emulate New York and Paris. After falling into neglect after the second world war the area has cleaned up its act and has a cool retro feel to it.
Our last stop is Doguyasuji - an arcade that will appeal if you have even the tiniest interest in kitchen tasks with its mind-bogglingarray of kitchen tools and crockery. It makes for a fun stroll.
After this very full day you’re free to have dinner on your own, with an abundance of choices all around!
Meals Day 5: Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner
Meals Day 6: Breakfast & Lunch
Overnights in Osaka
Days 7 - 9 - Thursday - Saturday, May 13 - 15, 2021
Departing Osaka this morning our private bus will take us to Himeji Castle (90 minutes) as we move westward in our itinerary. Also known as White Egret Castle this is one of the universally beloved castles in Japan. One of the few original castles still extant in Japan it was built in 1333 as a fortress, was altered at the beginning of the 1600s, and has remained the same since. It appeared in Kurosawa’s movie Ran.
We then continue (60 minutes) to a small town famous for its traditional pottery in the Bizen area, renowned for its ceramics since the Kamakura period (1185-1333). “Bizen-yaki” is one of the most famous Japanese traditional potteries. We’re fortunate to drop in ata small family-run studiowhere one of the artists will explain Bizen pottery to us and show us the kilns. Their shop is filled with beautiful pieces.
Our last stretch of road (another hour) brings us to our hotel in Okayama, where we stay for three nights.
The next day we spend in Kurashiki (40 minute ride), which was a vital shipping portfrom the 17th through 19th centuries. Nowadays the historic center of town is charming with its willow-draped canals, old buildings, restaurants, and shops as well as some fine museums. One of those is the Ohara Art Museum, which we'll see. The 1930 Parthenon-style building houses a fine collection of Western art works of some notable masters. There are also wings with Japanese paintings, tapestries, woodblock prints, and pottery. Another stop for us in Kurashiki is the Ohashi House, a beautifully restored residence from 1793, which belonged to one of the city’s wealthiest merchant families. There will be free time for strolling and shopping in the town center.
After returning to our Okayama base dinner is on your own this evening.
Day 9 takes us to Naoshima Island (by bus and ferry). This little island in the Seto Inland Sea has successfully placed itself on the contemporary art world map, hosting three major contemporary art museums (all designed by internationally renowned architect Ando Tadao) as well as an installation art project scattered among various structures that had been abandoned when residents left the island for an urban life - and all of this in a lovely natural setting. There are also numerous works of outdoor sculpture dotting the island, including Yayoi Kusama’s Yellow Pumpkin, which has become a symbol of the island.
Note: We will not be able to see all the museums, and the specific program for the day has not been determined at the time of publishing this itinerary.
After a full day on the “art island” we return to our hotel in Okayama.
Meals Day 7: Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner
Meals Days 8 & 9: Breakfast & Lunch
Overnights in Okayama
Days 10 & 11 - Sunday & Monday, May 16 & 17, 2021
Today we cross over to the Sea of Japan side of the country again to the Shimane region. Our first stop is the Adachi Museum of Art in Yasugi. The gardenhere is widely considered to be one of the most beautiful in Japan. Adding to its beauty is the backdrop of the hills and forest, seemingly a part of the garden itself. The interior has a large selection of 19th-and 20th-century Japanese masters.
From here we’ll make our way to Matsue, the region’s main city. Just outside Matsue is our lovely traditional ryokan where we stay for two nights. Here we can enjoy soothing hot spring baths, either communal (gender-separated) or privately in your room. Dinners here are kaiseki style, meaning a multi-course feast that is not only delicious but visually beautiful as well.
The next day we’ll visit Izumo Taisha. The oldest of Japan’s Shinto shrines (as old as Japanese recorded history) it has had great cultural significance since the 6th century. For a time it was the largest wooden building in the country, but it has been scaled down at each re-building through the centuries. Izumo Taisha is a prominent place of pilgrimage. The Japanese come here to pray for success in courtship and marriage. A pretty site, the shrine is flanked by lush green lawns with forested peaks rising behind it and an alley of ancient pines lining the approach.
Lunch will be in the attractive city of Matsue known, among other things, for its good food. Its situation on Lake Shinji, which empties into a lagoon, which in turn connects to the Sea of Japan, creates a nice network of canals in the city center.
We’ll return to our ryokan for free time to enjoy the baths and another excellent kaiseki dinner.
Meals Day 10 & 11: Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner
Overnights near Matsue
Days 12 & 13 - Tuesday & Wednesday, May 18 & 19, 2021
The final leg of our journey takes us to Hiroshima (about 2½ hoursby bus).
While a visit to the Peace Memorial Park and Museum is a serious and sobering experience, many foreigners who come here are surprised at how lively and modern the city is today.
We’ll see the excellent Peace Museum - intense to be sure - but most visitors appreciate the time spent here. There are displays of charred fragments of clothing, melted ceramic tiles, lunch boxes, watches, and photographs that tell the story of Hiroshima’s destruction by atomic bomb United States of America dropped in August 1945.
Around the museum is the Peace Memorial Park where we'll see various monuments. It’s both the physical and emotional center of Hiroshima. These include the A-Bomb Dome, the remnants of a building that despite being directly below the bomb blast did not collapse into rubble like the rest of the city. There is also the Flame of Peace, meant to be extinguished only when the world is free of nuclear weapons. The Pond for Peace is a symbolic offering for the victims who were not able to quench their thirst after the detonation and subsequent radioactive fallout. The Children’s Peace Monument with display cases of paper cranes is dedicated to all the children who died in the blast or from radiation sickness after. And the Cenotaph contains the names of 260,000 individuals who perished.
Our hotel is located walking distance from the Peace Memorial Park.
On the last full day of our extensive Japan adventure we’ll make a day trip from Hiroshima to charming Miyajima Island. The island’s majestic torii gate gives the illusion that’s it’s floating when the tide is in - one of Japan’s iconic scenic images. Nearby this “sea gate” is the elegant Itsukushima Jinja shrine, founded in AD 593, but the present structure dates from the 16th century.
The village is a pleasant place to stroll, shop, and have lunch. For those who wish there’s a cable car that whisks you to an observatory near the summit of sacred Mt. Misen, from which there’s a beautiful view. A 20-30 minute hike from the observatory to the actual summit will reward you with even better views out over the Seto Inland Sea, its islands, and the mainland.
We’ll then return to Hiroshima to enjoy the last of many delicious meals on our trip!
Meals Day 12: Breakfast & Lunch
Meals Day 13: Breakfast & Dinner
Overnights in Hiorshima
Day 14 - Thursday, May 20, 2021
You will have captured many wonderful moments in Japan to bring back with you! You’re free to depart from Hiroshima (HIJ) at any time. Please refer to the “Arrival & Departure Logistics”.