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  • Japan
  • April 4-10, 2023
  • 7 days / 6 nights
  • 6-10 Guests

Overview

There is no travel experience in the world quite like the Kyoto cherry blossoms. The explosion of color attracts visitors from around the world. We’re going to experience this natural phenomenon through the lens of Wabi Sabi – a Japanese aesthetic of appreciating beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete” In doing so, we’ll strive to come away with both a once-in-a-lifetime experience as well as a deeper understanding of Japanese culture.

What is Wabi Sabi? Wabi Sabi is an integral part of the Japanese culture intertwined with Buddhism. In traditional Japanese aesthetics, Wabi-Sabi is a world-view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection – fitting for appreciating a bloom that lasts a few short weeks. Both life and art are beautiful not because they are perfect and eternal, but because they are imperfect and fleeting.

Our goal in presenting this unique trip 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 Kyoto, the center of Old Japan amongst the beautiful temples and zen gardens. We’ll visit the historic capital of Nara and see the largest Buddha in the world. We’ll experience an authentic tea ceremony and discover how people 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 desire for symmetry).

Come join us on this incredible journey that marries an ancient culture imbued with Buddhism and Shintoism with a unique perspective on beauty and happiness.

Highlights:

  • Sushi Breakfast in Tokyo at the former fish market
  • Indulging in a Royal Kaiseki Feast
  • Visiting the Golden Temple Kinkaku-ji
  • Contemplating 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 Michelin star restaurant
  • Taking a carriage tour through cherry and plum trees in full blossom
  • Climbing through the hundreds of red Tori gates
  • Learning Ikebana, Japanese Flower Arranging
  • Practicing a traditional Japanese tea ceremony

Note: The cherry and plum bloom reaches its peak between the last week of March and first two weeks of April. Full bloom called ‘mankai’ lasts up to one week. Luckily, different kinds of trees bloom at different times so while some trees start dropping petals others haven’t peaked yet. We’ll be in mother nature’s hands!

Trip Leader

This trip will be led by Doni Belau, GG2P’s founder, along with expert local guides.

 

Itinerary

Day 0 – April 3, Monday

It’s a long trip to Japan, so we suggest that you arrive a day early (or more) to rest and recover from your travels. You’re free to stay at whatever hotel inspires you, but we offer as a recommendation the Cerulean Tower. (Note, your stay in Tokyo before the trip start is not included in the trip cost). If you come several days early, we can help you plan some day tours of Tokyo. If you can’t sleep, we’ll meet extremely early at the fish market for an early Sushi breakfast!

Day 1 – April 4, Tuesday

Travel to Kyoto

We’ll meet up this morning at the Cerulean Tower, and make our way to the train station to catch a bullet train to Kyoto, our home for the next five nights. 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 Traditional Ryokan hotel and get settled in. The hotel is situated in central Kyoto and offers Japanese-style accommodations, traditional design and modern facilities.

The ryokan is located a short walk from the river.

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 experience a traditional royal Kaiseki feast, a 10-course meal focused on seasonal ingredients.  If you’ve never experienced it, this is guaranteed to blow your mind!

Day 2 – April 5, 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 importance of the Tea ceremony which is more involved and fascinating than you ever could have imagined. We’ll learn about this traditional custom as well as precisely how to sip your tea in the private tatami room of our hotel. This is so much more than just tea!

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 famous for it. Okonomiyaki is a cabbage pancake, traditional Japanese comfort food. It sounds a little odd, but its scrumptious!

After our meal we’ll visit 600 cherry trees lit up in Maruyama Park – a display created specifically for night viewing.

Day 3 – April 6, Thursday

Japanese Garden Day – Zen Gardens and Ikebana

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

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 modern fusion Japanese meal created by one of the top Kyoto chefs.

Day 4 – April 7, Friday

Buddha, Nara and the Torii Gates

Today, we’ll head 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 dating 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 is fine.

As we head back to town, if time allows and energy holds up, we’ll stop at the Fushimi Inari Tori Shinto Shrine which you’ve probably seen photos of on Instagram.

The hearty souls among us will walk up to the top, others can stop halfway. 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 tour!

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, (Japanese pub).

Day 5 – April 8, Saturday

Pottery, Fabric, Geishas and Sushi!

Today we’ll learn 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 discover the world of the geisha and enjoy some free time for shopping. Today, it’s tempura for lunch.

Tonight, we’ll splurge on a sushi dinner at Izuju in the Gion District. Izuju 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 9, 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 opportunity to spend the night at a Buddhist Monastery and enjoy Shojin Ryori cuisine, a vegetarian feast.

Day 7 – April 10, Monday

From Calmness to the Big City

Today we’ll take an early hike up into the mountains to watch the sunrise and then take part in a prayer ceremony with the monks. This is something you’ll never forget.

For those ending the trip here, we’ll have to bid each other adieu, or perhaps we shall say “Mata zehi” (I had a great time and hope to see you again soon!). We’ll check out and head back to Tokyo by train. We recommend that you stay one more night in Tokyo before flying out so you’re not pressured to make a flight (not included). Your return to the Tokyo airport will be all arranged for you.

But why not stay a while longer? An optional extension trip to Hakkone for 2 nights of Onsen (Japanese baths) and Mt. Fuji will relax and fulfill you even more.

 

Trip Extension – Hakkone – April 10-12

If you have more time, join us for 2 days in Hakkone. This is the famous area south of Tokyo known for its Onsen baths. After traveling to Hakkone, we’ll check in to a spectacular Onsen resort, The KAI Sengokuhara

Onsen means hot spring in Japanese, a bath where the water has been heated by the earth. In an Onsen, the minerals in the water make the experience totally unique. They are especially enchanting when they’re experienced in the open air. The heat comes from underground volcanic activity found all over Japan.

During our two days in Hakone, we’ll relax and soak up the healing waters and walk away healthy and refreshed.

As we’re near Mt Fuji, we’ll ride the ropeway for a chance to see the iconic mountain peak. We’ll explore Hakone town with a guide, we’ll visit the open air museum and some of the other public baths including a unique foot bath. We’ll have tea in a historic hotel and our meals will be nothing short of spectacular.

It’s the ideal way to spend your last days in this fascinating land.

On the morning of April 27, we’ll check out and head back to Tokyo by train, or directly to the airport, depending on your flights.

 

Trip Notes:

  • GG2P reserves the right to alter the itinerary based on weather or availability, as well as exciting opportunities that might crop up!
  • Vegetarians & Vegans - Not to worry – you will be well fed in all restaurants as well as those allergic to seafood or gluten. Options are plentiful.

 

Trip Cost

Trip Cost: 940,000 Japanese Yen*

Trip Extension to Hakkone: 328,000 JPY

 

  • * All our trips are organized and priced based on single occupancy at all the places we stay. Everyone gets their own fabulous room! If you’re traveling with a friend/relative, or would prefer to save some money by sharing a room, we can usually organize double occupancy at a reduction in cost. Please inquire.
  • * Unless specified otherwise, all our trips are priced in the home currency of the trip’s location. However, we will invoice you in the equivalent USD calculated at the exchange rate at the time of invoice.
  • Interest-free payment plans are available. Please inquire.

What’s included?

  • Everything stated in itinerary above including all meals plus wine, beer or sake with dinner
  • Lodging at unique hotels
  • All guides, experts and entry fees
  • Your whiskey tasting plus all art experiences including the bath house
  • All in-country transport including airport transfers, trains and ferries

What’s not Included?

  • Roundtrip airfare to Japan
  • Accommodations and Meals on “Arrival Day”
  • Any additional spa treatment desired
  • Any personal souvenirs or purchases.
  • Additional wine, beer or spirits beyond what is offered at meals.
  • Gratuities.
  • Expenses of a personal nature – telephone calls, laundry, souvenirs, etc.
  • Travel insurance – both trip cancellation and medical insurance is required

I’m interested, so what do I do next?

If you have questions, complete the form below. We’ll get back to you ASAP!

If you’d like to come, press the Reserve Now button above. You'll be prompted to complete a form with your pertinent details, put down a refundable $250 placeholder 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 a non-refundable deposit, usually 35% of the trip’s cost (less the $250 place-holder deposit, if you already paid it) and your place is reserved. At this point, you’re committed to the trip, so we recommend that you purchase Travel Insurance to protect you in case your plans change unexpectedly. The balance will be due approximately 2 months before the trip.

Our cancellation policy is here.

Inquire About This Trip

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