Gardens of Kyoto Tour
9 Days/7 Nights
- Introduction •
- Itinerary •
- Map •
- Inclusions •
- 2013 Dates & Prices •
- Download Tour PDF
- Optional Cultural Activities
|Light||0-2 miles in flat areas or 0-1 miles in hilly areas or with many stairs|
|Medium||2-4 miles in flat areas or 1-3 miles in hilly areas or with many stairs|
|Heavy||4-6 miles in flat areas or 3-5 miles in hilly areas or with many stairs|
Day 1: To Japan
Depart Home for Osaka's Kansai Airport
(Travel: 12 Hours; Walking: Light)
Day 2: Arrive Japan
You will lose a day flying to Japan due to crossing the International Dateline, and gain the day back when you fly home. You will be met at Osaka's Kansai airport by a Samurai Tours guide, who will escort you to the ryokan in Kyoto. No meals included.
(Travel: 1 1/2 Hours; Walking: Light)
Day 3: Ryoan-ji, Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion), Nijo Castle and Garden, Shinsen-en Garden
We start the start the day by traveling to Ryoanji by bus. One of the most famous gardens in Japan, Ryoan-ji is part of the Rinzai School of Zen Buddhism. There is considerable debate concerning the origins and evolution of Ryoanji's famous rock garden. The garden's designer is unknown, and left no explanation of the meaning of the garden. The garden is an example of karesansui (dry landscape) garden in its purest form. The dry-style garden consists of three groupings of 15 rocks surrounded by raked sand, and the garden is enclosed on three sides by a blank clay wall and on a fourth side by a veranda. From the viewing point on the veranda, only 14 rocks can be seen at one time. Move slightly and another rock appears at the same time that one of the original 14 rocks disappears. In Buddhism, the number 15 denotes completeness. You must have a total view of the garden to make a meaningful experience. And yet, as in the conditions of the real world, that's not possible. Next, we take a bus to Kinkakuji. Kinkaku-ji, also known as the Golden Pavilion, was originally built in 1393 as a retirement villa by Yoshimitsu Ashikage, the fifth Ashikage Shogun. After his death, his son converted the villa to a Buddhist temple. The gleaming building covered in gold leaf seems to float on the aptly named Mirror Pond. In the Shinden style of the Heian Period, the pavilion sits on the edge of the pond, surrounded by a Chinese-influenced garden whose focus is the pond studded with rocks and pine-covered islands. Each floor of the three-story structure has a different architectural style, with a golden-colored phoenix standing on the roof. The original building was destroyed by a fire in 1950 set by a mentally-ill monk with metaphysical aspirations. The copy, as seen today, was quickly rebuilt in five years. The exterior of the building was regilded in 1987 at great expense. Yoshimitsu lived his retirement years here in seamless luxury while the rest of the country and Kyoto suffered from a series of famines, earthquakes and plagues. It is thought the local Kyoto death toll alone reached 1,000 people per day during this time. It is unknown, however, if he told his aides to "Let them eat cake". Yoshimitsu designed the garden on the basis of earlier Heian Period gardens, with the pond as the focus of the garden. Though there is a path around the pond, the garden was designed to be viewed from a boat or from the Golden Pavilion itself. The banks of the pond are planted with bushes and pruned trees, whose size in the foreground, near the pavilion, is small. Taller trees and bushes on the further bank lie in front of even larger trees to create the illusion of considerable space, augmented by the borrowed mountain scenery in the distance. Before continuing, we will take a short walk to a nearby noodle shop for lunch. After lunch, we take a bus to Nijo Castle. Built in 1603 as the official Kyoto residence of the first Tokugawa Shogun, its ostentatious style of construction was intended as a demonstration of the Shogun's prestige and to signal the demise of the Emperor's power. The garden next to the Nijo Castle is a perfect example of a Warrior's Garden, meaning it was designed by a Samurai. After finishing the tour of the Nijo Castle garden, we will walk to the nearby Shinsen-en Garden. Shinsen-en is the remnant of a garden that was exclusively used by the Imperial family during the Heian Period (8th to 12th centuries). Afterwards, we will return by bus to the ryokan. Breakfast at the ryokan and lunch at a noodle shop included.
(Travel: 2 Hours; Walking: Medium)
Day 4: Tour of Koi Farm, Sanzen-in, Shisen-do
We will travel to the nearby town of Ohara by bus, where we will visit a Koi farm learn how Koi are raised. Next, we will walk to Sanzen-in. The pleasant road to Sanzen-in winds along a small river and is lined by numerous souvenir shops. Among the local specialties offered are various pickles, including "Ice Kyuri" (Japanese cucumbers mildly pickled in seaweed flavored ice water and served whole on skewers). Sanzen-in is a Tendai Buddhist temple founded in the late eighth century by Saicho, the priest who introduced Tendai Buddhism to Japan. Historically, members of the Imperial family served for many generations as the heads of the temple. Sanzen-in possesses two small pond gardens that are in sharp contrast aesthetically. The Shuheki-en ("Garden that Gathers Green") is located to the south and east of the main hall. As the name indicates, it features a dense display of carefully shaped shrubs leading the eye toward a small stone pagoda located at the southwest angle of the garden. The Yusei-en ("Garden of Pure Presence") flanks one of the other subtemples to which Sanzen-in was joined (Ojo Gokuraku-in or "Temple of Rebirth in Paradise"), a well preserved Amida hall constructed in 985 and rebuilt in 1148. The Amida-Nyorai Sanzon Buddhist statue housed here has been designated an Important Cultural Property by the Japanese government. Its pond is called Kudoku-ike ("Charity Pond"). The large expanse of moss-covered ground to the east of the pond is famous for its cedars and red maples, the latter providing striking color accents in late autumn. The temple is also known for its lovely display of hydrangeas in early summer. After stopping for lunch at a local restaurant, we will continue by bus and train to Shisen-do. Shisen-do, located in northwest Kyoto, combines a dry-landscape garden with perfectly manicured azalea bushes. When viewed from the veranda, the bushes form the garden's principal subject. But the main beauty of the garden is how the interior of the temple and the exterior garden merge to form a fluid space, with the veranda acting as an intermediary zone. Just where the inside and the outside space begin is difficult to establish. In the late afternoon, we will return to the ryokan by bus. Breakfast at the ryokan and lunch at a local restaurant included.
(Travel: 3 Hours; Walking: Heavy)
Day 5: Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion), Nanzen-ji, Tofuku-ji
After breakfast,we travel by bus to Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion), located in northeast Kyoto. Built in 1482 by the eighth Ashikaga shogun, the garden consists of two adjacent yet very distinct gardens. The older part, consisting of a Zen-style stroll garden organized around a pond, features rock compositions, bridges, moss and plants arranged into scenes inspired by famous places described in classical Japanese and Chinese literature. Directly adjacent, departing from common practice is a dry, landscape garden added during the Edo period. The long furrows of raked sand resemble waves on the ocean in the moonlight - giving rise to its name, Sea of Silver Sand. But this part of the garden is dominated by a perfectly shaped sand cone which is said to resemble Mount Fuji, known as the Moon Viewing Hill. The upper part of the garden is organized around a path that winds along a steep slope with views of Kyoto. We will next travel to Nanzen-ji by bus, and start our visit of Nanzen-ji at the Nanzen-ji Hojo (Chief Abbots Headquarters). The dry garden here was constructed in the 17th century by Kobori Enshu, a samurai general and master of the tea ceremony who also demonstrated his versatility in architecture and gardening. The garden includes an arrangement of rocks called "The crossing of tiger cubs," depicting a scene where the mother tiger leads its cubs across the river. We will continue on to Konchi-in, another sub-temple of Nanzen-ji. Konchi-in also features a dry garden created by Kobori Enshu. The garden has been designated a national scenic beauty site, and is one of the most celebrated gardens in Kyoto. We will continue by subway and train to Tofuku-ji. Established in 1256, Tofuku-ji was once one of the most important religious complexes in Kyoto. Arranged around the main buildings, there are 4 gardens including a dry-landscape garden depicting islands and an ocean. But, Tofuku-ji is perhaps best known for its field of square stones set into a carpet of moss neatly arranged into a checkerboard pattern. Breakfast at the ryokan and lunch at a local restaurant included.
(Travel: 2 Hours; Walking: Medium)
Day 6: Arashiyama Bamboo Garden, Tenryu-ji, Shojin-ryori Vegetarian Lunch, Saiho-ji
We travel by train to the nearby town of Arashiyama. Once a favorite relaxation spot of the Emperors, Arashiyama is located on the hillsides bordering the banks of the Katsura River northwest of Kyoto. We will first visit the bamboo gardens which Arashiyama is famous for, located just outside the north gate of Tenryu-ji. This dense bamboo forest, with its rows upon rows of long, ringed, smooth stems, provide a feeling of composure and tranquility. The sound of the wind blowing through the bamboo, the stems knocking against each other and the rustling of the leaves is revered in Japan. Next, we visit Tenryuji Temple. Tenryu-ji is part of the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism, and was originally built in 1339 on the former site of Emperor Go-Daigo's villa. A priest had dreamt of a dragon rising from the nearby river, hence the name which means "Heavenly Dragon". The garden represents a transition between earlier pond gardens and the karesansui (dry landscape) gardens that later became popular in Zen temples. The focus of the garden is a pond that lies at the base of the hills rising to Mount Arashi, which is incorporated in to the design of the garden in the earliest known example of borrowed scenery (shakkei). At the far end of the pond are two rock groupings. These rock groupings are orientated on a vertical alignment, which was a departure from the horizontal alignments in earlier gardens. After finishing the tour of the temple and garden, we will enjoy a Shojin-ryori lunch (Buddhist vegetarian diet with no garlic or onions) at the temple. After lunch, we will visit Saihoji (commonly known as Kokedera, or "Moss Temple"). Saiho-ji is considered by many to be one of the best, if not the best garden in Japan. Created in 1339, the garden uses over 100 different types of moss creating waves of varying green colors. The moss is contrasted with trees, rocks and a small pond only. The garden is large (about 4 1/2 acres), and moss covers every ground surface and even some of the vegetation, creating a serene environment. The designer of the garden believed firmly in the value of gardens as a meditation aid, writing that the garden could be a means of reaching enlightenment. In addition to exploring the garden, the monks at the temple ask visitors to copy a sutra (a Buddhist scripture), giving you an opportunity to practice your calligraphy skills. Breakfast at the ryokan and Shojin-ryori lunch at Tenryuji is included.
(Travel: 2 Hours; Walking: Medium)
Day 7: Zazen Meditation Lessons, Daitoku-ji, Bonsai Class
After breakfast, we travel by subway and taxi to Daitoku-ji. While not nearly as well-known as the nearby Ryoan-ji, Daitoku-ji, belonging to the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism, is an extensive complex of 24 subtemples. The original temple was established in 1319, but fires during the Onin Civil War destroyed all of the buildings. Most of the buildings you see today were built under the patronage of Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the late 16th century. Here, we will participate in a Zazen Meditation lesson at one of the sub-temples given by one of the monks from the temple. You will be given the opportunity to practice your newly-learned skills. After the lesson, we will tour two of the sub-temples of Daitoku-ji. Daisen-in is perhaps the most well-known of all the subtemples, partially for its landscape paintings by the renowned painter Soami (1465-1523) and for its famed Muromachi-period dry landscape garden designed by Soko (1465-1548). Circling the building, the rock and gravel gardens depict the flow of life in the movement of a raked river, swirling around the rocks over a waterfall, to finally run into the ocean of nothingness. Ryogen-in has five small gardens of gravel, stone and moss. The A-Un garden has a stone with ripples emanating from it and is said to represent the union of duality (the "a" sound is said at birth and the "un" sound is said at death), encompassing everything in between. Koto-in is famous for its long, maple-tree-lined approach and the single stone lantern central to the main garden. In the afternoon, we will attend a bonsai lesson at a small nursery near the Kyoto train station. At the class, you will be repotting plants, training plants or trimming the plants depending on the time of the year. Breakfast at the ryokan included.
(Travel: 1 Hour; Walking: Heavy)
Day 8: Free Day
Today is a free day. Walk along the Philosopher's Path and enjoy one of the many tea shops along the way. Visit the Kyoto Train Station which has won numerous design awards. Or visit the city of Fushimi, a famous sake producing area. Fushimi is also home to the famous Fushimi Inari Shrine, which contains tunnels of vermillion-colored Torii kilometers long. In the evening, we will have our Sayonara dinner. (Breakfast at the ryokan and dinner at a local restaurant included.
(Travel: TBD; Walking: TBD)
Day 9: Home
It's time to say Sayonara (Goodbye). You will be escorted to the Kyoto train station, where you will take the Express train to the Kansai International Airport on your own, just outside Osaka, or return to Narita Airport by Shinkansen and Narita Express train on your own for your flight back home. (If you are flying out of Narita Airport, be sure to schedule a flight in the late afternoon or evening.) Breakfast at the ryokan included.
(Travel: N/A; Walking: Light)