Japan Custom Tour

I jokingly call myself a minor art collector. I have more artwork than I can hang in my home. Most are not great works of art but they are priceless to me because most of them I have picked up during my travels. And enjoyed unique encounters because of them. When I heard about Japan’s Art Island, I was instantly intrigued. This museum of an island is more formally known as Naoshima Island, and sits in the Seto Island Sea. This superb surprise was begun by Japanese billionaire Soichiro Fukutake and his Benesse Corporation. He first created a place for really large-scale pieces; then, he commissioned works from among the most prominent contemporary artists both in Japan and internationally. And the results are breathtaking… and ongoing. The island is off the beaten path and it takes a bit of effort to get there, including trains and ferries but that just adds to the experience. For the art lover, it feels like a delightful expedition to a distant hallowed site. I suspect I could visit Art Island once a year and discover satisfying new pleasures each time.

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About Japan


Fukuoka: Fkuoka played an important part in the medieval history of Japan. As of 2015, Fukuoka is Japan’s sixth largest city.  The modern city was founded in 1889, with the merger of the former cities of Hakat, the port and merchant district, and Fukuoka, home to many samurai. The “old Fukuoka” is the main shopping area, now called Tenjin. The city is actually closer to Seoul than to Tokyo. Fukuoka has been an important harbor city for many centuries and was chosen by the Mongol invasion forces as their landing point in the 13th century. Shofukuji Temple, founded in 1195, was the first Zen temple constructed in Japan. When Zen came to Japan, Buddhism had been practiced since the 500s. The city is known for its nighttime open-air food stands (yatai), which are usually open from around 6:00pm to 2:00am. There are more than 150 yatai scattered across town.   Dazaifu Shrine was built in 1591 and is a fine example of Momoyama-styled architecture. The first shrine on this site was Dazaifu Tenmangu, built in 905 over the grave of Michizane Sugawara venerated by the Japanese as the God of literature or calligraphy. There are some 6,000 plum trees in 197 varieties in the area of Tenmangu. 

Hiroshima: Hiroshima is known as the site of the world’s first atomic bomb attack in 1945. But today, it is a cosmopolitan city with excellent cuisine and a bustling nightlife. It has a population of more than 1.1 million. Automobiles are a major industry, with Mazda’s corporate headquarters nearby. There are excellent art museums, dining and hotels. Itsukushima is an island off Hiroshima. Its known equally by its nickname, Miyajima, meaning “Shrine Island”. It is among Japan’s premier scenic sights, noted for its mountaintop views and its Edo-era atmosphere. Deer wander freely through the streets and parks. The seafront promenade is appealing, especially late in the day when visitors disappear and the stone lanterns are lit. On the Seto Inland Sea, Miyajima was once a volcano, and looked at as an Island of gods. It encompasses the Itsukushima Shrine, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Virgin Forest of Mt. Misen, and other preserved shrines, temples and historical monuments.

Hokkaido: The island of Hokkaido is at the north end of Japan, near Russia, and has coastlines on the Sea of Japan, the Sea of Okhotsk, and the Pacific Ocean. The Tsugaru Strait separates Hokkaido from Honshu, but the islands are connected by the undersea railway Seikan Tunnel. Japan’s second largest island was the first Asian location to host the Olympic games, the 1972 Winter Olympics. But it is most famous for the annual Sapporo Snow Festival in Sapporo, the capital city of the island. The festival draws more than two million visitors from abroad. The center of the island has mountains and a volcanic plateau, and there are coastal plains in all directions. The governmental jurisdiction of Hokkaido incorporates several smaller islands, including Rishiri, Okushiri Island, and Rebun. Hokkaido has six protected areas that encompass about 10% of the total island and include national parks. Three populations of the Hokkaido brown bear subspecies account three distinct lineages out of only eight worldwide. The island has more brown bears than anywhere else in Asia except Russia. Japan’s coldest region, Hokkaido has relatively cool summers and ice and snow in winter, which means that this is a popular region for snow sports. 

Kagoshima: It has been nicknamed the “Naples of the Eastern world” for its bay location (Aira Caldera), hot climate, and emblematic stratovolcano, Sakurajima. The city was officially founded in 1889, and was a busy political and commercial port city throughout the medieval period and into the Edo period (1603–1867). Kagoshima is a historical city watched over by the active Sakurajima volcano, which erupts over 850 times per year. It has sites related to the Satsuma Rebellion. Kagoshima is known for its grand cedar forests of Yakushima, active volcanoes, many hot springs, samurai history and abundant nature. 

Kyoto: The former capital of Japan, Kyoto was the center of politics and culture for more than a millennium. The seat of government moved to Tokyo in the mid-19th century. With 1,600 Buddhist temples, 400 Shinto shrines, palaces and gardens, it is one of the best-preserved cities in Japan. Kiyomizu-dera, a superb wooden temple, and Nijo Castle are among the city’s 17 historic UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Sites. Kyoto offers opportunities to delve into Japanese traditions such as the famous tea ceremony, the art of Kimono wearing; classic Japanese flower arranging; the arts of origami and calligraphy; dance; or cooking. The city is geared for outdoor activities such as biking and hiking. The Philosopher’s Walk is a well-known route in Kyoto, which starts at the famous Ginkaku-ji Temple and heads south to the Nanzen-ji Temple, following a stone path by a cherry-tree-lined canal that was once walked daily by Nishida Kitaro, a famous philosopher and professor at Kyoto University. The Philosopher’s Walk passes by some major shrines and other places of interest of Kyoto.

Matsue: Matsue is a lovely castle town in Western Japan with a feudal castle nicknamed the “black castle” or “plover castle”. It is rare in that it is one of the few remaining medieval castles in Japan to retain some of its original wooden form. Most Japanese castles have been damaged or completely destroyed by war, earthquakes, or other causes. Matsue Castle has retained the keep and some of the original walls. Adachi Museum of Art houses a large collection of modern Japanese art, encompassing paintings, pottery, and other works of art as well as six gardens. Izumo Taisha is one of the most ancient and important Shinto shrines in Japan. No record gives the date of establishment, but it is thought to be the oldest shrine in Japan. 

Naoshima Island: Naoshima Island in the Seto Inland Sea carries the heady nickname of Art Island. Japanese billionaire Soichiro Fukutake decided to create a fantastic museum of contemporary art that integrated the art and the buildings into the island and the island into the art. Having worked on other art projects, he and his Benesse Corporation first developed a site that could assimilate very large-scale sculptures and other art pieces. Then, he sought out work from among the most established artists today both in Japan and around the globe including Lee Ufan, James Turrell, Walter de Maria. Yves Klein, Cy Twombly, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Yasumasa Morimura, Andy Warhol and Richard Long. Many of the pieces were designed for the island. The Chichu Art Museum, for example, houses site-specific installations by James Turrell, Walter De Maria and paintings by Claude Monet. Another contemporary museum (and hotel) is Benesse House, also by Ando. Another is the Naoshima Fukutake Art Museum, with an outdoor sculpture garden. The Art House Project comprises seven traditional houses converted into art projects in another area of the island. Benesse Corporation, a large education company based in Okayama, has directed the operation of the island’s museums and other projects since the late 1980s. The island is reached by train and ferry.

Okayama: Okayama is the capital city of Okayama Prefecture in the Chugoku region. Founded in 1889, the city is the site of Koraku-en, known as one of the top three traditional gardens in Japan, and Okayama Castle, which is ranked among the best 100 Japanese castles. Before the Muromachi period, Okayama was one corner of a farm region and included a small castle built by the Kanemitsu. Okayama Castle and Koraku-en are Okayama’s most notable attractions. Okayama Castle (nicknamed “crow castle”) was constructed in 1597 by a Japanese feudal lord. It was destroyed by bombing in 1945 during World War II but reconstructed in 1966. Koraku-en, known as one of the three best traditional gardens in Japan, lies south of the castle grounds. Korakuen was constructed over 14 years and completed in 1700. A large Buddhist monastery belonging to the Rinzai sect, is located near the center of the city. Every August, Okayama has seen the Momotaro Matsuri Festival, which is an amalgam of three different festivals, including the “”Uraja”” (ogre) festival. Kurashiki in Okayama Prefecture, is near Okayama. It has a preserved canal that dates to the Edo Period (1603-1867), when the city was as an important rice distribution center. Many of Kurashiki’s former storehouses have been converted into museums, boutiques and cafes. The Ohara Museum is the most impressive of Kurashiki’s museums, exhibiting a large collection of works by distinguished Western artists.

Osaka: It is the capital city of Osaka Prefecture and the largest component of the Keihanshin Metropolitan Area, the second largest metropolitan area in Japan, and among the largest in the world with over 19 million inhabitants. At the mouth of the Yodo River on Osaka Bay, it is a major economic hub for the country. Historically a merchant city, Osaka has also been known as the “nation’s kitchen” because it was the collection and distribution point for rice during the Edo period, once the most important measure of wealth. Some of the earliest signs of human habitation in the Osaka area at the Morinomiya ruins comprise shell mounds, sea oysters and buried human skeletons from the sixth and fifth centuries BCE.  Osaka played an important role as a hub for land, sea and river-canal transportation. Hence it was also the city where merchants made and lost fortunes and cheerfully ignored repeated warnings from the shogunate to reduce their conspicuous consumption. Osaka is famous in Japan as a foodie’s paradise. Its best-known dish is okonomiyaki, a type of Japanese pancake containing diced meat and cabbage; its own style of sushi, oshi-zushi, combines rice and fish in a wooden mold; and other popular local dishes include dumplings and thick Japanese noodles sweetened deep-fried tofu. 

Takayama & Kanazawa: Takayama is located in northern Gifu Prefecture, in the heart of the Japan Alps. Mount Hotakadake is the highest point in the city at 3,190 m/10,470 ft. The area around Takayama was settled as far back as 1000 BCE. The town grew into a castle town surrounding Takayama Castle. During the Edo period, the area was under the direct control of the Tokugawa shogunate. The town was established in 1889 with the creation of the modern municipalities system. Several towns and villages later merged with Takayama, making it the largest city in Japan by surface area. Takayama is the gateway to the Japan Alps and Shirakawa-go, a UNESCO World Heritage Listed thatch-roof village. The city is built around the beautifully preserved Sanmachi Suji district and includes three streets in the heart of the old town that recall a Japan of long ago. Traditional houses line up with shops, restaurants, sake breweries and cafes. Some say it is one of the prettiest views in the country. Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine is a Shinto shrine near the Festival Floats Hall.  The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Shirakawa-go features ancient houses in their original setting. Kanazawa was one of the few major Japanese cities to escape destruction in World War II, and as a result, much of its architectural heritage has been preserved. Kenrokuen Garden is by far the most famous part of Kanazawa. Originally built as the outer garden of Kanazawa Castle, it was opened to the public in 1875. It is considered one of three great gardens in the country. The garden is filled with a variety of trees and flowering plants, ponds and waterfalls. The original castle was largely destroyed by fire in 1888 but has been partially restored. The Seisonkaku Villa was built in 1863, but most of it has been dismantled. The remains is one of the most elegant feudal lord villas left in the country with features such as the vividly colored walls of the upper floor, with purple or red walls, a Kanazawa tradition and dark blue ceilings as well as a custom-made English carpet in the audience chamber. The Oyama-jinja Shrine is an important cultural property, known for its imposing 1875 three-story Shinmon gate, influenced by Dutch design. It features brightly colored stained-glass windows. Kanazawa’s Ninja-dera (Ninja Temple) is an amalgamation of traditional temple architecture, hidden doors, passageways, and escape routes. Local legend claims the temple was intended as a secret refuge for the local rulers in case of an external threat. Kanazawa boasts numerous Edo period (1603–1867) former geisha houses in the Higashi Geisha District, across the Asano River from central Kanazawa. Nearby is the Yougetsu Minshuku, which sits at one end of one of the most photographed streets in Japan. This area retains the look and feel of pre-modern Japan. At night, the street is lit by recreated period streetlamps. 

Tokyo: Japan’s capital, with more than 12 million people, is among the most populous cities in the world. It is the political and economic engine of Japan. Tokyo was a small fishing village named Edo, when Edo Castle was built in 1457. In 1590, the first shogun made the town his base and the center of his national military government. By the 1700s, Tokyo was home to more than one million, making it one of the largest cities in the world. The well-known area of Ginza is dotted with many international designer shops while Akihabara is a busy retail area crammed with electronic stores. Asakusa neighborhood is noted for its many temples, particularly Sensoji. Asakusa Kannon Temple is said to be Tokyo’s oldest temple, dating to 628. Just an hour outside Tokyo, the sacred Mt. Takao offers a unique blend of Japanese culture and beautiful nature with hiking trails, historic temples and gorgeous views from the summit. In 744, Emperor Shomu ordered Yakuo-in Temple built halfway up the mountain.

Yakushima: Yakushima was first mentioned in written documents of the sixth century Chinese Sui Dynasty. Yakushima is one of the Osumi Islands. The island is reached by hydrofoil ferry, slow car ferry or by air. Administratively, the entire island is occupied by the town of Yakushima. Most of the island sits within the borders of the Kirishima-Yaku National Park. Yakushima gets more than 50% of its electricity from hydroelectric. The island is a test site for Honda’s hydrogen fuel cell vehicle research. The island is a UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Reserve. Yakushima Island is also called “the island of ancient forest and water” because of the mystic forest of Yaku-sugi, or Yaku cedars, some of which are over 1,000 years old. In fact, the symbol of Yakushima Island is a Jomon-sugi or the Jomon cedar that is estimated to be at least 2,000 years old. With a climate ranging from subtropical to cool-temperate, its diverse and highly unique ecosystem have been highly regarded.


Best Time to Go

Japan’s climate varies from tropical in the south to cool temperate in the north. The rainy season begins in early June and continues for about a month. The climate June-September is hot, and wet, brought on by tropical airflows from the Pacific Ocean and Southeast Asia. Typhoon season last early August-early September. Plum blossoms start blooming at the end of February. Sakura or cherry blossoms bloom in March-April on the mainland in Japan. The most popular time to hike Mt. Fuji is from July-August, while huts and other facilities are operating.

Suggested Itinerary


 Day 1: Tokyo 

Once a small fishing village, Tokyo today is Japan’s capital and is among the most populous cities in the world.

Day 2: Tokyo 

Japan’s rich culture includes traditional customs such as the Tea Ceremony, intricate Japanese gardens and a rewarding menu of gourmet cuisine.

Day 3: Tokyo 

Sacred Mt. Takao offers a natural retreat with a variety of hiking trails as well as historic temples.

Day 4: Tokyo / Kyoto 

With 1,600 Buddhist temples, 400 Shinto shrines, palaces and gardens, Kyoto is one of the best-preserved cities in Japan as well as the center of politics and culture for more than a millennium.

Day 5: Kyoto 

With an abundant collection of religious sights, Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, palaces and gardens, Kyoto is the perfect place to explore on a bicycle.

Day 6: Kyoto 

Kyoto offers opportunities for outdoor activities such as walking the Philosopher's Walk, a well-known route in Kyoto that begins at Ginkaku-ji Temple and heads south to the Nanzen-ji Temple.

Day 7: Kyoto / Okayama 

Okayama has one of the top three traditional gardens in Japan, and Okayama Castle, ranks among Japan’s best 100 castles.

Day 8: Okayama 

Near Okayama, Kurashiki was as a rice distribution center, and many old storehouses have been converted into museums, boutiques and cafes.

Day 9: Okayama / Matsue 

Matsue is a lovely castle town in Western Japan with a feudal castle nicknamed the "black castle" or "plover castle."

Day 10: Matsue 

Adachi Museum of Art houses a large collection of modern Japanese art, encompassing paintings, pottery, and other works of art as well as six gardens.

Day 11: Matsue / Hiroshima 

Today Hiroshima is a cosmopolitan city with excellent art museums, cuisine and a bustling nightlife.

Day 12: Hiroshima 

Miyajima, meaning "Shrine Island", is among Japan's premier scenic sights, noted for its mountaintop views and its Edo-era atmosphere.

Day 13: Hiroshima / Tokyo 

Tokyo is considered an alpha+ world city and some 36% of the total land area of the
prefecture is designated as natural parks.

Day 14: Tokyo / Depart 


Custom Options


Fukuoka  (2 days)

The city is known for its nighttime open-air food stands (yatai), and its 16th-century Dazaifu Shrine.


Kagoshima  (2 days)

Kagoshima features the grand cedar forests of Yakushima, active volcanoes, abundant hot springs, samurai history and abundant nature.


Naoshima Island (2 days)

Off the beaten path, Naoshima Island in the Seto Inland Sea is also known as Art Island for multiple museums of contemporary art with large scale artworks and the buildings housing them integrated into island. Art lovers will savor this unusual side trip.


Hokkaido 3 days

The island is most famous for the annual Sapporo Snow Festival, which draws more than two million visitors from abroad.


Osaka (2 days)

Osaka was once known as the "nation's kitchen" as a distribution point for rice during the Edo period, once the most important measure of wealth.


Takayama & Kanazawa (4 days)

Rich history, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, traditional houses and shrines all add to a look back at a Japan of long ago.


Yakushima (2 days)

The island is a UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Reserve. Yakushima Island is also called “the island of ancient forest and water.” It offers hikes past huge 1,000-year-old, Yaku cedars, waterfalls and along stunning streams.

$900-$1500 per person per day. Land only, double occupancy.

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