Out exploring a bustling city with my camera on my first trip to Japan, I took a few too many turns and looked around only to realize I was lost. It was around lunchtime and a Japanese gentleman strolled by. Stopping him, I asked if he could point the way back to my hotel. Instead of just giving me directions, he insisted on actually walking me back to my destination. I’ll never forget the polite kindness he showed me that day, taking time out of his day to help me and granting me a glimpse of the generosity of spirit of the Japanese people. - Jennifer Spelman
As Jennifer alluded to, Japan is a special place: a country of kind-hearted, polite, stoic people and a culture steeped in centuries of history, shaped and sculpted by the mountainous geography and proximity to the sea. It is a place where people and nature intersect, seeking harmonious balance, and the relationship with the seasons is strong. Japan is blessed with four truly distinct seasons and late fall is a spectacular time to discover the beauty of this island nation. - George Nobechi Bumstead
Our carefully crafted autumn expedition begins with a train journey from Tokyo to the mountain city of Takayama in Gifu Prefecture. We arrive in time for a wonderful wagyu steak or seafood welcome dinner and settle in for our three-night stay. This small city retains a beautiful historical center, with 300-year old wooden houses now home to sake distillers, miso makers, artisans, and craft-makers. We are fortunate to have a born-and-raised Takayama local give us an insider's perspective on the many beautiful locations.
From Takayama, we venture into the heart of the Kansai Region, recently named by The New York Times as one of 2016’s "must visit" destinations. We travel by train to the western shores of Lake Biwa, Japan's largest and most famous lake, and stay in the city of Otsu, home to the Enryakuji UNESCO World Heritage temple complex and a mere 20 minutes from central Kyoto. We explore several sites in Otsu, as well as the famous eastern neighborhoods, shrines, and temples of Kyoto, then escape the crowds and retire to our lakeside retreat amid the splendor of the late fall leaves.
After three nights in Otsu, we make the short trip into the heart of Kyoto for a three-night stay in a traditional Kyoto-style ryokan (Japanese inn) to experience life in a beautiful old house, decorated in the Kyoto style with small courtyard gardens, tatami mats (upon which we sleep on futons), and alcoves. In Western Kyoto and the ancient capital of Nara we visit the Great Buddha and several famous temples. At World Heritage Site Horyuji Temple we connect with local retirees who have formed an organization to practice their English and share the beauty of their beloved temple.
With six total nights in the Kyoto area, you have time to move slowly and photograph thoughtfully as we explore some of the many World Heritage sites in the area and experience the beautiful fall colors. Japan's excellent public transportation network enables you to venture out to areas of interest on your own without being confined to a rigid schedule. As such, you have opportunities to revisit favorite locations or to explore additional new locations such as Uji City, famous for tea growing and also for its World Heritage Site temples.
The final leg of our expedition takes us by train from Kyoto to Miyajima, where we spend three nights at a seaside hotel. Located in Hiroshima Bay off the southwest coast of Japan's main island, Miyajima is home to the famous Itsukushima "floating" shrine, an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Miyajima is also a short distance from Hiroshima, giving you the option to travel into that city to visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial (Genbaku Dome).
After our 13-day expedition exploring Japan's people, culture, and landscape is complete, George and Jennifer assist you in returning to either Osaka (Kansai International Airport) or Tokyo (Narita and Haneda International Airports) for your flight home.