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Songlines Music Travel in association with Imaginative Traveller, invites music lovers and travellers alike to the Land of the Rising Sun, Japan. You will be fascinated by its mix of modernity and tradition. Immerse yourself in the variety of sounds and performances of Japanese music as we travel through Tokyo, Mt Fuji, Okinawa and Kyoto.
Accompanied by Paul Fisher, your UK tour leader, you will gain unique access to the artists and musicians of the region and listen to the best traditional music.
In addition, a superb cultural programme will complement the trip. You will visit temples and markets in Tokyo, a castle in Okinawa and cruise on Lake Ashi. You will also have the chance to attend a Geisha show and a Sumo performance.
10 x Breakfast, 2 x Dinner
Public & Private Transport
Hotel x 10 nights
• Private meeting and performances with artists in Tokyo, Okinawa and Kyoto
• Enjoy a performance at Kabuki Theatre in Tokyo
• Listen to a koto player and a Chindon performance
• Enjoy live music in local bars
• Enjoy a sumo tournament in Osaka and Geisha show in Kyoto
Konnichiwa and welcome to Tokyo! Upon arrival at the airport, you will be welcomed by an English-speaking guide and transferred to your hotel. That evening, meet your tour leader Paul Fisher, along with the rest of the group. Get to know each other over a welcome dinner before getting a good night’s sleep.
On your first day in Tokyo, soak up the vibe of old city in the Asakusa area, home to a plenitude of traditional temples and theatres. Visit Asakusa’s Engei Hall, the only theatre in the district dedicated to rakugo, a comical form of storytelling that translates as ‘fallen words’. After this, pay a visit to Kannon Temple or Sensō-ji, an ancient Buddhist shrine that is the oldest temple in all of Tokyo. In the evening, catch a show at the Kabuki theatre which showcases a classical form of Japanese dance-drama. Finally, enjoy an evening performance by Chieko Mori, a musician who is expert at the Koto, the national instrument of Japan.
After breakfast, head to the beautiful Imperial Palace East Gardens, set in the former site of Edo Castle’s innermost circle of defence. Next, visit the world’s largest wholesale food market, Tokyo’s outdoor Tsukiji fish market. Visit the second tallest structure in Japan, the Eiffel Tower-inspired Tokyo Tower, before navigating your way through the Shinjuku district. Weave your way through the streets below towering skyscrapers in the heart of Tokyo’s business and entertainment district. That evening, hit the town visiting local bars such as Mandala Venues of Star Pines Café. This venue hosts experimental artists offering high quality music in a range of genres, such as avant-garde dance music. Follow this with a trip to a wine house like The Minami-Aoyama where live jazz acts perform.
This morning you will catch your first train of the trip. Travel a couple of hours southwest to beautiful Hakone city, home to the iconic Mount Fuji, an active volcano and the highest mountain in Japan. You will take the train to the 5th station Mount Fuji, enjoying the commanding view of the Fuji Five Lakes area below. That afternoon, enjoy a boat excursion on the crystal clear waters of Lake Ashi and admire the view from the foot of the mountain. It’s then time for an unforgettable aerial experience as you board the Hakone Ropeway, giving you unbeatable views of the grandeur of Mount Fuji and the rising volcanic fumes of Ōwakudani. This half an hour journey links Sōunzan and Tōgendai via the Ōwakudani valley. That evening, you will arrive at your hotel in Hakone.
Having travelled back to Tokyo this morning, visit Ameya Yokocho, a sprawling open air market perfect for people watching as you get a feel for the daily lives of the city’s inhabitants. Take a stroll in spacious Ueno Park before visiting the renowned Akihabara Centre or ‘electric town’. This is a cultural and shopping district dedicated entirely to video games, anime, manga and computer goods. It is a marvel unique to Tokyo. That afternoon, catch a flight south to Okinawa Island. This prefecture of islands boats a tropical climate, broad beaches and coral reefs. In World War II, Okinawa became the stage of one of the war’s bloodiest battles when American troops invaded the island. There remain several controversial US military bases on Okinawa mainland to this day. Now, one of the island’s must-sees is the popular Naha Kokusai street, bursting with shops, restaurants and bars. Take a stroll down here before you hit the town in the evening to experience live music in local bars.
After breakfast you will have this morning at leisure. In the afternoon, head to Shuri Castle. Shuri is the former capital of the Ryukyu Kingdom. The castle served as the administrative centre and residence of the Ryukyu kings for several centuries until Okinawa became a Japanese prefecture in 1879. Originally built in the fourteenth century, the castle was nearly completely destroyed during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945 and was subsequently rebuilt. Later that evening, you will be treated to a performance of the Sanshin, a traditional Okinawan instrument with three strings, bearing some resemblance to a guitar. This will be followed by a workshop with world music artist Mutsumi Aragaki.
Visit Umikaji Terrace, a Mediterranean-esque row of shops that overlooks the pristine Okinawan sea located on Senaga Island. This is a mere fifteen minute drive from Naha airport, where you will fly to Osaka this afternoon. The flight should take roughly 2 hours. Upon arrival in Osaka, you will be treated to an afternoon of entertainment. You will first see a Sumo tournament which will be followed by a Chindon street performance. This is essentially a Japanese marching band, clad in elaborately decorated costumes. Originally, the Chindon performances paraded the streets to announce the opening of new shops and businesses or to promote special events such as price discounts. Although rarely found nowadays, this is perhaps one of the most flamboyant methods of advertisement! The word Chindon consists of the Japanese sounds chin and don to describe the sound of the instrument played. Later that evening, you will transfer to Kyoto.
On your first morning in Kyoto you will visit Kiyomizu Temple, an independent Buddhist temple that is part of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto UNESCO World Heritage Site. One of the most celebrated temples in Japan, the temple was originally founded in 780 on the site of Otowa Waterfall in the wooded hills east of Kyoto. Following this you will visit the famous shrines of Heianjingu and Fushimiinari, the latter of which is the head shrine of the god Inari. In the evening, enjoy a spectacular Geisha show including elaborate costumes and elegant traditional dances. Kyoto is the heart of Japan’s Geisha scene and is recognised as the birthplace of the culture. The city’s historic Gion district is the most popular place to see them.
Today will begin with a visit to Tenryu-ji Temple, the head temple of the Tenryu-ji branch of Zen Buddhism. The temple is beautifully located in the scenic area of Arashiyama at the foot of the mountains on the western outskirts of Kyoto. After this, you will see the Golden Pavillion, one of the most iconic buildings in all of Japan. The top two floors of this Zen temple are entirely coated in opulent gold leaf. From here, proceed to the Nishiki Market, a five-block long shopping street known as ‘Kyoto’s Kitchen’. Be sure to sample some of the many goods on offer. Head to Gion Corner, a unique theatre that showcases one-hour shows of Kyoto’s seven professional performing arts. Here you will appreciate kyo-mai dances, performed by maiko dancers. In the evening, you will attend a Tsutomu Tanaka performance.
Today you will drive for just under an hour south to Nara. Take a stroll through Nara Park where you will be joined by hundreds of freely roaming deer. This is likely to bring some fantastic photo opportunities but beware of excitable young males, particularly during rutting season! Visit the fascinating Todai-ji Temple, part of a Buddhist temple complex that was once one of the powerful Seven Great Temples. Once you return to Kyoto, visit the Kasuga Taisha Temple, the Nara’s most celebrated shrine. It was established at the same time as the capital and is dedicated to the deity responsible for the protection of the city. Enjoy a final evening with the rest of your group before you prepare to part ways tomorrow morning.
After breakfast, bid farewell to your travel companions before being transferred to Kansai International Airport at an appropriate time for your flight home.