The Architecture of Japan – From Ancient to Contemporary, Featuring the Islands of Naoshima and Teshima

May 13-23, 2019

The architecture of Japan is a study in contrasts. Traditional Japanese building design is notable for its elegant minimalism, simplicity, and neutral color palette. However, within the last century — and particularly following WWII — Japan has become a leader in cutting-edge design. Key influencers such as Kenzo Tange and Tadao Ando defined styles that borrowed some aspects of traditional design while striking out in new directions. On top of this is another side of Japan seen often in popular culture, of busy city streets packed with bright neon signs and color. On this trip, explore these and other aspects of the fascinating world of Japanese design, from ancient temples to modern architecture, as your journey takes you from Tokyo to Hiroshima, Takamatsu, Osaka and Kyoto. The trip also features the islands of Naoshima and Teshima, known for their striking collections of contemporary art. This cross-section of Japanese architecture will leave you with a new appreciation for the variety it has to offer.

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guide expert

Carolina Miranda

Carolina A. Miranda is a Los Angeles Times staff writer covering culture in the United States and beyond. In her time as a journalist, she has reported on the architecture of skateparks, how automation is shaping the nature of buildings, avant-garde design in Mexico and Chile, and the myriad installations on view at the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale. She spent her last vacation in Tokyo looking at buildings and eating onigiri and soba. Miranda is a regular contributor to KCRW’s “Press Play” and was a winner of the 2017 Rabkin Prize in Visual Arts Journalism.


Welcome to Tokyo
Arrive at Tokyo Narita airport via individual arrangements. Meet with your local guide, and transfer with the group to your hotel, the Grand Prince Hotel New Takanawa. Enjoy a reception and dinner this evening and a preview of what you will see over the next week and a half. (R, D)

Tokyo Design
Today is focused on the highlights of Tokyo’s quintessential architecture. Begin with the Tokyo Metropolitan Building, designed by Kenzo Tange, an iconic architect known for his unique combination of Modernism with traditional Japanese design elements. Admire the striking Spiral Building and explore the design shop inside. See Tod’s Omotesando Building, whose facade of interlaced braces evokes the silhouettes of trees. Stop for a late lunch at Gonpachi Nishiazabu, which features delicious Japanese cuisine and a traditionally styled atmosphere. End the afternoon at 21_21 Design Sight, a museum founded by architect Tadao Ando and Issey Miyake and dedicated to the art of design. (B, L)

Old and New Tokyo
Start the day at one of Tokyo’s must-see spectacles — Tsukiji fish market, the largest fish market in the world and known for its controlled chaos. The market gets going in the very early hours, so those wishing to catch up on sleep can join the group later in the morning. Return to your architectural theme as you explore the Nakagin Capsule building in Ginza — one of the few remaining examples of the Japanese Metabolism style. Step into the past at the Asakusa temple — a 7th century Buddhist temple that is the oldest in Tokyo. Explore Hayashi Fumiko Memorial Hall, an excellent example of a traditional Japanese home. If time allows, explore Nakamise Shopping Street. Enjoy dinner together as a group this evening at a local restaurant. (B, D)

The White Heron Castle
Depart Tokyo this morning aboard the Nozomi 105 bullet train, and transfer to Himeji. When you arrive, enjoy lunch and then visit Himeji Castle — also known as White Heron Castle — named for its elegant design and white exterior. This is widely considered one of the most beautiful castles in the country and has been exceptionally well preserved. Return to the train station and board another bullet train, bound for Hiroshima. Arrive in the evening and check in to your hotel. (B, L)

Miyajima Island and Hiroshima
Today takes the group to Miyajima Island, a small island just off the coast of Hiroshima Bay. Visit the iconic Itsukushima Shrine, whose red torii gates are partly submerged during high tide. Return to shore to visit Shukkei-en Garden, a traditional Japanese garden that has existed since the Edo period. Turn your attention to more somber places such as the Hiroshima Peace Memorial — also known as the Atomic Bomb Dome — where the ruins of the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall memorialize those killed in the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima. (B)

To Takamatsu
Depart Hiroshima this morning for Okayama by train. Upon arrival, visit the Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum, which displays the artwork of Japanese American artist Isamu Noguchi. Continue on to Takamatsu by coach, and check in to your hotel overlooking the Seto Inland Sea. Have dinner tonight as a group. (B, D)

Explore Ritsurin Garden, one of Takamatsu’s most beautiful gardens. A garden has stood here since the 17th century and today hosts a teahouse and various art exhibits on the grounds. Enjoy a traditional udon lunch before heading to the port for a short boat ride to nearby Teshima Island, known for the famous Teshima Art Museum — home to a single piece of art created by architect Ryue Nishizawa and artist Rei Naito. Visit the museum and stroll the island itself before returning to the mainland. (B, L)

Return to the port at Takamatsu, but this time your boat will take you to Naoshima Island. Explore the Lee Ufan Museum and Chichu Art Museum here. Both museums were designed by Tadao Ando and focus on natural light and seek to minimize the disturbance to the natural landscape. The Chichu Art Museum, a work of art in itself, has a permanent collection that includes pieces by Claude Monet and James Turrell. This will be a busy afternoon — after exploring the museums, return to the mainland, and transfer to the train station to head to bustling Kyoto by train. (B)

The Temples of Kyoto
Experience the highlights of Kyoto’s traditional sites. Begin at Nijo Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage site built by the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate in the early 17th century. Continue to Kiyomizu-dera, a Buddhist temple and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The temple was built in the 8th century without the use of a single nail. The temple takes its name from the waterfall that runs beneath the complex and means “pure water.” Enjoy the afternoon and evening at leisure. (B)

DAY 10
The Miho Museum and Osaka
Depart the hotel this morning for the Miho Museum, designed by renowned artist I.M. Pei. The idea for the museum came to Mihoko Koyama — the founder of the Shinji Shumeikai religious organization — in a dream and houses Koyama’s private art collection. Much of the museum is underground, carved into the rocks. Continue to the city of Osaka to explore the popular Dotonbori and Shimsaibashi areas, famous for their imaginative neon billboards. For your farewell dinner this evening, enjoy a kaiseki menu — an artfully prepared dinner of many courses that highlights seasonal flavors. After dinner, return to Kyoto by train. (B, D)

DAY 11
Depart for Kansai airport this morning for individual flights home. (B)

trip details

Grand Prince Hotel New Takanawa
Situated on a 10-acre garden, the Grand Prince Hotel New Takanawa was designed by leading Japanese architect Togo Murano.

Oriental Hotel Hiroshima
Guests at the Oriental Hotel Hiroshima can enjoy views of the city and a central location. The hotel features multiple restaurants with cuisine ranging from French to traditional Japanese.

Rihga Hotel Zest Takamatsu
Guests at the Oriental Hotel Hiroshima can enjoy views of the city and a central location. The hotel features multiple restaurants with cuisine ranging from French to traditional Japanese.

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