Custom Group Travel
We create memorable group tours for those interested in art, architecture, gardens, museums, pottery, food, sake, anime, photography, and religion. These tours are ideal for museum lovers, garden clubs, art enthusiasts, collectors, religious groups, culinary groups, and other organizations. Each group tour to Japan is fully customized to meet your needs and interests.
These tours feature intimate settings with professional tour guides in specialized areas of interest. In addition to tour guides, these tours also offer the chance to meet with professionals who are experts in their respective fields. Have you ever had pottery explained to you by a Japanese pottery specialist? Ever eat dinner with a food critic? What about walk through a garden with a garden designer? Interested in taking cooking lessons with a renowned sushi chef and tasting sake with the brewers? Now you can with the Special Interest Tours.
Your professional tour guides will accompany you and give you exclusive looks and VIP access to Japanese art and culture. We will visit small towns where artisans work with traditional materials using ancient and modern techniques. Meet the artists, storytellers, and craftspeople as they share their experiences with you one on one. Visit them in their homes and studios where their art gets transformed and reimagined. Walk through celebrated temples, gardens, museums, galleries and be inspired by the surrounding beauty and creativity. As we travel from one location to the next, witness the magic and inspiration that helps make Japan such a vibrant, thriving art scene. We can customize tours for groups of any size and professional groups are welcome. Just let us know what your interests are and All Japan Tours can arrange a tour for you.
Japanese ceramics have a long history dating back 12,000 years. Though an art form itself, ceramics have pervaded other aspects of Japanese culture. Traditional tea ceremonies use ceramic utensils, and flower-arrangement features specially designed pottery vases. Over 50 famous pottery towns can be found in Japan, including Mashiko, Kanazawa, Hagi and Mino. Each town has its own particular culture and style of pottery. Mashiko, for instance, began the movement towards “functional beauty,” where pottery was made for daily use like urns and water jugs. In Mashiko alone, there are over 50 pottery stores and 380 pottery studios.
As Japan’s cultural center, Kyoto is known for its ceramic tea bowls. At the Kyoto National Museum, visitors can trace the evolution of pottery from its ancient roots to its modern forms. Another important city is Arita, the birthplace of Japanese porcelain. Antique shops abound with high quality porcelain, and visitors can watch as artists create masterpieces in their studios. Other important cities include Shigaraki, Seto, Tamba, Bizen, Echizen, and Tokoname. These six cities are nicknamed the “Six Old Kilns” for their contribution to kiln technology. Seto in particular is credited with creating glazes in the color of ash, iron black, feldspar white, and copper green.
The anagama, a type of single chamber kiln, relies on burning wood to produce ash, which then melts on the ceramic object and creates a unique piece. This look cannot be achieved through any other type of kiln, and examples of this firing technique can be seen in Shigaraki. Kiln firing is a complex task and depends on the wood condition, kiln atmosphere, and weather. No potter, no matter how talented, can fully control the entire firing experience. There are just too many variables: what fuel is used, how much air enters, how the pieces are stacked, and where the pieces are stacked. As such, no two pieces of pottery are exactly alike.
Today, Japanese ceramics have an important role in religious and social rituals. It can serve as an urn to honor the ashes of loved ones or as a sake container to be shared among friends. The evolution of pottery is a reflection of Japan’s history and rich heritage. The respect for artistry and technique ensure that Japanese pottery will always be one of a kind.
From soaring buildings to wooden shrines, Japanese architecture is always distinctive and ingenious. Key elements of traditional Japanese structures include curved roofs (either thatched or tiled), elevated floors, and thin, sliding walls. The walls were particularly important after the introduction of tea ceremonies. The thin, wooden walls could be rearranged to expand rooms or change its layout to create a better flow during the ceremony.
Japanese architecture is exemplified by Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. Their open porches and lofty roofs give a sense of purity and simplicity, important elements for sacred buildings. In Nara, Japan’s first permanent capital, lies the world’s largest wooden building, the Todaiji Temple. Built in 752 as the head temple for all provincial Buddhist temples, the Todaiji Temple houses the world’s largest bronze statue of Buddha. Those interested in historical architecture should visit the Open-Air Folk House Museum just outside of Kawasaki. This “village” contains 34 traditional houses and buildings set among some of Japan’s most scenic woods.
While ideal for counterbalancing Japan’s summer heat, heavy rainfall, and frequent earthquakes, Japanese architecture’s heavy reliance on wooden materials has caused the buildings to be vulnerable to fire. During the Edo period, fires would wipe out entire towns. As preparation for such disasters, people started to stockpile lumber before dry winters so homes could be quickly rebuilt. During the Kamakura period (1185-1333), Japanese architecture began to shift. Structures began developing a militaristic style and castles emerged. Examples of Japanese castle architecture includes the beautiful Himeji Castle, which has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Today, examples of Japan’s traditional and modern architecture abound. Western influences have led architects to incorporate many new techniques and materials with traditional aesthetics, particularly after World War II. Currently, the Japanese are considered among the most innovative and daring of architects, creating structures with unexpected angles and dramatic views. Sites you should not miss are the three remaining Frank Lloyd Wright buildings in Japan and the works of Kenzo Tange, including St. Mary’s Cathedral and Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower. On Naoshima Island lies Tadao Ando’s Benesse Hotel, which is part museum and part luxury hotel. Fans of this Pritzker Prize winner will also enjoy his works on Awaji Island, like the Awaji Yumebutai International Center and the Water Temple.
Modern or traditional, Japanese architecture has been known for its creativity, craftsmanship, and attention to detail. Its emphasis on simplicity and beauty make it truly one of a kind.
Traditional arts in Japan are as diverse as they are fascinating. They encompass a wide variety of types and styles, including ikebana, origami, bonsai, tea ceremonies, ukiyo-e, and more.
Ikebana, the art of arranging flowers, grew out of the Buddhist practice of offering flowers to the spirits of the dead, and the first teachers of ikebana were monks. Form, expression, line and shape are emphasized and visitors to Japan can take classes from ikebana masters.
Origami, the art of folding paper into decorative figures, has an important cultural and historical role. In Shinto weddings, origami butterflies were used to symbolize the bride and groom, and samurai warriors would exchange origami good luck charms.
Bonsai, where miniature trees are grown and shaped in ceramic pots, values proportion and asymmetry. It requires careful pruning and cultivation. The Omiya Bonsai Village in Saitama City has a yearly Bonsai Festival that attracts visitors from all over the world. The village also holds six beautiful bonsai gardens that can be seen throughout the year.
Perhaps the most well-known aspect of Japanese culture is the tea ceremony. Four principles are observed: harmony, respect, tranquility and purity of heart and mind. Everything from the tea utensils, to floral arrangements and decorations, has been carefully selected to reflect the current season and occasion. In Kyoto, arguably known as Japan’s cultural center, many teahouses remain in the old Geisha quarter, where visitors can experience an authentic tea ceremony. Guests can also visit the Urasenke Center, Japan’s premiere tea ceremony school, and view chado (the way of tea) exhibitions.
During the 16th century, Japan experienced a renaissance and Japan’s traditional arts were revitalized, including ukiyo-e. The first wood block illustrations appeared in 1650 with the Ise Monogatari, a collection of poems and narratives. Ukiyo-e means “floating world”, but originally had Buddhist roots meaning “sad world.” Ukiyo-e represents the transient nature of life. Those interested in ukiyo-e prints can visit antique shops that line the streets of Tokyo. Another must see attraction is the Tokyo National Museum, one of the largest and oldest art museums in the country. With over 85,000 items on display, the museum has exhibits in archeology, sculpture, and calligraphy, to name a few.
Japanese traditional arts are diverse and multi-faceted. They include performing arts like kabuki and martial arts, as well as written and visual arts like calligraphy and ukiyo-e. These arts have a long and rich tradition and are a culmination of Japanese artistry and expertise.
Modern Japanese art takes on many forms, from sculpting to animation. Oftentimes they consist of traditional techniques, such as calligraphy on silk, and are reinterpreted into new, exciting ways. Many seek to create new forms of art using techniques that haven’t been utilized in Japan before, such as western style oil paints.
A new type of modern art in Japan centers around teenage culture. Cities like Harajuku and Omotesando will show you the individualistic creations teenagers have made as they push the boundaries in fashion and art.
In contemporary architecture, structures like the Church of Light in Ibaraki and the Acros Fukuoka in Fukoka City have changed the face of Japan. Tadao Ando, one of Japan’s leading architects, created the church out of concrete. The stark structure emphasizes the duality of existence, the contrast between light and dark, solid and space. Of particular interest are the massive concrete walls, which Ando says, “manifest a power that borders on the violent.” The Acros Fukuoka is considered a tribute to eco-friendly engineering. Composed of a terrace structure with over 40,000 trees, the Acros Fukuoka preserves green space in the heart of a busy metropolis.
In Tokyo, there is a wealth of contemporary and modern art museums, including Tokyo National Museum, the Mori Art Museum, and the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art. The Mori Art Museum offers rotating exhibitions and breathtaking, 360-degree views of Tokyo. To add, Osaka’s National Museum of Art is an underground facility that features both Japanese and international contemporary art. It contains an extensive, permanent collection of post-war art.
In Naoshima, stay at Benesse House, a combination hotel and museum designed by Tadao Ando. See the many museums and installations scattered across the island, including the underground Chichu Art Museum and the Lee Ufan Museum. Visit the Art House Project, a one of a kind undertaking where artists take empty houses in residential areas and transform them into works of art. Along the scenic waterfront, you can find installations and sculptures by Yayoi Kusama, Cai Guo-Qiang, and other renowned artists.
For over a thousand years, gardens have played an important cultural role in Japan. Unlike Western gardens, which tend to emphasize lines and geometric beauty, Japanese gardens are meant to reveal nature in its most simple, unspoiled beauty. Japanese gardens have their roots in the Shinto religion, though Daoism and Buddhism have also influenced their development. Gardens of the Emperor and nobles were made for aesthetic pleasure, such as the strolling gardens during the Edo period. Gardens of temples, however, were meant to inspire meditation and contemplation.
Because early gardens were created for the elite, many imperial and feudal gardens remain. The Hama-Rikyu Onshi Teien Garden, for instance, was the former detached palace garden of the Imperial Family. It is the only garden in Tokyo with a salt water pond with water from the Tokyo Bay. It also boasts an island where visitors can rest and sip tea while being surrounded by 300-year-old pine trees. The Kokyo Higashi Gyoen Garden (Imperial Palace East Garden) is a sprawling garden of roughly 210,000 square meters, and contains the remnants of a feudal castle.
Three main Japanese garden styles are Tsukiyama, Karesansui, and Chaniwa. Tsukiyama literally translates to “constructed mountain” and refers to an artificial hill. Tsukiyama gardens are hilly rather than flat and feature ponds and shrubs. They can be viewed at different vantage points and often have tortoises and cranes on the premises, as these are signs of long life and happiness in Japanese mythology. These gardens were especially popular in the early Edo period. Examples include the Tenryu-ji Temple Garden and Saiho-ji Temple Garden in Kyoto.
Karensui gardens are commonly known as rock gardens. They are waterless gardens, with sand replacing streams. Three of the most famous rock gardens are the Ryoan-ji Hojo Temple Garden, Daisen-in Shoin Temple Garden, and Tofuku-ji Temple Hojo Garden, all of which are in Kyoto.
Chaniwa gardens were created in the 14th century after tea ceremonies were introduced. They have an attached tea house and feature stone basins and lanterns. Because of their Zen Buddhism roots, these gardens stress simplicity and meditation. Due to their sacred nature, Chaniwa gardens generally aren’t open to the public. However, the Katsura-Rikyu Garden in Kyoto features four tea houses, and visitors can reserve a guide to view this 17th century garden.
Unlike other types of gardens, Japanese gardens are not created along straight lines. They are generally composed along diagonally lines, so that no single view dominates the scenery. Asymmetry and contrasting angles are also valued, so that vertical features like buildings and trees cut across horizontal features like stones and water. According to Buddhist symbols, rock and water are the yin-yang to each other, each complementing and completing the other. Motsu-ji Temple Garden has several examples of these features, with each turn providing a new vantage point.
Rocks are an important element to Japanese gardens and are painstakingly arranged into different compositions. Another important element to gardens is the shape of the bushes and trees. Unlike European topiary gardens, where trees are trimmed to look like solid, geometric objects, Japanese bushes were trimmed to give a fluid, wave-like appearance. Ritsurin Koen Park, a spacious garden in Takamatsu, is a sight to not be missed. With its impeccable landscaping and numerous ponds and pavilions, it’s considered one of the best gardens in Japan. The Adachi Museum of Art is also well-known for its beautiful gardens, as well its extensive collection of contemporary art of course.
We create exciting tours for people who love Japanese food, culture, sake, and everything about the culinary side of Japan. Whether your group consists of culinary students, chefs, gourmands, sake lovers, or just your average foodies, we can customize a tour that will inform and excite your travel group.
On all our Gourmet and Sake tours, you will experience the lively urban nightlife of some of the country’s most famous cities, as well as sample the great variety of Japanese dishes and regional specialties.
Visit sake breweries, meet the brewers, and get insider access to the people and places behind the beloved sake of Japan. Because of our connections with top sake brewers, chefs, and restaurateurs, you will taste, tour, and learn things the average culinary tourist never has the chance to.
In addition, we can arrange cooking classes with renowned chefs, seminars with experts, visit the bustling Tsukiji Fish Market with a sushi chef, visit factories and farms, learn about local cuisine with a local expert, eat at Michelin Three-Star restaurants, and meet with industry experts. Experience the real Japan that tourists rarely see; do what the locals do and eat what the locals eat. If this interests you and your group, contact All Japan Tours today.
When you contact us through e-mail or phone, we will discuss the type of trip and services you're interested in. There are many things to consider when planning your trip to Japan, such as your travel date, length of stay, destination cities, points of interest, and budget. Based on this information, we will create an initial “sketch” itinerary that includes an outline of recommended travel routes, destinations, accommodations, transportation type, and services we can provide.
Many of our clients select one of our existing Group Tour itineraries and adjust it according to their interests, budget, and other modifications. We also have clients that have their own ideas about their intentions and plans, or even a specific itinerary in mind. However you envision your tour to Japan, you can depend on us to provide first-rate service and exceptional pricing. A minimum of 15 travelers is recommended to get the best rates. (Although we can accommodate smaller parties at higher rates).
Our Japan Custom Group Travel Inquiry Form is designed to give us a clear picture of your interests and preferences, so that we can create the ideal vacation for you. If one of our itinerary is the ideal base plan for you, please mention so in your inquiry. We will customize the plan so that the plan will meet your specific needs and desires.
5.0 stars based on 18 REVIEWS
6/3/2019-6/16/2019 / June 24, 2019
What made this tour awesome for us was definitely our tour guide, Ai Orikane. Also our driver, Tanaka-san was especially friendly, extremely helpful and flexible. Ai was very flexible and resourceful, making our suddenly cancelled visit to Puroland into a happy day by giving us alternative things to do that we enjoyed. She is a very professional, friendly and intelligent guide, who definitely made our trip wonderful. We couldn't have imagined having any other tour guide with us. We would definitely recommend AJT and especially Ai as the tour guide to anyone we know who will be travelling to Japan and needs a tour and/or guide.
Mrs Trewin from Canada
5/18/2019-6/2/2019 / June 3, 2019
Kim was a terrific tour leader! She was so pleasant ....always smiling and trying to accommodate us. Nagi our first driver in Kyushu was also excellent. He always greeted us and made eye contact. He also kept the bus so clean. Loved the variety of places we visited ...sake factory, crane park, ice cream making, flower fields, oldest temple, etc. The meals were delicious, but could have used a little more variety. Too many kaiseki meals in a row. Would have loved more street food, ramen, udon for instance.
5/18/2019-6/2/2019 / June 4, 2019
Our guide Kim was nothing short of fantastic. She was one of the most pleasant and knowledgable people I have ever met. Please tell her how much we appreciate her.
Mr & Mrs Glaser
5/18/2019-6/2/2019 / June 10, 2019
Excellent guide and top quality hotels, transportation and food.
3/28/2019-4/11/2019 / April 17, 2019
with so many dietary restriction in our group, you have managed to do wonderful job except for confusion on 2nd and 3rd day. Best driver and guide we had who went out of their way to make us comfortable. Mr Kioshi Katsume was always available and answered all questions throughout the booking process. This was my 56th country but never received such a good service before.
Patel Group from USA