Traditions & Modernity in Japan's Castle Towns

About the Tour

 
Map

The co-existence of tradition and modernity is integral to the charm of Japan today. Its castle towns of old were not just strategic centres of commerce and politics, but rich cultural hubs, abundant with local traditional crafts. This tour will explore iconic treasures of a past era as well as new developments that have emerged in recent times, such as architectural gems of high repute. We will gain an understanding of the immense contrasts between old and new through visits to craftsmen who continue the skills of their ancestors as well as inspirational ultra-modern museums. En route we will visit two of the most famous gardens in the country and stay in a hot spring inn.

Highlights

  • Mori Digital Art Museum
  • Odawara Art Foundation
  • Visits to traditional craftsmen's workshops in Tokyo & Matsue, including Shussai-gama Kiln
  • Matsumoto & Matsue Castles, both in original condition
  • Folk Craft Museums with beautiful Mingei collections
  • Splendid contemporary museums including Toyama Glass Art Museum, 21st Century Museum & D.T. Suzuki Museum
  • Historical Kanazawa and Kenroku-en Garden
  • UNESCO World Heritage villages of Gokayama & Shirakawa-go
  • Adachi Museum of Art
  • Izumo Taisha Shrine
  • Visit to a hot spring inn

Tokyo

The megalopolis of Tokyo, Japan's largest castle town is known in part for its high-tech infrastructure, inspirational built environment and wonderful museum collections.

Mori Building Digital Art Museum, Photo by Maryon Adelaar

Mori Building Digital Art Museum, Photo by Maryon Adelaar

Our tour begins with a visit to the Mori Building Digital Art Museum, a world-first of its kind, and home to teamLab's kaleidoscopic interactive art works. We will see a number of iconic examples of contemporary architecture as we then head to Asakusa, the old part of town, where other delights await us.

Fuji TV Headquarters, Kenzo Tange, 1996, Photo by Joseph Capogreco

Fuji TV Headquarters, Kenzo Tange, 1996, Photo by Joseph Capogreco

Asahi Super Dry Hall, Philippe Stark, 1989, Photo by Joseph Capogreco

Asahi Super Dry Hall, Philippe Stark, 1989, Photo by Joseph Capogreco

Asakusa Tourist Cultural Centre, Kengo Kuma, 2012

Asakusa Tourist Cultural Centre, Kengo Kuma, 2012

In contrast to its surrounds, Kengo Kuma's fascinating ‘stacked' structure, the Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Centre, greets us at the approach to Kaminari-mon, the gateway leading to Tokyo's oldest temple, Sensoji. The area exudes an atmosphere of tradition and bygone days, and the little, traditional Nakamise stalls that line the pilgrim path are sure to delight.

Less well known than the glitzy, ultra modern business districts, such downtown Shitamachi areas are still home to some traditional craftsmen and shopkeepers. Our visit here will offer an insight into unique aspects of Japan's cultural heritage.

Open Air Noh Stage, Odawara Art Foundation

Open Air Noh Stage, Odawara Art Foundation

Odawara Art Foundation

Odawara Art Foundation

Matsumoto & Toyama

Matsumoto Castle

Matsumoto Castle

From Tokyo we travel west to the attractive castle town of Matsumoto in the Japan Alps. We will visit Japan's oldest surviving castle and wander the Nawate-dori and Nakamachi areas nearby, exploring quaint shops, galleries and eateries, often housed in decorative Edo period storehouses. Folk craft and furniture shops are a particular attraction, as is the Matsumoto Folk Craft Museum, a short distance from town.

Matsumoto Folk Craft Museum

Matsumoto Folk Craft Museum

Pritzker Prize winning architect, Toyo Itoh's Performing Arts Centre, with its façade of irregular-shaped inlaid glass is the hub for contemporary theatre and reflects Matsumoto's commitment to the modern world.

Matsumoto Performing Arts Centre, Toyo Itoh, 2004

Matsumoto Performing Arts Centre, Toyo Itoh, 2004

Matsumoto Performing Arts Centre, Toyo Itoh, 2004

Matsumoto Performing Arts Centre, Toyo Itoh, 2004

Similarly, the City Museum of Art proudly exhibits the work of one of Japan's best-known living artists, Yayoi Kusama, who was born in this city.

Before leaving Matsumoto we will spend a relaxing night enjoying traditional hospitality in a beautifully appointed, traditional inn at the nearby Asama Onsen hot springs.

Asama Onsen hot springs

Asama Onsen hot springs

Toyama Glass Museum

Toyama Glass Museum, by Mapmoe - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

En route from Matsumoto to Kanazawa we will stop at Toyama to visit Kengo Kuma's composite Glass Art Museum and City Library. A striking design from the outside, inside the shared lobby/service area is a dramatic space filled with natural light. The museum showcases a collection of international glass art, featuring the work of the dynamic American glass sculptor, Dale Chihuly as well as contemporary local artists.

Other delights in Toyama are the Museum of Art and Design with its Onomatopoeia Rooftop and the Folk Craft Village on the city's outskirts.

Onomatopoeia Rooftop

Onomatopoeia Rooftop

Onomatopoeia Rooftop

Onomatopoeia Rooftop

Kanazawa

Kenroku-en Garden

Kenroku-en Garden, by Daderot at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Known best for its magnificent Kenroku-en Garden, Kanazawa was a wealthy castle town in the Edo period, and parts of the city are still characterized by well preserved wooden buildings and narrow alleyways. Old samurai residences and the Higashi Chaya-gai district where geisha once entertained wealthy merchants and the nobility are particularly evocative. Enticing galleries, restaurants, craft and souvenir shops abound.

Alongside these century-old traditions flourishes a distinctly modern city, exemplified by the 21st Century Museum, (SANAA) and Yoshio Taniguchi's stunningly simple D.T. Suzuki Museum.

21st Century Museum

21st Century Museum

21st Century Museum

21st Century Museum

Gokayama and Shirakawa-go are secluded mountain villages famed for their traditional, A-framed, thatch-roofed gassho-zukuri farmhouses. We will make a special day trip to these UNESCO World Heritage Sites to gain an understanding of life in these remote parts during a past era.

Farmhouses, Shirakawa-go

Farmhouses, Shirakawa-go

Matsue

Matsue Castle

Matsue Castle

Mastsue Castle Moat

Mastsue Castle Moat

From Kanazawa we travel to Matsue, another historic town with an original castle and a rich cultural heritage. Surrounded by a verdant moat, the picturesque historic precinct includes preserved samurai houses, impressive museums and galleries, as well as boutiques selling locally made handcrafts.

Paper making

Paper making

Visits to a paper maker, as well as textile workshops and Shussai-gama Kiln will be special highlights.

Weaving workshop

Weaving workshop

Indigo dyeing

Indigo dyeing

Shussai-gama Gallery

Shussai-gama Gallery

Shussai workshop
Alt
Alt

Shussai workshop

Adachi Museum of Art

Adachi Museum of Art

Not far from Matsue is Adachi Museum of Art, voted the best garden in Japan for the past 15 years by the Journal of Japanese Gardening. As well as its spectacular gardens, it houses a collection of modern Japanese art and crafts by several Mingei Movement protagonists.

A visit to western Japan isn't complete without a pilgrimage to Izumo Taisha Shrine, the second most important Shinto shrine in Japan, where a distinctive spiritual ambience emanates from the surrounding forested areas.

Izumo Taisha Shrine

Izumo Taisha Shrine