I had a great trip to Japan last November, courtesy of Calder & Lawson’s Travel and Learn programme. The two-week journey was called ‘East Meets West’ and we travelled, mostly by train, marvelling at the glorious autumnal red and gold colours of the countryside in Kyushu and western Honshu.
We climbed to the top of the magnificent castle of Kumamoto, and the next day visited the awe-inspiring Peace Park in Nagasaki, where we listened to the enthralling story of one brave elderly survivor. After a couple of days, we moved on to Imari, and had hands-on experience of the art of yunomi (tea cup) painting, and bought some of the beautiful traditional porcelain which we saw being made there.
At Yufuin, after wandering through the gardens and ancient lanes, we stopped overnight in a ryokan (traditional country inn) where we leisurely indulged ourselves in the on-sen (hotpool) after a delicious ten-course Japanese dinner. We slept so well that night under the warm covers of the futon! We then crossed the sea and travelled by shinkansen (bullet train) towards Kyoto, stopping to see the majestic white castle at Himaji and spending one night at Kurashiki. This small town has a carefully-preserved mediaeval centre, featuring tree-lined canals bordered by shops which made and sold traditional crafts of all kinds; we took a boat ride along the canals, accompanied by some friendly local people.
We had two very busy days in Kyoto, taking in the royal palace, the Golden Temple (see photo], and the ancient temple of Kyomizu. Some of the ladies in the party were shown how to wear kimonos (see photo) and were introduced to the traditional tea ceremony. Others took the ‘Philosopher’s walk’ along a stream from the Silver Temple to the centre of the city.
After a side trip to the ancient capital of Nara, home of the largest wooden building in the world, our trip ended with two days in Kanazawa. There we explored the beautiful gardens of the castle, observed the entire artisan process of kutani (moulding, firing and painting pottery), and learned how to make gold-leaf patterns on lacquerware. Our journey was organized and led by a bilingual Japanese tour manager and we had local guides to help us where we stopped.
Finally, our well-chosen accommodation ranged from four-star western hotels to traditional Japanese inns, and wherever we went we enjoyed delicious meals, both local and international. We travelled very comfortably, and learned a great deal about the artistic, gastronomic and everyday culture of Japan – an unforgettable journey!
Roger Barnard – East Meets West Japan 2014