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Artisans of Leisure: Experts on Japan, Experts on Luxury Travel

Japan tours emphasize culture, cuisine, gardens, art, architecture and family attractions

When traveling in Japan, local knowledge is important, lest you look for a koen (a park) and find a koan (a Zen Buddhist riddle), or order a goza (reed mat) instead of gyoza (Chinese dumplings).

New York City-based luxury tour operator Artisans of Leisure sets the standard for luxury travel in Japan with their Japan tours. Their Japan specialists have spent years living and traveling in the country, and they literally speak the language. They pour this firsthand experience into the design of each Artisans of Leisure Japan tour, all of which are private and fully customizable.

Artisans of Leisure president Ashley Isaacs Ganz lived in Japan for several years and has spent the past eight years designing exclusive tours to Japan. She’s been consulted by the Japanese government’s Tourism Department for her expertise on luxury cultural travel in Japan and Asia, and served as a committee member for the Visit Japan Campaign.

Ganz now heads a team of Japan travel specialists at Artisans of Leisure. They’ve studied the tea ceremony, ikebana and pottery. They’ve visited museums from Hokkaido to Kyushu and written dozens of articles on Japanese culture for international magazines, newspapers and guidebooks. They’ve learned how to prepare Japanese meals from homemakers and famous local food writers. They’ve collected mingei (folk art) and antiques at temple flea markets and upscale galleries in Tokyo and Kyoto. They’ve dined at local noodle shops, Buddhist temples and internationally acclaimed restaurants. They’ve climbed to the top of Mt. Fuji and relaxed in hot springs at its base. They make annual visits to Japan’s finest luxury hotels and ryokan (traditional inns), and maintain close relationships with General Managers at luxury properties throughout Japan.

PRIVATE JAPAN TOURS
Artisans of Leisure Japan tours are private and customized to suit individual interests. All tours emphasize Japanese culture through the arts, cuisine, architecture, gardens and local traditions. Tours include preferred rooms at the country’s best luxury hotels and ryokan, in-depth touring with private guides and drivers, first-class seats on shinkansen (bullet trains), access to exclusive gardens, temples and restaurants, and the support of an extensive network of Artisans of Leisure associate offices in Japan.

Artisans of Leisure Japan tours include:

Introduction to Japanese Culture Tours
Japan’s incredibly rich and refined traditional culture is one of its main draws. Artisans of Leisure arranges access to exclusive gardens and teahouses, accommodation in ryokan serving gourmet kaiseki (seasonal tasting menu) meals, classes on ikebana and the tea ceremony, visits to pottery villages, tours of specialty museums (Ukiyo-e, mingei, ceramics, bonsai and more), visits to antique shops and flea markets, and explorations of just about any other cultural interest travelers may have.

Recommended introductory tours: Essence of Japan is a nine-day tour of Tokyo, Mt. Fuji and Hakone, and Kyoto. Kyoto In Depth is a six-day comprehensive tour of Kyoto and the surrounding area. Traditions of Japan is a 12-day tour of Tokyo, Takayama, Kanazawa, Kyoto, and Mt. Fuji and Hakone. Best of Japan and China is a two-week tour. Luxuries of Thailand and Japan is an 11-day tour.

Garden Tours
Gardens are one of Japan’s great art forms and exist throughout the country in wonderful diversity. For all travelers, Artisans of Leisure arranges access to noted gardens, such as private imperial gardens (including Katsura Rikyu and Shugakuin in Kyoto), Zen gardens (such as at Ryoanji, Daitokuji and Nanzenji temples in Kyoto), the “top three” gardens (in Kanazawa, Okayama and Mito), museum gardens (such as Adachi Museum in Matsue), gardens on private estates and many other types. The company can also arrange special tours that focus exclusively on the gardens of Japan.

Recommended garden tour: Mingei (Folk Art) & Gardens of Japan is an 11-day tour of Tokyo, Kurashiki, Matsue and Kyoto.

Family Tours
Japan is a great destination for families traveling with children. It’s a safe country with a fascinating history, and Japanese contemporary culture is a global standard of the hip and new. Artisans of Leisure arranges tours to favorite family attractions such as sprawling castles, ancient Kyoto, and Mt. Fuji and Hakone National Park (parents will love the rotenburo, or outdoor hot springs there). Artisans of Leisure can arrange visits to private homes to see how a Japanese family lives, to eat like the locals and learn origami. Other possibilities include visiting manga stores and anime museums, watching Kabuki performances, walking the streets where young hipsters parade their styles, and stopping in cutting-edge fashion boutiques. The company also arranges special visits to electronics emporia and camera superstores.

Recommended family tour: Classic Japan Family Tour is a ten-day tour of Tokyo, Kurashiki, Hiroshima, Himeji Castle, Kyoto, Nara, Hakone and Mt. Fuji.

Folk Art, Modern Art and Architecture Tours
The mingei, or folk art movement emerged in the early 20th century as an effort to restore a human touch to the arts and imbue everyday objects with an artistic spirit. Artisans of Leisure arranges tours of major folk art destinations, such as the Japan Folk Crafts Museum (Tokyo) , the Ohara Museum of Art (Kurashiki), and the house of Kawai Kanjiro, one of the founders of the mingei movement (Kyoto). Tours also include time to shop for ceramics, basketry and lacquerware at department stores, local flea markets and the antique districts in Tokyo and Kyoto. Japan is also a top destination for modern art and architecture, and has a number of spectacular museums designed by some of the most renowned modern architects in the world. Artisans of Leisure arranges tours to the Tadao Ando-designed Benesse Art Site Naoshima and Chichu Art Museum (Naoshima Island), I.M. Pei-designed Miho Museum (outside Kyoto) and the Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum (Shikoku). Other popular museums include Tokyo’s Mori Art Museum and Gallery of Horyuji Treasures (by Yoshio Taniguchi, the architect who designed the new MOMA building in New York), and the Louis C. Tiffany Museum and Garden in Matsue.

Recommended art and architecture tours: Contemporary Art of Japan is a 12-day tour of Tokyo, Naoshima Island (Benesse), Takamatsu (Noguchi Garden Museum), Kyoto and the Miho Museum. Mingei (Folk Art) & Gardens of Japan is an 11-day tour of Tokyo, Kurashiki, Matsue and Kyoto.

Culinary Tours
Food is a highlight of any trip to Japan and all tours feature a variety of culinary experiences, such as sampling snacks in department store food halls, slurping soba in a local noodle shop, trying a range of little dishes in a raucous izakaya (pub), and enjoying a Zen vegetarian shojin ryori overlooking a traditional Japanese garden. Artisans of Leisure can further customize tours for travelers of all levels of culinary interest. Cooking classes with renowned local food authorities can be as short as a few hours or as long as several days. Travelers tour markets for local ingredients and cooking utensils, then learn to prepare a typical Japanese meal, including dashi stock and dishes such as tempura, simmered vegetables, pickles, fresh tofu and grilled fish.

Recommended culinary tour: Culinary Tour of Japan is a 10-day tour of Tokyo, Kyoto and Hakone.

All Artisans of Leisure tours are private and depart daily.

Artisans of Leisure is a luxury tour operator specializing in private, customized tours in more than 50 countries throughout Asia, Europe, South America, Africa, the Middle East and the South Pacific.

For additional information and details about Artisans of Leisure tours, please call 800-214-8144 or 1-212-243-3239, or visit the company’s website www.artisansofleisure.com or blog www.artisansofleisuretraveler.com.