I have just finished putting the final touches on our 2019 line-up of tours. For those interested, my premier Classic Sakura tour for early April still has a few places remaining.
Golden Alpine Trails
For 2019, I am adding a new walking tour, called Golden Alpine Trails, that could see you in some of our favourite places during the brilliant Autumn season. Besides Tokyo, Kanazawa and Kyoto, we have six walks planned in the central alpine region including the Nakasendo (aka the Joanna Lumley walk), the Shinetsu Trail, Kamikochi and Shirakawago.
Earth & Fire ceramics tour
Following on from the happy group of ceramists and art lovers I toured with in September, I have released another Earth & Fire tour for 2019, this time in the lovely mid-spring May season. This follows the same itinerary as this year, taking you to the heart of artisan life and culture in western Japan, where the influence of Korean and Chinese ceramics is most clearly felt.
Japan Film Festival
The Japan Film Festival is up and running across Australia now so it is worth checking out. I recommend you see We Make Antiques, which I saw on a recent flight to Japan - it's great. Check this website for program details.
Besides the indepedent travellers that we have sent there, Jason ran our first Shinetsu Trail trekking tour in September. They were blessed with dry weather for their six day 80km trek. We have scheduled the 2019 Shinetsu Trail trek for the peak of Autumn colour in October. This tour is already selling well and is guaranteed to depart, so get in touch if you would like to experience walking in one of the best forests of Japan!
Sep and Oct tours
I have just returned from guiding four tours in Japan. Above is a pic from my Deep North Autumn Walks tour, at Hanada-san's apple orchard. It was a beautiful day and a delightful tour so thank you for joining me. I have just returned to Sydney for a brief stay before my last tour starts later this week among the Ginko trees of Tokyo in Autumn colour - see you there!
Our 2019 sakura cherry blossom tours are now on sale. Besides our popular Classic Sakura and North Sakura tours, we have developed a new tour called Sake Tea & Sakura. This exclusive tour is limited to just five fellow travellers with an interest in the traditional cuisine of Japan (i.e. everyone!). As a newly licensed Sake Master, Riki wants to share sake breweries (i.e. booze!), a tea ceremony and a gorgeous kaiseki dinner with you. It concludes in Tokyo where Japan receives its first cherry blossoms. Please be aware that our sakura tours sold out fast last year, so you've gotta be quick!
We will release the rest of our 2019 tours shortly, so watch this space. We are currently working on a new tour for hard-core nature lovers on the Kumanokodo and another for hard-core train lovers through northern Japan. Toot! Toot!
We think the Shinetsu Trail is one of the best nature walks you can try in Japan. Our Shinetsu Trail tour in September suits keen hikers and we still have spaces available. This tour will be led by a local mountain guide with Jason there to help. We also arrange treks for independent travellers so get in touch if you're keen.
Spring tour reports
Both sakura tours and my mid-spring walking tour went well for 2018 and we were lucky to have great weather on all of them. One of my fellow travellers on the City Lights & Alpine Trails tour took some beautiful pictures which he has allowed me to share. Here is one from Asahidake (the highest peak of Hokkaido) ...
... and also one from Oirase Gorge in Tohoku. Thank you Chris-san!
I hope you've had a good year and have got some nice plans for 2018. For New Year, I went down to Mt Kosciusko for a few days of gentle hiking with some friends from Japan. What did you do?
Autumn tour reports
I'm so happy to have finished up my 2017 tours with everyone returning home safe and well. Over the last couple of months, I've run my Earth & Fire ceramics tour, Spirit of Japan walking tour, and Autumn Colours tour. My ceramics tour was lovely with a very friendly and talented group of potters. For Spirit of Japan, we had some wet and wild weather, but I felt so blessed to have a great group of walkers who took the typhoon in their stride. In contrast to that, my Autumn Colours tour was full of blue skies!
For 2018, we're starting a new venture that focuses on a very special walk in the central alpine region of Japan. It's called the Shinetsu Trail. It's an 80km trek, that's soft underfoot because of the grand beech trees that drop their leaves each year on the trail. We think it's the best long-distance woodland trail in Japan. We hope you can join us on one of our Half Treks or Full Treks. Visit our new dedicated website, ShinetsuTrail.com to be inspired.
Deep North Autumn Walks
I've also developed a new tour for 2018, which I'm calling Deep North Autumn Walks. This tour starts in late October when the Autumn colours in northern Japan are at their best. I'm focusing on Aomori Prefecture, where we can visit the world heritage area of Shirakami Sanchi, as well as Oirase Gorge below Lake Towada. It's such a beautiful area that's got some excellent food, friendly locals and gorgeous nature. Get in touch if you're interested.
We have just finished updating our website for 2018 and are excited to now take bookings! The lineup is similar to this year and we have print friendly flyers on our website for each of our tours. There are just two small changes. My North Sakura tour is pushing further north next year with two extra nights, one at the volcanic geopark of Lake Toya, and the other in Sapporo. For my City Lights & Alpine Trails tour, we will be skipping Sendai to have two nights at Oirase Gorge, allowing us more time to enjoy the pristine nature there... Please be aware that my Classic Sakura tour sold out very fast last year. We take bookings on a first come first served basis.
May & June tour reports
I took two groups on my City Lights & Alpine Trails tour this year. One group was my scheduled tour and the other was a private group. The first group had beautiful weather in Kamikochi on the roof of Japan, while the second group (pictured above) had a perfect day on Asahidake in Daisetsuzan National Park, Hokkaido. This tour is my grand walking tour - we traverse the length of Japan from Kyoto to Sapporo. It suits travellers who enjoy nature, regional food and culture.
A traveller's pic of a friendly local met on the Nakasendo this year...
If your schedule doesn't match my tours or you want to visit Japan in your own way, we can still assist you. We regularly put together independent tours for travellers like you. We provide everything you need to travel easily in Japan and tailor it to your personal interests. We're happy to help.
Where do I holiday during Australia's winter?
This was taken a few weeks ago on Iriomote Island south of Okinawa. It's a great place to escape the cold.
The sakura season has come and gone in Japan, and I have returned to Sydney for just ten days to recover and play two Saturday soccer matches - one win, one loss, no injury. Sydney Rangers will have to cope without me as I head back for Japan's new green tomorrow!
I kicked off 2017 with a private tour taking in western Japan's kiln sites. It was a group of four Americans, who all had an interest in ceramics. Particular highlights were Hagi, where we enjoyed guided kiln visits, and also Inujima, which is a small island and part of the Naoshima Benesse Art Site on the inland sea (pictured below). I can tailor any private tour for you but please let us know in advance as times are limited.
Sakura tour reports
The sakura season for 2017 was excellent as the weather was good and the flowers were in full bloom at most of the places we visited. Here is my troupe of Classic Sakura travellers in Ueno Park in Tokyo (top right).
My North Sakura tour this year was extended to include Hakodate at the southern tip of Hokkaido. Here we could enjoy Tarabagani (Red King Crab), which is a local speciality. Next year, I am thinking of pushing further north into Hokkaido. What do you think?
Availability in 2017
A couple of my tours in late 2017 still have availability, including my Earth & Fire ceramics and art tour (Oct 3-14), and my Autumn Colours aesthetic tour (Nov 17-30) pictured below. There are just a few spots left in each, so please get in touch with me if you're interested.
Ookini (thank you) to all my fellow travellers in 2016
It's been some time since I wrote to you, but I've been on the road for the past couple of months, so there were few chances to write. This year, I guided 56 people through Japan on six scheduled tours and one private tour. We also organised eleven independent tours for 26 travellers - thank you Jason for looking after them during my travels. Also, a big thank you to all my fellow travellers for joining me.
Oct-Nov tour reports
Late 2016 was a busy time with three great tours been and gone. We were very lucky to have pretty good weather on all of them, and everyone returned home safe and well.
Starting with my Earth & Fire ceramics and art tour, we (above) got to enjoy some great things. Particular highlights were our stay at Yoyokaku Ryokan in Karatsu and also our ceramics experience with Hajime-san in Bizen.
Following that tour, I met with fellow travellers in Osaka for my revised Spirit of Japan walking tour. It now includes five day walks at Koya-san, the Kumano-Kodo and the Nakasendo. The autumn colours on our walk over Torii Pass between Yabuhara and Narai were incredible. A special thank you to Sonia and Craig (pictured walking next column) who joined one of my tours for the second time. Also thank you to my brother, Daisuke, for providing back-up on this tour.
Finally, I ended 2016 with my Autumn Colours tour. It is such a beautiful time of year especially in the country side in the more remote places like Shirakawago and Gero (pictured below).
The year ahead
For 2017, both sakura tours and my walking tour in May sold out quickly. Japan is becoming more and more popular for foreign travellers, and there's a boom going on, especially in places like Kyoto. Fortunately, all my tours in the latter part of 2017 are still available, including my Earth & Fire ceramics and art tour (Oct 3-14), my Spirit of Japan walking tour (Oct 17-30), and my Autumn Colours aesthetic tour (Nov 17-30) pictured below. With just ten spots in each, they can fill at anytime, so please contact me soon if you're interested.
I hope everyone has a safe and happy summer holiday. I'll be staying in Sydney over new year; it's such a nice place to be at that time, with all the traffic gone. The only thing I'll miss about Japan is nishin soba (below), which is a specialty in Kyoto at this time of year... Ah... Enjoy your Christmas feast everyone!