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Japnese
Traditional
Culture


cGunma prefecture/cJNTO

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welcome to Japan!!

"Japanese Odyssey October"

You may find Japanese traditional culture unique at first glance, however, in most cases, 'what is hidden' is as important as 'what is seen'. Reading the hidden messages is the true virtue of Japanese traditional culture. Through this program, we try to unveil the unseen.

The uniqueness of Japan is often explained by terms as 'wabi' 'sabi', the heart of the solemn tea ceremony relating to the samurai warrior's code. In the program we will together experience this traditional art and discover the hidden messages. The many visits to historical shrines and temples aim to feature native religion Shinto along with Buddhism, which also characterizes Japan.

Contemporary Japan will also be an interesting theme for us as we realize what the people of Japan today left behind and what it has inherited by skillfully mixing it with the modern western culture.

Many activities and sites of the program are included to introduce a wide range of cultural aspects and historical ages that help you get a deeper insight of Japan. We will also take a brief look at its nature, also essential for nurturing the culture by its blessings and spirituality.

Talks, demonstrations, informal exchanges with your local hosts and citizens will surely enhance our understanding of this country.

This Preparation Material contains a lot of useful information about the program and we ask that you read this so that you are aware of the program content and the sequencing of events. There is also information about the sites along with an overview of Japanese history, some geography and a reading list. If you are unsure about any of the contents please contact one of your Odyssey Travel Advisors for clarification.

Site Descriptions

Kyoto
Over 1200 years ago, Kyoto was formed as home of the Emperor prevailing 11 centuries long. Numerous temples and shrines of poignant historical beauty display the most refined architecture of Japan. Aristocratic art and culture flourished among the people, and the air still here, making Kyoto unique to other cities of Japan.
On arrival in Kyoto, we will first visit specialists of this World Heritage to catch the overview; it's aristocratic history, reason of it's structure like a chessboard, and Japanese religion, an essential viewpoint to fully appreciate the city that counts close to 2000 shrines and temples.
In total we will spend 4 days in Kyoto visiting selected sites including the glimmering Golden Pavilion gilded with real gold, the solemn 'Zen' rock garden of Ryoan-ji, and quiet bamboo groves of poetic hillsides. One of the highlights is the hands-on cultural activity; we'll challenge to whip up our own fluffy bowl of green tea and enjoy the art and unique ambience of tea ceremony, silky kimono gowns, and live performance of the 'koto (Japanese harp)'.

Nara
Nara was once the capital city before Kyoto, where Buddhism first settled on this island. Dating over 1300 years ago, it was built by the strong desire for peace under the divine grace of the Buddha. Along with Buddhism came the advanced culture and treasures of the continent; Nara is in some terms recognized as the eastern end of the Silk Road. Also, this was the land where the tribal lords roamed during the tumulus period around the 4th century A.D.
Our one-day visit to Nara will be a travel back of time. Upon arrival, the nation-wide famous sacred deer of Nara Park will greet us. The highlight of fieldtrip to this World Heritage site, is the great Buddha, housed under the largest wooden structure in the world, and Horyu-ji Temple, the oldest wooden structure in the world.


Gujyo-Hachiman
The program will move on tracing history from the aristocratic days of Kyoto to the Samurai era, time of the feudal lords. Leaving Kyoto, by bus we head for the mountainous region that runs like a spine through the center of Japan. En-route stops will include a castle city once ruled by a feudal lord, Gujyo-Hachiman.
The city displays a good example of how Japan is blessed with abundant rainfall and water resource. Here we will ponder the streets with waterways built throughout the town. For centuries, and even today, these waterways are used in daily life, from washing vegetables for winter pickles to household laundry. Plentiful water made these regions famous for indigo dyeing, silk weaving and dyeing, 'washi (Japanese paper)' industries.


Takayama
Once a major castle town of the mountains of Hida, in Takayama we find the lively culture of the townspeople inherited over centuries. Takayama also prospered under the feudal lords of the Edo period, and is known nation wide for its medieval city and artistic folk woodcraft. Along the cobbled streets, merchants' houses with latticed bay windows and linked eaves line just as they did 200 years ago.

Japan is frequently mentioned as 'a country of paper and wood'. The two days in Takayama and nearby Furukawa we witness this; a rich culture embedded in rural cities deeply related with wood and nature. Wooden masterpieces of skillful craftsmen range from the gorgeous 'Matsuri' floats to 'karakuri (automated)' toys (discover the wonder of how the toys moves!). Let us visit family run workshops that inherit handmade candles from centuries ago, join toasting rice crackers -'Senbei', the best-loved townspeople's snack over ages.

Shirakawa-go
We take one day's luggage with us on the bus to the small picturesque countryside community of Shirakawa-go. This World Heritage village was introduced to the world by a German architect Bruno Taut (1880-1938), for it's unique thick-thatched-roof farmhouses. Here, people still live in harmony with nature, a lifestyle once found in many farm villages.

We will enter one of the thatched-roof houses and learn it's remarkable structure, how it stands firmly without any help of nails. Our special plan is to stay overnight in the World Heritage village, under the roof of the traditional architecture. "Futon" mattresses will be our beds, we sleep in shared rooms, use shared facilities, and dine together sitting on floor, following the rural family tradition. We also hold an evening session, to see slides and hear stories from the locals.


Tokyo
Departing Shirakawa-go, we coach out of the mountains heading for Tokyo. En-route we stop at Mino, famous for handmade paper, 'washi'. At Nagoya we change to rails, board the 'Shinkansen (Bullet Train)' the world's first high speed train, and zip to Tokyo. If weather is fair, we will have a chance to see Mt. Fuji, the icon of Japan, capped with snow.

The capital of Japan, metropolitan Tokyo is the center of population, politics, finance, and culture. Approximately 12 million people reside within Tokyo, and almost one-fourth of Japan's total population lives within commuting distance of the city. Tokyo was formerly called Edo (1603-1868), center of the Samurai-ruling feudal government of the Tokugawa Shogunate. During the 300 years of peace, the stylish Edo culture was nurtured by the townspeople.
We will visit the Ukiyoe woodblock prints exhibition to see close at hand some of the original prints. In Asakusa we will stroll along the alley to Senso-ji Temple, most famous temple in Tokyo, and enjoy the lively bustling air of Edo that still lingers today.

Our hotel is conveniently located close to Shinjuku Station, and next to the Metropolitan government building. First we will have a simple orientation about the modern city, and visit a junior high school to see more aspects of the cotemporary society. One afternoon and departure day will be free hours to venture areas of your own interest; electronics, Kabuki, downtown alleys of Nezu, you name it. We will be joined by volunteers who will help us get around the city.

Nikko
From Tokyo, we coach for 2-3 hours to Nikko for a one-night trip. A highland 130km north of Tokyo, Nikko prides the UNESCO World Heritage, Toshogu Shrine, the mausoleum of most powerful Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542 - 1616). Colorful sumptuous carvings, gold tinted designs decorate the sacred buildings on mountainside. We drive up to Lake Chuzen-ji, hoping for a good view of the mountains in autumn color.
Our hotel is located near the lake, enabling us to take walks freely to great falls and quiet shores. Also, there is an onsen (hot spring bath) at the hotel to relax in. Next morning, we will take a mini cruise on the lake and a short walk through the forest of the national park.
On our way back to Tokyo, we take a brief stop at a traditional 'Sakagura' (Japanese rice wine brewery), where we can enjoy sake tasting.

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