Japan from Cover to Cover: A Literary Tour of Japan

Japan has long delighted travelers with the physical manifestations of its arts (Noh, Pottery, Woodblock Print). But in the words of Japan, we can truly find a better understanding of the subtleties of Japanese culture, and the debates below the polite surface.

On our Literary Tour of Japan, we will be introducing you to writers both past and present, exploring the worlds, words, and lives of Japanese writers.

Please note we have a private car arranged for you for all activities. We are happy to amend this to public transportation (if preferred).

(Editor Note: First Photo in series is from the Kyoto Journal. Last Photo in series is from Artist Everett Kennedy Brown)


Day 1: Arrive TOKYO – Park Hyatt / Trunk Hotel/Shibuya Granbell

Today we will land in Tokyo and transfer to our hotel via private car. We have recommended 3 properties, with price descending from the Park Hyatt.  All offer excellent value as well as impeccable service. We are happy to recommend other properties to make sure you feel perfectly matched.

After transferring you to your hotel we will rest for a bit before meeting you at your hotel with your guide and driver. We will then meet with Lucy. Lucy is a travel writer for numerous music and culture publications and is intimately familiar with Tokyo’s subculture. She’ll be taking you to some of her most favorite and funky shops (which we’ll navigate by metro… cars are not too mobile in Tokyo traffic!) Before transferring you to your next writer.

Next, we will introduce you to the life of a Japanese Reporter. This friend of Asia Art Tours has been covering Japan for England’s premier papers for the past 12 years and knows the ins and outs of Japan’s politics better than almost anyone. He will meet you in Central Tokyo, and take you into the invite-only Foreign Correspondents Club for a drink. There you will be introduced to the journalists who first introduced Japan to the West, and who explain Japan to the West now.

We will then head to one of Japan’s most colorful Izakayas run by an expat from Britain and his Japanese partner. Here you’ll meet the owner, a true character and hear about his life. All the while dining with our Journalist friend and hearing from a true insider about what is going on inside Japan, well before it’s been reported!  

The evening will conclude with a long walk through some of Japan’s backstreets that are secretly home to some of Tokyo’s most colorful stories… if you’re with one of Japan’s best journalists that is! Your evening will conclude at a central metro station where you can head back to your property by private car or public transportation.

Day 2: TOKYO – Park Hyatt / Trunk Hotel/Shibuya Granbell

In the morning we’ll be meeting with Kit, one of Japan’s most famed writers of Haiku, and one of the world’s foremost experts on Japanese Poetry. Kit has also been a writer for the Japan Times for many years. She will be taking us on a tour of Tokyo’s hidden neighborhoods helping us to meet individuals from her writings.  For Haiku interested guests, we can also tweak the tour to focus more on Haiku.


Today your expert guide will be taking us to the  Jimbocho book neighborhood for a afternoon of book browsing. One in particular we love is the Ohya Shobo Bookshop for woodblock Ukiyo-e and rare Edo-era books.  If you’re interested we can also introduce you to a few Ukiyo-e masters as well.  Afterwards, we will be returning you to your hotel by Metro (Or private car if you prefer. However we do not recommend this due to Tokyo’s traffic).

In the evening, we will be dining out with a twist, we’ll be taking you to one of our favorite Tokyo restaurants (sorry we have to keep it a secret until you contact us!) with one of Japan’s best food writers. Over dinner, you’ll be introduced to some of Japan’s most bold and innovative cuisine while talking with your writer about the Japan culinary scene, what remains fresh and what’s become passé, and where the dining scene is heading in the 21st century.  After dinner we’re happy to recommend 1-2 places for a cocktail or we can return you to your hotel by metro or private car.

Day 3: TOKYO – Park Hyatt / Trunk Hotel/Shibuya Granbell

The morning will be on your own. Though we’ll be happy to recommend some great places for lunch.

In the afternoon, we’ll have a meeting with Gianni. Gianni is one of Tokyo’s most diverse writers, having done everything from book publishing to being a feature Tokyo writer for Italy’s Vogue.  Despite his cosmopolitan resume, Gianni has always had a great interest for Japan’s folklore culture. We’ll be taking you on a walk that encompasses the Japanese Fairy Tales that still can be found in the modern city. Think the Brothers Grimm by way of Akira. Through Tokyo’s legends and myths, you’ll be able to better understand that despite the modern façade the legends of Tokyo are ancient.

We’ll return to the hotel to rest, then we will enjoy a brief tea before dinner. Here we will introduce you to Peter, one of Japan’s best-known translators, for a discussion on what gets left behind when a Japanese Novel (such as a Murakami) becomes translated into English, and how these novels and poems should be properly understood. We hope this helps you feel “found in translation” the next time you enjoy a Japanese novel or poem.

Day 4: TOKYO – Park Hyatt / Trunk Hotel/Shibuya Granbell

In the morning we’ll be meeting with your guide again as we tour some of Tokyo’s best museums for writers.  This includes:

  • The Setagaya Literary Museum which houses over 80,000 pieces in its collection
  • The Basho Memorial Museum dedicated to the great haiku master as well as lesser-known lights of this beautiful and haunting form of poetry.

The Yukio Mishima Literary Museum, which holds the collection of  Yukio Mishima one of Japan’s most famed writers.

Then we’ll be meeting Gianni again for our final walk, this time in tribute to the literary medium that Hollywood and Netflix are crazy for: Manga.  We want to show you that Manga has a much deeper side. On your walk, Gianni will be introducing you to settings featured in works such as: Grave of the Fireflies, Kayoko’s Diary and Barefoot Gen. He will help you understand how this medium came to be so meaningful in Japan and what meaning we as guests can take from it.  Afterwards, we’ll return you to the hotel by private car or public transportation.  

Finally in the evening, we’ll conclude our time in Tokyo with a meal at a humble eatery. This Tempura Restaurant was the setting that fed a young Murakami.  In this local eatery, we hope you find a bit of your own inspiration as you eat the food that inspired one of Japan’s most dynamic modern voices.

Day 5: TOKYO-KYOTO – Ritz Carlton/ The Screen/Hotel Mume

In the morning we will say goodbye to Tokyo as we help you to Central station. Using your JR Rail Pass you will head onward to the timeless city of Kyoto.

Upon arrival in the afternoon, we will greet you for your private transfer to your hotel by car (or you can use public transportation if you prefer). Please rest and enjoy your surroundings.  We will be either picking you up or giving you recommendations for how to reach what The Guardian considers one of the ten best bookstores in the world. You can spend the afternoon browsing and enjoying the peace and quiet of the gorgeous building and café here.

In the evening we will have the most historic meal in Japan, at a restaurant that has been around since the reign of Charles the First.  Though the food is humble, the ability to sit in the stories found here, as well as see just how rooted Japan can be in its traditions is an experience unlike any other.  After your meal will head back to your hotel by private car or by public transit.

Day 6: KYOTO – Ritz Carlton/ The Screen/Hotel Mume

Bright and early in the morning we’ll be meeting a true bridge between worlds. Internationally acclaimed Haiku Expert and poet Stephen Gill will be taking you deep into Kyoto’s literary culture as you explore Arashiyama and the bamboo groves that inspired the poet Basho. Along the way, Stephen will be reading you some of the poetry that memorializes this beautiful scenery, and for those interested, helping you write your own Haiku. We promise that this experience will take you beyond the cliché of how the Haiku is taught in the West and into the landscapes, mindset and history of Japan’s great poets, who still provide a voice for the nation today.

After your hike through Arashiyama, Stephen will take you back to your JR Station to return to your hotel (By subway or by private car).  We will be leaving you until the late afternoon. Then you will meet your next expert:  A professor for many years, Michael is one of the best ambassadors into the complicated world of Japanese Philosophy. Get ready for a deep discussion on space, wabi-sabi and Japanese aesthetics!

Afterwards, Michael will be introducing you to a few of his scholarly friends as you visit one of our favorite Kyoto restaurants. This is a little-known gem that provides the atmosphere of Japan’s Mountain lodges in the modern city of Kyoto.  And it’s a favorite of University professors!  After dinner, we can either transfer you back to your hotel by private car, or you can head back by Metro.

Day 7: KYOTO – Ritz Carlton/ The Screen/Hotel Mume

In the morning we will head by private car or public transportation to one of Japan’s most beautiful gardens. Here we will introduce you to one of Kyoto’s most revered garden experts. Then, we will introduce you to the ins and outs of Japanese Gardens, as well as connect you to the various writers, characters and books that have been inspired by these peaceful settings.  We can also for interested parties, also explain how to recreate elements of Japanese Gardens in your own backyard. Afterwards you will return to your hotel by private car or public transportation.

After lunch, we will be introducing you to one of Japan’s most well known foreign Writers. This author has been introducing the West to Kyoto for decades. During your time together you’ll get to walk a mile in their shoes.  As they take you to the sites of some of their most famous stories and articles, introduce you to the subjects of ‘viral’ stories that have long gone cold, and in general take you inside the life of what it means to be a Japan “explainer” for the West.

Day 8: KYOTO – Ritz Carlton/ The Screen/Hotel Mume

In the morning we’ll arise early and enjoy a cycling tour of the city’s literary landmarks. Besides Japanese authors such as Basho or Murasaki Shikibu, contemporary writers ranging from beat poet Gary Snyder to travel writers like Pico Iyer have all been inspired by the city. We’ll get a different perspective than cars or trains as we cycle around the city’s landmarks with our expert guide and get a sense of the history that remains in Kyoto, despite the newly modern conveniences. Afterwards we will return you to your hotel.

In the Afternoon we will introduce you to the magazine single-handedly changing how Japanese Arts are known to the west as we introduce you to the minds behind the Kyoto Journal. The Kyoto Journal has risen to provide English language coverage of the divergent artists, thinkers and writers of Kyoto and beyond.  

Finally in the evening, we will head to Osaka where we’ll be introduced to a night tour exploring Japans’ Blue Collar Side. Here with our own resident bukowski, we’ll introduce you to the humble Izakayas and everyday laborers that make Osaka one of Japan’s most approachable and relatable cities.  Think of this as Studs Turkel meets the Far East. We can either spend the night in Osaka or head back to Kyoto.  We will travel by either public transportation or private car.

Day 8: KYOTO-MATSUE – Machiya or Onsen Ryokan

In the morning we will be heading out to Matsue, the home of one of Japan’s most legendary writers and translators of Japan to the West: Kuzimo or as he’s known in the West, Lafcadio Hearn. We will first head to Kansai Airport by private car or high-speed rail where we will board our 45-minute flight to Izumo Airport.  Upon arrival, we will transfer (35 minutes) from Izumo to your Machiya or onsen ryokan in Matsue.

Matsue would be among Japan’s best known tourist destinations, but for the fact that it is not part of the Shinkansen network. While this has made travel there slightly inconvenient, it has preserved the historic atmosphere of the town and really does seem at times to be part of the legends and folklore that we will be exploring here.

After settling in (and before introducing you to Matsue’s adopted writer) we will take you to Matsue Castle.  Built-in 1611 it is only one of 12 remaining original castles in Japan.   The all black castle is a elegant yet squat structure, with gorgeous swooping roof lends it the nickname of the Plover Castle.  The castle’s beautiful black wooden panels combined with the polished floors of the interior, and the beautifully preserved artifacts on display) makes this a very special place.  

We will then head to one of Matsue’s oldest tea houses, a setting common in Japanese literature. Located in the back a former samurai neighborhood and up an unassuming hill, the property is based on principles of Sen no Rikyu the zen tea master.  

Finally, in the evening we will take the Shimane Art Museum  which contains some of West Japan’s best known Ukiyo-e prints, but the museum (beautifully designed) is best known for the sunset as its banks, along Lake Shinji (a brackish lake that mixes with salt-water) The sun slowly dips behind small islands far in the distance: Yomegashima. Named after a young wife who drowned in the lake, she was turned into an island by a kind goddess.  It is without a doubt one of the few times on our literary tour, where a picture is worth more than a thousand words!

Afterwards, it will be time for dinner, and we know a great place for snow crab in Matsue. Then we will look forward to introducing you to Japan’s legendary writer tomorrow.

Day 9: MATSUE – Machiya or Onsen Ryokan

Today we wish to introduce you to the Author Lafcadio Hearn, or as he is known to the Japanese Koizumi.:

“The pivotal word here is “Japanese,” for Hearn, born smack in the middle of the 19th century as the son of a Greek mother and an Irish father, had naturalized as a Japanese, taking on the name Yakumo Koizumi six years after arriving in Japan. In his writings he extolled as unique and exquisite every feature of the old Japanese character and folk culture, cheerfully alienating himself from white Christian society in Japan. He recreated a Japan that was receding into the shadows — for he had always preferred shadows to light — and plunged into them, wallowing in the illusion that this alone was the “real” Japan.”

– Roger Pulvers.

Today we’ll be receiving a very special tour from Bon Koizumi, Hearn’s great-grandson and a professor of Japanese folklore.  He will be leading us today on a special tour into the life of Hearn at the Matsue Lafcadio Hearn Museum, as well as his former residence in Matsue.

Hearn’s residence is located in a former samurai Quarter.  This is where Hearn produced one of his most famous essays “In a Japanese Garden”. The garden that inspired this essay can be found here, a beautiful landscape of frogs, a gentle pond, miniature trees and in spring blooming Irises.

 You can also witness some of the struggles of Hearn’s own life that shaped him as a writer. He was a very short man and was nearly blind in one eye from a playground accident. This led to using a modified desk with extremely high chair and desk to help him read and write his work. (He was also extremely self- conscious of his damaged eye, preferring to only be photographed with his left side facing the camera).  Bon Kozumi will be talking about these matters, as well as his own impressions of his great-grandfather.

Next, we will head to Lafcadio Hearn Memorial Museum. The museum does an admirable job framing Hearn’s life in America, his background in Europe and of course how he came to Japan.  The star exhibition the museum is the section devoted to the actual content of his stories, most notably from the Kwaidan: A collection of Japanese folklore that Hearn loved hearing  from his Japanese wife Setsu/ The Kwaidan was made into a 1970 movie that had a profound impact on both the novelist Francine Prose and film critic Roger Ebert, the latter stating it was among the beautiful films he’s ever seen.

We will enjoy a late lunch at the next door soba restaurant (The most famous soba restaurant in all of West Japan!).  Before heading back to our accommodation to relax.

In the evening Bon Kozumi will be rejoining us as we had out by private car to a few of the sites Hearn explicitly mentions in the Kwaidon and infamous in Japanese folklore for being spiritual gateways to the other side. We will then return, full of stories to our accommodation.

Day 10: MATSUE – Machiya or Onsen Ryokan

In the morning, we drive an hour to visit what some consider the #1 Garden in the world at the Adachi Museum of Art.   This Garden is not to be walked through as the museum was designed to capture Japanese gardens intended as living works of art. Upstairs the museum contains one of Japan’s finest collections of traditional Japanese art including an exhibition space solely dedicated to the work of Yokoyama Taikan.  

Afterwards, we will be heading to the city of Izumo for lunch and to explore the setting of one of Shinto’s Greatest love stories at Izumo Taisha Shrine.  Possibly Japan’s oldest Shrine (from the 700s!) According to the creation myths, Okuninushi was the creator of the land of Japan and the ruler of Izumo. He also became known as the deity of good relationships and marriage. For your time here we will pair you with an expert guide in Shintoism who will take you deep into the symbolism of this shrine, and discuss why it has remained a site of pilgrimage for the Japanese for centuries.  

Finally, our literary tour has come to an end.  We will spend a final night in Matuse before flying the next morning. We can either extend your time in Japan (taking you to our favorite hidden city along Japan’s West Coast) or we will transfer you to Izumo Airport for your flight to Tokyo or Kyoto where you will spend one night before departing in the morning.

We look forward to seeing what stories you have to tell after your time with us. And we hope you enjoyed Japan, From Cover to Cover with Asia Art Tours.

Want more information? Email our travel experts matt@asiaarttours.com.

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