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Aizu Crafts Kaleidoscope—Diverse craft traditions, townscapes and villages of southern Tōhoku (8 DAYS)



DAY 1—TRAVEL TOKYO–AIZU-WAKAMATSU & AIZU-WAKAMATSU HISTORIC SIGHTS TOUR: Depart Tōkyō (Shinjuku) in the morning and travel to Aizu-Wakamatsu, the gateway city to the Aizu region. After lunch, visit some of the well-known historic sites in town, including the Iimoriyama precinct—famous as the last stand of the legendary Byakkotai (White Tiger) brigade during the 19th-century Boshin Civil War—and the serene Oyakuen Gardens, a 17th-century stroll garden and the birthplace of the Aizu herbal medicine tradition. Enjoy dinner from a range of choices—perhaps starting off at a cosy local bar to sample a range of regional sake. Accommodation at a mid-range city hotel.


DAY 2—KITAKATA CRAFTS, FOOD & TOWNSCAPE WALK: In the morning, take a short train ride to Kitakata, and start exploring the craft and food traditions of Aizu. Visit a small family-run lacquerware shop to admire a range of elegant wares, painstakingly hand-decorated in the true Aizu tradition. Drop in at an old herbal pharmacy for an overview of the Aizu medicine tradition, then to one of the several sake breweries in town for tasting ‘medicine’ of another kind!  As you walk through town, observe the various styles of ‘cellarhouse’ architecture that lends the townscape a unique character. Enjoy lunch at one of the numerous Kitakata-style rāmen noodle shops. In the afternoon, visit a small textile workshop specialising in Aizu-Katazome (stencil-dyeing) and unique textiles woven and dyed using natural materials. For an afternoon snack, try your hand at baking your own Kitakata-style rice crackers. Accommodation at a lower mid-range traditional ryokan with a chic modernised Japanese décor.


DAY 3—KITAKATA GETA WORKSHOP & OKU-AIZU RURAL VILLAGE STROLL: During the morning, visit a small workshop in Kitakata to observe the artisan craft geta (traditional wooden sandals) from the amazingly lightweight and durable Aizu Paulownia timber. Travel back to Aizu-Wakamatsu for lunch, then continue your journey into Oku-Aizu, the remote and mountainous western part of the Aizu region. Arrive at your accommodation in the late afternoon, a small, family-run minshuku in a typical Oku-Aizu village. Enjoy a pre-dinner stroll, absorbing the tranquillity of a mountain village at the end of autumn.


DAY 4—OKU-AIZU VILLAGE CRAFTS TOUR: Travel early in the morning to the neighbouring village famous for its durable textile woven with fibres from the ramie (Boehmeria nivea) plant. Learn at the village museum about the surprising prehistoric origins of this tradition, and how the fibre was once a highly coveted commodity with political significance. Travel to another area of Oku-Aizu for lunch followed by a visit to a community crafts centre dedicated to the preservation of the Amikumi (wickercraft) tradition. Learn how hard slivers of cold-climate bamboo and wild vines are woven with precision into practical objects that last a lifetime, and how the tradition relates to the region’s environment and agrarian lifestyle. Accommodation at a small, community-operated minshuku in a nearby village.


DAY 5—OKU-AIZU RIVERSIDE TOWN WALK: In the morning, take a short train ride to Yanaizu, a sleepy riverside town steeped in history and culture. Start with a morning tea break at one of the local confectionary shops selling freshly steamed awa-manju (millet dumplings), and discover its historic significance. Walk to a temple with a 1200-year history overlooking the river, dedicated to Ākāśagarbha (the bodhisattva of wisdom) and associated with a legend that inspired Aizu’s Akabeko (red cow) traditional toy. Absorb the spiritual energy inside the dimly lit hall of the temple guarded by ancient Buddha statues, and enjoy the beautiful scenery of the grounds. Enjoy a lunch of local soba (buckwheat) noodles before an afternoon of art appreciation at the Kiyoshi Saitō Museum of Art, dedicated to the world-acclaimed Aizu-born woodblock-print artist. Accommodation at a mid-range tourist-style onsen-ryokan with views across the limpid waters of the river.


DAY 6—AIZU-HONGO POTTERY VILLAGE: Travel in the morning to Aizu-Hongō for a stroll around the pottery village, recognised as having the oldest continuing ceramic tradition in the Tōhoku. Be surprised by the variation in the artisans’ styles as you visit different ceramic studios scattered throughout the atmospheric village. In the afternoon, travel back to Aizu-Wakamatsu. Accommodation at a small, mid-range, traditional ryokan run by a restaurant specialising in Aizu cuisine. Enjoy a sumptuous dinner course at the accommodation showcasing regional specialities, many of which reflect the local’s ingenuity in food preservation in the snowy, inland environment.


DAY 7—AIZU-WAKAMATSU CRAFTS WALK: Spend the day discovering the finest of Aizu-Wakamatsu’s craft traditions. Visit a tiny lacquerware workshop and marvel at the precision of the artisan in hand-decorating his wares. Learn about the immense challenges traditional artisans face today in light of competition from mass-produced lacquerware, and a dire shortage of young artisans. Visit a family-run ‘backyard’ factory—one of the few remaining in the region—that continue to produce the beautifully patterned Aizu-Momen cotton textile, and shop for exquisite fashion accessories or material for your own creations. Take your pick from the numerous traditional crafts traders for your last-minute souvenir purchases, as you walk through the historic townscape of the Nanukamachi district of the city. Accommodation and dinner as per Day 6.


DAY 8—TSURUGAJO CASTLE & TRAVEL AIZU-WAKAMATSU–TOKYO: In the morning, visit the famous Tsurugajō castle, the jewel of Aizu-Wakamatsu. (N.B. The current main structure of the castle is a 20th-century reconstruction and its interior does not preserve the original design.) Learn about the significance of Aizu region in the birth of modern Japan during the 19th century through the castle exhibits. After lunch, travel by rail to Tōkyō. The tour concludes on the train’s arrival at JR Ōmiya Station (north of Tōkyō) in the early evening, however, the tour cost includes your full train fare to JR Tōkyō or JR Shinjuku Station. Alternative onward destinations can be arranged, however, it may incur an additional charge.



  • Traditional crafts

  • History

  • Regional foods

  • Villages

  • Art

  • Temples and shrines 



  • 2 nights in a small, mid-range traditional ryokan with Japanese-style futon bedding and private baths in a city setting

  • 2 nights in a minshuku (Japanese B&B) with Japanese-style futon bedding and private baths in a village setting

  • 1 night in a tourist-style onsen ryokan with shared public onsen baths and room-attached private baths in a semi-rural/town setting

  • 1 night in a small, modernised traditional ryokan with Western and Japanese-style bedding with shared public baths in a town setting

  • 1 night in a mid-range city hotel with Western-style beds


DEPARTURE DATE: Sunday 11 November 2018; itinerary subject to change depending on, but not limited to, accommodation availability, transport timetabling and weather conditions.


BOOKING REQUIRED BEFORE: Monday 13 August 2018




COST: from AUD $4000­ per person (4–6 persons); from AUD$4400 per person (3 persons); from AUD$5200 per person (2 persons); POA for 1 person.

FINAL PAYMENT DATE: Thursday 27 September 2018



  • Full tour planning and guiding—8 days

  • Accommodation—7 nights

  • Breakfast—7 days

  • Lunch—8 days

  • Dinner—7 days

  • Ground transport (rail, bus, taxi)—8 days, departing from Tōkyō (Shinjuku), returning to Tōkyō

  • Admissions and fees for all attractions and activities listed in itinerary

  • Relevant information material


PHYSICAL FITNESS REQUIREMENT—MODERATE: all days of the tour involve periods of walking on surfaced and unsurfaced roads and footpaths mostly on gentle to moderate gradients. Participants must be able to walk for up to 10 km per day, and continuously for up to 3 km at a time, on gentle to moderate gradients. There may be short sections of uneven, slippery or steep terrain including stone steps. The itinerary may be modified for lower levels of fitness or mobility—please note, however, that additional costs may be incurred. The weather conditions may occasionally be wintry, with snowfalls and strong cold winds possible.


CULTURAL TOLERANCE REQUIREMENT—MODERATE/HIGH: accommodation on most nights feature Japanese-style futon bedding. Most meals will be traditional Japanese style served as a set menu, including a range of traditional country foods, with non-Japanese food options unavailable. The accommodation on Day 2 features facilities that you are required to share with other guests, including shared public baths (requires nudity in presence of strangers; no private bathing facilities are available).

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