A few tours focus on Japanese culture


September 25, 1994|By New York Times News Service

Q: Do you know of any firms that offer small group tours to Japan to historic, artistic and cultural sites?

A: Organizing small group tours to Japan is a specialized field with only a relative handful of full-time practitioners and a correspondingly small number of programs. A tour, say, to tea-ceremony centers might take two years to set up and, because of its generally limited appeal, might be repeated only every five years.

The following companies have wide experience in the field:

The North Group, 2250 Broadway, No. 20B, New York, N.Y. 10024, (212) 875-8423, has organized and co-sponsored tours for the Japan Society for the past three years. Next year's trip will explore the Japanese aesthetic "as it is expressed through ceramics and food and their presentation."

The tour, Oct. 6-23, will visit ceramics artists, chefs, tea masters, calligraphers and textile artisans. It will be led by a ceramics artist who lived in Japan for 10 years.

Despite the $7,950-a-person price tag in double occupancy ($9,250 for a single), the organizers say the tour is selling fast. The price includes a $500 donation to the Japan Society, six breakfasts, 11 lunches and nine dinners, but it does not include air fare to and from Japan.

Journeys East, 2443 Fillmore St., No. 289, San Francisco, Calif. 94115, (510) 601-1677, organizes more frequent trips -- a total of 10 this year. This year's tours were designed under the headings "Mountains, Temples and Hamlets," "Brushes With Inner Japan," "From Farmhouse to Teahouse" and "Arts and Crafts: Past and Present."

"Mountains" concentrated on temples, gardens, villas and palaces as well as villages and the Japanese countryside; "Inner Japan" combined flower arranging, the opportunity for Zen meditation, an overnight stay at a Shinto temple and visits to arts and crafts museums and shops. Similar tours will be held next year but not all schedules and prices have been finalized. The "Farmhouse" tour will run May 13-27 and cost $3,685 a person in double occupancy; the "Inner Japan" tour will be held from Oct. ** 28 to Nov. 11 and cost $3,785 a person. Round-trip air fare from the West Coast is available at $1,090 and from the East Coast at $1,390.

TBI Tours, 787 Seventh Ave., New York, N.Y. 10019, (212) 489-1834, sells all the standard packages (among them: nine days in Tokyo, Hakone and Kyoto, or four days in Tokyo and three in Kyoto), but it also has tours designed to attract the second-time visitor, which would tend to attract smaller groups.

An example is "Imperial Japan A," 11 days spent visiting Tokyo, Hakone, Matumoto, Takayama, Kanazawa, Ama-no-hashidate and Kyoto. Its highlights include visits to a number of temples and religious shrines as well as castles and museums. This year's prices ranged from $3,475 to $3,580 a person in double occupancy, including air fare from New York or Chicago.

Although it does not act as an official clearinghouse for groups with particular interests, the Japan National Tourist Organization, Fifth Ave., New York, N.Y. 10111, (212) 757-5640, sometimes has information about trips that might fit other people's plans. The organization can also help with general questions about travel to Japan.

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