Tidal Pond at Hama-rikyu Gardens (Photo: Veronica Carnevale)

Afternoon Art and Culture Tour in Tokyo

An exclusive journey through Japan’s preserved heritage

Tidal Pond at Hama-rikyu Gardens (Photo: Veronica Carnevale)
Veronica Carnevale   - 11 min read

Are you interested in traditional Japanese culture, history, fine dining, and gardens? If so, you have clicked on the right article.

Tokyo has served as Japan’s capital since 1868 and is abundant in destinations that preserve and share Japanese culture. Gain a deeper understanding of the city’s heritage and elevate your sightseeing experience with an afternoon art and culture tour hosted by Nippon Travel Agency Co., Ltd. (NTA).

This luxurious tour is led by an English-speaking guide and provides transportation between spots via a coach bus. The experience offers an engaging balance of locations and activities, and even includes private access to The Museum of the Imperial Collections, Sannomaru Shozokan!

Luckily for me, NTA granted me first access to this tour. So, let’s explore Tokyo’s traditional wonders together.

Tour highlights (in chronological order)

  • Kintsugi workshop (traditional Japanese pottery-mending technique)
  • Japanese sweets from an over century-old confectionary shop
  • Hama-rikyu Gardens visit with matcha and sweets in the garden’s onsite Tea House
  • Private viewing of The Museum of the Imperial Collections, Sannomaru Shozokan, with explanations from the exhibition curators
  • Multi-course Japanese dinner at the Palace Hotel Tokyo, a luxury 5-star-hotel

Kintsugi workshop at TNCA☆ Minami-Aoyama Studio

TNCA☆ Minami-Aoyama Studio’s interior
TNCA☆ Minami-Aoyama Studio’s interior

The tour’s first destination is TNCA☆ Minami-Aoyama Studio in Minato City for a kintsugi workshop. Kintsugi roughly translates to “golden joinery” and is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with either liquid gold or silver or more commonly, gold- or silver-dusted lacquer. Rather than concealing the damage, this technique highlights the object’s flaws and treats them as important parts of its history. This mindset epitomizes the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi, which preaches finding beauty in imperfection.

My finished kintsugi dish
My finished kintsugi dish

Upon entering the ceramics studio, you will be instructed to pick out a dish, which is already broken. Your instructor, Taku Nakano, is an emerging contemporary ceramics artist and traditional Japanese potter. After introducing himself and the art of kintsugi, Nakano provides clear step-by-step instructions on how to mend your dish in English. Throughout the class, Nakano encourages you to make the piece uniquely your own. The multi-step process requires you to rely on sight, sound, and touch—creating an immersive and mindful experience. At the end of the course, you will be left with a one-of-a-kind souvenir that reminds you to find beauty in what is broken.

Sweets from traditional confectionery, Eitaro-Sohonpo

From TNCA☆ Minami-Aoyama Studio, you will board a coach bus to Hama-rikyu Gardens. During the roughly 30-minute ride, the tour will provide traditional Japanese sweets (wagashi) from Eitaro-Sohonpo, a confectionery shop established in 1857. The snacks include hard candies (flavored with sugar and syrup, as well as Japanese green tea) and kintsuba, which are palm-sized treats filled with sweet red bean paste.

While you munch on your snacks, the English-speaking tour guide will share information about Japan’s history with an emphasis on samurai, shogun (military leaders), and emperors.

Hama-rikyu Gardens

Autumn hues
Autumn hues

Hama-rikyu Gardens was initially established in the Edo Period (1603-1868) during the Tokugawa shogunate. This vast green space connects to the ocean and today, sits encircled by highrises. Here, manicured landscapes of the past meet Tokyo’s skyline for awe-inspiring sights.

Tidal Pond
Tidal Pond

During the tour, your guide will lead you to Hama-rikyu Gardens' Tea House while providing interesting information about the garden’s plant life and history. In fact, we learned that the garden is home to the oldest pine tree in Tokyo—said to be over 300 years old! Even so, the garden’s most renowned feature is Shioiri-no-ike (Tidal Pond), which ebbs and flows with the ocean’s tide. Given the ponds’ mix of fresh and salt water, it is home to unique aquatic life.

Matcha and wagashi
Matcha and wagashi

Situated centrally on this pond is Nakajima-no-ochaya, the garden’s tea house. At this facility, you will receive a cup of matcha paired with beautiful wagashi, and the tour guide will explain customs related to Japanese tea ceremonies. The enchanting wooden interior coupled with the traditional flavors and waterside views, create a romantic scene that captures past Japan. After you finish your tea, you are free to leisurely explore the garden before your next destination.

The Museum of the Imperial Collections, Sannomaru Shozokan

Ito Jakuchu. Colorful Realm of Living Beings. 18th century, Sannomaru Shozokan, Tokyo
Ito Jakuchu. Colorful Realm of Living Beings. 18th century, Sannomaru Shozokan, Tokyo

Next, you will head to The Museum of the Imperial Collections, Sannomaru Shozokan. This stop is arguably the tour’s most intriguing and exclusive destination.

Ono no Michikaze. Draft for Screen Poems. 928, Sannomaru Shozokan, Tokyo
Ono no Michikaze. Draft for Screen Poems. 928, Sannomaru Shozokan, Tokyo

In 1989, His Majesty the Emperor Emeritus and His mother, Empress Kojun donated an impressive collection of art to Japan that had long been passed down by the Imperial Family. To conserve, study, and share this collection, the Museum of the Imperial Collections was established in 1993 within the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace. Although the museum is presently under renovation, it was partially reopened on November 3, 2023 and plans to fully reopen in 2026. The museum’s extensive collection includes calligraphy, paintings, decorative arts, and more.

Takashina Takakane. Illustrated Miracles of the Kasuga Deity Volume 19. 1309, Sannomaru Shozokan, Tokyo
Takashina Takakane. Illustrated Miracles of the Kasuga Deity Volume 19. 1309, Sannomaru Shozokan, Tokyo

Typically, the museum is only open from 9:30am to 5pm. However, with this tour, you are granted private access to the facility after it closes to the public. The experience also includes explanations about the highlights of the displayed works from the exhibition curators, which your tour guide will translate into English. The museum presently has two galleries open for viewing. During my visit, I saw a 700-year old paper scroll depicting detailed scenes, intricate animal paintings, calligraphy, and clothes and artifacts from the Imperial Family.

This private museum visit is incredibly intimate and allows you to leisurely enjoy precious artwork and artifacts without crowds.

Dinner at Palace Hotel Tokyo

Plate of assorted appetizers
Plate of assorted appetizers

The tour’s final stop is Wadakura, a refined restaurant located in the Palace Hotel Tokyo. This restaurant is located on the sixth floor and offers sparkling views of the Imperial Palace gardens and the surrounding skyscrapers. In this luxurious atmosphere, you will be treated to kaiseki, which is a traditional multi-course Japanese dinner that often emphasizes the use of seasonal ingredients. After a busy afternoon of sightseeing and activities, the nourishing meal is a perfect way to end the day.

Seasonal sashimi
Seasonal sashimi

The full-course meal includes appetizers, soup, sashimi, a grilled dish, a simmered dish, seasonal rice, miso soup, Japanese pickles, and a light dessert. Each course is artistically plated and features a combination of simply delicious and creative recipes. The pacing of the courses is flawless, allowing for a leisure dinner where you can truly appreciate each dish, the restaurant’s ambience, and the elevated views. Overall, the dinner is nothing short of perfection and is an excellent way to experience elevated Japanese cuisine.

A tour you will not want to miss!

NTA’s art and culture tour in Tokyo is an ideal way to deepen your understanding of Japanese culture, art, and history. The tour’s blend of hands-on activity, sightseeing, and exclusivity makes for an ever-intriguing day that you will not soon forget.

Veronica Carnevale

Veronica Carnevale @veronica.carnevale

Fulfilling my traveler's soul!