About the Tour

My goal as Tour Leader is to facilitate a direct experience of beauty that is so much a part of this city, its gardens and its culture. There is an elegance that will touch the core of your being … not from thinking … from feeling.  This is what you will carry home with you.

“I’ve been on many international tours, some quite expensive, and Allan, your tour is of an entirely different order.”  –  direct quote from a recent tour guest


2018 Kyoto Spring Garden Tour       DATES:  April 7 – 16,  2018

Price:  ¥478,000  –  single supplement  ¥62,400

(approx. $4,195 US, and $550 US, at current exchange rates)

UPATE: this tour is now FULL

Tour includes 9 nights and 6 fully guided days and 2 free days in Kyoto.  This includes 6 lunches and 2 dinners, and all your transportation and garden admissions on guided days.  Group size is limited to 12 – 14 people.


Highlights include:

  • Cherry blossoms !!!  Sakura in bloom throughout the city
  • Exploring 12 gardens in Kyoto of various styles, others added spontaneously – all admissions and transportation included
  • 9 nights traditional-style accommodations in a Zen temple Guest House (w/ ensuite bathrooms), very comfy and atmospheric, our guests love staying here
  • 6 fully guided days and 2 free days  –  accompanied by our excellent guide, Judith Clancy, author of numerous guidebooks to Kyoto
  • Enjoying the Daikakuji Flower festival & strolling Osawa pond
  • Attending a night-time garden Light-up (always fun!)
  • Wandering along the Philosopher’s Path & shopping for local crafts
  • Private shakuhachi musical performance in a Zen temple
  • Exploring Ohara, the scenic country town north of Kyoto, known for its gardens and pickles
  • Learning about the tea ceremony, and sampling different green teas
  • Day-trip to the Miho Museum in a stunning natural setting
  • Visiting an artist’s studio & shopping for handmade ceramics
  • Strolling along the banks of the Kamo river beneath the sakura blossoms
  • Visiting the Kyoto Botanical Garden and its plentiful conservatory
  • Welcome and Sayonara dinners, and all lunches on guided days (‘oishi!’)
  • Enjoying fresh, local excellent food, with many local neighborhood dining spots
  • Developing a familiar feel for our quiet neighborhood, as well as getting to know your way around the remarkable city of Kyoto, the arts and cultural capital of Japan


The full itinerary and list of garden names is available upon request.

TO REGISTER for this tour, please carefully read the registration page on this website, and please contact me directly.



2018 Special Spring Road-Trip           DATES:  April 16 – 20,  2018

Price:  ¥278,300  –  single supplement  ¥15,600

(approx. $2,445 US and $140 US at current exchange rates)

Tour includes 4 nights and 3 fully guided days.  This fully-guided adventure includes 3 lunches and 3 dinners, and all your hotels, transportation, garden and museum admissions.  Group size 6 – 10 people.


Highlights include:

  • Experiencing three exquisite stroll gardens at a leisurely pace: Ritsurin on Shikoku Island, and the Korakuen and Kokoen gardens in Okayama
  • Visiting Himeji Castle, considered by many the most beautiful castle in Japan
  • Viewing the exhilerating Naruto whirlpools from a special overhead bridge
  • A full day devoted to exploring Naoshima Island, a truly unique fine art destination, including visits to the Chichu Museum, Benesse House, the Art House Project & outdoor art  – http://wikitravel.org/en/Naoshima  –  this is a world-class art experience !
  • Enjoying delicious fresh regional cuisine (incl. specialty noodles & seafood)

This Special Spring Road-Trip is offered as an optional add-on to the regular Kyoto Spring Garden Tour, or as an independent tour for those wishing to join us solely for this experience.

TO REGISTER for this tour, please carefully read the registration page on this website, and please contact me directly.


The 2018 Kyoto Fall Garden Tour & Road-Trip is currently being planned  –  dates, details & prices coming soon


Additional Tour information (very helpful, please read this):



~~~ a pleasing scent of tatami greets you upon waking ~~~ sitting on a temple deck, the wood worn smooth by time feels just right ~~~ a sense a quiet elegance fills the air ~~~ softly floating branches of scarlet maple respond to a whisper of breeze ~~~ stones in the 400 year-old Zen garden patiently wait to speak with you ~~~ the meal appears with delicacy, each dish an artwork ~~~ magical strokes of light rise through a timber bamboo grove ~~~ moon-glow reflects off the stone path home ~~~


Kyoto is an exceedingly safe city, meticulously clean, and brimming with aesthetic energy – the people are friendly, the food is delicious (oishi!), and the gardens are exquisite.  I set up each tour to operate from a ‘home base’  –  this way we get to know our quiet local neighborhood, our favorite dining spots, and start to develop a comfortable feeling of familiarity with our surroundings.  Come with us and have a direct experience of the arts, the flavors and the graciousness of Japanese culture.  Come with us into the gardens of Kyoto and experience the quiet and pure beauty that awaits you.

Kyoto, Japan

The tour:

On a typical tour, we will be visiting over 12 gardens located in and around Kyoto, experiencing some of the finest examples of landscape and garden design in Japan. The tour will also feature two out-of-town get-aways: a visit to the pleasant country village of Ohara just north of Kyoto, and a day-trip to the Miho, a world-class art museum in a spectacular setting.

Our group will taste the flavor of Kyoto’s different neighborhoods, each with its own alluring ambiance and treasures to discover.  An aesthetic sensibility infuses the entire atmosphere of this city, shown through the attention given to detail and presentation, textures, patterns, the seasons, to aging beauty and a long tradition of craft by hand.

Tuning in to the continuum of design ideas common to so many of the Japanese traditional arts, our tour also includes a hands-on art lesson in a traditional art form (such as ikebana flower arranging or wagashi sweets making) and a private shakuhatchi music performance.

Transportation is included, and we soon become confident navigating the city by taxi, train, bus & subway, and on foot. IMPORTANT: Participants need to be in shape for daily walking along scenic backstreets, bustling urban locations and tranquil garden paths (note: this includes stairs and light hills).

Kyoto, Japan

Our accommodations:

We will stay in a modern guest house at Shunkoin temple, part of the Myoshinji Zen temple complex. Each room has its own modern ensuite bathroom (with shower) and traditional futon bedding on the soft tatami mat flooring. Every year our guests love staying here – it is quiet, cozy, and very atmospheric … a comfortable place to ‘come home’ to each day surrounded by 300-year-old temples … and the soft sound of a meditation bell in the distance.

There is a great neighborhood surrounding the temple grounds with a nice variety of affordable restaurants, and world-famous gardens within easy walking distance. Some guests say that getting to know the local neighborhood has been their favorite aspect of the tour.

Lunch is included each day, as well as the Welcome and Sayonara dinners – featuring delicious local, seasonally appropriate, and beautifully presented cuisine.  And starting in Spring 2018, simple breakfasts will be provided as well, or you can use the shared kitchen w/ fridge & stove.


Your tour leaders:

Allan Mandell is a professional garden photographer and devotee of Kyoto’s gardens. He designs each itinerary and leads each tour with the assistance of Judith Clancy.  

Judith Clancy is our tour co-leader and author of “Exploring Kyoto — on Foot in the Ancient Capital,” among others.

Judith has lived in Kyoto since 1970, and her interest in the traditions of the ancient capital has led her to study and write about traditional arts such as music, tea ceremony, and Ikebana.  While acting as the guide and interpreter for various groups, she has established ties with many dedicated traditional artists and teachers.  She has been officially recognized by the city as a Tourist Ambassador to Kyoto.

Judith knows this lovely city intimately, its myriad shops and temples, backstreets and pathways, and its deep cultural traditions.  She is delighted to share her knowledge and insights with you.

Preparing for your trip?  Take a look at these additional books by Judith Clancy as well: ‘Kyoto Machiya Restaurant Guide’ (Stone Bridge Press), ‘Kyoto, City of Zen’, and her very latest: ‘Kyoto Gardens – Masterworks of the Japanese Gardener’s Art‘ (both with Tuttle Publishing).


Suggestions for Free day activities:

  • Visit an the Imperial garden – Shugaku-in, Katsura Rikyu, or Sento Gosho (advanced reservations are required and we can assist you with this)
  • Shop at the lively Kitano Tenmangu or Chion-ji flea market, two of Kyoto’s largest monthly open-air markets – I always make sure one of our free days falls on a flea market date
  • Experience a night-time LightUp – certain gardens are open for special after-hours illumination, always surprisingly enjoyable
  • Attend a special seasonal Odori dance performance featuring maiko (geisha apprentices) in full kimono splendor
  • Wander picturesque neighborhoods in search of Kyoto’s famous handicrafts (let us know what you are looking for, we can direct you to specific shops)
  • Visit one of the 17 World Heritage sites, numerous arts & cultural museums, downtown department stores, boutiques, galleries, ubiquitous French-style bakeries (mmm…), and approx. 2,000 temples waiting for you to explore !



~~~ soft sunlight filters through a cascade of pink cherry blossoms ~~~ stepping stones smoothed by time stretch across a carpet of green moss ~~~ crimson-spotted koi create gentle ripples on a pond’s surface ~~~ colorful kimonos glide past gracefully ~~~ okonomiyaki sizzles on a hot skillet in an open-air market ~~~ a meditation bell rings softly in the distance, as it has for centuries ~~~



My tours are appropriate for anyone with a sincere interest in Japanese gardens, arts and culture, including design professionals, artists, photographers, and cultural explorers  –  we have fun !


Traveler’s HINT:  sign up for my MAILING LIST –  this will insure you receive advance announcements with dates & prices of future tours as soon as information is available.


Lunch is included each day, as well as the Welcome and Sayonara dinners – featuring delicious local, seasonally appropriate, and beautifully presented cuisine.


After-hours, there is the option of attending various seasonal garden Light-Ups throughout the city, always lots of fun and a surprisingly visual treat.



As always, you are most welcome to contact me with any questions:

Contact Kyoto Garden Tour

pagoda through the maple leaves, Shinyodo temple, Kyoto

If you are interested in joining a future Kyoto garden tour, please let me know and I will place you on my MAILING LIST.  Okini* !    Allan

*Okini  ~  the traditional way of expressing thanks in Kyoto dialect – you will hear this cheerful word throughout the day, a touch of local color