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Art & Nature
bi-Annual Travel to Japan

Plan for summer 2026 (specific dates TBA likely in July)

 

We'll take the creative flow on the road by spending two weeks exploring some really interesting and off-the-beaten path parts of northern Honshu (main island of Japan) and Hokkaido with a maximum of 12 creative people.

You can start the process today and create a payment plan for this bucket list experience.

Have you ever wanted to travel to Japan, but worried about logistics, the planning, or the language? That's why you should travel with Val as your guide and fellow creative. Val has traveled to the country 9 times during 2010-2019 coordinating several group experiences and solo time including a 5-week sabbatical. This bi-annual art travel experience to share with other creatives is an artistic passion project to travel with others.

 

The goal for this trip is to have an art and nature immersion with fellow creatives who want to photograph, draw, paint, journal, doodle, and otherwise explore art and culture activities such as shrines, temples, gardens, and galleries or museums. If you are looking for a more enriching experience than photo ops for social media, we can spend time in walkabouts at various times of day or night, have sit spots for drawing/painting, and likely converse over meals about whatever we saw that day. If you love to explore with your visual sensibilities, but that annoys your regular travel mates then this experience is up your alley.

The 2026 plans are to start briefly in Tokyo to get our bearings and spend two weeks traveling north ending in Sapporo on the island of Hokkaido.

2026  GENERAL PLANS

specific locations in the proximity of these cities will be determined based on lodging availability.

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This district is a perfect area for our first night getting over the long flight. The restaurant district is vibrant and easily accessible. Exact location in Tokyo subject to change based on lodging availability, but we'll get close to this and many areas are just as interesting.

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This is the northern most city on the main Japanese island of Honshu. It's an eclectic mix of post war and contemporary architecture in an easy to navigate place. The highlight here is the Nebuta Museum of large paper sculpture floats. But you can also enjoy fresh fish and amazing sea views. An easy bus ride will take you to the contemporary museum - Aomori Museum of Art, across from an archeology history museum.

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This convenient city on the Shinkansen route has quite a few unexpected treasures. You'll have almost two full days to explore including the Oya History Museum of subterranean caverns. The city has many restaurants and easily walkable streets to traditional temples and shrines. It's a great introduction to Japan without the chaos and complexity of Tokyo. We are making our way north.

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We'll continue our train travel to Hakodate on the island of Hokkaido. Much outdoor and cultural activities. The tourism website even has a recommended walking tour for photographers. Browse the fish markets, find an onsen, explore for your journal, plein-air, or other creative practice. A variety of museums to explore from ancient people's culture of the region, art, literature, fishing, and even a tower or their lighthouse. View more information here.

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The sacred and deities are a unique traditional aspect of Japan. This off the beaten path for many tourists is a pitstop for us. The highlight here is the Oni Demon Museum full of masks and sculptures. In Japan, these are not necessarily evil beings.

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We'll end our art and nature exploration of Japan in the city of Sapporo with the outdoors and farms close at hand. You may enjoy walking the city and stopping at one of many footbaths or embarking to view flowers or hike at a park. The Hill of the Buddha is a landscape architecture, contemporary artistic highlight. On our final day, we'll fly back to Tokyo for the international flight home.

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As we continue north to the tip of the main Honshu island, we'll spend two nights and almost two full days in this delightful seaside city. Plenty of time to explore on your own. Two of Japan's best contemporary museums are located here and much more. Visitor website.

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To make good use of our rail pass and the time it can take to return it's easier to board a domestic flight to Tokyo. Any participant that wants to stay in the country longer can upgrade their rail pass to 21 days and even access travel planning services for your extended stay.Please ask about this option and custom planning if you are interested in checking out other sites on the path we did not visit - like historic edo period towns, a shrine on a mountain top, or famous Nikko.

Sarasvati Residency travel itinerary map of Japan

One of the highlights of traveling in Japan is riding the efficient and expansive train system. Your travel fee includes a 2-week train pass which will give us access to all areas of the country on the particular train line. During the experience, you will receive instruction from Val on how to navigate the ticket system if you ever need to pay as you go, prepare for future visit or extended stay, or don't have your pass on hand.
 

Train etiquette:

You will learn quickly the train etiquette in Japan is different than other places. You must stand in a cue away from the door using the guides painted on the platform, allow people to depart before moving onto the train, and as quickly as possible board the train. Traveling in groups larger than 8 can be challenging to board a train in time. Val has witnessed very large groups that don't split up and then annoy the train conductors. We won't do that!

Quietness. You will also notice that typical train etiquette most especially on local and subway like trains is to be quiet or keep your voice low. You'll see people reading and using their phones. It is somewhat frowned upon to be loud and active in this setting.

No food on subway style trains, but most definitely eating on longer trains are okay and you'll even find food for sale in the stations and vending machines.

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Travel By Train

What are the logistics?

You will need to be able to carry and lift your own luggage. There are overhead shelves like a plane and spots near doors for large luggage (that we won't be using because we won't have big bags). Many train stations do not have elevators or escalators easily accessible so you need to be prepared to walk up and down lots of flights of stairs! Pack light.

 

All train travel with our pass requires getting a ticket before boarding. Val will help do this by collecting our passes and standing in the line to talk with the train worker. Each time we do this, one person can join to practice.

We'll do our best to avoid rush hour, but there may be times where a train will be crowded. If you are claustrophobic or have other issues in tight crowds please be aware of this. Sometimes we will have assigned seats while other times it's choose your own. Navigating in Tokyo is like a subway system, but when we transport with our luggage it's good to wear your bag in front or keep your pull luggage in front of you.

 

You'll have the in-person guide with Val by your side and an agenda to help with scheduling:

You'll receive a more complete agenda Google Docs with our tentative departure times. Some distances will be 2 to 3 hours on the train plus walking to the station and walking to lodging. We will most likely spend our day in a location and transport in the afternoon/evening to arrive at the next spot.

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the WHY and the WHAT

Have you ever wanted to travel to Japan, but worried about logistics, the planning, or the language? That's why you should travel with Val as your guide. This will be the second art residency on the road to Japan with Val. Before that, Val has traveled to the country 9 times during 2010-2019 coordinating several group experiences and solo time including a 5 week sabbatical. Her first exposure to the country and culture was as a child in Okinawa. In academia, she spent professional development time expanding her knowledge of East Asian studies with Japan as the focus including contemporary and historical information, film studies, and art/design/literature inquiry.

 

The goal for this trip is to have an art and nature immersion with fellow creatives who want to photograph, draw, paint, journal, doodle, and otherwise explore art and culture activities such as shrines, temples, gardens, and galleries or museums. If you are looking for a more enriching experience than photo ops for social media, we can spend time in walkabouts at various times of day or night, have sit spots for drawing/painting, and likely converse over meals about whatever we saw that day. If you love to explore with your visual sensibilities, but that annoys your regular travel mates then this experience is up your alley.

Why this route? Northern Japan is a really incredible and more off the beaten path for tourism except the city of Sapporo that often has a winter influx of snowbirds for skiing and boarding. There are so many options that are not included in this agenda, that if you are interested in staying longer Val can recommend some stops on the way back using a longer rail pass such as the mountain temple at Yamadera or the incredible town of Nikko with numerous heritage sites and natural scenery. Instead we will be making a bit faster pace north to ensure we have time to enjoy the outdoors and the outdoor offerings in some of the sea side cities like Aomori and Hakodate. The island of Hokkaido indigenous people are the Ainu and are distinctly different than the Japanese in the central country. You'll notice architecture and even fashion differences from our one-day dose in Tokyo as we pop into the northern communities.

 

Speaking of good food, if you are open to trying new food or eating your favorite cuisine this is a great opportunity! While food expense is not included in the travel fee, it is very possible to eat well on a budget. Give yourself a daily budget and you'll definitely be able to splurge at times. Make sure to bring extra spending money for yummy random snacks, treats while on a train, and even food 'souvenir' packages to indulge during the trip. Japan is very much a gift-giving culture so you'll see lots of wrapped packages at the train stations featuring whatever is the local delicacy or agricultural feature so that people can buy a treat on the way home from their getaway to share with their friends or office mates. Several of our stops will have fresh fish markets where you can pay for a bowl and walk through the stalls to pick out exactly what you want to eat for lunch.

What's included? accommodations, entry fees to planned museums, shrines/temples, two week JR pass, bus fare for several museum outings, occasional group lockers at train stations, a roaming wifi for our group, and travel planning by a personal on the ground, traveling-with-you guide during the trip. A complete list of those destinations and plans will be provided closer to departure.

What's not included? Flight to Tokyo Haneda (typical budget $900-1400 depending on your airline, departure city, and date of purchase), domestic flight of your choice from Sapporo to Tokyo that fits your travel schedule, travel insurance, food (budget $30-50/day plus airport food, international flight will include 3 meals), and personal expenses for art supplies, souvenirs, additional workshops, coins to toss at Temples, etc.. Personal cell phone service. Note: Flights to Tokyo Narita will incur additional personal expenses for transportation and you will be on your own to navigate to our overnight spot in Ueno (directions will be provided).

What do I need to know?

- Fly into Haneda. This is an intentional logistic as it is closer to Tokyo. Flying to Narita will incur more personal expenses and will be a longer transport to the city.

- Do not bring a suitcase or bag larger than carry-on. A backpack is recommended so you can be hands free in day to day travel. You will need to send a picture of your bag before departure to get it approved. We will be traveling every few days by train and you will have to carry your bag up and down stairs often! Plan on doing laundry at least once during the trip to be able to pack light.

- You must be willing to adapt to different types of accommodations. When possible, we will share spaces such as houses with enough beds, but not always many separate bedrooms. Some accommodations may have traditional sleeping with futons on tatami mats. Other locations will be basic business hotels or traditional Ryokans. Single rooms when they are available will incur extra fee. We are all adults and participants may be any gender.

Please limit alcohol consumption - enjoy, don't get plastered. By all means we will be enjoying ourselves and the access to alcohol is available on your own budget. Enjoy some sake or Japanese beer, but if you are taking this trip just to party like a SalaryMan, this is not the trip for you. We will need to be functional in the mornings for our agenda which could include travel to the next destination. Traveling at our pace is not fun with a hangover. Also note that while smoking is allowed in restaurants and certain designated spots in cities, it would be great to have non-smokers in the group. Vaping or smoking are not allowed while walking on public streets.

Walking. Be prepared with good shoes that can be easily removed at traditional Japanese locations including the lodging. The main objective is to travel together and any activities are optional so you can decide how much you can handle in a day. But walking is the best way to experience your surroundings or in some places you can rent a bike. We walk as a group to train station and lodging. During informal group outings, we'll walk and take public transportation. Walking is a creative philosophy on this trip and you'll get to encounter unexpected things you cannot see if you take a taxi. If you choose taxi or other transport on your own that is your expense. You don't have to travel far from the accommodations in each location to enjoy what each has to offer.

PLANNING

11 spots available.

$300 deposit will hold your spot ($150 is non-refundable). Payment plans are available based on registration date (full final payments will be due no later than April 30, 2026).

Total program costs per person:
$2000 usd before September 15, 2025
*
$2250 usd after September 15, 2025*

*this plan is posted as of 2024. Prices subject to change before January 1, 2025 based on any drastic shifts in the exchange rates or costs in Japan such as the rail pass pricing.
 

ask about a single room upgrade for when that may be available.

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Travel Together

As a reminder, the travel fee does not include international flight to Tokyo Haneda, domestic flight of your choice from Sapporo to Tokyo, food, travel insurance, or personal expenses. You can also add-on extended days and customize your destinations for that extension.

 

Although you will have Val as a guide and helper, please know that this is a casual group experience and as time progresses you may be more interested in venturing on your own in a particular place or breaking into smaller groups as we make plans for a meet-up at certain times.

This rate is based on 12 total in our group. If the max participation is not met within 6 months of the scheduled dates, you will be contacted with the option to continue with the possibility of the price increasing tbd. Minimum of 9 required for this agenda.

To start the process, please complete the form below. The next step will be an interview process to answer your questions, talk about your personal work and dreams for Japan travel, and to make sure that we are all going to fit well together as a group.

I'm interested in starting the conversation!

no obligation at this point. We'll set up an video chat soon.

Thanks for your interest. We'll connect soon.