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Sarasvati Residency travel itinerary map of Japan

Art & Nature
bi-Annual Travel Experience in Japan

July 14 - 29, 2026
(tentative dates, alternative may be Saturday departure from U.S.)

 

Experience the creative flow on the road with a maximum of 12 fellow creatives with a unique itinerary that can provide inspiration and rejuvenation in Northern Japan and Hokkaido.
 

The dates were selected so that we can experience the lavender in bloom at the Buddha on the Hill in Sapporo area. The dates may adjust slightly a few days earlier or a few days later, but will be confirmed by late 2025.The itinerary does not include Tokyo,but we'll end there if you want to extend your trip.

Start the process today with a video conversation.
Formal contracts and deposit window opens September 1, 2024. Payment plans available.

For full page content with more details of each agenda stop, please view this on desktop.

Have you ever wanted to travel to Japan, but worried about logistics like trains or the general planning? That's why you should travel with Val as the tour manager and guide as well as fellow creative who loves organizing travel and navigating around Japan. This is the second in a series, but before that Val traveled 7 times between 2011 and 2019 coordinating several study abroad trips 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. There is still a chance to get lost, wander, or turned around even as a creative practice and inspiration of what one may find accidentally.

 

The goal for this trip is an 'art' and nature immersion with fellow creatives who want to photograph, draw, paint, journal, doodle, and otherwise explore Japan through this lens and experience cultural activities such as museums, castles, shrines and temples, craft or thrift shops, or even wander off on your own quest - to find cats, unique nature, wabi sabi, or other personal goals. If you are looking for a more enriching experience than photo ops for social media, spend time in walkabouts at various times of day or night, have sit spots for drawing/painting, and explore the variety of the Japanese destinations.

If you love to explore with your visual sensibilities, but that annoys your regular travel mates then this experience is up your alley. The time is your own except for a few group plans.

2026  OVERVIEW

More specific details of lodging and daily itineraries will be provided closer to departure date. Specific accommodation location in the proximity of these cities will be determined based on lodging availability which is why reservations may start a year out.

One of the highlights of traveling in Japan is riding the efficient and expansive train system. The Japan Rail System increased the price of their non-resident unlimited passes so for our agenda, we will have a 5 day pass in Hokkaido that allows you to explore, and then tickets will be purchased based on our agenda. This means we will have exact times and a a little less flexibility with hop on and off options. However, our route does not make the increased price for the pass even close to worthwhile. Any additional trains for your free days or if you choose to travel on your own and not with the group, then those expenses are not included in the program fee.
 

Val is your travel coach and general logistics guide - a tour manager. The group will have a whatsapp chat, and access to itinerary and recommendations via Google Docs. Often we will be departing in the mornings and need to spend time in activities including transport before being able to check into the next accommodation. In cases where we cannot check in or leave our bags, we will use lockers at train stations to store belongings.

You may want to have translate app installed on your phone. Embrace the occasional 'lost' feeling as you may be inspired creatively. Ask the locals for help or they may even already be helping before you ask.

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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 minimal store options for larger 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. MAXIMUM SIZE ROLLING LUGGAGE IS CARRY-ON ELIGIBLE OR CLOSE TO IT. Plus a backpack for handsfree during walking and nagivating the train stations.

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.

Do not eat on subway style trains, but eating is okay on longer trains including the shinkansen.

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the WHY and the WHAT

Why this route? Northern Japan is a really incredible and more off the beaten path for major tourism except the city of Sapporo that often has a winter influx of snowbirds for skiing and boarding. Northern Japan will feature slower pace, more typical Japanese cities and towns, and the variety of nature from sea to forest. The island of Hokkaido indigenous people are the Ainu and are distinctly different than the Japanese in the central country.

 

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 or 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. Please do not count on having a kitchen at most of the stops. You will be notified which lodging stops include breakfast when staying at hotels/ryokans.

What's included in the program fee? train tickets for our agenda (a 5 day Hokkaido regional pass and then tickets as we go - only between cities not your personal adventures), bus passes when available in a town (will be noted on agenda), and transport to several museums on the agenda, flight from Narita to Sapporo; accommodations for the group will most likely be hotels close to train stations or large houses/apartments/villas with rooms from single to entire shared house; at least one roaming wifi for the group, and travel planning by Val who will be on the ground leading the logistical transports and lodging check-ins. Some lodging will have breakfast included (if you have special diets or prefer to prepare your own meals you may not be able to do that every day on this agenda). Also included in the program is an orientation guide, packing list, google doc with details of each of our stops, a google doc with the detailed agenda (when and were we will be such as train departures/arrivals, free time, when to meet back up at certain spots).

What's not included? Flight to Tokyo Narita (typical budget $1000-2000 depending on your airline, departure city, and date of purchase), travel insurance (optional / at-your-own-risk), food (budget $30-50/day plus airport food, international flight will include meals), and personal expenses for art supplies, souvenirs, additional workshops, coins to toss at Temples, etc. Personal cell phone service. Ask if you would like your own roaming wifi option if you feel that you will separate from the group during your own time. Highly recommend booking a flight on Japan Airlines and a separate flight that gets you to that departure city. (2024 participants had negative comments about the U.S. based airlines in seats, comfort, food).Info will be provided on recommended JAL flights.

What do I need to know?

- Fly into Narita. Tokyo Narita is a popular international hub so this may help with your extra expenses. We will be staying at a nice hotel near the airport on arrival day. You'll have instructions to get there on your own and meet up with the group the following morning. This will allow for the various arrival times. Research will be completed ahead of time on the currency exchange option at the airport (travelex not best rates). When we go back to the airport on our first full day, we will redeem our Hokkaido rail passes and get on our domestic flight north.

- Domestic Flight first full day from Narita to Sapporo. This is just under 2 hr flight and will be booked for the group several months before our arrival. Due to the size of the group and availability of seats, our group might be split into two flights, possibly two airlines.

- Do not bring a suitcase or bag larger than carry-on (or just slightly larger). At least a backpack is recommended so you can be hands free in day to day travel and a small rolling bag that you can lift. Small rolling bags with four wheels are helpful and/or a bag that can expand. You may want an empty suitcase if you plan on buying things, or purchase one during the trip. 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. If you accumulate items on the trip, you may end up purchasing a large suitcase (for example, one participant in 2024 found paper in several cities that were too big for the luggage on hand).

- You must be willing to adapt to different types of accommodations. In some stops we may have a shared house or apartment style lodging and in others it will be hotels close to the train station typically single or double rooms, Some places may be automatically single rooms and in other cases if you want a private room there will be a single upgrade fee tbd. There is no guarantee for a single upgrade on the entire trip. You should be able to share a bathroom and possibly double rooms. Everyone will have their own bed. If you are joining this as a partner couple, please indicate this on the interest form for planning purposes. We might have at least one traditional Japanese style futons.

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 some 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.

Extend your trip? If you are considering staying in the country longer, this is a great opportunity to expore near or far from Tokyo. The rail passes are no longer economical and typically far exceeds the basic costs of train travel. If you extend your trip, you are responsible to pay for your transport to Narita as that is only included if you travel with the group on that day.

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.

plan to arrive a day early and just sleep near the Narita airport? additional $80 for this booking or you can find your own options from the surrounding hotels.

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Travel Together

As a reminder, the travel fee does not include international flight to Tokyo Narita, food (except in lodgings that have breakfast), 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.

SAPPORO
HAKODATE