An Exploration of Japanese Culture through the Arts

A Travel Opportunity for the Penland Community, May 9 - 20, 2012

Miho Museum, Shigaraki, Japan

Penland School of Crafts and artist/instructor Gail Rieke invite you to join an intimate ten night journey into the cultural heart of Japan from the ultra-modern museums and galleries of Tokyo to the timeless art, crafts and gardens of Kyoto.


Our tour planner is Nancy Craft of Esprit Travel, who has been voted Top Japan Travel Specialist by Conde Nast Traveler Magazine every year since 2003. The tour will be led by one of Esprit’s experienced, knowledgeable staff tour leaders, who will take you behind the scenes and into the studios of some of Japan’s leading artist/crafts-persons and will also lecture in depth about the intricacies of Japanese culture.
Gail Rieke, an artist and teacher known for her Artist As Traveler workshops at Penland, has co-led many tours in Japan with Esprit.  She will present both a slide lecture and a simple hands-on demonstration related to travel journals to start our creative exploration of Japan. She will also be available to look at people's creative responses and brainstorm about your ideas throughout the trip. Penland’s director Jean McLaughlin has been an integral part of the planning and will be joining us as well .


The treasured richness of the tradition of craft in Japan is incomparable. Nowhere in the world is the craftsperson regarded with such high esteem. To be in the presence of people who have dedicated their lives with such love and focus is a life-changing experience for the artist, teacher, and collector.

A Noh theater workshop



Esprit has prepared a preliminary but enticing itinerary.  Since we are writing about a year before the trip, this listing of places and events is subject to change, but it will give you an idea of the variety and depth of experience in store for you. Information about pricing of the tour is included in the attached sample itinerary.





If you would like to ask questions or discuss aspects of the trip, please call Gail at 505-988-5229 or e-mail her at


To sign up for the tour, please contact Nancy Craft at

A word about Japan’s recovery from the recent earthquake and tsunami

Our planning began months before Japan suffered this devastating experience, and we considered postponing our trip. However, we have been encouraged to move ahead with our trip and be part of Japan’s tourism recovery. The areas we will visit are not affected and we are confident that the journey will be remarkable and safe. We want to share this reassuring information from Esprit Travel about the current situation in Japan:
“We were very happy that the US State Department has, as of May 16, further amended their travel alert for Japan and now says it is safe to travel throughout Japan, including through the nuclear evacuation zone by road or train. The US State Department link is:

In fact, we are pleased that we have 5 art groups set for fall 2011 travel and another museum tour in the works for next March.


Saihoji moss gardens, Kyoto, Japan

From the outset of the crisis, Esprit Travel has, of course, been monitoring the situation closely. Tokyo, 175 miles from Fukushima, is normalizing very fast. Although aftershocks were still happening in March and April, they are lessening in intensity and frequency as the days go by. The rolling power black outs have not materialized in central Tokyo, although voluntary energy conservation measures will be in place for an indefinite period of time. Many museums were closed for a short period of time, but most are now open again. Restaurants, shops and galleries have normal hours and are being lively once again. Tokyo's astounding architectural marvels all withstood the earthquake, and trains, after stopping as they were supposed to just before the earthquake occurred, are now running normally.


Kyoto, located over 300 miles from Tohoku, has been completely unaffected from the outset. Kyoto's gardens are as exquisite as they always are, its temples continue to be serene islands of peace, and our artist and craftsman friends are busy creating beautiful works. Throughout Japan, the mood is one of positivity and support for their fellow citizens in the north. Visitors have started to return to Japan, and are welcomed warmly. Of course, we will continue to monitor the situation and keep you apprised of all news.”