Alumni Trip to Japan: The Enigmatic Beauty of Japanese Craft - EARLY BIRD DISCOUNT EXTENDED!

Are you interested in rekindling the intense camaraderie of learning with a small group of your peers? Do you wonder if a college education is sometimes wasted on the young? Are you tired of thumbing through one issue of Potash Hill after another and reading accounts of fabulous student-faculty trips to Cuba, Egypt, or Nepal? Well, now it’s your turn! Join the first ever Marlboro College Alumni Trip to Japan! It’s running next spring, under the leadership of Marlboro’s Asian studies professor, Seth Harter. In addition, retired professors Carol Hendrickson and Mark Francillon are already enrolled.

Overview: Japanese crafts are world-renowned for the quality of their workmanship, but also for the aesthetic principles which set them apart: austerity, restraint, irregularity, and perishability. On this tour we will explore examples, both antique and contemporary, of these principles. We’ll also look beyond them to the problems and paradoxes which make contemporary craft practice in Japan so fascinating. How can the aesthetic value of perishability be reconciled with a culture of the most careful curatorship? How do the notions of austerity and irregularity make their peace with the hyper-modernity of 21st-century Japan? How can contemporary crafts navigate between the realms of industry and fine art?

While traveling through the heart of central Japan, we will encounter 1,300-year-old wooden temples, austere Zen rock gardens, and flamboyant textiles. Our journey will take us from the cosmopolitan hubs of Kyoto and Tokyo to the grass-thatched huts of mountain villages. We will savor ceramics from the earliest days of the tea ceremony to the masterpieces of the folk art movement, and try our hand at making our own pots. We will visit a tea plantation and take part in a traditional tea ceremony. We will learn about the principles of Japanese cuisine while eating seasonal specialties, and learning to prepare ramen. In the shadow of Mt. Fuji, we’ll learn about the perfection of Japanese hand planes when they meet native elm. And when the toll of travel starts to mount, we’ll wash it away in the most Japanese of cultural institutions: natural hot spring baths!

Tour Leader: Seth Harter, professor of History and Asian studies, has taught at Marlboro since 2000. Before that he led tours of Mainland China. For many years, he directed Marlboro’s Freeman Foundation-sponsored faculty-student trips to Asia, including a trip devoted to the aesthetics of Japan. His article “A Thing of Beauty…” (Potash Hilll, Fall 2018) was based on field research in contemporary craft practices in Japan. He returned to live in Kyoto in the spring of 2018. When he is not teaching, he builds furniture using Japanese hand tools.

Price: Registration before January 5th $5,625 per person double occupancy/ $6,375 single

Registration after January 5th $5,925 per person double occupancy/ $6,675 single

The tour price includes:

  • International roundtrip airfare from New York JFK to Tokyo Narita
  • One-way airfare from Tokyo to Osaka
  • All domestic transport
  • All hotels
  • All meals except for two lunches and two dinners on your own
  • All museum entries and cultural activities
  • Accompanying scholar and local guide
  • A $200 donation to Marlboro College’s annual fund

The tour price does not include alcohol, laundry, phone service, travel insurance or souvenirs.

Deposit of $1,000 required to reserve a space.

Full payment due on February 1st, 2020.

Refund policy: Full refund until January 5th.

75% refund between January 5th and February 1st.

50% refund between February 1st and March 1st.

No refund after March 1st.

Size: In recognition of the scale of Japanese inns, vehicles, restaurants, and workshops, (and in keeping with the best traditions of Marlboro seminars!) the size the group is limited to twelve participants. The trip will not run with fewer than eight participants.

Material comforts: The trip will involve moderate physical activity, including a lot of walking. Participants will sometimes sleep in western-style beds, sometimes on futons in tatami rooms, and will often sit on the floor. Diet will be mostly Japanese, with an emphasis on fish, noodles, rice, and fresh vegetables. We will travel mostly by van, occasionally by train. Weather in Central Japan in late May tends to be very pleasant, though hot days are certainly possible in the cities, as are cool evenings in the mountains of Gifu and Yamanashi prefectures. Smoking in public is frowned upon in Japan.

Itinerary: May23rd – June 5th


Day One: Arrive Tokyo, fly to Osaka, ground transfer to Nara


Day Two: Nara

Todaiji (temple), Shosoin (treasure house) deer park, Kasuga Taisha (shrine)

Wood carver’s studio

Dinner at Izikaya


Day 3: Nara

Horyuji (temple) and Uji tea plantation

Transfer to Kyoto

Free time in late afternoon


Day 4: Kyoto

Daitokuji (temple gardens), Raku ceramics museum and Kanjiro Kawai’s studio-house

Tea ceremony at Urasenke headquarters

Kaiseki dinner


Day 5: Kyoto

Ryoanji (temple rock garden), Suikoushya woodworking workshop

Free afternoon


Day 6: Kyoto and Shigaraki

Robert Yellin ceramics gallery visit and Shigaraki pottery excursion

Transfer to Gifu


Day 7: Gifu

Gifu Academy of Forest Science and Culture

Lunch with Masashi Kutsuwa

Transfer to Takayama


Day 8: Takayama and Ogimachi

Grass houses, paper making workshop, Hida Furukawa carpentry museum

Optional Satoyama bicycle tour or free time


Day 9: Takayama and Kawaguchiko

Kusakabe Folk Crafts Museum, Hachiman-Gu Shrine and festival float exhibition Transfer to Lake Saiko/Kawaguchiko

Dinner at Izikaya


Day 10: Kawaguchiko

Mt. Fuji School of Fine Woodworking: shop, gallery, forest

Free afternoon

Dinner with Tak Yoshino


Day 11: Kawaguchiko and Tokyo

Asama Shrine visit and Mt. Fuji walk

Transfer to Tokyo


Day 12: Tokyo

Mingei museum

Kappabashi dori (kitchen supply street), shopping

Optional visit to Tokyo National Museum

Dinner with Marlboro Alum


Day 13: Flight home from Tokyo


Next Steps: If you have questions or would like to enroll, please contact Seth Harter,, (802) 490-4285


(a mostly random selection of Marlboro microdestinations)