Passion for plein air painting drives us to explore new adventures. Two weeks ago a group of 35 plein air artists enjoyed a lifetime dream of traveling to Japan as painters and as tourists on a special trip envisioned by Eric Rhoads, Publisher of PleinAir Magazine and a painter himself, and his wife, Laurie.

Their once-in-a-lifetime adventure covered 580 miles across three regions, including the sights and sounds of Tokyo, Kyoto, and Kawaguchicko (Mt Fuji), and included hotel stays, meals, transportation, and touring experiences for 11 nights. In addition to painting almost every day at temples, cherry blossom-filled parks, and exotic sites, exploring the beauty and culture of Japan, they also experienced dressing in a kimono, meeting with traditional Geishas, taking a Japanese calligraphy class, and visits to unique art stores and art museums, and more.

Breathtaking scenes from Kyoto during Plein Air Japan
Unique and breathtaking scenes from Kyoto during Plein Air Japan
Plein Air Japan - Lynn Mishkel
Lynn Mishkel

“I plan an international trip each year to do plein air painting in places people may not go on their own,” Eric said. “It’s a great way to see the world and have everything provided so you don’t have to think about where to go, how to find a meal, where to stay. You only have to think about showing up each morning and having everything done for you. We always find experiences people are unlikely or unable to do on their own.”

What’s it like to paint in Japan?

Artist Karen Weihs says, “Eric has the best touring team to transport artists and nonpainters like my husband, to a culture and experience of the highest standard. We have been on two trips and will continue going as it’s worth the many extras he and his team give to us. You don’t have to worry about the details. It’s done. Just sit back and be amazed!”

Artist and film producer Gabriele Savage Stockton said, “This is my second amazing international trip with Eric and Co, and I would follow them anywhere. We had so many special, unique, cultural experiences unavailable to most tourists. There is no way I could have planned this custom trip myself.“

Plein Air Japan
Mike Bonar painting Mt. Fuji (left), and friends on the streets of Osaka (right)

Barbara Israel Bortniker said, “Truly, the best part of the trip was the participants. Everyone was so friendly, lively, clever, fun-loving, open-minded, and curious about everyone and everything around us. While we all shared a love of art and an obsession with art making, each of us had very diverse personal backgrounds and fascinating stories. I think we would have had fun as a group together anywhere in the world, but being in Japan opened our eyes to a new way of seeing, a fresh aesthetic, and a fascinating culture.”

Enjoy this recap of Plein Air Japan – a bucket list painting vacation – and stay tuned at Plein Air Today and to learn about the next artist trip so you don’t miss out.

Tokyo National Museum
A visit to the Tokyo National Museum on Day 1, then off for plein air painting.
Seeing the cherry blossoms in Kyoto
Seeing the cherry blossoms in Kyoto

Seeing the cherry blossoms in Kyoto

On their first day, they painted in a giant park filled with shrines and cherry blossom trees. Although the blossoms were not in full bloom yet, there were thousands of tourists taking pictures of those early bloomers. Fortunately, the group was able to return to the park at the end of the trip and enjoyed an amazing view of thousands of pink and white blossoms.

Japanese tea house
In addition to painting on location, they took many photo references for future works, such as this Tea House in the highlands near a bamboo forest.

The trip started and ended in Tokyo. Upon leaving the city, they embarked on bullet train rides that departed from two of the busiest stations in Japan – Tokyo and Kyoto. The bullet trains were an exceptional experience, running like clockwork as the group of 35 had to exit the train with bags and painting supplies in less than 1.5 minutes, along with other passengers from the general public. Challenge conquered!

Plein Air Japan
Because art was a primary purpose of the trip, they enjoyed 23 hours of painting time, despite some challenging weather. Whether it was with an easel or sketchbook, almost everyone painted or sketched during each art stop. Shown: Mitch Neto (left) and Leslie Hamilton (right)
Eric Rhoads and the bullet trains
Eric Rhoads and the bullet trains

Along the way, the group experienced interesting and unique foods served hot, cold, wiggly, and jiggly, often not knowing what they were eating, but everything was a delight. Everyone tried something and was treated to the finest five-start cuisine in Japan. In many cases, a meal was 12 courses long and brought out one small dish at a time over a two-hour period.

Kyoto dining
Throughout the whole trip, they had amazing meals along with an opportunity to experience local cuisine in traditional settings.

“The Plein Air Japan trip was my third international trip with Eric Rhoads,” said Melissa Moffett. “I love the excitement of seeing old friends and meeting new friends at our destination. Everybody is always so nice and easy to get along with. We visit towns, temples, museums, and many scenic places to paint. There is never any stress or pressure. Just a fun time with a nice group of artists.”

Melissa Moffett - Plein Air Japan
Melissa Moffett at Plein Air Japan

The group enjoyed a personal Geisha and Maiko performance (in Kyoto, a Maiko is a Geisha in training and does not yet wear a wig). One Miako played a traditional three-string Japanese guitar while the others danced. The artists also played a traditional Japanese game, which involved picking up a block at a high-speed rhythm, grabbing it from a partner, and trying to trick them into not tapping their hand in the proper way.

Japanese Geishas
Each guest from our group, including Morgan Glende Michalski, shown here, was photographed with the Geishas, which is very unusual.

Though there were many highlights of the trip, many will never forget painting the temples and old thatched-roof villages of Japan, and of course, the magnificent Mount Fuji.

Eric Rhoads painting Mt. Fuji from the balcony of the group's hotel
Eric Rhoads painting Mt. Fuji from the balcony of the hotel
Plein Air Japan
The group included folks from all over the United States, some still working and some retired, some full-time artists, and all with a passion for art and travel. During the closing dinner, all the painters brought a few of their best paintings or sketches for others to see.

“I’ve made some of my closest lifetime friends through these trips and have discovered artists that I was unaware of previously whose work we may end up featuring in the magazine,” Eric said.

Continue reading …

Additional, Unforgettable Experiences from Plein Air Japan:

The group also visited two local art stores: One called Pigment sells raw pigment and calligraphy supplies and has a beautiful display of very unusual art materials and colors. In another part of town, they found a five-story art store filled with every imaginable art material, including suppliers and supplies we don’t have access to in America.

Holbein's Tetz Seriguchi
A private tour at the Holbein factory in Osaka, where they primarily produce watercolor, acrylic, and water-soluble oils included a unique presentation of how they produce colors and a tour of the operating factory to see paint being mixed, ground, and packaged. The head of international exports for Holbein, Tetz Seriguchi, headed the tour, which also involved other employees and color scientists.
Watching paint being ground
Watching paint being ground

They spent time with Deer at Nara Park where thousands of tame deer roam, saw the world’s largest bronze Buddha statue, a National Garden Park, a Flower Park, Nijo Castle, Osaka Castle, Todaji Temple, a Bamboo Forest, Toei movie Studios with lots of paintable scenes, and attractions at Mt Fuji – to name a few.

The Plein Air Japan group at Nara Park, a public park at the foot of Mount Wakakusa.
The Plein Air Japan group at Nara Park, a public park at the foot of Mount Wakakusa.
A bamboo forest was part of the visit, along with many shrines and museums, and some amazing castles from the Shogun era, which have been in perfect condition for hundreds of years.
A bamboo forest was part of the visit, along with many shrines and museums, and some amazing castles from the Shogun era, which have been in perfect condition for hundreds of years.

Other exceptional experiences included calligraphy lessons, learning about bonsai trees from a 94-year-old bonsai master, and seeing a 1000-year-old $1 million bonsai tree.

The Plein Air Japan group posed for a picture after taking a Japanese Calligraphy class
The Plein Air Japan group posed for a picture after taking a Japanese Calligraphy class

The best part of the trip for most was developing deep friendships over dinners, traveling, and painting together. Everyone in the group will be staying in touch and hope to travel together again, to Eric’s next-to-be-announced destination. “Everyone grew very close,” Eric said, “and I am honored to have met and become friends with so many wonderful people.”

They returned home more educated about Japan’s culture, with special paintings and drawings made on location for years of memories to come.

To get a feel for the full agenda you can visit and of course, watch and Plein Air Today to be in the loop for the next amazing trip for artists.

The next international painting trip will be announced soon!


  1. What a wonderful trip. I wish I was on it. I appreciate to at least get a small inside look through your experience. I found the cleanness factor interesting. Coming from Germany, I am quite familiar with cleaning up your environment, though the Japanese seem to top us.
    I am looking forward to see some of the art in PleinAir Magazine.
    Heidelinde Cislip


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