Japan's culinary history has been boiling and broiling for hundreds of years, getting ready to please every taste bud on every palette. Today, Tokyo stands as one of the world's culinary capitals, exporting chefs, and attracting foodies by the millions. Every city and region boasts its own distinct traditions, from preparation methods, to new ingredients. There's a lot to explore here, so dive right in!
Welcome to Japan! Your adventure begins upon arrival at Tokyo's Narita Airport. Your driver will be waiting for you as you enter into the arrivals lobby, holding a sign with your name on it. You will be transferred by private vehicle to your accommodation in Tokyo, making for a smooth and relaxing start to your trip. Narita Airport is located 40 miles to the east of Tokyo, so this journey will be in the region of 90 minutes, dependent upon traffic. Sit back, relax and enjoy the views of Tokyo's skyscrapers as you approach the city. (This service is on a private basis.)
One quarter of all Japanese live in Tokyo or the near vicinity and with a population of over 12 million inhabitants, Tokyo is one of the largest cities in the world. With its huge skyscrapers, underpasses, overpasses and crowds of pedestrians, Tokyo may not seem the most attractive city on the surface, but the city has a vibrant charm all of its own. The street level detail is what makes Tokyo such an incredibly interesting place to explore and at every turn you will be met with an array of sights, sounds and smells to enliven the senses. The city has many major sights to visit such as Senso-ji Temple in the old downtown area of Asakusa or the fashion hub of Shibuya from where all new trends are said to emanate. All in all a stay in Tokyo is to experience one of the world's most vibrant and interesting cities; a capital hurtling headlong into the future while maintaining its links with the traditions of ancient Japan.
Your package includes the 14 Day Rail Pass (Ordinary Car). The pass entitles you to unlimited travel on any trains in the extensive Japan Railways (JR) network. This includes all of the famous Shinkansen 'Bullet' Trains (with the exception of the Nozomi Shinkansen). You will receive an exchange voucher which must be exchanged for the pass itself after you arrive in Japan. Full details of when and how to do this will be provided with your documents. You can use your rail pass to make seat reservations for no extra charge. However, this cannot be done before you have exchanged the voucher.
Today, you will take a full day private tour of the city with a local guide, traveling by public transport, as Tokyoites do, in order to help you to get a real feel for the Japan's capital. This will be a fantastic introduction to Tokyo and the chance to get a personal insight not only into the classic sights, but also into some more unusual and unique features of the city. With a guide at your disposal, you are free to set the pace of the day to be as busy or relaxed as you choose. The guide can help you discover aspects of Tokyo that you would not find by yourself and can also help you get to grips with the city's excellent transport network.
Your guide will come to your hotel at around 9:00 AM (or any time you choose) to meet you and your day will proceed from there. Rather than fix an itinerary in advance, we like to give you the flexibility to see and do what takes your fancy. This means you will need to pay for your entrance fees on the day. You will also need to cover your local transport and that of the guide. We are eager to help you get the most out of today, so if you have any specific areas of interest please let us know in advance, so we can pass this on to the guide. Your day of guiding will finish at around 5:00 PM, with the guide either dropping you back at your hotel or anywhere else in the city you wish to spend the evening. (This service is on a private basis.)
While eating Japanese cuisine is the highlight of any trip to Japan, it's nothing compared to learning how to cook it yourself. Today's you'll join local foodie Yoshimi for an in-depth lesson in everyday Japanese cooking. Yoshimi prides herself on using simple, fresh ingredients to prepare hearty food that you can recreate at home.
Step one of Yoshimi's classes is an introduction to Japanese seasonings such as soy sauce, miso, sake and mirin. You'll learn how these are made, and the differences they can make to any Japanese dish. Next Yoshimi will brief you on table manners so you'll soon be using chopsticks like a pro. Then the main bulk of your class is preparing an everyday Japanese dish. Following Yoshimi's demonstration, it'll be your turn to get hands on in the kitchen and cook up a storm.
In today's cooking class you'll be making a bento lunch box. Yoshimi will teach you how to make healthy lunch box fillers, Japanese-style. The bento lunch boxes come with two side dishes and miso soup.. Classes have a maximum of six participants. Aprons are provided, and all food and drink, a complimentary dessert and recipe cards are included. (This service is on a group basis.)
From Tokyo today, you will use your included Japan Rail Pass to take a Shinkansen (bullet train) to Nagoya. From there, you will board a Ltd Express train for the scenic journey into the Japanese Alps and on to Takayama. Total journey time is around 4 hours and 40 minutes.
The Hida, Kiso and Akaishi ranges of mountains, known collectively as the Japan Alps, rise majestically in northern Honshu. Mountains in Japan were once believed to be the sacred dwelling places of divine spirits. Takayama, in the heart of the Hida Mountains is a delightful town, established in the 16th century as the castle town of the Kanamori family and now famous throughout Japan for its old town area of narrow streets containing many well-preserved inns, tea houses, shops and merchants houses with the latticed windows and overhanging roofs characteristic of the Edo period. The town was also renowned throughout the Edo era (1603-1868) for the very high quality of its craftsmen and many of the temples in Kyoto were built by workers from Takayama. The town has many shrines and temples of its own giving rise to the title of 'Little Kyoto'.
Just on the outskirts of the town, is the fascinating Hida folk village where old farm houses from across the region have been brought together and rebuilt (beam by beam) on a hillside overlooking the town. Takayama's morning market on the bank of the Miyagawa River is famous and well worth a visit to see the stands selling local farm produce, flowers and crafts. There are also some great micro sake breweries affording the chance to sample the wares of Takayama's most famous product! A stay in Takayama is a chance to get a feel for a way of life that really has all but disappeared from modern Japan.
Today you will have a 2 ½ hour food and culture walk around Takayama. It’s a great chance to sample local foods, such as Hida beef, sake, and sweets. Your experienced local guide will tell you all about the history, culture, and daily life of the town as you’re led through the traditional wooden streets, and you’ll be taken to the shops which are popular with the locals.
Highlights of the tour include a visit to the Harada Sake Brewery, the lively Miyakawa Morning Market that’s been held since the Edo Period, and an old-fashioned coffee shop. The services of your guide and local food and sake tasting are included in the price. (This service is on a private basis.)
From Takayama, you will use your Japan Rail Pass to travel by Ltd Express train to Nagoya, where you will make the easy change to the Shinkansen for Kyoto. Total journey time is around 3 hours and 30 minutes.
Could there be anything more Japanese than peeling back a sliding screen door, kneeling on a tatami mat floor and slowly learning the revered art of the tea ceremony? The ancient rituals surrounding the preparation and presentation of macha powdered green tea date back to the 12th century when Buddhist monks began using tea in religious ceremonies. Later, the practice spread to samurai warriors in their aim to bring a concentrated level of awareness to everyday activities. There is certainly a controlled meditative element to the tea ceremony and the carefully prescribed movements are based on 4 principles: harmony, respect, purity and tranquility.
Today, we will arrange a visit to the home of a professional tea master who will be able to explain all about Japanese tea, the tea ceremony and its relationship with Zen Buddhism. Our tea master, Kinue Terada, has been learning tea ceremony for more than 40 years and has an incredible wealth of knowledge about this sophisticated art. You will be met at your hotel by an attendant and transfers by private car are included with the tour. Terada-san will explain about tea history and the utensils used for conducting a tea ceremony. Then she will show how to make tea and you can try yourself. As the experience takes place at a traditional private house, this is a good opportunity to experience the tea ceremony in a calm and tranquil place. The chance to visit a Japanese home is also a fascinating extra! (This service is on a private basis.)
Kyoto is one of the most culturally rich cities in all of Asia. Home to 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites, over 1,600 Buddhist temples and 400 Shinto shrines, this ancient city showcases the heart and soul of traditional Japan. Kyoto boasts an array of world-class gardens, majestic festivals and delicate cuisine, all of which make much of the rhythms of nature and the changing of the seasons. On first glance however, visitors will see that like any large Japanese city, grid-like Kyoto has its fair share of neon and concrete. But the discerning eye will soon pick out Kyoto’s treasures: sacred shrines tucked in among shopping arcades, time-honored tea houses nestled among modern businesses and mysterious geisha scuttling down backstreets among the tourists and souvenirs. Kyoto’s charm lies in these details and whether you’re here for three days or three years, the closer you look, the more you’ll discover.
For today I have scheduled in a full day tour of the city by public transport with a private guide. Your guide will come to your accommodation at around 9:00 AM and take you on a tour that will encompass some of the more famous sights but also some lesser known places of interest.
With a knowledgeable local by your side you will be set for a great day in this amazing city and are sure to discover things that you might otherwise miss. Please let us know in advance if there are any sights you particularly wish to see, or areas of interest you have, as we can pass this information on to the guide for you. Your day of guiding will finish at around 5:00 PM either back at your accommodation or anywhere else in the city you wish to spend the evening. (This service is on a private basis.)
Today you have the opportunity to visit Obubu tea farm in Wazuka, rural Kyoto prefecture. Obubu is Kyoto dialect for 'green tea'. The tour begins at 11am with a cup of tea and a brief introduction in English before you head into the mountains to visit several of the tea fields. Here your guide will explain a number of the growing and harvesting processes. A tea-soba noodle lunch is included with the tour and then later you will have a tea tasting session where you can try eight different varieties of tea. As a souvenir you'll be given two sample bags of tea to take home with you. Please note that to reach the tea farm you'll need to travel by JR train from Kyoto Station for 1 hour and then hop in a taxi for the last 15 minutes (not included) - full directions will be in your Info-Pack. (This service is on a group basis.)
From Kyoto, you will take the JR Local line to Osaka station. The journey takes about 30 minutes.
Tonight, it has been arranged for a local guide to take you on a private street food tour of Osaka's exciting Nanba district. Departing from the hotel, your first stop will be the famous Dotonbori 'restaurant' street in the heart of Nanba. Famed for its vast array of culinary options, Dotonburi is known as a food paradise throughout Japan. A vast array of eateries and bars line the neon illuminated street to left and right, from the basement to the upper floors, 8, 9 or even 10 stories high. Hole in the wall takoyaki stands and street side ramen bars rub shoulders with upscale eateries serving the finest wagyu beef. Everywhere people, young and old, are out to enjoy the culinary pleasures of the nation's most famous restaurant district. This is where Kansai people come to cheer on their local baseball or football team, or any other excuse to celebrate!
A must-see stop will be at the 'Glico running man' neon ad, which along with the giant moving crab statues, have become a symbol of the area. You will also be able to catch perspective from the waters, hopping on a short boat cruise down the river. Running parallel to Dotonbori, you will learn a little of both the old and new history of the area, as you cruise along the waters. To ensure good luck for the rest of your trip, your guide will take you to Hozenji Yokocho to splash water on to the resident “Ofudosan”, a Buddhist God for love and business. When it comes to the food, you will have the chance to try Kushikatsu (skewered vegetables and meat dishes), Takoyaki (the very famous 'octopus balls') and a variety of delights at a traditional Izakayas (pub-restaurants). Tonight will be the perfect chance to sync with the Osaka philosophy of 'kuiadore' - eat, drink and enjoy life! Food, transport and a couple of drinks will all be included in this tasty adventure. (This service is on a private basis.)
Today you'll join a 6 hour cycling tour around Osaka City. Accompanied by a cycle guide, you will start near the banks of Nakanoshima Island and follow peaceful tree lined riverside paths east along the Tosabori and Dojima Rivers past some Osaka's best preserved pre-war buildings. From there the group heads for Osaka's most famous landmark, Osaka Castle. After exploring the Castle grounds, you'll continue south to the Tennoji district, a buzzing area boasting both Japan's oldest Buddhist Temple as well as the country's tallest building. By now it's time for lunch (included in the tour) and you'll eat with the locals in the blue-collar maze of Shin-Sekai.
Afterwards, the ride heads north through the youth culture meccas of Namba and Shinsaibashi and finally to the beautifully manicured, and historically fascinating Utsubo Park. After Utsubo, it's a short ride back to base, or if the sunset is looking promising, the group can head up the Umeda Sky Building for the best view in town! All food, water, and rental costs are included in the price so you can just sit back, relax and enjoy the best of the city! (This service is on a group basis.)
From Shin-Osaka station today, a Shinkansen will take you on to Odawara, the access point for the scenic Fuji-Hakone national park. This 470 km journey takes 3 hours and 20 minutes.
Upon arrival at Odawara station, you will be met by a private taxi driver holding a name board, for the transfer to your accommodation in Hakone. Your driver will probably not speak that much English, but will ensure you get to your accommodation safely and comfortably. Travel time is in the region of 40-60 minutes. (This service is on a private basis.)
We have included the 2 Day Hakone Freepass in your package. The pass is valid for two days from today and entitles you to unlimited use of 6 different forms of transport in the Hakone region. These include the mountain buses and railway, one of the longest cable cars in Japan and a funicular railway as well as a pirate ship which cruises across Lake Ashi! These all criss-cross the region making it easy to explore and enjoy the surroundings as well as some of the many top quality art museums. The pass also gives you small discounts at many attractions in the area so be sure to show your pass when purchasing tickets. And of course, if you are lucky with the weather, you will be rewarded with stunning views of Mount Fuji.
Hakone is a beautiful national park area that lies around 50 miles west of Tokyo and just to the south of Mount Fuji, Japan's most sacred peak. The area consists of a handful of small villages and hamlets all connected by a variety of local transport that winds itself through the region's hills and valleys. Hakone has plenty to see and do, from tasting eggs boiled in volcanic waters to taking a boat trip across beautiful Lake Ashi. The outdoor sculpture park and Picasso gallery is a great place to wander around for an afternoon. Or maybe you will just sit back and relax while soaking in one of the many therapeutic hot spring baths that Hakone is so famous for.
The other main draw to this area is the proximity to Japan's most sacred and iconic mountain, Fuji-san (Mount Fuji) with its near perfect symmetrical form soaring skywards and towering over the surrounding hills. From Hakone you have one of the best chances of getting a view of Mount Fuji from the various view points to be found throughout the area. However, be sure to have your camera at the ready; Fuji-san is notoriously shy and you do not want to miss that precious photo opportunity!
Today, you will be taken by a private car from your Hakone accommodations to Odawara Station. Transfer time for this journey is between 35 and 45 minutes. (This service is on a private basis.)
From Odawara, you will use your Japan Rail Pass to take the Shinkansen to Tokyo and then a Yamanote Line train to Shinjuku station. Total journey time is around 1 hour.
Today you’ll meet renowned confectionery expert Chikara Mizukami for a lesson in the art of wagashi making. Wagashi are Japanese sweets, traditionally enjoyed before receiving tea. Each piece is appreciated for its flavor but also its aesthetics, as well as expressing the season. The variety of wagashi is so wide that it's unlikely you'll ever try the same type of wagashi twice. The lesson will last 2-3 hours at Mizukami’s shop (30 minutes from Tokyo Station). Mizukami-san will introduce you to the philosophy behind the preparation of wagashi before guiding you to create your own unique sweets.
Chikara Mizukami was born into a wagashi-making family and in 1977 he founded his own wagashi shop, Ikouan. Away from his own kitchen, Mizukami-san provides demonstrations at Relais Desserts and gives lectures on wagashi at art museums around the world. He was also nominated as 1 of the 5 Japanese chefs out of 400 best chefs in the world selected by Where Chef’s Eat, a guide to chef’s favorite restaurants. Mizukami-san is a true artisan and his expertise has been sought by famous confectionery makers in Japan and around the world, such as Sadaharu Aoki and Jane-Charles Rochoux. As such this exclusive hands-on experience is subject to Mizukami-san’s schedule. (This service is on a private basis.)
Sadly, your journey through Japan must come to an end today. A private taxi has been arranged to pick you up from your hotel, and take you in comfort to the Tokyo Narita Airport. This ride will take around 90 minutes, depending on traffic conditions. At the airport, you will be dropped right at the door of the departures lobby, making for a smooth end to your trip. We hope you had an incredible adventure and we wish you safe and pleasant travels onward! (This service is on a private basis.)
The Park Hotel Tokyo is ideally situated in Shiodome, and provides a superior level of service to satisfy the needs of global guests. As a member of the "design hotels" group, the Park offers an extraordinary level of service and interior designs. Each room is decorated with Monique Le Houelleur's natural artwork. Bathroom amenities include the luxurious "THANN" Aromatic Wood Collection, exclusive to Park Hotel Tokyo. The "Dé-Signe" nightwear and original pillows developed in cooperation with Lofty Co guarantee a comfortable sleep at night.
In Takayama you will stay at the Tanabe Ryokan. A short walk or even shorter taxi ride from Takayama Station, this is a high quality traditional inn located in the old town area of the city close to the morning markets and within easy walking distance of the temple area and the town museum. The rooms all have attached bathroom facilities but the inn also boasts really nice large communal baths which are great for relaxing in after a day out sightseeing. The owners Mr and Mrs Tanabe are gracious hosts and will do their very best to ensure you have a fabulous stay.
Hotel Mume has just 7 rooms, each with its own unique and exquisite antique furniture, all personally procured by the hotel proprietess during her own travels throughout the world. Each room has a different seasonal theme, and all have every amenity you would expect in a luxurious boutique hotel. Perfectly located in a quiet yet convenient location, along the peaceful Shirakawa River in the Gion district of Kyoto, Hotel Mume stands out as a remarkable blend of Japanese taste and western accommodation, making it one of Kyoto's only top-quality boutique hotels. A stay here is sure be the perfect complement to the rich sights and traditional culture of Kyoto.
The Swissotel is one of Osaka's most stylish hotels and boasts fantastic views over the city. Service is first rate and the hotel is conveniently located high in the sky, directly above Nankai Nanba station. Namba is without doubt Osaka's most vibrant district, with some great shopping, dining and nightlife opportunities - plus some great people watching! The hotel offers a range of restaurants (including Japanese, French, Chinese and Italian cuisines) and its own swimming pool (separate fee charged) and gym. The 36th Floor sky bar has some fantastic views to enjoy over a cocktail.
The Yamanochaya Ryokan provides an authentic. Top-class Japanese onsen ryokan (hot springs inn) experience, with wonderful outdoor natural hot spring baths available, one of which can be used privately. The meals at the ryokan are superb and feature seasonal ingredients and local specialties and are served to you in your room by Kimono-clad staff. The ryokan is 5 minutes in a taxi from Hakone Yumoto station in a beautiful river-side location and reached by its own private bridge. Tonosawa station on the Hakone Tozan Railway (mountain railway) is just a 10 minute walk away and provides easy access to all of Hakone.
The Hotel Century Southern Tower is one of the best places to stay in Tokyo. Located just 5 minutes walk from Shinjuku Station on the southern terrace opposite Takashimaya Times Square department store, the Southern Tower makes for the perfect base from which to explore not just Shinjuku but the whole of central Tokyo and beyond. The hotel lobby is to be found on the 20th floor of a building which also houses Microsoft's Japan HQ. The lobby offers great views of the city and on clear days you can see Mt Fuji towering up in the distance. All rooms are stylishly decorated with modern earthy tones and high quality bed linen. The bathrooms have a range of beauty products provided and rooms come with flat screen TVs, direct dial phones and a free high speed internet connection. In the evenings you will have a choice of dining in the hotel with a superb Teppanyaki restaurant, an excellent Chinese, a French influences restaurant and a café bar for light refreshments. The hotel fitness corner is also available free of charge - a chance to work out 100 meters above the city! A buffet breakfast is included in your stay served in the hotel restaurant on the 20th floor. The stunning views make a great backdrop to the first meal of the day.
*Pricing is based on two persons traveling together, based on availability, subject to change.