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 in the arrivals lobby, holding a sign with your name on it. They will transfer you by private vehicle to your accommodation in Tokyo, making for a smooth and comfortable start to your trip. Narita Airport is located 40 miles to the east of Tokyo, so the drive into the city will take around 90 minutes, depending on traffic. Sit back, relax and enjoy the views of Tokyo's skyscrapers as you approach your destination. (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.
In your package, we have included the 14 Day Rail Pass (Ordinary Car). This 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, once you have arrived in Japan. Full details of when and how to do this will be provided with your travel documents. You can also use your Rail Pass to make seat reservations for no extra charge. However, this cannot be done until you have exchanged the voucher.
Today, you will be taken on a full day private tour of the city with a local guide. In order to get a real feel for Japan's capital, you will travel by public transport, just like the locals. On this fascinating introduction to Tokyo, you will have the chance to explore the classic highlights and best kept hidden secrets. Following in the footsteps of your expert guide, you will discover the exclusive features of Tokyo, known only to locals. You are free to set the pace of the day to be as busy or relaxed as you want, as you get to grips with the excellent transport network.
Your guide will meet you at the hotel around 9:00 AM this morning, or any other time you may prefer. Rather than making a fixed itinerary in advance, you will have full flexibility to select the attractions and activities that interest you. This means that you will need to pay for any entrance fees on the day of your tour, in addition to the transport costs for you and your guide. In order to make the most of this experience, please let us know if you have any specific areas of interest, and we will pass that on to your guide in advance. Around 5:00 PM, your tour will end either back to your hotel, or anywhere else in the city that you may 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, you will use your included Japan Rail Pass to take a Shinkansen Bullet Train to Nagoya. Upon arrival, you will board a Limited Express train for the scenic journey into the Japanese Alps en route to Takayama. The total travel time will take 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 Limited Express train to Nagoya, where you will make the easy change to the Shinkansen for Kyoto. Total journey time will be 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, you will be accompanied by a local guide for a private street food tour of Osaka's exciting Nanba district. Your first stop on this delicious adventure will be the famous Dotonbori 'restaurant' street in the heart of Nanba. Famed for its incredible variety of culinary options, Dotonburi is known as a food paradise throughout Japan. An impressive selection of eateries and bars line the neon illuminated street from left to right, from basement to buildings, 8, 9 or even 10 stories high. Hole in the wall takoyaki stands and street side ramen bars sit next to upscale eateries serving the finest wagyu beef. Everywhere you look, 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 sports 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. Admire these sights from the water, as you hop on a short boat cruise down the river. As you sail down the canal, you will learn about both the old and new history of the area. 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. As for 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.)
For your time in Hakone, you will be provided with the 2 Day Hakone Freepass. This 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, a funicular railway and even a pirate ship that cruises across Lake Ashi! Between all of these different options, you will be able to easily explore the entire region and make the most of your stay. The pass also offers small discounts at many attractions in the area, so be sure to show your pass when purchasing any tickets!
Hakone is a beautiful National Park region nestled beside Mount Fuji, Japan's most sacred peak. The area showcases a handful of small villages and hamlets, all connected by a variety of local transport routes that wind through the charming hillsides and valleys. Hakone offers plenty to see and do, from tasting eggs boiled in volcanic waters, to boarding a boat cruise across Lake Ashi. The outdoor sculpture park and Picasso gallery is a great place to spend a unique afternoon. An enticing dip in one of the famous therapeutic hot spring baths is always a good idea as well! However, it is Hakone's close proximity to the iconic Mount Fuji, that truly makes this destination so popular. With its near perfect symmetrical form, soaring through the sky above the surrounding hills, it is an attraction that makes a trip to Japan complete. From Hakone, you have one of the best chances to admire Mount Fuji's epic beauty, although she is a notoriously shy mountain!
After an enchanting experience in Hakone, you will be driven by private car from your hotel to Odawara Station. This transfer will take 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, followed by a Yamanote Line train to Shinjuku Station. The total journey will take 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 the highlights and hidden treasures of 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 off right at the door of the departures lobby, making for a smooth and enjoyable end to your trip.
We hope you had an amazing adventure and we wish you safe and pleasant travels onward! (This service is on a private basis.)
The elegant Park Hotel Tokyo offers a truly unique and memorable experience in the heart of the city. Soaring into the sky, this alluring property features breathtaking panoramic views of Tokyo, including the iconic Tokyo Skytree. Admire the maze of winding streets and cosmopolitan skyscrapers by day, and get lost in a dazzling show of bright neon lights by night. The hotel prides itself in their gracious hospitality and quality service, satisfying the needs of all global guests. The fascinating rooms showcase a variety of impressive traditional artwork by local craftsmen, promising an experience that is sure to be a highlight of your trip.
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 Ryokan experience, perfect for those looking to truly live like a local. This luxurious Japanese Onsen Ryokan features lovely outdoor natural hot spring baths, one of which can be used privately. The meals served at the property include fresh seasonal ingredients and local specialties, brought to you in your room by Kimono-clad staff. Yamanochaya is located in a beautiful riverside setting surrounded by lush greenery, located across its own private bridge. Hakone Yumoto Station is just a 5 minute in a taxi ride away and the Tonosawa Station on the Hakone Tozan Railway (Mountain Railway) is just a 10 minute walk away, providing easy access to all of Hakone.
Located just a 5 minute walk from Shinjuku Station, the lovely Hotel Century Southern Tower makes for the perfect base from which to explore not only Shinjuku, but the whole of central Tokyo and beyond. The hotel lobby, which sits on the 20th floor, features spectacular views of the city and on clear days, you may even be able to spot Mount Fuji towering in the distance! All rooms are stylishly decorated with quality amenities and the bathrooms offer a range of beauty products for your convenience. In the evenings, you can enjoy a variety of dining options in the hotel, from Chinese and French influences, to even a superb Teppanyaki restaurant.
*Pricing is based on two persons traveling together, based on availability, subject to change.