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 adventures will begin when you are met at the exit to customs at 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 transfer by private vehicle to your accommodation in Tokyo, making for a smooth and relaxing start to your trip. Narita Airport is some 40 miles to the east of Tokyo, so journey time is 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.
Today, you will take a full day private tour of the city with a local guide. Traveling by public transport, as Tokyoites do, you will get a real feel for the bustle of 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 assisst you in discovering aspects of Tokyo that you would not find on your own, 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 creating a fixed itinerary in advance, we like to give you the flexibility to see and do what you are interested in. You can use your IC card to cover the local transport costs on the day of the tour. We are keen 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 that on to your 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. Please note that your entrance fees for the local sites that you visit, as well as a delicious lunch will all be included with your tour today. (This service is on a private basis.)
For some, Japanese cuisine has earned the reputation as being fussy, demanding the sourcing and preparation of complicated ingredients. Not so in the average Japanese household, where recipes are deceptively simple, can be recreated at speed and most importantly taste great. On a home cooking course you’ll learn how to prepare a hearty Japanese lunch using easy-to-identify ingredients which you’ll be able to make for your friends back home.
Your Japanese host for the morning will first take you to a local market and together you’ll shop for fresh ingredients. You’ll then head to the teacher’s home, where you’ll be shown how to prepare a traditional Japanese meal including classic dishes such as sushi, tempura or teriyaki chicken which of course you can then enjoy for lunch. Vegetarian options are also available on request. The Japanese are naturally private about their home lives, so this experience offers a unique glimpse behind closed doors as well as the chance to make a new Japanese friend. The class takes place in the Yanaka area, a well-preserved and traditional district of Tokyo known for its artisans and craftspeople.
Please note that occasionally the class cannot take place at the teacher's home but instead takes place in a local guest house kitchen which still has a homey feel. If this is the case, you will be informed as soon as we confirm the class. (This service is on a private 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 we are arranging an 4 hour guide service in Takayama, a great way to see the highlight sights and get some local insight into this lovely small town. Your guide will meet you this morning at 11am (or any other time you choose).
Takayama is home to many small, family-run sake (pronounced sa-keh) breweries which have been in the same families for generations. Using traditional techniques, sake is brewed from fermented rice, water and white koji mold. Although known in English as rice wine, the production process is much closer to beer. In Takayama's old town, the breweries can be recognized by sugidama balls of cedar branches hanging above the doorways. Many of them sell sake and offer samples for tasting to tourists and passersby, making it possible to enjoy a little sake crawl from brewery to brewery! (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 highlights, but also some lesser known places of interest. Rather than creating a fixed itinerary in advance, we like to give you the flexibility to see and do what peaks your interest, specifically. This is to give you the maximum flexibility to enjoy each place in your own time. You can use your IC card to cover the local transport costs on the day of the tour.
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 have otherwise missed. 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 that information on to the guide for you. Your tour will finish around 5:00 PM either back at your accommodation or anywhere else in the city you wish to spend the evening.
The entrance fees for local sites and a delicious lunch have also been included in today's excursion. For lunch, we will head to the Arashiyama district on the western side of the city. Here, we find Yudofu Sagano, known for serving the Buddhist traditional yudo. These are small chunks of tofu, simmered in broth and served a variety of hot dishes. This Buddhist vegetarian tradition is upheld around the country, but this restaurant is particularly known for it. (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 private 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 will join Toranoana Ramen, a well-known Osaka cookery school, for a crash course in all things ramen! Designed for English speakers, the course offers a great insight into the different techniques, ingredients and styles that make hearty ramen one of the most popular dishes in Japan right now.
During the day you will make two kinds of soup broth: a simple clear broth and a thicker, creamier version. Then, you will focus on preparing the chashu pork and perfect hanjuku eggs - not to forget the noodles, of course - all whilst learning about the history of ramen as well. Naturally, you will have the chance to eat your own ramen, but you will also serve your dish to local university students - the real test! So make sure to bring your A-Game!
This course runs from 10:00am to 5:00pm, and you will be provided with directions to the school, which is located just a 15 minute train ride from downtown Osaka. (This service is on a group basis.)
You will be picked up from Odawara station and transferred to your accommodation in Hakone by private vehicle. The driver will be holding a name board, waiting for you upon arrival. They 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.)
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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 stay in 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 Tokyo Narita Airport. Journey time is 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 in Japan 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 top grade St. Regis hotel sits in the heart of Osaka, close to the shopping and the night life of the Kansai capital. The rooms are well appointed with stylish decor and generously sized. As you would expect in a city renowned for its food, the hotel offers high grade cuisine in its French and Italian restaurants complimented by a bar offering sweeping views of this exciting city. St Regis offers an ambient pocket in this down-to-earth city that bursts with energy experiences and culture. The hotel is located steps away from Homachi subway station giving easy access to the Shin-Osaka, Umeda and Nanba areas of the city. Simply put, this is one of Osaka's very best hotels.
Tucked away in the lush mountains of Hakone, lies the spa resort of Hakone Ginyu. 'Ginyu' means a person seeking inspiration for a poem by traveling around. Spectacular views of the Haya-Kawa River, as well as the Hakone Mountains, set the perfect backdrop for poetic inspiration. The entrance and lobby are located on the top of the building. The essence of Japanese style emanates through the corridors and continues throughout the entire resort. The infinite beauty of the natural surroundings will enable you to forget the stress of everyday life. Leave the comforts of your room and soak in the beautifully crafted stone bath, for a relaxing therapy that will melt your aches and pains away. Enjoy the experience that will leave you wanting to come back for more.
Located in the heart of Tokyo's most traditional district, the Asakusa View Hotel offers high level of accommodation and friendly service. Asakusa is one of the oldest areas of the city, the one place in Tokyo where you can get a feel for what the city may have been like before WWII and the bubble years of the 70s and 80s. The central part of Asakusa is Sensoji, the oldest temple in all of Tokyo with a history dating back more than 400 years. All around the temple is a maze of backstreets filled with market style shops and open fronted restaurants. Asakusa is also very well connected with the rest of the city for subway lines which makes getting around the city very easy indeed. Directly outside the hotel is Tokyo's newest subway line, the Tsukuba Express which links Asakusa with Akihabara electronics district. The View Hotel is the best hotel in this area and as the name suggests, the upper floors command great views over Tokyo, with the sky bar a greatplace to unwind at the end of the day whilst enjoying a drink and the spectacular view. You will also have access to the hotel pool and fitness center although an extra charge does have to be paid. The hotel has internet PCs in the lobby area (100yen for 15 minutes) and also offers a laptop loan service (1,200yen per day).
*Pricing is based on two persons traveling together, based on availability, subject to change.