- Develop your skills with three cooking lessons, each highlighting various aspects of Japanese cuisine
- Visit Tokyo’s famed Tsukiji Market
- Taste green tea in a beautiful garden teahouse oasis in Tokyo
- Visit the Kappabashi district of Tokyo, where chefs shop for the tools of the trade
- Get into rural villages and sample home-cooked meals of local innkeepers
- Tour a sake brewery, complete with a tasting
- Go on a tasting walk through Nishiki Market in Kyoto
- Craft exquisitely delicate Japanese sweets
Day 1: Arrival in Tokyo
You will be met at Narita or Haneda Airport for a private transfer to your hotel in Tokyo, Japan’s bustling capital. Don’t let the glistening façade deceive you – you will still find the hallmarks of traditional Japan nestled amongst the concrete and glass, from Sensoji Temple, to the spirit of Edo still to be found in the Asakusa and Kappabashi downtown areas.
The remainder of your day is at leisure.
Day 2: Tokyo
This morning, your guide will meet you at your hotel to take you to the Tokyo Central Metropolitan Wholesale Market. Its main attraction is Senso-ji, a large Buddhist temple with a five-story pagoda and a pedestrian street lined with shops selling a variety of Japanese arts and crafts and souvenirs. Here, chefs find pro-level kitchenware, and most famously, the plastic fake food used in restaurant windows.
In the late afternoon, we will learn how to make soba from scratch and enjoy a dinner made from the results!
Day 3: Narai – Kiso Valley
Today make your way to Shinjuku Station to embark your train for rural Japan with a journey to Narai. Arrive in mid-afternoon at Narai-juku, one of the best-preserved villages, and stay at one of the friendly inns. The buildings date back over two hundred years. There will be time to explore the village, and perhaps try one of the local specialties, gohei-mochi, a rice cake covered with a paste of sweetened soy sauce and walnut. Tonight enjoy a veritable feast of local dishes at your small family-run inn.
Day 4: Takayama via Matsumoto
Today, travel independently to Takayama through a combination of train and highway coach. You have the option of stopping in Matsumoto, a castle town in Nagano Prefecture famous for its buckwheat soba noodles and sweet apples. The castle, often referred to as the ‘crow castle’ because of its dark exterior, is located a 15- 20 minute walk from Matsumoto train station.
In the downtown area you’ll see streets with small boutiques housed in preserved kura or thick-walled storage buildings. The castle is surrounded by a moat where carp now remain to stand guard. At approximately 2pm, continue on your way by highway bus to Takayama. Make an optional visit to a miso producer to learn more about the process of creating this fermented bean paste that is a key component of Japanese cuisine. On arrival in Takayama, check in to your ryokan for 2 nights.
Day 5: Takayama
￼Takayama was formally an enclave for skilled carpenters working for the imperial courts in Kyoto and Nara. It has retained much of its traditional architecture and is well known for its crafts, particularly yew-wood carving and sake. The city is also known for its Hida Beef, one of the famed marbled regional wagyu types, rivalling that of Kobe and Matsuzaka. In the morning, discover one of the two morning markets in town.
This afternoon, take a brewery tour and sake tasting. Following your tour, you may wish to enjoy a stroll of the temples of the Higashiyama area of the town.
Day 6: Takayama – Kyoto
Kyoto Royal Hotel & Spa
In the morning, travel by train to Kyoto. Kyoto served as Japan’s capital from the 12th to the 19th centuries – the spiritual and cultural capital as well as the political center. While political power has moved to Tokyo, Kyoto has retained a firm and protective grasp on Japanese culture and traditions. The city is renowned for its temples, festivals, and cuisine.
Visit Nishiki market, to see the fish, crab, pickles, tea, sweets and other foodstuffs on display. We will also discover the back lanes and traditions of Gion – a famous district for its geisha (known as a geiko in Kyoto) and the brightly attired apprentice geisha, known locally as maiko. If luck is with us, we may see one breezing into one of the local teahouses to perform for guests.
Day 7: Arashiyama – Kyoto
Kyoto Royal Hotel & Spa
Your guide will meet you this morning at your hotel and together you will travel to the Northwestern Kyoto district of Arashiyama. We’ll walk through bamboo forest paths and along back lanes dotted with temples and shrines. Our tour includes a visit to Tenryuji – considered one of the five greatest temples in Kyoto – and an explanation of its Zen Buddhist philosophy.
Enjoy a lunch here of shojin-ryoji, or traditional Buddhist vegetarian cuisine, and the origin of the famed kaiseki dining. We then travel back to Kyoto for a class where we will learn how to make the delicately formed Japanese sweets for which Kyoto is famous.
Day 8: Asuka – Kyoto
Kyoto Royal Hotel & Spa
This morning you’ll leave on an excursion to Asuka, Japan’s first permanent capital. Sitting at the southern edge of the Yamato Plain, Asuka is home to some of the first Buddhist temples in Japan, built by Prince Shotoku in the 6th century. The small town is also dotted with burial mounds, said to be those of the first Emperors. As well as its historical legacy, Asuka also has a beautiful landscape of terraced rice fields.
Visit a small-scale producing farm where we learn in a true farm-to-table experience how to prepare a local dish using vegetables grown in the area. The fruits of our labour will be our lunch today. Following our class we will have time to visit some of the stone monuments before our train journey back to Kyoto.
Day 9: Departure
Transfer to the Kansai or Itami Airport for your journey home.