Spoil the senses on a culinary tour from Tokyo to Osaka

Pack your chopsticks and celebrate thousands of years of food artistry by diving into one of the world’s most elegant, eclectic and harmonious cuisines. Spend your time spent seeing the sights and scouting out prized eating and drinking spots. Watch yakitori sizzling in front of you in Shinjuku's Memory Lane, eat fresh-off-the-boat sashimi at the incredible Tsukiji Fish Market and learn to make soba noodles in a hands-on cooking class. Glimpse a geisha drifting through the alleyways of Gion while in Kyoto and experience a charming obanzai dinner of Kyoto-style home-cooked dishes. Stay in a traditional ryokan in Takayama and eat vegetarian shojin ryori (monastic fare) with monks in Koyasan. If you're looking for a trip that tantalises the tastebuds as well as sates a sense of adventure, this Japan Real Food Adventure ticks all the boxes.

Start
Tokyo, Japan
Finish
Osaka, Japan
Countries
Japan
Themes
Food
Code
CJZF
Physical rating
Cultural rating
Ages
Min 15
Group size
Min 1 Max 12
Carbon offset
250kg pp per trip


Highlights

  • Food is taken seriously in Japan. From the station tonkatsu restaurant to the highest end sushi, Japanese people take pride in the cooking and presentation, and any bad meal is incredibly rare
  • Tasting the succulent Hida beef in Takayama is the definition of a melt-in-your-mouth moment
  • Dodging bargain hunters and fishmongers as you browse stalls of fantastical sea creatures in the organised madness of the Tsukiji Fish Market
  • Exploring the unexpected underground foodie treasure trove that is a depachika (department store food court)
  • Staying alongside the brothers of a monastery in Koya-san and discovering shojin ryori – vegetarian buddhist food that seeks enlightenment through perfection in cooking
  • Experiencing the simple pleasures of obanzai ryori – the traditional home cuisine of Kyoto – in a cooking class
  • Snacking on awesome and adventurous street food in the unofficial culinary capital of Osaka

Itinerary

This itinerary is valid for departures from 01 January 2016 to 31 December 2016. View the itinerary for departures between 01 January 2017 - 31 December 2017

Konnichiwa! Welcome to Japan. Bursting with contemporary urban culture, there are many sides of Tokyo to explore, from fascinating museums and world-class shopping, to neighbourhood backstreets lined with restaurants and karaoke bars. Your adventure begins with a Welcome Meeting at 6pm tonight. You can arrive at any time during the day, as there are no activities planned until this important meeting. Please check with hotel reception or look on the reception noticeboard for where and when the meeting will take place. Why not head out for dinner at a local izakaya and get to know your fellow foodie travellers. After dinner, your leader will take you on a night night walk past the lantern-lit Sensoji Temple.
Today you’ll take an orientation walk around some of Tokyo's most well-known districts, including Shibuya and Harajuku – variously known as the fashion centre and the home of quirky youth pop culture. Please be aware that today will include approximately 2-3 hours of walking, so packing a pair of comfortable walking shoes is recommended. Later, learn the art of creating soba, Japan’s famed buckwheat noodle, in a hands-on cooking class. Slurp up your creations for lunch. This afternoon you’ll take some time sightseeing in the historic Asakusa area. This is one of the older and more traditional parts of Tokyo, and is often called the temple district. Here you’ll stop by Senso-ji, the city’s oldest temple – founded almost 1,400 years ago when Tokyo was nothing more than a fishing village. If you’ve got a sweet tooth then Asakusa is also a great place to satisfy a sugar craving – try fried sweet potatoes tossed in molasses, or sweet read bean paste sandwiched between baked pancake batter. In the evening, get an introduction to Japanese culture on a walk down Shinjuku’s Memory Lane. This crowded alley of busy restaurants and bar stalls started in the 1940s and quickly gained infamy as a black market drinking quarter. Today, it is still one of the best spots to try some of Tokyo’s famed ‘fast food’ dishes, including yakitori (grilled chicken skewers) as well as some of the city’s more daring fare. Then head up the observation deck of the Metropolitan Government Building for a stunning night view of the city’s skyline.
Today’s a free day to explore this pulsating city, where there’s almost an endless amount of things to see and do. See the crowds at Shibuya Crossing, the costumes in Harajuku, take in history at the Imperial Palace or the treasures at the National Museum, and see the grand shrine dedicated to the 19th-century Emperor. Spend some time in the city’s green spaces like Yoyogu and Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, experience the theatre of a sumo bout, or create your own entertainment with some karaoke. In food terms, take some time to explore the local farmers’ market and get lost among the numerous delicacies on offer in the underground world of Tokyo’s depachikas (food hall basements). Grab a bowl of chanko nabe (a bowl of food fit for a sumo wrestler), discover the charms of a typical Japanese izakaya in Ebisu or indulge in one of Tokyo’s famed high-end dining establishments.
Rise early for an eye-opening experience at Tsukiji Fish Market – the world’s biggest – where you’ll dodge bargain hunters, fishmongers, and market trolleys piled high with crates of stock as you wander the narrow aisles of spectacular creatures. Afterwards, pop in to one of the sushi restaurants that surround the market for the freshest sushi breakfast you could ever eat. After your market tour you’ll wave bye to Tokyo at super speed as you ride the rails on a bullet train to the Edo period town of Takayama. Travelling by Shinkansen is an absolute buzz, as you’ll reach speeds of up to 270 kmh, arriving in Takayama in approximately 5 hours. Takayama is a charming Edo period town located in the Japan alps. It’s famous for its traditional inns, sake breweries and Hida-gyu (Hida beef) – the beef from a black-haired Japanese cattle breed that has been raised in Gifu Prefecture for at least 14 months. On arrival you’ll stop into one of the region's prized sake breweries. The alpine climate and crystal clear mountain waters are perfect for creating this signature drop. Enjoy a walk around the brewery, followed by a sake tasting. For the next two evenings you will stay in a traditional ryokan (Japanese inn). Rooms are equipped with thin futon mattresses that are spread on tatami mats for a comfortable night's sleep. In the ryokan, you’ll enjoy a multi-course meal for dinner, featuring regional delicacies, including hida beef.

Notes: There is the possibility of attending the tuna auctions at the fish market, but this requires a very early start. We recommend leaving the hotel around 3am to secure one of the limited number of spots in the auction, which starts around 5am and finishes by 7am. A taxi will be required at this time of the morning, as the trains will not yet be running. Be aware that the tuna auctions may be closed to the public during busy times. The market is also closed every national holiday and every Sunday. The markets is scheduled to close and relocate to new premises from 3-9 November 2016, so the fish market tour will not take place on departures commencing in November.
Please note that during the Takayama Festival (14-15 April, 9-10 October), accommodation in Takayama may be multishare. Depending on rooming configurations, couples may sometimes have to be split up for these nights.
The Gifu prefecture is known to produce many fine altitude vegetables. Explore the morning markets that date back 600 years and browse the stalls of seasonal vegetables brought in from the surrounding countryside, set up by local farm women from 6am every morning. While browsing the food markets look out for the unique local style of pickles, the bags of miso wrapped in leaves, Genkotsu ame (soy bean candy), preserved fish, spices, and the delicious marshmallow treat of owara tamaten. Later, visit the nearby Hida Folk Village, an outdoor museum where the traditional thatched-roof architecture unique to the area has been recreated in a delightful mountain setting. Discover the techniques used to build farmhouses that could withstand fierce winters and long periods of isolation due to snow-closed roads. The thick thatching kept in warmth and the roofs were angled so as to minimise snow build-up. Each house is like it’s own self-contained museum, with displays of personal items and traditional tools. While in Takayama, keep an eye out for some of these popular regional dishes – mitarashi dango (rice dumplings roasted in soy sauce), houba miso (miso vegetables cooked in magnolia leaf), chuka soba (Hida's favourite noodle dish) and, of course, hida beef. You’ll spend tonight in the ryokan once again, so there’s another chance to look super stylish in your yukata (the lightweight cotton robe in the closet).
Get acquainted with the beautiful city of Kyoto, home to numerous imperial sights and arguably the source of Japanese culinary tradition. The train from Takayama to Kyoto takes approximately 5 hours. The beautiful city was originally founded as Heian-kyo (literally “tranquillity and peace capital”) by Emperor Kammu in 794 and had its golden age during the imperial court's heyday from 794 to 1185. Kyoto was the capital of Japan for over 1,000 years (the name means “Capital City”) but the emperor and government are now located in Tokyo. With its many cultural landmarks and historical sites, and the abundance of traditional arts and literature, Kyoto is regarded as the cultural heart of Japan. When you arrive you’ll stroll through the glass-covered walkway of Nishiki Market, a seemingly never-ending wonderland for food lovers and shoppers. This is the perfect introduction to Kyoto's regional specialties – from pickled vegetables hidden beneath layers of fermented rice to delicious and ornate Kyo-wagashi (Kyoto sweets), not to mention incredible local produce, silken tofu and a renowned hand-crafted knife shop. Later, take a step back in time on a walk through the narrow streets of Kyoto's charming Gion district and learn about the city’s geisha culture. If you’re lucky you might spot geikos (geishas) or maikos (apprentice geishas) with their elaborate dress and make up. Perhaps attend a tea ceremony at one of the district's teahouses, or splash out on a kaiseki meal in a ryotei (small restaurants serving traditional multi-course cuisine).
After breakfast today, venture out of Kyoto to explore the traditions, culture and history behind tea, which plays an important part in traditional Japanese society. Go behind the scenes of a local tea farm to learn about the long-lived customs surrounding this brew, which is more than simply a drink. Walk several beautiful tea fields in the surrounding mountains and learn about the farming process, then taste a variety of locally-grown brews: from everyday houjicha and genmaicha to premium sencha and matcha. The careful symbolism of Japanese society reaches its height in the tea ceremony, and here you might ask about the importance of the cleaning of tea utensils, the bow on receiving a cup and the three clockwise turns before a sip is taken. Return to Kyoto in the afternoon and spend some free time pursuing your culinary passions. An unknown chef in Kyoto transformed the eel (hamo) from inedible to star ingredient with the invention of a heavy knife that cut the flesh away from the many bones. Perhaps try this quintessential Kyoto taste of summer for yourself. Otherwise maybe try some of Kyoto’s famed smooth flavour tofu, perfected over centuries by Buddhist monks.
As the millennium-long home of the imperial kitchen, Kyoto is known as the centre of Japanese culinary tradition. From the aristocratic kaiseki ryori (Japan's haute cuisine), to the simple yet refined dishes of obanzai ryori (home-cooked cuisine), Kyoto is a city that takes food seriously. Today, you’ll experience the simple pleasures of obanzai ryori in a cooking class. Perhaps less well-known than kaiseki in the West, the ancient style of obanzai ryori also has strict rules that must be adhered to. It follows a strictly seasonal approach, and at least half of the ingredients must be Kyo-yasai (kyoto vegetables) and other locally sourced produce. It should also embody the spiritual elements of genuine things, balance, encounter, hospitality and not creating waste. Ingredients are prepared simply, often simmered in dashi with traditional flavouring. Obanzai is down-to-earth, unpretentious and increasingly gaining popularity in Kyoto as people seek to ensure that this culinary tradition is preserved. You’ll then get to enjoy the dishes you have cooked for lunch. This evening is free for your own rest or exploration.
Your final day in Kyoto is free for your own exploration. There is just so much to do, with the city boasting 17 different World Heritage-listed treasures. This ancient city is home to over 2,000 temples, shrines and gardens, so you’re sure to find peace at one of them. Wander the squeaky ninja-warning floorboards of the former imperial palace of Nijo Castle, or climb up to the wooden deck of Kiyomizu-dera temple for views across the cherry and maple trees below. The magnificent gold-plated Kinkaku-ji Temple should not be missed, nor should the chance to learn about ancient traditions and customs in an optional Tea Ceremony class. Kyoto is also a great place to get 'lost' in - walk the streets and soak up the wonderful atmosphere. The city's lively nightlife provides plenty of options for your final evening here. If you’re feeling more adventurous, why not hop on a train to check out nearby Hiroshima (approximately 1.5 hours one way), home of one of Japan’s most famous and super delicious dishes – okonomiyaki.
Spot the 120 temples dotted around Koya-san as you take the train (approximately 3.5 hours) into an important region for Shingon Buddhism. Founded in the 8th century by the Buddhist saint Kobo Daishi, Koya-san has been a centre for religious activities for over 1,200 years. You’ll visit the temple complex of Kongobu-ji, the head of all Shingon sect temples in Japan. It features the largest rock garden in the country - a sublime creation of white raked pebbles and painstakingly positioned dark stones. Also impressive is Okuno-in, the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi, the founder of Shingon Buddhism and one of the most revered people in the religious history of Japan. Your unique accommodation tonight is in one of the hundreds of temples still operating here. You’ll live alongside Buddhist monks and follow their routine of morning meditation and evening prayers. Temple lodgings, known as shukubo, have facilities similar to Japanese ryokans. Rooms are equipped with thin futon mattresses that are spread on tatami mats for a comfortable night's sleep. Tonight you’ll enjoy an introduction to shojin ryori, or monastic cuisine, lovingly prepared and presented by novice monks. Shojin ryori was popularised in Japan in the 13th century by Zen monks from China. Shojin ryori is strictly vegetarian, and prohibits inclusion of meat and fish, following the teaching that it is wrong to kill living animals. Instead meals are prepared with seasonable vegetables and wild plants from the mountains.

Notes: There are no western bathing facilities at the monastery. Instead, bathing is done in a traditional Japanese bath. This is a two-step process. The first step is to thoroughly clean yourself, followed by a cleansing soak in a hot bath. Bathing suits are not permitted in communal bathing areas. While this can seem intimidating at first, it is a quintessential Japanese experience and often a highlight for travellers in Japan. For those who are more sensitive about public bathing, you leader can suggest times of day when you are likely to have more privacy.
Hop on the train (approximately 2 hours) to arrive in Japan’s third-largest city and unofficial culinary capital. What better way to finish your trip than in Osaka, where the motto is 'Kuidaore' ('eat until you drop') and some of Japan’s best street food is on offer. There are sprawling shopping hubs and tiny backstreets overflowing with restaurants and bars, serving up local delicacies as well as Japan's answer to fast food. Osaka is credited with the first kaiten-zushi (conveyer belt sushi) restaurants, after its inventor – the owner of a sushi restaurant with staffing issues – watched beer bottles on a conveyer belt at the nearby Asahi brewery and thought it might be a good way to solve this problem. The city is also renowned for its brand of okonomiyaki (a delicious savoury pancake) and kushikatsu (seasoned, deep fried meat on skewers). When you arrive you’ll take in some of the city's landmarks, including the wonderful Kuromon covered food market, and maybe pick up some final kitchen gadgets (or plastic food!) at the quirky Doguyasuji Arcade. At a local restaurant you’ll try your hand at making a local specialty, takoyaki (a hot snack of shredded octopus, pickled ginger, spring onion, covered in batter). For the daring, perhaps visit a fugu (poisonous pufferfish) restaurant, where rigorously trained chefs prepare and serve this infamous delicacy. Say cheers to the end of this Real Food Adventure Japan with an ice-cold Asahi beer, brewed just outside city.
Your delicious Real Food Adventure Japan concludes after breakfast. There are no activities planned for the final day and you are able to depart the accommodation at any time.
View trip notes to read full itinerary

Inclusions

Meals
11 breakfasts, 3 lunches, 4 dinners
Transport
Bus, Train, Train (bullet)
Accommodation
Hotel (8 nights), Monastery (1 night), Ryokan (2 nights)
Included activities
  • Tokyo - Asakusa Guided Walk
  • Tokyo - Soba-noodle Class
  • Tokyo - Sensoji Temple
  • Tokyo - Metropolitan Government Building
  • Tokyo - Memory Lane Yakitori Dinner
  • Tokyo - Seafood Market & Sushi Breakfast
  • Takayama - Sake Brewery Tasting
  • Takayama - Hida Folk Village
  • Kyoto - Gion District Walk
  • Kyoto - Tea Farm Visit
  • Kyoto - Obanzai Cooking Class
  • Osaka - Takoyaki meal

Dates

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Important notes

JAPAN RAIL PASS
A 7 day Standard/Ordinary Japan Rail Pass is included in the price of your trip and will be validated on day 4. For those wishing to stay and travel longer in Japan, a Japan Rail Pass extension (total 14 days) is available. Please contact us at time of booking regarding this service.
Please note that Japan Rail Passes are only valid for foreign tourists visiting Japan from abroad for sightseeing under the entry status of temporary visitor (tourist visa).
SINGLE SUPPLEMENT
A single supplement is not available to be purchased on this trip.

Trip notes

Want an in-depth insight into this trip? Your trip notes provide a detailed itinerary, visa info, how to get to your hotel, what’s included - pretty much everything you need to know about this adventure and more.

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Reviews

Our Real Food Adventure - Japan trips score an average of 4.71 out of 5 based on 35 reviews in the last year.

Real Food Adventure - Japan , August 2016

Real Food Adventure - Japan , August 2016