Spoil the senses on a culinary tour from Tokyo to Kyoto

Ignite your senses on a captivating culinary journey that’s hotter than wasabi! From the glittering skyscrapers of Tokyo to the lush alps of Takayama – slurp on soba and sake as you devour your way through the contrasting flavours and faces of Japan. Venture beyond the bright lights of Shinjuku and uncover the hidden hot spots and secret izakaya as you experience the effortless fusion of past meets future on an adventure that takes you from the traditional monastic cuisine of Koya-san, to the tantalising takoyaki stalls that line the vibrant streets of Osaka. Master the art of sushi-making in an intimate cooking class, savour the flavour of sizzling yakitori skewers in Tokyo's backstreet alleys and experience the hospitality of the Japanese people during a traditional ryokan stay, then speed past towns and villages on a shinkansen, spot geisha in the Gion district of Kyoto and indulge in a fresh off the boat, sumo sized sushi breakfast. From temples to tempura, shrines to sashimi – embark on a gastronomical tour that has all the ingredients to ensure endless mouth-watering moments and an unforgettable feast of flavours that will leave a lasting taste for years to come.


Start
Tokyo, Japan
Finish
Kyoto, Japan
Destination
Japan
Style
Original
Theme
Food
Code
CJZF
Physical rating
Ages
Min 15
Group size
Min 1, Max 12

Why you'll love this trip

  • Explore a country where food is taken seriously, 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!

  • Travel by shinkansen to the Japanese Alps and taste succulent wagyu beef in the 17th-century Edo period town of Takayama – the definition of a melt-in-your-mouth moment.

  • Snack on awesome and adventurous street food in the unofficial culinary capital of Osaka and master the skill behind making the famous takoyaki (octopus and pickled ginger in batter).

  • Discover the traditions, culture and history behind tea in Kyoto during a private ceremony with a long-time practitioner of this art.

  • Venture into mountainous Koya-san and spend the night in temple lodgings, discover shojin ryori – vegetarian Buddhist food - a tradition with over 800 years of history.

Is this trip right for you?

  • This trip aims to give you an exciting, diverse and well-rounded experience of Japan's cuisine. While we endeavour to cater for specific dietary requirements, some meals and food activities are set in advance and may be difficult to adjust. Japanese food does have a focus on seafood (the most common dashi stock is fish-based) and can also be challenging for severe gluten intolerances – there is gluten in soy sauce, pre-made wasabi and other unexpected places. If you have dietary requirements, simply contact your agent at the time of booking for further information on how this may impact on your ability to take part in included activities and meals. Come with an open mind and open mouth, and you won’t be disappointed!

  • This itinerary is a great overview of Japan, however there is a lot to take in - especially in Tokyo and Kyoto. If you wish to spend more time exploring these cities, beyond what is included in your itinerary, we recommend extending your stay at the start and/or finish of your trip. We are confident you won't run out of things to see or do!

  • Please be aware that the wholesale fish market, previously located at Tsukiji, moved to a new location in Toyosu in late 2018. However, as part of this tour, we continue to visit the old, atmospheric Tsukiji Outer Market, which still functions as a fresh fish and produce market for the public, but we do not visit the new wholesale market.

  • At the monastery in Koya-san, you’ll get to experience traditional baths along with the signature, time-honoured vegetarian cuisine.

  • In some destinations you may be staying in a ryokan, which is a Japanese-style inn. It’s a great taste of tradition, however not everyone finds futon mattresses on the tatami mat floor, tiny bathrooms and proximity to other guests as comfortable as more western-style hotels and beds. Read more about ryokans in our Accommodation section of the Essential Trip Information.

  • A good degree of fitness is recommended for this trip as there is a lot of walking involved (up to 10 kilometres each day), particularly around Kyoto which is best seen on foot. Bring comfortable walking shoes and be prepared to spend most of the day on your feet.

  • We are not able to offer a Single Supplement on this trip due to limited rooms at many of our properties and high demand for accommodation in Japan.

  • We recommend packing light and smart for this trip as you'll be required to carry your own luggage between train stations and to hotels, which can include going up and down multiple flights of stairs in crowded areas. There’s an optional luggage transfer offered on this trip so if you’d like to take up this option, bring a small backpack or overnight bag for one night.

  • Due to the rapid increase in tourism in Japan and in the lead up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics it has been necessary to go outside our traditional tour leader sources. As a result, our passionate, professional and trained tour leaders may be long term foreign residents in Japan.

Itinerary

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. Before the trip starts, we recommend that you take a walk around some of Tokyo's most well-known districts, including Shibuya, Shinjuku, Harajuku and Ginza – variously known as the fashion centre, the skyscraper district, the place where youth culture meets cutting edge fashion, and the upscale shopping area. Please be aware that there won't be much free time in Tokyo once the trip begins, so consider booking additional accommodation if you wish to cover anything not included in the trip itinerary. Your adventure begins with a Welcome Meeting at 6 pm tonight. You can arrive at any time during the day, as there are no activities planned until this important meeting.

Then join your leader for a welcome dinner at a local restaurant, perhaps try some perfectly grilled yakitori (chicken and vegetable skewers) washed down with some local beer, or a drop of fine sake. For those not suffering jetlag, consider exploring the night-time ambience of Shibuya's tiny backstreets or relaxing over a cocktail in one of its many stylish bars.

Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Welcome Dinner at a local restaurant
Meals Included
  • Dinner
Special Information
It’s very important that you attend the welcome meeting as we will be collecting insurance details and next of kin information at this time. If you are going to be late please let your travel agent or hotel reception know. Ask reception or look for a note in the lobby for more information on where the meeting will take place.
Today your tour leader will take you for a morning walk around the famous Tsukiji Outer Market, where fresh seafood from Tokyo's largest wholesale fish market (recently relocated to a new site at Toyosu) is delivered daily. You can wander the narrow aisles of this atmospheric marketplace to find all sorts of amazing food – from fish and shellfish to barrels of green tea, dried seaweed and all manner of pickled vegetables. Sample some of the freshest fish you could hope for at the market's sushi stalls! Later, learn the art of sushi making first-hand, the quintessential Edo era specialty and possibly Japan's most famous culinary gift to the world. Learn the history of sushi, variety of ingredients, how to choose the freshest fish, as well as proper slicing and sushi rice making techniques. Afterward, enjoy free time to explore 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 1400 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 sugar, soy sauce and mirin, or sweet red bean paste sandwiched between baked pancake batter. Afterwards, consider heading to 'retro' Tsukishima to enjoy one of Tokyo's most traditional, neighborhood dishes, monjayaki, a type of savoury pancake. Or for those who wish to explore Tokyo's urban heart, head to the mega-hub of Shinjuku and the famed Golden Gai area for its crowded alleys of izakaya, tiny bars and jazz haunts.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Tokyo - Asakusa guided walk & Sensoji Temple
  • Tokyo - Tsukiji Outer Market & Sushi Tasting
  • Tokyo - Art of Sushi-making class
Optional Activities
  • Tokyo - Metropolitan Government Building - Free
  • Tokyo - Shinjuku Golden Gai - Free
  • Tokyo - Tsukishima monjayaki meal - JPY1000
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
Special Information
Wave goodbye to Tokyo at super speed as you ride the rails on a bullet train to the 17th-century Edo period town of Takayama. Travelling by shinkansen is an absolute buzz, as you’ll reach speeds of up to 285 kmh. Arrive in Takayama within approximately 5 hours (one stop). Takayama is a charming, historic town located in the Japanese alps. The region is famous for its traditional streetscapes, sake breweries and Hida-gyu (Hida wagyu beef) – the beef from a black-haired Japanese cattle breed that has been raised in Gifu Prefecture for at least 14 months. On arrival 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. Each house is like its own self-contained museum, with displays of personal items and traditional tools. For the next two nights you’ll 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 and baths are in traditional Japanese communal style. Over the next two evenings you’ll also get to dine on regional Takayama delicacies.
Accommodation
  • Ryokan (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Takayama - Hida Folk Village
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Dinner
Special Information
Bathing in a traditional communal bath is a two-step process. The first step is to thoroughly clean yourself, followed by a cleansing soak in a hot bath. While you’re not permitted to wear bathing suits which may seem intimidating at first, the Japanese bath is a quintessential Japanese experience and often a highlight for travellers in Japan.
Gifu Prefecture is known to produce excellent high-altitude vegetables. Explore the morning markets that date back 600 years and browse the stalls of seasonal produce brought in from the surrounding countryside. Stalls are set up by local farm women from 6 am every morning. 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. While you're exploring 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) and chuka soba (Hida's favourite noodle dish). Later, we’ll take a short ride on a local train to the neighbouring town of Hida-Furukawa, another alpine town known for its relaxed pace and picturesque tree-lined canals. Here we visit a local sake brewery to learn about the sake-making process and sample some local brews. Gifu's alpine climate and crystal-clear mountain waters are perfect for creating Japan's signature drop. Back in Takayama for dinner, you'll be able to sample some more of the town's iconic dishes.
Accommodation
  • Ryokan (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Hida-Furukawa - Sake Brewery visit
  • Takayama - Morning Market visit
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Dinner
Take the train from Takayama towards Japan's northern coast, and on to the delightful town of Kanazawa (approximately 2 hours), which is sometimes known as the hidden pearl of the Sea of Japan. Having avoided bombing in WWII, it's a place where both modern and traditional Japan are found. On arrival, your leader will take you on an orientation walk before visiting 17th-century Kenroku-en Garden – recognized as one of the three top gardens of Japan – with its highly landscaped acreage of bridges, ponds, waterfalls, fountains and tea houses that are beautiful no matter the season. Perhaps stop for a cup of freshly whisked matcha tea on your stroll through its extensive grounds. Depending on the schedule, you might get the chance to visit the Chaya gai district, with its well-preserved streets of old wooden tea houses, and where geisha continue to perform music and dance for small private functions. If you’re interested in further exploring the city’s heritage, then make your way to Nomura Samurai House in the Nagamachi district, where Kanazawa’s powerful Maeda lords once lived in grand estates. Be transported back in time, with the house giving a good idea of the lifestyle of samurai during the Edo period, when Japan was secluded from the outside world. In the evening join your leader for an optional dinner to sample some of the delicious regional food found in Kanazawa, particularly fresh seafood fished from the Sea of Japan, whose unique blend of warm and cold currents creates the perfect conditions for a wide variety of fish and shellfish (including the famed Kano crabs and sweet prawns) throughout the year!
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Kanazawa - Orientation Walk
  • Kanazawa - Kenroku-en Garden
  • Kanazawa – Chaya gai district walking tour (Day 5 or Day 6)
Optional Activities
  • Kanazawa - Matcha tea JPY750 or green tea JPY350 with sweets (Kenroku-en Garden) - Free
  • Kanazawa - 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art (excl. special exhibitions) - Free
  • Kanazawa - Nomura Samurai House - JPY550
  • Kanazawa Castle Park - JPY310
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
This morning we head to Omicho Market, where the city's quality foods and local producers gather. Fish and seafood from Ishikawa Prefecture are brought in from the port every morning and, as well as on sale fresh, there are also a number of restaurants in the market which whip it up into special seafood rice bowls or sushi – there are almost 200 different stalls to get lost in. Later, hop on an express train (approximately 2.5 hours) and make the journey to Osaka – Japan’s third-largest city and unofficial culinary capital, where the motto is 'Kuidaore' ('eat until you drop'). This is where 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), kushikatsu (deep fried meat and vegetables on skewers) and perhaps its most famous dish – takoyaki (a hot snack of shredded octopus, pickled ginger and spring onion cooked into batter). After checking into our hotel, take a walk through Osaka’s unmissable Dotombori district, sampling some street food as you stroll along its main canal surrounded by a dazzling cacophony of sound, lights and neon.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Kanazawa - Omicho Market
  • Osaka - Dotombori Tour
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
This morning, visit Osaka’s lively Kuromon food market and stroll through the quirky Doguyasuji Arcade, where you can pick up some kitchen gadgets (or plastic food!) and all the Japanese bowls you’d ever need to recreate a full Japanese banquet back home. Later, pop into a depachika, the food basement hall of one of Japan's department stores and a treasure trove for food lovers (given the endless range of products exquisitely displayed). It’s one of the best ways to understand what the Japanese eat on a daily basis: whether meat or seafood, fruit or vegetables, wagashi or western-style confectionery. Today you’ll also learn about one of Osaka’s signature dishes and try your hand perfecting its famous takoyaki or making some noodles, Osaka-style. This evening, take a dive into Osaka’s twisting back alleys and experience one of the city’s typical tachinomi bars (drinking while standing), another quintessential Osaka experience, and perhaps share a few friendly drinks with the locals.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Osaka – Tour of Kuromon Market and Doguyasuji Arcade
  • Osaka – Depachika visit
  • Osaka – Noodle or takoyaki experience
Optional Activities
  • Osaka - Osaka Castle - JPY600
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
Rise early and take the train (approximately 3 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 1200 years. You’ll visit 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 many temples still operating here. You’ll live alongside Buddhist monks and follow their routine of evening meditation and morning 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, prepared by novice monks. Shojin ryori was popularised in Japan in the 13th century by Zen monks from China. Shojin ryori is 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.
Accommodation
  • Monastery (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Koya-san - Okuno-in Mausoleum walk
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Dinner
Special Information
There are no western bathing facilities at the monastery. Instead, bathing is done in a traditional public bath. For those who are more sensitive about public bathing, your leader can suggest times of day when you are likely to have more privacy.

In Osaka, you have the option to send your main luggage direct to Kyoto (at your own expense) and pack a smaller bag for your one night’s stay at Koya-san. This option is recommended for travellers with larger or more cumbersome baggage. Please speak with your leader if you wish to take up this option.
Today you’ll make your way to Kyoto, a city regarded as the cultural heart of Japan due to its many landmarks, historical sites, and abundance of traditional arts and literature. Originally founded as Heian-kyo (tranquility and peace capital) by Emperor Kammu in 794, 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. The journey from Koya-san to Kyoto via Osaka takes approximately 4.5 hours. On arrival, get acquainted with this beautiful city on an orientation walk with your leader which includes a stroll through the glass-covered walkway of Nishiki Market, which used to be the main food market for central Kyoto’s residents. It’s here that you’ll find a range of Kyoto's regional specialties – from pickled vegetables hidden beneath layers of fermented rice to delicious and ornate Kyo-wagashi (Kyoto sweets), Uji green teas and a renowned hand-crafted knife shop – along with a solid offering of souvenirs for friends and family back home. In the late afternoon, 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 geiko (geisha) or maiko (apprentice geisha) in their elaborate dress and make up. Join your leader for an optional dinner to sample some of Kyoto's trademark cuisine.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Kyoto - Gion District walk
  • Kyoto - Nishiki Market walk
  • Kyoto - Orientation Walk
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
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 heirloom vegetables grown within the city's precincts) 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 stock 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 to relax or explore at your own pace, perhaps find a theatre putting on shows of Noh, Kabuki or Bunraku puppetry, or traditional maiko dance, or splash out on a kaiseki meal in a ryotei (small restaurants serving traditional multi-course cuisine). You might like to try some hamo eel – an unknown chef in Kyoto first transformed the eel from 'inedible' to the star ingredient with the invention of a heavy knife that could separate the flesh from the bones, and now it’s become a quintessential Kyoto dish in the warmer months. In the cooler months, you might try some yuba cuisine or a hotpot of yudofu, using Kyoto's famed smooth flavoured tofu perfected over centuries by Buddhist monks. With so many options, don’t forget that your leader is always there to help you choose!
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Kyoto - Obanzai cooking class
Optional Activities
  • Kyoto - Fushimi Inari Shrine - Free
  • Kyoto - Kinkakuji Temple Visit - JPY400
  • Kyoto - Nijō-jō - JPY1000
  • Kyoto - Sanjusangendo Temple - Free
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
Today you’ll explore the traditions, culture and history behind tea, which plays a critical part in traditional Japanese society. Learn about the long-lived customs surrounding this brew, which is more than simply a drink, and discover the difference between the fine matcha powdered tea served in the tea ceremony and the other varieties of green tea commonly enjoyed in Japan: from everyday houjicha and genmaicha, to premium gyokuro teas. The careful symbolism of Japanese society reaches its height in the tea ceremony and today you’ll attend a private ceremony with a long-time practitioner of this art in Kyoto. Learn about the importance of the preparation and cleaning of tea utensils, the bow on receiving a cup of freshly whisked tea and the three clockwise turns before a sip is taken. After this experience, you have time to explore this ancient city yourself before joining with your group for a final dinner with your leader to mark the end of your Real Food Adventure.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Kyoto - Kyoto-style Final Night Dinner
  • Kyoto - Private Tea Ceremony experience
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Dinner
Your delicious Real Food Adventure Japan concludes after breakfast. There are no activities planned for the final day and you’re able to depart the accommodation at any time.
Meals Included
  • Breakfast

Meals

11 breakfasts, 3 lunches, 5 dinners

Transport

Bus, Train, Bullet Train

Accommodation

Hotel (8 nights), Ryokan (2 nights), Monastery (1 night)

Included activities

  • Welcome Dinner at a local restaurant
  • Tokyo - Asakusa guided walk & Sensoji Temple
  • Tokyo - Tsukiji Outer Market & Sushi Tasting
  • Tokyo - Art of Sushi-making class
  • Takayama - Hida Folk Village
  • Hida-Furukawa - Sake Brewery visit
  • Takayama - Morning Market visit
  • Kanazawa - Orientation Walk
  • Kanazawa - Kenroku-en Garden
  • Kanazawa – Chaya gai district walking tour (Day 5 or Day 6)
  • Kanazawa - Omicho Market
  • Osaka - Dotombori Tour
  • Osaka – Tour of Kuromon Market and Doguyasuji Arcade
  • Osaka – Depachika visit
  • Osaka – Noodle or takoyaki experience
  • Koya-san - Okuno-in Mausoleum walk
  • Kyoto - Gion District walk
  • Kyoto - Nishiki Market walk
  • Kyoto - Orientation Walk
  • Kyoto - Obanzai cooking class
  • Kyoto - Kyoto-style Final Night Dinner
  • Kyoto - Private Tea Ceremony experience

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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 3. 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).

LEADERS:
Due to the rapid increase in tourism in Japan and in the lead up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics it has been necessary to go outside our traditional tour leader sources. As a result our passionate, professional and trained tour leaders may be local Japanese or long term foreign residents in Japan.

ADDITIONAL ACCOMMODATION
Accommodation in Japan can be difficult to secure at short notice. If you are travelling in Japan before or after your trip, we recommend booking accommodation at least 1 month in advance of travel, especially in high season (March to May, September to November).

SINGLE SUPPLEMENT
A single supplement is not available to be purchased on this trip.

LUGGAGE ON TRAINS
It is essential you pack light and compact for rail travel in Japan. From May 2020 there will be size restrictions for luggage on Shinkansen trains. Luggage over 160-250cm may require an additional 1000 JPY fee per train journey. Luggage over 251cm will not be permitted on the Shinkansen trains at all. Please notify your tour leader at your Welcome Meeting if your luggage is over 160-250cm so they can make the necessary arrangements! Failure to notify your tour leader of luggage over 160-250cm will require the passenger to pay the oversize luggage fee.

Essential trip information

Want an in-depth insight into this trip? Essential Trip Information provides 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.

View Essential Trip Information

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