Explore Japan on foot
This culinary tour visits famous locations like the ancient imperial capital of Kyoto, as well as hidden rural villages and the unique culture of Awaji Island in the fabled Inland Sea, where culinary traditions have been handed down from generation to generation. Foraging for wild ingredients, harvesting the bounty of the land, cooking with emblematic figures and alongside members of local communities, this culinary adventure will show you how food is the most intimate way to uncover Japan’s history and culture. Japan is blessed with rich natural products from the ‘Satoyama’ landscape, the border area between flat arable land where rice is grown, and the mountains. Managed sustainably over centuries, Satoyama is biologically diverse and supports a wide variety of wildlife throughout four seasons, offering a great variety of dishes and regional specialities. Japanese cuisine's unique qualities are the product of a long tradition of respect for the harvest of ingredients, and for nature itself. Food culture in Japan is also closely related to festivals and rituals, and reflects the way of life in each particular region. Travelling from mountain villages to fishing ports, staying in rural thatched-roof houses and in the dazzling cities, you will taste the sake, experience the food and the culture, awaken your senses and share unforgettable moments with people you’ll meet on your journey. Our adventure starts in Tokyo and takes us to the local food market in Kanazawa, then hunting wild plants with local villagers in Gokayama. Next we travel to Shirakawa-go, a World Heritage Site, and Takayama, where a local community will hosts us in an old Kominca house. Here we learn about Okudo-san (earth oven) cooking and visit a sake brewery. In Asuka, capital of Japan before Kyoto and Nara, we visit Era-san’s family of organic farmers for an “outdoor kitchen” experience, using locally-produced vegetables. We visit a fishing port on Awaji Island before heading to the imperial capital of Kyoto where we enjoy a Kaiseki dinner in the exclusive setting of a wonderful property not typically open to the public. Your Kaiseki dinner is prepared and explained by chef Taro Katayama who has over thirty years of experience.
September 28 to October 8, 2018 May 10 to May 20, 2019 September 27 to October 7, 2019
* per person based on double occupancy Tour price includes all transportation between destinations, accommodation, entrance fees, full-time services of tour leader. Contact for single supplement.
Full time services of Japanese/English speaking tour leader.
Visit Kanazawa's local food market which has attracted residents and visitors for almost 300 years Hunt for wild vegetables (Sansai) with a Sansai expert and learn traditional cooking methods with the Gokayama community Learn the art of earth-oven cooking with a 70-year old grandmother in Hida-Furukawa and visit a locally-run sake brewery in Takayama Visit a family-run organic farm and join family members at an outdoor cookery experience amongst their rice fields in Asuka Vis
Trains, private motorcoach
Participants should be at least 12 years old. Everyone younger than 20 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.
Meet your guide and other group members at the tour hotel in central Tokyo in the evening. We head out into the city's exciting streets and your guide will advise you the best options for food and drink. You might want to try an Izakaya restaurant. Izakaya are the quintessential Japanese destinations for casual eating and drinking - the two go hand in hand in Japan and these bars cluster around railway and subway stations. Join a post-work crowd relaxing over some of their favourite small dishes and their favourite beers, Sake and Shochu.
We catch the train for Kanazawa on the Japan Sea coast. Seat of the powerful Maeda Clan during the Edo Period, Kanazawa had a grand castle and was a city of great cultural accomplishments, including a refined and sophisticated local cuisine. For lunch we visit the local food market Oomi Ichiba, “Kanazawa citizens’ kitchen pantry”. The market has attracted residents and visitors for centuries. In the evening we taste the local specialty Kaga-ryori for dinner. Kaga-ryori uses the freshest local seafood and vegetables served on colourful Kutani porcelain, or on lacquerware made in Ishikawa Prefecture. Notable Kaga-ryori dishes include Kabura-zushi (salted yellowtail sandwiched between turnips), Jibu-ni (stewed duck with vegetables) and Tai-no-karamushi (steamed sea bream with vegetables).
Today we travel by private motorcoach from Kanazawa to Gokayama, a World Heritage Site with distinctive Gassho-zukuri farmhouses sporting triangular thatched roofs which are unique to this part of Japan. Located in a mountainous region isolated from the rest of the country for centuries, villagers still follow traditional lifestyles, gathering and preserving Sansai (wild plants) and growing their own vegetables and mushrooms. We join local plant hunter Ms Ueda to explore the surrounding mountains and harvest seasonal wild delicacies. We visit the home of local resident Mr. Nakanishi, who grows a special variety of rice for brewing Sake. Tasting home-brewed Sake, called Doburoku, is an unparalleled experience and to complement the Sake, villagers will show us how to cook our finds from the mountains to produce delicious local dishes.
After a traditional Japanese breakfast we depart by highway bus to visit nearby Shirakawa-go which has its own impressive collection of Gassho-zukuri houses and has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1995. After lunch in Shirakawa-go, we continue onwards to Takayama nestled in the mountainous Hida region.Takayama boasts a beautifully preserved old town and a unique culture. It has retained much traditional architecture and is known for its crafts, particularly yew carving, Shunkei lacquerware, pottery and furniture. This evening, sit down to a multi-course Kaiseki dinner at our family-run Ryokan. Kaiseki cuisine is the ultimate style of Japanese food, and both the preparation methods and appearance are refined. Imbuing dishes with a seasonal feel and bringing out the natural flavours of the ingredients are key elements. Only seasonal ingredients passing intense scrutiny are used for the menu. But sometimes ingredients called “Hashiri” that have been harvested before their seasons are included as treasured items. Each individual dish is a small portion, but colours, combinations and presentation of ingredients, together with tableware, all express the aesthetics of Japanese culture.
Today, we take a short train ride to Hida Furukawa, a beautifully-preserved old town with distinctive white-walled storehouses retaining the atmosphere of the Edo Period. Entering one of the oldest Machiya traditional residences, a local grandmother will show us the technique of cooking in a classic earth oven known as an "Okudo-san". We also sit around a traditional "Irori" fire pit where we grill the delicious sweet Ayu river fish together. After lunch, we have time to expore the town and taste Sake at the local brewery, which produces the finest Sake in the region. There will be free time to stroll the town of Takayama and chance to dine out at one of the local restaurants.
We board our train in Takayama with Ekiben lunch box for Osaka. Osaka was historically known as “the Tenka no daidokoro” (the nation’s kitchen), famous not just for its Michelin starred restaurants, but particularly for its street food – takoyaki, okonomiyaki, and more – the food of the common man. For dinner, we will visit a hidden house in the downtown of Namba, owned by a unique Sake specialty shop, Yamanaka Sake shop. The shop owner has fallen in love with Sake and is dedicated to fulfilling the intentions of Sake brewers for over 30 years, and has been interacting with Sake aficionados with the same level of enthusiasm with over 10,000 bottles of Sake collections, all of which are from local specialty brewers. The term "Sakana" traditionally refer to food served to accompany Sake as originated from the word Saka (Sake) and Na (food). 7 special delicacies which pair well with slected Sake are served for today's dinner.
This morning, we travel by local train 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. This morning, we visit a small-scale producing organic farmer who left city life 10 years ago and moved to the village. We have a chance to harvest vegetables and learn home cooking in the peaceful outdoor setting. If weather does not permit, the lunch venue will be a charming old Japanese house nearby. We have a true farm-to-table experience of preparing local dishes using vegetables grown in the area. The fruits of our labour will be our lunch today. In the afternoon we return to Osaka; the evening is at leisure.
Awaji is known as the birthplace of the Japanese archipelago, when the gods Izanagi and Izanami first created an island here. Awaji has long been known as a Miketsukuni (a place of food production for emperors). We visit a fish auction at a port and a local producer of the classic Japanese semi-dried fish call Shirasu Boshi. We rendez-vous on the coast for the ultimate beach lunch experience. If the weather is unkind, we will eat our delicious meal at a former primary school, now renovated as a lovely artistic café. Our chef today is a real artist and prepares what he calls a “Foodscape” (a food landscape). Using locally harvested ingredients, he uses his inspiration to create a natural landscape that will delight all your senses. Our accommodation tonight is a Ryokan on Awaji Island and in the evening, we browse the lively port's backstreets and enjoy the drinking culture of Awaji Island with fresh local seafood.
We travel back from Awaji island in the afternoon by train and head to the colourful Nishiki market, which has a well-deserved reputation for being Kyoto’s kitchen 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 district famous for its Geisha (known as Geiko in Kyoto) and the brightly attired apprentice Geisha, known locally as Maiko. Dinner is at your leisure today on Gion-Shijo street.
Kyoto is renowned throughout Japan for its regional Washoku cuisine and specialities, also for the refinement and artistic presentation of Kaiseki cuisine. Follow your guide to some of Kyoto's historical treasures. Starting from Nanzenji, a tranquil Zen Buddhist temple whose history dates back to the mid 13th century, we stroll along the Philosopher’s Path, with craft shops, cafés, shrines and temples beside the clear waters of a small canal. The path ends near Ginkakuji, the Silver Pavilion. In the evening, there is a Farewell Dinner. You will enjoy a Kaiseki banquet in a private property not typically open to the public. The wonderful Japanese villa was built by Takeda Goichi and its garden was designed by historically notable gardener Ogawa Jihei. Your expert chef for the evening has 30 years of experience in Kyo Ryori and will cook the finest ingredients for you, explaining the intricacies of Kaiseki Ryori cuisine, the pinnacle of Japan's culinary traditions.
Our tour ends after breakfast at the hotel in Kyoto. Your guide will offer advice on your journey to the airport for your homeward flight, or on onward travel in Japan if you are extending your stay.