It’s true – Japanese people take incredible pride in their cuisine. Explore a country where food is taken seriously, all the way from the station tonkatsu restaurant to a high-end sushi establishment.. 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 with your small group.
Ignite your tastebuds on a culinary journey through Japan’s most delicious hotspots. To the glittering skyscrapers of Tokyo and the lush alps of Takayama, slurp on soba and sample some sake as you work your way through the contrasting flavours of the land of the rising sun. This 12-day epicurean adventure takes you from the traditional monastic cuisine of Koya-san to the tantalising takoyaki stalls that line Osaka’s vibrant streets. Master the art of sushi making in an intimate cooking class, savour the flavour of sizzling yakitori in Tokyo’s hidden backstreet izakaya, spot geisha with your local leader in Kyoto’s Gion district and eat all of the freshest seafood and sumo-sized feasts you can handle. From temples to tempura, shrines to sashimi – embark on a tour that has all the best Japanese ingredients.
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 izakaya and karaoke bars. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm tonight, so you can arrive at any time during the day, as there are no activities planned until this important meeting. Afterwards, join your leader for a welcome dinner at a local restaurant, perhaps to try some perfectly grilled yakitori skewers washed down with a local beer or some fine sake. For those not suffering jetlag, why not get a crew of you together to explore the night-time ambience of Shibuya's tiny backstreets, maybe stopping by a local bar for a cocktail.
This morning, take 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 and ready to sample daily. Afterwards, learn the art of sushi making first-hand – it's the quintessential Edo-era specialty and possibly Japan's most famous culinary gift to the world. You'll hear about the history of sushi, how to choose the freshest fish, as well as proper slicing and rice making techniques. Then, enjoy free time to explore the historic Asakusa area. 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 a great place get your sugar fix – try fried sweet potatoes tossed in sugar and soy or sweet red bean paste sandwiched between baked pancake batter. Tonight, why not head to Tsukishima to enjoy one of Tokyo's most traditional dishes – monjayaki (a type of savoury pancake). For those wishing to explore Tokyo's urban heart, head to the Shinjuku and the Golden Gai area for crowded alleys, izakaya and jazz clubs.
Leave Tokyo in your dust as you take a bullet train to the 17th-century Edo town of Takayama (approximately 5 hours by Shinkansen). Takayama is a charming 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 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 put on display. Discover the techniques used to build farmhouses that could withstand fierce winters. 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), where you’ll also get to dine on regional Takayama delicacies.
Gifu Prefecture is known for its excellent high-altitude vegetables, so today you’ll explore the morning markets that date back 600 years and browse the stalls of seasonal produce. Stalls are set up by local farm women from 6 am every morning. Look out for the unique local style of pickles, 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, you might come across 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, take a short local train ride to the neighbouring Hida-Furukawa – another alpine town known for its relaxed pace and picturesque tree-lined canals. Here, visit a local sake brewery to sample and learn about the sake-making process. Gifu's alpine climate and crystal-clear mountain waters are perfect for creating Japan's signature liquor. Back in Takayama for dinner, you'll be able to sample some more of the town's iconic dishes.
Take the train towards Japan's northern coastline to Kanazawa – sometimes known as the hidden pearl of the Sea of Japan (approximately 2 hours). Having avoided much of the warfare in World War 2, it's a place where both modern and traditional Japan are found. On arrival, head on a leader-led orientation walk before visiting 17th-century Kenroku-en Garden – a highly intricate 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. 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. The unique blend of warm and cold currents create the perfect conditions for a wide variety of fish and shellfish – including the famed Kano crabs and sweet prawns – all throughout the year.
This morning, head to Omicho Market, where the city's quality food producers gather. Seafood from Ishikawa Prefecture are brought in from the port every morning and, as well as sold fresh, there are a number of restaurants in the market which whip it up into rice bowls or sushi – almost 200 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. There are sprawling shopping hubs and tiny backstreets full of 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 – saw the success that Asahi Bewery’s conveyor belt has in serving its customers. The city is also renowned for its take on okonomiyaki (fried savoury pancake), kushikatsu (deep fried meat and vegetables on skewers) and perhaps its most renowned dish – takoyaki (a hot snack of shredded octopus, pickled ginger and spring onion cooked into batter). After checking into the hotel, take a walk through Osaka’s unmissable Dotombori district, sampling some street food as you stroll along its main neon-lit canals.
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. Later, pop into a depachika – the food basement hall of one of Japan's department stores – which is a treasure trove for food lovers, given the endless range of products exquisitely displayed. It’s one of the best ways to understand what locals eat on a daily basis. Today, you’ll also learn about one of Osaka’s signature dishes and try your hand at perfecting takoyaki or noodles. This evening, take a dive into Osaka’s twisting back alleys and experience one of the city’s typical tachinomi bars (drinking while standing) – perhaps sharing a few friendly drinks with your travel pals.
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.
Today you’ll make your way to Kyoto – a city regarded as the cultural heart of Japan. Originally founded as Heian-kyo (tranquility and peace capital) by Emperor Kammu in AD794, Kyoto was the capital of Japan for over 1000 years; however, 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, taking a stroll through the glass-covered walkway of Nishiki Market. It’s here that you’ll find a range of Kyoto's regional specialities like pickled vegetables hidden beneath layers of fermented rice, ornate Kyo-wagashi (Kyoto sweets), Uji green teas, as well as souvenirs and a renowned hand-crafted knife shop. Later in the 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 makeup. Join your leader for an optional dinner to sample some of Kyoto's trademark cuisine.
Kyoto is a city that takes food seriously. Today, you’ll experience the simple pleasures of obanzai ryori in a cooking class. Perhaps not as well-known as kaiseki, this ancient style of a multi-course Japanese feast has strict rules that must be adhered to. It must be simple and follow a seasonal approach – at least half of the ingredients must be Kyo-yasai (Kyoto heirloom vegetables grown locally) – plus the meal should embody the spiritual elements of genuine things, such as balance. Obanzai is increasingly gaining popularity in Kyoto as people seek to ensure that this culinary tradition is preserved. Once you’ve prepared your meal, you’ll get to enjoy the fruits of your labour at lunch. This afternoon is free for you to explore at your own pace. You could find a theatre putting on shows of Noh, Kabuki or Bunraku puppetry, or a traditional maiko dance. If you’re still hungry, why not try some yudofu hotpot, using Kyoto's smooth tofu perfected over centuries by Buddhist monks. With so many other options, your local leader is there to help you make the right choice.
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 – everyday houjicha and genmaicha to premium gyokuro. The careful symbolism of Japanese society reaches its peak 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 celebratory dinner with your group leader and travel pals.
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.