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Regional cuisine, the heart and soul of Japanese culture

Japan's Culinary Heritage

Starting from USD4950 / 11 days

Japan's Culinary Heritage

A small-group guided food tour through Japan's best-kept culinary traditions

 

Highlights

  • 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 in Hida-Furukawa and make Miso Senbei in a traditional shop
  • Visit a family-run organic farm and join a cooking experience amongst their rice fields of Asuka
  • Visit Awaji island to learn about its seafood culture and enjoy a beach lunch with a local food-designer chef
  • Learn more about tea culture in Uji and experience making tofu in Kyoto

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.

Exclusive behind-the-scene experiences:

Era-san and her family - Community cooking experience

The engaging Yoko Era is an example of Japan's I-turn movement: she left her busy city life to settle in the peaceful Japanese countryside. In the agricultural community of Asuka, Era-san and her family, who are now organic farmers, will welcome you to their home and prepare an eco-friendly picnic lunch amidst their organic rice fields.

Nakanishi-san (sake brewer) - Community-hosted lunch in Gokayama

Toga-mura is a small-scale local community in the hidden valley of Gokayama. Nakanishi-san cultivates rice to brew Doburoku sake. The community will take us foraging for seasonal produce and we'll call at villagers' houses on the way, tasting some home-preserved Sansai. The villagers will collaborate to produce a community-hosted lunch for us.

Chef Shinse - Foodscape beach lunch on Awaji Island

Rendez-vous on the coast for the ultimate beach lunch experience…your chef today is a real artist and will prepare for you his signature “Foodscape”. Using locally harvested ingredients, he applies his inspiration to create an edible landscape that will delight all your senses.

Chef Taro Katayama - Exclusive Kaiseki dinner

In Kyoto, we enjoy an exclusive Kaiseki dinner experience in a private property not typically opened to the public. The wonderful villa was designed by Takeda Goichi and the historic garden was designed by the noted gardener Ogawa Jihei. Your chef for the evening has 30 years of experience as a 'Kyo Ryori' (traditional Kyoto cuisine) master. He will cook the finest ingredients for you and explain the intricacies of the ultimate culinary art - Kaiseki Ryori cuisine, the culmination of Japan's culinary traditions.

 

Please note it may also be possible to end this tour early on Day 9 in Kyoto. Please enquire for further details.

What's Included

  • Full-time services of an English-speaking tour guide
  • 10 nights in hotels and Japanese-style inns (Ryokan and Minshuku)
  • Daily breakfast & 6 dinners, 4 Lunches
  • All transportation between tour locations
  • Entrance to museums, temples and other sights on the group's itinerary
  • Forwarding of one item of luggage
  • All cooking experiences and workshops

What's Not Included

  • Flights
  • Airport transfers
  • Pay locally for drinks with meals and for 4 lunches
  • Entrance fees to museums, temples etc. not mentioned in the itinerary
  • A single room supplement is required for solo travellers at hotels

Meet our guides

Tomomi Shimazu

Tomomi Shimazu

I truly love guiding and sharing the nature and culture of a particular place. I can't wait to share the charms of Japan with visitors! Join us!

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Tomomi Shimazu

Tomomi Shimazu

Tomomi was born and raised in Tokyo. After she finished her degree in international relationship she studied in the UK and the US. Later she lived in Hawaii and Israel for Years and travelled extensively in Europe, the US and Middle East. She now lives in Tokyo, close to its center and loves gardening, walking, cycling and Yoga. Tomomi enjoys guiding and sharing her knowledge of both traditional and urban cultures of Japan.

Naomi Honda

Naomi Honda

I travelled extensively through Europe and Asia and my passion for different cultures and people inspired me to become a guide.

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Naomi Honda

Naomi Honda

After working at travel agency for over 6 years as a branch manager, Naomi earned her master’s degree in sports tourism and marketing to expand her knowledge in the tourism industry. During her study, she organized and managed events for international students for the purpose of cross-cultural exchange. In 2014, she passed the national tour guide exam and since then, she has been working as a guide as well as a tour conductor. She is interested in Japanese history, food culture and sports. Currently, she is studying to be qualified as a Kikisake-shi (Master of Sake).

Itinerary

Itinerary Map
Day 1 Arrive in Tokyo

Meet your guide and the other group members at the tour hotel in central Tokyo in the evening. We head out into the city's lively streets for a Robatayaki dinner. This traditional Japanese cooking style fire-grills ingredients at varying speeds over hot charcoal.

Accommodation: Hotel
Meals: Dinner

Day 2 Travel to Kanazawa

We catch the train for Kanazawa on the Japan Sea coast. As the 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. Lunch is at leisure in the Higashichaya-district before visiting the local food market Oomi Ichiba, “Kanazawa's kitchen pantry”, with a local chef. The market has attracted residents and visitors for centuries.  In the evening we have a cooking class in a traditional Japanese-style residence using our locally purchased ingredients, and transform them into delicious dishes with the help of a professional.

Accommodation: Hotel
Meals: Breakfast, Dinner

Day 3 Foraging experience in Gokayama

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 a local plant hunter 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.

Accommodation: Minshuku (Family-run guesthouse)
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 4 Shirakawa-go and Takayama

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.

Accommodation: Ryokan (Travellers Inn)
Meals: Breakfast, Dinner

Day 5 Classic earth oven cooking experience in Hida Furukawa

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"  which is rarely used in modern times.  After lunch, we head to a sweet shop that has been making Furukawa’s specialty “Miso Senbei” crackers for more than 100 years using the famous "Hida Miso". There will be free time to stroll the town of Takayama and chance to dine out at one of the local restaurants.

Accommodation: Ryokan (Travellers Inn)
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch

Day 6 Travel from Takayama to Osaka

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. 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). Special delicacies which pair well with selected Sake are served for today's dinner.


Accommodation: Hotel
Meals: Breakfast, Dinner

Day 7 Osaka - Sharpen your knowledge about Japanese cutlery

This morning we travel by local train to Sakai City, once known for the production of Samurai swords but now revered for its kitchen knives.  We make our way on foot to a local smith where we will see the forging process of Japanese knives up close. As you come into close contact with embers and sparks, the craftsmen will show you all the steps needed to fold steel and sharpen edges. You will learn how to sharpen and maintain a Japanese knife and purchase your own cutting-edge souvenir should you wish.

In the evening we return to Osaka; dinner is at leisure. 

Accommodation: Hotel
Meals: Breakfast

Day 8 Awaji Island - Foodscape experience

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. 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 beachside property on Awaji Island and in the evening, we browse the port's backstreets and enjoy the drinking culture of Awaji Island. Dinner is at your leisure.

Accommodation: Hotel
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch

Day 9 Travel to Kyoto, Uji-Tawara Tea visiting

We travel back from Awaji island in the afternoon by private vehicle and make a brief stop for a local lunch. After lunch, we make our way to Uji, an area that is famous internationally for its green tea. We visit a tea plantation and participate in a tea tasting to get to the depth of its real flavor and your cups. We then depart Uji for Kyoto where we will participate in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, wearing a kimono if you wish, in a renovated samurai residence.

Dinner is at your leisure.

Accommodation: Hotel
Meals: Breakfast

Day 10 Kyoto - Kyoto - Tofu Making and Nishiki Market Farewell dinner.

Kyoto is renowned throughout Japan for its regional Washoku cuisine and specialities, also for the refinement and artistic presentation of Kaiseki cuisine.Kyoto, with its many temples, is also famous for its tofu, a dish closely tied to Buddhist cuisine. Today we try our hand at making traditional Kyoto-style tofu at a long-established tofu shop in Kyoto using locally sourced soy.

Later we head to the colorful Nishiki Market, a bustling covered shopping area which has a well-deserved reputation as ‘Kyoto’s Kitchen’.  Here we find a wide variety of traditional foods and local specialty items such as seafood, pickled and dried Japanese vegetables, tea, sweets, and also ceramics. We make our way to Arashiyama where we have a traditional Buddhist vegetarian lunch with a beautiful garden scenery. After a visit to the famous Bamboo Forest, we make our way to Central Kyoto for our farewell dinner.

Accommodation: Hotel
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 11 Tour ends in Kyoto

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.
 
Meals: Breakfast

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