Culture And Cuisine
12 Days


12 Days: Tokyo, Takayama, Koyasan, Osaka

Tour overview:
Experience the Culture and Cuisine of Japan on this 12 day adventure: Visit the street markets in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka and sample the local food; Interactive culinary experiences to learn how to make soba noodles, rolled sushi, and miso soup; Learn the traditions of Sake brewing and have a taste; Visit Japan’s cultural capital, Kyoto, home to around 2,000 shrines and temples, including 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites; And learn about Shingon Buddhism in Koyasan.

Day 1: Arrival in Tokyo
Upon arrival to Tokyo’s airport, one of our representatives will be waiting to assist with transport to the hotel (either boarding the correct train or finding the appropriate shuttle bus to the hotel). The rest of the day is at leisure. Overnight in Tokyo.

Distance and journey time (approximation):
Narita International Airport (NRT) to Central Tokyo: 1.5 h
Haneda International Airport (HND) to Central Tokyo: 50 min

Day 2: Tokyo
This morning, accompany a local guide on a visit to Tokyo’s Tsukiji Outer Market, the world-famous market filled with traditional shops and top-quality sushi restaurants. While the iconic inner wholesale fish market has been relocated to Toyosu, the outer market remains a lively center for visitors and locals alike to enjoy delicious food, and purchase kitchenware and other local specialties. After exploring the market (but before leaving), enjoy a super-fresh sushi breakfast in a local restaurant – the best way to start a trip in Japan!

From Tsukiji, walk to Hamarikyu, a Japanese garden that once served as a private villa of a powerful feudal lord during the Edo period. Its wide collection of seasonal flowers make it one of the most visited gardens in Tokyo, however it’s best known for its attractive is a teahouse, Nakajima-no-Ochaya. Have a break in the teahouse and a cup of freshly made green tea while the guide shares interesting facts about sado (tea ceremony).

From the park, take the scenic river cruise to Asakusa, a part of Tokyo’s shitamachi or old town. Asakusa is the city’s oldest Geisha district and also home to Senso-ji, Tokyo’s oldest Buddhist temple. The streets around Senso-ji feature many traditional shops and are a delight to wander through.

Around noon, stop by one of the local restaurants for lunch. Although there’s a variety of food to choose from, Asakusa is more known for its best-tasting tempura. From Asakusa, continue a short walk to Kappabashi, the so-called Kitchenware Town lined with dozens of specialized stores for knives, Japanese tableware, and even food replicas. Last stop is in Ueno’s Ameyoko-cho, a former black market that sprang up after WWII. It is now a bustling shopping alley filled with food stalls that make it a great place to try some local snacks. Overnight in Tokyo. (BL)

Start (guide tour): 08:30
Duration: 8 h
*including pick-up/drop-off and transit times

Day 3: Tokyo
Begin the day with a hands-on culinary adventure. Head towards the cooking studio in Tokyo’s Tsukiji area to begin the morning’s soba-making workshop. The class will be held by either Akila Inouye, founder and Master Chef of the Tsukiji Soba Academy, or one of the academy’s graduates. The activity will begin with a short demonstration by a sobatician, followed by a lesson on how to prepare the wheat mixture, the proper way to work on the dough and, last but definitely not the least, the precise way of cutting it into 1.6 mm thick noodles. At the end of the lesson, cook the soba and dine with the teacher and the rest of the class in tachigui style, which means eating while standing.

The rest of the afternoon is free at leisure. Enjoy relaxing in the hotel or independently discover the busy streets of Shibuya (scramble crossing), visit the fashion mecca of Harajuku or to explore another shitamachi in Yanaka. Overnight in Tokyo. (BL)

Start (activity): 10:30 or 11:30
Duration: 3.5-4 h

Optional Evening Tour: Tokyo Street Food Tour
This tour heads inside the lively street food scene of Tokyo: an exciting trip across some of the hidden pearls that can only be found with the help of a local, wandering around the city’s narrow streets. A local English-speaking food expert will provide an escort through tiny izakayas (Japanese-style pubs) and small traditional restaurants and bars, each boasting distinctive atmospheres in heart of the traditional Japanese entertainment districts. None of these local taverns normally accept reservations, but the expert guide is able to pick, depending on the evening, the right areas (always in central Tokyo) and venues to find available seats. Because of this, the tour is always unique and different for each guest. Meet the food expert at the train station and enjoy 4 to 5 different venues during the tour. Although the menu is set, the guide will ensure stomachs are full and taste buds are entirely satiated with a range of different options.

Start: 17:00
Duration: 3.5 h

Day 4: Tokyo – Takayama
Today is a self-guided day. Today marks the journey to Takayama, a small town nestled high in the Hida Alpine region of Gifu Prefecture.

The first leg of the trip will be on a bullet train that can reach speeds of up to 260 kph. Next is on the limited express train Wide View, which offers one of the most scenic train journeys in Japan.

Suggested Self-Guided Itinerary:
We recommend strolling in Takayama’s shitamachi, where the streets are lined with century-old merchants’ homes and sake breweries. Stop by one of the breweries for a taste of the local drop or queue for the famous Hida beef sushi in one of the special food stalls.

In Takayama, experience a stay in a ryokan, the traditional Japanese-style inn furnished with low tables and chairs, sliding shoji doors, and tatami flooring. (BD)

Distance and journey time (approximation):
Tokyo Station to Takayama Station: 4 h

Day 5: Takayama
Today is a self-guided day. Overnight in Takayama. (BD)

Optional Tour (1): Food & Culture Walk
Explore some of the food shops in Takayama with a knowledgeable guide, learning about the town’s colorful history and familiarizing the taste buds with some of the local delicacies. The walking tour includes visits to a tofu seller, a rakugan shop (traditional Japanese candies), and even a sake brewery (some stores may close in certain days). Food and sake tastings are also included.

Start: 09:30
Duration: 2.5 h

Optional Tour (2): Afternoon Trip to Shirakawago
Around noon, take the bus to Shirakawago, a UNESCO World Heritage Site famous for its gassho-zukuri farmhouses. Gassho-zukuri means “constructed like hands in prayer,” which is represented through the farmhouses’ steep thatched roofs. This architectural style developed over many generations – the roofs were constructed without any nails and are intricately designed to withstand large amounts of snow. These houses are private homes of the locals but some are open to the public, such as Wada House, a legacy left behind by the Wada Family who used to be the richest family and village leader in Ogimachi. Return to Takayama for another night in the ryokan.

Distance and journey time (approximation):
Takayama Bus Terminal to Shirakawago Bus Stop: 50 min

Day 6: Takayama – Kyoto

Today is a self-guided day. Take one last soak in the onsen before starting the journey to Japan’s cultural capital, Kyoto. Kyoto is home to around 2,000 shrines and temples, including 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The rest of the day is at leisure. Overnight in Kyoto. (B)

Optional Evening Tour: A Taste of Gion Food Tour
Kyoto’s Gion district is often cited as many a visitor’s favourite part of the city. The historic cobblestone streets are lined with traditional, narrow wooden buildings known as machiya, teahouses known as ochaya, and traditional shops selling local specialities. The first stop is a lively standing bar, where guests can enjoy a drink and delicious local bar food as a prelude to the rest of the tour. After this, take a leisurely stroll around Gion. As most geisha start to entertain at 18:00, the chance of seeing elegantly attired geisha darting along the winding streets to their engagements is quite high.

Then, head to a cozy restaurant owned by a charming and amiable woman from Kyoto who prepares each meal herself. Enjoy an entertaining conversation with her, while sampling each dish, which is prepared with the utmost care and attention, using the finest seasonal ingredients.

The final stop of the tour is a sake bar with a location so clandestine even locals struggle to find it. Partake in different varieties of sake, chosen to complement the selection of nibbles.

After this delightful evening well spent, either return to the accommodation or continue to explore the city independently.

Start: 17:00
Duration: approx. 3 h

Day 7: Kyoto

Today explore the former imperial capital with a knowledgeable local guide, utilizing Kyoto’s comprehensive bus system to visit some of Kyoto’s World Heritage Sites. Start with a visit to Nijo Castle, an ornamental castle that was originally built to serve as the private villa of a powerful feudal lord. The main building was completed in early 1600s and has since then been known for its Momoyama-style architecture, decorated sliding doors, and “chirping nightingale” floors. Next in the list is the serene Ryoan-ji Temple, which is famous for its well-maintained rock garden and known to be the Myoshinji School of the Rinzai Buddhist sect.

Within walking distance from Ryoan-ji is the stunning golden pavilion collectively known as Kinkaku-ji Temple. The temple ground is relatively smaller than those in most temples and shrines in Kyoto but what is undoubtedly impressive is the pavilion that is completely covered in handmade gold leaves. Travel to Kiyomizu-dera, a Buddhist temple situated near Mt. Otowa famous for its wooden veranda standing 13 meters tall and was built without the use of any nails. It offers breathtaking views, especially when the cherry blossoms are in bloom or when the leaves change color in fall.

End the tour with a stroll along the busy streets of Higashiyama District, a collection of narrow alleyways lined with local stores, souvenir shops, small eateries, and even pottery centers. Overnight in Kyoto. (B)

Start (guided tour): 09:00
Duration: 8 h
*including pick-up/drop-off and transit times

Day 8: Kyoto
The rest of the morning is free at leisure until the food market tour and cooking class in the afternoon.

Set off on a Kyoto food tour that is guaranteed to tantalise the taste buds. Join with a local guide and head to Nishiki – a covered food market – for an introduction into the world of Japanese cuisine. Walk through the mile-long market, browsing the food stalls for local ingredients and spices. The guide will explain how these items are used in authentic Japanese dishes and help to select some of the freshest ingredients for the day’s cooking class.

Loaded with local produce, leave the market and head to the cooking class. Enjoy a sake tasting upon arrival at the machiya (traditional wooden townhouse), learning about the process of brewing this traditional alcohol and sampling different varieties.

Then it’s time to start cooking. Step into the kitchen and join a local culinary expert for a fun, interactive culinary experience. Learn to make rolled sushi, miso soup and fruit salad using traditional techniques and hear about the dining habits of the Japanese people. After this delicious, home-cooked dinner, say farewell to the cook and head out to explore Kyoto’s nightlife or return to the hotel. Overnight in Kyoto. (BD)

Start (activity): 14:30
Duration: 3.5 h

Day 9: Kyoto – Koyasan
Home to over 100 temples, Koyasan has been the center of Shingon Buddhism, an important Buddhist sect, for over 1,200 years. Koyasan, and its vicinity, is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site. The journey to Koyasan is one of the highlights of the visit, with the final ascent being on a cable car, which offers one of the most scenic journeys in Japan, as it winds its way up to the mountains.

Meet the guide at Koyasan Station and spend the afternoon exploring a couple of popular sites that give an insight to Japanese Buddhism. Visit Kongobu-ji, the head temple of Shingon Buddhism and home to Japan’s largest rock garden. On rare occasions, guests might witness a small group of worshippers led by a monk chanting some scripts in front of the temple. Continue on to Okuno-in, Japan’s largest cemetery that holds the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi. The classic approach starts from Ichinohashi Bridge and stretches up to 2km, filled with more than 200,000 tombstones that belong to feudal lords, prominent monks, and even well-known Japanese companies. Gokusho Offering Hall, Torodo Hall of Lanterns, and Kobo Daishi’s Mausoleum are located at the end of the trail.

Afterwards, the guide will provide an escort to theshukubo (temple lodge), where famous Buddhist cuisine is served. Overnight at Koyasan. (BD)

Day 10: Koyasan – Osaka
Today is a self-guided day.

Suggestion: To have a complete experience of Koyasan, joining the Morning Prayer, which usually starts at 06:00, is highly recommended. Be immersed in the calming chants of the monks inside the prayer hall (prayers are only in Japanese but some priests provide a simple explanation in English at the end of the ceremony).

Afterwards, proceed to the dining room for a shojinryori breakfast. The rest of the morning is free to further explore Koyasan before departing for Osaka, Japan’s Kitchen Capital. Osaka’s flamboyance, fun-loving people and amazing food are the highlights of the city. Overnight in Osaka. (B)

Day 11: Osaka

Today’s tour begins at 16:45. Osaka is an epicurean’s delight. Indeed, the motto that the city’s exuberant inhabitants live by is kuiadore– “to eat oneself bankrupt.” The first stop will be at a street food stall to get a taste of some traditional Japanese snack food, menchi katsu. Menchi katsu is a breaded and deep-fried patty made of ground meat. Golden and crisp, this is a local favourite.

Next, head to a standing bar to enjoy the ambience and taste a selection of sake and Japanese wine, along with delicious house specialties. Then, head to a restaurant specialising in wagyu beef dishes. Often referred to as the most expensive beef in the world, wagyu beef is of a superb quality, and is on many a gourmet’s wish list. Enjoy the melt-in-the-mouth textures with a refreshing cocktail. The final stop will be to try a new style of tempura in an eatery tucked away in a small alleyway. Old favourites such as shrimp tempura, and more experimental combinations such as asparagus tempura and cheese can be found on the menu. Bid farewell to the affable guide, and either return to the hotel or go for a stroll around the neighbourhood to take in the sights. Overnight in Osaka. (BD)

Start (Flavours of Osaka): 16:45
Duration: approx. 3.5 h

Day 12: Departure from Osaka
The rest of the day is at leisure until the departing flight from Kansai International Airport. (B)

Distance and journey time (approximation):
Namba Station to Kansai Airport: 50 min
Shin-Osaka Station to Kansai Airport: 50 min

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Inclusions & Highlights

  • Hotel accommodation with daily breakfast
  • Meals as mentioned in the itinerary (B = Breakfast, L = Lunch, D = Dinner)
  • Meet and greet at the airport and return transfers to the airport
  • PASMO Card for local transportation in Tokyo and to/from Koyasan with 1,500 JPY worth of credits
  • 7-Day Japan Rail Pass in ordinary class, activated on Day 4
  • English-speaking guides for tours on Days 2, 7, and 9 (supplementary charges apply for other languages)
  • All entrance fees and public transportation fees as mentioned in the itinerary on Days 2, 7, and 9
  • Soba-making workshop in Tokyo on Day 3
  • Food market tour and cooking class in Kyoto on Day 8
  • Roundtrip train tickets to Koyasan (Days 9 & 10)
  • Flavours of Osaka Food Tour on Day 11
  • Self-guide app and customized travel documentation

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