Japanese cuisine is renowned worldwide and as such there’s no better place to experience it than in the heart of the country. This itinerary is culinary heavy allowing you to not only try an authentic cooking class but to also explore where locals go for their food. Take the famous bullet train to rural Japan and sample the most extraordinary views on your journey.
Day 1 and 2: Tokyo
Arrive into Tokyo where you’ll be met by a driver or guide who will help you board the right train or drive you to your hotel.
The following day, head Tsukiji Fish Market with a local guide. Best known as one of the world’s largest fish markets, Tsukiji handles over 2,000 tons of marine products per day.
The market is renowned for its fresh sushi bars where you can enjoy a sushi breakfast.
Later, stroll through nearby Hama-Rikyu Garden, the former private garden of an Edo Period lord. Take a break in the tea house known as ‘Nakajima No Chaya’ which stands elegantly in the park’s lake. Here, you will have the chance to get a taste of matcha, or Japanese green tea.
Afterwards, you will then have a chance to view Tokyo from a different angle as you take a boat cruise along the Sumida River.
Arrive into Asakusa, the city’s oldest Geisha district and also the home to Sensoji Temple, Tokyo’s oldest Buddhist temple.
Your last stop for the day will be at Ueno’s Ameyoko-cho, a busy market street underneath the train lines. Originally the site of a black market after World War II, this bustling market is now filled with shops and stalls selling various products such as fresh fish, dried food and spices, and is a great place to try some local snacks.
Day 3: Tokyo
Today, make your way back to Tsukiji but this time to discover the secret of the Japanese soba (buckwheat) noodle on a half-day lesson with Master Chef Akila Inouye or one of the Academy’s graduate soba specialists, as they show you how to correctly prepare and make this Japanese staple.
Day 4: Takayama
Leave the bustling Tokyo behind for Takayama. The first leg will be on the world-famous shinkansen (bullet train), which can reach speeds of up to 260kph. You will then change to the limited express train ‘Hida Wide View’ for one of the most scenic train journeys in Japan, winding your way through tall mountains and stunning gorges.
Due to its previously inaccessible location nestled high in the mountainous Hida alpine region, this beautifully preserved old town was cut off from the rest of Japan, thus allowing it to develop its own unique culture.
This afternoon, we recommend visiting one of the town’s many sake breweries for a taste of the local drop, its high quality owing to the area’s clean water sources.
In Takayama you will be staying in a ryokan, a traditional Japanese-style accommodation, complete with tatami mats, shoji rice paper sliding doors, and onsen baths. Tonight, relax in your yukata, or lightweight kimono, and dine on a sumptuous kaiseki (multi-course) meal. Dinner will be sure to include some of Takayama’s famous cuisine, including Hida Beef, which is said to be the second best in Japan after the world-famous Kobe beef, some sansai local vegetables, and miso.
An onsen after dinner is highly recommended before you bed down on your futon.
Day 5: Takayama
After breakfast, head up to the Miyagawa morning market. This market is one of the biggest morning markets in Japan, where you will find locally produced fruits and vegetables, pickels, and Japanese sweets. This is also a great opprotunity to purchase some omiyage such as chopsticks and Ichii Itto-bori (wood carvings).
A quick walk from the morning market will take you to Takayama Jinya, also known as the Historical Government House. For almost two centuries since the early 1690s, Takayama Jinya served as the seat of the Hida government under the Tokugawa Shogunate. It is the only surviving government office building from the Edo period and the entire complex now serves as a museum wherein you can see well-preserved meeting and conference rooms with old tatami floors and some century-old artefacts and office supplies. Adjacent to the main building is the 400-year-old rice storehouse, which is known to be the biggest in Japan and where you can find on display some old documents and belongings of the past feudal lords.
In the afternoon you can visit the Takayama Festival Floats Museum, which displays the beautiful floats that parade during the famous Takayama Festival. The museum is a bit separated from all the other main sightseeing spots in Takayama but it sure is worth the visit.
Day 6: Takayama to Kyoto
Get back on the bullet train and take the 3.5hr journey to the city of Kyoto, Japan’s cultural capital.
Kyoto is home to an astonishing 2,000 shrines and temples, including 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and the afternoon is free for you to start exploring this intriguing city.
Day 7: Kyoto
You will start your day with a visit to Nijo Castle. This ornamental castle, surrounded by stunning gardens, was built by the founder of the Edo Shogunate as his Kyoto residence. The main building was completed in 1603 and is well-known for its Momoyama architecture, decorated sliding doors, and “chirping” nightingale floors.
Continue on to Ryoanji, the site of Japan’s most famous rock garden which serves as a perfect spot for meditation.
The final stop is Kiyomizudera or “pure water.” From the 13-meter high veranda jutting out from the main hall, you can enjoy amazing views of the whole of Kyoto, whilst pondering the fact that both the main hall and the veranda were built without the use of nails or any kind of joiners.
Day 8: Kyoto
During your guided walk of the mile-long Nishiki covered food markets, there are many interesting food stores to explore as you help your guide buy the ingredients for your Japanese cooking class. This is a great opportunity to learn about local Japanese produce. After visiting the markets, travel through the back streets and lanes of Kyoto and visit a former sake brewery for a tour with sake-tasting.
The cooking class takes place in a traditional wooden house. Cooking your own Japanese evening meal, you’ll learn how to make rolled sushi, miso soup and salad with seasonal fruit for dessert.
In the evening, explore Kyoto. Discover Gion, where geishas live and work and where you’ll find many an old house and lots of other shops and restaurants.
Day 9: Koyasan
Make an early start today for the scenic journey to holy Mt. Koya (Koyasan). The 3-hour train journey is one of the best in Japan, as the local train winds its way up into the mountains. The final ascent to the top of Koya is via cable car. Your knowledgeable local guide will be meeting you upon your arrival to show you Koyasan’s sights and to explain about Japanese Buddhism.
Mt. Koya is the centre of Shingon Buddhism, an important Buddhist sect which was introduced to Japan in 805 by Kobo Daishi. Since then, over 100 temples have sprung up along the streets of Koyasan. The most important among them are Kongobuji, the head temple of Shingon Buddhism, and Okunoin, the site of Kobo Daishi’s mausoleum. Koyasan, together with its entire vicinity, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Tonight, you will be staying in a shukubo, a Japanese temple lodging. Dinner will be shojin ryori, a traditional Buddhist cuisine. This vegetarian meal is not only healthy but delicious as well.
Day 10 to 12: Osaka
An early start as you will be able to witness the monks chanting their morning prayers. This amazing experience is followed by a shojin ryori breakfast. The rest of the day is free to further explore Koyasan before taking the train to Osaka.
Japan’s third largest city is Osaka. It lacks in the traditional tourist locations but its flamboyance, fun-loving people and amazing food make up for what it lacks in tourist spots. With your local guide, you will explore this vast city and discover yourself why Osaka is a must-see.
Start the day with a visit to Sumiyoshi Taisha, one of Japan’s oldest Shinto shrines, originally founded in the 3rd century. It offers a unique glimpse on the original Shinto architecture and is a must-see for anyone interested in the Japanese indigenous religion.
From the shrine, head back north and visit Osaka Castle, arguably Osaka’s most famous landmark. The castle is a concrete rebuilt from 1931, with views from the top floor of the surrounding gardens and city which are not to be missed.
Osaka is widely known as “Japan’s kitchen,” so your next stop will be in Dotonbori, a restaurant mecca which has long-been referred to as Osaka’s entertainment district and former “pleasure district.” In Dotonbori’s food stalls and restaurants, you can find anything from takoyaki (octopus balls) to fugu (poisonous puffer fish), amongst other Kansai delicacies. After the guided tour, you can choose to disband in Dotonbori and sample some delicacies.