2020 Food & Cherry Blossom Tour of Japan
An exceptional 14-day culinary tour through Japan's friendly island of Kyushu at cherry-blossom time - combining historical sights, stunning natural scenery, boutique makers and Michelin star restaurants!
The 2020 Food and Cherry Blossom Tour offers an extraordinarily special culinary tour of Japan. Building on the popularity of earlier culinary tours, the number of participants is capped at just 8 and is based on the western Japan island of Kysuhu.
Kyushu is fast-becoming Japan’s favourite foodie destination for its fresh organic produce and culinary innovation. You will visit both local makers of fine soy sauce and green tea, as well as experience traditional haute-cuisine at a Michelin-starred restaurant and hearty fare dished up by night-time yatai street vendors.
Kyushu has long-standing connections with European and Asian traders, rich ceramic traditions, spectacular castles along with a stunning natural environment. This makes a visit at cherry-blossom time a fantastic way to learn about Japan especially through the prism of its food.
The 2019 Food and Cherry Blossom Tour is perfect for those who like exploring by foot and travellers keen to discover the Japan that lies beyond the big cities. It is an ideal tour for both first-time and repeat visitors seeking a comprehensive introduction to the world of washoku – Japan’s famous UNESCO-listed food!
Places visited: Fukuoka, Dazaifu, Itoshima, Karatsu, Arita/Imari, Nagasaki, Unzen, Kumamoto, Kagoshima, Yufuin, and Yame
Group size: Min 6, Max 8
Transport: Private mini bus, ferry, Bullet train
Accommodation: Minimum 3.5 star hotels and equivalent Japanese style inns
Fitness level: Moderate (please refer to FAQ)
Tour Type: Signature
Experience Kyushu’s rich natural beauty at peak cherry-blossom time
Experience a sublime Japanese banquet at a top Michelin restaurant
Visit multicultural Fukuoka and spot your first cherry blossom!
Soak in authentic hot springs in geothermal Mt Unzen
Enjoy a personalised tour of a soy sauce & sake brewery
Visit the famous ceramic towns of Arita & Imari
Explore feudal Kumamoto, home to Japan’s last samurai
Explore the early European enclaves of Nagasaki & Deshima
Day 1: Arrival
On arrival in Fukuoka for your 2020 Food and Cherry Blossom Tour of Japan, you will be met by a Journey to the East staff member and escorted to your hotel. (Fukuoka is accessible both by rail and air - please ask us about your options.)
Day 2: Fukuoka
After a morning orientation, your guided tour of the Kyushu capital of Fukuoka starts with a visit to some of the city’s favourite spots for cherry-blossom viewing. Then it’s on to a walking tour of atmospheric Hakata, an old Fukuoka suburb.
Arguably most famous for its “Hakata ramen” noodles, Hakata is also well-known for its Kushida Shrine. We also visit the fascinating underground shopping arcade of Tenjin, with its traditional stall holders selling all manner of local food and produce.
For lunch we stop at a typical Hakata ramen restaurant and finally you will find out why the locals are so serious about their noodles. Tonight we enjoy a welcome dinner at a Michelin-starred Japanese restaurant – an exquisite multi-course kaiseki banquet of seasonal local foods served in a traditional Japanese setting. An appropriate start to a food tour of Kyushu!
Day 3: Dazaifu
A day-trip takes us to the nearby town of Dazaifu. Here we visit the magnificent Tenmangu Shrine, which commemorates the life of a famous Kyoto poet-scholar exiled to Dazaifu.
The shrine’s grounds are planted with over 6,000 flowering plum trees. The trees were favoured by the great poet-scholar and now draw thousands of visitors to admire the blossoms in spring. We also visit Kyushu National Museum, which provides an informative overview of Japanese history and its early ties with its Asian neighbours.
For dinner back in Fukuoka, you will be introduced to another slice of Hakata food culture – the yatai food cart. These mobile carts roll into the city in the evening and serve up delicious food cooked right in front of you. Seating only 10 people or so, the relaxed atmosphere and delicious food make it an unmissable Hakata food experience!
Day 4: Fukuoka
Today we roll-up our sleeves and get stuck in some cooking ourselves. We prepare lunch for each other at a fun-filled cooking class. With guidance from an experienced local chef and access to the region’s freshest ingredients, you will create a dish that will be assessed as part of the “2020 Iron Stomach Award” (see the entry for our last day). Above all, the award adds harmless fun and enjoyment to your food experience!
Next, we head to Asahi Beer brewery for a guided tour and explanation of the Japanese beer-making process. A demonstration of how to pour the perfect glass of beer will also be given, before we quench our own thirst and enjoy freshly-brewed beer over a delicious dinner.
Day 5: Itoshima
Leaving the city of Fukuoka in the morning, we journey to the coastal town of Itoshima, which is fast becoming a foodie haven.
We visit a fourth-generation-owned soy sauce brewery to learn about how this fundamental ingredient is made. Then a salt extraction farm, right on the beach, is where we learn about the production of premium salt using traditional methods. In between we visit a local farmers’ market to inspect the range of fresh produce available.
Journey to the East exclusive experience! Today's lunch is not only specially prepared for our group by local chefs using local ingredients, but also you can chat with both chefs and farmers who will join us for the lunch about their provenance. In the late afternoon we head for the pretty coastal town of Karatsu on the Genkai coast. There is another treat here because we sit down to a banquet of seafood caught fresh from the Sea of Genkai. It is served on ceramic-ware made in the local Karatsu-yaki kilns!
Day 6: Arita & Imari
The opportunity opens up to dive deeper into Japan’s ceramic traditions when we visit the famous pottery towns of Arita and Imari.
Kyushu porcelain, with its elaborate designs, became highly sought after and popular both in Japan as well as Europe. The ceramic dish is regarded as being as integral a part of the culinary experience as the food itself. It is indeed considered essential for the proper presentation of Japanese food.
Later we visit pottery kilns specializing in Arita-yaki (a highly decorated style using various colours) and Imari-yaki (a classic style of blue and white hues). After a day learning about the fine art of ceramics, we travel on to the charming city of Nagasaki and enjoy a local meal.
Day 7: Nagasaki
Nagasaki was the only area open to the rest of the world during Japan’s closed-door period during the 17th and 18th centuries. The area was visited by Dutch, Portuguese and French missionaries, as well as traders from Europe, China, Korea and Southeast Asia.
This heritage is still evident today in the city’s architecture, culture, and particularly its cuisine which has both European and Asian influences. A visit to a fish wholesaler is where you witness the preparation of some of the freshest seafood in the world (Nagasaki has the second largest catch of seafood in Japan).
A leisurely walk through Glover Garden is where we come upon the Meiji-era residences of European settlers. We also make a brief stop at Oura Catholic Church, Japan’s oldest wooden church built by French missionaries in 1865.
Another curious piece of history is island of Dejima in Nagasaki Harbour. It was a tiny trading post and was the only sanctioned place in Japan where foreigners were allowed to visit.
You have the night free to sample Nagasaki’s extensive restaurant scene – perhaps you might like to seek out its most famous dish – hearty champon noodle.
Day 8: Nagasaki & Unzen
Of course, any visit to Nagasaki is not complete without a visit to the Peace Park and Atomic Bomb Museum which marks the events of that tragic day in August 1945. In the afternoon we make our way to the Shimabara Peninsula, a historically and geographically rich part of Kyushu.
On the peninsula, we take a walk through Unzen’s national park to see active geothermal geysers and mud pools. It is a chance to check out how man has harnessed nature’s power to create the sublime hot spring experience.
Tonight, yet another treat. We stay at an authentic Japanese inn with onsen spa baths and a lovely Japanese garden. You’ll sleep on soft futon on tatami mat floors in a Japanese-style room – a true onsen getaway and a quintessential Japanese experience!
Day 9: Unzen & Shimabara
The day starts with the opportunity to sample an authentic Japanese-style breakfast – a nutritional feast of grilled fish, miso soup, rice and pickles!
Then we journey through the picturesque Nita-Toge Pass where on a clear day you have uninterrupted views across the Ariake Sea to our next destination – Kumamoto Prefecture.
On the way to Kumamoto we stop at Shimabara Castle (a five-storied feudal-era castle on a hilltop). We pause at a former samurai residence converted into a museum, and stop at Mt Unzen Disaster Memorial Hall (a unique, high-tech museum which vividly captures the 1991 disastrous eruption of Mt Unzen).
Later we board a ferry across the bay to Kumamoto.
Day 10: Kumamoto
Today’s guided tour of Kumamoto focuses on one of Japan’s most well-known castles. Originally built in 1607, Kumamoto Castle was damaged by the 2016 earthquake and is currently being repaired. However it remains an impressive feudal complex with massive stone walls. Simply a photographers delight.
The manicured grounds that surround this spectacular icon also offer some of Japan’s best cherry-blossom viewing in spring.
We also visit some of the other highlights of Kumamoto including the Suizenji Gardens and the former residence of a highly-ranked samurai lord.
A famous Japanese knife shop, operated by the same family for generations is also on the itinerary. We watch master craftsmen as they sharpen their wares. If you purchase a knife, it’s even possible to have your knife engraved .
Dinner tonight will be at an 'Italian-style' restaurant, where the local chef is famous nationwide for his beautifully presented fusion dishes and the work he does to revive and promote heritage Kumamoto vegetables.
Day 11: Kagoshima
We take one of Japan’s shinkansen bullet-trains for a day-trip to Kagoshima. Located at the far southern corner of Kyushu. over centuries Kagoshima has developed a strong and proud identity.
Firstly, we head down to Kinko-wan Bay to take a scenic cruise and make a brief stop at volcanic Sakurajima Island with its three dramatic peaks.
We then visit the sprawling Sengen-en Gardens located on a hilly outcrop of the peninsula with panoramic views and lovely groves of cherry blossoms. Formerly the residence of a local warlord, the gardens showcase a number of different trees and flowers and are meticulously maintained.
To close the day we return to Kumamoto in the late afternoon for dinner.
Day 12: Yufuin
Next on our list is the delightful town of Yufuin. It’s a small resort town located in a lush river basin surrounded by mountains.
An easy walk along its narrow streets and scenic rural paths make Yufuin the ideal place to enjoy the wonderful display of cherry blossom trees lining the river bank. The township also offers some beautiful craft shops and charming cafes. You may just want to stop and enjoy the superb rural setting and fresh air.
Tonight we stay in local accommodation and enjoy a beautifully prepared dinner made from fresh, locally-sourced ingredients.
Day 13: Yame & Tanushimaru
Kyushu’s Yame district is one of Japan’s leading tea-producing areas and we will visit a traditional tea merchant to learn about how to brew a perfect cup of green tea.
A mountain-top lookout is the place to view the brilliant green of the tea fields below.
Now the opportunity unfolds to taste-test our way through another famous Japanese beverage – sake. We visit an award-winning local sake brewer in Tanushimaru and have a personal tour provided by brewery staff. The visit covers the end-to-end processes of sake production. This specially arranged experience will allow you to engage the staff first-hand and ask as many questions as you like.
Finally, it’s time to return to Fukuoka for our farewell dinner and the legendary “Iron Stomach Award” where the top foodie of the tour will be announced – good luck!
Day 14: Fukuoka & Goodbye
After breakfast, our 2020 Food and Cherry Blossom Tour of Japan concludes. Please ask us about your options for returning back to your home country from Fukuoka or continuing your travels in Japan.
(For those who have opted for post-trip extensions, we will liaise with you separately to plan your itinerary.)
Please note that there may be slight changes to the itinerary described above to accommodate changes in train timetables, opening hours, and hotel and restaurant availability.
More about this popular foodies tour
Some of the best wide-ranging experiences are found off the beaten track. Large vehicles like buses can’t access where you are going so the group is limited to just 8 people. We’ll introduce you to the people who create the food, the small, generations old, local food producers. We’ll show you how to brew perfect green tea. You will be given the freshest of food, straight from the farms and the sea.
This food tour of Japan aims to ensure there is also ample sightseeing. It includes one of Japan’s very best castles, Japan’s foremost ceramic museum, some superb examples of Japan’s temples and shrines. Of course it is all set when everything is at their very best – at cherry blossom time. The 2020 Food and Cherry blossom Tour also includes Japanese gardens, history and natural wonders like volcanoes.
Come and join us on this extraordinary tour in 2020 spring in Kyushu. It is the best tour of Japan for foodies and you will see the cherry blossom too!
Keen followers of Japanese food may have heard that Japanese cuisine is called washoku. The cuisine is listed by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage. The secrets to the recipe of washoku are fresh ingredients and delicate flavour. It all comes together with exquisite presentation topped off with a huge dose of passion (aka obsession!)
In celebration of washoku Journey to the East launched this 2020 Food and Cherry blossom Tour of Kyushu – Japan. As the name suggests, it is again staged on the Japanese island of Kyushu. Kyushu is a food producers’ heaven with its milder climate, fertile soil, and the rich Sea of Genkai. On the one island, you can enjoy everything from top quality wagyu beef to premier sake, super juicy fruits and the finest green tea.
Does not include:
- International airfare
- Travel insurance
- Alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages
- Tips and gratuities (not routinely expected in Japan)