2020 Food Tour of Central Japan
On this exhilarating journey through central Japan, you will visit Japan's iconic cities, farming villages and seaside hamlets while experiencing Japan’s centuries-old food traditions
The 2020 Food Tour of Central Japan is a comprehensive introduction to the UNESCO-recognised world of washoku (Japanese cuisine) and shows you many of Japan's food icons such as Tsukiji Market. In addition, the tour is interjected by unique local food experiences including visits to a boutique vegetable farm, generations-old sake and soy sauce breweries. It is also an opportunity to feel the country in early autumn – the traditional harvest season.
The tour also explores beginnings of Japan's "western" food in the port-city of Yokohama. Lunch at the farm visit made from the fresh harvest is the experience which our past travellers claim as the highlight of the tour.
Kanazawa and Noto Peninsula are well recognised destinations by international foodies. At the scenic rural lands of the Noto Peninsula, we visit a centuries-old morning market and an exquisite lacquerware private studio. A pause for lunch at a Michelin-starred restaurant in the middle of a remote rice paddy gives you a great surprise and shows you how much this fertile peninsula is sought after by serious foodies.
In Kyoto, you sample sophisticated Buddhist vegetarian cuisine called shojin ryori. Kyoto is where Japanese green tea cultivation started and we will have an exclusive tasting of premium green tea. No food tour would be complete without experiencing Osaka's amazing range of street-food.
The 2020 Food Tour of Central Japan is perfect for those who enjoy food and food-related activities along with the iconic sights of central Japan – both classic and hidden.
Places visited: Tokyo, Yokohama, Ibaraki, Kanazawa, Shirakawago, Noto Peninsula, Kyoto and Osaka
Group size: Maximum 8
Transport: Bullet train, express & commuter trains, ferry, bus, private minivan and taxi
Accommodation: Four-star hotels and equivalent Japanese style inns
Fitness level: Average (please refer to FAQ)
Tour style: Signature
Visit Tokyo’s bustling Tsukiji Outer Market and sample many traditional and unique food items
Enjoy a personalised tour through artisanal soy sauce & sake breweries
Discover the sophisticated culture and food of Kanazawa’s castle town
Visit the UNESCO-listed mountain village of Shirakawa-go
Join the traditional atmosphere at Wajima’s morning market
Soak in mineral hot springs on the Noto Peninsula
Enjoy Osaka's unique street food
Taste premium green-tea at an ancient tea plantation in Uji (Kyoto)
Day 1: Arrival in Tokyo
Welcome to Japan! On arrival at one of Tokyo’s international airports, you will be met by a Journey to the East guide and escorted to your hotel. After a good night’s sleep, you will be ready to start the first full day of your 2020 Food Tour of Central Japan.
Day 2: Tokyo
After orientation with your guide, you begin your exploration of Tokyo. A vibrant city of soaring towers and masses of hidden gems, Japan’s capital is also steeped in great history and culture, making its mark as the seat of power in 1603 when the shogun moved here.
Today we visit Tsukiji’s Outer Market, a highlight for any food lover. Here we walk through laneways full of busy vendors to view the variety of seafood on offer, as well as fresh wasabi, tsukemono pickles and many other typically Japanese fresh produce.
Then it’s off to the upmarket shopping district of Ginza, the first part of Tokyo to modernise as the country opened up. We visit one of its exclusive department stores to check out its food hall – the dizzying range of beautifully presented food and confectionery will simply amaze! We take a walk down some of Ginza’s backstreets, passing by traditional craft shops and modern art galleries.
Our first day ends with a fitting welcome dinner at an old sake brewery which specializes in an elaborate multi-course menu of delicate tofu cuisine.
Day 3: Tokyo and Yokohama
Just south of Tokyo lies the modern city of Yokohama, often overlooked by its more famous neighbour. However, its historical legacy is huge, being the site of the first foreign ships which arrived in 1858 to open Japan’s first trading port after centuries of isolation. Yokohama still retains an international feel and is particularly important to us as we explore how this history impacted Japan's food culture.
First stop is Yokohama's Archives of History. As well as the significant architecture, the place offers a great background of how Yokohama introduced foreign cultures to Japan. Like many countries, modern Japan's food is a fusion of cuisine from many other lands. Much of Japanese food has its origins in Chinese cuisine, so naturally the next stop is Yokohama's Chinatown. It is Japan’s largest Chinatown, and originally home to thousands of Chinese traders who arrived in Yokohama as the country opened up. We walk through its narrow streets, sampling the Japanese version of Chinese street-food as we go.
The tour heads back to Tokyo for dinner. Tonight you will enjoy a deep dive into the Japanese "salary-man's" culture, yakitori and beer.
Day 4: Tokyo and Ibaraki
The destination today is north of Tokyo by private minivan to tour the agricultural area which supplies much of Tokyo’s fresh food.
Here we visit one privately-owned farm which specializes in growing quality vegetables in organic conditions for direct supply to some of Tokyo’s leading restaurants. Early October marks the beginning of Japan’s harvest season and is a great time to tour the fields, engage with the owners and sample a variety of fresh produce. Our lunch is specially prepared for us from freshly harvested produce and other local specialties. It is an unforgettable experience having a five-star meal in the fresh air of rural Japan.
We head back to Tokyo for an evening at your leisure. Our guides are always on hand to provide tips about getting around Tokyo or local restaurant recommendations.
Day 5: Tokyo (Free Day)
Today has been set aside for you to visit some of the Tokyo icons such as Asakusa Sensoji temple, Sky Tree or Shibuya crossing at your own pace. You may like to spend the day visiting museums in Ueno, checking out the latest technology in Akihabara, experiencing the cool urban buzz of Shibuya and the night-time neons of Shinjuku.
Here are some of the suggestions. Let us know what interests you and we will make recommendations and give you the information you need.
Suggestion 1: Start at Meiji Jingu Shrine. Surrounded by a forest of evergreen trees and stroll gardens, this impressive Shinto shrine complex provides a peaceful oasis in an otherwise bustling city → Takeshita-dori Street for pop culture → Omotesando (aka Champs Elysee of Tokyo) for the latest fashion and architecture → Nezu Museum of Art for contrasting peace and beauty of ancient oriental art
Suggestion 2: Walk through Asakusa and Ueno for iconic Tokyo scenery.
Suggestion 3: Mount Takao (the city of Hachiōji, Tokyo) is a popular hiking spot for Tokyo people especially in early autumn. The walk is varied and interesting, dotted with little shrines, temples and tea houses. On a clear day you can see Mt Fuji from the top.
Day 6: Kanazawa
Onboard the shinkansen bullet train this morning, we cross the Japan Alps to Kanazawa on the Japan Sea side. With its historical heritage as a wealthy castle town, Kanazawa offers a huge array of cultural attractions and is commonly known as “Little Kyoto”.
We start our tour with a visit to the Higashi Geisha district, a charming area of narrow streets where immaculately presented geisha traditionally entertained wealthy patrons. Here we stop for lunch at a local restaurant specializing in regional Kaga cuisine. Next stop is Kenrokuen Garden, a sublime castle garden dating back to the 17th century and regarded as one of the three best gardens of Japan.
We end the day with a superb dinner of premium sushi, which Kanazawa is also famous for.
Day 7: Kanazawa and Shirakawa-go
A day-trip to the UNESCO World Heritage village of Shirakawa-go takes us to another world. A few hours is set aside to explore this charming rural village surrounded by mountains and early autumn colour. The village has the famous thatched-roof farmhouses known as gassho-zukuri (meaning “hands clasped together in prayer”). Their steeply-slanted roofs were built to withstand the region’s heavy snowfalls. The unusual construction techniques used to build these houses and how people survived in the rugged mountain conditions are a story in its own right.
We stop for a typical lunch of country-style buckwheat soba noodles in the village and then head back to Kanazawa by private minivan.
Kanazawa region is also well-known for its sake-making. It originally developed because of the pristine quality of its waters and sweet rice. Can you imagine not visiting a sake brewery on a food tour of Japan? We visit one of the traditional sake breweries in Kanazawa where we learn about the production of Japan’s famous rice-based wine.
The evening is free to explore Kanazawa’s many eateries on your own.
Day 8: Noto Peninsula
The delightfully rural Noto Peninsula, on Japan’s north-western coast, is our destination today. On the way, we visit a gold leaf museum where we have the chance to make our own lacquerware plate gilded with gold leaf, typical of the style used in Kanazawa. We then visit a local soy sauce brewery, run by the same family for four generations, to learn how this fundamental Japanese staple is made.
The coastal road takes us to our next stop – lunch. Located in the middle of remote rice paddies, our Michelin-starred restaurant is run by a couple of inventive young chefs from Tokyo who wanted to showcase the abundant produce available on this fertile peninsula.
Wakura Onsen is our final destination today, a hot springs resort on the peaceful Nanao Bay. On the way, afternoon tea is at Musee de Ash, a cafe run by one of Japan’s most famous pastry chefs, to sample his signature cakes.
Accommodation tonight is a traditional ryokan (Japanese inn), where you can experience an authentic kaiseki banquet and a soak in a hot-spring onsen bath with scenic views across the bay. Restored and relaxed, we think you’ll soon fall asleep on the comfortable futon bedding in your traditional tatami-mat room. Japanese ryokan hospitality at its very best!
Day 9: Noto Peninsula and Kanazawa
This morning's breakfast is an authentic Japanese-style breakfast at your ryokan – a nutritious, protein-rich mix of grilled fish, miso soup, tofu, rice and pickles!
Wajima is another peninsula town on the coast and well-known for its morning market. Here local fisherwomen sell dried fish, other local produce and crafts. While we are in Wajima, we visit a studio of distinctive Noto style lacquerware demonstrating the extraordinary standard of the local craftsmanship. Such elaborate tableware is an integral part of Japanese cuisine. On a journey to our next destination, we pause to admire an unusual terraced rice paddy perched on the side of a hill overlooking the sea. Time to stretch your legs and admire this famous view before we move on.
In the afternoon, we are off to visit a salt extraction farm located right on the beach, to learn about the production of premium sea salt using traditional methods.
We return by private minivan to Kanazawa where you can explore the city at your leisure.
Day 10: Kanazawa and Kyoto
This morning, you will take an express train from Kanazawa to Kyoto, that most iconic of cities. With 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Kyoto is the cultural heart of Japan and the guardian of many of its ancient traditions. Originally made capital in 794, present-day Kyoto offers an endless range of traditional craft shops, superb restaurants, ancient temples and some of Japan’s most beautiful gardens.
Upon arrival in Kyoto we lunch on shojin ryori, a particular style of sophisticated vegetarian cuisine traditionally served to Kyoto’s Buddhist monks. Based on simplicity and harmony, the dishes are prepared so that there is an appropriate balance of five different colours and flavours.
In the afternoon, we tour Kyoto's famous Nishiki Market looking at many unique Kyoto food items. We then attend a cooking class in the evening and make some classic Japanese dishes, siting down to enjoy the fruits of our labour!
Day 11: Kyoto
Today we explore the premium tea-producing area of Uji, just south of Kyoto. A long established tea merchant invites us in to discuss the intricate process of cultivating Japanese green tea. We taste-test different tea varieties including premium matcha tea in a traditional tea ceremony.
In the afternoon, we will drop by Fushimi Inari Shrine, the most popular sightseeing spot in Kyoto. Apart from being the tourism icon, Fushimi is an old Kyoto suburb with many buildings of traditional architecture, now turned into restaurants and shops.
Tonight dinner is Japanese Italian fusion cuisine at a restaurant opened by a young Japanese top chef trained in Italy. He creates a work of art using traditional Japanese ingredients using Italian techniques.
Day 12: Kyoto (Free Day)
Today is set aside for you to see Kyoto’s iconic temples and shrines such as the Golden Pavilion and Nijo Castle, take a class in paper-making or indigo-dying, or explore Kyoto’s bustling food and textile markets. Alternatively, simply wander Kyoto’s great range of craft shops and department stores for some last-minute shopping. Please ask the team at Journey to the East about the special places in Kyoto.
Day 13: Kyoto and Osaka
In the morning, we tour Suntory Yamazaki Whisky Distillery to learn about the long but little-known history of whisky-making in Japan and taste some of its premium single malts celebrated worldwide.
Then it’s off to explore Osaka, the bustling metropolis on Kyoto’s southern borders. Osaka’s history is as long as the nation’s itself, eventually becoming an important political base in the 16th century after the shogun unified Japan.
We take a walking tour through Osaka’s lively entertainment district of Dotombori, famous for its historic canal and tasty street-food . We also visit the retail area specializing in kitchen utensils and you can forage through shops packed full of hand-forged kitchen knives and delicate tea cups and saucers to your heart’s content!
In the evening at Dotombori, we experience its trademark neons before having our last dinner together.
Day 14: Osaka & Bon-Voyage
This morning you check out of your hotel after breakfast and your 2020 Food Tour of Central Japan concludes.
You can return to Tokyo by train or air to fly home, or depart from Osaka’s Kansai International Airport. Perhaps you might like to linger in Japan for a little longer. Ask Journey to the East to help you plan your personal tour extension.
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.
Suggested Post Tour Extension
If you wish to stay on in Japan after your tour, there is a wealth of interesting places to visit and things to do. Many guests like to visit Hiroshima with the A-Bomb museum and the nearby exquisite island of Miyajima. Why not talk to the Journey to the East team about this option?
- 13 nights accommodation with daily breakfast
- Meals as specified in the itinerary above
- All group transport (train, bus, taxi and private mini bus)
- Pre-loaded SUICA card
- Government licensed English-speaking tour guides
- Cultural activities and entry fees included in itinerary
- Luggage transfers (1 piece per person)
Does not include:
- International or domestic airfare
- Travel insurance
- Alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages
- Tips and gratuities (not routinely expected in Japan)
- Visa (if required)
- Personal expenses (laundry, internet, telephone, coin lockers etc.)
Had a fabulous time with a great group of people. I loved the country, the culture, the people and everything about the tour – hope to do another tour with JTTE – maybe Hokkaido or Kyushu next time
Vivien Hewitt, Western Australia
This was my first trip with JTTE and already I am looking at the program for next year thinking about another one. I liked the fact that it was a small group, the organisation was spot on and the food everywhere was outstanding.
Dee Mason – NSW Australia