Japan Food Tours: Behind The Noren Curtain
From the moment you arrive in Japan, you are struck by the refined balance of a modern society rooted in centuries-old traditions. The ornate carvings of ancient shrines are illuminated by the glow of city lights; the brightly-colored fashions of Harajuku are contrasted by the elegance of traditional silk kimonos; and the sparse serenity of zen gardens provide a respite from bustling cities. Explore Japan’s culture through its cuisine and discover its vast treasures on one of our Japan food tours.
Bask in the verdant green of surrounding forests as you soak in geothermal hot springs. Join masters of age-old traditions as they share their ancient rituals. Tantalize your taste buds with world-renowned Japanese food that is just as beautiful to behold as it is exquisite to eat.
Journey from bustling Tokyo to historic Kyoto. Along the way, discover the timeless villages and sacred pilgrimage routes of the Kii Peninsula, sample the delectable street food of Osaka, take part in a tea ceremony, cook a farm-to-table meal, and make meaningful connections with the kind and intriguing people of this island nation.
NOTE: Our July 2020 departure ends in time for the 2020 Summer Olympics opening ceremonies in Tokyo, for those wishing to extend this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Top Japanese Culinary Experiences
Two Japanese cooking classes: learn to make soba noodles and cook a hearty farm-to-table meal
Dine on fresh seafood straight from the fisherman’s net, on the Kii Peninsula
Sample the renowned street food of Osaka
Explore Kyoto’s Nishiki Market on a tasting tour
Take part in an ancient tea ceremony
Enjoy a traditional Buddhist vegetarian lunch at Tenryuji temple
Japan food tours are a delicious way to explore this exotic and fascinating culture. For more information, please call 1-800-567-9400 or email us today.
Is a Japan Food Tour for You?
Our Japan food tours are designed for travelers who crave an intimate introduction to Japan’s culture and food. Relish Japan’s proud culinary heritage as you learn how to craft traditional Japanese dishes; experience the vibrant history of Japan as you amble along ancient alleyways and catch glimpses of brightly colored geishas; and enjoy some of Japan’s most strikingly beautiful landscapes.
While our Japan food tours do not include physically strenuous activity, there will be quite a bit of walking, including some on uneven pavement and several hours spent on your feet. Japanese cuisine uses many animal and soy-based ingredients. Because of this, travelers with strict vegan and gluten-free diets may find it challenging to enjoy the culinary component of this tour.
All of our food tours include a rich combination of delicious ingredients: expert cooking classes, visits to flourishing farms and vibrant markets, and world-class cuisine!
May - Nov
Max group size: 12
Prices from $6,690 USD
Ancient temples & shrines
Farms, markets & local restaurants
Osaka’s renowned street food
Authentic cooking classes
Traditional Japanese inns
Natural hot springs
Detailed Itinerary … learn more
Food: All breakfasts, 5 lunches & 6 dinners … learn more
Accommodation: 8 nights hotels and traditional Japanese ryokans … learn more
Travel Info … learn more
Recommended Reading … learn more
Japan in the Blog
Your Japan Culinary Tour Itinerary
Day 1: Our Japan Culinary Tours Begin in Tokyo
Our Japan culinary tours begin as you are met at the airport and taken to Tokyo, Japan’s bustling capital where we find its modern core. Tonight we enjoy a welcome dinner together.
Drive time: Approximately 1-2 hours (depending on your arrival airport)
Meals included: Dinner
Day 2: Discover Traditional Tokyo
This morning we will set out on a sightseeing tour of traditional Tokyo. Starting in Asakusa, we will wander along the narrow streets of this historic district. We will take in the impressive sight of Senso-ji, a large Buddhist temple with a five-story pagoda, dating originally from the 7th century and rebuilt after its destruction during World War II. Afterward, we stroll along the Nakamise-dori, a pedestrian street lined with shops selling a variety of Japanese arts, crafts, and souvenirs. This walk ushers us to the Kaminari-mon, the stunning entrance gate to the temple.
We’ll then walk just west of Asakusa to Kappabashi, an area famous for its wide variety of crafts and wares. Here, we will appreciate – and perhaps, purchase! – the kitchenwares, including knives, noren (shop curtains), tableware, and another, more unusual craft: plastic food replicas. These recreations of sushi, hamburgers, rice, miso soup, and ice creams are amazingly realistic and are ubiquitous in the front windows of many of the country’s restaurants. In the late afternoon, we will learn how to make soba from scratch and enjoy a dinner made from the results.
Meals included: Breakfast, Dinner
Day 3: Explore Modern Tokyo
Today, as a counterpart to our visit of traditional Tokyo, we will explore her busy, modern side. We begin with a visit to Meiji Jingu, a shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. Many Shinto ceremonies are held in its tranquil grounds. After a calming respite in this serene environment, we will take a short walk to the lively Harajuku district. This neighborhood is known for its colorful styles and creativity. Shopping and picture-taking opportunities abound!
From here we will continue on to the Omotesando district, a beautiful tree-lined avenue sometimes referred to as the Champs-Elysees of Tokyo. In the afternoon we venture to Shinjuku, a neighborhood of Tokyo known for its humming energy. Here, we will visit the observation gallery of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. The view will give you an appreciation for the vast size of Tokyo with its views above the metropolis.
Meals included: Breakfast
Day 4: Journey to the Kii Peninsula
This morning our Japan culinary tour continues as bid farewell to Tokyo and head to the Kii Peninsula. We’ll send our main luggage on ahead to Kyoto and will travel with an overnight bag with essentials for the next two nights. This allows us to travel hands-free by bullet train, or shinkansen, to Shingu. In Shingu, we will visit Hayatama Taisha, a shrine of the UNESCO World Heritage pilgrimage route of the Kumano Kodo. The Kii Peninsula is the site of a centuries-old route of pilgrimage – one of just two recognized UNESCO World Heritage Pilgrimage Routes. Then, we continue inland by local bus to the hot springs resort of Kawayu Onsen, where we will stay in Japanese-style accommodations, soak in the hot springs, and dine on local specialties of the Kii Peninsula.
Travel Time: Approximately 6.5 hours
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 5: Ancient Pilgrimage Route
Today we will visit another one of the shrines that forms a part of the Kumano Kodo route of pilgrimage and is key to the local shugendo faith, which holds ascetic training in the mountains as part of its core. This morning we travel by local buses and train to Nachi Taisha, one of the three shrines on this pilgrimage route, known for its picturesque setting and dramatic waterfall. We’ll dine on seafood fresh from the nets of local fishermen at lunch before continuing on to the shrine and waterfall. This evening, we return to our ryokan in Kawayu Onsen, where you may wish to have a therapeutic soak in the waters of this hot spring resort.
Travel time: Approximately 3 hours and 20 minutes
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 6: Travel to Kyoto
This morning, we travel by local bus and express train to Kyoto. Kyoto is considered the cultural and spiritual capital of Japan, and is renowned for its traditions, temples, festivals, and cuisine. We will visit Nishiki market to see the fish, pickles, tea, tofu, sweets and other foodstuffs on display. We continue on to discover the back lanes and traditions of Gion – a famous district for its geisha (known as a geiko in Kyoto) and the brightly attired apprentice geisha, known locally as maiko. If luck is with us, we may see one breezing into one of the local teahouses to perform for guests. Our luggage, sent from Tokyo, awaits us at the hotel.
Travel time: Approximately 5.5 hours
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch
Day 7: Farm-to-Table Cooking Class & Osaka Street Food Tour
Today we travel by local train to Asuka, a town with a rich historical legacy. In addition to its colorful past, Asuka is a wonderfully picturesque destination, and visitors delight in its beautiful landscape of terraced rice fields. We will visit a small-scale farm where we learn in a true farm-to-table experience how to prepare a local dish using vegetables grown in the area. This is a highlight of our Japan culinary tours, and the fruits of our labor will be our lunch today.
Afterwards, we will have some time to explore the town’s ancient monuments and rice terraces before we continue on to Osaka, which is truly the culinary sweetheart of the nation. Osaka is famous not just for its Michelin-starred restaurants, but particularly for its street food – takoyaki, okonomiyaki, and more – the food of the common man and woman. Here, it is elevated to a delicious art form. In the twilight hours, we will experience the food ourselves on a delicious Japanese street food tour. We will sample different local treats as we go, having a moveable feast for dinner. Later in the evening, we will return to Kyoto.
Travel time: Approximately 3 hours and 20 minutes
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 8: Cultural Treasures of Kyoto
This morning, we travel to the Northwestern Kyoto district of Arashiyama. We’ll walk through bamboo forest paths and along her back lanes dotted with temples and shrines. Our tour includes a visit to Tenryuji – considered one of the five greatest temples in Kyoto – and our guide will explain its Zen Buddhist philosophy. We will enjoy a lunch here of shojin-ryoji or traditional Buddhist vegetarian cuisine –the origin of the famed kaiseki dining. We then travel back to Kyoto where we will visit Nijo Castle in the afternoon and enjoy a tea ceremony where we will learn about the history associated with the ’way of tea’.
Tonight at the farewell dinner for our Japan culinary tour we dine on local Kyo-ryori or cuisine specialities of Kyoto. Kyo-banzai ryori is based on making the most of local produce and is strongly rooted in vegetables that can only be found in the Kyoto area. Tofu is another speciality of Kyoto due to the clean clear water that feeds the city from the surrounding mountain springs and rivers. At dinner, we will have the opportunity to sample various sakes from the region, which will be a wonderful way to usher our Japan culinary tour to a close.
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Farewell Dinner
Day 9: End of Japan Culinary Tour
This morning, we have included a shared taxi transfer to the Kansai or Itami airport for your journey home.
Travel time: Approximately 1.5 hours for Itami airport, 2 hours for Kansai International Airport
Meals included: Breakfast
Please note: This itinerary is designed to give you an idea of what to expect on our Japan culinary tours but is not set in stone. What we actually do on a given day is flexible and can be tailored to the interests of the group.
Japan Cooking Tours: Authentic Japanese Food
Japan’s cuisine evokes its diverse landscape – the seas, rivers, and mountains of Japan offer seasonal bounties, and the shun, or peak season, of various produce is anxiously awaited by all. After the thaw of winter, delicate bamboo shoots, strawberries, and rapeseed buds spring forward; in the warmth of summer, watermelon and cucumber offer respite from the heat; fall witnesses the abundance of sweet potatoes, chestnuts and mushrooms; and winter warms the palate with tart citrus and bitter daikon.
It is not just this seasonality that distinguishes Japanese food, but the practiced restraint that allows chefs to highlight the natural flavor and texture of each ingredient. This results in a culinary experience that is elegant yet refined, and simple yet transportive.
Japan’s culinary identity is unrivaled – it is one of five countries to hold a spot on the UNESCO heritage list of food cultures. In 2011, Japan overtook France in its number of Michelin-starred restaurants, a badge it held onto until 2016. Join us on one of our Japan cooking tours to experience this unique cuisine and learn how to make some of its staple dishes in your own kitchen.
On our Japan cooking tours, we explore this island nation’s unique cuisine through hands-on cooking classes, a small-scale farm visit, market tour and a tasting walk of Osaka, recently named one of the top places to visit in 2017 by New York Times. With Access Culinary Trips, you will learn how to prepare authentic dishes and enjoy Japanese culinary experiences such as:
Preparing soba noodles from scratch
Cooking a seasonal farm-to-table lunch on a family-run Japanese farm
Learning the “way of tea” in a traditional tea ceremony
Street food tour of Osaka
Dining on fresh seafood straight from the net
Please note: Dining on this tour will be challenging for gluten-free or strict vegan diets due to the prevalence of soy sauce, miso, and dashi.
Our Japan cooking tours include daily breakfast, five lunches and six dinners, including the one lunch and one dinner you will prepare yourself.
Japan Hotels & Ryokan Accommodations
Our culinary tour takes you from the cosmopolitan city of Tokyo to the cultural hub of Kyoto. Along the way, we’ll stay at comfortable Western-style Japan hotels and traditional Japanese ryokan that provide the perfect place from which to explore this fascinating country.
Days 1 – 3:
Our Tokyo accommodations offer convenience and respite in the heart of this vibrant city. Our hotel, complete with traditional details, offers spacious rooms, a delicious breakfast buffet, and friendly staff eager to welcome you to Japan.
Days 4 – 5:
Our accommodations in the Kii Peninsula provide the ultimate glimpse into real Japanese culture. We’ll spend two nights in a gorgeous traditional Japanese-style ryokan with authentic tatami matting and futons, en-suite bathrooms, and customary Japanese hot springs.
Days 6 – 9:
Our final location is the mesmerizing city of Kyoto. Here, we will stay in a lovely Western-style hotel that offers extensive amenities and provides the ultimate charm and comfort for your final days touring Japan.
All of the hotels have en suite bathrooms, air conditioning, and TVs. For cultural reasons, it is much more common for hotel rooms to have two twin beds, rather than queen or king sized beds. Ryokan rooms are always in the Japanese style with tatami (straw) matting and futons laid out in the evening by the ryokan staff.
Note: All Japan hotels are subject to availability and may be changed as needed
Japan Travel Information from Access Culinary Trips
ARRIVAL & DEPARTURE TRAVEL INFORMATION
This tour begins in Tokyo. There are two main airports in Tokyo – Narita and Haneda international airports. Narita International Airport (NRT) is where most international flights land. Narita Airport is located about two hours from Tokyo, while Haneda International Airport (HND) is located about 40 minutes away. Group transfers will be provided and will be based on arrival times. We will notify you in advance should there be a wait time longer than two hours for your airport transfer. In the event the wait time is more than two hours, we can arrange a private car and driver for an additional cost.
Please plan to arrive at the airport by 3 PM so that you have enough time to make it to the hotel and get settled before the welcome dinner.
This trip will end in Kyoto, so please plan to depart from either Kansai International Airport (KIX) which is located one and a half hours away from Kyoto or Osaka International Airport (ITM) which is located 50 minutes from Kyoto. Group transfers will be provided and will be based on departure times. We will not know the exact times of the transfers until we have received the final flight information from all guests. We will notify you in advance should there be a wait time longer than two hours from your flight’s scheduled departure time. In this case, we can arrange in advance of your trip a private car and driver for an additional cost.
Pick-up & Drop-off Information
We provide complimentary group airport pick-ups and drop-offs on the first and last day of the tour. If you would like a private transfer, to be picked up or dropped off on a different day, or brought somewhere other than the airport, please contact us.
We do not book international flights to or from Japan for our clients. If you would like assistance with purchasing your flights, please let us know and we will forward your contact information and trip details to our travel agent partner.
TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS FOR JAPAN
Travel medical insurance, including emergency evacuation coverage, is compulsory for all our trips. We strongly recommend that you purchase travel insurance that includes cancellation protection so that you will be covered in the event that you are unable to attend our trip (due to injury, illness or other unforeseen circumstances). Please do not attend any of our trips without purchasing appropriate insurance coverage and providing the details to Access Culinary Trips.
Please note: proof of insurance is due within 14 days of booking, and delay in receipt may result in late documentation charges.
We do not provide travel insurance for our clients. Additional details are on our website here.
Passports & Visas
All countries require a valid passport with a minimum of 6 months validity. Visas are not required for travel to Japan from the US and many other Western countries, but you must have an onward/return ticket for 90-day “visa free” entry. Please note that it is your responsibility to ensure that you have the correct travel documentation. You can visit the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website for the most up-to-date visa requirements here: https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/country/japan.html
Please note that it is your responsibility to ensure that you have the correct travel documentation.
HEALTH & SAFETY
If your friends or family need to contact Access Culinary Trips due to an emergency while you are on the tour, please have them refer to the pre-departure email that is sent out three weeks prior to departure, which will have specific contact information relevant to your trip. If you need to contact Access Culinary Trips while traveling, please also refer to the emergency contact information in the pre-departure email.
Guests with preexisting medical conditions are required to disclose this information prior to traveling with Access Culinary Trips, and all guests with preexisting conditions are required to provide a note from a doctor clearing them for travel to Japan. The US Department of State recommends that travelers with medical prescriptions consider bringing small additional amounts of prescribed medicines as well as a copy of the prescription and a letter from the prescribing physician explaining the need for prescription. Please note that certain psychotropic or narcotic prescription medications may require advance documentation to be brought into Japan. Please contact your local Japanese consulate or embassy for additional information.
We strongly recommend that all of our guests visit a travel doctor before embarking on international travel. Please note that it is your responsibility to ensure that you receive any necessary vaccinations before traveling on your trip with us. If there is a chance that you may be pregnant during your trip, please discuss your travel plans with your doctor.
Please carefully review the health information section of the following webpage for up-to-date health information, including information on the quality of medical care, the availability of medications and the necessity for vaccinations in the destination country: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/japan.
Our trips are open to anyone who wants to explore our exotic destinations through cuisine. We do engage in multiple walking tours, some of which last several hours.
Safety & Security
To maximize your safety during our tours you should exercise common sense and caution at all times. We recommend that you always stick to set travel arrangements, and avoid unknown areas. We also recommend that you wear minimal jewelry and that you keep valuable items (including cell phones) safely stored. Always keep a copy of your passport, airline tickets, and credit card numbers separate from where you keep the originals.
For more information on safety and security in Japan, please review the safety and security section of the following webpage: https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/country/japan.html
Children ages 12 and up are welcome on group trips. Children under 12 are welcome on private tours. Please contact us with any questions.
CURRENCY, BANKING & SPENDING MONEY
The Japanese currency is the Yen. Japan has a reputation of being a cash-based society, but trends have gradually been changing. Citibank, most post offices and 7-Elevens will accept debit and some credit cards, but the majority of ATMs do not. You will have the opportunity to withdraw and exchange cash at your arrival airport, and throughout the trip, but because of the unreliability of ATM machines, we strongly recommend that you arrive in Japan having already converted most of your spending money to Yen.
For the latest currency exchange information please go to: https://finance.yahoo.com/currency-converter
It is recommended to notify your bank or card issuer that you intend to travel abroad so that no block will be put on the usage of your credit or ATM cards.
Meals: All breakfasts, four lunches, and six dinners are included, including the meals you cook yourself.
Meal costs can vary widely. For lunch, one can budget the Japanese yen equivalent of $10-$20 USD for economical lunches, $20-$40 for mid-range lunches, and $50-$150 for high-end lunches. For dinner, one can budget $20-$40 USD for economical dinners, $35-$50 for mid-range dinners, and $50-$150 for high-end dinners. Please also consider budgeting money for snacks and drinks.
Tipping: Tipping at restaurants is not customary in Japan and is often considered rude. Guides working with foreign guests will accept tips but this is entirely at your discretion. A suggested amount is the Japanese yen equivalent of $5-10 per person per day.
As of 2019, Japan has introduced a tourist tax of 1000 yen (about $9) to be paid upon departure from Japan.
Other Expenses: You should also plan to take spending money for incidentals such as souvenir shopping and nightlife.
Japan expertly navigates the boundary between honoring the traditions of its past while charging into new technologies, as one immediately experiences upon arriving in this mesmerizing archipelago. The incredibly punctual bullet train system, which connects nearly every corner of Japan, whisks travelers past ancient temples and shrines, winds amongst the lush green mountains and rice paddies of the interior, and darts through pulsing, modern cities that seem ready to burst at the seams.
Japan is also a place famous for its complex etiquette and conventions. The Japanese people are very courteous but it will be greatly appreciated if one bears a respectful attitude and can demonstrate a basic grasp of their etiquette. Some things to keep in mind are to remove shoes when entering a home, a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) or anywhere with tatami (straw mats); clean yourself thoroughly and ensure you are completely free of soap before soaking in the hot springs or bath houses prevalent in Japan; and of course, there is chopstick etiquette. Refrain from doing the following: sticking chopsticks vertically into a bowl of rice, using chopsticks to point, or using the eating end of the chopstick to serve yourself from the communal dishes – instead, flip your chopsticks around. Please do not pass items from one set of chopsticks to another as this is reminiscent of funerary rites in Japan. This article provides a basic overview of more important social rules.
CLIMATE IN JAPAN
On this tour, you will spend all of your time on the main island of Honshu.
On Honshu, Spring lasts from mid-March to May. Temperatures range from 40 – 65 ºF. Springs showers are common, so if you are traveling at this time of year, please pack a rain coat and warm layers.
Summer begins in June and ends in mid-September. Summer is also the season for typhoons, and rain is common. Temperatures are usually in the high 90’s and it is generally very humid.
Autumn is from September to November and is marked by gentle breezes and cooler temperatures of around 46 – 50ºF. In early September, temperatures can get as high as 70ºF. The weather is typically clearer this time of year.
Winter lasts from about December to mid-March, depending on the location. Winters are cold, with temperatures ranging from approximately 30 – 45 °F. It is typically drier in the winters here, but snow is not unusual.
ELECTRICITY & INTERNET IN JAPAN
The standard voltage in Japan is 100 V and the standard frequency is 50 / 60 Hz. Japanese plugs have 2 flat pins like those in the United States and most US electronics will not require a voltage converter, though they may run a bit more slowly. Please note that if you are bringing any items with a grounded plug with 2 flat pins and one rounded pin, you will require a plug adapter to adapt this to 2 flat pins only. These can often be found at hardware stores in the United States.
Wi-fi is available in the hotels where you will be staying. The ryokan in Kawayu Onsen has wi-fi in the lobby area and the service extends into most rooms. A limited selection of trains will also have wi-fi.
Most US cell phones will not work in Japan, unless you have a specific international plan. Contact your cellular provider to see what options you have in terms of international calling plans.
WHAT TO TAKE ON YOUR JAPAN CULINARY TOUR
We strongly recommend using TSA approved luggage locks on your bags and to hand carry valuables on the plane.
We recommend that you pack as lightly as possible. There may not always be someone available to help you carry your bags so you should only bring as much as you can carry on your own.
We suggest that you bring the following items:
Clothing & Equipment
Season specific clothing (if traveling in winter, pack warm clothes, sweater, jacket, hat, and a raincoat; if traveling in summer, pack warm weather clothing and consider bringing a light layer for evenings or air-conditioned buildings)
Clothes to wear for optional dinner at upscale restaurant
Comfortable walking shoes (preferably a pair that are easy to slip in and out of as you may be removing shoes frequently when entering homes)
Bathing suit (please note that this can not be worn in communal baths, but can be worn in certain outdoor hotsprings)
Sunscreen / sunglasses / hat
First-aid kit (should contain lip balm, aspirin, band aids, a cream for sore muscles (e.g. deep heat), Imodium or similar tablets for mild cases of diarrhea, rehydration powder, extra prescription drugs you may be taking)
Passport (with photocopies)
Travel insurance (with photocopies)
Airline tickets (with photocopies)
This document, printed
RECOMMENDED READING LIST
Click here to check out our recommended reading before your tour!
FINAL NOTES ON YOUR JAPAN CULINARY TOUR
This is a tool meant to help you decide what you should bring on your upcoming trip. It is by no means comprehensive. While we do our best to be as thorough as possible, we cannot foresee every possible condition. If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
The information contained in this document is provided in good faith. Due to the nature of travel, details in this document may change. You should thus use the above information as an indication only and not as a contractual obligation on the part of Access Culinary Trips.