The Sushi Express
Are you ready for a culinary adventure? You'll begin in Tokyo, where the first full day of your trip starts with a morning tour of Tsukiji Market. This is one of the world’s biggest and busiest fish markets, where you can taste some of the best sushi and, if you’re there early enough, witness the famous tuna auctions and watch these mighty fish being prepared for sale. Next, we’ll take you to a typical Japanese home, where you’ll prepare lots of delicious types of sushi before eating them for lunch.
The following day you’ll start the morning with a private guided tour of Happo-en, a tranquil tea garden boasting beautiful tea houses and ponds filled with koi carp. Here, you’ll take part in a traditional ceremony, with a tea master on hand to teach you the ancient art of drinking green tea. In the evening we’ve organized a special gourmet food tour beginning in Yurakucho, a district in the south of the city filled with down-to-earth eateries and a bustling but laid-back atmosphere. You’ll mix with the "salarymen" or workers as they relax with a beer and yakitori meat skewer. Then you’ll take the subway to Tsukishima, which translates as "moon island", a man-made enclave in Tokyo Bay. This part of the city is famous for monjayaki, a type of pancake with vegetables and other ingredients mixed into the batter and served with many different toppings. This is your last night in Tokyo, so after dinner, you can either return to the hotel for a good night’s sleep or continue your evening at one of the lively pubs in the city center.
The next day you'll travel by train to Kanazawa, a historic city just a few hours northwest of Tokyo. On arrival, you'll have a free afternoon to explore its old castle town, museums, and Kenrokuen, one of the most picturesque landscape gardens in Japan. How the garden looks depends on what time of year you visit, as flowering trees give it a different look every season. In spring you'll see plum blossom before the cherry trees bloom in mid-April. In the autumn, the garden is filled with vibrant red and orange hues from its cherry and maple trees.
THINGS TO DO
Kanazawa Castle and Kenrokuen Gardens
Kanazawa Castle and Kenrokuen Gardens
Marvel at this partially-resorted castle and find zen in its gardens.
On Day 6 of your visit, you'll make the journey from Kanazawa to Takayama, a city in the mountainous region of Gifu. Along the way, you'll stop off in Shirakawa-go, a village famous for its traditional gassho-zukuri farmhouses, some of which are more than 250 years old. Their name loosely translates to "hands in prayer" because their thatched roofs resemble the hands of Buddhist monks pressed together. You'll have time to explore the village and try the local specialty, soba noodles, before continuing your journey to Takayama.
You'll bid farewell to Takayama and hop on board the panoramic Hida Express followed by a super-fast Shinkansen bullet train. Your destination is Kyoto, a spiritual city that's perfect for immersing yourself in Japanese culture. Your first full day in the city begins with a visit to Kinkaku-ji Temple, also known as the Golden Pavilion. This symbolic golden structure dates back to the 14th century - although the current reconstruction was unveiled in 1955 after a monk torched the original. Next, you'll visit Nijo Castle, a former imperial palace and UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can explore the gardens and the ornamental castle itself, including its famous decorated sliding doors. The day ends with a visit to the Nishiki market, also known as "Kyoto’s kitchen". It’s based around a narrow shopping street lined with more than 100 shops selling authentic local ingredients, from pickles to sweets and sushi.
You'll return to the market the next day to buy ingredients for your very own Japanese cooking class. Once you’re done with your shopping, you can wander through the back streets of the city on your way to a traditional townhouse where you’ll be able to try a sake tasting class, teaching you all about this Japanese rice wine. Then it’s time for your cookery lesson, with experts on hand to show you how to roll sushi and make miso soup, along with cooked salad and seasonal fruits for dessert. You’ll enjoy all this delicious freshly made food for dinner.
You'll leave Kyoto on Day 10 and depart by train for Osaka, Japan's "kitchen capital". The rest of the day is free for you to explore this modern and vibrant city - you might want to visit the Kaiyukan Aquarium, where you can see hundreds of species of exotic fish and sharks. Another highlight of this city is its iconic castle, which played a key role in the unification of Japan during the sixteenth century. Today, it houses a fascinating museum where you can learn all about the history of the castle and its founder, Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Your trip to Osaka culminates on Day 11, with a tour of the lively Dotonbori district. Sharing a name with the city's canal, this part of Osaka offers a huge variety of local foods for you to try, from the ubiquitous takoyaki (commonly known as 'octopus balls') to kushikatsu, a dish of deep-fried meat and vegetables. The cost of these first dishes, plus a drink, is included. Your guide will then be able to show you a range of other eateries, from ramen noodle bars to izakaya pubs. Afterward, you'll have the choice of returning to your hotel for some rest or heading out into the city to carry on eating and drinking.
The next day, you'll take a short transfer to Kansai International Airport for your flight home. Your time in Japan might be over, but you'll be leaving with all the amazing memories you've made and the knowledge of how to prepare your very own Japanese cuisine for friends and family at home.