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This trip will take you on a gastronomic journey across Japan: from Tokyo to the Japanese Alps. By combining the tenets of freshness, variety and appearance, Japanese cooking will never fail to delight your senses; this trip is jam-packed with opportunities to experience it at its best! Enjoy stays at traditional ryokan inns, discover the many sides of Tokyo, embrace the charms of traditional towns in the Japanese Alps, and even get in touch with your spiritual side at Mount Koya. Needless to say, there will be a mouth-watering array of food opportunities and experiences in every location!
The Cross is a smart hotel on Dotonbori, one of the liveliest and most famous streets in Japan. The hotel has recently been refurbished and boasts sleek, modern design both inside and out, giving it something of a boutique feel. Rooms are stylishly decorated and surprisingly generously sized for a city-centre hotel, and each bathroom offers a deep soaking tub, separate shower, and a small "powder room".
The Cross has its own restaurant and bar, but its great location also means that there are a plethora of establishments to choose from at your doorstep, making it the perfect place to indulge in one of Osaka's main attractions: fabulous food and drink! Many of Osaka's attractions are within easy walking distance of the hotel, but if you need to travel further afield, Nanba subway station is only three minutes' walk away, and Shinsaibashi only five minutes. Despite its lively location, the hotel itself is a quiet and peaceful place, so if you are looking for an early night, you will not be disturbed.
The Fudoin is a quiet shukubo (temple lodgings), located on a small hillside near Okunoin cemetery in Koya-san. The temple's large garden contains the tomb of the Empress of Toba (1101-1145); the Imperial family always visits this shukubo when they come to Koya-san. This is a small and friendly shukubo run by a handful of monks, with some English-speaking staff. Here, you will enjoy a peaceful and authentic experience of life on Mount Koya, with the added benefit of free Wi-Fi, a large TV (if you want it) and traditional, Buddhist vegetarian cuisine provided for breakfast and dinner. Some rooms even have balconies with lovely views of the surrounding area. Bathing facilities are shared, as is the norm for temple lodgings, and very well kept.
You will be invited to attend the temple's morning prayers - a highly recommended experience. The exact hour will depend on the time of year, as prayers are timed according to the hour of sunrise, and they take place every day. The ceremony will be in Japanese, but it is a truly unique and atmospheric experience that should not be missed.
This modern hotel is in part a conversion of a classic Meiji-era bank building, giving the whole place a sense of history and meaning (the location is something only a bank could afford!). Based here, you will be just a short walk from the famous 'Black Crow' castle and around 15 minutes on foot from Matsumoto station. The hotel offers comfortable rooms, modern in style, and more spacious bathrooms than at many mid-range hotels. Matsumoto Marunouchi Hotel has also its own restaurants and English-speaking staffs are available.
Shinjuku Sunroute Plaza is a sleek, modern hotel, located slap-bang in the centre of Tokyo, in the buzzing Shinjuku district. Located on the south side of Shinjuku Station, the Sunroute Plaza is ideally located to serve as a base for exploring Tokyo. Not only are there endless shopping, dining, drinking, and entertainment options within a few minutes' walk of your front door, you are also at a two minutes' walk from Shinjuku Station, which links to all Tokyo's districts and beyond.
The hotel was renovated in 2007 and has its own restaurant and bar, as well as a guest lounge with internet access and complimentary hot drinks. There is a spacious lobby area, and each guest room offers an en-suite bathroom, free Wi-Fi, a fridge, and a television with an English-speaking news channel. A new spa area opened in the hotel in 2014, which may be used for an extra fee.
The Sumiyoshi Ryokan is a lovely traditional inn, overlooking the river in Takayama. It is typical of Takayama's architectural design and was built in the early 20th century. Sumiyoshi is filled to the brim with artifacts, nick-nacks and furniture dating back many years, which gives it a wonderful sense of history. The meals are made using traditional local ingredients and the staff speak some English.
The Sunroute in Kyoto is a welcoming, low-budget western-style hotel in a great spot, just a short walk from the Gion geisha district and the Minamiza theatre in Kyoto. Rooms are compact, but have everything you need (the hotel has a particularly good buffet breakfast). There is a nice caf downstairs and an Italian restaurant with excellent views of the Kamogawa River. Free internet is available throughout the hotel.
Only a 20-minutes' walk from the hotel is Kiyomizu Temple, one of Kyoto's most famous and best-loved tourist spots, as well as the traditional wood-paneled streets of Gion, which are very close. The nearest stations are Kiyomizu-gojo (five minutes' walk) and Kawaramachi (ten minutes' walk), while Kyoto Station (an attraction in itself, housed in a vast and impressive modern building) is seven minutes away by taxi.
Opened in summer 2013 and located in the bustling Korinbo area of Kanazawa, Trusty Kanazawa Korinbo is a modern stylish hotel. The hotel's location makes it ideal for sightseeing, since it is only a short walk from Oyama Shrine, Kenrokuen Garden and the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art. What is more, the hotel is only a 10-minute bus ride from JR Kanazawa Station. Trusty Kanazawa Korinbo boasts two restaurants: breakfast is provided at Cafe Fascino, which also has a lunch menu of French and Italian cuisine, and Restaurant Teppanyaki Rin-Tei, a Japanese grill restaurant serving fresh seafood and a selection of wine.
The Villa Fontaine is a stylish, three-star hotel, not far from the up market of Ginza district and the beautiful Hamarikyu Gardens. This is a comfortable, Western-style hotel with bright, modern rooms. Though fairly compact, they are spotlessly clean and have all the essential facilities. The hotel is located around a 10-15 minutes walk south of Tokyo Station, so it is very central for exploring the city. There are two subway stations nearby (Shibashi and Shiodome), giving good access to other areas of Tokyo, and the bright lights of the up market Ginza shopping district are just a ten-minute walk away. A complimentary breakfast is served each morning, and there is free Wi-Fi throughout the hotel.
Discover the many faces of Japan's phenomenal capital city: from the top of the world's tallest tower, to the sushi bars of the world's largest fish market. In Tokyo, you will be staying in the Shiodome district, close to ultra-modern Odaiba and the peaceful oasis of the Hamarikyu Gardens, only a short train ride away from the more traditional Asakusa district.
On your first evening, one of your Tokyo-based tour leaders will take you out to a typical Japanese-style izakaya restaurant, for some great food, a few drinks, and an introduction to Japanese cuisine and dining etiquette. As these restaurants are usually quite daunting to enter without a local, this will really be a fantastic experience to have on your first night.
The following morning you will be met at the hotel by a private local tour guide, who will show you the city using Tokyo's fantastic public transport network. Some highlights might include scrambling across Shibuya's famous scramble crossing, taking a trip up the Skytree, for fabulous views of the city, or wandering through Akihabara electric town. Your hotel is also close to Omoide Yokocho or Yakitori Alley, a salary man's favorite, lined with numerous tiny shops selling all sorts of delicious dishes!
Day three in Tokyo begins with a sushi breakfast at Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market: the biggest fish market in the world. Tsukiji is an incredible sight. You will enjoy the best melt-in-your mouth sushi you will ever taste. The rest of the day will be free for you to explore the city, and your info-pack will be full of great suggestions. Inside Japan Tours will also include some recommendations for possible day trips, such as a visit to the great stone Buddha at sleepy at sleepy Kamakura or a hike around Mount Takao. Overnight in Villa Fontaine Shiodome
Try your hand at making soba noodles in the shadow of Matsumoto. Leaving the capital behind, you will take the express train into the mountains to the castle town of Matsumoto, in Nagano Prefecture. Here, the most impressive sight is the "Black Crow" castle, one of the very few original castles still standing in Japan. The town's specialty is soba noodles, made with fresh spring water and buckwheat. Near the castle is the 130-year-old Takagi noodle shop, where you will have a short lesson in how to make soba for yourself.
After enjoying your handmade noodles for lunch, you may like to try one of the towns other specialties - basashi (raw horse) - for dinner! Overnight in Marunouchi Hotel.
On day 5, wander through the morning markets of an alpine town, sip some local sake, and admire Takayama's famous elaborate festival floats. After breakfast in Matsumoto, you will make your way to the bus station in preparation for your journey through the Japanese Alps, to the craft town of Takayama. For hundreds of years, this town was completely cut off by snow during the winter months, and consequently has developed many of its own food specialties (or meibutsu). Staying at the family-run, traditional guesthouse, will introduce you to many of the local meibutsu, such as tskuemono (pickled vegetables), hoba-miso (miso, onions, and shitake mushrooms grilled on a leaf over charcoal), Takayama beefsteak, and much more.
Your second day in Takayama will be free for you to explore the area. Inside Japan Tours recommends you to wander in the old wooden buildings of the Sannomachi part of town, where you will have the chance to sample the other specialty of Takayama: sake.
Do not miss the morning markets with their farmers selling local produce and various crafts (such as the local sarubobo good luck charms). Later, be sure to head out to the Hida Folk Village to admire the steeply thatched gassho-zukuri buildings, or visit the Takayama Float Museum, to find out about the town's magnificent spring and autumn festivals.
Discover a world heritage site hidden in the mountains before being transported to a bygone era, as you visit Kanazawa's samurai quarter and teahouse districts. Today you will continue by bus to the town of Kanazawa, at the edge of the Japanese Alps, with a short stop in Shirakawa-go (a UNESCO world heritage site known for its quaint thatched farmhouses) along the way.
Kanazawa was once the industrial powerhouse of Japan's western coast, but today it is a small city known primarily for its old Nagamachi samurai quarter and its traditional teahouse districts. Both historical areas are replete with traditional buildings, evocative of a bygone era, whilst Kenroku-en garden is recognized as one of the most beautiful landscape gardens in all of Japan. In terms of culinary offerings, Kanazawa is renowned for its seafood and vegetables, but you may prefer to just pick up a bento lunchbox and enjoy the garden. You can check the personalized info-pack that Inside Japan Tours will give you, for lots of ideas. Overnight in Trusty Kanazawa Korinbo.
Have a lesson in Japanese home cooking, sample the delicacies of Sanjo-kai Market and test the defenses of Nijo Castle wandering through the gates at Fushimi Inari Shrine, as you discover the City of Ten Thousand Temples.
Today, the express train will take you back through the mountains to Kyoto. This city was the Imperial capital of Japan for more than 1,000 years and remains the beating cultural heart of the country to this day.
You will have the afternoon free to explore the city. Inside Japan Tours suggests you to visit Ginkaku-ji Temple, stroll through Nishiki Market, or wander through the hundreds of vermillion torii gates at Fushimi Inari shrine.
For dinner, Inside Japan Tours suggests visiting the Yoshikawa Ryokan, one of Kyoto's most celebrated Japanese inns. The ryokan restaurant is famous for its tempura dishes: lightly battered vegetables and seafood, served piping hot with dipping sauce, salt or grated radish. (Please note that while Inside Japan Tours will make the Yoshikawa reservation, you will need to pay on the day for this meal.)
The next morning you will be met by a private local guide, who will give you a full day tour of the city. Starting at your hotel, the itinerary will be completely flexible, depending on your preferences. The guide will have lots of fantastic suggestions, including a mixture of well-known highlights and lesser-known recommendations. You might like to visit Sanjo-kai Market, a half-mile stretch of almost 200 stalls selling local goods and produce, where you can learn about Kyoto cuisine and sample some of the wares. After the market, nearby Nijo Castle, with its "nightingale" floors, makes an excellent stop.
On your third day in Kyoto you are in for a real treat, as you will be taken to a Japanese home for a private cookery lesson. You will be met by an assistant and taken by taxi to a house in Kyoto, where an English-speaking instructor will show you how to cook some simple Japanese dishes (usually sushi and tempura, or teriyaki chicken). This is a private class and offers a great chance to learn more about the regional specialties of Japan (not to mention you will get a glimpse inside a regular Japanese home!).
In the afternoon, you are free to explore some more of the endless sights that Kyoto has to offer, armed with your info-pack and map. Overnight in Sunroute Kyoto Hotel.
For a taste of vegetarian Buddhist fare, stay at a shukubo temple (lodging in atmospheric Mount Koya), where the monk Kobo Daishi has been sitting in meditation for over a millennium.
Today you will take the train to the Kii Peninsula, in nearby Wakayama Prefecture, before taking the funicular railway to Mount Koya for the next leg of your adventure.
Sacred Mount Koya is the spiritual home of Shingon Buddhism, which was introduced to Japan by Kobo Daishi in 805. This secluded temple town is home to more than 50 temples and shukubo temple lodgings and staying at a Koya shukubo is a unique Japanese experience. For dinner, you will have the chance to try traditional temple fare, a type of vegetarian cuisine known as shojin ryori.
Later, you will have plenty of time to walk around the eerily beautiful Okunoin mausoleum, with its thousands of tombstones amongst giant Japanese cedar trees. For best effect, visit at dusk or early in the morning. Overnight in Fudoin Shukubo
There could be no greater contrast to the serenity of Mount Koya than Osaka. After participating in your temple's morning prayers, you will make your way to Japan's third-largest city, known for its outgoing inhabitants and its great food. Here, restaurants are just on your doorstep, and your evening will be spent taking a street food tour with a resident Osaka guide. This will include the food paradise of Dotonbori, with its iconic neon "Glico running man" and giant moving crab.
You will also take in the view from the waters on a short boat cruise down the river, keeping well filled-up with kushikatsu (skewered vegetables and meat dishes), takoyaki (the famous octopus balls) and a variety of delights at a traditional izakaya. Tonight is all about the Osaka philosophy of kuiadore: eat, drink, and enjoy life! Overnight in Cross Hotel Osaka.
Return to Tokyo for an extravagant food finale in the capital's Shinjuku district. Shooting back to the capital on the super-fast bullet train, you will be staying in the lively Shinjuku district for your food finale. Here, you will find countless small restaurants, izakaya, karaoke boxes, pachinko gambling parlors, arcades, bars, and plenty of neon. If you need peace and quiet, just make your way to the nearby Shinjuku Park Gardens, visit the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, or head to the top of the Metropolitan Government Building for panoramic views of the city.
Sadly, your adventures in Japan must come to an end, and after one last night in Tokyo, you will be taken by limousine bus, straight from your hotel to Narita Airport (NRT); hopefully looking back at the city with fond memories, a full stomach, and a hunger for more! Overnight in Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku.
Kanazawa is one of Japan's best-preserved historical cities; with a wonderful samurai quarter, fascinating geisha district, all kinds of traditional crafts and one of the top three (if not the top one) landscape gardens in Japan.
Until 150 years ago, Kanazawa was the fourth-largest city in Japan. Its wealth was built on high rice production and long periods of peace. Once the seat of the Maeda Clan, who ruled the city and prefecture of Ishikawa for nearly three centuries, today Kanazawa is a small city that prides itself on its refinement and heritage. A wander into Higashiyama, the city's geisha district, will transport you into another world, where you can slip into a teahouse and enjoy a few moments of rest and relaxation. In Nagamachi, you can visit earthen-walled residences in one of the best-preserved samurai quarters in Japan. At Kenrokuen, meanwhile, you can spend a couple of hours strolling in what is perhaps Japan's most beautiful landscape garden. This is not to mention the numerous craft workshops, excellent museums, superb markets (with some of the best seafood in Japan), the nearby "Ninja" Temple and the recently rebuilt Kanazawa Castle. What is more, the opening of the new Hokuriku Shinkansen bullet train!
There is nowhere more special than Kyoto. It is home to everything associated with traditional Japan: striking temples, mysterious geishas, sacred tea ceremony, Zen rock gardens, imperial palaces, refined cuisine, ornate kimono, bamboo groves, street-corner shrines, and lively festivals.
Kyoto was founded in 794, as Japan's capital and the home of Emperor Kanmu. Today, it is Japan's seventh-largest city (not a tiny rural village anymore), and the juxtaposition of modern, urban life, against time-honored traditions that makes this one of the most fascinating of Asian cities. Situated on a plateau, surrounded on three sides by mountains and bisected by the River Kamo, the city was laid out as a grid system in the tradition of Tang China. As the epicenter of Japanese culture and history, Kyoto attracts more than 40 million visitors a year. However, the real Kyoto heartbeat is lurking just around the corner for those who make the effort to get off the main tourist trail and seek it out.
Matsumoto, located in the Japanese Alps, makes a contrast to the huge neon cities of the eastern seaboard. Here, you will find fantastic art museums and delicious food, presided over by the "Black Crow" castle, which rises dramatically above the city centre. Until the twentieth century, parts of this region were amongst the most isolated places in Japan. Often inaccessible for much of the winter, when heavy snowfall and temperatures (as low as 25 degrees Celsius 13 degrees Fahrenheit), made the mountain passes too treacherous for any journey to be undertaken. However, Matsumoto itself was an important trade route and a centre of export.
Matsumoto today is a very cosmopolitan city and has long been a centre of arts and education. The world-famous Suzuki Method of learning the violin was developed here, and it is the hometown of the celebrated artist Yayoi Kusama. Thanks to its artistic heritage, Matsumoto is home to some excellent art museums - including a huge collection of ukiyo-e woodblock prints, and the Matsumoto City Museum of Art. Matsumoto's piece of resistance, however, is its castle (which is lauded as one of the most beautiful original castles in Japan). Having survived over four hundred years through wars, earthquakes and fires, the current keep dates back to around the late sixteenth century, now open for the public to explore and admire.
The history of Mount Koya stretches back some 1,200 years, to the ninth century, when a monastic retreat was set on top of the mountain to serve members of the Shingon sect of Buddhism. Today, it is one of the most atmospheric and peaceful places that you can visit in Japan.
One of the main reasons to seek out Mount Koya is to stay in a temple lodging, or shukubo, where you can experience the life of a pilgrim as you sleep on tatami mats, eat traditional Buddhist cuisine, and join your hosts for morning prayers. Easily the most impressive of Koya's many religious sites is Okunoin Cemetery: a vast graveyard stretching seemingly endlessly through the tall, dense forest of cryptomeria trees that surrounds the town. A walk through here at dawn or dusk, when the cemetery is eerily wreathed in mist, is a truly unforgettable experience.
Osaka is the concrete beating heart of the Kansai region: Japan's second biggest industrial area. This is modern Japan with large, massive crowds, huge department stores, karaoke boxes, bars, restaurants, and clubs one on top of the other. Osaka has all the galleries and museums you will expect in a large city, but the best way to experience the character of the place is on the street and in the buzzing, larger-than-life entertainment quarters. Osaka has a reputation for a work-hard-play-hard mentality, and from about 18:00, the streets are alive with businessmen, shop workers, and students all out to relax and have a good time. Most importantly for the visitor, Osaka is one of the best places to try Japanese food - whether it is octopus balls from a street-side stand, okonomiyaki savory pancakes (a regional specialty), or some of best sushi in the world.
In addition to food and drink, Osaka has an impressive clutch of attractions to keep the visitor entertained. The Ring of Fire Aquarium, for instance, is one of Japan's very best (exhibiting creatures from the volcanic regions encircling the Pacific). Universal Studios Japan is located just a short distance out of the city amongst other interesting film sets. In the unusual Instant Ramen Museum, guests can have a go at creating their own cup noodle. Finally, for those who enjoy a good soak in a Japanese hot spring, Osaka Spa World - Japan's premier onsen theme park - is an absolute must.
More than 600 meters above sea lea level, surrounded by the brooding peaks of the Japan Alps, Takayama is a bustling market town known for its sake, traditional crafts, and biannual festival.
Takayama was once the home of Japan's most skilled carpenters and artisans. The well-preserved streets and wooden houses on the banks of the Miyagawa River pay vivid testament to this fact. The buildings now house a multitude of craft shops and specialist food stores in amongst which you will find numerous sake breweries (open for tastings!) and museums, covering all manner of things, from mechanical dolls to the history of the Lion dance.
This generally quiet rural town is famous throughout Japan for its elaborate festival, which shatters the peace twice a year, when tens of thousands of Japanese descend on the town to join the celebrations. One of Takayama's most popular attractions is the Hida Folk Village, a remarkable collection of old gassho-zukuri (praying hands) farmhouses, complete with thatched roofs and fireplaces. Add to this a bicycle ride through the Hida countryside and you have a perfect day in Takayama!
It is impossible to sum up Tokyo in a line, a paragraph, a page or even a book. The city has a force and power all of its own. It creates its own gravity, a centre of everything: politics, industry, finance, shopping, arts, architecture, scientific study, nightlife, and food. This is a truly overwhelming city: a vibrant hub of modern civilization, constantly buzzing with activity. Suited businessmen rush from one meeting to the next; immaculately turned-out girls totter precariously on impossibly high heels; kimono-clad housewives fill the up-market department stores, and at every turn you can see a barrage of different sights, sounds, and aromas.
As Japan's largest city and capital since the Meiji restoration of 1868, Tokyo is a sensory bombardment. The wonderful abundance of street-level detail means there is always something to keep the attention. A tide of energy sweeps Tokyoites along, carrying them through the daily grind, from their apartments, onto the unbelievably crowded subway system, into the office and then back again. A visit to Tokyo is the chance to witness the Japanese success story up close.
Japan is very much the place for a cultural and gastronomic adventure. During this culinary tour, guests will have the opportunity to indulge in the best Japanese dishes. From top class restaurants, to backstreet noodle bars, Japan's kitchens have something for every palate, and its cities are sure to slake the hungriest culture vulture's appetite, for impressive sights and new experiences. With thousands of restaurants and more Michelin stars than Paris, Tokyo is a foodie's dream and the perfect place for your holiday. Enjoy an evening in an izakaya (traditional Japanese pub), drinking and eating side-by-side with the city's salary men; try soba noodles, made by hand using fresh spring water and buckwheat; sample local specialties, such as hoba-miso and Hida beef; try traditional shojin ryori at a Buddhist temple, and much more.
Please arrive at Narita Airport (NRT) in Tokyo. Inside Japan Tours will pick you up in a private car. The pick up is included in the price.
The major airports in Japan are Tokyo Narita Airport (NRT), which is one hour outside of Tokyo, and Osaka Kansai Airport (KIX), which is close to Osaka, Nara, and Kyoto.