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This tour is full of unique experiences in this beautiful part of rural Japan. During your visit, you will gain valuable insight into the authentic Japanese culture and experience many surreal traditions and customs which will turn this into a trip you will never forget. Learning wadaiko, Japanese taiko drumming; local food cooking; rice planting or harvesting; and visiting ancient Buddhist temples are only a few of the numerous activities you will enjoy in this mysterious region.
Staying in a traditional Japanese accommodation is a highlight of any journey in Japan. Many Japanese-style accommodations are in historic buildings and all focus on providing a personal service. During your trip, you will experience a variety of wonderful accommodations, with an emphasis on smaller, family-run inns with superb local cuisine.
The classic Japanese inn, ryokan, come in many styles but they are united by flawless service and exquisitely-prepared food. Ryokan may be in modern or traditional wooden buildings; however, rooms will always have a Japanese style. Rooms are simply-furnished with straw mat floors and futons are laid-out in the evening by the ryokan staff.
Minshuku are similar to ryokan though usually run by a local family, the style of service may be less formal and the rooms usually have simpler furniture. Ryokan may have private bathrooms but most minshuku, because of the smaller traditional buildings, will have communal segregated bathrooms.
The hotels you will be staying at are: the Wakimoto minshuku, a small minshuku run by Mr. and Mrs. Wakimoto; Iketomi, a traditional ryokan serving fine multi-course regional dishes; the ANA Crowne Plaza in Kyoto, which is a modern 4-star hotel near Nijo Castle; and Granvia Hotel in Osaka, which is a comfortable hotel, conveniently-located close to Osaka station.
Meet your tour guide and other group members at the hotel in central Osaka. In the evening there will be a welcome dinner at a nearby city restaurant.
In the morning, larger items of luggage will be sent ahead to Kobe. You will only carry with you a smaller bag with overnight essentials for your 3-night stay in Asuka. You will travel to Asuka by the private Kintetsu Railway and visit three important sites. You will start with the Asuka-dera Temple, which is the first Buddhist temple in Japan built on a significant scale. It houses the oldest existing Buddhist statue in Japan, dating back to 606 A.D. Asukaniimasu Shrine, a unique Shinto shrine celebrating harmony between husband and wife, is the second site visited. Its original construction date is uncertain, but it is already mentioned in documents from the 7th century. Ishibutai kofun, the third site, is said to be the burial tumulus for Soga-no-Umako, dating back to the early 7th century.
You will meet after breakfast and spend three hours planting rice in springtime or harvesting rice in autumn. Rice growing has enormous significance in Japanese society. It is great fun and highly educational to plant or harvest rice with your own hands. After lunch, you will spend more time exploring the landscapes of Asuka, including a short taxi ride to view one of the magnificent sets of terraced rice fields on the outskirts of the town. These terraces are a rare and special sight. While there, you may also visit another temple.
You will spend the morning cooking food for lunch with women from the community, using the freshest, seasonal, local ingredients. The food you cook will nourish the body, while learning from and interacting with the local residents will nourish the heart too. The afternoon will be spent learning Japanese drumming, known as wadaiko, from a local group which has given more than 1500 live performances in 38 countries around the world. The music of wadaiko vibrates through your body and the drumming is a great exercise, some of its benefits are stress reduction and the chance for powerful personal expression.
In the morning, you will leave Asuka and travel by train to Kobe. You will arrive at lunchtime and explore Kobe, Japan's sixth-largest city, designated a UNESCO city of design in 2008 and still part of the UNESCO creative cities network. Here you will visit Nunobiki Waterfall, a green oasis astonishingly located just behind the bullet train station of Shin-Kobe, and wander in the elegant Kitano area. There will also be free time later in the afternoon for further exploration. The luggage sent ahead from Osaka will be waiting for you at the hotel.
This morning you will send your luggage ahead to Kyoto, carrying with you just the overnight essentials for your 2-night stay in Sasayama. You will visit northern Kobe and try your hand at kayabuki, the Japanese traditional roof-thatching using pampass grass, reeds and other materials. You will also meet a young kayabuki craftsman who has dedicated himself to preserving kayabuki buildings and educating younger generations. This activity will last from late morning until around 15:00 and will include a beautifully-prepared lunch made with local seasonal ingredients. In case of rain, the kayabuki activity will be replaced by a tour of kayabuki cultural properties led by the kayabuki craftsman. You will then transfer by train to Sasayama.
You will spend the day sightseeing in Sasayama, an ancient castle town which flourished as a transportation hub linking western Japan with Kyoto on the San-in-do highway during the Edo Period. Noteworthy sights include the area of Sasayama Castle, the former samurai house area and the former merchants' house area. You will explore the town on foot and visit the Old Tamba Pottery Museum. Tamba pottery is one of Japan's six ancient pottery styles, created using an ascending kiln. The pottery is fired for sixty hours at a temperature of 1300C. As a result, the pinewood used for the fire turns into ash and covers part of the pottery, this gives each piece a unique design. There will also be free time so you can wander the town and explore further.
This morning you will transfer to Kameoka and enjoy a scenic two-hour boat ride along the Hozu River down to Arashiyama in Kyoto. Arashiyama is a pleasant district in the western outskirts of Kyoto famous for its bamboo groves. In historical times, court nobles favored this place to enjoy its natural setting. In Arashiyama, after lunch, you will visit Tenryu-ji Temple, a UNESCO world heritage site, and walk through the atmospheric bamboo forest. Luggage sent ahead from Kobe will be waiting for you at the hotel in Kyoto.
This morning you will visit Fushimi Inari Grand Shrine, headquarters of the 30,000 Inari branch shrines in Japan and home of the Inari deity presiding over good harvests and business success. You will walk through the beautiful vermilion gates which line the paths on Mount Inari behind the main shrine buildings, though not all the way to the summit. Then you will visit a traditional Japanese paper lantern studio and try your hand at making a small paper lantern to carry home as a souvenir. There will be free time in the afternoon and a farewell dinner at a city restaurant in the evening.
On your final day, you will be saying your farewells after breakfast at the tour hotel in Kyoto. Afterwards, your guide will offer advice on onward travel or your journey to the airport for your homeward flight.
This holiday takes place in Japan, a spiritual region which is home to one of the most beautiful and diverse cultures in the world. Cultural and culinary secrets are unveiled in the cities of Asuka and Kyoto while Japan's beautiful countryside offers unmatched tranquility and relaxation. An intriguing and captivating land with astonishing natural beauty, charm and mystery awaits.
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There are many good reasons to travel in Japan but food has to be one of the most compelling. Japanese food has become increasingly popular around the world, with sushi leading the way as a healthy, convenient food. However, Japan has a wealth of regional cuisines, focused on seasonal vegetables and the local seafood. Freshness and quality of the ingredients is the key to Japanese cuisine, and even if you have eaten at the finest Japanese restaurants abroad, you are in for a culinary treat in Japan.
Rice is not only the staple diet in Japan, it is the sacred food which is at the very heart of the Japanese identity. You will receive rice with every Japanese meal, except when you get a simple bowl of noodles. Japanese rice is glutinous and sticky, making it easy to eat with chopsticks. It is served plain and often towards the end of the meal if there are many courses. Resist the urge to pour soy sauce over it; this is frowned on in Japan and also stops the rice from sticking together thus making it much harder to eat.
There are many types of noodles in Japan but the two most common are udon, made from wheat, and soba, made from buckwheat. Restaurants selling soba and ramen are extremely popular and ramen shops can be found all over cities and towns and along major roads. The secret with ramen is the soup stock. Famous ramen shops get television coverage and long lines of patient diners.
Rather than heavy sauces and flavorings, Japanese cuisine relies more on the delicate flavors of the ingredients themselves. Amongst these flavors are ingredients such as shiso, a member of the mint family; miso, a paste made with soy beans; and pickles, being umeboshi, a pickled Japanese plum, the most famous. Any proper Japanese meal will have at least one or two types of delicately-flavored pickles. Even Japanese curry, a thick sauce, is usually served with pickles.
Each ryokan prides itself on its cuisine, often featuring local ingredients and always prepared fresh. Meals will usually consist of many courses, with a great variety of ingredients. The meal may start off with sashimi, a thin broth, pickles, and vegetables, and then move on to a meat dish, a grilled fish dish, tempura, and end with rice. The meal at a minshuku is also very important. Many owners grow their own vegetables and other ingredients are bought fresh daily.
The closes airport is Osaka International Airport (ITM).
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