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13 Days Culture, Tea and Food Tour Japan

13 Days Culture, Tea and Food Tour Japan

  • Tokyo - Kyoto - Hakone - Kanazawa

Culture, Tea and Food Trip Japan

Join this tour to explore more than 2,000 years of Japanese history and culture, from ultra-modern Tokyo through the former imperial capital of Kyoto, and all the way back to Kanazawas unique samurai architecture. Along the way, youll visit local markets and craft workshops, partake in a traditional tea ceremony, and travel by rail just as the Japanese do. You will dine at local restaurants trying all sorts of authentic Japanese food. During the cooking session, you will learn how to cook traditional Japanese dishes like sushi, onigiri or mochitsuksi (rice cake). Welcome to Japan - Overseas Adventure Travel style!

Highlights

  • 2 cooking classes
  • Traditional Japanese food
  • Visits to a local food market
  • Tea ceremony and tea tasting
  • A deep dive into Japanese culture
  • 12 nights accommodation
  • Zen meditation practice
  • 24 meals included
  • 8 days with instruction
  • English
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All accommodations feature private baths with hot water and Western-style toilet facilities.

Aranvert Hotel (Kyoto, Japan)

Located in the heart of Kyoto - steps away from the Gojo subway station - Aranvert Hotel offers on-site amenities like a restaurant and bar, as well as public baths with panoramic views of the city. Each of the hotels 183 air-conditioned rooms has a phone, minibar, coffee- and tea-making facilities, a TV, and a private bath with a hair dryer.

Hotel JAL City Tamachi Tokyo (Tokyo, Japan)

Situated near the Tokyo Bay waterfront, Hotel JAL City Tamachi Tokyo is conveniently located - only a 5-minute walk from Tamachi Station. On site, guests can enjoy a coffee shop, Japanese restaurant, and Chinese restaurant. All of the hotels air-conditioned rooms offer coffee- and tea-making facilities, a safe, a satellite TV, Internet access, and a private bath with a hair dryer.

Hotel Kagetsuen (Hakone, Japan)

Nestled in a quiet cypress grove, Kagetsuen Hotel offers a relaxing respite from the bustle of Japanese city life. All of the hotels 65 air-conditioned rooms include a TV, tea-making facilities, and a private bath. On-site, guests can enjoy the hotels restaurant, which serves local cuisine.

Kanazawa Miyako Hotel (Kanazawa, Japan)

Kanazawa Miyako Hotel is within walking distance of some of the areas most popular attractions, including Omicho Market and Kanazawa Station. All of the hotels 191 air-conditioned rooms offer a TV, coffee- and tea-making facilities, and a private bath with a hair dryer. Complimentary wireless Internet access is available in public areas.

Day 1 - Arrive to Tokyo, Japan

Arrive to the Tokyo airport in the late afternoon or early evening.

An Overseas Adventure Travel representative will greet you at the airport and assist with the transfer to your hotel in Tokyo, where youll meet your trip leader and fellow travelers, including those who arrived early for the optional Tokyo pre-trip extension.

Meals arent included.

Accommodation: Hotel JAL City Tamachi Tokyo or similar.

Day 2 - Tokyo, afternoon at leisure

Youll have breakfast at the hotel, followed by a briefing about your upcoming days in Japan.

Then, you set out to explore fascinating and frenetic Tokyo on a tour that takes you to some of its most famous sites. Youll enter the seventh-century Asakusa Kannon Temple, which - according to a legend - was founded after two brothers fished the Kannon statue of the Sumida River. They threw the statue back in the river over and over, but it always returned to them, so they built the temple to house it forever.

Youll pass by the Imperial Palace - which still serves as the home to the emperor of Japan - on your way to the Ginza district, famous for its high-class shops and glitzy galleries.

Following your explorations here, youll have time for lunch on your own before you return to your hotel in the mid-afternoon.

The rest of the day is free for you to explore independently. Perhaps, youll get an overview of Tokyos history at the massive Edo Tokyo Museum, or stroll the streets of Old Tokyo.

Youll regroup this evening as you and your group gather for a welcome dinner at a local restaurant.

Meals included: breakfast and dinner.

Accommodation: Hotel JAL City Tamachi Tokyo or similar.

Day 3 - Travel overland to Hakone, Japanese language lesson

You start your day with breakfast at the hotel, then you board a motor coach for the trip to Hakone, located about 50 miles west of Tokyo.

As you drive, your trip leader will lead a discussion on language, giving you a lesson on practical Japanese that will help you in your explorations.

Youll stop for lunch at a local restaurant, then ascend halfway up the slopes of Mount Fuji by bus (weather permitting), enjoying a scenic drive around this iconic, snow-capped mountain.

Afterward, you resume your journey to Hakone, arriving in late afternoon.

After checking into your hotel, the rest of the day is at leisure. If you wish, you can try bathing in a Japanese onsen (hot spring) before you enjoy a Japanese banquet at your hotel.

Meals included: breakfast, lunch, dinner.

Accommodation: Hotel Kagetsuen or similar.

Day 4 - Owakudani thermal springs, cruise Asahi Lake

You start your day in Hakone with breakfast at your hotel, and then embark on a tour of the scenic city. Blessed with a beautiful volcanic setting, Hakone is beloved by the Japanese for its hot-spring resorts, mountains, lakes, and historical sites.

You begin with a drive around Hakone, and then drive to Mount Soun high above the surrounding hills. Here, you ride in an aerial gondola to thermal springs in the Owakudani Valley (the Japanese eggs boiled in Owakudanis bubbling lava pools a treat).

Then, you cruise Lake Asahi from Kojiri to Hakone-machi and have lunch at a local restaurant. Here, weather permitting, you will have tremendous views of majestic Mount Fuji.

After lunch, you set out on your return trip to your hotel. On the way, youll visit the Hamammatsuya, a workshop specializing in wooden handcrafts. Here you can see the creation of the elaborate woodwork of Hakone Yosegi Zaiku, a special product of Hakone featuring complex inlaid designs.

You arrive at your hotel in mid-afternoon for some free time, and enjoy dinner at your hotel this evening.

Meals included: breakfast, lunch, dinner.

Accommodation: Hotel Kagetsuen or similar.

Day 5 - Bullet train to Nagoya, express train to Kanazawa

Youll have breakfast at your hotel, and then transfer to the train station, where youll get on your first bullet train - the legendary high-speed train service pioneered by the Japanese. The Japanese call this train the shinkansen. Its one of the worlds finest quick-transit trains, which is still amongst the fastest trains in the world, traveling at speeds of up to 200 miles per hour. For boarding, be prepared to stand at a precise location indicated by your coach and seat accommodations. The train stops exactly where indicated and sure enough, your coach is right in front of you.

Your trip by the bullet train takes you from Odawara to Nagoya.

Lunch is on your own today, and Overseas Adventure Travel suggests doing as the Japanese do - buy a packed lunch (called eki-ben) in the station and enjoy it on the train. Eki-ben lunches are one of the attractions of train travel in Japan.

Youll then board the Limited Express train for your ride to Kanazawa, enjoying a view of Japans rolling countryside and modern cityscapes along your route.

You arrive in the afternoon and check into your hotel. Dinner tonight is at a local restaurant.

Meals included: breakfast, dinner.

Accommodation: Kanazawa Miyako Hotel or similar.

Day 6 - Kanazawa, visit Omicho market

Youll have breakfast at your hotel and then begin your exploration of Kanazawa with a guided tour of this historic city.

Youll start your tour with a morning visit to the famous Kanazawas garden, which was opened to the public in 1875, and is one of the most visited garden spots in all of Japan.

After the garden, youll visit one of the many houses of Kanazawa where the samurai - Japans famer class of noble warriors - once lived. Several former samurai homes still stand on winding streets, and many are still in use as residences.

Youll enjoy a closer look at what constitutes samurai style when you explore the 18th-century Terashima House, home of a samurai who was also a painter.

Later, youll tour the Higashi-Chaya district with its old wooden structures.

Youll also visit Kaikaro, a190-year-old ochaya, a teahouse where geishas perform. Here youll admire the teahouses dcor, which is a true fusion between modern and ancient Japan.

Then, following lunch at a local restaurant, youll visit the Omicho Market (closed on Sundays and public holidays). This 300-year-old market, known locally as Kanazawas Kitchen, is a very busy gathering place, and brims with exceptionally fresh vegetables, fruits, and fish offered for sale to household and to private restaurants. By browsing the many stalls here, you can get a good idea of what the local diet is like and see the range of foods that create the local cuisine. You might see some of the traditional specialties of the region, such as fish pickled in rice bran, fresh crab, Kaga lotus root, seaweed, and a variety of sweet treats.

After walking through the busy market, youll uncover more local traditions by visiting a gold-leaf workshop. Sheets of gold have been produced in Kanazawa since the 16th century, and are used to decorate everything from handcrafts to Buddhist alters. In the workshop, youll learn more about how gold leaf is made, and what significance it still holds in Japanese culture before returning to your hotel.

Tonight, dinner is on your own.

Meals included: breakfast, lunch.

Accommodation: Kanazawa Miyako Hotel.

Day 7 - Optional Shirakawa-go and Gokayama tour

Today, you can spend a day at leisure in Kanazawa, making your own discoveries in this historic city. Or you can join an optional full-day excursion to Shirakawa-go and Gokayama, mountain villages - and UNESCO World Heritage Sites - in the forested countryside outside of Kanazawa. Because of their relative isolation, these areas developed independently of Japanese society, resulting in a unique culture and lifestyle. In addition to creating their own dances, festivals, and traditions, the residents developed a distinctive architectural style known as gassho-zukuri. Characterized by steeply pitched thatched roofs that are both striking and elegant, these dwellings are considered to be some of the most efficient farmhouses in Japan - and you'll discover why as you explore the houses of Ainokura this morning.

Then you'll visit a workshop to see how washi - a thick, fibrous paper made from mulberry bark - is created.

Afterward, you'll head to Murakami House, which was built in 1578 and is the oldest ghasso-style house in the area. During you visit here, you'll learn more about the history and culture of Gokayama, enjoy a traditional dance performance, and savor a traditional lunch of soba (buckwheat noodles) at a local restaurant.

This afternoon, you transfer to Shirakawa-go, where you'll learn the art of mochitsuki, or rice-cake making, with members of the local community before returning to your hotel.

Dinner is on your own tonight.

Meals included: breakfast.

Accommodation: Kanazawa Miyako Hotel.

Day 8 - Tea with local family and train to Kyoto

Following breakfast at your Kanazawa hotel, you set off to visit a local family for tea and get a firsthand glimpse of Japanese life at home. This is a wonderful opportunity to talk with a family and experience a bit of their daily routine.

After this unique opportunity, you'll enjoy lunch together before you transfer to the train station and board a train bound for Kyoto.

You arrive at your hotel in the late afternoon, take a short orientation walk around the neighborhood, and enjoy dinner at a local restaurant tonight.

Meals included: breakfast, lunch, dinner.

Accommodation: Aranvert Hotel or similar.

Day 9 - Discover Kyoto and Kinkakuji

Youll visit Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, and Kinkakuji Temple.

Next, youll visit Nijo Castle, which was constructed between 1601 and 1603. The castle, shrines, and 17 temples here are designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Although meant to represent power, it appears more a royal estate than a military post fortified with weapons. It was built by Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder of the Tokugawa shogunate, and became a meeting place for the shoguns. The largest building on the grounds is Ninomaru Palace, intentionally built with squeaky floors so an intruder would be heard advancing through the room.

After lunch at a local restaurant, you continue on to Sanjusangendo Hall, built in the 12th century and containing an impressive 1,001 statues of the thousand-handed Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy.

Finally, you explore Kiyomizu Temple, another UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its leap of faith veranda and wooden terraces once used for sacred dances. Resting at the foot of the Higashiyama Mountains, this temple - which dates back to AD 77 - offers a sweeping view of Kyoto and a spring whose waters are believed by some to have a curative quality.

This evening, you return to your hotel and enjoy dinner on your own.

Meals included: breakfast, lunch.

Accommodations: Aranvert Hotel or similar

Day 10 - Day at leisure, optional Nara and Fushimi tour

After breakfast, today is free for you to explore Kyoto on your own. Or you can choose to join us on an optional tour to Nara and Fushimi. This excursion takes you to the distinctive city of Nara.

You'll also visit the Kasuga Shinto Shrine, which dates back to AD 768. Here, you'll stroll along the shrines wooded paths, admiring its impressive collection of 3,000 stone lanterns. After lunch at a local restaurant in Nara, you'll continue to the lovely town of Fushimi, where youll visit one of the most popular shrines in Japan - Fushimi-Inari.

This evening, you can seek out a local restaurant to have dinner on your own.

Meals included: breakfast.

Accommodation: Aranvert Hotel or similar.

Day 11 - Visit Buddhist temple, optional Japanese traditional music tour

After breakfast at your hotel, you'll depart for a day of activities that aim to give you a closer look into the lives of the Japanese people. First, you'll take a boat to Senkoji Temple, which is supported in part by funds from Grand Circle Foundation. At this 400-year-old temple, you'll have a chance to practice Zen meditation. Zen is a branch of Buddhist thought that believes divine wisdom resides in each person; meditation techniques are used to reveal this inner divine nature. Typically meditation consists of simple sitting and breathing practices that are meant to calm the mind and allow the practitioner's focus to shift away from the mundane. You'll be in experts hands for your session, under the guidance of a Buddhist monk.

While at the temple, you'll also explore another aspect of Zen influence by partaking in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony - sado. To create the actual beverage, a powdered tea called matcha is put in a teacup, covered with hot water, and whipped with a bamboo whisk until it foams slightly. But the significance of the tea goes far beyond the tea preparation: the ceremony is a traditional art form that exhibits the Zen ideals of the beauty of simplicity and mindfulness of movement. An integral part of the ceremony is the appreciation of the aesthetics of the place where the tea is prepared and enjoyed. The ceremony is given special meaning by the deep sincerity with which the host prepares the tea.

Then, youll explore Japans rich gastronomical traditions on your journey to Kameoka.

After a satisfying homemade lunch, you'll return to Kyoto, where you'll have the rest of the afternoon to relax independently and enjoy dinner on your own. Or round out today's discoveries with an optional tour that celebrates traditional Japanese music and architecture. You'll travel by taxi to a performer's house to meet a musician couple who still practice on traditional instruments. Some of these, like the three-stringed shamisen, have histories dating back to the 16th century. You'll learn about the history of this art form before being treated to a brief concert - perhaps you'll try out an instrument yourself.

Then you'll depart by taxi for the Higashiyama district, in the heart of Kyoto's Gion Corner, where travelers can take an evening walk along charming cobblestone streets that evoke the romance of old Kyoto with their traditional wooden buildings. You'll stroll past shops, merchants' houses, and ryokan (Japanese-style inn) before stopping for an included dinner at a local restaurant.

Meals included: breakfast, lunch.

Accommodation: Aranvert Hotel.

Day 12 - Day at leisure, optional Arashiyama tour

Today, continue exploring Kyoto on your own. This spiritual city is home to a tremendous number of religious sites - nearly 300 Shinto shrines and 1,700 Buddhist temples - for you to discover. Or, for a look at some of the artwork these ancient religions have inspired, you can view Shinto and Buddhist art at the Hosomi Art Museum. And if pottery is your interest, you can browse an enormous selection of bowls, vases, sake cups, and other items fired by local potters at the Kyoto Ceramics Center. Or join an optional tour to Arashiyama. On this excursion, you'll go on a walking tour of two of the most beautiful gardens in this region of Japan, renowned for its bamboo groves and Togetsukyo Bridge spanning the Oi River.

You and your group will gather after breakfast for a walk down to the train station and arrive in the Arashiyama neighborhood, where your first stop is Tenryuji Temple. The primary temple of the Rinzai school of Zen, it was originally built in 1339 and has been destroyed by wars and fires and rebuilt many times. Most of the structures here now date from the late 19th century, but the exquisite Zen garden - which includes a large pond, elevated rock groupings, and delicate cherry trees - is many centuries old. Next you'll see Okochi-Sanso, a lovely garden located on top of a hill, providing a peaceful glimpse of the quiet Kyoto environs. Here you will be served Japanese tea and cake.

You'll return to you hotel in the early afternoon.

Tonight enjoy a farewell dinner at a local restaurant.

Meals included: breakfast, dinner.

Accommodation: Aranvert Hotel or similar.

Day 13 - Return to U.S. or begin a post-trip extension

Today, you will fly home from Osaka in an afternoon or early evening flight.

Or, if you're continuing on the optional post-trip extension to Hiroshima, you'll transfer to this coastal city by bullet train today.

Meals included: breakfast.

  • A cruise over Lake Asahi
  • A guided tour of Kanazawa including the Omicho market
  • A Japanese language lesson
  • A Tokyo excursion including Asakusa Kannon Temple and the Imperial Palace
  • A visit to the thermal spring in the Owakudani Valley
  • A visit to a local family for tea tasting and getting a firsthand glimpse of Japanese life at home
  • A visit to a Buddhist temple, where youll practice Zen meditation
  • A walking tour to Mount Fuji
  • Hamamatsuya, a workshop specializing in wooden handcrafts

Kameoka

Kameoka is a city that was once the agricultural hub for the former imperial capital of Kyoto. Here, you'll dive into the countrys rich gastronomical traditions by learning how to make a traditional Japanese dish - perhaps sushi or onigiri - with the help of locals.

Kanazawa

Between the 16th and 18th century, Kanazawa was a prosperous castle town in the domain of Kaga, ruled by the Maeda Family, and its been one of the cultural centers of Japan ever since. Located on the coast of the Japan Sea, Kanazawa was spared much of the destruction that World War II brought to the country. Its famous today for its unique architecture, its exquisite Kaga-style handcrafts - including silk-dyeing and lacquerware - its delicate regional cuisine, and the Kenrokuen Garden, one of the most beautiful in Japan.

Kyoto

Kyoto was Japans imperial capital through the 8th to 19th century. It remains an important cultural center - and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site - and youll have five full days to explore its many wonders. Among Kyoto's many wonders are some of Japan's most impressive Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, and you'll have a chance to discover one after you visit Kinkakuji Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The striking architecture of Kinkakuji, also known as the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, dates from 1397, when it was built by the third shogun (military commander) of the Ashikaga Shogunate. The reflection of the pavilion on the water of the adjacent pond produces a breathtakingly beautiful and world-famous view.

Nara

Nara was the capital of Japan before Kyoto. You will visit two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Nara: Todaiji Temple and Kasuga Shinto Shrine. As you approach Todaiji Temple's Daibutsu-den Hall, you will first be impressed by its massive size, as it is the largest wooden building in the world. It is also one of the major historic temples in Japan and contains valuable artifacts. Here, you'll admire the Daibutsu - an impressive 52-foot Buddha statue.

As you continue to explore Todaiji, you'll likely notice another charming feature of its park area: its tame, free-roaming deer, which were traditionally regarded as the messengers of the Shinto god Kasuga. If you want a close-up introduction to them, you can purchase shikasenbei (special biscuits) to feed them, but be prepared to be very popular with these lovely creatures when you offer them food.

Your meals will be based on the local cuisine. Western food will be available at breakfast and some lunches, but otherwise you will experience the food of Japan - many of it containing ingredients that are new and different to you.

  • Bath in Japanese onsen (hot spring)
  • Join tours to Shirakawa-go and Gokayama, Nara and Fushimi, a Japanese traditional music tour, or an Arashiyama tour
  • Stroll the streets of Old Tokyo
  • Visit Edo Tokyo museum
  • 5% frequent traveler credit toward your next adventure - an average of USD 275
  • 13 small group activities
  • 24 meals: daily breakfast, 6 lunches, and 6 dinners
  • All land transportation, including 3 rail transfers on bullet and local train
  • Accommodations for 12 nights
  • Gratuities for local guides, drivers, and luggage porters
  • Services of a resident, English-speaking Overseas Adventure Travel trip leader

Arrival by airplane

The closest airports are Narita airport also known as New Tokyo international airport (NRT) or Haneda international airport (HND). If you are taking the optional post-trip extension to Hiroshima and have made your own air arrangements, your return airport transfer to Kansai International Airport (KIX) in Osaka will be included for flights departing after 12 p.m.