Culinary and Cultural – from Tokyo to Kyoto™

The Core Japan Tour

S ome people eat to live. And some live to eat. If that sounds more like you, this tour is an invitation to immerse yourself in one of the world’s great cuisines. Blessed by the bounty of the surrounding sea, a fierce local pride in the food they cultivate, and a passion and dedication – bordering on obsessive – to food, Japanese eat better than probably anyone else in the world. Tokyo, with its size and cosmopolitan nature, is one of the top restaurant cities in the world.
From its distinct seasons and diverse geography and fauna, Japan is a gourmet paradise. We intend to show you the broad range of regional dishes. You’ll meet local providers and chefs along the way. But we have to warn you…despite the often refined and small portions associated with Japanese cuisine, if you’re a food enthusiast like us you’re likely to gain weight on this trip! Which is why we will do a fair bit of walking and sightseeing along the way. So bring comfortable walking shoes, an open mind, and an appetite and enjoy with us.
This trip is 8 days and 7 nights.

What we eat

Just a few examples of the special cuisines and foods that we will sample:
Kaiseki – A Kyoto cultural gem, it is an elaborate, multi-course, meticulously prepared and exquisitely presented – a meal to remember for a lifetime.
Okonomiyaki – almost a cross between a pancake and pizza, made of batter and cabbage and topped with seafood, vegetables, or pork, a specialty of Osaka and western Japan but with numerous regions creating their own versions.
Monjayaki – best not to describe what this looks like, just know that it tastes great, is great fun to eat, and you’re unlikely to find it outside of Japan!
Noodles – Udon/Ramen/Soba – each of these wildly popular and delicious noodle types has distinct and unique flavors varying from region to region, season to season and home to home.
Tofu – a simple preparation of soybeans – transformed into traditional dishes from miso soup to Yodufu, a Kyoto specialty.
Chanko Nabe – A surprisingly tasty and healthy stew with chicken, fish, tofu and vegetables which is a staple of Sumo wrestlers.
see more examples
Mochi, Yakimochi and charcoal grilled Isobeyaki – Mochi is a Japanese glutinous rice cake and can be served sweet or savory. Isobeyaki or yakimochi is a savory soy sauce glazed grilled mochi wrapped in nori (seaweed). Hard to beat when hot off-the-grill and smoky.
Mitarashi Dango – a Kyoto street food specialty it is grilled mochi-esque Japanese dumplings served on a skewer coated in a viscous sweet soy sauce glaze and dusted with toasted soy bean powder. It has a nice chewy texture similar to glutinous rice balls with a sweet yet slightly salty sauce – almost like a soy caramel.
Tempura, Sushi, Sashimi and much more – we mention these standards because where we take you the tempura barely resembles what you’ve likely had elsewhere, and the sushi and sashimi will be amongst the freshest you’ve ever had.

Where we go

Tokyo and its eclectic neighborhoods of Omotesando, Harajuku and Roppongi, Shinbashi, Asakusa from the trendy to the traditional and everything in between
The seaside town of Kamakura and its beautiful temples
Hakone atop the Izu peninsula with its onsens and scenic beauty in the foothills of Mt. Fuji
The ancient capital of Kyoto with its history, both edible and edifying, with recipes handed down from the imperial court

What we do

Eat and drink – incredibly well! Sampling and experiencing a full range of Japanese cuisine and beverage.
Experience Tsukiji – the most amazing fish market in the world. But hurry! The market is being moved in 2016 to make way for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Watch Sumo (May trip) or visit a Sumo Beya for an up close view of the world’s most ancient, active sport.
Educate yourself with a fun course on sake tasting
Soak in world famous onsen (hotsprings)
Explore the historic heritage of Japan’s two best-known capital cities – Tokyo and Kyoto – each with its unique character and history, shops, shrines and neighborhoods, and culinary culture
Ride the Shinkansen, celebrating its 50th anniversary and still the best way to travel distance in Japan and maybe the world.

Where we stay

Standard
Hotel Villa Fontaine Shiodome. Modern and sleek business style hotel, with a stunning atrium and very friendly staff, all in a great location from which to explore Tokyo.
Yunohana Ryokan – a beautiful traditional Japanese inn with an onsen, set in the mountains and foothills of Mt. Fuji
Hyatt Regency Kyoto (May) – Standard and Upgrade accommodations are the same for this trip and you can find more a description of this fantastic hotel below.
Kyoto Hotel Resort and Spa (June) – Lovely boutique business hotel with an in-hotel spa. Well-located near to Nishimaki kitchen street and shops on one side with the river and eastern mountains dotted with world heritage sites on the other.
The Capital Tokyu Hotel – Tokyo. This hidden gem is nestled against the Hie Shrine, a short walk from the Diet Building and 10 minutes from the edge of the Imperial Palace, and an even shorter walk to the bustling and vibrant Akasaka neighborhood of central Tokyo. Elegant and understated yet completely modern, it is a fantastic location for exploring Tokyo on the final days of your tour.
see Upgraded Accommodations

The Conrad Hotel. New, Stylish and Elegant, boasting fantastic City View rooms with all the attention to detail and service you’d expect from a Conrad property. And all in a great location from which to explore Tokyo.
Yunohana Ryokan – a beautiful traditional Japanese inn with an onsen, set in the mountains and foothills of Mt. Fuji
Hyatt Regency Kyoto (May)* Elegant and fabulously located directly across street from the redone national museum, adjacent to 2 temples, and nestled in the foothills of the World-Heritage site studded Eastern Mountains, it provides a fantastic blend off tranquility and hip modernity with a fantastic sake bar in basement for those so inclined. *For May trip the Standard and Upgrade hotels are the same, but room types may vary.
Okura Hotel Kyoto (June) – Celebrating 126 years of refined service, this historic hotel is the tallest building in Kyoto with fantastic views of the river and temples that dot the mountains just to the east. Its understated and unrivaled service make this a wonderful base for exploring the World Heritage of Kyoto.
The Imperial Hotel – Tokyo. With its history and sense of place, nestled between Ginza and the Imperial Palace, this is a fantastic place to end the trip, where you can relax and bask in the history, luxury and style of this grand old hotel.

Northern California Culinary tour

Itinerary

Tokyo and Tsukiji
Day 1
Afternoon/Evening Arrival. Upon arrival in Narita, you’ll be assisted with your transport to your hotel. The evening is free for you to refresh or explore as you please.
Day 2
We’ll be up very early, putting your jet lag to good use, as we journey to explore the vast array of seafood at the largest fish market in the world – Tsujiki. Then we sample the produce as locals do at a local sushi restaurant for brunch. We’ll explore hidden gardens amid striking architecture, stopping occasionally for refreshment and reflection. We’ll take a riverboat cruise on the fabled Sumida River, the lifeblood of Edo on our way to Asakusa, Tokyo’s old town. There we will visit Sensoji, Tokyo’s oldest temple on our way to “kitchen street” which supplies specialty cooking wares to restaurants across Japan – a true treat for foodies. We’ll make the short journey to Ryogoku, the center of Japan’s sumo world. If you’re travelling with us in May, we will have reserved seats for you at the Kokugikan Sumo Stadium where you will watch a match of the Grand Sumo Basho Tournament and enjoy festive Yakitori skewers and perhaps a cold beer.   If travelling with us in June, we’ll experience an up close and personal look at Sumo, by visiting one of the local Sumo Beyas to sit in on a practice session. Afterwards, we’ll go to one of our favorite Chanko-nabe restaurants, run by an ex-sumo wrestler to eat and drink like as the wrestlers do.
Day 3
We’ll start by strolling the hallowed grounds of the Imperial Palace working up an appetite we’ll satiate with a special Tempura lunch. In the afternoon we’ll migrate to Shibuya, Tokyo’s main center for youth fashion and culture and entertainment trends. It is also home to the famous 5 way “scramble crossing”. Next is Harajuku, and the famous Takeshita dori. Whether you are a goth, punk or anything in between, there is a shop in Harajuku that caters for you. Nearby is the Meiji Shrine, a wonderful respite from the city hustle and bustle. If on our June trip, we’ll take a break from the sights to drink and learn about Japan’s national beverage – Sake – at a tasting and lecture. Following that, you can stroll Omotesando-dori, a broad tree lined avenue surrounded by a maze of wonderful small alleyways and smart stores and cafes. Here you can enjoy a leisurely evening meal or snack while exploring the lovely honeycomb of small streets in and around Omotesando.
Kamakura or Nikko and Hakone
Day 4

Today you will make a trip to Kamakura, the former capital of Japan as the seat of the Shogunate during the Kamakura Period (1185 – 1333). At that time Kamakura was the largest city in the world. The Kamakura of today is a small, sleepy seaside town with numerous temples, shrines and other attractions. With your guide, you will visit some of the numerous local Temples and Shrines and we’ve arranged for lunch at an acclaimed favorite of ours in one of the areas quietly known among locals for its high concentration of superb small restaurants.  After a satisfying meal, we’ll continue on to Hakone, the gateway to the Mt Fuji region where you can explore this stunning region renowned for its hot springs, heated by the subterranean fires of Mt. Fuji. Tonight you will stay in a Japanese traditional ryokan, sleeping on futons laid out on tatami mats, bathing in piping hot onsen, and dining on delicious traditional meals for dinner and breakfast the following morning.

Kyoto and Kaiseki
Day 5
Today ride in style on Japan’s world famous Shinkansen bullet train to Kyoto. Once there, your guide will take you on a short city tour using the city’s public transit and then enjoy a multi course lunch at a specially chosen teppanyaki restaurant, where you will enjoy one of Japan’s unique and almost unbelievable dishes – its Wagyu beef. We’ll work off lunch with a visit to some of the cultural gems of Kyoto, including a visit to Kiyomizu temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If visiting us in June, we’ll make sure your thirst for drink and education is quenched with a fun sake tasting experience. For dinner we’ll leave you with recommendations to enjoy the acclaimed local street food and fare of Kyoto.
Day 6
Today you explore some of Kyoto’s World Heritage Sites, including Kinkakuji Temple (Golden Pavilion), which was originally built as a retirement villa for the Shogun. We’ll also see Nijo Castle. From there we’ll walk down Nishiki Market, another foodie fantasy. Known as “Kyoto’s Kitchen”, this lively retail market specializes in all things food related, like fresh seafood, produce, knives and cookware, and is a great place to find seasonal foods and Kyoto specialties. Your final stop today is a traditional teahouse where you will enjoy a genuine tea ceremony before a truly festive evening begins. The evening will begin with a walk through some of Kyoto’s geisha districts where you’ll learn about the geisha’s world – past, present and future. After the walk, you will enjoy a sumptuous Japanese dinner in the private room of a traditional Kaiseki restaurant where the cuisine began.
Tokyo and Sayonara
Day 7
Today you will be assisted to Kyoto station by car for the return trip to Tokyo by Shinkansen.   In the afternoon you will try your own hand at Japanese cuisine with a hands-on sushi-making lesson. You will then get to enjoy your home made sushi, but leave some room open for your multi course dinner at the famous Izakaya-style restaurant Gonpachi, a favorite of US Presidents and place whose cuisine is matched only by the amazing interior which was the inspiration for the set of Tarantino’s Kill Bill movie.
Day 8
Your day is free to explore Tokyo on your own with our recommendations in the morning until your transport to Narita Airport.

Trip Pricing

  • Please contact us for pricing.
Additional travel and accommodation in Japan priced upon request.
*Please note that depending on the season and time at which you are travelling, there may be additional accommodation charges. Once you have provided us dates for your trip, we will provide you a final quote for your tour.
About the Accommodations, Activities and Guides
  • Prices are based on a twin 2 person room share arrangement
  • Check in and out times are set, but late check outs can be arranged if asked for
  • We vet and believe in our guides and allow them a greater degree of flexibility during their tours than some other providers. Accordingly, based on the day, weather, how people are feeling, their interests, etc., the guides may vary the itinerary to best suit the needs and desires of the group. We firmly believe this makes for a better touring and overall travel experience.
  • Please be aware that at the busiest times of the year the named accommodation or specific activity may not be available and in this case the price cannot be guaranteed. However, we will do our best to match the prices and the quality of the accommodations and activities listed here as closely as possible. Also, activities of trips on different dates may be occur in a different order and on different dates. Please consult your final detailed itinerary which you will receive 2-3 weeks prior to the start date.
Trip Cost Includes
  • 8 Days, 7 Nights
  • All Accommodations
  • All Breakfasts, 1 Lunch, 1 Celebratory Dinner
  • Ground transport from hotels to/from airport and itinerary destinations, including roundtrip Shinkansen transport between Tokyo and Kyoto
  • Artisan Pacific Travel vetted bi-lingual guide as listed on itinerary
  • Sake Tasting, Sushi Course and Other entrance fees as listed on itinerary
Trip Costs Excludes
  • International Flights
  • Local transport (buses, subways, taxis) at any destination unless otherwise specified
  • Any entrance fees including those for shrines, temples and museums
  • Baggage handling, with exception of bag transfer from Tokyo to Hakone. You will be expected to carry your own bags for all other portions of the trip.
Trip Payment Schedule
  • A $500 per person deposit is required to hold your place.
  • Full payment is required 90 days in advance of the start day of your trip.
  • If booking within 90 days of the start of the trip, full payment is required at that time.

Next Steps

At Artisan Pacific Travel the tour experiences are yours, not ours. The itinerary above is a suggestion and we welcome any changes and additions from clients.

Visit our Contact Us page so we can learn more about your ideal tour and we’ll provide you all the information you need to create your personalized trip.