CUISINE & CULTURE OF JAPAN

Join Esprit’s Japan Food Tour, May 9th to May 22nd, 2020.  Led by travel and food writer Andrew Bender, this small-group tour takes you on insider explorations from sushi to Kobe beef, Michelin-starred kaiseki meals to humble train station bentos. Through the culinary hot spots of Tokyo, Kanazawa, Kyoto and Osaka, we’ll enjoy cooking classes, market and farm visits and meals by top chefs.

Exclusive experiences include classes in sushi, noodle-making and home-style cooking, a visit to a green tea plantation, and observing traditional sake brewing techniques – with tastings. Along the way we’ll experience the culture that makes Japan unique: Buddhist temples, gardens, natural beauty and contemporary architecture, textiles and ceramics.

Space on this popular tour is limited to 15 guests.

Your Japanese food tour leader, Andrew Bender, writes the Seat 1A travel site for Forbes.com, where his annual list of food and restaurant trends has become required reading in the hospitality industry. He has also written multiple guidebooks to Japan for Lonely Planet and is a frequent contributor to publications including the Los Angeles Times and in-flight magazines.

Andy Bender

Japan Tour Leader and Travel Guide Writer
Otomo Tabito (665-731)

Great sages of the past
gave the name of 'sage' to wine.
How well they spoke!

Highlights

φ Experience Japanese food through market adventures, cooking classes, farm visits and specially arranged meals at some of Japan’s most renowned restaurants.

φ Savor Japanese cuisine: humble home-style fare, sushi, noodles, izakaya (Japanese pubs) and train station bentos to the ultimate in refined, multi-course kaiseki extravaganzas.

φ Sample local specialties in their home towns: sushi and tempura in Tokyo, Kaga-style cuisine in Kanazawa, the Way of Tea and Buddhist vegan cuisine in Kyoto, kushikatsu, takoyaki and okonomiyaki in Osaka, sake and Kobe beef in Kobe.

φ All along the way, get to know Japan’s one-of- a-kind culture: ancient Shinto rituals, cutting-edge architecture, traditional and contemporary textiles and crafts, the Way of Tea, exquisite gardens, historic Buddhist temples, the path of the samurai, the futuristic Shinkansen bullet train and the neon-lit streetscapes of Osaka.

φ Personal encounters with master chefs, artisans, teachers and cultural experts.

Daily Itinerary: May 9th - 22nd, 2020

Depart for Japan on your individually arranged flight.

Transfer by private car to our four-star downtown hotel, conveniently located in the Marunouchi district, adjacent to Tokyo Station. Brief meet and greet orientation in the evening.

Accommodations: Marunouchi Hotel
Meals included: None

Esprit-Food-Tour-Tsukiji-Market

After breakfast in the hotel, depart for a special-access tour of the wholesale floor of the new Toyosu Fish Market, followed by an introduction to the building blocks of Japanese cuisine on a guided walk through the historic Tsukiji Market, complete with snacking and shopping opportunities. At a sushi-making class, we’ll observe techniques for preparing  fish and make our own sushi for lunch. This afternoon we will visit the one of the city’s fine art museums. Tonight, get to know your fellow travelers at an informal welcome dinner of izakaya (Japanese pub-style) cuisine.

Accommodations: Marunouchi Hotel
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

 

Esprit Food Tour-Tokyo International

We begin the day with an architectural walk through the Marunouchi and Ginza districts (including the Kitte Building and Tokyo International Forum), Japan’s priciest real estate of buildings by some of the world’s top architects. We end in time for a department store opening ceremony, in which the entire staff bows in welcome. After free time to experience one of Tokyo’s famed depachika (department store basement food halls), we will have lunch at a longstanding soba noodle restaurant. Then we journey to the Asakusa neighborhood, center of Tokyo’s historic shitamachi (downtown). We will join the crowds at Sensoji Temple and Nakamise-dori shopping street, where many street foods are made before our eyes, including freshly roasted sembei (rice crackers) and ningyo-yaki (bean-paste dumplings). From here, a walk through atmospheric side streets leads to the Kappabashi restaurant supply district, known for lifelike plastic models of foods. Dinner tonight is tempura served by a master chef in the classic counter style at one of Tokyo’s top tempura specialists.

Accommodations: Marunouchi Hotel
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Esprit Food Tour-Meiji Shrine Entrance

This morning we will journey across town to Meiji Shrine, one of the largest in Japan’s native Shinto religion, for a blessing of our tour involving kagura (traditional court dance and music) and sake. From here we proceed to the Axis Building, a design complex in the fashionable Roppongi district, for a presentation at the highly innovative Nuno textile studio and free time to visit other shops selling contemporary tableware, knives, interior goods and more. Today’s lunch is chef-driven kaiseki cooking. The remainder of the day is at leisure to explore nearby museums or shops including the Mori Art Museum, National Art Center Tokyo and 21_21 Design Sight. For tonight’s dinner, you may wish to have the concierge make a reservation at one of Tokyo’s nearly 200 Michelin-star restaurants or venture out on your own to explore.

Accommodations: Marunouchi Hotel
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch

This morning we will depart to nearby Tokyo Station to experience Japanese ekiben (train station bento) culture and purchase a bento lunch to eat on board the Shinkansen (bullet train) to the beautifully preserved city of Kanazawa, near the coast of the Sea of Japan. Our first stop will be the Nagamachi  Samurai District to view a traditional samurai home and browse shops selling wagashi (Japanese sweets), followed by a visit to a geisha house in the Higashi-Chaya-gai former geisha district. Dinner this evening is at one of one of Japan’s most acclaimed ryotei (formal dining restaurants). Our hotel is centrally located steps from sights, shops and restaurants.

Accommodations: Kanazawa Tokyu Hotel
Meals included: Breakfast, Dinner

Esprit Food Tour-Omicho Market

This morning we depart early for Kenroku- en, the former pleasure garden of Kanazawa Castle and considered one of Japan’s top three strolling gardens. After a visit to the Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of Traditional Crafts, enjoy lunch of your choosing among the stalls and restaurants of the landmark Omicho Market, nicknamed Kanazawa’s kitchen. Our afternoon visits begin with the D.T. Suzuki Museum, dedicated to the inspirational Kanazawa native who helped spread Buddhist teachings around the world, followed by the cutting-edge contemporary exhibits and architecture of the 21st Century Museum of Art, by the Pritzker Prize-winning SANAA team. The remainder of the day is free for craft shopping, sightseeing and dinner on your own at one of Kanazawa’s many fine restaurants.

Accommodations: Kanazawa Tokyu Hotel
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch

Esprit Food Tour-Arashiyama Spring

After breakfast, we will head by express train to Kyoto and proceed to the mountainous Arashiyama District west of the city center. Following lunch of yudofu, a regional, Buddhist specialty of stewed tofu with condiments, we will visit the UNESCO World Heritage site Tenryu-ji Temple. A stroll through the Sagano Bamboo Forest takes us to Okochi-Sanso, villa of a silent film star, where matcha and sweets are served and hillside garden paths offer views across the city and mountains. We will then journey across town to our centrally located hotel for check-in and an orientation walk of the neighborhood and downtown shopping district. Dinner this evening is contemporary kaiseki of Kyoto specialties.

Accommodations: Royal Park Hotel Kyoto Sanjo
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Today begins at the Daitokuji Monastery for a lesson in the Way of Tea and a visit to an exquisite temple garden, followed by Buddhist vegan lunch. Then we head across town to the gallery of a renowned Japanese ceramics expert, to learn how ceramics inform Japanese food ways. The remainder of the afternoon is at leisure. Sightseeing suggestions nearby include Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion) temple and stroll along the creek-side Philosopher’s Walk, or you may join your tour leader on an optional guided walk through the historic Nishiki Food Market. This evening’s dinner is a cooking class of everyday recipes you can also easily make at home.

Accommodations: Royal Park Hotel Kyoto Sanjo
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Today is free for individual exploration in Kyoto using extensive sightseeing suggestions from Esprit, including Nijo Castle, Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion) Temple, Kiyomizu Temple, hiking the 10,000 torii gates of the Fushimi lnari Shrine or browsing for crafts, clothing and antiques at a flea market or in the city center using Esprit’s exclusive Kyoto Downtown map. We will reconvene for an upscale dinner of Japanese-Italian fusion fare.

Accommodations: Royal Park Hotel Kyoto Sanjo
Meals included: Breakfast, Dinner

Esprit Food Tour-Day10-Ohara Fields-Meg Feemster

We journey northeast of Kyoto to the farming village of Ohara. After visiting the morning farmers’ market, we will head to a working farm and dye workshop that uses natural extracts of herbs and plants to make its dyes – you may choose to try your own hand at shibori tie-dyeing. A walk along terraced rice fields leads to a rustic, multi-course lunch in a restored farmhouse. En route back to central Kyoto we visit the Intimate Renge-ji Temple to learn about Buddhist garden and temple design, before free time for the rest of the day.

Accommodations: Royal Park Hotel Kyoto Sanjo
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch

This morning we will travel by charter coach Kyoto’s Uji district, known for centuries as one of Japan’s most important tea growing centers. Here will visit a tea plantation and get a rare visit to a tea processing plant. From there we will continue to Osaka, Japan’s third-largest city, hub of the Kansai region and one of the nation’s food capitals – the unofficial city motto is ‘kuidaore’ (eat ‘til you drop). After a casual lunch of kushikatsu (fried foods on skewers) in the gaudily decorated lanes of the retro Shin-Sekai neighborhood, we will visit one of Japan’s top knife shops for an informative presentation about the craftsmanship and use of Japanese knives, and browse the Doguya-suji Arcade, famous for restaurant and kitchen supplies. We will have a break to check in to our hotel, conveniently located near the shopping and restaurant halls of the Umeda and Osaka Station areas. This evening we will enjoy a progressive dinner around the neon-lit Dotonbori Canal, featuring two Osaka specialties for everyday folk: conveyor-belt sushi and okonomiyaki, savory pancakes.

Accommodations: Hilton Osaka
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

The morning begins with an udon noodle-making class and lunch, followed by free time in Osaka (sightseeing suggestions including Osaka Castle and its museum, the food stalls of Kuromon Market and more). This afternoon we will travel by regional train to the vibrant port city of Kobe to learn the history and production process of sake at a sake museum and brewery in the Nada neighborhood, known for centuries as one of Japan’s leading sake centers – we’ll also have a tasting. From here it’s a short ride to central Kobe, where we will walk from the neighborhood of Ijinkan, western-style houses built by some of Japan’s earliest foreign residents, to the landmark Ikuta Shrine before our farewell dinner featuring Kobe beef.  After dinner, return to Osaka by regional train.

Accommodations: Hilton Osaka
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Travel by airport shuttle to Osaka Kansai or Itami airports for your departure flights, or onward travel in Japan on your own.

Meals: Breakfast

Note: Actual visits and events will be finalized approximately 30 days prior to departure to allow for the inclusion of special exhibitions, visits and events, and are dependent on the schedules of our Japanese colleagues. A final itinerary will be sent to you about two weeks prior to tour departure. The itinerary is subject to change at any time.

TESTIMONIALS

Pricing, Sample Video, and Materials

Contact Andrew Bender ([email protected]) for pricing information. Registrations will open in early autumn 2019.

 Tour Price Includes:

  • Twelve nights accommodations in hotels as listed, sharing a room
  • Daily breakfast and additional meals as indicated
  • Airport transfers from Tokyo (start) and Osaka (end) airports
  • All internal trains and buses for the tour
  • Informative commentary by an Esprit tour leader who is fluent in Japanese, using our unique radio headset system
  • Admissions, classes and local transportation

Single supplement information is available upon request.
Singles are limited.
Twin beds are the norm in Japan for a double room.
Group size is limited to 15.

Price may be adjusted at the time of final payment for currency fluctuation.

For registration information and Terms and Conditions, please contact Andy Bender at [email protected], call 800-377-7481, or email [email protected].

Note: Actual visits and events will be finalized approximately 30 days prior to departure to allow for the inclusion of special exhibitions, visits and events, and are dependent on the schedules of our Japanese colleagues. A final itinerary will be sent to you about two weeks prior to tour departure. The itinerary is subject to change at any time.

Contact Andrew Bender

for more information

Downloadable Cuisine & Culture of Japan PDF

 

 

 

Note: The itinerary will be finalized approximately 30 days prior to departure.  Artist visits are subject to availability and the schedules of our Japanese colleagues.  A final itinerary will be sent to you about two weeks prior to departure.   The itinerary and visits are subject to change at any time.