Best Japan Food Tour May 2019

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, 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!


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, 2019

Depart for Japan on your individually arranged flight.

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


Accommodations: Marunouchi Hotel
Meals included: None


After breakfast in the hotel, depart to tour the historic Tsukiji Outer Market*, for an introduction to the building blocks of Japanese cooking, with snacking and shopping opportunities. At a sushi making class, we will observe techniques for preparing fish and make our own sushi for lunch. This afternoon we will visit the Roppongi District and one of the city’s most interesting contemporary art museums, amid futuristic architectureTonight’s welcome dinner is informal izakaya (Japanese pub-style) cuisine.

*Although the Tsukiji Fish Market is scheduled to close in October 2018, Tsukiji’s fascinating Outer Market will remain, with stalls selling fish, produce, seasonings, prepared foods and tableware lining its many narrow alleys. As of this writing, procedures for visitors to the new Toyosu Fish Market, across Tokyo Bay, were not officially announced and may change by the time of the tour. This itinerary may be updated pending further word. 

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 designed by some of the world’s top architects, arriving in time for a department store opening ceremony. After free time to experience a depachika (department store basement food floor), we will have lunch at a longstanding soba noodle restaurant and journey northeast to the Asakusa neighborhood, bustling center of Tokyo’s historic shitamachi (downtown). En route to Asakusa’s landmark Senso-ji Temple is Nakamise-dori shopping street, where many street foods are sold including freshly roasted sembei (rice crackers) and manju (bean-paste dumplings). From here it is a short walk through side streets to the Kappabashi restaurant supply district, known for its lifelike plastic models of foods. Dinner tonight is tempura served by a master 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 EntranceThis 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 for a presentation at the highly innovative Nuno textile studio and free time to visit other design shops in the building selling contemporary design tableware, knives, interior goods and more. Today’s lunch is traditional kaiseki cooking. The remainder of the day is at leisure to explore nearby museums or shops in the Omote-Sando or Shibuya areas (a short ride away) or elsewhere around town. Dinner will be on your own this evening; you may wish to have the concierge arrange dinner 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 for a chance 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. After arrival, we will visit the Nagamachi Samurai District and shops selling Kanazawa-style wagashi (sweets), followed by the Higashi-Chaya-gai former geisha district. Dinner this evening will be a kaiseki dinner including regional specialties of Kaga-style cuisine. Our hotel is conveniently 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 inspiring D.T. Suzuki Museum, dedicated to the Kanazawa native who helped spread Buddhist teachings around the world, followed by free time to tour the cutting-edge 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 SpringAfter breakfast we will head by express train to Kyoto, and then to the mountainous Arashiyama District west of the city center. Following lunch of yudofu, a regional specialty of stewed tofu with condiments, we will visit the UNESCO World Heritage site Tenryu-ji Temple and stroll through the Sagano Bamboo Forest to Okochi-Sanso, villa of a silent film star, where footpaths through strolling gardens lead to hilltop views across the city. 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 we will visit the Daitoku-ji Monastery for an experience in the Way of Tea and a visit an exquisite temple garden, followed by a Buddhist vegan lunch. This afternoon we will 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. Nearby sightseeing suggestions 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. Tonight’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

Esprit Food Tour-Isuzen Tofu-

Today is free for individual exploration using extensive sightseeing and shopping suggestions from Esprit. Suggestions include Nijo Castle, Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion Temple), Kiyomizu Temple and the Sannenzaka and Ninenzaka neighborhoods, or browsing for crafts and antiques in the city center using Esprit’s proprietary map of downtown Kyoto. We will reconvene for dinner of upscale, Japanese-Italian fusion cuisine

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

Esprit Food Tour-Day10-Ohara Fields-Meg Feemster

Today we journey northeast of Kyoto to the farming village of Ohara. We will visit the morning farmers’ market before heading to a working farm and dye workshop which uses natural extracts of herbs and plants to make its dyes. From here we will walk along terraced rice fields to a multi-course lunch featuring produce from the farmers’ market. En route back to central Kyoto we will stop at the intimate temple Renge-ji for an introduction to Buddhist statuary before free time for the remainder 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, where tea has been been grown for Buddhist rituals and the aristocracy for over 800 years. Here we will visit a green tea plantation and get a rare look at 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 introduction to Japanese knives and their use, then 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-making class and lunch, followed by free time in Osaka (sightseeing suggestions including Osaka Castle and its museum, or the food stalls of Kuromon Market). This afternoon we will travel by regional train to the 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 have a walk among the ijinkan, western-style houses built by some of Japan’s earliest foreign residents, and visit the landmark Ikuta Shrine before our farewell Kobe beef dinner. After dinner, return to Osaka by train.

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

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

Meals: Breakfast

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.


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.

Downloadable Cuisine & Culture of Japan PDF

Coming Soon


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.