CUISINE AND CULTURE OF WESTERN JAPAN

Scheduled for May 20-31, 2022, Esprit’s newest Japan food tour takes you off the beaten path on Kyushu and western Honshu Islands with Andrew Bender, one of Esprit’s most experienced guides and a travel and food writer.

You will journey from intimate, timeless villages to scenic, modern cities, rugged coastlines and geothermal peaks, as you taste local flavors from street food to kaisekiCooking classesmarket visits and gourmet meals are carefully curated to show off the region’s culinary highlights. Along the way, you’ll take in the unique history, spirituality, one-of-a-kind crafts and natural beauty of western Japan and experience a stay in a wood-built ryokan (traditional Japanese inn). At the conclusion of the tour (May 31-June 2, 2022) is an optional extension to Benesse Art Site, on the Inland Sea.

Your Japan food tour begins in beautiful, historic Nagasaki. Since the arrival in the 1500s of European traders and missionaries bringing exotic customs and foods, Nagasaki has had a fascinating, complex history. From the mid-16th to mid-18th Centuries, Nagasaki was Japan’s only point of contact with the outside world, making it all the more ironic that outside Japan it is best known as the site of one of the WWII atomic bombings. A day trip along the coastline will take you to the starkly beautiful, geothermal terrain of Shimabara-Unzen National Park

You will then continue along northwest Kyushu’s rugged, picturesque coast to the intimate fishing village of Yobuko, famous for its morning market, and Karatsu, known for centuries as one of Japan’s great pottery centers. Here you will spend the night in a historic, atmospheric ryokan, in the same family for 5 generations and a travelers’ favorite since the Meiji Period. 

After a stop in the island’s ancient capital of Dazaifu to visit age-old Shinto sites and the futuristic Kyushu National Museum, you’ll continue to lively Fukuoka, Kyushu’s largest city, crisscrossed by rivers and canals which animate local street life and food ways, including Hakata ramen and meals at yatai, mobile food carts. A day trip will take you to a beautifully preserved port town of the Taisho Era (1912-1926). 

Next, the Shinkansen bullet train, a local train and ferry speed you to western Honshu and Miyajima Island, home to the UNESCO World Heritage Itsukushima Shrine, with its iconic “floating” torii gate. Our tour concludes in Hiroshima, where the Peace Park is fresh from a years-long renovation.

After the main tour, you may opt for a two-night escorted extension to Benesse Art Site on the Inland Sea, dedicated to contemporary art. The extension visits museums and installations on the islands of Naoshima and Teshima and offers lodging at a Tadao Ando-designed art hotel.

If you are interested in a more general food tour of Japan – or are visiting Japan for the first time – please consider joining Esprit’s Cuisine & Culture of Japan Tour, next scheduled for Spring 2023 and visiting the more well-traveled destinations of Tokyo, Kanazawa, Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe.

 

Andy Bender

Japan Tour Leader and Travel Guide Writer
Matsuo Basho (1644-1694)

drinking morning tea
the monk is quiet
as is the mum flower

Highlights

φ Go off the beaten path in regions of Japan little visited by overseas guests.

φ Cooking classes and demonstrations, market visits and local foods from street food to multi-course kaiseki.

φ Taste Japanese foods in their hometowns: ramen, grilled curry rice and decorative bean-paste sweets in Fukuoka Prefecture; shippoku ryori (east-west kaiseki) and soboro-don (eel over rice) in Nagasaki; oysters and noodle-filled okonomiyaki pancakes in Hiroshima, and more.

φ Experience beautiful Nagasaki, full of fascinating feudal-era history – from Dutch traders to Madame Butterfly – and home to Japan’s original fusion cuisine.

φ Stay in a historic, wood-built Japanese ryokan, offering sumptuous meals, soothing baths and Japan’s legendary hospitality.

φ Visit tiny seaside villages, picturesque ports, geothermal mountains and one of Kyushu’s famed pottery towns.

φ Take in the grandeur of the UNESCO World Heritage sites on Miyajima.

φ Learn about the heartbreak, devastation and courage resulting from the WWII atomic bombings.

φ Extend your trip for a visit to the stunning, artistically and architecturally significant Benesse Art Site.

 

Daily Itinerary

DAY 1 - DEPART USA

Depart via individual flights; please refer to Travel Planning Tips which will be send upon registration for suggestions for arrival suggestions into Nagasaki. For guests wishing to arrive in Nagasaki before the beginning of the tour, rooms at our tour hotel can be reserved at Esprit’s negotiated rate on a space-available basis.

DAY 2 - NAGASAKI ARRIVAL

Picture1

Following your transfer from Nagasaki Airport, this evening we will have an optional, casual orientation at our hotel. Please use sightseeing information provided by Esprit for any sightseeing you may wish to do today.

Accommodations: Best Western Hotel Premier Nagasaki
Meals included: None

DAY 3 - NAGASAKI

Nagasaki Bay - Cuisine and Culture of western Japan Day 7

Our exploration of Nagasaki begins at the Museum of History and Culture, covering the city’s one-of-a-kind, east-meets-west history that inspired tales from Madame Butterfly to the 1,000 Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. We then tour Dejima, the man-made island that served as an Edo-Period Dutch trading post and Japan’s sole point of contact with the outside world for over two centuries, now filled with faithfully reconstructed period buildings. This will be followed by a lesson in Nagasaki-style cuisine, and we will eat our creations for lunch. In the afternoon, we will visit Glover Garden to view its collection of Meiji Period architecture and expansive views across Nagasaki Bay. Fittingly, tonight’s dinner is shippoku-ryori, Nagasaki’s unique, multicultural style of kaiseki cuisine.

Accommodations: Best Western Hotel Premier Nagasaki
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

DAY 4 - NAGASAKI

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Today we will journey to the Shimabara Peninsula, southeast of Nagasaki, known for its landscape of mountains, splendid views of the Ariake Sea, and hot springs. Our visits include Japan’s longest hot-spring foot bath, lunch where we will choose our own ingredients steamed over natural hot springs, and an optional short hike in Unzen National Park, among the steam vents called jigoku (‘hells’ in Japanese), which have a stark beauty and a unique role in the region’s history. Back in Nagasaki, a banquet dinner in Chinatown pays tribute to the city’s longstanding Chinese community.

Accommodations: Best Western Hotel Premier Nagasaki
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

DAY 5 - NAGASAKI

Nagasaki Statue

Today we will concentrate on the atomic bombing sites on Nagasaki’s north side, learn how this site came to be chosen for the bombing at the last minute, visit the museum and sites of the destruction and meet with a hibakusha (survivor) to hear a first-hand account of that fateful day. After lunch of local specialties, we will visit Suwa-jinja, the city’s most storied Shinto shrine, where we will receive a blessing through kagura, ritual dance accompanied by ancient music and chanting. While the rest of the day is at leisure, you may wish to join your tour leader for a nighttime cable car ride up Mt. Inasa. The spectacular views across the city and bay have been rated among the top three in the world, alongside Hong Kong and Monaco.

Accommodations: Best Western Hotel Premier Nagasaki
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch

DAY 6 - YOBUKO to KARATSU

YobukoBay-Day 5 of Western Food Tour

Today we will head north by bus with overnight luggage to neighboring Saga Prefecture. A lovely drive along Karatsu Bay takes us to the intimate fishing village of Yobuko, famed for its morning market where local people sell their catch and produce and make homemade furikake (flavored sprinkles for rice). From Yobuko, it is a drive of about 30 minutes to Karatsu, one of the prefecture’s famous pottery towns. Today’s lunch will be catered by a nationally renowned tofu shop, followed by visits to a pottery studio and the meticulously crafted hikiyama floats used in the city’s main festival. Tonight’s accommodations are at Yoyokaku, called one of Japan’s must-stay ryokans, in the same family for 5 generations and affiliated with one of Karatsu’s most important ceramic-making families. In addition to in-room facilities, you may take advantage of the inn’s grand baths before our elaborate, multi-course kaiseki dinner.

Accommodations: Yoyokaku Ryokan
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

DAY 7 - DAZAIFU to FUKUOKA

Fukuoka Temple bridge Day 6 cuisine and culture of western japan

After a sumptuous Japanese-style breakfast in our inn, we continue by bus with our luggage. Our first stop is lively Dazaifu, early capital of Kyushu and beautifully nestled in the woods. Here we will stroll the sprawling, photogenic grounds of the Tenman Shrine, 1,100 years old and dedicated to the Shinto god of scholarship, and visit the futuristic Kyushu National Museum, whose priceless collection chronicles the region’s history of trade with the Asian continent. Following lunch on your own at one of many casual restaurants, we will learn to make Dazaifu’s local specialty sweet, umegae mochi, bean-paste dumplings embossed with plum blossom designs. We arrive Fukuoka in the afternoon and have dinner in true local style at yatai (open-air food stalls) lining the city’s many waterways. Fukuoka has over 150 yatai, more than the rest of Japan combined!

Accommodations: Grand Hyatt Fukuoka
Meals included: Breakfast, Dinner

DAY 8 - FUKUOKA

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We begin the day with some traditional sites of Fukuoka including the Kishida Shinto Shrine (city shrine and home base of one of Japan’s great parade festivals) and the nearby Hakata Machiya Furusato-kan Museum, celebrating life in the city’s historic merchant homes, followed by presentations about local crafts such as prized, multi-layered Hakata-ori weaving. Lunch today is a cooking class of local specialties, with the afternoon free for individual exploration in the city’s parks, museums such as the acclaimed Asian Art Museum, design and craft shops. Tonight’s dinner is the city’s most famous dish, Hakata-style tonkotsu ramen in hearty, pork-based broth, plus side dishes. An after-dinner visit to a bar highlights the latest of Japan’s cutting-edge cocktail culture.

Accommodations: Grand Hyatt Fukuoka
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

DAY 9 - FUKUOKA

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Today we will spend the day in Mojiko, a beautifully preserved port town with many buildings of the Taisho era (1912-1926), delightful for strolling amid street fairs and museums. Lunch will be yaki-curry (baked curry rice), a local take on this popular Japanese comfort food, at one of Japan’s growing community of microbreweries. After returning to Fukuoka, the remainder of the afternoon and evening are free for relaxing, exploring the city’s sights, shops and restaurants, or a workout in the hotel gym.

Accommodations: Grand Hyatt Fukuoka
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch

DAY 10 - HIROSHIMA AND MIYAJIMA

Miyajima Torii Gate - Cuisine and Culture of Western Japan Day 10

Today we will ship our large suitcases to onward destinations in order to travel by train with carry-on luggage. Bento lunch boxes (a Japanese travel tradition) will be provided for you to enjoy en route. Express, Shinkansen (bullet) and local trains speed us to Hiroshima Prefecture, home of the island of Miyajima and the famous Itsukushima Shrine, whose recently restored torii gate seems to float on the water. After time exploring the island, we will head to central Hiroshima and our modern, conveniently located hotel, with many nearby options for Japanese and international cuisine for tonight’s dinner on your own.

Accommodations: Sheraton Grand Hotel Hiroshima
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch

DAY 11 – HIROSHIMA

Hiroshimas peace park - cuisine and culture of western japan - day 11

Today we will tour central Hiroshima with a special focus on its Peace Park, featuring many moving memorials and the recently renovated and expanded Peace Memorial Museum, before our farewell dinner including local specialties.  

Accommodations: Sheraton Hiroshima
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

DAY 12 - RETURN TO USA

Following breakfast in our hotel, guests not continuing on the tour extension will receive detailed instructions to reach the airport for individually arranged flights from Hiroshima or Osaka (Kansai International, KIX) Airports. Flights from Osaka Kansai should be scheduled after 4:00 pm to allow ample time for airport transfers. Please refer to Travel Planning Tips for further details.

Guests continuing on the extension will depart after breakfast; see extension itinerary below.

Meal included: Breakfast

Optional Itinerary Extension

DAY 1 - NAOSHIMA ISLAND

Teshima Museum-Benesse House

After breakfast, we will journey by Shinkansen, coach and ferry to Japan’s premier destination for contemporary art, Benesse Art Site, on the Inland Sea. On Naoshima Island, we will have time to explore the landmark Chichu Museum and Lee Ufan Museum, as well as the outdoor sculpture park around our lodgings, Benesse House Park Hotel. This Tadao Ando-designed hotel houses numerous art pieces and is located right along the island’s edge. Each room has its own installed art for you to enjoy while you are in residence. Dinner this evening will be at the hotel’s Terrace Restaurant, a fusion of French cuisine using local ingredients.

Accommodations: Benesse House Park Hotel
Meals included: Breakfast, Dinner

DAY 2 - NAOSHIMA ISLAND

Evening Pumpkin - Teshima Island

Following breakfast at our inn, this morning, we journey by private ferry to rural Teshima Island to experience the Teshima Yokoo House and Teshima Art Museum. After lunch at a local restaurant, we will return to Naoshima and spend the afternoon exploring the Art House Project, in which older homes and businesses have been turned into installations by leading artists. Our farewell dinner will be at Issen Restaurant at the Benesse House Museum, offering a contemporary interpretation of kaiseki served on an array of artistic functional ware from kilns all over Japan. After dinner, we will have the opportunity to take in the Benesse House Museum after hours.

Accommodations: Benesse House Park Hotel
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

DAY 3 - DEPARTURE

After breakfast at our hotel, transfer by ferry, bus and train for individually arranged return flights from Osaka Kansai International Airport or Osaka Itami Airport. Flights should be arranged for after 4:00pm to allow for ample time for travel and customs.

Meal included: Breakfast

Note: The itinerary will be finalized approximately 30 days prior to departure.  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.

TESTIMONIALS

Pricing

Tour pricing: $6,650 USD

Tour Price Includes:

  • Ten nights accommodations in lodgings as listed, sharing a room
  • Daily breakfast and additional meals as indicated
  • All internal trains and buses for the tour, including riding on Japan’s famous Shinkansen “Bullet train”
  • Informative commentary by an Esprit tour leader who is fluent in Japanese, using our unique radio headset system
  • Admissions, classes and local transportation
  • End-of-tour transfer to Osaka Kansai Airport (international flights) or Hiroshima Airport (domestic flights)

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 (Ext. 4), or email [email protected].

EXTENSION TO BENESSE ART SITE

Extension pricing: $1,875 USD

The extension will run with a minimum of six participants and a maximum of 15. In the event the extension is not available due to insufficient enrollment, we can discuss options for traveling on your own to Benesse Art Site.

Extension Price Includes:

  • Accommodations for two nights in the Benesse House Park Hotel, based on sharing a room.
  • Daily breakfast and additional meals as indicated (two lunches and two dinners)
  • All internal trains, ferries and transport for the tour, including riding on Japan’s famous Shinkansen “Bullet train”
  • Informative commentary by an Esprit tour leader who is fluent in Japanese, using our unique radio headset system.
  • Baggage shipping for one bag to Osaka Kansai Airport (we will travel with overnight bags only)
  • Admissions and local transportation
Note: The itinerary will be finalized approximately 30 days prior to departure. 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.

MATERIALS

Cuisine and Culture of Western Japan Tour Itinerary (Downloadable)
Note: The itinerary will be finalized approximately 30 days prior to departure. 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.