CUISINE AND CULTURE OF WESTERN JAPAN

Scheduled for October 7-18, 2021, 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.

Traveling from intimate, timeless villages to scenic, modern cities, rugged coastlines to geothermal peaks, you will taste local flavors from street food to kaiseki through cooking classesmarket visits and gourmet meals carefully selected to show off the region’s culinary highlights. Along the way, you’ll take in the unique history, spirituality, crafts and natural beauty of western Japan and experience a stay in a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn). At the conclusion of the tour (October 18-20, 2021) is an optional extension to Benesse Art Site, on the Inland Sea.

Your Japan food tour begins in lively Fukuoka, Kyushu Island’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 Taisho-Era port town. 

You will then continue along northern 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, where you will spend the night in an atmospheric, wood-built ryokan, a favorite of travelers 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 beautiful 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 will take you to the starkly beautiful, geothermal terrain of Shimabara-Unzen National Park

Next, express and Shinkansen bullet trains 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 2022 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 for Japan on your individually arranged flight.

DAY 2 - FUKUOKA ARRIVAL

Fukuoka River

Transfer by taxi from Fukuoka Airport. Our centrally located hotel provides easy access to canal-crossed Fukuoka, Japan’s eighth biggest city and the largest in western Japan and the island of Kyushu. Our hotel’s amenities include a fitness center, spa and a location in Canal City, Fukuoka’s leading shopping, dining and entertainment center. You will have time to explore on your own using suggestions provided by Esprit; hotel concierges can also assist.

Accommodations: Grand Hyatt Fukuoka

DAY 3 - FUKUOKA

Shinto Shrine decoration

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 and design and craft shops. Tonight, we will have a casual welcome dinner featuring Fukuoka’s most famous dish, Hakata-style tonkotsu ramen in hearty, pork-based broth.

Accommodations: Grand Hyatt Fukuoka
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch

DAY 4 - MOJIKO DAY TRIP

Mojiko-Old Buildings-D111595319

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, 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. We will return to 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, Lunch, Dinner

DAY 5 - YOBUKO and KARATSU

YobukoBay-Day 5 of Western Food Tour

Bidding farewell to Fukuoka, today we head west 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, produce and homemade dishes like furikake (flavored sprinkles for rice). From Yobuko, it is a drive of about 30 minutes to Karatsu, one of the prefecture’s venerable 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. We will spend the evening at Yoyokaku, a wood-built, Meiji-era ryokan called “one of Japan’s must-stay inns,” thanks in part to a long affiliation with the Nakazato family, keepers of Karatsu’s ceramic tradition since the 1600s.

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

DAY 6 - DAZAIFU AND NAGASAKI

Fukuoka Temple bridge Day 6 cuisine and culture of western japan

Our route to Nagasaki takes us through lively Dazaifu, early capital of Kyushu and beautifully nestled in the woods. After strolling the sprawling, photogenic grounds of Dazaifu’s Tenman-gu Shrine, 1,100 years old and dedicated to the Shinto god of scholarship, we will visit the futuristic Kyushu National Museum, whose priceless collection chronicles the region’s millennia of trade with the Asian continent. Following lunch on your own at one of many casual restaurants, we will learn to make Dazaifu’s specialty sweet, umegae mochi, bean-paste dumplings embossed with plum blossom designs. In the late afternoon we will arrive in Nagasaki, known for centuries for as Japan’s crossroads of eastern and western cultures. Tonight, we will enjoy a casual dinner by the harbor.

Accommodations: BW Hotel Premier Nagasaki
Meals included: Breakfast, Dinner

DAY 7 - 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 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; it is now filled with faithfully reconstructed period buildings. Here we will have a lesson in Nagasaki-style cuisine and eat our creations for lunch. The afternoon takes us to 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 own east-meets-west version of kaiseki cuisine.

Accommodations: BW Hotel Premier Nagasaki
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

DAY 8 - NAGASAKI

Nagasaki Statue

Today we will concentrate on the atomic bombing sites on Nagasaki’s north side, learn how this city 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 continue to Suwa-jinja, the city’s most storied Shinto shrine, to 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 cable car ride up Mt. Inasa. The spectacular nighttime views across the city and bay have been rated among the top three in the world, alongside Hong Kong and Monaco.

Accommodations: BW Hotel Premier Nagasaki
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch

DAY 9 - SHIMABARA PENINSULA DAY TRIP

FoodSteemedOverHotsprings

Today we will visit the Shimabara Peninsula, southeast of Nagasaki, known for its landscape of geothermal mountains, hot springs and splendid views of the Ariake Sea. 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 Chinese community.

Accommodations: BW Hotel Premier Nagasaki
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

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 12 - TESHIMA AND NAOSHIMA ISLANDS

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. We begin on rural Teshima Island to experience the Teshima Yokoo House and Teshima Art Museum and enjoy a quiet lunch at a local restaurant. In mid-afternoon, another ferry ride takes us to neighboring Naoshima Island. We will have time to explore 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 13 - NAOSHIMA ISLAND

Evening Pumpkin - Teshima Island

Following breakfast at our inn, this morning we’ll explore some of Naoshima’s installations and museums, including the Chichu Museum and the Lee Ufan Museum. After lunch at a local restaurant, we will 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 14 - 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.