Day 0 – April 1st Friday
Travel to Japan
We encourage you to fly into Tokyo on Mon March 29 so you have time to rest and recover from your long journey. Stay at the hotel of your choice; recommendations will be made available. (Note: This night’s hotel is not included in the trip cost). If you can’t sleep Mon night/ Tues morning, we’ll meet at 5am at the fish market for an early Sushi breakfast. While the market isn’t what it once was because the main market has moved outside of town to a new venue, the small outer stalls remain open and this is one of the very best ways to experience sushi in all of Japan.
Day 1 – April 2nd, Saturday
Travel to Kyoto
Meet up in Tokyo on Tuesday the 30th to take the train to Kyoto where we’ll stay for five nights. (Train travel is included). As the home of kaiseki (multi-course) dining, tofu, shojin ryori cuisine (Zen Buddhist Vegetarian Cuisine), and the traditional Japanese tea ceremony, Kyoto is a serious foodie haven.
The train arrives mid-day in Kyoto. Upon arrival, we’ll check into our Hotel The General Kyoto Bukkoji Fuyacho and get settled in. Our hotel specializes in the Japanese minimalist design aesthetic while taking much from history. They collaborate with artists and have their own tearoom, gym and yoga studio. The hotel is situated in central Kyoto a short walk away from the Nishiki Historic market and the Gion Geisha district.
This evening over sake and drinks we’ll learn about the concept and history of Wabi-Sabi, something we’ll revisit each day.
Tonight, we’ll get to experience a traditional royal Kaiseki feast, a 10-course meal focused on season ingredients. If you’ve never experienced it, this is guaranteed to blow your mind! (Note: Don’t worry they serve it to you in very small courses).
Day 2 – April 3rd, Sunday
Temples, Tea and Cherries
Today we’ll visit the top two temples in Kyoto, the golden temple Kinkaku-ji & Kiyomizudera, plus we’ll visit the key cherry blossom walks & sights. We’ll lunch at the oldest noodle house in Japan, which is over 400 years old.
This afternoon we’ll learn about the Tea ceremony which is more involved and fascinating that you might ever have imagined. You’ll learn the traditional customs and exactly how to sip your tea in the private tatami room of our hotel.
Tonight, we’ll enjoy a Whiskey tasting. Japanese whiskey is so good even a non-whiskey drink will enjoy it. The tasting will be followed by Okonomiyaki at a place which is famous for it. Okonomiyaki is a cabbage pancake, traditional Japanese comfort food, which sounds very odd but its scrumptious!
After our meal we’ll visit 600 cherry trees all lit up in Maruyama Park which has been created specifically for night viewing.
Day – 3 April 4th, Monday
Japanese Garden Day – Zen Gardens and Ikebana
Today we’ll see the top two Zen gardens in Kyoto – the Ryoan-ji Temple & Heian Jingu shrine and garden with an expert.
We’ll lunch at a tofu temple and in the afternoon, we’ll discover Ikebana. This is traditional Japanese flower arranging. We’ll have a hands-on class back at our hotel.
Tonight, we’ll change things up by trying a unique Japanese meal created by one of the top Kyoto chefs. Ifuki has 2 Michelin stars and specializes in “Sumibi Kappo” cuisine which is cooking in front of the diner using live fire to add a rich smoky flavor and aroma to the dishes.
Day – 4 April 5th, Tuesday
Buddha, Nara and the Torii Gates
Today we’ll head out to Nara for the day. Nara is the old capital of Japan. Here we’ll see the largest Buddha in Japan and then pet and feed the tamed deer that walk on the property of the Kasuga Grand Shrine which dates back 1300 years. At the temple we will meet with a monk who will help us learn a bit about Zen Buddhism as practiced by the Japanese. We’ll also explore the nearby Kasugataisha Manyo Botanical Gardens.
We’ll have a light lunch of Udon noodles at Mizuya Chaya sitting outside if the weather if fine.
As we head back to town, we’ll stop at the Fushimi Inari Tori Shinto Shrine which you’ve probably seen photos of on Instagram. For those hearty souls, we’ll walk up to the top! This shrine dates back more than 500 years and is the principal shrine for this sect of Shinto priests and monks. The shrine is dedicated to the gods of rice and sake, something we’ll be dedicating ourselves to during this trip!
Tonight’s meal will be simpler, taken at a casual local place where we’ll try yakitori or tonkatsu with Japanese beer at a nearby Izkaya, (a Japanese pub).
Day – 5 April 6th, Wednesday
Pottery, Fabric, Geishas and Sushi!
Today we’ll learn a bit about Japanese Pottery and why Raku commands such extremely high prices. We’ll also learn about and then have the chance to purchase some of the iconic hand-dyed Japanese indigo fabrics. We’ll also learn a bit more about the world of the geisha and we’ll have some free time for shopping. Today, we’ll have a tempura lunch.
Tonight, we’ll splurge on a sushi dinner at Izuju in the Gion District. This place has been open for 100 years. Beyond regular sushi and rolls, Izuji serves hakozushi, which is boxed sushi, small, neat squares of rice topped with roasted fish as well as inari sushi, rice stuffed into pockets of fried tofu.
Day – 6 April 7th, Thursday
Zen Temples on a Mountaintop
Today we head to Mt. Koya-san via train and funicular. After checking into our monastery, we’ll visit some of the most historic and interesting temples and make an offering. Tonight, we have the unique chance to spend the night at a Buddhist Monastery and enjoy sample Shojin Ryori cuisine, aka a vegetarian feast.
Day – 7 April 8th, Friday
From Calmness to the Big City
Today we’ll take an early hike up into the mountains to watch the sunrise and then we’ll take part in a prayer ceremony with the monks. This is something you won’t ever forget. After breakfast we’ll check out and head back to Tokyo by train.
We Recommend that you stay one more night in Tokyo before flying out (not included).
->An Optional extension trip to Hakkone for 2 nights of Onsen (Japanese baths) can be arranged. Please inquire.