Day 0 – April 3, Monday
It’s a long trip to Japan, so we suggest that you arrive a day early (or more) to rest and recover from your travels. You’re free to stay at whatever hotel inspires you, but we offer as a recommendation the Cerulean Tower. (Note, your stay in Tokyo before the trip start is not included in the trip cost). If you come several days early, we can help you plan some day tours of Tokyo. If you can’t sleep, we’ll meet extremely early at the fish market for an early Sushi breakfast!
Day 1 – April 4, Tuesday
Travel to Kyoto
We’ll meet up this morning at the Cerulean Tower, and make our way to the train station to catch a bullet train to Kyoto, our home for the next five nights. 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 Traditional Ryokan hotel and get settled in. The hotel is situated in central Kyoto and offers Japanese-style accommodations, traditional design and modern facilities.
The ryokan is located a short walk from the river.
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 experience a traditional royal Kaiseki feast, a 10-course meal focused on seasonal ingredients. If you’ve never experienced it, this is guaranteed to blow your mind!
Day 2 – April 5, Wednesday
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 importance of the Tea ceremony which is more involved and fascinating than you ever could have imagined. We’ll learn about this traditional custom as well as precisely how to sip your tea in the private tatami room of our hotel. This is so much more than just tea!
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 famous for it. Okonomiyaki is a cabbage pancake, traditional Japanese comfort food. It sounds a little odd, but its scrumptious!
After our meal we’ll visit 600 cherry trees lit up in Maruyama Park – a display created specifically for night viewing.
Day 3 – April 6, Thursday
Japanese Garden Day – Zen Gardens and Ikebana
Today we’ll see two incredible Zen gardens in Kyoto with an expert – the Ryoan-ji Temple & Heian Jingu shrine and garden.
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 modern fusion Japanese meal created by one of the top Kyoto chefs.
Day 4 – April 7, Friday
Buddha, Nara and the Torii Gates
Today, we’ll head 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 dating 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 is fine.
As we head back to town, if time allows and energy holds up, we’ll stop at the Fushimi Inari Tori Shinto Shrine which you’ve probably seen photos of on Instagram.
The hearty souls among us will walk up to the top, others can stop halfway. 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 tour!
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, (Japanese pub).
Day 5 – April 8, Saturday
Pottery, Fabric, Geishas and Sushi!
Today we’ll learn 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 discover the world of the geisha and enjoy some free time for shopping. Today, it’s tempura for lunch.
Tonight, we’ll splurge on a sushi dinner at Izuju in the Gion District. Izuju 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 9, Sunday
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 opportunity to spend the night at a Buddhist Monastery and enjoy Shojin Ryori cuisine, a vegetarian feast.
Day 7 – April 10, Monday
From Calmness to the Big City
Today we’ll take an early hike up into the mountains to watch the sunrise and then take part in a prayer ceremony with the monks. This is something you’ll never forget.
For those ending the trip here, we’ll have to bid each other adieu, or perhaps we shall say “Mata zehi” (I had a great time and hope to see you again soon!). We’ll check out and head back to Tokyo by train. We recommend that you stay one more night in Tokyo before flying out so you’re not pressured to make a flight (not included). Your return to the Tokyo airport will be all arranged for you.
But why not stay a while longer? An optional extension trip to Hakkone for 2 nights of Onsen (Japanese baths) and Mt. Fuji will relax and fulfill you even more.