Late Autumn in Japan

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Highlights

  • Private dining experiences, food markets, fresh sushi & sake
  • Travelling on the Shinkansen (the Bullet Train)
  • A private glimpse into Kyoto’s Gion geisha district
  • Cycling, walking tours, cruising & cooking
  • Escorted by Jemma Wilson
  • Small group of like-minded ladies

Key Facts

  •   Japan

  •   Great for foodies & culture vultures

  •   14 days

  •   Escorted by Jemma Wilson of Mai Journeys

Japan is a land of vast cultural diversity with ultra-modern cities, Buddhist mountain sanctuaries, hidden hot springs and rich arts. It will mesmerise you with its age-old traditions and elegant sophistication.

Escorted by leading lady Jemma Wilson, this boutique Secret Women's Series journey explores Japanese art, food, history and culture in its most iconic cities. Beginning in Tokyo, you’ll visit unforgettable sites such as the Meiji Shrine and the colorful shopping streets of Harajuku, before travelling aboard a bullet train to your next stop, Kanazawa, passing through the Hokuriku Region along the Sea of Japan coast en route. In the 17th century the beautifully preserved castle town of Kanazawa was Japan's wealthiest area and a thriving centre for culture and the arts. With its close proximity to the sea and surrounded by fertile farmland, it holds a reputation throughout the country as a gourmet paradise. During your time here you’ll wander the Kenroku-en Gardens, sample fine sushi in Omicho market, visit a sake brewery and discover the the old Samurai district of Nagamachi.

Moving on to Shirakawa-go you’ll see the UNESCO listed gassho-zukuri farmhouses, some more that 250 years old, before moving on to Takayama for a gourmet food tour and then continuing to Kyoto. You’ll enjoy five days in Kyoto learning to cook Japanese cuisine, shopping and taking in temples, castles, towering bamboo forests and Japan's most famous Zen rock garden. A cycling tour takes in the historic city's best known sights and a private tea ceremonywill give you a glimpse into the secretive world of the Geisha. Your final day will be spent exploring the European-inspired streets of Osaka.

This is an enchanting journey that explores the harmonious mix of ancient and hyper-modern and immerses you into the culture, art and the cuisine of Japan – a mystifying and fascinating country.

Late Autumn in Japan

While the Japanese celebrate every season, Autumn (aki), holds a special place in many hearts for the beauty of changing leaves, the return of favourite culinary treats, and some of the year’s most vibrant festivals. Autumn in Japan lasts from about mid-September to early December, depending on the location. Autumn is widely considered to be the most pleasant time (weather-wise) to visit Japan, with temperatures ranging from approximately 10 to 21 °C. As the weather cools, red maples, Japanese maples, and other deciduous trees ablaze with shades of red, orange, and yellow. The turning of the leaves in Japan varies due to temperature, elevation, and latitude. When temperatures turn cold early, the fall colours appear sooner – up to several weeks early – and vice versa. In general, the autumn foliage season begins in mid-September on the island of Hokkaido, the northernmost island. In other parts of Japan, like Tokyo and Kyoto, the best viewing times typically range from late-October through early December.


 

Itinerary Details

Day 1 | Tokyo 

Arrive at Narita Airport, pass through immigration; collect your luggage and clear customs. Our assistant will meet you just outside of the secure area and they will take you to the hotel by private mini-bus transfer. The journey from Narita, on the far outskirts of Tokyo, into the city center takes about 90 minutes or more, depending on traffic. Check into our hotel and relax. For those that muster the energy, we will have a Welcome Drink & snacks in the bar.  Overnight Niwa Hotel, or similar.

Day 2 | Tokyo 

Today, after breakfast we will explore Tokyo with our guide. We visit to the Imperial Palace East Garden, the former site of Edo Castle, now home to a beautiful Japanese style garden. We continue on to the Imperial Palace Plaza, from where you will be able to enjoy the iconic view of the famous Nijubashi Bridge. We will then visit and enjoy free time in Ginza district. Ginza is Tokyo’s most famous up- market shopping, dining and entertainment district. Ginza is the best place to shop in Japan, and is also of interest for its architecture, dining, tea rooms, entertainment and attractions. We carry on to Yanaka Ginza, a narrow street lined with food stalls, specialty shops, and teahouses. Then we visit Tennoji Temple. The temple has a peaceful decor and atmosphere, and a big bronze Buddha statue sits on the left of its main building We then visit Meiji Jingu, Tokyo’s most famous shrine, dedicated to the spirit of the late Emperor Meiji. Next to Meiji Shrine is Harajuku, Tokyo’s youth fashion mecca. Whether you are a Goth, a punk or somewhere in between, there is a shop in Harajuku that caters for you. If you're a photography enthusiast, the area is photogenic at night. 

You will have the opportunity to join an optional night walking tour of Tokyo taking in some of the brightest and liveliest districts in the city of Tokyo.

Overnight Niwa Hotel. (B / L / *Dinner if on Optional Tour ). 

Day 3 | Tokyo

After breakfast, approx 0930am, we meet our English-speaking guide in the lobby of our hotel for a Taste of Tokyo tour. First stop is the famous **Tsukiji Fish Outer Market. Tsukiji Fish Market (Tsukiji Shijo) is one of the most exciting markets in the world, whether you arrive early in the morning for the tuna auctions, or later in the morning for a look around and a sushi breakfast. It is the world’s largest fish market; an amazing place if you’re a foodie, love markets, or are a photographer – or simply someone who enjoys visiting unique places. From the market we head to Hama-Rikyu Teien, the former private garden of an Edo Period lord. After strolling around the garden, we take a break in the tea house known as ‘Nakajima No Chaya’ which stands elegantly in the park’s lake. We will have the chance to get a taste of matcha, or Japanese green tea, paired with a Japanese sweet. Afterwards, it’s time to see Tokyo from a different angle - aboard the boat cruise along Sumida River. We will cruise towards Asakusa, a part of Tokyo’s shitamachi or old town. Asakusa is the city’s oldest Geisha district and also the home to Senso-ji Temple, Tokyo’s oldest Buddhist temple. The streets around Senso-ji feature many traditional shops that sell Japanese crafts and souvenirs and are a delight to wander through. Asakusa is also famous for tempura, so we will stop by one of the area’s local restaurants for a set course lunch. From Asakusa, a short walk will take us to Kappabashi, also known as the ‘Kitchenware Town’. Lined with dozens of stores selling everything that restaurateurs need, we will find specialized stores for dishes, pots, pans, cooking utensils, stoves, tables, chairs, signs, lanterns, and much more.   We end out tour at approx 5.30pm, and the rest of the evening is *free at your leisure. **This evening we have the fabulous opportunity of a very special 'Women's Dinner'. We will dine in a Tokyo restaurant (TBC) and meet local women - both Japanese and ex-pat - and spend the evening eating, drinking & chatting. There is no better way to immerse than to share food with local women and hear their stories and backgrounds. Overnight Niwa Hotel. (B / L / D* TBC) 

Day 4 | Kanazawa

This morning we depart for Kanazawa by Bullet Train. After breakfast we will have final free time in Tokyo - for last minute shopping? - before we are transferred to the Tokyo Station to board our first bullet train. We will buy ourselves a Bento Box for the journey, and board the train. The 2.5 hour journey to Kanazawa passes through the Hokuriku Region along the Sea of Japan coast and offers pleasant countryside and spectacular natural scenery. In the 17th century, the beautifully preserved castle town of Kanazawa used to be  Japan's wealthiest area and a thriving center for culture and the arts. And with its proximity to the sea and surrounded by fertile farmland, Kanazawa holds a reputation throughout the country as a gourmet paradise. Although Kyoto is generally the first city associated with kaiseki, or multi-course cuisine, Kanazawa also has a long and heralded history of this Japanese treat, and there are a number of excellent restaurants to choose from - such as Suruko, Zeniya, or Jugatsu-ya.  Regardless of where you go, prepare to spend at least two and a half to three hours in order to savour each distinct course and the superb sake served alongside. Each course arrives like a work of art, the colours, textures, and flavours all flawlessly balanced. As you eat your way through the freshest seasonal ingredients, try to enjoy each mouthful as a unique and fleeting experience of perfection. We are met at the station and transferred to our hotel. This evening you are free, or we can eat together at a favourite local restaurant. Overnight Hotel Nikko Kanazawa. (B) 

Day 5 | Kanazawa

After breakfast we meet with our guide and depart for Kanazawa sightseeing. This morning, we visit to Kenroku-en Gardens - ranked as one of Japan’s top 3 gardens. The gardens are mesmerising to wander through. Plants in this lovingly cared for garden includes azaleas and traditional Japanese Trees. Located adjacent to Kenroku-en is Kanazawa Castle, which can be easily accessed through Ishikawa Gate, one of the major gates of the castle. We then walk to the nearby Omicho market, known throughout Japan for its fresh seafood and fine sushi. Our guide will introduce us to a local restaurant where we will sample the local wares. After lunch we continue to Nagamachi, the old samurai district of Kanazawa. Here we find Nomura-ke, a restored samurai house that showcases the artefacts during the golden era of the Japanese warriors. We then make our way to the Higashi Chaya District, one of the three, well-preserved chaya districts in Kanazawa. A cha-ya, which means ‘tea house’ in Japanese, was where geisha used to entertain her guests with a song or a dance. Here we find Hakuza, the shop that sells Kanazawa’s specialty – gold leaf products. The tearoom inside the shop is totally covered with gold!  Overnight Hotel Nikko Kanazawa. (B / L)

Day 6 | Shirakawa-Go, Takayama         

Today we explore Shirakawa-go Historic Village with our guide. Shirakawago, and its neighboring Gokayama region, lines the Shogawa River Valley in the remote mountains that stretch from Gifu all the way to Toyama Prefecture. Both of these prefectures are famous for their traditional gassho-zukuri farmhouses, some of which are more than 250 years old. They were also declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. Gassho-zukuri means "constructed like hands in prayer," as the farmhouses' steep thatched roofs resemble the hands of Buddhist monks pressed together in prayer. The architectural style developed over many generations, intricately designed to withstand the large amounts of heavy snow that falls in the region during winter. The roofs, which were constructed without nails, provided a large attic space used for cultivating silkworms. We will visit a private 300-year-old family home  and explore the historic village of Ogimachi, the largest village with 59 intact gassho houses. We have lunch in a local restuarant before we continue to Takayama and check into our Ryokan. This evening we will eat traditional Japanese Kaiseki cuisine with Hida Beef at the Ryokan. Overnight Ryokan Asunaro. (B / L / D) 

Day 7 | Takayama

After breakfast, our luggage will be transferred to our Kyoto hotel. We will carry only an overnight bag with enough clothing to see us through this evening & one more night. This morning after breakfast, approx 930am, our Guide will collect us for a Food & Culture Walk around Takayama’s old town and market, an area full of traditional houses, shops and restaurants, all of which have maintained their strong traditional touch. Our guide will lead us to some of the most famous spots in town and provide many chances to savor some of the most famous products of the region, such as miso (Japanese paste made from soybeans, salt and rice), Takayama’s typical rice dumplings dipped in soy sauce, and some Japanese style home made sweets and confectionery. There will also be a possibility to taste the locally produced sake. A tasty way to expand your knowledge about Takayama’s delicious cuisine and unique traditions.. This afternoon is free time or you can join in on a short walk to Takayama Jinya, also known as the Historical Government House - the only surviving government office building from the Edo period. Now it serves as a museum, featuring some well-preserved meeting and conference rooms, a collection of century-old artefacts and office supplies, and a 400-year-old rice storage room. Then visit the Takayama Festival Floats Museum to see the colourful floats that parade through the town during the famous Takayama Festivals in spring and autumn.) This evening you are free, or we can eat together at a favourite local restaurant. Overnight Ryokan Asunaro. (B / Tasting Snacks) 

Day 8 | Kyoto         

This morning we have free time before we need to board our train so we can visit the Miyagawa Morning Market where locals sell their handmade crafts and local produce (depending on the season, the markets open as early as 6:00 a.m.). This is also the perfect place to purchase some souvenirs such as chopsticks, Ichii Itto-bori (wood carvings) and the iconic Sarubobo We then walk to the train station with our Guide - we can buy a Bento Box for our lunch - where we board our Express Train for Kyoto. On arrival, we are met at the station and transferred to our hotel. *Our train departs Takayama, we change at Nagoya, and arrive at Kyoto. The total duration of this train journey is approximately 4.5 hours. We will be carrying only our overnight bags. Overnight Royal Park Hotel THE KYOTO. (B)                  

Day 9 | Kyoto

This morning after breakfast we discover Kyoto by bike on a cycling tour that takes in this historic city's best known sights. We will visit temples, castles and Japan's most famous Zen rock garden before riding through pristine bamboo forests. Kyoto's lack of hills and quiet streets make this the perfect way to take in the best the city has to offer. We meet our tour guide at Kyoto Station and pick up your bike for the day. We start off with a visit to the Nishi-Hongaji Temple, one of the largest temple complexes in Kyoto just located near the Kyoto Station area.  Later we will be cycling to Nijo Castle, famous for its Momoyama architecture, decorated sliding doors, and ‘chirping’ nightingale floors. After lunch, we bike to Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion. Originally built as a retirement villa for the Shogun, after his death it became a Buddhist Temple at his request, and is now one of Kyoto’s most famous temples. Next, we head further north and visit Ryoanji and its famous Zen rock garden, then explore the Arashiyama district with its bamboo forests district before returning to Kyoto Station. This evening we can dine along the Pontocho area.  *Cycling is very popular in Kyoto and is very easy as the city is relatively flat. It is also a quicker and easier way to see the sights. We will go as slow as necessary, and stop when needed. There is no rush. *There will be an alternative for those who do not wish to bike.  Overnight Royal Park Hotel THE KYOTO: (B / L) 

Day 10 | Kyoto             

DAY: Today, what we have in store for you is a truly amazing Japanese Cultural experience. Blessed with one of the most distinct cultures on the planet, Japan is home to a number of unique and defining arts. We will visit a traditional Kyoto style wooden house where we will partake in a Tea Ceremony with expert instructors. We will be taken on a short tour of the machiya house and provided with insight into its architecture, before donning a traditional kimono, the iconic Japanese garment. Dressed in our kimono, we will now take part in a tea ceremony, a quintessential part of Japanese culture, in the company of a tea master. This allows us to learn about every aspect of Japanese tea culture, from making the tea to the movements involved in serving it. Then a walk through the old neighborhood to visit to a nearby sake brewery, where we will have a chance to try the local brew. Our Guide will then take us to the Silver Pavilion in the Higashiyama District, where they will end their tour. We can then stroll through the atmospheric Higashiyama area, whose busy lanes lead up to Kiyomizu and are filled with quaint shops selling souvenirs including Kiyomizu-yaki pottery, sweets and pickles. From the Silver Pavilion, we will begin our walk on the Philosphers Path. On return to the hotel, we will have free time until late afternoon. EVENING: One of the many unique aspects of Japanese culture is its Geisha. When hearing the word “Japan,” one’s mind immediately conjures up images of these elegant and mysterious ladies, with their elaborate hairstyles, white-painted faces and bright red lips, wrapped in an elegant kimono. Kyoto is considered the home of the Geisha, & this evening, together with our Guide, we will explore the streets of Gion, known as Kyoto’s Geisha district, with a unique opportunity to have dinner with a “Maiko”, an apprentice Geisha, dressed in a colourful kimono. Late afternoon, our Guide will escort us to the Gion District. A captivating walking tour of Gion begins in front of Minami-za Theatre and continues past local shops and restaurants, before reaching the Yasaka Shrine. A quick detour leads through the streets of Hanami-koji, the most popular street in Gion where lavish teahouses are lined up. From the Yasaka Shrine, we cross the Tatsumibashi Bridge and pass Tatsumi Daimyojin (a small street shrine), Gion Komori (a once dignified teahouse) and the Shirakawa Canal. After the walking tour, dinner will be enjoyed in a local restaurant serving kaiseki ryori (traditional multi-course dinner) in the company of a Maiko. During the dinner, there is ample opportunity to interact with the hostess and ask questions about her craft and the world of Geisha. During dinner, the Maiko will perform traditional dances and even invite guests to play Japanese drinking games. The Maiko will stay with us for about 1.5 hours, giving us time to talk to them and ask any questions we may have. After this unforgettable experience, it is time to return to the hotel and wind down from the day’s events. Overnight Royal Park Hotel THE KYOTO: (B / D)

Day 11 | Kyoto             

After breakfast we can walk the mile-long Nishiki market, passing by some interesting food stalls and learning about the local Japanese produce. We may then go into to the backstreets to visit a former sake brewery and have the chance to sample the local brew before heading back to the hotel for rest. This afternoon we have a traditional cooking class in a machiya, a well-restored wooden house that is typical for Kyoto. We will be taught how to prepare the typical dishes served in an izakaya. 'Izakaya' is loosely translated to a Japanese- style pub, where friends or co-workers gather together to drink. Your home chef will share with us the techniques in preparing some authentic Japanese dishes such as steamed egg custard and steamed rice with fish broth. After our class, we will have the chance to sit down and share the meal with our teacher. We return to the hotel (approximately 6pm) and the rest of our evening is free. Overnight Royal Park Hotel THE KYOTO: (B / D - Cooking Class) 

Day 12 | Kyoto             

Today is a free day to explore more of Kyoto at your leisure, with the option of a day excursion to Nara to visit the Todaiji Temple.  Overnight Royal Park Hotel THE KYOTO: (B)

Day 13 | Osaka                          

This morning after breakfast we check out and transfer onto Osaka in our Private Coach. En-route, we visit a well established Sake Brewery. Upon arrival at Daimon Brewery, Sake Master Yasutaka DAIMON gives a 30 minutes tour of sake brewery where he grew up and lives today. We will learn the detailed process of how rice turns to sake. After the tour, we are invited to taste 3-4 types of sake and learn the differences from Mr. Daimon, followed by lunch in which they coordinate the ‘marriage’ of western cuisine & sake to prove that sake goes well with western cuisine as well. We then check into our hotel, & the rest of the day is at leisure until our afternoon tour. This afternoon - approximately 4pm - we embark on an Osaka Street Food Tour. We will meet our guide and depart by private coach. First we will go to Doguyasuji shopping arcade, a unique market where you can find anything related to the food industry including the plastic food models you find outside Japanese restaurants. After seeing so much plastic food, it's time to have some snacks. So our next stop will be in Dotonbori, a restaurant mecca which has long-been referred to as Osaka’s entertainment district and former “pleasure district.” We will see a wide array of food stalls and restaurants - & we can choose to have either an order of takoyaki (octopus balls) or okonomiyaki (“Japanese pancake” with cabbage, pork, ginger, nori, and a special sauce). While in Dotonbori, we may want to spare some time and pose in front of Kani Doraku, the huge crab with moving legs, or stand on Ebisubashi with the photo of the running Glico man as our backdrop. After taking some photos, we continue on, passing by Hozenji Yokocho, an area with narrow alleys filled with more than 60 traditional restaurants and izakaya (traditional Japanese pubs). At the end of one of these alleys, we find Hozenji Temple, where worshippers splash water on the statue of the deity instead of tossing coins. We then take the train to Shinsekai, a small, old town in Tennoji area that was designed after New York and Paris. Despite the post WWII economic impact, Shinsekai still remains to be one of the favourite places in Osaka for food lovers. But before sampling some of the local delicacies, we first go to Tsutenkaku, the tower modelled after the Eiffel Tower in Paris and one of Osaka’s top icons. The tower is famous for its seasonal lights. We go to the fifth floor where we will find not just the observatory but also a replica of the statue of Billiken, the god of happiness. Now it’s time to discover the delicious wonders of Shinsekai. For dinner, we recommend kushikatsu, a skewer of meat and vegetables dipped in batter, rolled on bread crumbs, and then deep fried. Our guide will give us a suggestion, and will be happy to show us to, a fabulous restaurant fitting of a final group meal together. On our return to the hotel we shall have a Farewell Drink together... Overnight Cross Hotel, or similar - (B / Evening Snacks at Dotonbori / Farewell Drink)  

Day 14 | Day of departure                        

This morning our tour ends and we are transferred to Kansai Airport for our onward arrangements or return flights. Thank you for joining us on this fabulous journey.

Key Facts

  • Escorted by Jemma Wilson of Mai Journeys
  • 14 days
  • 25 November to 8 December 2018
  • Begins & ends: Delhi
  • A$10,075 per person twin share or A$12,375 per person single room. Excludes international flights.
  • For further details and a full itinerary please contact us
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