More people are visiting Japan than ever before – we have organized several Journeys last year and are in the midst of plotting this year as well! Japan is truly timeless, a place where ancient traditions are fused with modern convenience. Exquisite natural landscapes and high tech gadgetry, posh hotels and elegant ryokans beckon the world to the islands. This VIP family has been traveling with us for 16 years, we’ve organized kid related Journeys on safaris, traipsing about Italy where a wolf stole their tennis shoes outside their Villa, and organized their college tours. Both children are settled into college but ready for a family holiday escape. Last December we curated their Japan Journey – we knew the potential obstacles with weather, but once we sent pages of suggestions for activities, the family reached a happy medium. Dad is notorious for wanting to dine at every Michelin restaurant or noted restaurant all over the world, they have the good fortune of being a foodie family! Dad was intent on seeing the architecture in Kanazawa, and kids wanted to do ‘the crazy things’ they had seen in films in Japan. Robot Cafe, Owl Cafe and hip shopping filled in the blanks amid the fine dining.
Day 1 Arrive Tokyo Haneda 東京へようこそ Tōkyō e yōkoso Welcome to Tokyo! Private VIP arrival and driver to The Peninsula Hotel.
Day 2 Meet your guide in the hotel lobby. Mornings with Sumo Wrestlers The tension, the concentration, the diligence, the lifestyle. The art of sumo is more than what we know it to be. All sumo wrestlers, both young and experienced, train together from very early in the morning. The heated practice match is as exciting and breathtaking as a real tournament. Get a deeper insight into the training regime of a sumo wrestler at an actual sumo stable. This was a huge hit, I received texts and photos during the demonstration!
Soba noodle making. The ultimate noodle making experience. A Soba making class offers a hands-on experience from a Soba restaurant chef on how to make these noodles. In this workshop, you will knead and cut soba dough with your personal teacher. Soba, Japanese for “buckwheat”, refers to the dish of thin, richly flavored, fragrant buckwheat noodles. It is served either chilled with a dipping sauce or with a hot broth in Winter. After the workshop, you’ll get to taste your own Soba noodles. Enjoy! Another big hit with the daughter, who knew she was an expert noodle maker!?
Asakusa. Explore the atmosphere of Old Tokyo in the Asakusa district, a favorite home to one of Tokyo’s oldest temples with an incredible history of over 1,400 years, the Sensoji Temple. Walk through the Kaminarimon Gate a landmark also known as the “Thunder Gate” with its beautiful huge red lanterns- symbolic in Tokyo. Walk down the Nakamise Arcade, a shopping street favored by locals and visitors alike, lined with many craft and souvenir shops. Traditional snacks can be found here, such as sticky rice balls, sweet bean pastry, sweet potato, rice crackers, etc. You will even find quirky things here such kimonos for your dog or cat! A fun local street walk.
Lunch at Sky Restaurant after your Soba Noodles, or try some different street food options in Asakusa as you walk down Nakamise Arcade. (French and Japanese fusion). Enjoy your lunch high up above the city in the iconic Tokyo Sky Tree with incredible views spanning over the whole of Tokyo.
Akihabara (Akiba) We’ll take you to the heart of Tokyo’s sub-culture “geek” scene. A fun day in Akihabara, also nicknamed “Electric Town”, is a district in Chiyoda, central Tokyo and has gravitated people interested in electronics and technology for years. For those who love and want to buy electronics or to see the latest trends.
Akihabara is also a paradise for those obsessed with anime, manga, games, figurines as well as maid café, cat cafés, etc. We’ll also pass by some of the key newer establishments such as the Yodobashi electronics store.
Inside the world of Japanese Armor. Step into a specialty flagship shop of an armor studio located on the Kyushu Island which nowadays produces more than 90% of Japanese armor. Explore the intricate detail of the hand-made armor, made with traditional techniques preserved for centuries. In Japanese armor, helmets are uniquely ornamented with decorations, such as animal horns, miniature shrines, Chinese characters, and even human hair! All these ornaments represent a unique personality and philosophy of each samurai warrior. Customize: As your first experience into the samurai culture, (you will learn more as you go along your journey), but here, you will be able to customize your own Japanese armor in this very special shop. Purchasing an armor is possible here as well.
Arrive at the Robot Restaurant .This place is unlike any other in the world. In fact, it is completely bizarrely fantastical. Of course, this is a tourist trap on many levels but quite a unique experience. One of the most unusual top attractions in Tokyo and as cheesy as it may be for some, we can guarantee you have never experienced something like it before. The core attraction here is this captivating show of dinosaurs, acrobatic women who perform wild raving dances right in front of you, robots, neon lights galore, bubble gum pop and glow stick mania, yes, pure happy, bizarre Tokyo chaos – and an experience you are most likely never going to experience again, unless you come back to Tokyo
Dinner Inakaya West
Day 3 Travel to Kyoto. Half day Tour in Tokyo. Tsukiji outer market Visit one of the largest and most vibrant seafood markets in the world. See not only seafood, but a variety of Japanese local ingredients such as seaweed, dried bonito flakes, marbled beef, vegetables as well as Japanese kitchen utensils. We’ll try and taste a sushi breakfast at one of the sushi stands in the market area, if you like.
Azabu-Jūban Neighbourhood. Experience the local life in a cool quiet neighborhood while savoring the atmosphere of old Tokyo downtown. Azabujuban, formerly a temple town and now a fashionable neighborhood lined with interesting shops, quirky cafés, restaurants and trendy boutiques that cater to mostly expats and Japanese. Some of the famous traditional shops include Taiyaki (fish-shaped traditional cake with bean paste), bean snacks (centuries-old shop of nuts and beans snack) and sake shop, as well as bakery, café, bar, groceries and supermarkets, and more.
Afternoon your guide directs you to first class seats on Shinkansen Bullet train – Tokyo to Kyoto. Arrival to Kyoto and private transfer to your garden suites at Kyoto Four Seasons Hotel.
Dinner at Tempura Yasaka Endo
Day 4 Morning with private guide and driver Fushimi Inari Shrine. On your way from your hotel, we have to stop at the beautiful Fushimi Inari Shrine. Built for the god of rice, which is an important ingredient for making sake, which this area is famous for. It is also worshipped as a god of business prosperity. In the precinct, there are thousands of mysterious red shrine gates donated by worshippers. The Hollywood movie “Sayuri” based on the best-selling novel “Memoirs of a Geisha” was filmed in this shrine.
Local Home Cooking Class at a Machiya. *Insider: You are welcomed to explore a private and exclusive glimpse of life in a traditional, historical Kyoto-style town house. Not only that but here you will learn Kyoto’s home cooking by the actual owner of the Machiya who will also tell you about the architecture of the home and their passion for conservation of the house.
Then let your cooking master indulge you and give you a private cooking lesson in showing you how to make “Obanzai”, Kyoto-style daily dishes which includes freshly grown Kyoto brand vegetables. Enjoy the fruits of your labor with the owner of the home.
The Art of Samurai Kembu. A Private Lesson in traditional sword play.This is an excellent chance for you to get a firsthand look and lesson into experiencing the world of Samurai culture by learning Kenjutsu (traditional swordplay). Get a glimpse into the philosophies and ways of the warrior and start by learning the basic concept of Samurai. You will receive your own sword and learn how to bow, how to draw a samurai sword and how to strike with stylized movements. One of the best experiences you can have is the samurai sword lesson. After allowing you to wear a samurai armor we give you a bokken or a replica metal sword and we teach you how to correctly stand like a samurai (seigan) how to draw your sword, how to slash and how to correctly and smoothly put your katana back into the sheath. You also learn different sword poses of the samurai. Afterwards, we look inwards and practice some inward reflection with Zen meditation, used by the Samurai to calm their minds during battle. You will also have the opportunity to dress in traditional clothes while learning about this iconic cultural heritage.
Nishiki Market. A cultural awakening into Kyoto can easily be felt as you walk, talk and immerse yourself into Kyoto culture by taking in the sights, taste and smells of this colorful downtown alleyway market, established about 400 years ago. Known as “Kyoto’s kitchen” and favored by the locals – professional chefs, housewives and many more come here to purchase the freshest ingredients.
Following Nishiki Market, enjoy continuous shopping at the Teramachi and Shinkyogoku Arcades. Here you will find different shops of antique kimonos, crafts, attire, Japanese tea, local sweets, Matcha (powdered green tea) related products.
Dinner Motoi モトイThe Unification of the Host and Guest. It is our pride and honor to provide unique dishes and a one-of-a-kind atmosphere created by the fusion of Kyoto culture and French cuisine within a renovated traditional Kyoto residence. Having been listed consecutively in the Michelin Guide as Michelin 1-Star since opening in 2012, Head Chef Maeda is an acclaimed culinary expert who studied and trained in Chinese cuisine for 10 years at a renowned hotel and then at the world-famous 3 Michelin Star restaurant Hajime. The rustic yet refined effect of the cultural blend of Japanese and French that can be felt in the atmosphere along with original and innovative French dishes that incorporate only the finest Chinese and Kyoto ingredients make MOTOI the must-try restaurant in Kyoto today.
Day 5 Short Hiking in Arashiyama. Located in the northern outskirts of Kyoto, Arashiyama offers mountain landscapes. In old days, the area was highly favored by aristocrats to enjoy seasonal beauty. The area is currently registered as a Historic Site and valued Place of Scenic Beauty by the Japanese government. On this day, you will firstly visit Toriimoto which is located in the northern part of Arashiyama, then walk for about 30 minutes down to the center of Arashiyama. On your way, you will pass through the bamboo grove. In the end of the walk, you will reach to Togetsu-kyo Bridge which literally means “Moon Crossing Bridge.” .
Kinkakuji Temple. Take in the splendor of Kinkakuji, also known as the Golden Pavilion. This is probably the most gorgeous and spectacular of temples in Japan and a pinnacle symbol of Kyoto. The architecture is very unique, covered with gold leaf in order to show off the shogun Yoshimitsu Ashikaga’s prosperity and wealth.
Private Tea Ceremony. Kyoto is where the tea ceremony was born, here you’ll take part in a private tea ceremony in an authentic tea room. Led by a tea master who will give you an insider’s look into the history and details that make up the serenity of a tea ceremony. You will be served matcha green tea and sweets and you will learn how to make matcha tea on your own. For Japanese people a ceremony is viewed as mental discipline for pursuing “wabi” – a state of mind where the individual is calm and content and with a profound simplicity.
Ryoan-ji Temple (Rock Garden). Ryoanji’s kare-sansui, dry landscape garden is probably the most recognized and finest examples of a dry Zen stone garden in the world and, it is also a puzzle. There is some riddled controversy and confusion still to date about who actually created and built it. 15 stones are arranged in the rectangle white sand garden, which represents the Japanese beauty of simplicity. The site is a UNESCO World Heritage.
A Walk through Gion. Take in the sights, sounds and atmosphere of traditional Kyoto along the beautiful streets of Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka with many historical town houses and stores. Keep your eye out for Maiko (young geisha) walking down the street in the evening. Gion is otherwise known as “Floating Kyoto”, and comes alive and magical as night starts to fall. It is the most well-known original geisha quarters in Japan, highly reputed since the Edo Period. Gion is not only the Geisha district but also a place for finding Kyoto’s original crafts, even cosmetics, Matcha green tea, sweets and much more.
Dinner with Geisha – enjoy a private evening dinner with a geisha who will explain the history and art of this ancient culture. A lovely private room and kaiseki meal including the company of one maiko, one geiko and one jikata (shamisen player). An interpreter will facilitate your questions.
Day 6 Move to Kanazawa by express train. Private touring in Kanazawa. Stay at the Relais & Chateaux Beniya Mukayu Ryokan for two nights.
Arrive in time for lunch at Restaurant Suginoi Honami – 2 Star Michelin. First class cuisine at a long-standing ryotei restaurant standing on the bank of the Sai River and one of only a very few restaurants still operating today which serve traditional Kaga ryotei cuisine. Housed in a mansion built at the end of the Meiji period, the restaurant has six private rooms as well as a banquet hall, each of which has a different but elegant atmosphere. All rooms offer a view of the restaurants garden, where you as the diner can enjoy picturesque seasonal scenery with your meal – cherry blossoms in spring, fresh verdure in summer, fall foliage in autumn, and a charming snowscape in winter.
Kenrokuen Garden. Recognized as one of three most beautiful Japanese gardens and stunning even in winter. These gardens are a part of the Kanazawa Castle, it was created by domain lords of the Maeda clan in the 17th century. You will see ponds and traditional buildings, pine trees in the carefully-groomed garden. During winter, the pine trees are supported by ropes to protect the twigs from excessive weight of the snow. The appearance of rope-supported pine trees is one of the beautiful winter features of Kanazawa.
D.T. Suzuki Museum. Suzuki Daisetsu Teitaro 1870-1966, born in Kanazawa) is a Buddhism scholar who was introduced Japanese Zen philosophy to the west. The museum was established by Kanazawa City in order to commemorate his study and give visitors the place for your meditation and speculations. The museum was designed by Yoshio Taniguchi, internationally recognized Kanazawa-born architect whose work was chosen for MoMA’s extension and renovation in 2004.
21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art. For the love of art, culture, architecture and revival in the city. The 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art was designed by two famous and world-renowned architects, Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa who form the group SANAA and one of the most unique in Japan. The circular form and sleek modern aesthetic give this art haven a highly futuristic look, the building has no front or back, leaving it free to be explored from all directions.
Early evening arrive at your Ryokan. Founded in 1928 in the spa town of Yamashiro, Beniya Mukayu is located on the road from the revered Kyoto to the world heritage sites Shirakawago-Gokayama, close to Kanazawa. The hotel’s architecture elegantly emphasizes contrasts between light, shade and neutral colors. Every room has its own private open-air hot spring bath, with a wonderful view of the authentic Japanese garden. The traditional tea ceremony performed by the owner, yoga lessons given every morning, the finest Kaga style Kaiseki cuisine served on locally crafted crockery, as well as invigorating medicinal spa treatments, combine to make Beniya Mukayu a peaceful haven
Day 7 Tour and explore Gokayama & Shirakawago. Morning departure with private guide and driver. Drive to the countryside to Gokayama Village. Step into the world of a bygone era, secluded in the mountainous rural village of Gokayama. A place previously cut off from the world, until recent times. This secluded location is most likely the reason for why the Gokayama village and its inhabitants have preserved the architecture, culture and way of life so traditionally and authentically, while the rest of the world modernized. See it’s very unique traditional Japanese architecture in their steep thatch-roofed Gassho-style homes/farmhouses (known as gassho-zukuri, or “praying hands”) also UNESCO world heritage sites and valuable treasures of Japan. *Insider – We will welcome you to visit inside one of these unique homes and experience an insider’s look into their lifestyle.
Traditional Japanese Paper Making. Experience the authentic craft here in Gokayama, by immersing yourself in the arts of traditional paper making. The Japanese culture has a great appreciation for paper and the craft in making it and after your paper making experience, you will able to do a little shopping if you like of the various intricate paper products such as stationery, letters, Japanese lamps as gifts or souvenirs.
Sake Tasting at the Noguchi Naohiko Sake Institute Exclusive private tasting at the institute. Mr. Noguchi Naohiko is a legendary Sake master in Japan, quite frankly, one of the best. He has been engaged in the making of sake for more than 70 years. In 2015, he retired, but returned to lead a new brewery designed just for him. Then at Touan, the tasting room, located just next to the brewery, you will be able to enjoy a quality sake tasting paired with some small side dishes which are prepared to match with your Sake.
Day 8 Kanazawa to Tokyo. Meet your guide in the hotel lobby. Your private vehicle awaits to move to Kanazawa city. Samurai District . Enjoy strolling the streets of the samurai district, and a street lined with former Samurai residences laid at the foot of the Kanazawa Castle. Witness typical architectural elements in the era, such as windows, mud walls, wooden ceiling, shoji screen, etc. *Insider: We will visit a former residence with lovely landscape garden. The home gives you a good idea of the lifestyle of the Samurai during the Edo period, when Japan was secluded from the outside world.
Omicho Market. “Kanazawa’s Kitchen” Being so close to the sea and farmlands, Kanazawa holds the reputation as being a gourmet paradise and the Omicho Ichiba is one of the best places to experience it. Since 1721, Omicho Market is much loved by locals as “Kanazawa’s kitchen” with over 180 stalls. Most of whom specialize in fresh fish and seafood and local Kaga (an old term of the Ishikawa prefecture) vegetables. Located in the center of Kanazawa, it is a Kanazawa’s most well-known food market offering so much. We will take you around the market, but nothing draws people here more than the seafood as it lies less than only 10 miles from the Sea of Japan, and rumor has it that fresh fish and seafood from here is the highest quality.
Lunch at Machiya Kaiseki Rocca– 2 Star Michelin. Top class cuisine of the best local ingredients prepared and cooked by a master chef. Rocca is often frequented by recurring guests who return again and again because of its unique and divine flavors and for the pairings of local sake to go with it. This simple restaurant is located in a renovated Machiya house, which was formerly a sake brewery and the owner-chef worked at a famous ryotei in Arashiyama for 18 years.
Shinkansen from Kanazawa to Tokyo. Arrive Tokyo and your guide will meet you at station and deliver you to Aman Tokyo. Discover Aman Tokyo, a luxury hotel & sanctuary spread across the top six floors of the Otemachi Tower near the Imperial Gardens. Set in Otemachi, Aman Tokyo is on the doorstep of the verdant Imperial Palace Gardens and just steps from the bustle and boutiques of Ginza. The historic commercial hub of the Edo period, Nihonbashi, is also nearby.
Dinner at Sushi Tsu
Day 9 Leisure morning with guide and driver. Japanese – Kimono & Origami Experience wearing traditional kimono prepared for you by a Kimono Master. Once you learn the art of how to wear it, you’ll have an opportunity to take some photos together in an authentic Japanese room and if the weather is fine, take a walk outside and snap a few family pictures in your Kimono.
Then relax and find focus by trying your hand at an origami art experience, by creating shapes of animals, flowers, etc. by folding a single square piece of paper.
Kimono shopping You will be escorted to kimono shops in the established department stores in Nihombashi area where upscale locals purchase their kimonos.
Tokyo Underground – Subway Tokyo can be overwhelming at times but while you are here it’s best you immerse yourself into daily life and what better way to do that than, taking the subway. Each metro underground system is so different around the world and Tokyo. On, this day we explore a bit of the city like a local starting with the underground!
Ginza Stroll around Japan’s most esteemed district where the latest trends and the oldest traditions meet. The main street is lined with world-renowned boutiques, art & craft shops galleries, upscale restaurants, showrooms of the latest electronics, established department stores, and more. Another highlight is the ‘Depachika’ gourmet hall on the basement floor of department stores. You will find high-end gourmet food such as deli, sweets, bread, bento box, etc., all in the mouth-watering presentation.
Paper and Stationery Stores in Ginza. Japan is the place for the most colorful paper and stationery. Established in 1904, Ginza Itoya offers ideas to enrich everyday life through stationary. In their 12-story store building, you will see various kinds of paper craft, original wooden post cards and more. You can make “one-of a kind” notebook with paper and a cover of their choice.
While Itoya is collects unique and innovative stationaries from all over the world, another store, Kyukyodo, specializes in traditional Japanese paper goods. The store does not simply sell only postcards, envelopes etc., they can also find craft arts and aroma goods made of traditional paper called Washi, ink brushes for calligraphy etc.
Samurai Museum & Sword battle. Opened in 2015, this museum introduces the history and culture of Samurai to sum up your experiences with samurai culture thus far. In the museum, you will be able to see a wide array of samurai swords, costumes, head gear, guns, and other related equipment. In addition, they will be featuring a sword battle show for you to see. You are also able to try on samurai costumes of your choice and take some family pictures.
Dinner Erba de Nakahigashi
Day 10 Private driver and guide meet you for the day. Team lab Borderless in Odaiba Tokyo’s new out-of-this, must see museum, welcome to the world of colorful digital art brought to you by TeamLab Borderless, a group of artworks that form one spectacular borderless world.
This is also the most Instagrammable spot in the city. The over 50 interactive digital art installations, such as the “Forest of Resonating Lamps” which features hundreds of lamps that change color as you approach them. Immerse yourself in this universe incredible fun, borderless art. In a vast complex, three-dimensional 10,000 square meter space, 520 computers and 470 projectors create a completely new world, the likes of which have never been seen before.
Zojoji Temple. This Buddhist temple was originally built in 1393 and moved to its present location in 1598. A mausoleum in the grounds contains the tombs of six past shoguns. The contrast of this majestic temple at the backdrop of Tokyo Tower makes it an interesting photo place.
Meiji Jingu Shrine. One of the most significant Shinto shrines in Japan, established in 1920. This shrine is dedicated to the defying spirit of Emperor Meiji and his consort, Empress Shoken. Once you enter its premises, you will feel spiritual ambiance surrounded by pristine woods, though it is centrally located. On New Year’s Day, the biggest holiday in Japan, everyone is with their families and loved ones visiting shrines.
Day 11 Free day to collect souvenirs and casual shopping in Roppongi Hills. Roppongi Hills is contemporary complex with offices, residences, shopping mall, movie theatre, and museums. Also in Roppongi Hills is the Tokyo City View – the most popular observation floor in Tokyo. You will be able to see a view of Greater Tokyo and Mt. Fuji from the 52nd floor.
Mori Art Museum is located inside Roppongi Hills. Mori Art Museum is a contemporary art museum founded by the real estate developer Minoru Mori (1934 – 2012) in the Roppongi Hills, one of the major attractions in this area for entertainment including art.
Imperial Palace visit. Imperial Palace, the residence of the Emperor family, is located in a large park area surrounded by moats and massive stone walls. From the large plaza in front of the Imperial Palace, view the Nijubashi, two bridges that form an entrance to the inner palace grounds. The actual Palace cannot be entered for security reasons.
Dinner at Bifteck no Kawamura Tokyo Ginza branch Teppanyaki Counter Seating
Day 12 Guide & Driver for the day. Harajuku is the center of youth culture and another Instagrammer’s heaven. Walk through Takeshita-dori, a popular street with trendy affordable clothing stores, crepe stands, and character shops where most of the cool teen scene and trendy students’ hangout and spend their money. There are many fast food shops, snack stands, and cafés. You might be able to see young teens in extreme fashion. South of here is the more Omotesando, more like the Champs-Élysées of Tokyo.
Owl Café. Although the concept of animal cafés seems to be popping up slightly more around the world, nothing compares to its origin city, where it feels most natural. The original craze started with cat cafés (the most popular and most adorable), but has slowly expanded to accommodate a wide range of domestic pets and tame animals. Such as cats, dogs, rabbits, owls and even hedgehogs.
VR Park Shibuya. There are several “VR” amusement places, where you can enjoy the latest “VR”, or virtual reality games. Virtual reality is where a person can experience being in a 3D environment and interact with that environment during a game. VR will make you feel like you are there mentally and physically!
Shibuya is a popular district especially among the young generation. Fashion Department Stores such as 109 and Marui are known as trend makers. Walk through the Shibuya Scramble Crossing which is the largest and busiest pedestrian crossing in the world.
The right mix of high culture, cultural experiences, museums and Team lab Borderless in Odaiba, Virtual reality games, ancient temples, Owl Cafes and divine dining in Japan with college age kids was a massive success.
Head to the airport and say Sayonara Tokyo!