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JAPAN TOURS

Savour Japan’s Sights and Culinary Delights

Kelly Zenkewich, Post Media Content Works

May, 2019

“My first trip to Japan was haphazard, reliant on printed maps, patient people and poorly translated websites. Using guesswork to order food, one memorable meal I ended up with a salad — and six deep-fried dishes. Yet I developed such a taste for the country, I moved there in 2010”

That’s when the depth and regional complexity of Japanese cuisine gripped me. Each of Japan’s 47 prefectures, or subdivisions, has its own tantalizing specialties and many of the finest ingredients are so fragile and seasonal you must travel to eat them.

These days, travelling throughout Japan is still challenging, but worth the effort for those serious about culinary tourism. For Premiere Journeys’ owner and tour director Michael Ho, guiding food tours in Japan is something he’s wanted to offer guests for a while. He’s been in the travel business for more than 30 years and has been conducting custom tours since 2004.

“Everyone does food tours of Italy and France — we wanted something different. Japan is more than tempura and sushi. Every region has a different specialty and touring the country you get to experience that,” he says.

 

Ho aims to take the stress and confusion out of dining for travellers. Meaning you’re unlikely to end up with the same buffet of fried items I did.

What’s more, Premiere Journeys works with local experts to find the gems in each city. Expect intimate experiences such as eating your way through ancient Kyoto’s atmospheric alleys.

According to Ho, the difference between taking a guided tour and planning your own trip pays off quickly.

“We don’t lose time getting lost or picking the best place. Guests see and do more in a day,” he says.

Choosing to travel with a Japanese-speaking guide is an advantage that will allow you to enhance and enjoy your trip by visiting the places the locals love with minimal hassles. Another benefit? You have a fluent expert to navigate allergies or dietary restrictions. Ho and his guides also explore local markets with guests and teach them how to recreate recipes at home — the best souvenir.

Some of the delicacies travellers sample are Hiroshima’s famous savoury pancake, okonomiyaki, and grilled eel on rice, known as unagi don.

“Two other dishes people love are Hiroshima’s fresh oysters and Hida beef. Kobe gets all the attention, but Japan is full of incredibly tender beef.”

Hida beef comes from cattle raised in Gifu prefecture and has the same marbling and mouth-watering richness as Kobe wagyu.

Those tasty meals power guests up to tour cultural hot spots, including UNESCO World Heritage site Shirakawa-go mountain village — famous for traditional thatched roof farmhouses, some more than 250 years old — Mount Fuji and Kyoto’s historic castles and temples.

Another guest experience is staying in a ryokan, a Japanese inn including breakfast and multi-course kaiseki dinner, complete with sleeping on a futon and traditional tatami mat.

Kaiseki is a treat for the senses, with artfully prepared and placed ingredients chosen for seasonality and to visually reflect the time of year. This rare experience defines hospitality and fine dining in the country. The elaborately prepared dishes are composed with care, from the locally sourced ingredients to the order that they are presented in. Even the ceramic and lacquer dishes used to present the food reference the season with their colours and design.

“Our guide will explain the meaning of the dishes and all the cultural details that make this cuisine so incredible,” says Ho.

Ho will guide his next tour of Japan from Oct. 2-15, 2019. For $5,977 plus airfare, guests experience 13 nights in Tokyo and other cities in western and southern Japan including Hiroshima, Kobe and Kyoto. The package includes accommodation, bus and rail transportation, daily breakfast, two lunches and seven dinners. Tours are limited to fewer than 20 people and according to Ho, travellers should pack an adventurous palate and their curiosity.

For more information, read the tour details here: Japan Sights, Culture & Cuisine Tour

This story was created by Content Works, Postmedia’s commercial content division, on behalf of Premiere Journeys.

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