Japanese Cultural Retreat for Creative Women


But there’s still space on the  

ZENBU  ZEN Tour – so don’t miss out!

24 January – 07 February 2016

15 Days, 14 nights

AUD $7695 per person

(Maximum of 8 places available) 

***HURRY – THIS VERY SPECIAL EXPERIENCE MUST BE BOOKED AND PAID FOR BY 01 SEPTEMBER 2015 to secure our beautifully restored traditional accommodation in the heart of Gion – Kyoto’s famous Geisha District! 

Join Food and Travel writer Jane Lawson, author of Zenbu Zen – Finding Food, Culture and Balance in Kyoto on this blissful and inspiring Kyoto retreat for women.

Celebrate Japanese culture in all its forms.  Eat, sleep and dream Kyoto.

Two adjacent, lovingly restored Machiya (traditional merchant houses) in a peaceful corner of Gion, Kyoto’s most famous Geisha quarter,  and right in the centre of Kyoto’s historical heart,  provide the base for this fascinating, peace-filled and soulful 15 day experience.  The houses, containing 2 apartments each are perfectly situated  – just a few minutes walk into the heart of town or to the foot of the surrounding mountains and temple district.

This tour provides a rare opportunity to relax and soak in the atmosphere of ancient Kyoto in the company of like-minded creative women. Stroll, gaze, experience, learn and smile. Spend time with talented local folk who will share their passion and knowledge around traditional cultural art-forms including ceramics, cuisine, dance, shiatsu, tea ceremony and more.  We’ll meet and chat with a maiko (apprentice geisha), visit temples, gardens and galleries, learn to meditate with a Buddhist monk, wander through wonderful antique, flea and food markets and perhaps try our hand at traditional Shibori tie-dying. And rest assured there’s plenty of time for relaxation too.

As we will be in Kyoto for Setsubun, the Japanese celebration of the commencement of Spring, with ties to Chinese New Year, we will also take a moment to  farewell the year that was as we move gracefully into the new and enjoy some fun festival rituals.

The tour is focused on inspiring creativity and connection.  Whether you are a female artist, photographer, designer, writer, musician or simply appreciate beautiful, curious and interesting places, spaces, people or objects – this trip is for you

Bring an open heart and mind and just be in beautiful Kyoto.

There are a maximum of 8 places on this tour and it requires 6 guests to run.

To reiterate this tour is for women only. Apologies Gents!



Sunday 24 January 2016

We start the tour this evening with welcome drinks and a nourishing, homestyle Japanese dinner  in our blissful machiya  – home away from home for the next 14 nights. The relaxed atmosphere will no doubt provide us the opportunity to get to know one another as we kick off our experience together.


Monday 25 January 2016


After a DIY breakfast from your pre-stocked pantry please join me for an early departure to the famous Kitano Tenmangu Flea Market to search for antique treasures and trinkets and take a peek at the adjacent Geisha quarter before returning  to base  to drop off your goodies.  We’ll enjoy a leisurely lunch together uptown. Afterwards you are free to roam or come along with me as I visit some of my favourite gallery stores showcasing local artists’ home-centric wares of ceramic, glass and metals and hand-made fabrics with a focus on Indigo, natural materials and fascinating Boro. The quaint local district is also known for its antiques and artisan products – from paper to tea and sake to calligraphy brushes.

Dinner is at your leisure tonight. There are plenty of restaurants within a short walk from our Machiya but after such an early start to the day you might simply like to pick up some ready made sushi or a bento to enjoy the comfort of your home away from home.

IMG_3815 for zen ladies tourTuesday 26 January 2016

After breakfast  we’ll be joined by a local guide for a walking tour of historical Higashiyama (Eastern Mountain) area. We will visit one of Kyoto’s most popular temples – Kiyomizu Dera and adjacent cobblestone lanes lined with local crafts and foodstuffs.  After breaking for a short but mesmerising Tea Ceremony we’ll enjoy lunch in the area before continuing on through well-preserved traditional streets, stepping back in time with a stroll through Gion – Kyoto’s most famous Geisha quarter. There will be a little free time before before tucking into a dinner of crisp, golden Tonkatsu – showcasing Kyoto’s sweet, sweet pig!

Wednesday 27 January 2016

IMG_0919 - Copy

This morning I’ll walk and talk you through the wonderful Nishiki-koji food market, known to the locals as Kyoto daidokoro or Kyoto’s kitchen. Expect an eye-popping assortment of supremely fresh seafood, meats, pickles, tofu, miso, Kyoto’s renowned vegetable varieties and many other local delicacies. Dinner will be on your own tonight so if you feel like cooking you might find a few key ingredients here. If beautiful hand-crafted knives are your thing be sure to bring along some yen as we will visit a store famous for knives, traditional cookware and utensils. We shall lunch locally then the afternoon and evening is free to explore this vibrant vicinity on your own or come along with me to a few of my favourite design stores and a fabulous supermarket (yes I did say that – you’ll see what I mean) with rooftop vegetable garden where you will have the opportunity to pick up additional fresh ingredients for making your own dinner tonight should you wish to do so.


 Thursday 28 January 2016 

After a few busy days it is time for relaxing with a full day at your leisure.

Why not take the opportunity to gently discover more of Kyoto’s personality. There are more temples and shrines than you can poke a stick at, plenty of photogenic laneways to explore and hidden pockets to discover. Roam along the Kamo River the fluid heart of Kyoto city, take in a gallery or museum, try your hand at Shibori, visit Nijo Castle or simply relax in one of Kyoto’s wonderful cafes with a good book.

Or join our Optional Full Day Tour  in the Japanese countryside– details closer to time.  We’ll enjoy some of Kyoto’s best Yakitori for  dinner tonight – delicious grilled chicken bits on sticks! And a few other house delicacies.

IMG_0771 - Copy

Friday 29 January 2016

After breakfast we will travel to a peaceful Zen temple complex for a short lesson in Zazen (seated Zen Buddhist meditation) and chat about Buddhist philosophy, life and the universe with one fascinatingly modern monk.  We shall lunch at a restaurant highly renowned for superb Shojin Ryori (Buddhist Vegetarian cuisine).

The afternoon is yours to follow your nose  – or join me visiting a modern incense store and a sprawling underground food hall (depachika) to gaze into the cabinets that house jewel-like Wagashi (traditional Japanese confectionary) and lacquered senbei (rice crackers) and resist the urge to purchase every beautifully packaged item in the store. Dinner is on your own tonight  – why not pick up something delicious from the depachika to bring home?

IMG_2013 Saturday 30 January 2016

The morning is yours until just before lunch when we will be joined by the only foreigner in Kyoto to be accepted into the closed and intriguing world of  Nihon Buyoh (traditional Japanese dance). We’ll enjoy a private performance before casually lunching together over tales of Kyoto life. In the afternoon we’ll be given a short demonstration and explanation of Shiatsu – Japanese healing massage. After a day indoors we’ll stretch our legs as we head out for dinner tonight.

Sunday 31 January 2016


Today we’ll  take a morning stroll around scenic Arashiyama area in western Kyoto including the bamboo forest, moon-crossing bridge and a spectacular garden with an incredible bird’s eye view over the city. The morning’s exercise promises to help us work up an appetite for dining on some of Kyoto’s most creative Kaiseki fare – bring a sense of curiosity and an open mind for this stunning experience. The afternoon and evening will be yours for resting or exploring.

IMG_2925Monday 01 February 2016

This morning we’ll visit one of my favourite temples for quiet contemplation, nestled into the side of a mountain range. Bring a pen and paper – you may just be inspired by the energy and the small but beautiful garden – just like the poet and philosopher who once resided here.   Afterwards we’ll stroll the local neighbourhood, dropping into its truly spectacular bookstore then we’ll enjoy lunch in charming  Nishijin – Kyoto’s original textile weaving district. It may have the feeling of old-time Japan but it is dotted with buzzing modern creatives’ hives – from paper and print makers to glass blowers and beyond. Tonight’s dinner is at your leisure.

Tuesday 02 February 2016IMG_1083

The day is yours at leisure until our late afternoon visit to a rustic teahouse to meet, chat and share a few laughs with an enchanting young Maiko-san (Geisha in training) over a little sake and shochu… an absolutely delightful experience.  Once we farewell our gracious hosts we shall amble along the atmospheric, lantern-lit Pontocho alley before grilling our own Yakiniku dinner featuring delicious Wagyu.

IMG_1392Wednesday 03 February 2016

Today is Setsubun – the official celebration of the beginning of Spring – with ties to Chinese New Year. We will spend the day in a quiet Kyoto suburb with a Japanese  friend I’ve learnt so very much from. She’ll  share with us the rituals of this special time and you’ll soon be chanting ‘Fuku wa uchi Oni wa soto’ like a pro! My friend is a brilliant traditional cook and will be demonstrating some seasonal recipes for us which we will enjoy together for lunch in her home. If we ask her nicely she might even show us some of her clever stitch-work over a cuppa! Afterwards she’ll guide us on a wander through her local area.  Dinner is at your leisure tonight.

IMG_1500Thursday 04 February 2016

This morning we’ll visit Heian Jingu one of Kyoto’s most important Shinto Shrines and its peaceful winter garden before a brief stop at the Kyoto Handicraft centre  – a good all round place for souvenirs, books on Japan and gifts (even if it is a stunning woodblock print for yourself!). Afterwards you are free to  visit the nearby enclave of museums and art galleries ir you can tag along with me as we meander to our heart’s content  around the Okazaki area. Lunch will be at your own expense today.  For those who wander off along the way – see you at dinner tonight.

IMG_3058Friday 05 February 2016

We’ll amble through a sleepy part of lower Gion this morning as we make our way to a stunning museum, once the home of a famous potter  before enjoying a lovely lunch together.  Afterwards I’ll introduce you to the architecturally awe-inspiring Kyoto Station building before leaving you to wander the maze of underground shopping arcades for last-minute, er, essential purchases. I’ll also point out a couple of excellent places for buying well-priced camera equipment and tech stuff. Dinner is on your own tonight and there are plenty of restaurants around (and a great spot for a foot massage should your tootsies need some TLC).  There’s even a whole secret street of Ramen joints above the station and adjacent is the gorgeous Isetan Department store where you might instead pick up the fixings for an indoor picnic with new-found friends?


Saturday 06 February 2016

Another full day of leisure.  We will be offering an Optional morning tour into the mountains North of Kyoto  – details closer to time. However, you might feel inspired to take a short trip on your own to spirit dense Fushimi Inari Shrine – famous for its picturesque red torii gate tunnels that climb high into Mount Inari.   Also nearby Uji , the setting for  classic Japanese novel The Tale of Genji boasts the magnificent Byodoin Temple area,  and quality, fragrant green tea – if Matcha flavoured sweets, soba or ice cream you are hankering for – you are guaranteed to find it here!  Just be back in time tonight for our fancy farewell dinner.

IMG_1963 for Nigeru escape or Zen ladies tourSunday 07 February 2016

Make the most of our final day with a sleep-in and leisurely breakfast before we say farewell to Kyoto town and each other. The day is yours until your departure homewards or onwards – why not take one last unhurried chance to soak up Kyoto town’s magical atmosphere – perhaps finding a sunny temple deck for quiet contemplation.  Sayonara.

IMG_2270  Important information

The tour price relates to land cost only and is inclusive of the following:


14 nights accommodation in one of two lovingly restored and converted Machiya (old merchant houses – there are two bedrooms in each apartment, 2 apartments to a machiya – shared bathroom and separate toilet, lounge area and small kitchen in each apartment.  wifi/tv.)  including tax.

One bedroom has Traditional futon mattresses and the other has a western style bed. Preferences for bed type will be allocated based on a first come first serve basis.

The apartment will be professionally cleaned, with bedding refreshed, twice throughout the stay for our comfort. At other times we ask that you please clean up after yourself and keep the common areas tidy for the comfort of both yourself and your apartment mate

Food and DrinkIMG_9884

A selection of quality ingredients will be supplied for 14 DIY breakfasts -including coffee and teas

9 lunches and 8 dinners (In a range of Jane’s favourite eateries from the simple to the sublime. A few meals will be cooked at home by Jane). Restaurant details will be provided just prior to departure.

And there may just be a few Kyoto style snacks on hand to enjoy over a glass of wine….

Each apartment has a small kitchen where you can prepare your own lunch or dinner when meals are not included in the itinerary. There are lots of great places to buy fresh produce or even great ready-made meals nearby. Beverages only as mentioned in the itinerary tea, coffee etc will  be provided in the apartments, welcome and farewell drinks,  sake with Maiko, matcha tea at tea ceremony, farewell drink.


All ground transport for activities during the tour ie. travel to and from destinations/activities as per the itinerary including mini bus, taxis, train and public bus. Transport in your leisure/free time is your own responsibility.

Entrance fees and activitiesIMG_9921

All temple, shrine, museum, gallery entrance fees as per itinerary

All guide and host fees and all activity costs as per itinerary eg:   Tour with local guide through historically significant Higashiyama area and Gion • Private Nihon Buyoh performance and talk about life in Kyoto • Shiatsu demonstration • Tea Ceremony • Walk and talk tour of Nishiki market and local food hall • Visit to Kitano Tenmangu Flea market and local Geisha quarter • Day trip to the Kyoto outskirts including cooking lesson in a private home • Zazen instruction, Buddhist philosophy talk and guided tour through private temple •  A chat with Maiko over sake/shochu • A walk around Arashiyama area, the bamboo forest and famous Villa/Garden • A stroll around the antiques district and a visit to several of Jane’s favourite design and craft stores • All temple,  shrine and garden entry fees as per itinerary • Insider knowledge and a peek inside Jane’s head and heart and why she loves Kyoto so!

IMG_2203Plus a few surprises along the way….

Bookings are now open for this tour. 

Jane is working together with the very lovely and helpful Dai-san from Pitt Travel in Sydney who will handle your booking. He is also able to assist you with flights, transfers and travel insurance.

Please contact Jane Lawson directly (janelawsonfood@bigpond.com.au) if you have any queries regarding the tour content or to express your interest in booking and she will introduce you to Dai-san (pitt@pitt-travel.com.au) who will send you the booking terms and conditions and handle payment. Dai’s number is +61 2 9267 0010.

• Bookings are not confirmed until a 25% deposit has been made

Full payment is required by 01 September 2015  (as this is privately owned accommodation we are required to pay in full earlier than we would at hotels in order to secure the booking – thank you for your understanding.)

• To reiterate – flights and airport transfers are not included in the tour cost.

• All meals, transport and activities in your free/leisure time, and all drinks throughout the tour, except where noted in itinerary, are at your own cost.

• Travel insurance is essential and at your own cost.

• Members of the Zenbu Bunka group will receive a detailed itinerary closer to departure time however between payment and departure Jane will also send out some helpful information about local customs, what to expect weather wise and similar topics.

• We reserve the right to cancel the tour if the minimum number of participants (6) is not met. However, we will not cancel a tour less than 45 days before departure unless unforseen disaster occurs!

• All tour participants must provide proof of a valid passport & travel insurance

• All tour participants should feel comfortable with long days and lots of walking – including stairs/inclines and uneven surfaces at times

• All participants are advised to bring along relevant Doctor’s prescriptions if carrying strong / important medication

• We sadly cannot recommend this tour to people with severe dining restrictions and sensitivities. This tour has been designed for those wishing to experience a wide variety of authentic foodstuffs. Many savoury dishes in Japan contain Dashi -a stock made from dried fish. If you have a concern about a certain food (eg due to severe allergy or for religious or ethical reasons), please speak with Jane and we will do our best to work around it.

• While Zenbu Tours endeavours to stick to our itineraries as closely as possible once published it is sometimes it is necessary to shuffle things around very slightly as life inevitably happens around us.  Thank you for your understanding should this occur.



For a peek inside our tours – here are a few images from Zenbu Zen Jan 2015

%d bloggers like this: