Zenbu Zen Tour Itinerary January 2016



Winter Cuisine and Culture Tour of Kyoto

12 days/11 nights

9 -20 January 2016

AUD $10, 199 p/p or $9799 p/p twin share

(maximum of 8 places available)

NEWS!!  Due to requests from a handful of lovely people who have previously joined my Zenbu Tours and are returning with me on this one I have updated the itinerary slightly to avoid repeating experiences we have already shared together. But all this means is that you are in for an even more in-depth and connected experience. Won’t you join us?

This tour is hosted by food and travel writer Jane Lawson, author of Zenbu Zen – Finding Food, Culture and Balance in Kyoto. We’ll spend our days soaking in the serene atmosphere of Kyoto,  the country’s cultural and historical heart,   returning each night to the luxurious Kyoto Hyatt Regency Hotel  –  an appropriate base for witnessing the best of this city’s Omotenashi (hospitality).IMG_2236

Visit exquisite temples, shrines and gardens. Meet and chat with talented, creative locals. Shop for artisan ceramics, antiques or  stunning contemporary home-wares. Float around galleries and museums. Sample your way through this spectacular cuisine in some of Jane’s favourite restaurants and  take time out to relax or explore on your own. We’ll also day trip to the wonderful cities of Kanazawa, ancient Nara and vibrant Osaka.

Blissful Kyoto, encircled by snow-capped mountains is the perfect place to relax and recharge for those who appreciate aesthetics, culture and peace. Magical vistas, alpine air, seasonal delicacies and the opportunity to wander minus the crowds of spring and autumn. Experience the beauty in simplicity and be nurtured and inspired by this mystical city of layered textures.



IMG_0688 - CopySaturday o9 January 2016  

We shall kick off the tour in style this evening with a welcome drink in the bar of the stunning Hyatt Regency Kyoto – our home away from home for the next 11 nights. Afterwards we’ll witness a sashimi and sushi demonstration by the Hyatt’s skilful chefs before moving into the hotel’s elegant Touzan Restaurant for our first meal together. No prizes for guessing the first course.


Sunday 10 January 2016IMG_0885 - 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. If beautiful hand-crafted knives are your thing be sure to bring along some yen as we will visit a store famous not only  for knives but other traditional cookware and utensils. We shall lunch locally then  explore this vibrant vicinity

This evening we’ll amble along the atmospheric, lantern-lit Pontocho before dinner.

Afternoon optional activity – a walk through Gion Geisha district (included in tour price) and meet with a charming Meiko ( trainee geisha) over sake  (additional cost which varies depending on numbers)


Monday 11 January 2016 01199-img_2871

After a sumptuous breakfast in the hotel overlooking the tranquil Japanese garden we’ll take a quick train ride to visit spirit-dense Fushimi Inari Shrine and stroll under its famous, picturesque tunnels of red tori gates and through the surrounding village.  Why not try a mid morning snack of Inari zushi – a favourite food of the fox messengers who guard the sacred shrine. The delicious fox face cookies make a great souvenir too!

After lunch we’ll explore the quiet backstreets of the Nishijin textile area in Kyoto’s north where we’ll witness local craftspeople and young designers making and selling their wares. If you are tempted by the hand-made warabi mochi (sweets) in the area just make sure you leave room for Dinner.

7c5ae-img_4933Tuesday 12 January 2016

This morning our first stop will be one of my favourite, lesser known temples for quiet contemplation and take a walk through its impressive garden. Afterwards we’ll visit an stunning traditional craft museum in the area before stopping for a light lunch. We’ll visit a small local Shotengai (shopping arcade) where the locals shop for fresh ingredients and daily needs before having a little free time to stroll or relax. In late afternoon we’ll head into the electric city of Osaka for a whirl under the stunning neon,  a peek into youth culture and to sample the street food from this colourful area – a fun contrast from peaceful Kyoto.


Wednesday 13 January 2016 cc4df-img_6129-copy

After a few busy days it is time for relaxing with a full day at your leisure. Why not pamper yourself in the Hyatt’s wonderful Riraku Spa or 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, visit Nijo Castle or simply relax in one of Kyoto’s wonderful cafes. We’ll meet  up for Dinner.

Optional morning tour – visit to popular Kiyomizu temple and the breath-taking traditional streets in the area (included in tour price)

IMG_1083Thursday 14 January 2016

Today we’ll be up early enough to hear the neighbouring temple’s bell’s toll for morning prayers as we make our way to fascinating  Kanazawa  on the far west coast – about 1.5 hours from Kyoto. We’ll visit the stunning Contemporary Art Museum before a wander through Kenrokuen – one of Japan’s most famous gardens. After a Lunch of local specialities we’ll walk the ancient paths of the excellently preserved Samurai and Geisha districts before returning to Kyoto for Dinner.

Friday 15 January 2016

The morning is yours to lay in and read a good book or…. join me as we take off early to explore the famous Tezukuri (Handmade) Craft Market – packed with stalls selling an eclectic mix of quality handicrafts, foodstuffs and artsy bibs n bobs – traditional tea bowls, contemporary jewellery,  bags made from traditional textiles,  bamboo utensils, clothes by local designers, smooth wooden boxes to keep your newly acquired trinkets and even prettily packaged chocolates  When we are done we’ll drop off our goodies at the hotel before being delivered to our lunch destination. Afterwards you are free to roam for a couple of hours or come along with me as I visit a couple 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 ( I love me some cloth with history). The quaint local district is also known for its antiques and artisan wares – from paper to tea and sake to calligraphy brushes. If you wander off along the way, overcome by the surrounding beauty,  we’ll meet up again in time for dinner.

IMG_1909Saturday 16 January 2016

Another full day of leisure for you to enjoy as you wish.  Shiatsu (traditional massage)Hari (Acupuncture) or a facial in the hotel’s spa perhaps? You might feel inspired to walk through Arashiyama’s bamboo forest at Kyoto’s western edge or visit Uji in the south the setting for  classic Japanese novel The Tale of Genji, boasts the magnificent Byodoin Temple area,  and quality, fragrant green tea – if it’s  Matcha flavoured sweets, soba or ice cream you are hankering for – you are guaranteed to find it here! Just be back in time for our Dinner tonight please ! We might just sample a couple of excellent Japanese Whiskey’s post dinner too!


Sunday 17 January 20168b14a-img_64252b-2bcopy

An early morning start will see us driving to sleepy Ohara in Kyoto’s northern mountains through farming area famous for supplying some of the city’s finest restaurants.  On route, we’ll take a brief stop at the farmers’ market before arriving at spiritual Sanzen-in (temple) and its serene garden. We’ll wander back down the hill via a pleasant lane flanked by a stream on one side and folk-craft and pickle vendors on the other before heading to lunch.  There will be a little free time in the afternoon before we meet up for dinner.


Monday 18 January 201651a1e-img_4401

Very close to Kyoto is the former ancient capital of Nara- a charming, historic town known for its temples, shrines and free roaming sacred deer but it is the backstreets that I find intriguing so I’ll walk you through some of the most atmospheric and photogenic laneways then we’ll have free time to visit the wonderful Kasuga Shrine or take a peek at the famous Giant Buddha and feed cookies to the always hungry deer. After lunch (not deer cookies) there will be time for shopping (there are some great antique stores here) before we return to Kyoto for a fancy Dinner.


Tuesday 19 January 2016

Today we’ll drive to a quiet Kyoto suburb to spend the day with a Japanese friend whom I’ve learnt so very much from. She’ll chat with us about the rituals, celebrations and special foods (Osechi Ryori) of Oshogatsu (New Year).  Mayumi-san 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 before we return to the hotel for a short rest before our Farewell Dinner at the ever-popular Trattoria Sette – a relaxed and fun way to wind down proceedings.

IMG_1963 for Nigeru escape or Zen ladies tourWednesday 20 January 2016

The tour comes to a close after breakfast this morning. The day is yours until your departure homewards or onwards. I’ll be available at the hotel for any last-minute assistance if you are staying on in Japan.  If you are leaving today 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. Until we meet again.


mportant information

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


11 nights luxury accommodation (and VIP treatment) at the stunning Hyatt Regency Kyoto including tax

Food and Drink

11 breakfasts,  8 lunches and  11 dinners in a range of Jane’s favourite eateries from the simple to the sublime (restaurant details will be provided just prior to departure). Beverages only as mentioned in the itinerary eg.  welcome drink, Japanese Whiskey tasting etc.

Spa Voucher

1 x voucher to the exclusive Riraku Spa at the Hyatt Regency Hotel


All ground transport for the duration of the tour (ie. travel to, from and between destinations/activities included in the itinerary)  including coach, mini bus, train and taxis

Entrance fees and activities

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

All guide and host fees and all activity costs as per itinerary including:

Walk and talk tour of Nishiki market and a local food hall Depachika• Day trips to Nara and Kanazawa. Gion walk. Wander around Nishijin area. Visit to the Tezukuri (hand made) craft Market • Sushi and sashimi demonstration •   Afternoon evening visit to Osaka. Seasonal Cooking demonstration and lunch in a private home and a talk about Oshogatsu and Osechi Ryori (New Year and its cuisine)• A stroll around the antiques district and a visit to several of Jane’s favourite design and craft stores • A visit to Ohara area including the farmers’ market and Sanzen-in • Insider knowledge and a peek inside Jane’s head and heart and why she loves Kyoto so!

Plus 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.   His phone number is +61 2 9267 0010.

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

Full payment is required by 9 October 2015.

• 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 Zen 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’s a few images from Zenbu Zen Jan 2015

You will find the new ‘Ladies Only’ tour here:  Zenbu Bunka – A cultural Retreat for Creative Women. 

And Zenbu Aki- our NEW Autumn Tour Here.

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