Setsubun marks the transition of winter into Spring across Japan just after the coldest days have passed and tiny vegetable shoots start to peek through the frost. A period just before the new year arrives according to the lunar calendar.
The 15-day Zenbu Setsubun tour starts gently in peaceful Kyoto where we’ll delve deep into the culture and foods surrounding the fringe of both seasons before bursting into vibrant Tokyo – King of cities – as the plum blossoms start to show their faces.
In Kyoto and surrounding villages we’ll spend an utterly inspiring time in the homes or businesses of local friends and experts who’ll provide an in-depth introduction to various forms of Japanese tradition, arts and culture – from cuisine to ceramics, textiles to festivals and Buddhism and beyond. We’ll then garnish the top with a rather sweet and fragrant cherry (or plum!) during this ‘only in Tokyo’ city experience.
This tour beautifully demonstrates the contrast between the new and old capitals and Japanese lifestyle generally. Our aim is to send you home in awe of the culture and deep traditions explored in Kyoto and, reinvigorated by Tokyo’s frenetic, youthful energy, filled with excitement for the year ahead – undoubtedly ready to introduce some of your newly acquired cultural concepts, food knowledge and stunning trinkets into your lives back home.
Those who have previously experienced a little taste of Japan and are hungry for so muoch more.
Anyone eager to learn about Japanese food and culture in intimate detail with a group of like-minded folk ( in our experience that’s those who are open to new experiences, appreciate the good life and don’t take themselves too seriously – a sense of humour is mandatory)
Jane Lawson is the author of ‘Zenbu Zen, finding food, culture and balance
in Kyoto’, ‘Yoshoku’, ‘A little taste of Japan’ and the recently released ‘Tokyo Style Guide’ all published by Murdoch Books. Jane’s articles on Japanese cuisine, culture and travel can be found in many print and online publications including SBS Food, 9MSN Kitchen, Escape (Sunday newspaper Travel Section), Delicious Magazine, The Australian Newspaper, Luxury Travel Magazine, Qantas Travel Insider Magazine, Miele Magazine and the like. You can also hear her yabbering on about her love for Japan over the airwaves on a regular basis!
Co-hosting will be her partner in crime and life – Gerard Kambeck – Japanese contemporary and popular culture buff, Oenologist and ramen aficionado! And yes, they met whilst both were living in Japan ! Awww… Gerard’s extensive background in wine and teaching was the perfect pairing for Jane’s career in food and words and together their love for Japan (and its grub and booze) is completely infectious! Their combined knowledge and far-ranging interests means Zenbu Tours can offer flexibility on tour wherever possible – not to mention a plentiful supply of enthusiastic banter!
AND if you were savvy enough to have joined our mailing list prior to booking this brand spanking NEW tour (can you tell that we’re just a little bit excited about it?) you’ll receive a personalised copy of Jane’s Tokyo Style Guide as a thank you when final payment is made.
This intimate, small-group luxury tour requires a minimum of 7 guests to run and takes a maximum of 10 guests.
There’s really no better way to kick off a Zenbu cuisine and culture tour than with welcome drinks in the gorgeous Touzan bar of our dreamy hotel – the Hyatt Regency Kyoto – our home for the next 11 nights!
Afterwards we’ll dine on seasonal, traditional Japanese dishes prepared by the hotel’s executive chef as we commence our informal ‘sake appreciation‘ journey… ahem..
Tonight not only provides the perfect opportunity to get to know your hosts and each other a little – but also to become acquainted with the ever-fascinating customs and culture of Japan.
(Welcome Drink + D)
Jumping right in – after an early breakfast this morning we’ll take a private bus to Kitano Tenmangu Shrine for the ‘Hatsu’ (first) flea, craft and antique market of the year – the atmosphere of this particular day is always filled with fresh energy and cheer for the year ahead. Kitano Tenmangu is also famous for plum blossoms and if fortune is smiling on us we might just spot a few trees starting to bloom.
We’ll be joined by a friend from the neighbourhood who is rather expert in scouring the markets for treasures – with his eye for quality and knowledge about traditional products, history and culture he’s sure to help us uncover some rewarding finds.
We’ll take a short stroll through the adjacent Geisha quarter before returning to the hotel to drop off our goodies. At lunch we’ll enjoy the finest tempura of seasonal seafood and Kyo-yasai (revered locally grown vegetables).
In the afternoon we’ll visit a stunning nearby temple and its zen garden and wander the laneways of Gion, Kyoto’s most famous Geisha precinct, admiring the traditional architectural style and perhaps stopping somewhere for a tea and sweets if the mood takes us.
There will be a little time for shopping or relaxing back at the hotel before dinner at a private restaurant – with a little Jazz on the side! Our chef tonight will trawl the morning food markets to source the finest, locally grown produce of the day before whipping it into whatever her heart desires…. it is always a beautiful mystery as to what delights we’ll find on the plate when we dine at this unique venue – but we don’t care because it is always superb!
After a sumptuous buffet breakfast in the Grill Restaurant overlooking the hotel’s tranquil Japanese garden we’ll walk through the lower part of the historical Higashiyama (Eastern Mountain) area – dotted with temples and shrines and lined with local crafts, teahouses and foodstuffs.
We’ll visit an intimate, lesser known temple and garden once the villa of a significant female historical figure before passing through the striking, vermillion gated Yasaka Jinja (shrine) on route to our obanzai lunch featuring many
small plates of Kyoto home-style dishes.
There will be a little free time after lunch for meandering in and out of traditional stores selling alluring incense, seasonal sweets, dried seaweed, ume (Japanese plum) products – from ume-shu (wine) to umeboshi (pickles) in various styles, and elegant souvenirs such as Furoshiki and Tenugui cloths for wrapping or decoration.
We’ll warm ourselves tonight with some award-winning Japanese whiskey before heading up town to dine on tender, flavoursome Wagyu (Japanese beef) cooked to perfection by a cheeky chef with a penchant for breaking out into Elvis hits as he works.
Today see’s us venturing by private bus into a neighbouring prefecture to explore one of Japan’s original pottery villages.
We are delighted to announce that we will be accompanied by a renowned ceramics expert who will introduce us to local craftspeople and explain the particular styles and methods used in producing the gorgeous hand-crafted goods. We’ll enjoy lunch nearby.
This morning will be a true eye-opener whether you are interested in the process or simply enamoured with Japanese aesthetic style, culture or history.
In the afternoon we’ll return to the gallery owned by our guide in his traditional home in Kyoto city where we’ll perhaps we’ll continue our sake appreciation by performing some highly important scientific examination on the palate variation between imbibing the silvery drop from ceramic vessels versus those made from glass or wood….
The rest of the afternoon and evening is at your leisure. If you are not laden down with ceramic art you might like to ponder the nearby philosopher’s walk? And if you feel like exploring the city for dinner we can certainly recommend a variety of excellent venues appropriate to your desires – or you may simply wish to relax by taking a long soak in your deep bath before ordering room service and settling in for the night with one of the hotel’s complimentary in-house dvd’s.
After a few busy days it is time for relaxing with a full day at your leisure.
Gently take your time to discover a little of Kyoto on your own.
Stride up into the mountainside to gaze at the view or roam along the Kamogawa (river) the fluid heart of Kyoto city, take in a gallery or museum, try your hand at Shibori, visit Nijo Castle and nearby Ninja house – or simply relax in one of Kyoto’s wonderful cafes with a good book.
Of course there are more temples, shrines and gardens than you can poke a stick at and plenty of photogenic laneways to explore and hidden pockets to discover.
Whatever you do just be back in time for dinner tonight.
After a leisurely breakfast this morning we’ll make our way to a wholesome kitchen just north of the main city grid where we’ll meet one very fine cook and instructor of authentic Japanese cuisine.
She’ll introduce us to the joys of Japanese fermentation styles and products – including pickled seasonal vegetables and fish or meat in various preserving bases – from vinegar to sake lees. She might even teach us how to make miso, mirin or amazake if we ask her nicely.
We’ll enjoy lunch together before stretching our legs as we take a short walk to the nearby Shotengai (an old school shopping arcade providing daily needs) where our lovely hostess will point out the best food and homewares shops for snaffling some brilliant local souvenirs (and she really does have significant insight into each establishment as her family have owned a food store in the arcade since before she was born – her brother now looks after all things seafood and supplies her cooking classes – a heart-warming continuation of the family business!).
There will be free time to peruse the arcade on your own – but if we are needing a little afternoon pick me up we might just drop in to a cosy teahouse for a cuppa and a slice of caramel and kinako (roasted soy bean flour) cheesecake… or whatever takes our fancy.
We’ll have a little down time at the hotel before a relaxed izakaya dinner – where we’ll have the opportunity to taste a wide range of Japanese dishes – some traditional, some more contemporary.
After breakfast this morning we’ll we’ll visit one of our favourite, lesser known temples for quiet contemplation.
There will be a little free time to wander alone in the impressive garden before visiting a traditional crafts museum where we’ll explore and discover how some of Japan’s most beautiful and artisan objects are made and used in Japanese life.
We’ll also take a peek into a fabulous book shop and design store nearby…
Our lunch destination is just around the corner – we’ll enjoy an elegant Italian-Japanese meal (an unlikely combination but believe you me this marriage results in umami bliss!) before strolling through the back streets of the neighbourhood and along a peaceful stream towards one truly photogenic pocket of the city – if there’s time and desire along the way we’ll pop into a couple of handicraft and design stores.
In the late afternoon we’ll return to the hotel to rest your feet. We may just have to sample a little more of that Japanese Whiskey , or perhaps some lesser known Japanese tipples…. before we head off for a light dinner of lip-smacking yakitori – rest assured we’ll be nibbling on the best chicken-on-a-stick Kyoto has on offer.
Today’s tactile key words are textiles and texture – be sure to wear comfortable shoes as we’ll take a lengthy walking tour through Kyoto’s maze of laneways to source some of the best, authentic cloth, paper and decorative ware offerings – from Kimono to Noren, stationery to fans, wall-hangings to table dressings – who knows what other covetable bibs n bobs we’ll stumble across!?
We’ll start proceedings in a place you’d never expect to be included in today’s schedule – but it is somehow appropriate…. before visiting one of Kyoto’s collection of small private museums showcasing traditional textile arts housed in a handsome architectural space – which alone is worth the entry fee! We’ll continue to feel our way through one off gallery and artisan stores – and who knows what else we’ll find. Naturally we’ll be stopping for a gorgeous lunch mid-route !
Later in the afternoon we’ll spend a little time in Kyoto’s old weaving district at the 150 year old home of an Indigo artisan – who’ll explain the intricate dying process to us – we’ll also glean some insight into the fascinating applications of ‘Japanese Blue’ in a greater sense.
At this juncture we must provide a community service announcement because this particular venue also has some incredibly beautiful, extremely hard to resist naturally dyed silk apparel and threads for crafting, a few hand made indigo decor products – plus reams of stunning fabric available for purchase – including sublime indigo shibori work. You might want to leave your credit cards behind less they be irreparably damaged… You can’t say you weren’t warned!
We’ll have an early dinner nearby at a restaurant owned by famous Kyoto style miso and tsukemono (pickle) makers.
Monday’s informative class on the subject of both these Japanese staple foodstuffs will help us to even more thoroughly enjoy this umami-rich, healthy meal.
After breakfast this morning we’ll make our way to a private home for a cooking demonstration of shojin ryori (zen buddhist vegan cuisine) – a wholly enlightening experience! We may even be treated to a short tea ceremony if the stars align.
Of course we’ll enjoy the fruits of our teacher’s labours over lunch as we chat about the principals of Buddhism in Japanese cuisine and life generally.
In the afternoon we’ll visit a small selection of artisan food and craft businesses – possibly including a traditional style shoyu (soy sauce) brewery, a pretty wagashi ( tea sweets) shop or an aromatic tea store specialising in smoky Kyoto style Bancha (roasted tea) before a little free time….
And if that means we’ll find you in the bar sipping sundowner martinis, well, we promise not to judge you (after all that’s probably where we’ll be!) and besides – it’s not a bad place to kick off (and perhaps end) this evening as we don’t have to go anywhere tonight – dinner will be in our very own hotel – and you can sleep in tomorrow if you so desire!
Another full day of leisure for you to enjoy as you wish.
You may feel inspired to stroll through the tunnels formed by thousands of red torii gates at the spiritually rich Fushimi Inari shrine – only a short train ride from the hotel.
Perhaps you’d like to try another treatment such as Shiatsu (traditional massage) or Hari (Acupuncture) in the hotel’s spa ?
If you are feeling energetic why not take a day trip to the ancient capital of Nara to nuzzle with some free-roaming (tame) deer as you wander the huge temple area and the well preserved old town
Of course there’s always Uji in Kyoto’s south – the setting for a classic Japanese novel The Tale of Genji The town boasts the magnificent Byodoin Temple and quality, fragrant green tea – if it’s matcha flavoured sweets, soba noodles or ice cream you are hankering for – you are guaranteed to find it here!
Whatever you do just make sure you are back in time for our fancy dinner tonight.
As we make our way to our dining destination we’ll take a short detour through the atmospheric, lantern lined Pontocho to help work up an appetite.
We may even spot a Geiko (geisha) or three – bring your camera and be quick or they’ll have zipped away at high speed!
Early February signals that the new year is fast approaching in accordance with the lunar calendar. Yep! we are waving off the fire rooster (or chook!) as we move forward to pat the earth dog who’s year is said to benefit lifestyle changes or new business ventures.
It’s believed to be a year when the sensitive and creative minds amongst us are well nourished. (If this sounds like you then we reckon you’ve connected with the perfect itinerary…)
Japan is probably the best place in the world to inspire creatives and those sensitive to their surrounds! Sights, sounds, tastes, aromas, textures and her kinetic atmosphere.
More immediately however are the events of the day! The 3rd of February 2018 officially marks the beginning of spring in Japan. Happy Setsubun!
Fuku wa uchi – Oni wa soto! Meaning ‘In with luck – out with evil spirits/negative energy!’
We’ll learn more about the rituals surrounding this auspicious day during our early morning drive deep into the snowy mountain countryside.
Once we reach our destination we’ll have the opportunity to take a peek into Japanese rural life. If we keep a look out we may spot some local children throwing beans at an Oni (demon!) to scare him away!
The region is known for its agriculture and wild mountain foods and being situated in such a rich, natural environment, the adjacent villages have also attracted many craftspeople and artists.
After lunch we’ll make our way back to the city where the late afternoon and evening are at your leisure. Perhaps you’d like to join in with some of the setsubun festivities around town..
..before returning to the hotel to relax and pack as you ponder what lays ahead in captivating Tokyo!
It’s our last morning in glorious Kyoto – feel free to have a lay- in, read the paper over breakfast and leisurely pack your bags ready for departure to Tokyo this afternoon…
OR….. Grab a quick house-baked croissant and a coffee before joining the early-birds at a nearby bazaar where you’ll find an unbelievable collection of antique and vintage Japanese goods and curios – rustic tools and woven farmer’s baskets, woodblock prints, swords, scrolls, Kimono, lacquerware, statuettes and dolls. It’s worth the trip alone for the photo opportunities and the market characters!
We’ll return with time to pack your latest treasures before our trip on the shinkansen (bullet train). And if you haven’t managed a bite for lunch before we check out – we’ll make sure there’s time for you to purchase an eki-ben (station bento) before we board.
And…even though the journey is only a couple of hours – snacks and drinks (and bathrooms!) are also available on the train… of course they are – this is Japan! Land of Omotenashi (a very special kind of hospitality where your host seems to anticipate your desires even before you know what you want!).
On arrival in Tokyo, we’ll make our way to our glamorous hotel – The Andaz Tokyo – situated on the top 6 floors of the uber-stylish 52 story Toranamon Hills complex. Lucky us – we’re here for 3 dazzling nights!
There will be time to freshen up in our rooms before heading out (if you can tear yourself away from the sweeping city views) for a pre-dinner stroll through cool and endearing Naka-meguro.
Dinner tonight showcases Tokyo’s contemporary cuisine style.
Good Morning Tokyo!
After breakfast we’ll make our way via private bus to the majestic yet peaceful Meiji Jingu. We’ll explore this important and highly popular shrine in the midst of a sacred forest. If fortune shines on us we may well witness a traditional ceremony.
Next we’ll take a jaunt through neighbouring Harajuku’s famous Takeshita street –always buzzing with youthful vigour on a Sunday – before bouncing into fashionable Cat street to soak in up the quirk and colour of uru-hara (back streets of Harajuku). An eye-popping experience and quintessentially Tokyo!
We’ll then continue on to the National Art Centre for some free time to perhaps take in an exhibition or simply gaze in awe at this architecturally mesmerising structure.
We’ll lunch nearby at yet another of Tokyo’s exquisite eateries – tucked away in a backstreet – as so many of Tokyo’s amazing restaurants are!
Later we’ll make a short visit to a lesser known pocket of the city – a delightful enclave where the calm and neighbourhood vibe is palpable – so close but so very far in essence from the streets of Harajuku. This is an excellent place to wander and.. well there may or may not be a super lifestyle and homewares store worth slipping into for those interested in such things.
As the sun starts to set on this town the brilliant light-up starts – we’ll drive through some neon theatre as we return to our hotel as this evening is at your leisure.
Apart from being a hypnotic example of Tokyo architecture and style – the Toranamon Hills complex has plenty of great and convenient dining options.
However, if your feet are still holding up – why not take a walk on the wild side and explore a little of the Tokyo streetscape on your own – we’ll point out some nearby areas for rubbing shoulders with the ‘salary-man set’ over Karaage, Tonkatsu and Japanese beer – who knows you might be invited along to karaoke!
Of course, you might simply prefer to retreat to the plushly adorned 52nd floor Rooftop bar of our hotel to take in the immaculate backdrop and download all the colour and movement of this Tokyo day.
oh, and your personal minibar has complimentary soft drinks and snacks if you just feel like a little something-something to see you through until morning… (trust us, we are served so much wondrous food on tour that we’ve purposely left a little fork-down time to ‘digest’ – please excuse the pun!)
This morning we will visit Asakusa’s famous Sensooji Temple and the time-warped back streets of the shitamachi (downtown) area before taking in a small but breathtaking antique Boro exhibition – in accordance with the Japanese philosophy of Mottainai (waste not) long ago peasant and farming clothing rags were re-worked to form blankets, rugs and other daily needs – the collection is quite incredible.
We’ll have a light lunch in the area before driving to a hidden design precinct under inner-city railway tracks where there will be a little time for shopping (or a leisurely coffee break) before heading to a jaw-dropping food emporium stocked with the most sensational array of Japanese ingredients and food and beverage products (sake, beer, wine etc) from all over the country – some of which make for excellent souvenirs for friends ( or yourself..).
We’ll drop our goodies back to the hotel and freshen up before heading out to experience an uber zen cocktail session with one of Tokyo’s bar masters.
We’ll then float over to a very special farewell dinner as we start to say our ‘so longs’ to new found friends and reflect on the time we’ve spent together during this incredible, once in a lifetime, Japanese experience.
This magical, eclectic tour will come to a close after breakfast and goodbye’s this morning.
The day is at your leisure until your departure homewards or onwards.
Of course, there is so much to do in this vast city – if you are thinking about staying on please chat with your hosts who will be available at the hotel for any last-minute assistance and advice on what to do and how to get there.
And of course, your copy of Jane’s Tokyo Style Guide will come in handy for making your way on your own!
Arigatou and Sayonara – until we meet again!
Plus ! Insider knowledge and a peek into Jane and Gerard’s heads and hearts to find out why they love Japan so!
…oh and there might be a few little surprises along the way….
Please note the following are NOT INCLUDED as part of the tour package:
Bookings for this tour are now open.
Jane and Gerard are working together with the very lovely and helpful Dai-san from Pitt Travel/Japan Package in Sydney who will handle your booking. He is also able to assist you with flights, transfers and travel insurance. Jane Lawson will introduce you to Dai-san who will send you the booking terms and conditions and handle payment.
Members of the Zenbu Setsubun group will receive a detailed itinerary closer to departure however between payment and departure Jane will also send out some helpful information about local customs, what to expect weather wise and similar topics.
Please note that if you are staying on in Japan after the tour and would prefer to be accompanied than exploring on your own – we can also offer private day tours from the 10th of February – available only to participants in this tour.
We’d love to share Japan with you this winter
Celebrate the beauty of Kyoto in bloom & blush during this exclusive 15-day tour.
15 days/ 14 nights
08 – 22 May 2018
Custom day tours, mini tours or longer tours, hosted by food & travel writer Jane Lawson.
Curated itineraries to suit your unique Japan travel needs and desires.