Fall in love with beautiful Kyoto on this relaxing and inspiring 12-day cuisine & culture tour hosted by food & travel writer Jane Lawson and fellow Japanophile Gerard Kambeck.

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ZENBU ZEN 2018: Kyoto Food & Culture Tour

** UPDATE:  Bookings are now closed!

But if you hurry – there’s still space on our 15 day Zenbu Setsubun tour in late January!  


Our first tour for 2018, the ever popular and intimate 12 Day ZENBU ZEN Tour, focuses on superbly serene and fascinating Kyoto – Japan’s cultural epicentre.  This tour is leisurely paced to allow one to absorb the city’s calming energy whilst exploring and indulging in as many of Kyoto’s traditions, treasures and tastes as possible.

Zenbu Zen offers the perfect holiday scenario for the traveller who wishes to connect with the new, embrace the ancient and relax in between.  Encircled by mountains, Kyoto in winter is a sight to behold and at its most peaceful. An in-depth and layered introduction to the very best of Japanese cuisine and culture.

Recommended for:

First time or returning visitors to Japan wishing for an immersive, cultural and culinary experience with two friendly, Japanese-obsessed ‘part-time locals’ by their side!



TOKYO STYLE GUIDE cvr_finald3bc5-zenbuzen_coverJane 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 and varied knowledge and eclectic interests means Zenbu Tours can offer flexibility on tour wherever possible – not to mention a plentiful supply of enthusiastic banter!






  • 12 days/ 11 nights
  • 9 – 20 Jan 2018
  • Price  AUD $13, 799  pp (twin-share AUD $13,299 pp)
  • Accommodation: Kyoto Hyatt Regency Hotel

NB: This tour requires a minimum of 6 guests to run and takes a maximum of 10 guests




Day 1. Tuesday 09 January

IMG_3342We shall kick off our 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 watch a mesmerising sashimi & sushi  demonstration by the Hyatt’s skilful chefs before moving into the elegant Touzan Restaurant for our first meal together and your introduction to traditional, seasonal Japanese fare.




Tonight not only provides with the perfect opportunity to get to know your hosts and each other a little but also to become acquainted with fascinating Japanese customs and culture as you begin your Kyoto experience.

(Welcome Drink + D)





Day 2. Wed 10 January

IMG_5972After 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. 

IMG_5986After breaking for a short but mesmerising Tea Ceremony we’ll continue on through well-preserved traditional streets, Maruyama Kouen (park) and Kyoto’s important Yasaka Jinja (shrine). 


IMG_6227We’ll enjoy a an obanzai lunch  (Kyoto homestyle cooking)  in the area before a walk through  Gion – Kyoto’s most famous Geisha district to visit the magical Kenninji temple.  Afterwards there will be  a little time for shopping for exquisite incense or handmade sweets or pickles for those interested –   or simply to put your feet up back at the hotel prior to a special dinner at a Private Restaurant – with perhaps a little music on the side…




Day 3. Thursday 11 January

IMG_0887 - CopyThis morning Jane will 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 (Kyo-yasai) and many other local delicacies – and of course there will be plenty of wondrous new foods to sample! 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. 

IMG_4222We’ll  spend some time exploring the local vicinity including fabulous design and gallery stores,  handmade paper shops, a famous Kyoto tea store, antique and textile specialists, and perhaps the wonderful Depachika ( underground foodhall) of one of Kyoto’s best Department stores – naturally an elegant lunch will slip nicely in the middle of this visually pleasing, aromatic and overly tempting experience for those with little shopping restraint… 



In the evening, before an izakaya dinner,  we’ll take a stroll along the atmospheric, lantern lit laneway of Pontocho – lined with restaurants and bars. 








Day 4.  Friday 12 January

IMG_0771 - Copy

After breakfast we will travel  in our private bus 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 nearby restaurant highly renowned afor superb Shojin Ryori (Buddhist Vegan cuisine) – their food is enough to turn a carnivore into a vegetarian!  Well, almost…


IMG_0902 copyIn the afternoon we’ll visit a small museum, once the residence of a famous folk artist then we’ll return to our hotel with a stroll through a quiet local neighbourhood for a short break.


IMG_1915Before dinner, which will  include some of Kyoto’s most delectable chicken-on-a-stick (yakitori),  we’ll enjoy a sampling of some of  Japan’s top Whiskey or perhaps a plum wine flavoured with aromatic shiso leaves or some freshly produced live sake?

(B,L, D)





Day 5.  Saturday 13 January


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

Why not take the opportunity to practice your newly learned Zazen meditation on a sunny temple deck. Kyoto shares with us more temples and shrines than you can poke a stick at.  

Gently take your time to discover a little of Kyoto on your own – 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.

IMG_5973Of course there are plenty of photogenic laneways to explore and hidden pockets to discover. You might just wish to stay close to the hotel so you can make the most of your Riraku Spa Voucher!?  

Whatever you do just be back in time a delicious dinner focused on the restaurant’s housemade miso and pickles





Day 6. Sunday 14 January


We’ll take a relaxing drive this morning to sleepy Ohara in Kyoto’s northern mountains through a farming area famous for supplying some of the city’s finest restaurants and may well stop into a local farmers’ market before we arrive at our destination -spiritual Sanzen-in (temple) and its serene surrounds.




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 winding our way back down the mountain.





We’ll be delivered to our leisurely Sunday lunch where we’ll dine on the unusual-sounding, yet, superb coupling that is Japanese-Italian cuisineumami to the max!.   Feel free to join us for an afternoon stroll along the contemplative Path of Philosophy before being left to your own devices for dinner (if you can fit it in…. perhaps, like the Japanese,  there’s room in your separate ‘dessert’ stomach?)






Day 7. Monday 15 January

IMG_0897 copyThe morning is yours for a sleep in…. or join us earlybirds after a quick breakfast as we take off  in our private bus to explore the famous Tezukuri (Handmade) Craft Market – packed with stalls selling an eclectic mix of quality crafts, foodstuffs and artsy bibs ‘n bobs – traditional tea bowls, contemporary jewellery,  pretty things made from traditional textiles,  bamboo utensils, clothes by local designers,  ceramics, antiques, wooden boxes to keep your newly06536-img_8552acquired trinkets  -and even prettily packaged chocolates or coffee.


On return to the  hotel to  drop off our goodies and pick up any late risers before heading to a lunch where we’ll enjoy the finest tempura of seasonal seafood and Kyo-yasai in Gion.



After lunch we’ll visit one of our favourite, lesser known temples for quiet contemplation – there will be a little time to wander alone in the impressive garden before we visit the 150  year old traditional home of a family of  4th generation Indigo dyers to learn about the fascinating process … ( plus I might add that they sell some very hard to resist indigo clothes and shibori fabric.. don’t say you weren’t warned!).

We’ll return to the hotel to freshen up and perhaps gather for a pre-meal tipple before heading out to  dinner.



Day 8. Tuesday 16 January


Another full day of leisure for you to enjoy as you wish. More Shiatsu (traditional massage)Hari (Acupuncture) or a facial in the hotel’s spa perhaps?





Or you may feel inspired to stroll through the tunnels formed by thousands of red torii gates at the
spiritual Fushimi Inari shrine  or take a short trip to Uji in the south – the setting for  classic Japanese novel The Tale of Genji – boasting 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!


Additionally, for those interested in perusing or purchasing camera equipment, toys,  electronics and whacky Japanese phone cases we will offer a short visit in the late afternoon to one of Kyoto’s huge tech-centric stores around the architecturally astounding Kyoto Station building  – we may even check out the sunset and expansive98069-img_7057 view across Kyoto from the station’s roof!

After a long day exploring on your own you can relax tonight as dinner is at our very own hotel!





Day 9. Wednesday 17 January


This morning we’ll visit the majestic Heian Shrine and its glorious stroll garden before visiting an excellent traditional craft museum and give time to explore and discover how some of Japan’s most beautiful and artisan objects are made and used in Japanese life.

IMG_3671We’ll enjoy an elegant lunch in a gorgeous space nearby before browsing through an equally stunning bookstore. We’ll stroll by handicraft stores, through an old-school Shotengai (shopping arcade) where the locals shop for fresh ingredients and daily needs and take a little time to wander through one truly photogenic pocket of the city.


In the late afternoon we’ll visit a traditional teahouse for an exclusive introduction and chat with a Maiko san (Geisha in training) over local sake or shochu before  our dinner featuring the finest wagyu (Japanese beef) cooked to perfection by a chef with an abundance of character and a penchant for breaking out into Elvis hits as he works.

(B, L, D)






Day 10. Thursday 18 January

IMG_1738Today we’ll take a morning stroll around scenic Arashiyama area in western Kyoto including the lushly green bamboo forest, moon-crossing bridge and a spectacular, sprawling garden – blessed with an incredible bird’s eye view over the city.  If there’s time we’ll walk further west into the Saga Toriimoto area past local craft stores specialising in bamboo products….
or perhaps just relax over a coffee in Arashiyama village

IMG_6433The 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 only in Kyoto experience. We’d advise you against having that extra house-baked croissant at breakfast this morning…

What remains of the afternoon and evening is at your leisure for rest or exploration. If you have any room left  for dinner after our lunch-time feasting we suggest venturing out to find a small bar or casual eatery for a snack  – your hosts or hotel concierge will be happy to make suggestions.   Of course you may choose simply to return to the hotel to take a long soak in the deep bath and order room service to enjoy whilst watching one of the free in-house DVD’s.




Day 11. Friday 19 January


Today our private bus will transport us to the ancient capital city of Nara where we’ll visit the striking Kasuga shrine and share some cookies with the free-roaming sacred deer in Nara park.






For lunch we’ll enjoy a pretty bento of local specialities in a sweet tea-house downtown.

Afterwards we’ll stroll through the atmospheric old town of Naramachiknown for its handsome architecture and old world energy and no doubt stumble across a few last minute gifts for family and friends and  possibly one or two must have items for self….  think local crafts,  vintage and antique trinkets, local foodstuffs and kimono.


There will be a little time to *freshen-up at the hotel before we depart for our special farewell dinner tonight of exquisite Japanese-French delicacies.

*(er, that means we think we’ll probably find you developing your local sake knowledge and/or sipping sundowner martinis as sundowners in the the Touzan bar…..)







Day 12. Saturday  20 January

3661a-img_5046 The 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. Your hosts will be available at the hotel for any last-minute assistance and advice if you are staying on in Japan.  




If you are leaving later today why not take one last un-hurried opportunity to soak up Kyoto town’s magical atmosphere – it’s not hard to do – only seconds from the hotel is the breathtaking Sanjusangendo temple and the Kyoto National museum is situated directly across the road.





Sayonara. Until we meet again.


  • Accommodation – 1 nights luxury accommodation (and VIP treatment) at the stunning Hyatt Regency Kyoto including tax
  • Food & drink – 11 full buffet breakfasts at the Hotel, 8 lunches and  9 dinners in a range of Jane’s favourite eateries from seasonal homestyle to the exotic and sublime (restaurant details will be provided just prior to departure). Beverages only as mentioned in the itinerary eg.  welcome drink, Japanese Whiskey tasting etc. **Please note:  no need to allow for tipping in Japan as it is not part of the culture.
  • Spa voucher – 1 x voucher to the exclusive Riraku Spa at the Hyatt Regency Hotel
  • Transport – All ground transport for the duration of the tour (ie. travel to, from and between destinations/activities included in the itinerary)  including private bus/mini bus, train and taxis
  • Entrance fees & activities – All temple, shrine, museum, gallery entrance fees as per itinerary
  • All guide and host fees and all activity costs as per itinerary including all of the following and more:

Walk and talk tour of Nishiki market and a local food hall Depachika; A visit to Heian Shrine and its garden; Tea Ceremony; Day trip to ancient Nara including visits to Kasuga Shrine, deer park and Naramachi;  Walking tour of Historical Higashiyama area; Private Zazen Meditation instruction and talk by Buddhist Monk; Walking tour of Gion (Geisha quarter); Visit to an Indigo artisan; Visit to Tezukuri (handmade craft) market; A walk along Pontocho; Sushi and sashimi demonstration; A stroll around the antiques district and a visit to several of Jane’s favourite design and craft stores; Private meeting with a trainee Geisha; A visit to Ohara area including the serene Sanzen-in ; Japanese Whiskey tasting; Visit to old residence of famous folk artist; Walking tour through the Bamboo forest area and visit magnificent villa and gardens with view; Visit to a traditional crafts museum; A walk along the Philosopher’s path.


Plus !   Insider knowledge and a peek into Jane and Gerard’s heads and hearts to find out why they love Kyoto 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:

  • Airfare and airport transfers
  • Travel Insurance
  • Activities/meals and transport in your Leisure/Free time
  • Drinks throughout the tour, except where noted in itinerary



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.

  • Bookings are not confirmed until a 25% deposit has been made.
  • Full payment is required by 25 October 2016

Members of the Zenbu Zen 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.




  • All participants must be 18 years or over.
  • Zenbu Tours reserves the right to cancel the tour if the minimum number of participants (7) is not met. However, we will not cancel a tour less than 60 days before departure unless unforseen disaster occurs!
  • It is essential that all tour participants provide proof of a valid passport & travel insurance by forwarding pertinent details to Dai san at Pitt Travel prior to departure. A tour participant waiver must also be signed before travel.
  • All tour participants should feel comfortable with some longish days with lots of walking (– including stairs/steep inclines and uneven surfaces at times).
  • There may be a few occasions when you will be required to sit on the floor for one to two hours  – please let us know well in advance of departure if this is not possible for you and we will do our best to find a solution.
  • All participants are advised to bring along relevant Doctor’s prescriptions if carrying strong / important medication.
  • While Zenbu Tours endeavours to adhere to our itineraries as closely as possible once published it is sometimes it is necessary to shuffle things around very slightly depending on availability of certain activities and restaurants which cannot be booked until closer to time of tour departure or are unavailable for unforseen reasons  – we ask for your understanding in this matter.
  • Booking deposit and final payments are non-refundable unless the tour is cancelled by the operator. Respectable insurers will cover you if you need to cancel due to a personal emergency – but please always check with them before you  purchase your cover  – which you should do as soon as you decide to travel.
  • 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 – 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.


We’d love to share Kyoto with you this winter



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