NEW Trip – Kyrgyzstan & the Tian Shan MountainsJoin 19 August 2024 Departure

10 Days$6790USD

  • Culinary tour
  • 9 nights in hotels and ryokans
  • 8 Dinners
  • 6 Lunches
  • 9 Breakfasts
Adventure touring

Trip highlights

  • Travelling with food writer Ben Groundwater exploring his favourite places to eat, drink, wander and shop
  • Visits to some of Tokyo and Kyoto’s finest restaurants to experience sushi, yakitori, katsu, kaiseki, and traditional izakaya cuisine
  • Hands-on workshops for making sushi, soba noodles and pottery
  • A day walk in the Japanese Alps taking in the autumn colours
  • Visits to a winery, wasabi farm, whisky distillery and sake brewery
  • Stay in a traditional ryokan and experience an onsen

Join Ben Groundwater, Australia’s favourite travel journalist to discover the culinary highlights of one of the world’s greatest food destinations: Japan. Ben has long held a deep passion for Japan and its gastronomic culture, having travelled to the country regularly for more than 15 years, including to research and write his cult guidebook, “Neon Lights in Tokyo”. For the first time, he will be leading a small group on a journey through the many facets of dining and drinking culture in the country that knows how to do it best.

Trip Code: NNJN

Tokyo is truly one of the world’s greatest foodie destinations, a heaving megalopolis filled with restaurants, bars, cafes and more, and it provides the ideal jumping-off point for our Japanese gourmet adventure. Today, make your own way to our group hotel in Shinjuku, one of Tokyo’s prime hubs for everything from nightlife to niche eateries, and one that perfectly encapsulates the “Neon Lights and Nigiri” aesthetic of this exciting journey. In the early evening we will meet with Ben in the hotel lobby and set off for our first Japanese dining experience, catching the famous Tokyo metro to Shibuya to dine at a very local izakaya. These laidback sake bars are a vital institution in Japan, where drinks are paired with small plates of varied, high-quality cuisine. After dinner, Ben will lead an optional walk in Golden Gai, a bustling nightlife district back in Shinjuku – though, feel free to return to the hotel and rest up for a big 10 days. Overnight: Hotel Groove Shinjuku, Tokyo

Meals:  D

We recommend only having a quick snack at the hotel this morning, as we head off early for the breakfast of champions: raw fish at the famed Tsukiji Fish Market. Located in central Tokyo, Tsukiji was once home to the world’s biggest wholesale fish and seafood market, and these days thrives as a base for specialty food and accessory stores. We’re going to kick off with a classic “kaisendon”, a rice bowl topped with the finest, freshest seafood you can imagine. Afterwards there will be time to explore Tsukiji and maybe even purchase a few kitchen essentials, before we continue to one of Tokyo’s most exciting new attractions, TeamLab Planets. This hyper-modern art gallery uses interactive light displays to immerse visitors in a fantasyland of colour and texture – it’s like nothing else you’ve ever seen. After grabbing lunch at TeamLab, we will continue to bustling Ginza, another of Tokyo’s key hubs, for a spot of shopping and maybe even an artisanal coffee, before dining tonight at another gem handpicked by Ben: a Michelin-starred yakitori restaurant. This style of dining is all about small skewers of grilled chicken, elevated to a level you won’t believe. Overnight: Hotel Groove Shinjuku, Tokyo

Meals:  B,D

We begin this morning at a leisurely pace, with time on your own to explore Shinjuku and its surrounding neighbourhoods, before we jump on a train and head for ramen central: Ogikubo. This quiet suburb is well off the tourist trail, but a hub for some of Tokyo’s best ramen stores, and we have one of the city’s leading “ramen otaku” to take us on a tour of the highlights. Afterwards, we continue west on the Chuo line to Kichijoji, another vastly underrated locale, where we will visit the famed Ghibli Museum, set up in honour of Studio Ghibli, Japan’s leading anime producer. Tonight, we have dinner at a local Kichijoji izakaya that specialises in seafood, before an optional tour of Harmonica Yokocho, a maze of tiny bars frequented by Kichijoji locals. Overnight: Hotel Groove Shinjuku, Tokyo

Meals:  B,L,D

There are still so many hidden delights to uncover in Tokyo. We begin today, however, with a visit to perhaps the city’s most famous sight, the Meiji-Jingu shrine complex, where we’ll work up an appetite before exploring a local “depachika”. These sprawling food halls feature some of the finest produce in Japan, not to mention a mind-boggling array of bento boxes, which we will eat picnic-style in beautiful Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. This afternoon we’re embracing “old Tokyo”, visiting a classic “shotengai”, or shopping street, in Nakano to check out the vast array of old and new products on sale, before continuing out to Koenji, another neighbourhood that’s well off the tourist trail, and yet one featuring Tokyo’s best array of vintage stores. And tonight, a truly special experience: high-end, omakase-style sushi, served by some of the city’s finest chefs. Overnight: Hotel Groove Shinjuku, Tokyo

Meals:  B,D

We depart Tokyo today to explore the mountains of central Honshu, to enjoy not only the beauty of the autumn foliage, but also to visit the producers of some of Japan’s most sought-after products. The first of those might come as a surprise. Yamanashi is known for its wine, which has been produced here for over 150 years. We visit Chateau Murcian, the oldest established winery in the country. Next, we delve deep into the world of Japanese whisky, some of the most famous in the world, with a visit to the Suntory Hakushu Distillery. Here we visit the museum and shop followed by a selection of tastings. Please note it is not possible to tour the factory. We continue on to Matsumoto, one of Japan’s most underrated cities, a charming, historic spot amid the mountains of Nagano prefecture. Tonight we will stay in a traditional ryokan, a classic Japanese inn, where we will also be treated to a multi-course kaiseki dinner featuring plenty of local produce. At our ryokan there is also time for a soak in the on-site hot spring. Overnight; Nishikinoyu Jimotoya (ryokan), Matsumoto

Meals:  B,L,D

Lace up your hiking boots, because today we’re going to tackle the gentle – but very beautiful – Kamikochi hike. This two-hour wander takes in plenty of spectacular alpine scenery, made all the more impressive by the bursts of autumn foliage. Next, we drive to Azumino to learn the local art of soba-noodle making, enjoying a lunch of handmade noodles and tempura. We then take a walk through a wasabi farm – this area is famous for Japan’s spiciest condiment – before returning to town for free time and our second ryokan kaiseki dinner, with an option for another soak in the onsen. Overnight; Nishikinoyu Jimotoya (ryokan), Matsumoto

Meals:  B,L,D

It’s an exciting day today, as we make our way via winding mountain roads to Kyoto. First though, we have a stop in Seki, a small town famous for knife-making. Japanese kitchen knives are in demand across the world, and today we’ll be able to see how they’re made, as well as make a few purchases for a unique souvenir. For lunch we try another Japanese favourite, katsu, and then continue to Kyoto, Japan’s ancient capital, where there’s time to check in and refresh before we enjoy dinner Yakiniku Tendan. This well-known restaurant specialises in wagyu, the highest quality beef grilled to perfection at your table, an absolute must to experience in Japan. Overnight: Royal Park Hotel Kyoto Sanjo

Meals:  B,L,D

Today we are going on a journey into the world of sake – and it begins with creating something to drink it from. This morning we will visit a pottery workshop, where we will learn this cherished Japanese artform, and perhaps create a vessel that will come in handy this afternoon. There’s also time for a visit to Sanjusangendo, a temple hall that is Japan’s longest wooden structure, before lunch at Minehachi, a specialist in curry udon soup. Given Kyoto is so well known for its sake production, we will do a tour and tasting at a local brewery this afternoon, before a free evening awaits to explore Kyoto’s vibrant drinking and dining culture at your leisure. Overnight: Royal Park Hotel Kyoto Sanjo

Meals:  B,L

What better souvenir to take home from Japan than the ability to recreate some of its beautiful cuisine any time you like? This morning we are getting hands-on and learning to prepare a bento box filled with classic cuisine, which we will also enjoy as our lunch. This afternoon we will take time out for a cup of traditional matcha tea in a beautiful Kyoto teahouse, before there’s free time to explore the city, perhaps walking the iconic Philosophers Path or the Arashiyama bamboo grove, or taking in the brilliant vermillion torii gates of the Fushimi Inari Shrine. Later, we meet up for our final dinner together at Moritaya, a classic sukiyaki restaurant, where high-grade wagyu beef is prepared in a traditional hotpot – the perfect way to end a truly memorable journey. Overnight:Royal Park Hotel Kyoto Sanjo

Meals:  B,L,D

We sadly say “dewa mata ne” – see you later – today as we finish our tour and guests depart Kyoto at their leisure. The train to Kansai Airport is about 1.5 hours from Kyoto Station, while Tokyo’s Haneda Airport can be reached in about 3 hours. Alternatively, feel free to stay on in Kyoto or neighbouring Osaka for a few extra nights to explore on your own. The train to Kansai Airport (KIX)is approx 1.5 hours

Meals:  B


  • Travelling with travel writer Ben Groundwater
  • 9 breakfasts, 6 lunches, 8 dinners
  • 7 nights 4 star hotel accommodation with ensuite bathroom
  • 2 nights traditional ryokan with ensuite bathrooms and communal onsen (separate male/female)
  • Pottery workshop
  • Bento box cooking class in Kyoto
  • Visit to Seki knife museum
  • Soba noodle making class
  • Walk through a wasabi farm
  • Wine tasting in Japan's oldest established winery
  • Visit Suntory Hakushu whisky distillery museum and shop with a selection of tastings
  • Sake brewery tour
  • Entrance to TeamLab Planets art facility
  • Expert local guide
  • Transportation by bus as noted in the itinerary

  • International airfare
  • Travel to/from airport
  • Lunch on days 2 & 4, dinner on day 8
  • Drinks/alcoholic drinks (carrying cash will be helpful to pay as you go for drinks)
  • Entrance fees not noted as included
  • Travel insurance - mandatory
  • Visa
  • Items of a personal nature such as tips, laundry, phone calls, alcohol, etc.
  • Tips and gratuities
  • NOTE: A Japan Rail Pass is not required for this tour.

About Your Leader

Ben Groundwater is one of Australia’s best known travel and food writers, and someone who has long held a passion for Japanese culture and cuisine, having visited the country regularly for more than 15 years.

Ben is a newspaper columnist with the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, a feature writer, a broadcaster, and the author of five books, including his guidebook “Neon Lights in Tokyo”. He is so excited to share some of the highlights of that book, while taking travellers on a journey through the incredible breadth and depth of Japanese culinary culture


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  • Single supplement (NNJN)USD$770
*Prices listed are per person

Essential Information

Ready to book? Make sure you download and read the detailed Neon Lights & Nigiri: Japan with Ben Groundwater trip notes which contains all the essential information you need to know before booking. Once you’ve booked, we will supply you with a Pre-Departure document which contains a detailed gear list and other important information to help you prepare for your adventure ahead.

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