Tea Tour of Japan - Itinerary

*** May 2019 ***


Tokyo 3 Day Pre-Tour - The adventure begins in the bustling national capital,Tokyo where we'llimmerse ourselves in Japanese tea culture.

Day 1 - After a short orientation and welcome we take in the sights of the city and enjoy the return of spring. Our first stop is the bustling Tsukiji Fish Market, the largest in the world. Wander the market stalls (there are tea shops too) and enjoy the freshest sushi lunch made from the morning's catch. If we are lucky, there may be a few cherry blossoms to see as we stroll through the plaza of the Imperial Palace - residence of the Royal Family. We'll join the faithful pilgrims and visit the Asakusa Shrine followed by the adjacent market shops of Nakamise St.

Day 2 - Sumo wrestling is a sacred sport in Japan and we will start the day with a visit to the training stable to witness the intense practice. Our next stop is the serene Happoen garden with it's specially designed landscaping. As we walk down tree lined paths we'll stop at the tea house for a tea ceremony demonstration and enjoy some Mat Cha and tea sweets. After lunch we'll visit the Meiji Shrine built to commemorate the Meiji Emperor and his wife. A Shinto temple, it is also a popular spot for weddings. Before dinner we'll stop at a local tea shop to see how tea is sold. An optional visit to see a performance at the Kabuki Theater is available for those interested.

Day 3 - Today we begin our training in Cha-no-yu, with a demonstration and hands-on instruction in the Japanese tea ceremony. Learn all the steps of both the host and guest. After lunch we lighten the mood with a little competitive shopping on the Ginza, Tokyo's famous shopping street. After our welcome banquet, perhaps take an optional visit to a tea bar to absorb some of the local ambiance.


Tea Tour of Japan 2019 - Base Tour
Day 1 - Today we shift things into high gear as we board our private coach bus and drive to iconic Mt. Fuji. Observe the revered peak  from the scenic viewing center then wade through the tea bushes at a nearby tea garden for our first instruction in tea picking. Taste some freshly made tea to build our appetites for lunch. After arriving in Shizuoka, we'll have an informative meeting at the O-Cha Center, the offices of the Shizuoka Tea Department.

Day 2 - Today we take a day trip to Makinohara. Tour the World Tea Museum, walk around the beautiful garden and enjoy another style of tea ceremony demonstration in the tea house . Then we'll go into the class room in a lecture at the Tea Research Center to learn the science of tea. After a specially prepared tea-lunch where each dish contains tea, we'll tour a tea processing factory and learn the steps in producing and refining Sencha - Japan's most popular tea. We'll also have a guided tea tasting of a selection of different teas from the area. After touring a state-of-the-art, mechanized tea factory, well witness and try our hand at making the nearly lost are of Temomi - hand tea making. Then, to gain an understanding of tea in general we'll have a lecture on Japanese tea history. This evening, have a chance to interact with people in the local tea industry at dinner.

Day 3 - Our morning starts early with a visit to the lively tea auction market. See how tea is traded as it has been for generations. Afterward we'll drive to Okabe, famous for the famed Gyokuro green tea. Pick and make your own tea under the tutelage of Gyokuro Master Tohei Maejima. Our lunch will be in Master Tohei-san home. Dinner is back in Shizuoka this evening.

Day 4 - After breakfast we say goodbye to the tea gardens of Shizuoka and board the bullet train to the ancient capital of Kyoto. We'll jump into history and culture right away with a visit to the colorful Heian Shrine and garden. In case we are in need of some refreshment, tea-time this afternoon will be at Ipodo, the oldest tea shop in Kyoto. Tonight's dinner is in a tea house in the infamous Gion, Kyoto's traditional pleasure district. If we are lucky we may see a Maiko (Geisha apprentice). Our home for the next two nights is in a Ryokan, a traditional Japanese style guest house. You may feel free to lounge about in the provided yukata robe and partake in the Onsen hot bath (separate baths for men and women).

Day 5 - After a peaceful night's sleep on the fluffy futons, we delve into the spiritual side of Japanese culture starting with a visit to the Nanzenji Buddhist Temple. The serene rock gardens, comforting wooden floors, simplistic decor and intricate architecture blend to create a contemplative ambiance. The pottery workshops of Kiyomizu are world renowned. We will visit a  workshop to see how the unique styles of teaware are made. Try your hand at making a tea bowl under the tutelage of a master potter. The secluded Kozanji Temple - the site of the oldest tea garden in Japan is our next stop. This unassuming structure, founded in the beginning of the 13th century and a World Heritage Site, is the spot where the first tea seeds were planted after being brought from China by the Zen Priest Eisai. The traditional shops of Ninenzaka are filled with traditional arts and crafts. There is also a shop selling green tea ice cream! Our dinner tonight is very special - the Kaiseki Ryori. A feast for all the senses, this meal has evolved from the multi-course repast that was served before formal tea ceremonies. We must arrive precisely on time. To top off the experience, the chef will visit us after his performance and describe the uniqueness of each dish. Our delightful meal is one of the specialties of famous Kyoto cuisine.

Day 6 - As we say goodbye to Kyoto we will visit the Fushimi Inari Shrine, famous for it's Tori corridor. Then, we head out into the country-side to the village of Wazuka. We will meet with a local tea company and pick our own tea in their fields. Next comes the excitement of making our own tea in their workshop including spending some time turning the stone grinding wheel to make Mat Cha. We'll get a chance to sip the tea we made while listening to a private music concert provided buy a local group. Then, we transfer to our own tea-hostel. The traditional country-style accommodations (boys and girls in separate rooms) include a unique shabu shabu dinner that uses the locally made Houji Cha as a broth. Before settling in for the night, relax in a specially prepared hot tub - of real tea!

Day 7 - Another special day is in store as we drive to Nara and visit the workshop of a Cha Sen (tea whisk) maker. Our lunch today is at a local restaurant and the dress code is - Kimono. Get fitted in a real Kimono complete with tabi socks and wooden sandals and parade together through the town. Don't spill, the clothes are rented. Next we are off to the historic city of Uji renowned for fine teas since 1160. We'll visit a modern tea factory to see the very unique processing method of Matcha, the powdered green tea used in the tea ceremony. Attend a short lecture on Mat Cha tea making and have a chance to taste some examples of this special tea. Also a source of earthenware for centuries, we will pay a brief visit to an ancient kiln to see the original way ceramics were fired. Topping off a full day of fun, sit back and take in the countryside as we drive to Tokushima, arriving in the evening. Dinner on the way.

Day 8 - Today we'll get a very special glimpse into a side of tea that few tea people, even in Japan, know about. Aoicho, in Tokushima prefecture is the source for Awabancha, fermented tea. The leaves are first fermented in wooden barrels and then sun dried. Visit a farmer who produces this rare kind of tea and have a chance to see it being made and perhaps participate in some of the steps. Of course we'll be able to taste this special creation, a treat that few outside the area have done. Have a taste of the area  with lunch and dinner at local restaurants today.

Day 9 - Goishi Cha is yet another very rare kind of tea made in Japan. With obvious historical links to the compressed teas of China, we will visit a local village that produces this unique tea that is most often used to make tea porridge. The steamed leaves are covered with mats and allowed to ferment. The leaves are stuffed into barrels with heavy stone weights placed on top. The dried blocks are cut into small cubes that resemble "Goishi" or chess pieces. Have a chance to join in the process as well as taste this special tea. We'll stop for the day in Dogo and stay in the Tsubaki-kan, the guest house that was the inspiration for the bath house in the animated movie Spirited Away.

Day 10 - After catching the morning car ferry to Oita, things really heat up. Mt. Aso, on Kyushu is one of Japan's largest active volcanoes  and (weather permitting) we'll take the cable car up to the summit for a look down into the Nakadake crater (caldera). The area around the top stands in stark contrast to the verdant grasslands at the base. You may even see some Japanese "cowboys" at work with their herds.

Day 11 - We head West today to Yame one of Southern Japan's major tea producing areas. We'll tour a tea garden and factory and taste the local teas. After lunch we continue on to the historic city of Saga which is as famous for pottery as it is tea. We'll also step back a few hundred years in time with a visit to the Saga or Karatsu Castle before retiring for the night.

Day 12 - This area is a large producer of Sen Cha and supplies around half of the country's Gyokuro tea. So, this morning we'll enjoy one final sip of fun and visit a tea farmer to pick/make/taste his award-winning teas. Our final stop is the provincial capital of Fukuoka for a meeting with the local tea producers association. Fine tune your palate at a tea tasting of a variety of South Japan teas. With memories and cameras filled with our unforgettable adventures, we fly back to Tokyo to rest for the night before heading for home in the morning.