2024 Food and Cherry Blossom Tour of Kyushu, Japan
The 2024 Food and Cherry Blossom Tour of Kyushu is based on Japan’s western island of Kyushu, fast-becoming Japan’s favourite foodie destination for its variety of fresh produce and artisanal traditions. Just limited to 8 guests, this comprehensive 14-day Kyushu food tour is perfect for those keen to learn about Japan’s food culture (now UNESCO-listed), as well as explore a spectacular part of Japan away from its busy mainland centres. And all against the magical backdrop of spring-time blossoms!
This cherry blossom and food tour introduces the different styles of Japanese cuisine, from high-end haute cuisine to home-style cooking. You visit generations-old traditional producers as well as fishmongers and makers of fine ceramic ware, so indispensable to the proper presentation of a Japanese meal. The tour also includes two special food experiences exclusively created by Journey to the East so you can engage with local experts in person and deepen insights about Japan’s food culture and local life as well. An outstanding opportunity to learn about Japan’s history and culture through the lens of its food!
Highlights of this small group tour include:
- Learning the fundamentals of Japanese cuisine at a private cooking class in the home kitchen of a professional chef
- Visiting a local farmers’ market before sitting down to lunch with local growers and chefs
- Exploring Japan’s leading tea-producing area and sampling premium-grade teas at Kyushu’s oldest tea merchant
- Touring boutique producers and learning about traditional production techniques for the classics of Japanese cuisine – soy sauce, salt and sake
- Wandering under the cherry blossoms while exploring old castle ruins
*Fukuoka was listed in Lonely Planet’s “Best in Travel 2023” publication under the “Eat” category.
Day 1: Arrival in Fukuoka
On arrival in Fukuoka for your 2024 Food and Cherry Blossom Tour of Kyushu, you’ll be met by a Journey to the East staff member at Fukuoka’s airport or main railway station and escorted to your hotel.
Fukuoka is readily accessible both by rail and air from other places in Japan, but please let us know if you need help arranging a connection between your arrival port in Japan and Fukuoka, or if you'd like to book an additional night’s accommodation in the same Fukuoka hotel as the tour before it starts.
Day 2: Fukuoka
After an orientation with your guide, your tour of Fukuoka starts with a walking tour of atmospheric Hakata, justifiably famous across Japan for its “Hakata ramen”. We stop at a typical Hakata ramen restaurant for lunch to find out why the locals are so serious about their noodles. Along the way we visit the lively old shopping street of Shintencho, and stop to tour a Japanese knife shop and a traditional dashi stock shop as well as other specialty food and kitchenware stores. We stroll through Ohori Park, once the moat of Fukuoka Castle in feudal times, to enjoy the lovely view of cherry blossoms and lake.
Tonight you enjoy a welcome dinner at a Michelin-starred Japanese restaurant, celebrated for its exquisite multi-course banquet of seasonal foods served in a traditional setting – the perfect start to a Japanese food tour!
Day 3: Cooking lesson & Dazaifu
Today starts with one of the special immersive experiences exclusively created by Journey to the East for our guests. You’ll be welcomed into the kitchen studio of a professional chef in her own renovated traditional house and be introduced to the main concepts of Japanese cuisine, before rolling up your sleeves and preparing some tasty dishes under her guidance. With an equal emphasis on fun and serious learning, we hope this private cooking class will have you confidently recreating the delicious dishes at home!
We later journey on to the neighbouring town of Dazaifu and visit Dazaifu’s magnificent Tenmangu Shrine which commemorates the life of a famous 9th century Kyoto scholar, later deified as the god of literature and scholarship. The shrine’s grounds are planted with over 6,000 plum trees, the favourite tree of the scholar.
Back in Fukuoka, we enjoy a unique slice of local life at the city’s legendary yatai. These mobile carts set up in the evening and only accommodate 10 people. The convivial atmosphere, shared conversation and delicious food cooked right in front of you make for an unmissable Hakata food experience!
Day 4: Yame
Kyushu’s Yame district is one of Japan’s leading tea-producing areas and today we visit a tea producer by private transport to learn about the different grades and varieties of Japanese green tea. From a mountain-top lookout, we’ll view the brilliant green of the rolling tea fields below and take some photogenic snaps. Our next stop is Kyushu’s oldest tea merchant, established in 1865. A real highlight, we enjoy a cup of gyokuro tea (Japan’s highest tea grade) prepared by the current fourteenth-generation owner.
Then it’s on to learn about another famous Japanese beverage with a visit to an award-winning local sake brewer. We’ll have a private tour of the production facilities followed by a sake tasting where you can chat freely with staff about the brewing process and different sake styles.
Tonight you have a free evening to explore the endless food delights of Fukuoka. Chat to your guide if you need any recommendations.
Day 5: Itoshima
Our destination today is the coastal town of Itoshima, fast becoming a foodie haven. We visit an old family-owned soy sauce brewery as well as a salt extraction farm to learn how these fundamental ingredients are made using traditional methods.
As part of a special experience exclusively created for Journey to the East guests, we visit a small vegetable farm and the local farmers’ market to see the range of produce grown in this fertile part of Kyushu. We've asked some local growers and chefs to prepare a special private lunch for our group using the best produce in season. They join us for lunch, offering an invaluable opportunity to connect in person and gain direct insights into their work and local life.
In the late afternoon we head to the pretty castle town of Karatsu. After a full day, relax into the contemporary Japanese aesthetic of your ryokan hotel with its sea views and therapeutic onsen hot spring baths and enjoy a delicious kaiseki banquet served on a series of decorative ceramic plates. A quintessential Japan experience!
Day 6: Yobuko & Karatsu
Start the day with an authentic Japanese-style breakfast – a filling and nutritious feast of grilled fish, miso soup, steamed rice and pickles.
Nicely fortified, you head to Yobuko morning market, one of Japan’s largest morning markets. Here you can see fishers and stall-owners hawking all kinds of seafood, including the local squid for which Yobuko is famous.
This region is also known for its ceramic-making traditions, and after lunch we visit a kiln producing some of Karatsu’s fine pottery. In Japan, the serving dish is regarded as integral a part of the culinary experience as the food itself and a deserving focus for any food tour of Japan.
We stop by Kagamiyama Park to take in fine views of the Sea of Genkai framed by pretty cherry blossoms and visit Takatori Villa, a beautiful Meiji-era traditional villa.
Tonight’s dinner is Japanese wagyu-beef grilled ever so perfectly on a hot plate, teppanyaki-style!
Day 7: Arita & Imari
Today we delve deeper into Japan’s ceramic traditions and travel by private vehicle to Kyushu’s two other famous pottery towns – Arita and Imari. Along with Karatsu, porcelain from these towns became highly prized both within Japan and Europe over the centuries, and remains sought after by collectors and restauranteurs alike.
We tour a ceramics museum and a pottery village and kiln to see artisans at work creating the elaborately coloured Arita-ware and the classic blue-and-white Imari-ware.
After an inspiring day learning about the world of Japanese ceramics, we travel on to the ever-picturesque harbour city of Nagasaki.
Day 8: Nagasaki
Nagasaki was the only part of Japan open to the world during Japan’s closed-door period in the 17th and 18th centuries, visited by Asian and European traders and missionaries. This heritage is still evident today in the city’s architecture, culture and cuisine which reflects its cosmopolitan past.
Today we explore this fascinating city, starting with a walking tour through one of Japan’s first Chinatowns and the trading enclave of Dejima. Of course, any visit to Nagasaki is not complete without a visit to the Peace Park and Atomic Bomb Museum which marks the events of that fateful day in August 1945. A lunch stop to sample Nagasaki’s unique Shippoku cuisine (a hybrid style combining Chinese, European and Japanese flavours) completes the tour.
You have the night free to explore Nagasaki’s vibrant restaurant scene. Perhaps catch a ropeway up Mt Inasa for spectacular views of the harbour at night – allegedly one of the world’s best!
Day 9: Nagasaki & Unzen
This morning we visit a family-owned fish wholesaler to witness first-hand the preparation of some of the freshest seafood in the world for the city’s leading restaurants.
Then step into the past with a stroll through Glover Garden where the former residences of Japan’s first European settlers are located. We also make a stop at Oura Catholic Church, Japan’s oldest wooden church built by French missionaries. For lunch today we’ll try another popular Nagasaki staple – champon noodles.
In the afternoon it’s on to the Shimabara Peninsula, a historic and geographically unique part of Kyushu. Your destination is the onsen town of Unzen, located in spectacular Unzen-Amakusa National Park prized for its volcanic landscapes. Here we’ll stay at one of the town’s onsen ryokan where we can enjoy its rejuvenating mineral baths after a full day of travel.
Day 10: Unzen & Shimabara
The day begins with a walk to Unzen’s bubbling jigoku, or boiling hot springs. We then journey by private vehicle through picturesque Nita-Toge Pass where on a clear day you get spectacular views across the bay to our next destination – Kumamoto. On the way we stop at hilltop Shimabara Castle and admire its forest of cherry blossoms, visit a former samurai residence, and see the Mt Unzen Disaster Memorial Hall, a high-tech museum which vividly captures the eruption of Mt Unzen in 1991. Later we board a ferry to Kumamoto.
Dinner tonight is at an Italian-style restaurant, where the Italy-trained chef is well-known for his efforts to preserve heritage Kumamoto vegetables.
Day 11: Kumamoto
This morning’s guided tour of Kumamoto focuses on one of Japan’s most well-known castles. Originally built in 1607, Kumamoto Castle was damaged by the 2016 earthquake and still undergoing repair. However it remains a remarkable feudal complex with massive stone walls and it’s fascinating to witness the different stages of restoration. The manicured grounds that surround this spectacular icon also offer some of Japan’s best cherry-blossom trees. It's then on to explore Suizenji Garden, built for the powerful clan who once ruled the castle and region.
You have the rest of the day to explore Kumamoto at your leisure. You may like to soak up Kumamoto’s feudal heritage by visiting a former samurai residence or browsing its great selection of shops. The city also offers a good selection of restaurants – with international and Japanese options. Perhaps try one of its izakaya Japanese-style pubs and enjoy some good local sake?
Day 12: Mt. Aso and Yufuin
We set out today by private vehicle for the delightful onsen town of Yufuin, passing through one of Kyushu’s most picturesque landscapes – the volcanic caldera of Mt Aso. On the way we journey through an impressive avenue of cherry blossom trees.
Stretch your legs on arrival in Yufuin with a guided walking tour. Located in a lush river basin surrounded by mountains, Yufuin’s scenic rural walking paths and riverbanks lined with cherry trees make for an idyllic afternoon’s activity.
Tonight you stay in a lovely boutique ryokan surrounded by a forested garden. Take a dip in one of its onsen baths, be calmed by its stylish interiors and enjoy the contemporary styling of its kaiseki cuisine.
Day 13: Fukuoka
Enjoy a relaxed start to the morning by exploring some of Yufuin’s attractive craft shops and galleries, stopping by one of its charming cafes, or doing a leisurely circuit of scenic Lake Kinrinko.
Then it’s time to return to Fukuoka by private vehicle for your last night of the tour and farewell dinner. Relive your best memories of your Kyushu food experiences at one of Fukuoka’s finest sushi restaurants, serving up the freshest of fresh Kyushu seafood!
Day 14: Goodbye
You check out of your hotel after breakfast and your 2024 Food and Cherry Blossom Tour of Kyushu concludes.
You can take a domestic flight from Fukuoka or return by shinkansen bullet-train to the international airports in Osaka or Tokyo. If you’d like to linger in Japan a little longer, we would be delighted to plan your personal post-tour extension to show you a different part of Japan. Please see our Model Extension Itineraries for inspiration.
Note: The cost of an escorted transfer to your departure airport is not included in our Small Group Tours as we found many guests choose to stay in Japan a bit longer. However, we would be happy to arrange your transfer to your next destination or your departing airport. Please see our FAQ for more details.
Dates & Prices
2024 Food and Cherry Blossom Tour of Kyushu, Japan
Per person twin share:
Each guest is personally looked after with one-on-one interactions with our hand-picked, expert tour guides. As part of your investment, this tour includes:
- 13 nights accommodation (including traditional inns)
- Meals as specified
- Airport meet & greet at Fukuoka Airport or Hakata Station and hotel transfer by taxi on arrival
- Transport on private minivan and all local transport (train, bus and taxi)
- Locally licensed English speaking tour guides
- All cultural activities and entry fees included in the group itinerary
DISCLAIMER: Unless otherwise stated, this tour does not include the costs of international and domestic airfares, transfers on the last day, travel insurance, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, transport during free time, personal expenses (laundry, internet, telephone, coin lockers etc.) and Visa (if required).
To experience such a wonderful variety of locations, accomodation and food this tour would be hard to beat. From administrative attention to detail to the choice of guide, the seamless way everything worked it is definitely worth serious consideration. I had thought for me the trip would be a one-off but am now questioning whether I could repeat it, that’s how much I enjoyed the whole thing.
We have traveled to Japan with Journey to the East on two occasions, Autumn Leaves and Cherry Blossom & Food tours.
Their itineraries, accommodations and guides attention to detail ensured an absolutely fabulous holiday each time.
The sheer diversity of puffing volcanoes, two in one day – incredible. Beautiful ceramics being crafted, salt being harvested, soy and saki being distilled, meeting the families who poured their hearts into their business. The charming patisserie in the hills above Yame. The knife grinder. Having lunch prepared for us by the salt farmer and Emina and Waturu. Cafe lunch with those wonderful cups and saucers and …