THERE are not many countries left in the world which are safe, absolutely beautiful and full of friendly, honest people. Well Japan is definitely one of them. A number of our long-term Greenmount Travellers have suggested Japan as "right near the top" of a pretty extensive list of destinations visited on our farm tours.
To visit Japan is to enjoy an unforgettable insight into how this nation has blended traditional values with modern growth.
Most Japanese farms are small, but the many farmers are well organised into co-operatives with a lot of marketing and political influence.
Think Japanese farming and think rice, noodles and Wagyu cattle. Australia has a long history of association with Japanese agriculture, from exporting noodles and beef, to importing Wagyu genetics.
Our tour will cover the best farming regions and new technology and will take you to some of the unspoilt, authentic areas while not missing out on the ‘must-see’ sights and cultural experiences.
And lots more. A truly fascinating place to visit and plenty to see.
Depart Australian ports for Tokyo. Evening arrival and transfer to city hotel.
To help get our bearings in this throbbing metropolis, we have a guided tour this morning of downtown Tokyo and nearby sights. Retail therapy is on offer everywhere and in the traditional market areas, a mind boggling array of seafood and other fresh foods is on display.
We also visit the traditional area of Asakusa with the famous Kaminari-mon gate and Sensoji temple.
We will also call in on Tokyo’s Municipal Meat Market (nicknamed "Shibaura") — but most people, including the locals, wouldn’t even recognize this downtown meat market if they saw it. Located near Shinagawa Station, it looks like any other office complex and it’s surrounded by similar-looking buildings such as the Sony Headquarters just down the road. The meat market has its origins back in the 1930s but today it’s state of the art, with onsite labs that test for quality and diseases such as BSE, aka “mad cow disease.” Shibaura can handle a maximum of 430 cattle and 1400 pigs per day, and processes 15 per cent of all Wagyu beef in Japan.
This morning we board our charter coach and head out of Tokyo to the fuedal-era town of Hakone for lunch with a view of Mt Fuji. Hakone is part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, less than 100 km from Tokyo. Famous for hot springs, outdoor activities, natural beauty and the view of nearby Mt. Fuji. Then on to the Fuji Five Lake area and hope for some clear viewing weather for the magnificent mountain. We head up to the Kawaguchiko 5th station of Mt Fuji, one of the most popular starting points for climbing the mountain. We then return to Tokyo for a free evening.
This morning we catch the subway to Tokyo Station and transfer to the Shinkansen (bullet train) for our (very fast) journey to Nagano in the Japanese Alps. This trip takes around 3 to 4 hours by road. On the fantastic Shinkansen, we'll do it in half that time. On arrival Nagano we transfer to the Jigokudani Wild Monkey Park, an incredible opportunity to interact with Japanese macaque monkeys in the wild and in their natural social groups as they bathe in the hot springs.
We continue on to Matsumoto with a visit to a wasabe farm on the way. Matsumoto is famous for its beautifully preserved medieval castle.
Today we continue further into the Japanese Alps to Takayama, a breathtaking town surrounded by 3000 metre peaks. Takayama is a castle town of old wooden houses dating back to the 16th century. We have a farm visit this afternoon and we also visit one of the town’s famous sake breweries. We enjoy a sightseeing tour of Takayama including the Hida Folk Museum (Minzoku-kan) where facts and images of traditional life in farming villages are on display.
Option this morning of a visit to a market where the wives of local farmers sell fresh mountain vegetables, as well as homemade miso (Japanese bean paste) and local handicrafts. We then board an express train to Nagoya and connect with a bullet train bound for the historic city of Kyoto, which was the Japanese capital for over 1000 years.
This morning we set off on a full day trip to Hiroshima via bullet train. In Hiroshima we visit the Peace Park and the A-bomb museum. The park and museum are built around the A-bomb dome which is the skeletal remains of the former Industrial Promotion Hall. This is one of the few buildings near the centre of Hiroshima which was left at least partially standing after the first atomic bomb was detonated several hundred metres away – and 600 metres overhead – on the morning of August 6, 1945. The Peace Park is a fitting memorial to the horrors of nuclear war.
Then we visit Miyajima Island and its famous giant ‘floating’ torii gate. Later in the afternoon, we transfer back to the railway station for the bullet train back to Kyoto and a free evening.
Morning tour of the beautiful city of Kyoto including Nijo Castle, the Imperial Palace, the Golden Pavilion, Kiyomizu temple and Marayuma Park.
This afternoon you can continue to enjoy the prettiest city in Japan in the company of our local guide. There is also an opportunity this afternoon (for those interested) to delve deeper into the intriguing Japanese way of life. And one of the best ways to do this is to understand more about their food and cooking culture. Taro Saeki will take a maximum of 8 people from our group through an informal cooking class in the privacy of his Kyoto family home. Taro has spent some time in the US so with his excellent English skills and outgoing personalty, he's able to bring to life many aspects of the fascinating Japanese food culture – and better still – you get to enjoy the fantastic food Taro and his wife help you prepare.
This morning we board our private coach to visit a Kobe Wagyu cattle farm. Kobe beef refers to beef from the black Tajima-ushi breed of Wagyu cattle, raised according to strict tradition in Hyogo Prefecture. The cattle are raised on less than 300 farms, some with as few as five cows. Each animal is fed a strictly controlled diet, and in some cases, with the inclusion of a beer and sake mash. We enjoy a Kobe beef (what else?) BBQ lunch.
We return to Kyoto with a scenic/technical visit on the way.
It's a free evening in Kyoto and an option is to enjoy a traditional Kaiseki dinner and Maiko (apprentice geisha) dance performance. A Kaiseki is a traditional multi-course Japanese dinner and is a showcase of the multitude of skills and techniques that go into the preparation of such intricate and artistic meals.
We board our bullet train this morning to travel eastwards to Haneda airport. Our train travels via Nagoya – and of particular interest for vehicle and technology enthusiasts – we break-up our journey with a visit to the Toyota Techno Museum. The museum is in downtown Nagoya and introduces the history of Toyota from its beginnings as a textile machinery manufacturer through to global auto giant. The museum also features many exhibits on automotive technologies and the car production process.
We then continue our bullet train journey to Tokyo’s Haneda airport for a mid afternoon flight to Obihiro on the island of Hokkaido in Japan’s far north. Hokkaido is Japan’s ‘frontier’. It is the island with the lowest population, it has beautiful national parks and boasts some of the best agricultural areas in the country. Obihiro is in the highly productive agricultural region of Tokachi province.
Today we enjoy farm visits in the largest cropping region of Japan which is also a major beef and dairy region. We will spend the day with farmers from a local farm group, SRU (Soil Research Union). There are 40 farmers at this branch, one of 12 SRU branches in Hokkaido. We will visit a 2000 head beef operation plus highly productive dairy farms.
At dinner we will be joined by some of the local farmers at Bitou’s restaurant. Bitou’s is run by one of the farmers and serves fine beef from Tokachi Ono farm.
Another technical visit this morning before heading west towards Chitose and the spectacular volcanic crater forming Lake Shikotsu. We are nearing the end of our tour so it’s high time to take on board the local customs by spending a night at a very traditional ryoken (hotel) and onsen (open air baths fed by natural hot springs). Our ryoken is in a very remote location on the shore of Lake Shikotsu.
This evening we enjoy a very traditional Japanese dinner.
Overnight: Lake Shikotsu
Enjoy farm visits and magnificent scenery as we travel northwestwards through the farming valleys of the Niseko/Kutchan region and onto the historic port town of Yoichi. Originally, the town was supported by the herring and seafood procesing industry. The region has now diversified into a thriving horticultural hub. Yoichi was the first town to commercially grow apples in Japan. Today, the town produces a vast range of fruits including strawberries, cherries, peaches, plums, prunes, blueberries, grapes and pears.
The Yoichi Whisky Distillery was founded in 1934 by Masataka Taketsuru who travelled to Scotland in 1918 to study the art of whisky making. Masataka learnt that to have a successful whisky business in Japan “the distillery should be located in a cold climate with an appropriate humidity, there should be a high quality water source and an abundant supply of herbaceous peat. Furthermore it should be close to an area where barley is grown and where there are forests to supply wood to make barrels and also the coal necessary to fire the stills.”
The Yoichi district satisfied all of these conditions and was chosen by Masataka as the site of his distillery. Today, the remarkable quality of Yoichi Single Malts is recognised worldwide. In 2001, Whisky Magazine awarded Yoichi Single Malt the "Best of the Best” in a competition where whiskies from around the world were blind-tasted by a panel of international judges. We find out how locally-produced barley is a key ingredient in some of the world's best whisky, by enjoying a tour of the distillery and museum.
This morning we continue along the coastline enjoying sights and visits on our way to Sapporo, the capital city of Hokkaido Prefecture. On arrival we have a brief city tour to get your bearings before a free afternoon for last minute shopping and other activities.
Farewell dinner this evening.
Transfer to New Chitose Airport (Sapporo) this morning for our direct flights to Tokyo and connections to Australia.