So, you wanna go to Japan?
Well, somehow you stumbled here, so I’m guessing that’s the case!
This page serves to detail the annual culinary-focused adventures to Japan that I organize and lead. In short, a small group of cool people goescanva on a custom-made adventure through Japan, trying all sorts of amazing regional cuisines, partying it up at local festivals, temple hopping, attending sumo tournaments, sake sipping, and more.
The next trip is scheduled for September 11-22, 2020.
You’re going to have a blast — but don’t just take my word for it!
Picture arriving in Japan and proceeding to have a whirlwind of a time traipsing around the country with fun people and an amazing guide. That’s what it’s like with Scott. He’s a natural leader and his knowledge of Japan is great. But even better is his love of the country. He’ll seek out unique experiences that you probably wouldn’t even think of on your own.
Scott’s got the hook-ups even my Japanese friends wonder about, and ask how the heck I got in. For example, the finale of the grand sumo match, Michelin star restaurant reservations that are very hard to come by, and much, much more. I consider myself a very well-traveled traveler, but my experience in Japan wouldn’t have been the same without hanging with Scott. So, if you’d like to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience in Japan (that I guarantee you will not have if you travel by yourself), join whatever tour Scott is doing. Yes, he is that good.
I’d been imagining a trip to Japan for years, so when I heard Scott was organizing an adventure there, I had to go. I went in with pretty high expectations, and our trip absolutely blew me away. Of course we covered all the typical spots, but, more than that, Scott packed our days full of incredible sites, adventures, and food that was completely off the beaten track. His beyond-fluent Japanese surprised natives every where we went, which created friendships with locals and opened doors for us all along the way. Between Scott’s knowledge of Japan and his ability to communicate with the Japanese people, there is simply no other way I would have had even a fraction of our incredible experiences traveling in Japan any other way.
I had an amazing time in Japan all thanks to Scott’s in-depth knowledge of the country’s culture and people. And, of course, the absolute must-do activities, sights to see, food to devour, and places to visit. I was so impressed with the thought and detail Scott put behind every aspect of this trip, from the amazing boutique hotels and personalized tours to the local spots you’d never uncover if you were a tourist. It made the whole experience so easy for us–everything was taken care of. Also, the fact that Scott could handle every Japanese conversation was a true blessing given that I do not speak the language.
Scott’s attention to detail makes his Japan tours unique. He plans so far in advance, and so meticulously maintains his local contacts and knowledge that you’ll find yourself the only foreigners at a spectacular local festival or eating the most exquisite delicacies in restaurants you would never have found or been able to book otherwise.
Scott’s guided trip was an amazing introduction to Japanese cuisine and culture. Japan now tops my list of countries for a return visit… I can’t imagine not having him by my side for the next adventure.
Traveling with Scott is a non-stop adventure of fun, laughs, and off-the-beaten-path experiences. The attention and detail he puts into planning the itineraries is second to none. What I most appreciate about Scott’s trips is that I don’t have to plan a single thing and I can just relax, enjoy myself, and truly be on vacation.
Hands down one of the best meal experiences of my life. Amazing food. Even more amazing host and chef. We had the entire restaurant to ourselves. It was pretty much a private dinner hosted by a self-taught chef who’s been running the place for the last 26 years. The food was nothing short of spectacular. One of the featured dishes is baby tuna that’s roasted over a fire in a bucket full of hay outside. Totally amazing.
I had a great time in Japan with Eat Japan. We ate some amazing food and saw some really cool things that I would never have eaten or see had I been travelling on my own. Scott (our guide) is fluent in Japanese, and knows the areas he took us to well, so there was never any time wasted through miscommunication or getting lost. We also met a few of his Japanese friends along the way, which was really nice. Scott’s a chilled out, friendly guy. He’s really passionate about travel and Japan in particular. He definitely looked after us well and wanted to make sure we all had a great trip. If you want to pack a lot of fun activities and sightseeing in your trip, and want to enjoy some of the amazing food that Japan has to offer, I would definitely recommend a trip with Eat Japan.
Table of Contents
- The Mission
- The Group
- Japan & I
- The Food
- Money Stuff
- Weather & Packing
- What I Do
Early Fall 2020 Itinerary: Tokyo to Kyoto (and back)
The 2020 trip will focus on western Japan, known as the Kansai region. Kansai is well-known for its humor, delicious comfort food, lengthy history, and friendly locals (it's also where I lived and studied back in 2001). We will be focusing on three major cities in the area: Kyoto, Osaka, and Nara. This will be book-ended by a few nights in Tokyo, as no visit to Japan is complete without a stop in the famous metropolis.
From September 11-22, we will be spending a total of 12 days and 11 nights together, including arrival and departure days. (Please note that if coming from North America this means you will most likely need to leave on September 10th to make it to Japan before the evening of September 11th.)
The first two nights we'll be in Tokyo, then we'll head out to Kyoto. We will be staying in Kyoto, although during that time we will also be making day trips to other cities such as Osaka and Nara. The few nights we will be based again in Tokyo, which will allow easy access to both international airport (Haneda and Narita) for your return flight (or to continue along on the post-trip).
(Please note that this is all a tentative itinerary--things may change before or during the trip depending on scheduling, weather, reservation availability, etc.)
Day by Day
Below is an itinerary detailing what we will be doing on each day of our twelve days together. It will be a packed schedule, as I want to show you as much as possible in the days we have, but I've tried to include a bit of down time after any particularly full days.
- September 11: Arrive in Japan (NRT or HND airport), train to our hotel. Welcome dinner at a local Japanese traditional bar (izakaya) where we can try all different types of foods on our first night together.
- September 12: After a late breakfast at our hotel we'll set off on a whirlwind intro tour to Tokyo. Explore the Shibuya scramble crossing, visit the Tsukiji fish market, stroll the streets of Harajuku, and more. Before dinner, we'll hit up the infamous Robot Restaurant show, for a hardcore crazy welcome to Japan. If anyone has any energy after dinner it's Saturday night, so feel free to explore the famous Tokyo nightlife!
- September 13: We'll hop on the bullet train after breakfast to head to Kyoto and check-in at our hotel there. After check-in, we'll grab a late lunch to go and hop on a local train to do some exploring around the city.
- September 14: Free morning, after which we'll convene for lunch together. Today will be a walking tour of the temples and sights of central Kyoto, see the sunset from Fushimi Inari Taisha (famous for all of the red gates), and ending with dinner at one of my favorite yakitori (chicken skewer) spots in Japan.
- September 15: Tea day! We'll head off after an early breakfast to southern Kyoto, where we will spend a day learning all about tea--how it is planted, cultivated, harvested, and consumed. On the way back we will stop at Uji for a dinner of their famous green tea soba noodles.
- September 16: Sumo day! Free morning. We'll get together around noon to head to Osaka, where we'll grab lunch at a spot the local sumo love to eat. After that, we'll spend the afternoon watching the Osaka Sumo Grand Tournament, after which we'll have dinner at a locally famous chanko nabe spot that sumo wrestlers frequent to bulk up.
- September 17: After breakfast, we'll explore Osaka City all day, including Osaka Castle, food markets, and the knife-making district. Special dinner at one of my favorite sushi fusion spots in the world (two Michelin stars).
- September 18: We'll grab breakfast to go and eat it on the train on the way to Nara, where we will spend the day exploring the ancient capital of Japan. Kobe steak dinner cooked in front of us after we're done for the day.
- September 19: Head back to Tokyo via the bullet train after breakfast. After hotel check-in, we will visit the interactive digital art installation, teamLab, and then we'll enjoy a special sunset spot on Tokyo Bay together before dinner. Again, it's Saturday night and you're in Tokyo, so we might go out on the town for some fun.
- September 20: Free morning, after which we'll meet up with the Eat Japan COO Dennis, a master of food in the Tokyo area, as he shows you his favorite parts of the city--eating all types of foods along the way, of course.
- September 21: Sake day! We will spend the day with a sake sommelier as he teaches us everything there is to know about how sake is made, and the many differences between the different types. We will even visit a brewery to see how it's made and meet the brewers there. Farewell dinner somewhere special.
- September 22: After breakfast head to the airport, join us for the post-trip, or explore on your own!
Explore Japan through its people, places, history, and of course, its food and drinks.
Japan has one of the most diverse, amazing food cultures in the world. Think Japanese food is teriyaki chicken and sushi? Does your idea of ramen come packaged in a shrink-wrapped, freeze-dried block? Do you buy your sushi at the local supermarket?
No way—that's not real Japanese food!
And even if you consider yourself a Japanese food-expert, and you know your tonkotsu from your tonkatsu, I'll bet you'll learn a thing or ten upon visiting the holy grail of Japanese cuisine with us.
A fast-paced schedule. Lots of food and drink. Tons of fun with a small, select group of awesome people.
There will be up to FIVE spots open for the September 2020 trip (not including myself).
I want to keep the group small, thereby allowing access to some of the more intimate restaurants and attractions that are commonly found throughout Japan. Oftentimes a restaurant may only have eight seats available in the entire house, so if you rock up with a large group you're out of luck.
Japan & I
So, why am I qualified to lead such a trip?
Well, after studying Japanese in my senior year of high school, I was given the opportunity to work and study in Japan. I leapt at the chance, and ended up taking three full semesters of college classes while also working as a waiter on a replica Mississippi steam-wheeler on Japan's largest lake, Biwako (I know—random). That year completely changed my life, and every year after that I kept returning to Japan to see the friends I had made, keep my Japanese up, and continue exploring the country that I had grown to love so much.
The next year I spent a few months working at a ski lodge in Nagano, nearby to where the 1998 Olympics were held (I figured it would be a great idea to learn how to snowboard while there, so I taught myself how from scratch, over the course of 50 or so runs down the mountain—it's a funny story actually, ask me about it sometime).
A few years after that my old roommate and I took a shot at starting our own US-Japan consulting company in Tokyo. Had a few projects, but ultimately it didn't work out (Japan isn't an easy place to be an entrepreneur, even to this day).
In total, I've been to Japan fourteen times now. I speak fluent Japanese, know my way around, understand the cuisine, culture, and history, and have made tons of friends throughout the country. Japan is like a second home to me, and I absolutely love introducing my companions to the many layers of the country and its people.
We will be eating the entire gamut of Japanese food, from Michelin-star restaurants to some of the best street food you've ever had the fortune to put in your mouth.
Most of it will be without-a-doubt delicious, but there will be some oddities thrown in to mix it up a little. It is expected that you are an adventurous eater—at least try it before you say you don’t like it.
Have food allergies or intolerances? Well, Japan is not known for being an easy place to be gluten-free, vegan, etc.
If you have allergies/intolerances/strong preferences, and are not willing or able to to change or alter your normal diet for whatever reason—even just a bit on certain occasions (e.g. strict vegan, celiac, etc.)—we do not feel you'll get the full experience out of this particular trip.
Every room will be a non-smoking single or double room (if you come with a partner), en-suite bathroom, and free Wi-Fi access. It is Japan, so don't expect a great deal of space in the rooms (we won't be spending much time there anyway, so I wouldn't worry too much about that).
I've gone to great lengths to ensure not only the quality of the hotels but also make sure that they are in great locations. All hotels are at least three stars and are located within walking distance from the closest major train station. This way we don't need to deal with taxis, or with lugging our suitcases long distances to/from the station.
Just because our trip has ended doesn't mean you need to go home! Feel free to stay in Tokyo to check out all the cool stuff we couldn't make it to, or maybe head on out to some more remote areas of the country on your own. If you'd like to stay around Tokyo I'll be getting a group of us together to check out the cherry blossoms and other cool sites, informally, so let me know if you'll be staying in the area a few extra days.
The trip is not prohibitively expensive—especially since it is a private, small group trip full of amazing experiences, with transportation, your own room, all entrance fees, and all food included.
In order to secure your spot, there will be a non-refundable $1,000 deposit required. First come, first served. (The deposit will be applied to the trip balance, and is non-refundable as it goes directly to the non-cancellable hotel room costs, non-cancellable event reservations/tickets, etc.)
The balance for the entire trip—one more payment of $3,990—will be due no later than 30 days before the start date of the trip (by 11:59 pm August 11th, 2020). If your payment is not received by that time you may lose your initial deposit and place on the trip.
What the $4,990 payment includes:
- 11 nights of private room accommodation in 3-4 star (or equivalent) hotels*
- 12 days of tour guide and translation services by yours truly
- Breakfast every morning at our hotel, and some on the road
- Lunches and dinners, including three Michelin-starred restaurant experiences
- Public transport in Japan (mostly public transport via Japan's wonderful train and subway systems, but also a few buses and taxis)
- One-week long Japan Rail Pass
- Entrance to all attractions (any events, temples, exhibitions, etc.)
What the $4,990 payment does NOT include:
- Flights to/from Japan
- Transportation to/from the airport (about $40 round-trip)
- Any additional food/snacks you might buy along the way, souvenirs, and alcoholic drinks
Accepted payment methods include cash, check, money order, PayPal (fees are paid by you), Venmo, or Zelle/Chase QuickPay. If you need my address to send a check/money order please contact me.
NOTE: Your initial deposit of $1,000 is non-refundable under any circumstances. However, if you need to opt-out of the trip and would like to recommend someone to take your place, this may be able to be done on a case-by-case basis. Please contact me directly if you need to transfer your spot to someone else.
How Much Money Should I Bring?
Besides the $4,990 trip cost, you'll need money for train tickets to/from the airport, drinks, and souvenirs. That's about it!
A couple of hundred dollars or so should get you through the entire trip.
As far as alcohol goes, some of us drink more, some drink less, some don't drink at all. Those of us that drink more will be spending quite a bit more cash during the trip. Prices for drinks are roughly equivalent to prices in the US. Figure about $5-6 for a pint of beer in most spots (or the equivalent pour of sake/shochu/spirits).
There is no visa fee required for Japan for most nationalities--all they do is stamp your passport on arrival and you're good for ninety days.
Credit cards are accepted pretty much everywhere, and debit cards can be used at almost any ATM to withdraw yen. It is recommended to always have cash on you, to pay for any drinks or incidentals you may purchase.
Weather & Packing
Err on the side of traveling light, as there will be a bit of walking around, and you don't want to lug 50 pound bags when it comes time to move locations. Think one roller suitcase and a carry-on/backpack, max.
Weather will run the gamut, as we are there during the end of summer/beginning of fall, so it could be coool, or it could be warm—it's a toss-up. There may be a few days with rain, so bring a light raincoat (we can buy cheap umbrellas at any convenience store if needed).
Average weather conditions can be found here—just type in the name of the city you are wondering about (Kyoto, Osaka, etc.). I would bring a winter hat, maybe a scarf, and a winter coat as well. You know best how cold you get, so be prepared for any kind of weather conditions.
The trip will more often than not be casual dress, but bring a nice outfit or two for the nicer restaurants we will be visiting (button-up shirts, dresses, etc.). Nothing too fancy is needed, it’s just that you wouldn’t want to wear a T-shirt and shorts in these places (jeans are OK).
What I Do
This trip takes a whole lot of time to plan out and execute properly. For most of you, this will be your first trip to Japan, and I'm serious about making it an amazing first time for you. This requires quite a bit of work, both pre- and during-trip. In case you were wondering what added value you're paying for in regards to the $4,990 trip cost (excluding all of the items listed above in the Money Stuff section, such as hotels, etc.), please see the list below:
- I begin approximately a year ahead of time by spending dozens of hours thinking of an itinerary, picking out the best date ranges based on local festivals, Japanese school holidays, National Holidays, weather, etc.
- Once I have the dates and general direction we'll be traveling in for the twelve days, I go on a few web sites and search for the best hotels within our price range. They need 3 stars or more and located close to the main train station for the city we are in. They need to have six separate, non-smoking rooms available. Must then pay deposits (or full price) on all rooms.
- Once hotels are booked I research where the best restaurants are located in each city, and make a general itinerary consisting of a variety of food choices, including regional specialties. Some restaurants are must-sees, while other times I just want to have a decent list of selections based on what the group if feeling that day.
- For the more exclusive restaurants (Michelin-starred ones, for example), I need to make reservations two to six months in advance, by phoning Japan and making the RSVP in Japanese in some cases.
- I need to contact my connections in Japan as far as tours, tickets, meeting up with us for meals, etc., and make sure everything is available when we are in town. Usually, all tickets need to be sent to a Japanese address.
- Find a cool group of people like you, collect monies, coordinate everything in regards to flights and payment schedules, arrange pick-up/meet-up times and places, send various e-mails individually, and to the group as a whole leading up to your arrival in Japan.
- Coordinate and "collect" everyone on the ground
- Full-time translator and tour guide
- Figure out transportation schedules, arrange all transportation methods ahead of time (if required)
- Ordering everything at the restaurant. Itemizing and splitting up checks—written in Japanese—at the end of every meal (for drinks)
So, that's what I do! I've built in a few free periods, usually in the morning before we go out, or the evening after dinner, where anyone who needs it can get a bit of rest so that none of us burns out. Be forewarned that it can be a demanding schedule at times—I want you to see and do as much as possible during your short tenure in Japan!
This is travel, and unexpected things may happen. Although I will do everything in my power to assist if something goes wrong, you get sick, etc. I am in no way legally responsible for your well-being during the duration of the trip. By signing up for this trip you are acknowledging this fact. Medical costs for routine visits, prescriptions, etc. are relatively low in Japan, but you may want to buy travel medical insurance just in case something more serious befalls you.
This also goes for the itinerary. Although we are pretty set as far as the schedule because hotels are booked already, there may be things we may not get to see because of weather, natural disasters, something better comes up and I make a judgment call, etc.
This is first-come, first served. We only have up to
FIVE THREE spots available, and there is no option to add more people (as rooms are already booked, and most hotels are sold out for those dates/locales at the price points we are shooting for).
Enrollment is you sending the deposit payment of USD$1,000/person to me via Chase Quickpay, Venmo, or PayPal (please pay any fees on your side). If you are sending a check, wire transfer, or money order please let me know ahead of time and I'll send you the relevant details.
Once we reach a maximum of five people the trip will be closed to new sign-ups, and you will be added to a waiting list if desired.
Interested? Please press the Join Us! button below and fill out the form and I'll get back to you with more info ASAP.
If you have any questions please send me an email, use the form above.