You’ll start your gourmet adventure in Tokyo, the city with the most Michelin-starred restaurants in the world. There is a mesmerising blend of modern and traditional to experience as you browse the high-tech outlets of Akihabara, gawp at the teenage 'tribes' of Harajuku and visit the Meiji Jingu shrine and the Imperial Palace.
An early start to visit the Tsukiji fish market, the largest in the world. The frantic pace here will be counterbalanced by a stroll through the private gardens of Hama-Rikyu Teien. After a stop at a traditional lakeside teahouse there will be a scenic river cruise to Tokyo’s oldest Buddhist temple, Senso-ji. Once you’ve sampled the tempura at an Asakusa restaurant you’ll head off to explore Kappabashi’s Kitchen Town and experience the sensory overload of Ameyoko-Cho spice market.
The secrets of making Japanese soba (buckwheat) noodles can be mastered during a half-day masterclass. Chef Akila Inouye is a marvellous tutor - the founder and president of the Tsukiji Soba Academy. Noodles are every bit as much a part of Japanese food culture as sushi or sashimi. In fact, it is said that noodle stalls and ramen shops fuel the capital.
Once aboard the Shinkansen (bullet train) you are in for a high-speed ride to a slow-paced destination. Takayama is a beautifully preserved old town perched on the wooded hillsides of Hida in the Japanese Alps. On a tour of the brewery here, you’ll see how the Japanese make sake (rice wine). The brewery tour ends with a taste of this quintessential Japanese firewater.
Shop alongside the locals at one of Takayama's famed morning markets. Jinja-mae market was first held three centuries ago, and farmers still sell their vegetables and home-made pickles here. We recommend heading to the larger Miyagawa site where stalls overflow with fruit and vegetables, pickles and spices, and sweets and crafts.
All aboard the bullet train once more for a trip through the verdant highland scenery around Kyoto. For centuries this was the capital of Japan, and it remains its cultural capital today. You can explore the city's dazzling melange of hypermodern skyscrapers and ancient wood-framed machiya townhouses and sample some of its gastronomic pleasures.
The hidden wonders of this 12th-century city will be revealed to you by our expert guide. The UNESCO World Heritage sites include Nijo-Jo, a 17th-century castle with floors that squeak to reveal intruders. The castle gardens are the purest expression of the Japanese Renaissance’s Momoyama period. The famous rock garden at Ryoan-ji and Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion) leads to the shrines and shops of the atmospheric Higashiyama district.
After a hop through some of Kyoto’s 2,000 Buddhist temples, you’ll receive a masterclass in Japanese cuisine at the mile-long Nishiki covered food markets. Here you must buy ingredients to prepare your own dinner. We’ll teach you the art of making rolled sushi, miso soup and cooked salad with traditional flavours and techniques.
Farewell Kyoto, hello Mount Koya. After a scenic train journey into the Wakayama mountains, you’ll arrive at one of its holiest sites. Koya is capped by a 9th-century monastery, the perfect place to learn about Japanese Buddhism. Tonight, you’ll stay in the meditative calm of Kongobu-ji temple in a shukobo, or traditional temple lodgings.
The monks rise early for morning prayers and you’re welcome to join them. Breakfast is shojin ryori - vegetarian cuisine that has been perfected in Buddhist monasteries. After wandering among the dozens of monasteries on Koyasan you’ll descend into the buzz of Osaka – Japan's third-largest city and a renowned culinary hub.
Your day starts with a visit to the Doguyasuji shopping arcade but it climaxes in Dotonbori, a former pleasure district turned restaurant mecca. Delicacies here include fugu, or puffer fish, which is extremely toxic if not prepared by an expert. For dinner, hop on a train to Shinsekai, a favourite among Osaka foodies.
Take the train back to Toyko, to rest or soak up some more sites before your flight back to the UK the next day.
Savour your last breakfast: you have learnt the Japanese culinary arts but now it’s time to board your flight back to the UK and impress your friends and family.