Japan is an intriguing blend of ancient traditions and modern imperatives. It is the world's third biggest economy with 125 million very proud and nationalistic inhabitants occupying a spectacularly beautiful country about half the size of New South Wales.
Our tour will introduce us to an amazingly polite and hospitable population and an extremely orderly and industrious economy. Japan is one of our 'top 3' trading partners and imports around $3 to $4 billion worth of Australian farm products each year – and has an agriculture which enjoys some of the highest levels of government assistance and tariff protection on the planet.
Our 2024 tour will be led by Greenmount's Lloyd O'Connell in conjunction with Australian-based and self-confessed Japanophile, Geoff Martin. From his student exchange days of the 1980s, Geoff's professional and personal life has involved regular contact with Japanese companies, colleagues and friends. Being very familar with Japanese customs and fluent in their language – including a smattering of regional dialects – makes Geoff an invaluable member of the touring group.
To visit Japan is to enjoy an unforgettable insight into how this nation has blended traditional values with modern growth. With an early April departure, we will also enjoy the splendour of cherry blossoms on full display.
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 will take you to some of the unspoilt, authentic areas such as Hokkaido, Japan's most northern main island where 25% of the nation's arable land can be found. But we won't be missing out on the ‘must-see’ sights and cultural experiences. Just some of the tour highlights include:
And lots more. Japan is a truly fascinating place to visit and there's plenty to see on a very relaxed 15-day tour with the added attraction of Vietnam and Cambodia being add-on options.Vietnam 16 - 27 Apr 2024Cambodia 27 Apr - 2 May 2024
Depart various Australian airports for Tokyo. On arrival you will be met and and transferred to our Ginza (central Tokyo) hotel.
When everyone has arrived, we will enjoy an informal welcome reception.
We enjoy a guided city tour today to gain some appreciation of the merging of the modern with the traditional – a hallmark of the Japanese nation. And hopefully, we will have the timing right to view the cherry blossoms at their peak in Ueno Park, famous for its more than 1000 cherry trees. The park becomes one of the country's most popular spots for hanami (cherry blossom viewing) parties.
Tokyo has many different centres, often with their own specialty – Ginza for high class shopping, Roppongi for nightlife, Akihabara (aka Akiba) for electronic geekery etc. Most shops, specialty and department stores are open until 8 pm.
Free evening tonight to do your own exploration of one of the world's most vibrant cities.
We board our private charter coach this morning and travel to the west and into Yamanashi Prefecture (ie. state), often dubbed the food-bowl of Japan.
Not only famous for its food production, much of which takes place in the Kofu Basin, the Prefecture boasts highlands, hot springs, the Five Lakes and a natural beauty encouraging many outdoor activities. And there is of course Mt Fuji – the nation's natural, and often very shy, icon.
Yamanashi also has an intriguing history of war-lords, feudal battles, samurai and various shogunates (military governments). Shogunates essentially ruled Japan for 700 years before the 'Meiji Restoration' – whereby control of the country returned to the Emperor Meiji. This set the political scene and a concerted drive to modernise the nation's industry from 1868 through to the end of WWII.
We will visit farms and other sights during our time in Yamanashi.
From 1945 onwards, agricultural land reforms significantly increased the number of individual farms and promoted agriculture throughout Yamanashi. Small scale manufacturing industries and commerce also grew at rapid speed during the expansion of the post-war Japanese economy.
More farms and other visits in the region.
We travel south this morning through the highlands, with one more chance to view Mt Fuji, before joining our bullet train to Hiroshima. Lunch is on board the train (own arrangements) before arrival about 3 hours (and 700 km!) later. After check into our downtown hotel, this afternoon we will visit the Peace Park and the A-bomb museum, both built around the 'A-bomb dome' which is the skeletal remains of the former Industrial Promotion Hall.
The Hall was one of the very few buildings near the centre of Hiroshima which was left at least partially standing after the first atomic bomb blast on the morning of August 6, 1945.
The Peace Park is a fitting memorial to the horrors of nuclear war.
Later this morning we board our bullet train to Kyoto. About an hour and a half later (and 400 km!) we arrive in central Kyoto. Up until 1868, when the then Emperor re-located to Edo (now Tokyo), Kyoto had been the Japanese capital for over 1000 years.
After checking in to our hotel we enjoy an orientation tour of this beautiful city.
Over the centuries, Kyoto was destroyed by many wars and fires, but due to its exceptional historic value, the city was dropped from the list of target cities for the atomic bomb and escaped destruction during World War II. Countless historically priceless structures survive in the city today.
More guided touring around Kyoto this morning. We then have a free afternoon with plenty of options.
One suggestion is a visit to the famous Nishiki Market, a narrow, five-block long shopping street known as "Kyoto's Kitchen". The market specialises in fresh food and produce and all things related, including knives and cookware.
Or you might like to prepare your own meal (under expert guidance) in a typical Kyoto-family home. An old friend of Greenmount, Taro Saeki, with his excellent English skills, opens his home to small groups to introduce them to Japanese cooking and an insight into the everyday life of Japanese people.
Maybe a traditional Kaiseki dinner would appeal or perhaps a Maiko (apprentice geisha girl) dance performance.
There are also a number of fantastic museums – from fine and traditional arts through to bullet trains – as well as great restaurants and plenty of nightlife options, particularly in the Gion area.
This morning we board a regional train and head north towards the beautiful coastal town of Tsuruga. We journey past Lake Biwa, the largest fresh-water lake in Japan and the site of intensive rice production. The 7-km long Lake Biwa Canal to Kyoto was constructed between 1885 and 1890 and provided transportation, irrigation and fire fighting water to the city. It also powered Japan’s first (small) hydroelectric power station. At the time, the project was seen as a symbol of Japan’s rising industrial might as it was the first such project to be completed without the input of foreign engineers.
On arrival in Tsuruga we are met by our private charter coach and we take the very scenic road north, along the shores of Tsuruga Bay, to the farming region of Echizen. This is a famous buckwheat production area. The buckwheat is locally manufactured into soba noodles – a regional delicacy.
We get to visit a buckwheat farm, see how the noodles are made and importantly, we get to enjoy the farm's delicious produce over lunch.
We then get back on board our coach and continue north for about 100 km to Kanazawa, a very historic town recognised for its great cultural achievements, in its day, rivalling Tokyo and Kyoto.
In fact during World War II, Kanazawa was Japan's second largest city (after Kyoto) to escape destruction by air raids. Consequently, parts of the old castle town, such as the Nagamachi samurai district and chaya entertainment districts, have survived in pretty good condition.
We overnight in Kanazawa.
Kanazawa is an important city in its region and serves as the capital of Ishikawa Prefecture. The city boasts many historical attractions, restored residences and regions as well as modern museums. But Kanazawa's unchallenged main attraction is Kenrokuen, one of Japan's best landscape gardens and considered by many to be the most beautiful of them all.
We take in a few of the main sights, as well as a peaceful wander through Kenrokuen gardens, before boarding our coach and heading southeast into Gifu Prefecture and the traditional farming village of Shirakawa-go, about an hour's drive through some spectacular Japanese Alps scenery.
This timeless village is famous for 'gasshou-style' wooden farmhouses. We'll drive up to the Tenshukaku Observatory for an unforgettable bird’s eye view of the village. We'll also meet some of the locals who have Shirakawa-go family connections (and farming methods) dating back many centuries.
We also get the chance to try another local delicacy – goheimochi – a sticky mashed rice grilled with soysauce and seaweed and then served on a stick. Many say its sublime taste suits the scenery.
We overnight in this beautiful village.
We board our coach later this morning for a beautiful drive to the east and into the mountainous Hida region and the city of Takayama. Takayama retains a traditional touch and has a beautifully preserved old town.
Takayama gained importance as a source of high-quality timber and highly skilled carpenters during the feudal ages. For these important resources, the city was put under direct control of the shogun and enjoyed quite a bit of prosperity considering its remote mountain location.
Hida cattle from Gifu produce a very popular marbled beef for both domestic and export consumption. Hida beef has gained a reputation as a luxury brand, alongside Kobe beef.
Since the modernisation of Japan beginning around 150 years ago, the Japanese Black breed of cattle has been gradually improved, and the cattle are now collectively known as wagyu - meaning “Japanese beef.”
Today, around 90 per cent of wagyu is of the Japanese Black breed and its hybrids. There are over 200 brands of wagyu beef with different names based on production area and methods used for raising the cattle.
We will meet with some Hida beef producers while in the Takayama area – and of course sample the product.
This morning we board our express train to Nagoya. On arrival in Nagoya, group members have the option of doing a (private) guided tour of the downtown area with plenty of time for shopping and/or enjoying a restaurant or two. Or you can choose to continue on to the town of Toyota where the Land Cruiser and Lexus are put together. Post-covid restrictions on plant tours will likely still be in place but we can visit the Kaikan Museum where Toyota's new models and technologies (and robot shows) are displayed.
Later in the afternoon, the group then re-unites and travels south along the shores of Ise Bay towards Tokoname - famed for its pottery and ceramics.... and cats. We are nearby the Central Japan International Airport for our flight to Hokkaido tomorrow morning.
This morning we are a short stroll from our hotel to the check-in desks for our 8.20 am direct flight to Hokkaido, Japan's most northern main island and one of the agricultural hubs of the nation.
Often called Japan's frontier, Hokkaido is the least densely populated part of Japan, has beautiful national parks and a large area of suitable soils making it the premier food production region. With 1.2 million hectares of arable land, Hokkaido lays claim to 25 per cent of the entire nation's cultivated farmlands.
At about 43 degrees north, Hokkaido has long and cool summer days with a large difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures. Farming faces many environmental challenges including severe cold and water-logging. There are also some very difficult peat and heavy clay soils.
Our flight arrives at the New Chitose Airport at 10 am where we are met by our charter coach and local guide. We then take the scenic route, along Hokkaido's south-eastern coastline, to Obihiro.
We will visit farms and meet with farmers and researchers while in the Obihiro area.
We enjoy farm and other visits in the region including lunch at Oono Farm Cow Cow Cafe, run by a local farmer. The farm raises cattle with non-genetically modified, antibiotic-free feed. The cafe serves beef and locally grown produce from this fertile region. Later in the afternoon we return to Obihiro for a free evening.
This morning we visit the Obihiro Research Station where we catch up on the latest in field crops and farming systems research.
We then continue to the east and the beautiful Lake Shikotsu, one of the deepest and clearest lakes in Japan. It is also Japan’s most northerly open water lake. Surrounded by beautiful mountains such as Mount Eniwadake, Mount Fuppushidake and Mount Tarumaezan, the lake has some stunning backdrops.
We enjoy a special farewell dinner tonight at our hotel.
This morning we transfer to the nearby Chitose airport for flights home or on to Vietnam (Hanoi).
IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN CONTINUING ON TO VIETNAM (AND MAYBE CAMBODIA), SEE THE SEPARATE VIETNAM ITINERARY ON THIS WEBSITE FOR MORE INFORMATION. DATES HAVE BEEN ARRANGED TO ENSURE A SEAMLESS CONNECTION BETWEEN THE TOURS.