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Embark on a culinary journey through 3 untamed corners of Japan

Embark on a culinary journey through 3 untamed corners of Japan - Travel to rural Japan for a taste of regional cuisine and unique lifestyles

A culinary adventure in Japan isn't just a delicious journey; it's a deep dive into the heart of the culture. Join an expert guide, your personal interpreter of flavors and customs, as you savor regional specialties that speak volumes about their place of origin. Beyond the familiar sushi and ramen lies a world of comforting dishes, each bite bursting with local pride and fresh, seasonal ingredients.

Three new tours are available to travelers who want to explore a lesser-known Japan, taking them to Toba, Shodoshima and an often-overlooked side of Nara. Put down the guidebook and get ready to travel beyond the well-trodden path on a trip that will leave you with memories as rich and complex as the flavors themselves.

Meet the fearless ama divers of Toba

In Toba, a coastal city in Mie Prefecture, there is a small community where women catch fish and shellfish bare-handed, using techniques that are 3,000 years old. These women are called ama (literally "sea women").

Ama divers plunge into the depths of Ise Bay without any modern equipment, making it one of the most sustainable ways to fish and maintain the healthy coastal sea life. On this tour, travelers can get to know the ama divers and learn about their work and life.

To learn more about their techniques, a stop at Osatsu Ama Divers Cultural Museum is a must. Visitors can see exactly how ama divers fish through life-size installations and photos.

Talking to ama divers is another great way to deepen your understanding of this aspect of life in Toba. Travelers can chat with ama divers as they grill their fresh catch at Ozegosan, an ama hut located just 10 minutes from the museum. This savory lunch is the perfect way to wrap up your visit to this corner of Mie.

When in Toba, it's also recommended to visit Shinmei Shrine (Ishigami-san). It's said that any woman who makes an offering here will get her wishes granted. The ama divers of Toba frequently visit this shrine to wish for safety and a good catch. However, visitors can wish for success in just about any field!

Book this tour on Bókun.

Walk Japan's other 88-temple pilgrimage

Shodoshima, a small island off the coast of Kagawa Prefecture, has its own 88-temple pilgrimage, a condensed version of the famous Shikoku circuit. While the Shikoku pilgrimage spans a grueling 1,200 kilometers and takes 45 days on foot, Shodoshima's pilgrimage can be completed in just one week. Interestingly, both pilgrimages have historical significance, with many believing that Kobo Daishi walked these very paths.

On this cultural tour, travelers can hike part of the Shodoshima pilgrimage and ascend Mount Dounzan, located on the southeast tip of the island. At the end of the trek, a monument of Namikiri Fudou, a deity that overlooks the ocean, awaits.

Not too far from the peak is Goishizan Temple, where travelers can join Buddhist monks in a sacred prayer and ritual in a nearby cave. Most shrines and temples only hold these kinds of ceremonies on specific dates, limited to a couple of times per year, but it's guaranteed for this tour's participants! The prayer and ritual lasts about 15 minutes.

Coming back down from the mountain, it's time for some refreshments. This tour includes two stops where you can sip on Shodoshima-made sake and beer.

First up is Morikuni, the only sake brewery on the island. Working with ingredients sourced from around Shodoshima, Morikuni was first founded as an initiative to expand on the island's passion for fermentation. Here, travelers can try Shodoshima sake paired with local savory snacks.

Then, head to Mamemame, where you can drink a flight of Shodoshima craft beer. If the weather permits, do so in the brewery's outdoor seating area to take in some stunning views of Shodoshima. Make note of the various ingredients infused in Mamemame beers, all sourced from around the island.

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Visit the birthplace of Shinto's sacred Kagura dance

Nara, once Japan's capital, is filled with temples and shrines that whisper stories of legendary figures and historical legacies. Among these lies Muraya-jinja, believed to be the birthplace of the sacred Kagura dance.

Kagura is a Shinto performance where miko (shrine maidens) move in reverence to the gods. Since its inception, the dance has spread throughout Japan and developed its own regional variations. This dance has captivated audiences for centuries but was recently featured in Makoto Shinkai's Your Name, which brought international attention and interest.

On this cultural tour, participants can become part of this tradition. After draping themselves in traditional garb, they'll learn a simplified routine from the shrine's miko before taking the main stage and dancing for the gods. It's a wonderful opportunity to immerse yourself in the local culture and learn about this beautiful art form. Plus, very few can actually learn Kagura steps ? this experience is truly a rare one.

Just a stone's throw from Muraya-jinja lies Tanaka, a restaurant where the flavors of Nara come alive through kaiseki, Japan's exquisite multi-course cuisine. Savor the seasonal bounty as you gaze out the window at the restaurant's serene private Japanese garden, creating a harmonious dining experience.

Tanaka's dishes use miso from a nearby shop, Shimada Miso, a local producer with over 260 years of history. This umami-rich miso is crafted with locally sourced ingredients, and you can delve into its secrets by making your own batch to take home. This souvenir is the one that keeps on giving; remember to keep it in a dark, cool place for at least 6 months before you use it to cook delicious Japanese dishes. Depending on the day, you might even witness the miso-making process firsthand!

Book this tour on byFood.