Japan Is Easing Pandemic Travel Restrictions — Here's the Food Adventure to Book First 

Choose from foraging excursions, market visits, and cooking classes that explore Japan's culinary traditions and gorgeous landscapes.

Karatsu Castle
Photo: Suthikait Teerawattanaphan / Shutterstock

Japan is finally easing its pandemic-era travel restrictions, and we have some thoughts on where you should eat first.

On Sept. 7, Japan raised the daily arrival cap to 50,000 and now allows visitors to enter on non-escorted trips.

"In countries worldwide, international exchange is growing," Prime Minister Fumio Kishida shared in a statement to the media in August. "To participate in these exchanges and to benefit from the weaker yen, we will raise the daily arrival cap to 50,000 from Sept. 7, as well as allow (tourists on) non-guided tours from all countries to enter the country."

This means we can finally return to one of the greatest culinary destinations on earth, including visiting the Mirukashi Salon, a new series of boutique immersive culinary salons created by Prairie Stuart-Wolff, a renowned author, photographer, and cook based in Japan.

"I want to offer people a chance to really experience Japan's seasonal flavors in the countryside where they originate, to meet the farmers and the fishermen, to forage first hand, and then cook with freshly gathered ingredients," she shared with Food & Wine. "This way, they can experience the visceral connection between Japan's flavors and landscape."

Wolff's journey through Japan began when she moved in 2007 to be with her wife, Hanako Nakazato, who also happens to be a notable Japanese potter and the 14th generation in a long line of celebrated potters, including her grandfather Tarouemon Nakazato XII, who was designated as a living national treasure by the Japanese government in 1976. Along the way, Wolff learned about the country's ancient craft traditions from her Japanese mother-in-law and through years of living in the rural area of Mirukashi on the island of Kyushu, the most southern of the four islands.

Now, she's created six itineraries that will take guests through foraging excursions, market visits, cooking classes, and other activities exploring the beauty of Japan's landscape and culinary traditions for 2023, which are available to book ASAP.

The series of immersive culinary sessions are made up of five-day, four-night itineraries for up to six people, each with a seasonal theme. This, Wolff says, is because she was inspired by her mother-in-law's traditional Japanese cooking, which celebrated the seasons and the bounty of the surrounding area's mountains, streams, and oceans.

Highlights from some of the sessions include First Spring on February 13 to 17, 2023. The event will take guests through the micro season of winter, crossing over to spring with a boat ride on the Ariake Sea to see how the finest nori is grown, foraging for fukinoto (butterbur buds), and group cooking classes to coax the most out of these treasures.

Next is the Vernal Equinox event from March 13 to 17, 2023, which introduces visitors to tsukushi horsetail and watercress and features a trip to Ureshino, the birthplace of Japan's tea culture.

Then, there's the Sakura Season salon from March 27 to 31, 2023. That event takes visitors on a journey to discover tai sea bream, which will be enjoyed with a picnic under the fresh cherry blossoms.

Finally, the events culminate with the Spring Bounty from April 10 to 14, 2023, which Wolff says on her site is "prime foraging" time: "Grab your boots for a trek to collect bamboo shoots, wild bracken ferns, fuki, the stems of giant butterbur, tender new tea leaves, and peppery shansho."

Each session includes lodging at the Karatsu Seaside Hotel, plus all food, drink, and transportation during the salon session. (It does not include transportation to and from Karatsu; the nearest major airport is Fukuoka.) Salon sessions begin at $3,150 per person for shared occupancy and $3,550 per person for a private room. See more about the salons and book your reservation here.

Updated by Stacey Leasca
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