Learn the way of the Ninja in Japan

Konnichiwa.. Here at Black Tomato our Japan experts have been working hard to hone one of our favourite experiences, one that promises to get you under the skin of Japan’s culture and it’s most fascinating and mysterious ancient disciplines: the art of Ninja (or shinobi) and Sumo. History tells us that a Ninja was a covert agent or mercenary in feudal Japan. As time drew on, the abilities of the ‘shinobi’ became twisted in legend and folklore as claims were made linking them to abilities in invisibility, walking on water, and control over the natural elements. On our 10-night trip from Tokyo to Kyoto we will take you through a beguiling clash of old and new, giving you the inside track on this ancient culture and fascinating traditions, all the while exploring Japan’s beautiful landscapes along the way. By the time you leave you’ll have fought like a Sumo Wrestler, whipped up tasting Ramen dishes, mastered the art of meditation and explored the most beautiful temples you’ll lay your eyes on.

Starting in Tokyo, and with our expert guides you’ll get the inside track on the very best that Tokyo has to offer. One of our all-time favourite destinations, this city combines the thrilling vibe of the present with the beautiful traditions of the past. For a gentle introduction to the land of the rising sun, your trip begins with a four nights stay at the sky-high Aman, a luxury urban treat and a perfect start to your Japanese adventure.

Inside the Sumo Stables

On your first day you’ll be met by our sumo specialist and taken off to visit a sumo stable, where you’ll be able to watch the wrestlers undergoing their morning training. This unique experience allows you to get behind the scenes and truly understand this iconic sport that’s steeped in tradition. For insight like no other we’ll arrange for your guide to be the premier English language sumo reporter in Japan and a former wrestler himself. His insider access gives you the chance to really get up close and personal and will include the opportunity to chat with the wrestlers and even have a photo taken with them.

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After your sumo stable visit, you’ll be met by your next guide and taken off for a half day tour of some of Tokyo’s highlights. Unleash your inner tech-geek and visit the electronics culture paradise Akihabara, before ending the day by strolling through the Yanasen district, where you can experience a slower and more relaxed side of Tokyo. Strewn with small temples, craft shops, galleries and cafés, it’s a great area to wander and experience a different side of the metropolis.

The Master Sensei

Today we’ll arrange for the most incredible learning experience in which you will receive martial arts lessons from one of Japan’s most legendary sensei. This master has a karate dojo in Tokyo’s smartest neighbourhoods, and it’s here that Yoji Yamamoto and other martial arts legends also train. You’ll learn about the spiritual side of Ninja, including meditation, ancestor veneration and the concept of Ku (“no-self”). You will have the chance to don an authentic Ninja costume and will study and handle a variety of distinctive Ninja weapons such as throwing stars and blowguns. During your session you will also have the chance to practice Ninja techniques such as stealthy steps, hardened hands and the “inner eye” (Be sure not to lose any fingers – you’ll need them for your ramen masterclass in Kyoto).

Sweet endings in Tokyo

For your last full day in Tokyo we’ll show you the best of the city’s temples, food markets and shopping districts. After lunch why not try your hand at making amezaiku candy. Your guide will take you first to visit the Ameshin workshop, where you will join a class in making these incredible confections that resemble works of art. You’ll then explore the streets around the area, which also have a great range of traditional confectioners and bakeries to visit.

A lesson in zen

At Black Tomato we like to mix the ying with the yang, so following your stay in the capital we’ll whisk you away (at 260km an hour to be precise) on the legendary bullet train and head southwest for an hour to Hakone National Park. Famed for its hot springs and glorifying views of the one and only Mount Fuji, spend your time here relaxing at Gora Kadan for two blissful nights. This traditional Japanese retreat is sure to awaken your senses to the natural beauty of the area, with the added bonus of a few world-class spa treatments. If you’re feeling more energetic, trace the cobbled remains of Old Tokaido Road, the ancient highway that joined Tokyo and Kyoto during the Edo period and is best preserved in this area.

Ramen in Kyoto

Hop back on the bullet train as you head west to Kyoto. Discover this historical city with a private guide in tow, starting in the western part of the city, Arashiyama, which boasts world heritage temples and beautiful bamboo groves. We love Tenryu-ji, with a breath-taking dragon ceiling and the Sanjusangendo temple, where thousands of statues of Kannon, the goddess of mercy, await you. Don’t forget to take an afternoon break in a traditional Japanese tea room to witness the classic ceremony. Your lodgings for your stay in Kyoto is the elegant Ritz Carlton, located near the beautiful Gion district, where you may spot some geiko (Kyoto Geisha) or an apprentice maiko scuttling off for their morning lesson in this blossoming (literally) neighbourhood.

You wouldn’t visit Japan without sampling this unique cuisine, so we’ve gone one better and booked you onto a ramen masterclass to try your hand at creating this iconic noodle soup dish to savour after your culture-fuelled day exploring.

Spend your last day of this trip back in Tokyo at Oedo Onsen, a hot spring themed park that hosts a selection of indoor and outdoor baths for you to choose from. Embark on a Kyushu tradition of being buried up to your neck in warm volcanic sand – a blessing in this thriving and fast-paced city and the ideal way to relax and unwind before your flight home.

Japan surprises you at every turn and this is without question a highly original, once in a lifetime Oriental escape. Just imagine the conversation at your next dinner party; “The bruise? It’s from training with a real life Japanese Ninja”.

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