At the ripe old age of 35, there are few guided tours that would really interest me at this point in my life. I’m far too old for a Contiki, too young for a traditional cruise and too impatient for a small group tour. While I know traveling with people who initially start out as strangers can be a good thing, it seems the best time for visits is when you’re really young or really not young. That being said, I would be the first to embark on a Ponant or Aqua Expeditions trip, especially if it’s in Antarctica or the Galápagos Islands. There are also a few exceptions on land, like this new culinary expedition from Plan Japan, designed to take travelers to Japan’s most exclusive – and nearly impossible to book – sushi restaurants.
Locking in a reservation at iconic Tokyo restaurants like Summer and Sugita can be extremely frustrating, to say the least.
Due to the exacting standards of many Japanese chefs, limited seating, and dedication to highly personalized service — not to mention astronomical demand — reservations at Japan’s top-rated restaurants are elusive. Some are even strictly off-limits to foreign guests, with even hotel concierges at reliable five-star hotels like Peninsula and Shangri-La unable to reserve a table for guests if they aren’t already regulars.
RELATED: 19 Best Japanese Restaurants in Sydney
There are several reasons why Japan’s most respected chefs find ways to avoid letting foreign guests book tables at their restaurants. First, tourists are far less predictable than locals, and given Japanese culture’s respect for culinary etiquette, you can understand why some culinary masterminds would feel less comfortable leaving someone they don’t do not know already walk through their doors. Second, Japan’s top restaurants have more than enough loyal customers to see them through the business year with ease.
During my travels in Japan, I had even heard a rumor that many Japanese restaurants flatly refused a Michelin star because it would attract too much unwanted attention. I know I’ve eaten at quite a few Michelin quality restaurants without knowing it.
I’m writing this to write this – Plan Japan’s Deluxe Sushi Discovery Experience seems like a smart way for all foodies to navigate their way through the Land of the Rising Sun without the aforementioned hassle. And therein lies the usefulness of these types of circuits: privileged access.
Plan Japan was founded by Rachel Lang, known for her close personal ties to Michelin-starred chefs, sumo champions and other cultural heavyweights in Japan. The boutique travel agency is one of many that regularly peel back the intricate layers of Japanese culture to provide travelers with experiences that cannot be booked through any regular means. Since even Tokyo hides many secrets that many could not even discover in their lifetime, Japan is the perfect place for a visit.
RELATED: The 11 Best Japanese Restaurants in Melbourne
The luxury sushi discovery experience will take place over five days from September 25-30, 2022 with Lang hosting herself as Melbourne-based sushi chef Arnaud Laidebeur, who is best known for his work at the Uminono of Prahran.
The tour will include flights with Japan Airlines and “five-star luxury accommodation.” Although the price of the tour has yet to be released – the website is now accepting registrations for the new tour – I guess such an exclusive experience would at least justify accommodation in some of Tokyo’s top hotels like Hoshinoya, Shangri-La, Aman, Park Hyatt or Peninsula.
I don’t have access to the full itinerary, but according to a press release, Plan Japan’s sushi tour will include dining experiences at the following restaurants:
- Amamoto Sushi
- Sushi Sushi
- Sushi Kimura
- Sugalabo (voted one of the best restaurants in the world in La List authoritative in France)
“Unlike many countries, money and fame can’t get you access to the best restaurants in Japan,” Lang said.
“Instead, Japanese owners and chefs value honor, trust and tradition – and choose to take reservations from people they know personally or have built a history with.”
Plan Japan has opened the Luxury Sushi Dining Experience to individual reservations and corporate group reservations. The numbers are, as expected, capped to keep the group tight. After all, some of these restaurants can only accommodate six people at a time.