Hachiko District had the opportunity to experience first-hand the tours of one of the most popular bespoke tour companies in Japan, Arigato Japan Food Tours! From an immersive meditation experience and hands-on traditional indigo dyeing workshop to enjoying coffee at an acclaimed photographer’s cafe-gallery and bar hopping through town, Arigato Japan showed us the hidden gems of Gotemba City! If you’re looking for a short, off-the-beaten-path trip near Tokyo, this is for you!
About Arigato Japan Food Tours
Arigato Japan Food Tours provide food and culture tours and experiences across Japan. From a breakfast tour in Tsukiji Market to a ramen tasting tour – and everything in between – they have something for everyone! Tours run almost daily and can be both group or private, depending on your wishes and needs. (Schedules and availability may differ according to government Covid-19 guidelines.)
Gotemba City is located in Shizuoka Prefecture, just a two hour ride by car or public transport from Tokyo. Famous for its views of Mt. Fuji, it is also known for its safari park and outlet mall. Lesser known, however, is that it is home to numerous traditional craftsmen and creative ventures – it is an area full of stories and opportunities. Arigato Japan’s tours showcase these hidden gems, taking you on a journey that wouldn’t be possible without their in-depth knowledge of the area and their close relationship with the locals.
What To Expect
Arigato Japan have created two tours of the area – a night tour featuring bar hopping in downtown Gotemba, and a daytime tour that includes both zen meditation and an indigo dyeing workshop. Both tours start at the Tourist Information Center right by Gotemba Station.
We don’t want to give away too many spoilers so we’ll stick to some of our key highlights of the tours!
Zen Meditation With an Ivy League Professor
If you’ve ever done meditation – either at home or at a temple – we can guarantee that this experience will be nothing like it! From the pathway lined with thousands of statues, to the stunning views of Mt. Fuji from the top, even before the meditation begins, there is something unique about Arigato Temple.
For a start, it was founded by Machida-san, a priest who started his life as a Christian, then became a Buddhist monk for several decades, eventually studying and teaching at multiple Ivy League schools in the US, before creating Arigato Temple at the top of a hill overlooking Japan’s Holy Mountain. Moreover, it is non-sectarian, open to everyone and anyone – the guiding principal and goal of which is for visitors to experience deep appreciation and gratitude (hence the name, Arigato, meaning ‘thank you’). As Machida-san told us, “My meditation has no borders”.
The temple building is purpose-built to have the best acoustic experience for the meditation. And as Machida-san leads the meditation in perfect English, participants are able to fully understand and immerse themselves in the experience – something that is difficult to experience at more traditional temples. Without giving too much away, the meditation whizzed by but needless to say, we found it to be both a very powerful and emotional experience.
Sixth Generation Indigo Dyeing Workshop
Gotemba is home to a 170 year old, family-run (sixth generation) indigo dyeing studio. Dyeing in indigo (aizome in Japanese) has been practiced in Japan for over a thousand years! Using completely natural dye, not only does it make a fantastic color, but it also acts as an insect repellent and deodorizer! As well as learning about the history and techniques of indigo dyeing, participants can create their own keepsake – choose between a square handkerchief or rectangular tenugui (traditionally a hand-cloth that can also be used for decoration or to carry things). The father-son duo will walk you through how to make different patterns – keep it simple or get creative! Once you’re happy with your design, dip your fabric into the deep blue pool of dye – the more times you dip, the deeper the color! It’s fascinating watching how the creations come out and they’re the perfect memento of the trip!
Coffee at an Acclaimed Photographer’s Cafe-Studio
The last stop on the day tour is at a very special coffee shop. Run by a famous photographer, Iketani-san, this cosy cafe doubles as his studio and gallery – there’s a dark room in the back! Not only that, back in the day, Iketani-san assisted world-famous filmmaker Akira Kurosawa! Several of Kurosawa’s films were shot in the Gotemba area and he used the now-cafe as a base while in the area. You can flip through albums of some of Kurosawa’s sets photographed by Iketani-san while enjoying a special cup of coffee made by the man himself. This is a must-visit for film and photography lovers alike!
Other highlights of the tours include a family-run ham shop serving some of the best charcuterie we’ve had in Japan (they pioneered making use of the cold, dry winds from Mt. Fuji); trying Mikuriya soba (Mikuriya is the old name for the Gotemba area); and visiting one of the oldest tea shops in the city (Shizuoka is famous for its tea farms). The nearby multipurpose complex, Tokinosumika, is another great spot – it is home to a brewery, a winery, a bean-to-bar chocolate shop, a bakery, hot spring baths and a magical illumination at nighttime – to name just a few things on offer!
Although accommodation is not included in the tours, it is highly recommended to stay overnight to get the most of the area. There are several options depending on your budget: modern, fully-kitted cottages (Japanese only) overlooking Mt.Fuji at Tokinosumika – perfect for families and groups; or a hostel in downtown Gotemba that used to be a cinema – the cinema room is now a cosy bar-cafe with a giant, cinema screen sized projector (the hostel is featured on both of the tours).
We could write a lot more about Arigato Japan’s Gotemba tours but part of the charm is the stories behind the people and places, which can only be appreciated by meeting and experiencing them in person! For more information on the tours and to book, visit the tour links above.
Watch the Indigo Dyeing video here
Watch the Photographer’s Coffee Shop video here
Disclaimer: All information on this page is correct to our knowledge at the time of publication