Having travelled to Japan with Jane’s Zenbu Tours 4 years ago and had a fabulous time then, imagine my amazement and joy to find that a recent second Zenbu tour – Zenbu Setsubun – was even better! I can safely say that no-one designs and runs a better small-group foodie tour than Jane Lawson! Huge effort and knowledge is brought to bear in finding the very best experiences, whether it’s tiny restaurants producing superb food or artisans producing exquisite pottery, textiles, pickles, miso and so on – and it’s all done with great personal charm and care from Jane and Gerard. Highly recommended! Alison Lansley, Top Paddock Cheese, Victoria
We’d never done a group tour before, and frankly totally put off by the whole idea – but Jane’s beautifully curated Zenbu Zen tour with an eye for detail, exquisite cultural nuances, a lively pace with time to reflect not to mention some of the finest dining and hospitality experiences we’ve enjoyed is something we happily rave about. To anyone that will listen. If you’re a first time traveller to Japan (which we were) this takes all the hassle out of researching and planning a trip. It excited and inspired in equal measure and provided a wonderful cultural immersion in a way that we would never have experienced trying to do a trip on our own. Not to mention enjoying the company of some charming travel companions.
So if you’re contemplating a trip to Japan that provides a whistle stop tour, check off an attractions list and fit in as many cities as you can – then you’re in the wrong place. But if you’re after an experience that takes you to places you’d never find in the tourist guides from the most moving temples to the most delicate tempura, then seek out Jane and her Zenbu Tours of Kyoto.
Susan Wright & Adam Stead, Q Strategies
I travelled to Kyoto with Jane and Gerard , along with my 2 adult children in January (2017).
Their knowledge of the city is extensive and they were able to reveal a side of Japan that is not easily seen as a tourist. Our tour was thoughtfully planned, the city slowly revealing itself as the days progressed. We visited the most beautiful temples, gardens and special parts of Kyoto. Two weeks was really only an introduction to this amazing and enigmatic city.
Our dining adventures were carefully selected, exciting and varied and enhanced by Jane’s amazing knowledge of Japanese cuisine. Both Jane and Gerard are great hosts, friendly, flexible and their enthusiasm for Japan is contagious.Travelling with a small group was a wonderful way to share these experiences. This was a very special experience and I look forward to travelling again with them in the future.
I recently visited Japan independently with my wife and daughter. As my wife had organised the trip I knew nothing about where I was going. Upon arriving in Kyoto I noticed she was reading an itinerary that Jane had set up for one of her tours. I proudly announced that I know Jane. So, of course I was soon pounding out an email to Jane asking for some Kyoto hot tips. She immediately replied with a list of wonderful suggestions about what to see and most importantly where to EAT! We would never have discovered these restaurants without her in-depth knowledge and generosity in sharing it. She provided some of the highlights to our trip including an amazing tiny restaurant where my picky eating 6 year-old hankered for more raw calves liver. Thank you Jane for making our trip more interesting and memorable.
David McGuinness, Bourke Street Bakery
I’m back from my trip to Kyoto. What to write? What to write?
It was such a sensory overload I feel that filtering my experience is going to take weeks and hopefully I will be able to pull out a stack of visual memories that will drive some new work for years to come.
Based on my interest in Japanese food, culture and the Arts I decided that I wanted to understand Kyoto with the help of someone who understood all these elements. So I decided to go on a tour! No, not one of those tours where you sit on a bus and get moved around the city from temple to temple with a bunch of loud, singlet wearing yobbos.
You see, a few years ago I was given a book called, Zenbu Zen written by Jane Lawson and it really hit a chord with me. Jane is a food writer and provides different types of small group tours in Kyoto with food being the predominant focus. She is a woman full of local knowledge and if what I am writing sounds of any interest to you please take a look at her blog and endeavour to read some of her books. I highly recommend one of her tours. Well organised yet relaxed, Jane will take you down laneways to secret restaurants; shops full of vintage wares; into local houses; introduce you to the ideas of Buddhism and Shintoism and I guarantee that you will be immersed into a feeling of zen and come away with a better appreciation of the East. Jane, your professionalism, energy and insight were faultless. Thank you.
Beyond the eating, drinking and food shopping were 10 days full of cultural, historical, and artistic eye openers shared with plenty of laughs and smiles.
The food, the textiles, the colours, the flora etc. Walking the streets and pathways both narrow and wide you can’t help but notice the details in the urban landscape and architecture.
For those who think that you should only go to Kyoto to see the Cherry Blossoms, then think again. The streets were quiet, the parks, shops and temples peaceful. Infact the entire city had a peaceful energy about it. And as far as the trees and gardens go being naked…absolutely striking!
Tiel Seivl-Keevers, Artist
I had a wonderful time exploring Kyoto with Jane and experiencing its many delights. Jane is an intelligent, articulate and above all warm woman with a great knowledge of the city and its customs. She went out of her way to ensure that all the group had a wonderful time, providing both structure and free time to explore on our own.
A top-drawer foodie tour of beautiful Kyoto. As a seasoned traveller on small foodie tours around the world, I can honestly say that this is one of the best I’ve been on. Not only did we get to try the most superb food in Kyoto (including in places you can’t get into unless you have an insider like Jane organising it), we sampled Kyoto’s unique culture through Jane’s insider’s eyes and met some fabulous people through her. And all the time, she took care of everything efficiently and with exceptional good humour and great care for her charges. Highly recommnded.
I joined Jane’s tour for my first trip to Japan. What a treat….
Everything was so beautifully organised. Accommodation was amazing, and each meal was a memorable experience. We saw a lot, but the pace was not too hectic.
Jane is a gorgeous fun person, with a great sense of humour. The whole trip was amazing and I am definitely going back next year.
‘I had never been to Japan and it was high on my bucket list of places to visit. I have read many of Jane’s books and admired her photo’s and stories of Kyoto on social media and her blog. When she announced her first tour I jumped at the chance to go and experience Kyoto with her. Having never been on a tour before I was not sure what to expect but what I did get was a truly remarkable experience, one I will cherish and remember for life.
There were many times on the tour where I and some of the other lovely people had to pinch ourselves to remind us that we were really there and experiencing such intimate Japanese cultural moments like meeting a Maiko san, watching sake being made from scratch, eating some very unusual food from the most beautiful ceramics, just to mention a few. It was a truly unique experience and one that I do not think we would have experienced if it had of not been with Jane. Her knowledge, passion and love for Kyoto was inspiring and addictive. You can tell that a lot of thought & planning went into this tour. And to top if off not only did Jane organise an incredible 10 days of food and culture she also managed to get a fabulous group of people together who I enjoyed meeting so much. We ate, we drank, we laughed and we learnt a lot about Kyoto and Japanese culture. Thank you Jane Lawson. X
Kylie Ball, GM, Quay Restaurant
I don’t do tours.
I don’t do crowds.
I am a farmer.
But I did go to Kyoto with Jane Lawson.
And with friends I had not yet met.
My shakuhachi came too.
We ate. We drank. We looked. We learned. We smiled. Often.
In and for that moment.
We will return. With Jane Lawson.
Tamara Irish, Winemaker. Farmer. Shakuhachi student.
Jane thank you for a wonderful trip, your brilliant planning and gorgeous nature are a winner for anyone wanting to experience Kyoto. Cheers for now.
Fiona & Harry Jacobs and Maggie Steele
My digestive juices flowed from beginning to end. 10 days of food porn with folk of the same persuasion. And the climax – naked birds dancing round a fire!! I am so pleased I lost my food tour virginity with you, Jane…..I can feel another one coming soon. X
Mel Mills, Sake Connect
Jane – little sparrow of ours.
What a wonderful 10 days you gave us.
You are so talented and sensitive to the wants and needs of others.
Would go with you again in a heartbeat…. and with the new friends who
shared the experience… you were all wonderful to travel with.’
Meera Freeman, meerafreeman.com.au
I jumped at the chance to discover Kyoto with Jane Lawson. Having known Jane as my boss at Murdoch books 10 years ago, her knowledge and fascination with all things Japanese, I knew would make her tour really special. But Zenbu Zen absolutely went beyond my expectations and I would book again for next year in a flash if I could.I had never travelled with a tour before and was a bit hesitant, but Japan wasn’t a place I wanted to tackle solo and I’m so glad for the whole experience. Jane’s knowledge of temples, gardens, restaurants, cafes, beautiful boutiques, wandering through the backstreets of Kyoto and ending somewhere so fascinating and exquisite that you would never find yourself. From the interesting vegan Buddhist degustation to the sublime Michelin star deliciousness, every meal was well planned throughout the 10 days.
It was an amazing opportunity to share this with a group of like-minded women who loved to laugh, eat, laugh some more and just appreciate the beauty all around. I can see why Jane loves this place so much and I can’t wait to return.
Kyoto was everything I expected it to be and more! To me this did not feel like a tour but travelling with friends, the size of the group was perfect. Having participated in a few food tours, this was one of the best. Jane was accommodating, hospitable, gracious and most of all made me laugh! Jane’s knowledge of the Japanese culture and food was brilliant and having someone speak the language goes a long way, especially when it comes to ordering the food. My friends on Facebook were envious of the pictures I posted showing some amazing dishes that we tried. This tour had everything you wanted – food, shopping, culture, relaxing and best of all made some long life friends!
Gillian Gunn, Bali
Jane Lawson, what an amazing lady!! This was my first overseas trip and I couldn’t imagine having gone with a more fun loving group of people, what a great time we had. Kyoto was absolutely beautiful, such lovely people. As for Culinary Delights, I will leave that to your trip to experience! Amazing!!!! Jane’s extensive knowledge of Kyoto, the language and the hidden away places to go made this trip so enjoyable. Especially meeting a Maiko!
Thank you Jane for memories that will be with me forever.’
Until we meet again.
The Zenbu Zen tour was everything I hoped for and more. The small group together with perfectly placed ‘free days’ for further exploration (often revisiting) was just right. Jane Lawson’s appreciation of Kyoto and Japanese culture and food, together with her enthusiasm for all things Japanese is an unbeatable combination.
Jane’s tantalising glimpses of Kyoto have whetted my cultural appetite for all things Japanese, that’s even before I think about all the wonderful ‘food’ experiences…. I can’t imagine that many, or indeed any, person not born and bred in Kyoto could have shown us such insights into Kyoto as we were fortunate enough to experience. Can’t wait for the next one! Thanks Jane
To Jane, thank you for our exciting tour of Kyoto, without you it would have been boring. The restaurants with all their culinary delights. The laughter and fun of us all trying to speak Japanese, our taxi rides where some places got lost in translation. The gardens although winter were still very beautiful. The shopping where some of us excelled, I still cannot understand why I had to buy another case. Very much looking forward to your next tour.
Of the numerous group tours I have been on over the last 20 years, the Zenbu Zen Ladies’ Tour of Kyoto was the outstanding one.
On the cultural side, I loved visiting the temples and wandering the fascinating streets of Kyoto, which enabled us to mingle with the locals.
Your choice of restaurants was amazing. I tasted many authentic, traditional dishes and especially enjoyed the huge array of pickled vegetables and interesting, fresh seafood.
The visit to a private residence in the countryside for lunch was very memorable.
Shopping! Spectacular! You know how much I loved the ceramics.
The Japanese people go out of their way when it comes to hospitality and friendliness.
I would most definitely do another trip with you, and highly recommend Zenbu Zen Tours to anyone who wants some education, luxury and pampering.
Having been on a couple of tours in recent years, I found the Zenbu Zen Tour, organised and conducted by the inimitable Jane Lawson, to be a delightful treat from start to finish. And the best-organised tour ever.
Run by a warm, personable, and highly organised lady, she had this small group of women (who quickly became a dynamic lot with an energy of their own within the group) heading all over Kyoto and surrounds, to explore the myriad food offerings of 21 different establishments, visits to markets, both regular and the once-per-month type markets we get here, to special meetings with people as diverse as a Zen monk in his temple, a westerner of 30-years marriage to a Japanese, also a trainee Geiko girl of 16 years who spoke excellent English.
The food was so special, of every type both hot and cold, and I, for one, not only had my first experience of trying out various new foods for the first time, but was able to indulge with freedom, knowing Jane had explored the extent of foods my special diet allowed me, without compromising my health by unwittingly eating food alien to my system.
We also saw the most beautiful gardens, all in their pristine beauty and mostly empty of tourists because of time of year, but also because Jane had us there early, to better appreciate the places sans tourists! Clever.
Another benefit of the organisation of Jane Lawson, who speaks and reads Japanese, had us allocated two days at strategic points in the schedule, to just chill and do whatever we as individuals pleased; a huge plus when one has been flat out seeing/doing as much as possible each and every day, all day!
Elizabeth Montgomery, Victoria
I expected to eat some amazing food in Kyoto with Jane as my tour guide, what I didn’t expect was the way it transformed my whole approach to eating. I felt privileged accompanying Jane to so many places, from high end restaurants to food markets and everywhere in between. In such a short time I discovered the importance the Japanese place on so many aspects of food, the aesthetic, the nutritional balance, the freshness and of course the taste. I am forever grateful to Jane for her expert guidance and now use this deeper understanding of the significance of both preparing and eating food in my own life, resulting in a happier, healthier me.
Dear Jane San,
Arigato Gozaimasu, for creating the perfect Kyoto experience for Chris and I. Not only did you ensure we ate the most memorable food imaginable but you directed our cultural experience to beyond the “best must sees” on any good sightseeing bucket list of Kyoto to hidden, unique places that had we not had you, we would never have been able to experience; a small insight into the captivating city of Kyoto.
However what truly sets you apart Jane and makes what you do so special, is your genuine care and the personal “buy in” you make to your guest’s experience of Japan.
It was a very sad day when we said good bye to you and Kyoto however this will not be our last visit, thankfully it is simply a matter of booking one of your carefully curated tours. I have and will continue to recommend my friends and family who are either committed Japanophiles or are just starting out on their journey of discovery of Japan to your tours.
What a privilege it was to be part of your special world of food, culture and life balance in Kyoto.
Genny Nielson and Christopher Lee, Brisbane, Australia.
Kyoto has so much to see without having to travel far afield. Jane has researched the most interesting, beautiful, quirky, historical places worth visiting. (Not to mention the markets and shops which, even if your not a shopper you’ll find fascinating) Her knowledge is incredible on all fronts especially food. She has taken me to the most memorable eating places -memorable because they have been the most delicious meals I’ve ever had. The variety of food caters for everyone even if you have an intolerance to some foods ( as I have to some seafood).’
You are a legend. We very much appreciated your assistance in Kyoto
You certainly made it a very special visit.
Jane San, I Thank You for showing me wonderful Japan, especially ‘your’ Kyoto. You were so giving of yourself, your time and your amazing knowledge of the culture, the cuisine, the beautiful gardens, shopping and my special interest, ceramics. Your passion with Japan is definitely catching so I hope this visit won’t be my last.
I am not an avid traveller but I have been to Japan twice and the second time was with Jane Lawson. After touring with Jane I came home with a different view of Japan. I really felt I had experienced some of the ebb and flow of the Japanese people;culture ;food and beautiful land
When you travel with someone who has a great passion for a country that somehow draws you into wanting to know more and connects you in a different way to that place. A connection and interest that I am sure will last forever.
Of course it is not long enough to say you now know this exotic land and it’s friendly people deeply but I do know it was a valuable experience and a treasured memory forever.
Thank you Jane
I didn’t know or understand Japanese food until I met Jane Lawson. She opened up a whole new world to me – I am eternally grateful. While Jane introduced me to this fascinating, mysterious cuisine through her extraordinary book, Zenbu Zen, it wasn’t until I had the privilege of spending time with her in Kyoto that I began to fully understand and appreciate her love and passion for the Japanese culture. Seeing Kyoto through Jane’s eyes would see anyone fall in love with the place. An exceptional experience.
Thank you, Jane.
Olivia Andrews, Marley Spoon
I spent 10 of the best days of my life exploring Tokyo and Kyoto with the fabulous Jane Lawson.
Jane’s planning was impeccable and meant that we got the most out of every day and each experience. An unforgettable mix of food, culture and relaxation.
Not to be missed.
Jane H, Victoria
We can’t thank you enough for all your efforts to ensure we loved Kyoto and believe you me, we did.
I just can’t wait to go back and do some more exploring. The food, sights and people were wonderful.
Look forward to arranging something again when we are next in Kyoto.
Many thanks again and sayonara
Thank you also to: Australian Gourmet Traveller Magazine, ABC Delicious Magazine, SBS Feast Magazine, SBS Feast Food Online, Luxury Travel Magazine, Herald Sun Escape Travel Section, Courier Mail, The Daily Telegraph, Wealth Magazine, ETB travel news/Face of Travel section, Japan National Tourist Organisation, Kyoto Convention Bureau, Japan Package, Pitt Travel and all Jane’ supportive friends and family who are busy helping to spread the word!
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