Main image by Best Experience Japan.
If you don’t feel like eating alone, or you and your significant other/travel partner would rather find somebody who knows all the spots and can speak the language, a food tour might be right for you.
If you just want to concentrate on doing whatever you signed up for without having to struggle to find the place(s), order in another language, or not have to research customs to not offend anyone, read on.
STEP 1: find out if you are the perfect candidate for a food tour
- You have no clue where you want to go.
- You have a clue where you want to go, but you’re apprehensive of the ordering process/language (not all restaurants have English menus or English speaking staff).
- You don’t want to rely on Yelp or your smartphone to avoid pricey roaming fees. BTW, Yelp is not popular in Japan and WIFI is not widely available.
- You can use Tabelog (the most popular restaurant review site in Japan is primarily in Japanese), but you know getting to and finding the restaurant can be a challenge because of the sheer amount of businesses in Tokyo on one block to one building can be overwhelming.
- You want to make the most of your time/visit.
- You are looking for tours in your native language (Spanish, Tagalog, Chinese, etc).
- You have specific dietary needs.
- You would like to learn a thing or two about the restaurant and the various foods you will be eating (how to eat it to what exactly are you eating).
- You would feel more comfortable being around somebody who knows and understands the local customs (it’s good to know the do’s and don’ts).
- You want to learn to prepare or cook Japanese food.
- You enjoy being around and meeting new people.
- You want to go to a specific type of restaurant/business (to drink like a local, to popular spots, spot for singles, or family friendly, etc).
If you answered “true” to any number of the statements above, you have qualified yourself for a food tour, congratulations. If you did not, a raw potato on a stick may be in your future (I’m possibly joking).
STEP 2: decide on the type of tour/experience
- Food Market
- Nightlife/Bar and Drinking
- Learn to Cook Japanese Food
STEP 3: choose a company
- Arigato Food Tours Japan
ARIGATO FOOD TOURS JAPAN
About Arigato (In their own words): ” We are Arigato Japan Food Tours and our goal is to help you make delicious memories of Japan during your travels to Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Hiroshima! On our tours you’ll taste local and regional specialties like okonomiyaki, yakitori, sashimi, taiyaki, gyoza, nabe, yakisoba and so much more. We will show you places locals cherish for an off-the-beaten-path, foodie experience of daily life in Japan that you won’t soon forget.”
All Star Food Tour
|Price: $165 USD / Person|
|Cultural Experience: authentic local eateries and izakayas in Tokyo|
|7 days a week: starts promptly at 4:30 pm to 7:30 pm|
|Central Tokyo: Yurakucho, Ginza, Shinbashi|
|Private tours (min. 2 people): an additional $175 + tax|
|Private tours (5+ people): an additional $250 + tax|
Starting off in Yurakucho, exploring Ginza and ending in Shimbashi, your guide will show you the sights, sounds, and most importantly, tastes of Tokyo most tourists do not get to experience. Visit Gado Shita, a lively restaurant district built up under the brick arches beneath the elevated train tracks. Step into the narrow streets of the red lanterns and neon signs, so called yokocho alleys, where you can find yourself back in the 70s of Japan. In such exotic and retro ambience of the Showa period times, you’ll see local izakaya mostly frequented by locals. You’ll enjoy 2 food stops in this area that serve typical snacks/ starters enjoyed by local Japanese office workers and friends out for a night on the town. Enjoy traditional starter- bar snacks in one spot, and discover the regional tastes of Ise in Mie Prefecture at another quaint and interesting location.
Continuing in Ginza, explore some very interesting food spots where you can find a $400 melon, and a famous Sembei (rice cracker) shop dating back from the early 1800’s! Taste for yourself the tradition and pride behind this tokyo historic spot– their secret recipes have been guarded carefully for over 200 years.
See the famous landmarks of Tokyo’s most expensive real estate area! Soon after we will go to a special restaurant where we will sample 6 or more regional foods from the south of Japan, in Miyazaki Prefecture. You will also have a chance to experience some amazing seasonal dishes at this place.
Finishing up with our last food stop for dessert and then wandering over to Shimbashi you can see how the glamorous Ginza clashes with the rustic old Tokyo. Shimbashi is home to some of the most authentic local eateries and izakayas in Tokyo.
Have the chance to dine with locals for an evening you’ll surely never forget.
Some of the Arigato Food Tours Staff
Asami is a true food and drink lover having spent her entire professional career in the restaurant industry. She is originally from Japan but lived in the United States for nearly 10 years. Asami has worked in multiple high end restaurants on the famed Las Vegas Strip. Her true passion in life is sharing her knowledge of both food and beverage with those around her . She has a special interest in sake through countless years of studying, which allows her to pair sake and food together much like a wine sommelier would pair food and wine together thus creating a memorable experience like no other.
ARIGATO JAPAN GUIDE OF THE MONTH MAY 2019— Hiroe has lived in Kyoto over 15 years. She is an architect and got her second master’s degree in New Haven, CT. Her interest went further beyond architectural practice, and she has recently finished her Ph.D thesis on sustainable living design. She believes eating, dressing, and traveling are the most important activities for sustainable human life. For the pursuit of her belief, food and travel means more to her career. As she loves cooking by herself and sharing happy moments, she has been excited about more discovery in food and travel as a guide.
Ryan has lived and traveled to many parts of Asia and Africa. He likes baking bread, tinkering with and building computers, and using 3D software. He loves to explore different areas of Tokyo and eat at different kinds of restaurants such as Ramen, Yakiniku, Sushi, and Gyudon restaurants. He enjoys going to parks and cafes around Tokyo, such as owl and cat cafes! He also enjoys hanging around Akihabara and looking at all the different DIY electronics and computer parts available in that area.
About Best Experience Japan (in their own words): I had stayed in overseas for 11 years and I have noticed how good Japanese foods and drink cultures are! I have been to so many nice restaurants, Ramen shop and bars for so many years and after I came back to Tokyo, I have focused to research Izakaya (Japanese style pub), restaurants, Ramen shop and bars, which are I really love to do. Please follow me in Instagram @akiw0520 to see the photos with guests in taverns.
Tour by Best Experience Japan
|Tour: Eat and Drink Like A LOCAL: Restaurant, Tavern & Ramen|
|Price: $49.00 USD / Person|
|Ranking: #2 of 363 Food & Drink in Tokyo|
|Rating: 278 reviews (270 excellent, 4 very good, 1 terrible)|
|Description (in their words): “this is the ideal pick for first-time visitors to Tokyo. Avoid the tourist traps and benefit from having a guide to take you to secret places that locals love in Ueno. Visit exciting local haunts that you likely wouldn’t find alone such as a standing bar, and a tavern. Learn about the type of food and drinks locals eat and get the chance to try delicious ramen.”|
|Highlights: Discover standing bars and taverns that local go to in Ueno|
No language barriers—a guide takes care of the translating
Small-group tour limited to eight travelers
|Meet up point: the meet up point starts/ends at Ueno/Starbucks.|
My Personal Note
I WILL NOT ENDORSE/RECOMMEND ANY AIRBNB SERVICES: Upfront, I am going to let you know I have a bias against Airbnb although I love their customer service staff. The problem I have is with their policies which are meant to solely favor their hosts, so if you have a dishonest/discriminatory host, they will unfortunately always side with them due to their policies. The only positive is that it did seem as though customer service did try to moderate and come to an amicable resolution.
If this incident was not so egregious and blatant on the side of the host, I would not have as much animosity against Airbnb. Except, this is the second time I have had a problem. The previous issue was a minor one where the host decided to increase her rates when I told her everything was booked up (how opportunistic). So two times is enough for me, and I have sworn off the service for good.
Every service and product has issues, but Airbnb’s problem has also been documented recently (1/31/2020) by others aside from myself. If you are wondering how rampant this issue is, check out this article by Vox “here are the most common Airbnb scams worldwide.”
Other Japanese Food Tour Services
“Tailor-made” vacations that range from $4,970 to $12,490 per person.
Ex: Ramen Tour with the Ramen Adventurer, 3.0hrs, with a min. of 2 guests.
EF / Go Ahead Tours
Guided tours, expertly crafted. Ex: Highlights of Japan: Tokyo to Kyoto (10-13 days), $3,299 to $3,849
12-day, Japan Real Food Adventure, starting from $4,272 starting in Kyoto and ending in Kyoto.
Ex: Tokyo Cooking classes to learn to make gyoza, desserts, to udon which range from ¥6500 to ¥8800
Viator has trips that range from $81 to $147. One example is the Official Street Go-Kart Tour Shinagawa Shop (5 out of 5 stars, 166 reviews), from $81.