All of us want to have our friends and family from back home visit us here in Tokyo, but unless you can manage to take off time from work to show your people around, they may be left to fend for themselves when it comes to finding what to do in the city.
And, as we know, seeing the temples and modern buildings of Tokyo is nice, but sometimes tourists want that little bit more. Along with the sights they also want to experience the culture and get a closer look at what it is that makes this city so unique. That is exactly the kind of thing that the tour guides of Tokyo Way can provide, and even long-time residents might find themselves learning a thing or two on their excursion.
The tours run the gamut, from the crazy world of anime and manga in Akihabara and Ikebukuro to experiences of traditional culture, such as receiving and making tea with a Japanese master or taking a historical walk in Nihonbashi.
We were in a bit of a pop-culture frame of mind, so we went for the “Harajuku kawaii fashion and shopping tour” with trend-spotter Michelle Branch. Meeting at the station, Michelle first gave us a brief history, starting with the postwar Americanization of the area. She then took us around the streets of Harajuku, beginning with a walk down the vibrant Takeshita Dori, crepe in hand. Along the way we popped in to all kinds of cute and eccentric stores, including Lady Gaga’s favorite shop in Tokyo, “Dog,” “Kiddyland” and the “Takenoko” cosplay boutique, a popular haunt for the gaudily dressed dance groups of the 70s and 80s, known as the Takenoko-zoku.
While walking around the store, Michelle gave us a few more details about these brightly-clothed, eccentric dancers. At the peak of their popularity, they would gather in the thousands, even blocking traffic on the street between Yoyogi Park and the old Olympic building. Their brightly colored baggy clothing and free-style choreography were notably recorded in Chris Marker’s critically acclaimed documentary “Sans Soleil.” Other movements of note, such as “Gothic Lolita” and “Gyaru-culture” are also covered in the tour. Before finishing things off we were served some freshly-made chips and then taken to a photo booth shop where we had the chance to take some purikura (Japanese photo booth) snaps.
This is just one of the many types of tours that Tokyo Way has on offer. Visitors with a taste for fine food and drink that Japan has to offer should try either sake tasting with dinner at a contemporary Japanese restaurant or a “Tokyo daily life food tour” where they can experience the essence of Japanese cuisine with a home cooked meal and cooking demonstration. There’s also an opportunity to escape the hustle and bustle of Tokyo life with a Zen experience in Kamakura alongside a monk and group of meditators in an 800-year-old temple.
The good thing this is the kind of tour that lets visitors try things they otherwise probably wouldn’t have been able to do. For people living here who have to work when they have relatives or friends visiting, it is ideal: they can send them off for a day or half a day knowing they will be looked after by experts, and after hearing about their experiences, they might even fancy joining them on the next tour themselves.
For a full listing of Tokyo Way’s many guided tours, please visit tokyoway.jp.