5 guided tours where you can experience Tokyo like a local

By Lucy Dayman

t’s a pretty well-established fact that visiting Japan’s capital is a sensory overload. From the neon-lit streets of Akihabara to the gritty bars of Koenji to the stylish back streets of Shibuya, you’ll never run out of things to do in Tokyo.

However, while the tourist hangouts can be fun, to understand the city, you’ve got to get off Shibuya scramble and get out into the city’s outer neighborhoods. Here the locals are laid back, the food is incredible, and the real Tokyo shines brighter than any LED screen. And if you don’t speak Japanese or have local friends to hand, the best way to gain access behind the city scenes is by signing up for a tour. These are some of our favorites.

1. Kichijoji Hashigozake Bar Hopping Tour

Good for: Foodies, adventurous types, history and culture buffs

Tokyo is a city comprised of what seems like hundreds of microcities. Each has its own unique culture, vibe, and hidden quirks—and the stylish neighborhood of Kichijoji is one great example. This new Kichijoji Hashigozake Bar Hopping Tour is an excellent avenue through which to take a deep dive into Tokyo’s local scene. Organized by the Kichijoji Hashigozake Executive Committee, the tour includes an hour-long cultural experience, as well as two bar visits, offering the best of both hidden worlds.

In terms of cultural experiences, the options vary on the day of the sign-up but cover a wide range of interests. Cultural classes include participating in a samurai or awaodori traditional dance performance, trying your hand at some traditional shodo calligraphy or kado flower arrangement, or getting crafty with an art class.

Once the cultural experience is done, it’s time to hit the streets of Kichijoji to discover just why this neighborhood has a reputation for being the most popular place to live among Tokyoites. Hopping between bars, guests can mingle with the regulars, enjoy a few refreshing drinks, and truly immerse themselves in an authentically laid-back, everyday slice of Tokyo.

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2 Bars? That is not bar hopping.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Yet another Tourist trap excursion ... something more realistic should be offered such as:

Why not start the day off with a trip on the Yamamote sen during the morning rush hour - get that full on local experience of bad breath, tight squeezes and pushing / shoving your way through the crowds... or simply going with the flow... for added impact, bring a massive suitcase with you.

Next step, coffee shop for breakfast ... forget Starbucks, just go to one of the locals, you'll find them by following your nose... literally, the smell of the worst possible ciggarette smoke wafting down the street or off fellow passers by will point you in the right direction. Then when inside take a pick off the menu - it's all going to taste the same..if you have managed to keep your taste buds intact due to the thick acrid smoke. If you can manage to stomach that, plus a coffee you're doing well. Does your travel insurance cover smoke inhalation damage ?

Lunch time is nearing so head off to a local convenience store. 12pm is a sort of good time to experience the Hustle and Bustle or the rush to get a Bento or sandwich - if you're savvy you'll go before hand, and suss out what you think you can eat, and get it well before the mad rush leaves the shelves almost empty.

After lunch, you have some time to head to Yoyogi Park, and wander around skid row. That's the place with the blue sheet tents setup in one far corner of the Park... it's a place where you see the alternative side to the Japanese way of life - the people / families no one cares about. Some are actually quite mentally ill, so don't loiter, take your peek, and move on quickly.

Head off to Harajuku and see the latest Fashion for Japan's youth - it should be about the time now when schools have closed so you will experience the crush of youth, loud music, and the vibrancy that goes with it.

Next, head off to Go to Shinjuku's love hotel district and experience a bit of fun, or simply watch the school kids heading in and out of various buildings, some have different themes, others are just functional. Try to avoid the painted up old Ladies, they're there for ... personal health services (quite the contradiction when you see them).

To wind up the day, why not simply go to Shimbashi, grab some dinner on a side street shop sitting on a barstool listening to the sounds around you - that ubiquitous slurping of soups, and slapping/sucking sound of jaws and jowels which appears to be an audio sign of satisfaction... but only do this during dinner times, it's not appreciated / expected at other times - unless in an old age persons home - but you could be forgiven for mistaking much of Japan for being that anyway.

Then, before heading back to your cosy Hotel, wait a while in Shimbashi, 11pm-1am, and watch the "Drunk" Salary men, try and make it to their last train home. They've had their 2 beers (really), and are now simply trying to make it back, but it seems evolution skipped a step or two here, as too will become apparent as the night goes on. If you want a bit more fun, you could try and pretend to ask them directions to somewhere, they will try and practice their English.... and be ever so... Friendly. There is a slight risk here, just be careful not to approach the more wider tanned looking drunks, there's a chance that they won't like Foreigners ... of any Color.

If your hotel is really close by, then you could stick around for the Apres-last train.. between 3-5am when the extortionately expensive "Hostess" bars close (that's the seedy side of Japan, which will break your bank in the space of a few hours), the Hostesses themselves will appear and head to the late night restaurants for Dinner, some you will realize, are young and quite good looking, they may even pose for a Selfie with you. [ On the flip side, if you're super rich, and can afford to burn a couple of 1000 US$ in a few hours then head off to the Hostess Clubs, some won't let you in - even if you have an Unlimited Credit card that you wish to put behind the bar and pay for everyone - you see... you're not Japanese, these types of places still exist, so there... now you too can feel like a Coloured guy did during the 1950's America period - Japan has something for everyone].

Well... there you have it, that's the way a tour to experience life as a Local in Japan (well Tokyo), should be organised in order to get that Real Experience.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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