Tokyo’s sightseeing companies offer something for everyone

By Trenton Truitt

The mere mention of a guided tour tends to provoke widely different reactions. Some people enjoy being led from sight to sight in an air conditioned bus, while others yearn for a full-throttle, “take a bite of the culture” type of experience. Whichever you prefer, the following plans are sure to inspire your own urban explorations.

On foot

Visitors who fancy a trek around town with their own personal Japanese guide have a whole host of options. Tokyo Tourism Volunteers, run by the TMG, offers guided walks to a range of destinations, from nature paths to tearooms. There is no charge — simply pay the entrance fees and transportation costs for yourself and the guide. Tours depart weekdays at 1pm from the TMG Building in Shinjuku. It is advised that you register at least three days in advance via the website or in person. Guides speak English and several other languages. See for details.

Tokyo Free Guide is another option for guided walking tours — not just around the city, but around leafy, temple-strewn Kamakura as well. There are no predetermined routes or times; all you need to do is send an email via the website and the NPO will arrange a guide to suit your needs. It is recommended that you apply a few weeks in advance. Again, you are only responsible for transportation and entrance fees for yourself and the guide. Staff speak English and a few other languages. See for details.

Mr Oka’s Tours offers guided walks for small groups on a flexible basis. Oka is a retired professional guide and self-professed master storyteller who prides himself on informative excursions to the less-trodden “nooks and crannies” of Tokyo. “He wants you to uncover the history and excitement underlying the sometimes quiet, sometimes rambunctious urban-scape as you walk through it with him,” says the website. Tours must be arranged via telephone (03-42251-7673) from 7-10 p.m., or by email at See for details.

By Bus

The open-top Sky Bus Tokyo may not make you feel like you’re in London, but it’s a pleasant way to tool around the city in good weather. Buses depart daily on the hour between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. from the Mitsubishi building, near the Marunouchi south exit of Tokyo station. The tour passes through Ginza, then swings by the Diet Building and Imperial Palace. You can purchase same-day tickets (1,200 yen for adults, 600 yen for kids) at the Sky Bus counter inside the building, or call in advance to reserve (03-3215-0008). See for details.

For a more comprehensive sightseeing experience, try Tokyo City Tours, which offers hotel pick-up, English guides and other tourist-friendly features. Various itineraries are available, including night tours, waterfront excursions and trips to historic spots around the city. All offer a glimpse of Tokyo’s major sights while still being easy to digest. See for details.

By Bike

To get a workout while you tour around Tokyo, hop on a bike and hit the road. The ambitiously named Tokyo Great Cycling Tour offers two routes, both of which last about six hours. The first departs from the Marunouchi Hotel near Tokyo station on Saturdays and takes riders to Odaiba and back. The second leaves every Sunday from the Hibiya exit of JR Shimbashi station. Tickets are 10,000 yen including bike rental, insurance and a lunchbox. Call 03-4590-2995 or see for more details.

If you prefer a bike tour that stops for beer breaks, tag along with Don’s Half-Fast Flash-Mob Urban Weekend Bicycle Rides. Organized by Don Morton, the 30-60-km rides begin in central Tokyo and travel to such picturesque destinations as Odaiba and a waterfront park near Haneda Airport; occasional overnight excursions to Nikko or Oshima island are also on offer. Note that cyclists should be able to keep up a good pace and should know how to fix a flat. “Newcomers to Tokyo will see more of the city on one of our all-day rides than most people born here ever do,” says Morton. The group also holds a get-together on the first Wednesday of every month at The Pink Cow bar in Shibuya ( Email for more info.

By Boat

Watching the city drift by you as breezes caress your face is an extremely enjoyable way to experience Tokyo. Among the several boat rides down the Sumida River, the most tourist-friendly (and cheapest) is offered by the Tokyo Cruise Ship Company. A variety of routes are available, most of them disembarking from Hamarikyu or Hinode pier and cruising to Asakusa, Odaiba or Shinagawa. The ride is about 40 minutes and costs 720 yen one-way (360 yen for kids). Boats depart all day starting from 10am, and tickets can be bought at booths near the embarkation points. See for times and prices.

If you fancy something a bit more luxurious, splurge on the Lady Crystal luxury yacht cruise. You’ll leave Tennozu Isle and cruise past Odaiba while enjoying a variety of food and drinks. Prices are steep — 14,000 yen for the dinner cruise from 6:30-9 p.m. — but the eats are said to be superb. A cheaper way would be to do the shorter late-night cruise, available Tuesday-Saturday from 9:30-10:30 p.m., which is all-you-can-drink for the hour and costs 4,000 yen. Book by calling 03-3450-4300. See for details.

Yakatabune, those traditional wooden boats festooned with paper lanterns, are a quaint way to cruise the waters in the evening. A good off-price option is the all-you-can-drink, all-you-can-eat monjayaki and okonomiyaki cruise from Tsukishima Yakatabune. Normally 5,000 yen, the cruise is just 3,900 yen for groups of two or more through the end of the month. The tour lasts just over two hours and departs daily from Shin-Kiba, at various times. Book by calling 03-3533-6699, or online at (Japanese).

By Air

For a birds-eye perspective on the city, book a flight on Excel Air’s Helicopter Cruising service. The 15-20 minute flights depart from Urayasu heliport and take in such Tokyo landmarks as the Imperial Palace, Rainbow Bridge and Shinjuku skyscraper district. A variety of plans are available, including day, twilight and night cruises, and prices start at just 4,200 yen for children, 8,500 yen for adults. Cruises in Yokohama are also available. Reservations are required; to book your spot, call 047-380-5555 or email See for more info.

Cultural Tours

The Akihabara Tour operated by travel agency JTB consists of a half-day walk around the famed otaku haven. Groups depart at 1:40 p.m. from Hamamatsucho Bus Terminal, or hotel pick-up can be arranged. The itinerary includes an anime/manga shop, Tsukumo Robot Kingdom, electronics stores and the Tokyo Anime Center (top right); participants will also be treated to a drink at a maid cafe. The cost is 4,500 yen (3,500 yen kids). Book by calling 03-3435-6081 or through

The Geisha Tour lets you hang with Japan’s traditional female entertainers, who sing and dance as you enjoy kaiseki cuisine in an old-style restaurant in the Mukojima area — home to more teahouses than anywhere else in the city. The tour is only available only on certain dates (check website) and leaves from the Hamamatsucho Bus Terminal at 5:40pm; hotel pick-up can also be arranged. Call 03-3435-6081 to reserve tickets (12,000 yen including dinner). See for details.

The Samurai Sword Action Tour includes lessons in Japanese swordplay led by fight choreographer Tetsuro Shimaguchi, who worked on Quentin Tarantino’s "Kill Bill." After the training, participants will have a chance to get dressed up in kimono and hakama (wide-legged samurai pants) and try some sword fighting. The 12,000 yen adventure takes place Tuesdays from 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m. and Sundays from 1 p.m.-3:30 p.m. Book by calling 03-5322-8988 or online at

The Sumo Tour takes you to an actual sumo stable to see how professional wrestlers live and train. The bus picks you up from a hotel at 7:30 a.m. and brings you back by 10 a.m., so you can spend the rest of your day practicing your arm-throws or eating "chanko nabe." Tickets are 8,000 yen (6,000 yen for kids). Call 03-6909-0601 or see for details and to book your dohyo debut.

The Ninja Tour operated by Hato Bus takes visitors across Rainbow Bridge to a ninja-themed restaurant in Odaiba for a live show. Tours depart on the second and fourth Sundays of the month and cost 9,800 yen (9,000 yen for kids) with dinner, or 5,000 yen (4,500 yen) without. Call 03-3435-6081 to book. See for details.

Japanimation fans will want to check out the Studio Ghibli-Pokemon Tour. A guide leads sightseers through the storied Ghibli Museum in Kichijoji, exploring the labyrinthine halls and seeing several short films. The second leg involves a trip to a shop near Tokyo station selling all manner of Pokemon goods. The six-hour excursion costs 9,000 yen (6,500 yen for kids) and includes all transportation and entrance fees. Exact times can be customized for groups of two or more. Call 03-6909-0601 or book online at

The Cherry Blossom Tour is available during sakura season in March or April and features a minivan ride with a personal guide. Participants are in for a day full of spring delights as they’re escorted to the city’s renowned cherry blossom hotspots, including Chidorigafuchi, Ueno Park and Zojouji shrine. The tour costs 12,000 yen for adults, and hotel pick-up is available from 9 a.m. Call 03-6909-0601 or book online at

The Karate Tour is geared for those who want to go to the mat for a memorable Tokyo experience. Participants will learn about the history of karate at a local martial arts center and then receive training and practice. The tour is offered Tuesdays and Fridays from 5:30-8:30 p.m. for 8,800 yen (7,500 yen for kids), and hotel pick-up is possible. Call 03-6909-0601 or see for details.

Urban Safari Tours are tailor-made, specialized tours focusing on (for instance) fashion or architecture. These insider excursions uncover the city’s hidden pleasures and latest trends, and are a perfect option for anyone doing cultural research about Japan or looking to open a business locally. Tours cost 10,000 yen/hour plus a 10,000 yen booking fee and can be arranged online at

This story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (

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Thank you for this wonderful guide. It takes the guesswork of trying to figure out how to tour Tokyo out of all the advice and guidebooks and websites out there.

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It takes the guesswork of trying to figure out how to tour Tokyo out of all the advice and guidebooks and websites out there.

Oh my god. Who writes this stuff?! This article takes the guessork out? Sure there are a few nice ideas above but ones like the cherry blossom tour are really for the hopeless who couldn't navigate their way out of a paper bag, and deserve to part with the cash and spend too much time in souvenir shops. Good luck to you though when you come to Japan. Hope the neon is as bright as you imagine it to be.

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I have visited Tokyo several time and none of this info. was readily available. Thanks

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Go to Kyoto instead.

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Thank you for this wonderful guide. It takes the guesswork of trying to figure out how to tour Tokyo out of all the advice and guidebooks and websites out there.

Yeah, quite useful for those who have NO knowledge of Japan and have never been here. When are you coming?

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When are you coming?

Yeah answer the question rjd. When are you coming? I can give you a tour, it'll cost 12,000 yen and we'll be going to a few of my favourite souvenir shops (where I will get a nice little envelope when you're not looking) and hopefully we'll be stuck in traffic for a while, that'll burn a few hours. You should apply for a passport at least six weeks before coming though.

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Many Thanks , I find it very useful. I don't think you will get rip off even if souvenir shop stops are mandatory. What we want to buy is up to our own discretion. The little envelope that goes to our guide is fair enough for the service provided. And if we are ever so stuck in traffic for a few hours to fly by then surely we will get a refund for any main itinerary not able to visit or opt for a replacement that is reachable at that time. I look forward to such articles on Hokkaido.

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I've visited Japan twice, for two weeks in 2005 and for three weeks last year. I didn't need tours because I'd spent months on research. But I did enjoy being led through Himeji-jo last year by an English-speaking volunteer guide. She taught me much more about the castle and courtly life than I ever would have learned on my own. These volunteers are fantastic and worthy of far more than train fare and lunch.

For someone who doesn't have the time or inclination to do all the research, these tours can be the best way to see the highlights of any place. For someone who's in Tokyo for two weeks on business and has a couple of days to see something other than the inside of meeting rooms, a tour is almost certainly the best option. No need to sneer at the casual tourist, folks.

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John Becker - you made a hidden point ... visited 2 WEEKS & 3 WEEKS ... huge difference in what can be accomplished in a few days vs few weeks (especially with jet lag and recovery)

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One thing for anyone coming to visit, be SURE to have decent walking shoes as you will most likely walk a LOT more and a LOT further than you do on a daily/nightly basis in the states. And let me tell ya, if you are a woman with a shoe size over 7, good luck finding any shoes! seriously, aint happening.

BTW, Future Visitors: sincerely, watch out for the tainted snacks, rice, fish, and who knows what else by the time you come for a visit. And plan on having a lot of 100yen coins on hand for you WILL want to stop at the many vending machines to quench your thirst or purchase hot drinks if cold weather. Also, watch where you are walking, a LOT of tiny ledges and small step ups/downs etc that most foreigners are not use to and easy to get hurt. Be careful of some shops that have automatic slide doors that look like you need to shut when you do not! Crushed hand on trip is not fun!! While driving in Japan is NUTS (if not absurd) WALKERS & BIKERS take precedence over cars, but, dont expect the cars to not be right there at the walking lane just mm.s away from you. Also re shops .. find a 100yen shop if you can. Most have "100" plastered on the signage and the same stuff in most expensive souvey shops (unless a specialty shop, of course) -- DAISO is great (and yes, most all these type of shops sell goods manufactured in .. gasp .. China!)

Chibaman's PASSPORT reminder is a priority! Get that done months in advance! Also, dont think you are bringing your pet, unless its been chipped and tested for rabies via blood test over six months ago (plus a bunch of other rules) ((sorry but the pet thing is rarely mentioned and I know ppl who have had problems with that)) All that said, for nature and a real taste of "how one imagines Japan" ... Wakayama, Kyoto, Aichi, Hokkaido (if you can afford it and the time of year is right), Sasebo, Osaka if you are on a cheap budget and cant afford Tokyo ... NAMBA is awesome and you are near Kyoto (this is especially great for those with less than a weeks stay) AND you have Nipponbashi (for the otaku who cant make it to Akihabara/Tokyo) - & dont forget summer obon/hanabi festivals

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You forgot to tour Kabukicho, Harajuku on Sunday, The aquiariums in Shinagawa and Ikeburko, and of course Tsukigi Fish Market. Almost forgot the soapland in Shibuya.

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