Whether you are planning a multi-generational trip, a family vacation, or a couples trip one of the activities I always schedule is a Food Tour. Tours are a wonderful way to better understand a culture. Food Tours give you great insight into the day to day life of the people and their history,
Our Food Tour in Tokyo, Japan did not disappoint. With dozens of neighborhoods and often a language barrier, Tokyo is not the easiest city to navigate. It is a world apart from any place I’ve ever visited. It is a place of customs and graciousness. The population is polite and reserved. I am endlessly fascinated by all of it. The Food Tour took our understanding to a deeper level.
Our guide, Hiroto, negotiated the trains for us as we moved from neighborhood to to neighborhood. He acted as a translator with waiters, shopkeepers and vendors. He shared interesting facts about the sights we visited and food we tried. Our tour tickets covered all food, beverages, entrance fees and transportation costs. He chaperoned back to the original meeting at the end of the tour.
Check out these Tokyo Food Tours:
**Travel Tip** in Japan, we use the Google Translate App a lot! The language barrier non-Japanese speakers will face in Japan may come as a surprise. Even in Tokyo, it’s relatively common for people to speak little to no English. It’s overwhelming to not be able to read maps, street signs, menus, store signs or train stops.
Toyko has made great improvements in their multi-language signage. Outside of Tokyo there have been less improvements. The free Google Translate app has a camera input option so you can take a picture to translate something into English. We used it for menus, museum placards and signs. While the app isn’t perfect, it is still really useful. You can also translate English into Japanese so you can show the screen to whoever you’re trying to communicate with.
We started our tour at Shibuya Crossing, just outside Shibuya Station next to the famous statute of the faithful dog. It is of the most photographed spots in Tokyo. This area is the center of culture, fashion, and food in Tokyo.
Shibuya Crossing is one of the most identifiable landmarks in Tokyo. The sprawling scramble intersection embodies Tokyo itself, motion in a city in constant motion. Huge television screens mounted on the buildings facing the intersection flash all day, while the rest of the area is covered with lights, advertisements, and more lights. When the traffic lights turn red, hundreds of people are constantly pouring across the street from all directions. They all meet in the middle in a frantic mess, bumping, side stepping and swerving around each other as they try to cross. It is quite a sight.
Travel by Train
**Travel Tip**The Japan Rail (JR) Pass can only be purchased by foreigners who are visiting on a Tourist Visa. If you are visiting Japan for sightseeing purposes, you will get a “Temporary Visitor” sticker/stamp in you passport. You must show this sticker/stamp to receive and use your JR Pass. You can purchase the JR Pass at the airports and use the train to bring you into Tokyo. The JR Pass covers all JR Group limited express trains, express trains, rapid and local ones. Shinkansen bullet trains are also covered.
The JR Pass can be used on the Tokyo Monorail, the Yamanote line (Tokyo Metro), the Aoimori Railway between Aomori and Hachinohe, the Ainokaze Toyama, as well ar some of the Tokyo Bus Lines. You can choose from a 7 day, 14 day, or 21 day pass. The pass is valid for a period of consecutive days beginning on the date it is first used. For more information visit their website at jrpass.com.
With the help of Hiroto, we purchased an unlimited day ticket and boarded the train for our first stop, lunch at a traditional Tonkatus (fried pork cutlet) Restaurant. This dish came into popularity at the turn of the 20th century. It reflects the European Influences in Japanese Cuisine: You can choose between the leaner hire (tenderloin) or the fattier rosu (loin), both were priced at 4700 yen. No matter which one you end up ordering, Tonkatus is an irresistible combination of a crispy exterior and moist interior that is absolutely delicious. It is a good dish to start with when introducing tentative eaters to Japanese cuisine.
Tsukiji Fish Market
Next stop Tsukiji Fish Market, with its rows and rows shops offering ingredients used in Japanese cooking and stalls selling bites of Japanese deliciousness, Tsukiji Fish Market is world famous and one of the biggest markets in all of Japan. Although the inner market (where they used to hold the big tuna auctions) moved to Toyosu, the outer market is still an amazing and lively place with over 400 shops. Depending upon the tour you choice.you will try a variety of different Japanese foods including some of the freshest seafood in Tokyo as well as other local delicacies.
We tasted, Taiyaki a fish shaped pastry filled with sweet red bean paste and apricot puree. Taiyaki is a very popular Japanese snack. The best way I can describe them is a waffle stuffed with fruit anda sweet red bean paste. Served warm, they are such a treat! .Our grandson had a melon soda float, (melon soda with a scoop of ice cream in it.)
We wandered through the alleys of the market with multiple fresh seafood and vegetable shops, as well as sushi and crab restaurants.
We stopped for iced matcha tea, (finely ground Japanese green tea leaves). The plants used for matcha are shaded for most of the growth period. This lack of direct sunlight increases chlorophyll production, boosts the amino acid content, and gives the plant a darker green color. After harvesting the leaves, producers remove the stems and veins and grind the leaves into a fine powder. When in Japan, trying every food, dessert, and drink made of matcha is a must. Matcha has is an antioxidant powerhouse making it good for you as well as delicious.
As you wander deeper into the market, you will find rows as row of shops offering kitchen items. Everything from chop sticks and rice bowels to hand crafered kitchen knives. Capt K could not resist the temptation of adding another knife to our kitchen collection. We had a delightful time exploring the busy alleys selling Japanese ingredients and cooking equipments.
Our next stop was just outside Tsukiji Fish Market, Tsukiji Hogan, the oldest Buddhist Temple in Japan. Shinto and Buddhism are Japan's two main religions in Japan. Shinto is the original Japanese religion. While Buddhism was imported from the mainland in the 6th century. Since then, the two religions co-existing relatively harmoniously. Many people practice rituals from both faiths.
The present Buddhist Temple, Tsukiji Hongan-ji was built between 1931 and 1934. It is noted for its unique architecture, influenced by temples in India. The Shinto temples that previously stood on this site were destroyed in a fire and an earthquake respectfully.
Sanctuary at Meiji Shrine
Our last stop was Sanctuary at Meiji Shrine near the Imperial Palace. As you can see from the photo above, there was a festival going on while we were visiting the Sanctuary. Meiji Shrine is dedicated to spirits of Emperor Meiji and his Empress Shoken. Meiji Shrine and the adjacent Yoyogi Park are a large forested oasis within the densely built-up city. The spacious shrine grounds offer walking paths, great for escaping the bustle of the city.
The shrine was completed and dedicated to the Emperor Meiji and the Empress Shoken in 1920. Emperor Meiji was the first emperor of modern Japan. He was born in 1852 and ascended to the throne in 1867 when Japan's feudal era came to an end. During the Meiji Period, Japan modernized and became one of the world's major powers by the time Emperor Meiji passed away in 1912. The Meiji Shrine was dedicated eight years after the passing of the emperor and six years after the passing of the empress. The shrine was destroyed during the Second World War but was rebuilt shortly after.
At the end of the tour, Hiroto shepherded us back to the Shibuya Station. Our stomachs and minds were full of the offerings of Japan.
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