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    Discover the Best Food Tours: Tokyo, Japan Edition

    By Chloë Pickett

    March 11, 2023

    Discover the Best Food Tours: Tokyo, Japan Edition

    Tokyo has some of the greatest cuisines in the world, and I'm not just saying that because I live here. Sure, you may have had Japanese food in other countries, but nothing quite compares to the authenticity of Tokyo.

    My favorite part of conducting a food tour is seeing the excited look on my guests' faces while we explore the city and taste-test Japan's unique flavors and dishes.

    The food scene in Tokyo is diverse, and even more so are the restaurants. Whether you enjoy a bit of luxury or prefer a much more low-key atmosphere, there are plenty of dining options to choose from here. 

    Tokyo food tours are a wonderful way to taste as much of the city's cuisine as possible. I've found that many guests have an easier time when ordering and finding new restaurants when accompanied by a local guide. 

    In this food guide, I'm going to show you how a local eats, taking you on a ride through Tokyo's local food scene.

    • Key Takeaways
    • 3 Fun Facts About Japanese Food
    • What is an Izakaya?
    • What is a Depachika?
    • Takashimaya Nihombashi 
    • Ginza Mitsukoshi
    • Choosing Your Tour

    Key Takeaways

    - Food tours are great for both solo travelers and small groups. 

    - Izakayas are non-formal bars with traditional drinks and small dishes of delicious Japanese food. 

    - Joining a food tour is an easy way to learn more about Japanese history, food, and etiquette.

    3 Fun Facts About Japanese Food

    - Soy is one of the most popular ingredients in Japanese dishes.

    - Ramen is a popular dish in Japan but originated in China.

    - It's proper etiquette in Japan to drink soup straight from the bowl.

    What is an Izakaya?

    Enjoy a Japanese Izakaya and sake experience

    Before you embark on a food tour, you should know what an Izakaya is. An Izakaya is similar to what you'd call a pub or tavern. They are my favorite place to go and unwind after a long day, where I can enjoy a small cup of sake and grab something to eat. On a food tour, I'll take you through a few different izakaya alleyways so you can have a feel for the different dining atmospheres available. 

    These alleys are littered with beautiful lanterns hung outside the restaurants, making them easy to spot while exploring the city. You'll see small counters and tables under shacks and storefronts crowded with people.

    Don't be surprised when we enter an izakaya; there are only a few places to sit. Seating is often right alongside the alleyway and within close vanity of the chefs. One of the best parts of eating at izakaya is seeing your food made. The thought, practice, and care that goes into each dish make it that much more enjoyable. 

    On tours, eating in a more intimate space allows me and my guests to chat, get to know each other, and answer any important questions they might have. I enjoy finding spaces where we can take our time, relax, and truly dive into the food's flavors and cultural significance. There's also something about the crowded alleyways that make me feel a sense of connection to the people and city around me. 

    There are different styles of izakaya that we can visit, and if you have a preference, I can make sure we find one that suits your needs. Many of these restaurants include modern seating, but some still go the more traditional route, where we can sit on tatami mats as well.

    A Japanese alley lined with Izakayas, Omoide Yokocho

    Omoide Yokocho - A Lantern Lit Paradise

    A personal favorite izakaya alley of mine is Omoide Yokocho, otherwise known as "Memory Lane." Originally, Omoide Yokocho was a black market in post-World War II times. This alley is one of my favorites because it still holds the history of that era, except now, instead of carrying black market supplies, only food remains. Back then, the area wasn't as safe as it is today--but thankfully, that has changed over the years. It's truly amazing to see how much has evolved since then. 

    The beautiful alleyway is positioned between two buildings, giving off a warm glow from within. As soon as I enter the alleyway, I'm bombarded with nostalgic scents that remind me of coming here with my family after school with an empty stomach and ravenous appetite. The narrow walkway seems endless as you walk past each izakaya, usually full of cheery guests as they enjoy their meals. 

    Each izakaya is plastered with colorful signage, bright lanterns, and leaves that add a naturalistic feel to the industrial space. The alleyway is particularly magical at night, with its dimly lit lanterns creating a warm glow throughout the street that makes you feel as if you're in a movie. 

    Whenever I visit "Memory Lane," I have to stop for some yakitori. If you've never had yakitori before, you're in for a treat! My go-to spot is Kabuto; it's quick, convenient, and doesn't sit more than ten people or so. The best way I can describe the dish is its similarity to a kabob. Basically, it's grilled skewered chicken paired with seasoning or sauce. Every bite is full of flavor and warmth and makes you savor each piece in hopes that it never runs out. 

    Whenever I leave a show or social event, I search for an izakaya or street vendor selling yakitori to enjoy on my evening stroll home. There's nothing better than walking the streets of Tokyo while munching skewer and basking in all of the bright lights and bustling crowds. 

    Each Izakaya will have its own way of doing things, depending on where we stop. In Omoide Yokocho, the freshness of ingredients is unmatched. It's common for the chicken here to be sourced locally. Regardless of which izakaya you visit, there's no escaping the savory scent of their signature yakitori wafting through the streets.

    Couple standing in front of the Senso-ji Temple, Japan

    Asakusa - A Bustling Tourist Haven

    Another favorite izakaya alleyway is Asakusa. You may already be familiar with this area, as it's usually on most travelers' bucket lists. Travelers usually want to come to Asakusa to visit the Senso-ji temple. This crimson temple is vast and a fun place to have your fortune read. Whenever I approach the temple, I'm overcome with a deep sense of sacredness. You can't help but feel a sense of connection to this area which draws you in and takes you on a journey through Japan's history and religion.

    You can learn about the various Gods associated with the temple and see beautiful, colorful artwork with sketches of them hung grandiosity throughout the building.

    Asakusa has always held a special place in my heart, reminding me of weekend trips spent with family and, now, all of the amazing tour experiences I've had. I've always loved seeing the women walk around in colorful floral print kimonos as tourists light up in their presence. You can even rent your own kimono while exploring the area. 

    I love exploring the many izakaya available in Asakusa; something about the Japanese cuisine here stands out from other areas of Tokyo. At first glance, there are more street food vendors and restaurants than you could have ever imagined. The streets are full of the scent of fresh foods, ringing bells and chimes, and the many languages you hear spoken by other tourists. 

    Here, there are some traditional dishes like yakitori, grilled seafood, and karaage, but there are a few izakaya that seem to perfectly blend traditional Japanese and Western flavors. I'm a huge seafood lover, so coming to Asakusa is always on my agenda, as it has many spots that specialize in fresh sashimi and grilled fish. As soon as I take my first bite of sashimi, everything around me melts away. With each bite, I can almost taste exactly where the fish was caught, creating an explosion of flavor that takes my taste buds on an ocean cruise. 

    Asakusa can get pretty busy, but if you're fine with crowds and enjoy the hustle and bustle of other tourists, this is definitely an area we should explore.

    Japanese laterns along a local Izakaya, Japan

    Yurakucho - Dining Under the Railway

    Another fun izakaya alleyway is the Gado-shita in Yurakucho. This alleyway is more open than some of the others and not usually as busy. Bright lights and signs flash over each izakaya and food stand, where locals kick back and decompress. Tables are placed outside of each restaurant, some offering snug seating inside. As I stroll through the alleyway, I'm periodically reminded of the overhead railway as a train swiftly passes by, grabbing my attention for a moment. Don't worry; it's very safe here. 

    Eating here is unlike most places in Tokyo. I love taking guests to Gado-shita because it offers a unique experience and an exciting stop to try some of the city's best food. Matsusou is where I tend to take a lot of my guests. I usually try the Tsukune, a Japanese chicken meatball, and the mackerel. This space is super casual, and I find myself coming here after a long day's work just to unwind and meet up with friends. 

    Each izakaya has a different tone, some providing a sophisticated, upscale atmosphere, while others are colorful, bright, and offer minimal seating. You'll be surprised to hear a sense of home if traveling from the States, as many times that I've visited the area, I've heard American songs blasted on overhead radios throughout the streets. 

    I like to emphasize that many of the izakaya here focus on regional dishes, so there's often an endless variety of new dishes to choose from, especially for travelers that aren't familiar with Japanese food. Depending on the time of day, the area can get quite busy, especially after work hours. Even so, there are other delicious restaurants in Yurakucho to try, ranging from small izakaya to fine-dining establishments.

    What is a Depachika?

    Tokyo is known for its amazing shopping scene. There's so much to choose from and no shortage of giant department stores. What I'm about to tell you next may surprise you. Did you know that many department stores in Tokyo also house a food court-like facility in their basements? While this may sound strange to some, these are very common in Tokyo.

    The basement floor of a department store is called a depachika, and this is where many local residents go and eat daily.

    I love going out shopping in the afternoon and being able to enjoy a meal without having to find a separate restaurant. Exploring Depachikas are some of the best Tokyo food tours out there.

    Women wearing kimonos walking in the city, Nihombashi,

    Takashimaya Nihombashi

    Takashimaya Nihombashi has been around all my life and is one of the oldest department stores in Nihonbashi. This department store is just minutes away from the Tokyo station. Every time I bring tourists to Takashimaya, they're shocked by the sheer size of the building. The Takashimaya store stretches high into the sky and even has more levels below ground level. 

    There's also a relatively new sister store called Takashimaya SC that houses even more food options. I enjoy going there to shop for gifts or souvenirs, and it's definitely a place I recommend stopping by when touring the area.

    Walking through this depachika can be overwhelming, but that's where having a local guide is helpful. I'll admit, my first stop is usually scouring the baked goods and dessert stands for sweet treats to enjoy after my meal. There are many shops that give you a first-hand look at certain foods or dishes cleanly displayed in glass cases. I am always mesmerized by the many options. 

    Kayaba is a fun place to stop and enjoy soba. Soba is a noodle dish found throughout all parts of Tokyo, but there's something special about how Kayaba incorporates there flavors that keeps me coming back for more. While soba may look simple, it's actually full of flavor and texture and fills you up when you're in need of a full meal. In Kayaba, you'll hear the pleasant sound of slurping as others enjoy their noodles or soup, and this is actually proper etiquette in Japan. I always encourage every guest to slurp until their heart's content! 

    Okei Sushi is also located in the main building and where I like to go when I have a sushi craving that I just can't kick. You can't go wrong with anything on Okei's menu, and the service is also very quick. Stopping here also means you'll get a firsthand look at sushi making in action!

    Takashimaya Nihombashi offers more than just Japanese food; Chinese and Western meals are also available for anyone looking for a more familiar meal.

    If you're traveling with children or an anime enthusiast, I always recommend the Pokemon cafe in Takashimaya Nihombashi as an alternative. The meals are fun and heavily influenced by the animated series, and they are an exciting way to enjoy unique dishes and drinks. From what I've seen, you can expect a Pokemon-esque plate with large colorful beverages laden with sweetness.

    Ginza Mitsukoshi

    Go shopping at Ginza Mitsukoshi, Japan

    Ginza is a glitzy shopping district decorated with luxury department stores. There's always a change of tone when entering Giza, a much more contemporary and modern district. Tall skyscrapers stretch overhead; colorful electronic billboards flash ads on every corner. Whenever I enter Giza, I'm reminded of the fast-paced local culture that seems to exist here as locals pass by, almost unaware of the happenings around them. 

    When you first arrive, this area can be overwhelming; with so much shopping at your fingertips, it can be difficult to know where to start. As you scan the reflective buildings, you may see familiar stores such as Gap or Boss. I say, go where the wind takes you. No matter how much time you have, chances are you won't have enough to visit every store in the district. 

    I always recommend stopping by Mitsukoshi in Ginza because not only does it offer next-level shopping, but there's also a multitude of food options.

    Mitsukoshi is an extravagant building with a chandelier fixture displayed at the forefront of the architecture that's difficult to miss. At one point or another, I always find myself face to face with what seems to be the world's largest chandelier, reminding me of the delicious foods that exist within.

    Mitsukoshi has a strong focus on ready-made food items. These include sushi and other easy-to-eat foods. I really enjoy being able to pick up a few items and not have to eat them right away necessarily. Sometimes, I'll even stop here first and continue shopping at the department store after. Mitzukoshi has coin-operated lockers where you can stash your food items while you continue to shop. This is just one example of the convenience you find throughout Tokyo. Mitsukoshi also has an impressive selection of mouth-watering fruit that tastes as if it was just picked moments prior. I often pick up fruit and sliced cheeses here for picnics in the park.

    Choosing Your Tour

    Now that you've found the best food tours in Tokyo, it's time to decide which one is best for you. Decide whether you want your tour to focus heavily on sushi or if you want a more general exploration of Tokyo's food culture. Or, if having an in-depth tour of some of the city's best sake spots is most appealing, City Unscripted has a tour for you. You can also reach out to us and let us know the type of food and experiences you're looking for, and we'll do our best to create the perfect itinerary for you.

    Most of our tours range from 3 -4 hours, so there isn't too much of a difference in the duration you'll be on your feet. Whether you're looking for a solo, pair, or small group tour, we've got you covered.

    Just let us know if you have any dietary preferences or accommodations beforehand so we can take that into consideration when planning the tour. I've had many guests with certain intolerances, and knowing that ahead of time helps me vet the places before embarking on our tour. 

    Overall, no matter which Tokyo food tour you choose, they all offer something special that isn't often found without the help of a local expert. For more tour information, check out all of the exciting Toko tours that City Unscripted has to offer.

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