Since I started living in Tokyo a few years ago, one thing more than anything else has struck me about this eclectic city.
No matter where I go, what I do, how much I explore or am introduced to…there is always something new to discover in Tokyo, Japan.
As a foreigner, the decision to move my life to Tokyo was not an easy one. Leaving behind everything familiar, including my family and friends, was daunting at times, but a risk I was willing to take.
Tokyo is truly a city that truly never sleeps and because of that, you will never be at a loss for something to see, eat, experience, or do.
From its bustling streets to its colorful nightlife, there is always a sense of activity in our exciting and eclectic Capital of the East.
On top of that, Tokyo is a city that is incredibly safe, with a low crime rate and a close sense of community.
This was also important to me, as a single female moving on my own for the first time in my life.
Now, after living in this city for a few years I've come to realize what it is that not only brings people here...but causes them to want to stay as well.
Tokyo is a unique blend of traditional culture and modern innovation.
From the stunning temples and shrines to the advanced technology and futuristic architecture, Tokyo is a city that embraces both its past and its future.
And as a lover of both history and innovation, I knew that this was the perfect place for me to call home.
And now, I want to share my city with you!
If you are looking for a local's perspective on Tokyo, I can help. Having created private tour itineraries for some of the most unique and unforgettable sights around the city, I can work with you to figure out what is going to make your time in my city the most fulfilling.
In my opinion, the best Tokyo tours will involve walking tours of some of the most iconic sites, as well as a private tour or two of some of the most hidden gems this city has to offer.
Let's take a peek at a customized tour I've created that will give you a sense of what it's like to have a local like me be your own private tour guide for a day in Tokyo...a city full of hidden gems, cultural treasures, and traditional flavors
- Stop #1: Nezu Shrine
- Stop #2: Yanaka (and Yanaka Ginza)
- Stop #3: Kayaba Coffee
- Stop #4: Ameya-Yokocho Market
- Stop #5: Ueno Park
- Stop #6: Senso-ji Temple
- Stop #7: Daikokuya Tempura
- Stop #8: Kappabashi Street
- Stop #9: Kanda Myojin Shrine
- Stop #10: Kanda area
- Are you ready to join me?
Stop #1: Nezu Shrine
By Wiiii - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
We will start our day with a visit to one of my favorite hidden gems in Tokyo...Nezu Shrine.
Established in 1705, Nezu Shrine is located in Bunkyo, Tokyo's historic neighborhood that is known for literature and learning.
Nezu Shrine is one of the oldest places for worship in the city and our private tour together will give you a real sense of why it's been designated as an Important Cultural Place by the Japanese government.
As soon as we step through the Torii gate, you will be transported to a serene world of peace and tranquility, far from the hustle and bustle of the rest of this exciting -- but sometimes frenetic -- city.
The air here is filled with the sweet fragrance of incense and the sound of a babbling brook, inviting visitors to explore the lush gardens and ancient buildings and truly settle into the serenity of Japanese culture.
The shrine's main hall, with its sweeping thatched roof, is a stunning example of Japanese architecture, and the vermilion pillars and white walls contrast beautifully with the surrounding greenery.
The gardens of Nezu Shrine are a breathtaking display of nature, with towering trees, manicured lawns, and winding streams. If you are fortunate enough to be here in the spring, the shrine is surrounded by a sea of pink as the azalea bushes burst into bloom, creating a stunning vista of natural beauty.
I always like to recommend starting a private tour with the Nezu Shrine, as it gives all my guests a moment for some quiet reflection, a peaceful stroll, and a quick glimpse of a true national treasure nestled into the world's largest metropolitan area.
Stop #2: Yanaka (and Yanaka Ginza)
Any Tokyo tours that don't involve Yanaka are not true Tokyo, as far as I'm concerned.
Yanaka is a traditional neighborhood located in the northeast of Tokyo. Known for its historic buildings, narrow streets, and relaxed atmosphere, I think that Yanaka is the epitome of the perfect place for a real walking tour for anyone who wants to really explore Tokyo.
As a local, I love exploring Yanaka on foot, taking in the quaint shops, cozy cafes, and historic temples. One of the highlights of Yanaka is Yanaka Ginza, a narrow shopping street that's lined with tons of cool shops selling traditional Japanese snacks, sweets, and souvenirs.
Yanaka Ginza is the perfect place to stop and try some local delicacies, such as sweet potato cakes, rice balls, or freshly baked manju (steamed buns filled with sweet bean paste).
As your own Tokyo private tour guide, I like to spend a little time exploring some of Yanaka Ginza's surrounding streets, taking in the well-preserved wooden houses and traditional architecture.
Yanaka Ginza should definitely be on every Tokyo tour itinerary!
Stop #3: Kayaba Coffee
Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa
While on our Yanaka walking tour, you may not guess that one of the charming old houses we pass has been the home of a popular café for well over 70 years.
Constructed in 1916, this building hosted the Kayaba coffee shop from 1938 until the death of the original proprietor in 2006.
But because it was so loved by both locals and visitors, the community icon made a strong comeback in 2009, when a local not-for-profit helped to reopen Kayaba – with the original exterior and signage intact!
Though the outside of the building is a joy to take in, inside you'll discover even more. Kayaba is one of those places where you can lose track of time and just drift away into daydreams, no matter what's going on outside the old and weather-beaten windows that seem to remind their guests of everything they've seen.
Stop #4: Ameya-Yokocho Market
From Yanaka, we will take the Chiyoda metro line from Sendagi Station to Yushima Station and then walk to a spot that I believe gives all my guests a true taste of Tokyo's street food culture...the Ameya-Yokocho Market.
The Ameya-Yokocho Market is a Tokyo private tours must for me when I have any guests who are truly looking for a vibrant atmosphere and an endless array of vendors selling everything from fresh seafood to clothes to souvenirs.
You will be bombarded with sights, sounds, and smells that -- after you return home -- you will realize are uniquely Tokyo.
As vendors shout and smells erupt, you will be tempted by everything from grilled squid to mochi cakes. It would be easy to spend hours here and could become its own half day private tour if we didn't have plenty of other things to see and try.
Stop #5: Ueno Park
From Ameya-Yokocho Market we will easily be able to continue our walking tour to Ueno Park. This expansive public park is a great place to take a break from the hustle and bustle of the city and soak in some natural beauty.
One of my favorite things to do in Ueno Park is to visit the zoo. The Ueno Zoo is home to over 400 species of animals, including the giant pandas, which are always a crowd favorite.
If you're interested in history, we can also check out the Tokyo National Museum, another Japanese national treasure located within Ueno Park.
The Tokyo National Museum houses an impressive collection of Japanese art and artifacts, including samurai swords and traditional clothing.
But Ueno Park isn't just about adorable animals and enjoying a bit of history. It's also a great place to experience real Japanese culture as well.
Depending on the day that we visit, it's common to find people dressed in traditional clothing, practicing Taiko drumming, or performing other cultural activities. But regardless, it is almost always worth watching in the beautiful city park.
Stop #6: Senso-ji Temple
Our next stop will have us back on the subway and taking the Ginza Line from Ueno-Hirokoji Station to Asakusa Station.
The Senso-ji Temple, Tokyo's oldest and arguably most important temple, is located in the Asakusa district of Tokyo.
I think it's one of the most impressive sites in Tokyo to see and - once we arrive - I think you'll realize why.
As we approach the temple, we will enter through Kaminari-mon, or Thunder Gate, as it's known. With its gigantic red-paper lantern, this is an unforgettable main entrance to the temple complex, and it has lived many lives since its initial construction in the year 941.
(Fires destroyed Thunder Gate numerous times between 941 and the late 1880s, and air raids wiped it out once again during World War II.)
Passing through the gate, we will enter the bustling shopping street known as Nakamise-dori which is always filled with vendors selling traditional Japanese souvenirs and street food.
After wandering through Nakamise-dori, we reach the main hall of Senso-ji Temple.
This hall is a beautiful example of traditional Japanese architecture. Inside, you'll find a tranquil space where visitors can pray, light incense, and reflect.
With its sweeping roofs and intricate carvings, Senso-ji Temple is a site that truly gives testament to the commitment and reverence of Japan's religious heartbeat and will give even the most well-traveled visitor pause.
Stop #7: Daikokuya Tempura
Whether it's time for a late lunch or a slightly early dinner, Daikokuya Tempura in Tokyo is an absolute must-visit for all of my guests and on any of my tours in Tokyo!
For anyone looking to experience the best of Japanese cuisine, this restaurant will not disappoint.
From the moment we step into this cozy and charming establishment, you are going to be transported into a world of delectable flavors and mouth-watering aromas.
The highlight of the meal is undoubtedly the tempura, which will be fried to perfection in front of your eyes by skilled chefs using only the freshest and highest quality ingredients. The batter is light and crispy, and each piece of shrimp, vegetable, or seafood is consistently bursting with flavor.
The menu also offers a variety of side dishes, including savory udon noodles, and rice bowls, as well as an impressive selection of Japanese sake and beer to go with our meal.
And though the food is excellent, the atmosphere of this restaurant is always the reason I bring back friends and visitors time and again.
With a friendly and attentive staff who always seems eager to make everyone's dining experience unforgettable, Daikokuya Tempura is not to be missed.
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Stop #8: Kappabashi Street
For yet another unique shopping experience to round out our private tour today, we will head on over to Kappabashi Street.
Kappabashi Street in Tokyo is a must-visit destination for anyone especially interested in cooking, dining, or simply experiencing the unique food culture of Tokyo.
As a local resident, I always highly recommend this street for those looking for a one-of-a-kind shopping experience, since Kappabashi is known as the "Kitchenware Town" of Tokyo.
I think that you'll quickly see that it lives up to its name! With an abundance of stores selling everything from professional-grade chef's knives to decorative bento boxes, it's hard to imagine there isn't something here for just about everyone.
One of the most unique features of Kappabashi is the wide selection of plastic food replicas on display outside many of the shops. These highly detailed replicas of various dishes and ingredients are used by restaurants throughout Japan to showcase their menus, and they make great souvenirs and/or gifts.
Kappabashi is interesting yet intense, but spending a bit of time here after our big meal of the day is definitely going to be worth it. And, if you do enjoy cooking, you are sure to find a treasure or two to take home with you.
By Kakidai - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0
Stop #9: Kanda Myojin Shrine
As your private tour guide, I have one last stop that I want to take you to before we close out our day together and move into our evening activity. The Kanda Myojin Shrine is not only a destination that I feel anyone who appreciates Japanese religion and history should see, but it is also breathtaking in the later hours of the day.
We will take the Ginza Line to Kanda Station then walk to the nearby Kanda Myojin Shrine which you will quickly notice has an almost mystical atmosphere when it is illuminated at night.
During the day, this shrine's intricate architectural details, vibrant colors, and peaceful atmosphere create an awe-inspiring experience. But at night, the shrine seems to transform into a magical wonderland that is truly a sight to behold.
As the sun sets, the shrine's ornate lanterns illuminate the pathway leading up to the main building. The warm glow casts a mesmerizing spell, and it's such a magical way to end a fully customized itinerary day such as the one we have experienced together on this day.
Once inside the shrine, the beauty of this space only intensifies.
The intricate details of the wooden architecture, the colorful shrine decorations, and the beautifully lit-up interior all work together to create a serene and spiritual space. The sight of the shrine's towering wooden gate and the peaceful sounds of the surrounding forest will transport us back to a time when life was simpler and more connected to nature.
Stop #10: Kanda area
After the tranquility of the Kanda Myojin Shrine, I think a perfect way to end our guided tour day is to finish with a place that's known for its mix of traditional and modern establishments, the Kanda area of the city.
Though Kanda is not a prime tourist district (really more of a typical local district with residential areas and numerous universities) it is a spot that is fun to frequent at night, given the fact that it's full of academics and young people. If you want to experience some real Tokyo nightlife, Kanda is the place to go.
One of the highlights of Kanda is the variety of unique and quirky bars that you can discover here and the obvious lack of tourists.
From a bar that is themed after a vintage electronics store, to a cozy little sake bar tucked away in a quiet alley, there's always something new and exciting to try. And the best part? Many of these bars are hidden gems that only locals know about.
Though some may enjoy the hipper hotspots that are talked about on every travel website and tourism book, I myself like to take my guests to a place they can wind down and truly see how Tokyo residents like to pass their evenings.
Are you ready to join me?
Traveling is one of everyone's top bucket list items, and traveling to a city like Tokyo will never disappoint, particularly if you do your research ahead of time and decide what it is that you really want to see.
Yes, the tourist attractions are always going to be important...but if you really want to get to know Tokyo, consider joining me for one of my Tokyo tours that will help you get past the typical and let you experience Tokyo at your own pace as well as see a side of this amazing city that few tourists ever get to see.
I'd love to be your host and your Tokyo private tour guide. Come join me!
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