A private tour with a local in a foreign city where you don’t speak the native language is the fastest way to get acclimatised to your surroundings.
A tour with an Urban Adventures Tokyo local guide is also the best way to tour Tokyo in one day if you happen to be visiting via cruise ship or on a quick 24-hour layover. A guided tour helps so that you don’t waste precious time trying to find your way around or waste time getting stuck shopping for last-minute over-priced gifts at the airport.
Made in Japan Shopping Tour: Ningyocho & Nihonbashi Tokyo
On our first trip to Tokyo, we had the opportunity to take a neighbourhood tour with Tokyo Urban Adventures. We enjoyed our time walking through the back roads and alleys of Ningyocho and Nihonbashi area of Tokyo. On tour, we discovered generations owned family businesses, nibbled on traditional snacks and pastries, and learned a bit about the Japanese culture along the way.
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Silvia greets us with a smile as we run up huffing and puffing to the group of travellers standing under the clock tower. Apologising for our delay, we’ve finally arrived at the CORRECT meeting location.
The instructions were clear, and we arrived early, but we stupidly were waiting at the wrong spot!
Pro Travel Tips:
- Plan for an early arrival in case you get lost and can’t find the meeting location
- Have a print out of your booking and ensure you have a contact phone number or email address just in case.
Luckily, Silvia waited for us, or we would have missed the entire tour!
Tour stops: Cultural Curiosities of Tokyo by Urban Adventures
Red Bean Pastries Shop
Our first stop on our tour was for a tasting of traditional sweet red bean paste filled pastries at this tiny bakery established in the Meiji Era (1897). Each little cake is pressed into a wooden mould to imprint the shape and face of one of the Buddhist gods. They still use the same wooden mould that they used when the shop opened in 1897!
Kōdō Incense Shop
Dating back to 1705, these silk pouches of incense make beautiful gifts so, stock up. You can get cheaper knock-off versions everywhere, but they aren’t the same nor do they smell or feel as nice. The only other place to get these same authentic silk pouches is in their shop in Kyoto.
These incense pouches make lovely gifts for the ladies in your life so stock up because they pack up small and are very lightweight to carry back home with you!
Traditional Toothpicks Shop
Another fabulous, unique gift item are these fancy toothpicks. Made the same way they’ve been doing it since 1704, each toothpick is hand-wrapped in paper inscribed with a poem. If you are visiting Tokyo for an extended period, you can order custom monogrammed toothpicks for that extra special someone in your life.
Senbei Rice Cracker Shop Tour Stop
Senbei Rice Crackers are a traditional snack item that makes for perfect tasty souvenirs. They come plain but you can also find some delightful (and humorous) decorations.
Tenugui Towel Shop
This unique shop specialises in woven hand towels that depict Japanese scenes and designs – both traditional patterns and modern in style. You can find everything from cherry blossoms to Pokemon.
Roasted Tea Shop
Vacuum-packed roasted tea leaves of all different flavours. This is another place to stock up for gift giving. I purchased a bag of the cherry blossom green tea as a memory of our trip to Asia and was told that it is only available during cherry blossom season.
Ningyocho and Nihonbashi Neighbourhood Shinto Shrines
We visited a few neighbourhood shrines on our shopping tour through Ningyocho and Nihonbashi. Here Silvia explained the significance of each one, the various customs and traditions, as well as the proper steps to take when praying and visiting.
A visit to a neighbourhood deep-fried croquette shop for a tasting and a break.
Shopping Tour through Ningyocho and Nihonbashi
Our Urban Adventures guide was very knowledgeable. Sylvia was happy to answer any questions our group of 12 travellers had about Japan and the Japanese culture, and we felt this was an excellent way of experiencing Tokyo with a local.
If shopping is on your list of things to do, then this is the best Tokyo day trip for you! If you have additional days in the city, you can simply make a note of the shop locations for a return visit where you can browse at a more leisurely pace.
Do be aware that this truly is a walking tour through a charming neighbourhood full of family-owned shops and boutiques with unique traditional souvenirs and handicrafts. There was no pressure to purchase anything at all, but we primarily visited one shop after the other and ate along the way. I was expecting, based on the tour description, to see live hands-on demonstrations by artisans at work at each shop.
The full tour lasted 3-hours. It was an enjoyable walking tour through the Ningyocho and Nihonbashi neighbourhood. We visited a lot of local shops, we tour iconic sites along the route, we learned Japanese traditions and culture, and we tasted along the route. Not exactly a Tokyo food tour but an excellent introduction to a unique area of Tokyo.
Pro Travel Tips:
- Dress modestly with your shoulders covered and pants/skirt below your knees. There is a brief visit to a small neighbourhood shrine.
- Bring a bottle of water and hand sanitizer
- Wear comfortable walking shoes since you are pretty much on your feet for the entire tour
- If you have food allergies, ensure you notify the tour company at the time of booking
- This tour is child friendly
Visit Urban Adventures in Tokyo for available dates, full tour details as well as other guided city tours in Japan, such as Kyoto, and Osaka.
For additional reviews of this tour check here.
We were guests of Urban Adventures Tokyo who did not review or approve this article before publication. All opinions, as always are entirely my own.
If you are looking for other Japan adventures, read:
– Nine Unique Experiences Found In Japan
– Mountain Views and Shinto Shrines in Miyajima, Japan
– Fascinating and Modern Japan: 10 Things to Know
– Things To Do in Gero Onsen Japan