Whenever we travel to a new country, meaningful interaction with the locals is a must-do! Why? Because after 4+ years of non-stop travel, we realized that no matter how many articles or guidebooks that we read, nothing beats the information and perspective that locals can give.
With that in mind, as much as possible, we try to go on as many local tours as we can whenever we’re in a new place. During our recent trip to Japan, we stumbled upon a local tour company called Magical Trip who had a variety of food and cultural tours all over Japan.
Given that our mission for the entire trip was to
stuff our faces with eat as much good food as we could, it made sense for us to try out these local tours while we’re in Japan.
Local Tours in Tokyo
Shinjuku Bar Hopping Tour
- 3 drinks & 3 dishes (you can select from our menu)
- Hopping 3 local izakaya bars with a local guide
- Photos during the tour
If you want a taste of Tokyo’s nightlife, I highly recommend going on this local tour while in Tokyo. It was such a great way to meet other travelers while gaining insight into their local culture. We had so much fun with our guide Rika who took us around small local restaurants and bars that we never would have found on our own.
Prior to beginning the tour, we were emailed clear confirmation details for the Shinjuku Bar Hopping Tour as well as a detailed map (with photos) on the tour meeting point. We’ve been on tours before where the meeting points aren’t clearly specified which is why I think this was important to mention.
During our tour, we went to three local bars/restaurants where we were presented with a menu. We started off by going to a traditional izakaya bar in Omoide Yokocho Alley. Walking along the alleys, we followed our guide as we observed the mouthwatering smell of various meat skewers being grilled. The first izakaya bar we went to served amazing gyozas (Japanese dumplings) which we washed down with a cold beer.
For our next location, we went to a seafood restaurant which served a delicious sashimi platter as well as tempura. As we had our beer fill, we moved on to highballs which are essentially a mixture of Japanese whiskey and soda. For non-beer or whiskey drinkers, you also had the option to order sake or Japanese plum wine.
Our last stop was a sake bar where we tried a variety of different drinks. Coming from someone who loves sake, I enjoyed this stop the most! Throughout the evening, the conversation flowed really well with Rika filling us in on local Japanese traditions and culture.
Every location that we went to, we were presented with a menu where we could select a drink and some food. Although your selection was limited from what was on the menu, you could always order additional food and drink in each place.
We enjoyed everyone’s company so much that we ended up going to Golden Gai for a few more nightcap drinks. Going on this Shinjuku bar hopping tour was a great introduction to the city and the vibrant nightlife that it is known for.
Traditional Tokyo Foodie Tour
- 4 food plates, 2 drinks, and 1 dessert (enough to fill your stomach)
- Tour photos
- 3 hours with a local guide
If you love food and want a quick insight into some of the best places to eat in Tokyo, this foodie tour in Tokyo is for you. We selected this particular tour as we haven’t explored the area of Akasaka yet but heard great things about it. This night foodie tour takes you to three different restaurants where you can really sit down and enjoy each dish.
Coming from someone who loves food, this was one of our favorite tours as we got to sample a variety of dishes in each place, trying things that we were unfamiliar with. Our guide Mana (the banana) took us to the first restaurant which specialized in sushi. Here, we sat right in front of the chef which is always a treat as we got to watch him prepare our food right in front of our eyes.
The restaurant we went to was lively and was full of locals (which is always a good sign!) We ordered a variety of dishes from sushi, temaki, to blow torched nigiris. It was delicious! The restaurant staff was also super wonderful, helping us to dress up in local kimonos to complete the look.
For our next stop, we went to a kushiage place. If you’ve never heard of kushiage, join the club! We’ve never heard of the word until we joined the tour and by the time we left the second restaurant, we’ve been questioning where it’s been all our lives.
Traditionally from Osaka, kushiage is essentially skewers made up with a variety of things) that is deep fried, dipped into some sauce, and washed down with a cold beer. In this particular restaurant, we got to choose from a variety of fish, jumbo prawns, vegetables, and even camembert cheese! We were then given matcha salt, dashi, as well as Worcestershire sauce to complete the experience.
The food here was so good but the chefs and servers were even lovelier. Don’t forget to ask for their homemade chili sauce and to try their highballs which I might even say were some of the best we’ve had on our entire trip!
We ended our local Tokyo food tour with a visit to a local Japanese dessert shop which has been open since 1948. Here, we got to drool over a variety of Japanese style Western desserts. It was nearing 10 pm and the place was packed full of both locals and foreigners who were all lining up to have some cake. Overall, this food tour was well worth the price and was something we really enjoyed. Mana was super fun to be with and gave us so much insight into the local food culture which we loved.
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Local Tours in Kyoto
Kyoto Food Tour
- 4-5 Food tastings (Full dinner)
- 3 drinks (Alcohol and Non-alcohol available)
- Tour photos
- 3 hours with a local guide
I’m sure by now, you’ve noticed that we’re serial foodies which is why it made sense for us to sign up for yet another food tour while in Kyoto. This particular food tour took us around Gion, the well-known Geisha district. We met up with our guide Natsumi who brought us to traditional places around the area.
It was raining on that particular night which made Kyoto even prettier in my opinion. We walked around with our umbrellas, exploring this district during the night. Natsumi even showed us areas where Geishas and Maiko’s (Geisha apprentice) usually go.
Although Japanese food is quite universal, each region has their own specialty and in Kyoto, it was all about tofu skin (Yuba), matcha, and root vegetables. In the very first restaurant we went to, we ordered a vegetarian platter which featured an assortment of vegetables and appetizers cooked traditionally. I say this all the time but I am always in awe at how simple yet delicious Japanese food is. Apart from this, we also sampled a variety of sashimi which was super fresh.
Our next restaurant was a tempura place which was packed with locals. Although the tempura was delicious, what caught our eye (and tastebuds) were the incredible matcha flavored drinks. From matcha beer, matcha sake, to matcha mojitos, this place definitely had something for everyone. We also had fun taking photos of the green colored drinks!
Our last stop for this food tour was a small bar which was standing room only. Here, we had a nightcap consisting of a few beers and sake shots. Our guide filled us in on Kyoto and also gave us great tips on where to eat in Osaka as she lived in between the two cities.
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Other Local Tours in Japan
Although we only did tours in Tokyo and Kyoto, Magical Trip have other tours in Osaka and even in Hiroshima. We were scheduled to do another food tour in Osaka but I was feeling under the weather in the later part of our trip. Apart from food and bar hopping tours, they also offer cultural ones like zen meditation tours, bicycle tours, karaoke pub crawl and more!
Overall, we loved our time in Japan and honestly enjoyed it a lot more due to these local experiences. We never felt like we were “on a tour” but rather just out and about with friends. So if you’re looking for a local tour while in Japan, I can hands down recommend Magical Trip.
Note: This article was written in partnership with Magical Trip, however, as usual, all words and opinions are ours!
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