Taking a Tokyo food tour is a fantastic way to learn about Japanese culture, and of course, about what’s good to eat! Navigating the minefield of unfamiliar foods as well as a language barrier can be difficult if you’re travelling with small children, or if you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet; and downright intimidating if your family includes both kids and veggies, like ours! Taking a food tour is a good way to get around these obstacles, and to give you more confidence when eating out in Japan.
There was only one choice for our family: Arigato Japan Food Tours, who not only welcome vegetarians but small, fussy kids too – perfect. We took a three hour food tour through Asakusa in Tokyo, and left with full bellies and a lot more knowledge about Japanese food and culture.
Read on for our Arigato Japan Food Tours review! If you like what you read, then make sure you use our discount code when you book – you can find this at the end of the post.
Arigato Japan Food Tours review: Kid-friendly food tours in Japan
Asakusa is one of Tokyo’s oldest districts and is home to the Asakusa temple complex – one of the Japanese capital’s biggest draws for tourists and locals alike, and one of my favourite areas in Tokyo. During our tour we were able to dig into this area and learn about Japanese life and traditions.
We met our guide, Asami, at the Asakusa Cultural Centre. This is a great place to stop off if you’re in Asakusa anyway – there’s a diorama of the area on the ground floor and a fantastic view over Senso-ji temple from the top of the building so we’d recommend a visit. You can also pick up loads of information about what to see in the area here. The Asakusa Cultural Centre is really easy to find and Arigato Japan gave us detailed instructions on how to find the building.
Asami was a great guide; she was bubbly and easy to talk to; she welcomed questions and answered them all and best of all, she was great with our two small kids. They loved her!
Kannon Dori Covered Market
At the start of our tour, we didn’t hit the temple immediately as I thought we might. Instead we walked through Kannon-Dori, a covered market that runs parallel to Nakamise-Dori, the main shopping street in front of Asakusa temple. Here we were able to step into some proper Japanese shops selling local treats and traditional snacks. This marketplace was a far cry from the packed main street – it seemed to cater more for local Japanese people than tourists so it had a much more relaxed feel about it, and it wasn’t packed to the gills.
Senbei rice crackers
Our first stop was at a beautifully presented shop selling senbei, a type of Japanese rice cracker made of rice powder mixed with water. The senbei are flavoured in all sorts of different ways – savoury food lovers will enjoy the chilli flavour (this is pretty strong, so perhaps not for small kids!). You can get soy flavours, matcha and sweetened cakes too. My kids went for a senbei cracker with a sugary coating – let’s just say that this was a big hit as we didn’t get a peep out of the kids until the senbei had been entirely devoured.
Pickles, spices and soft buns
We continued on up the marketplace, stopping in a couple of other places as we went. We stopped in a spice shop, which sold shichimi, Japanese seven spice mix. This is a famous Japanese seasoning but the mix isn’t fixed – you can change the amount of each spice according to your taste. The main ingredients are red chilli, sancho (Japanese pepper), roasted orange peel, black and white sesame seeds, hemp seeds, ground ginger, aonori (seaweed) and mustard seeds. It’s used in a range of Japanese dishes and smelled so good!
We were able to sample some Japanese pickles, although these weren’t pickles as I think of them as the ingredients are soaked in sake and salt instead of vinegar. This leads to a much more delicate taste and allows much more of the natural flavours of the pickles to come through. The erengi mushrooms mixed with chilli were amazing. The Japanese also pickle lots of other ingredients which we managed to grab a quick taste of, like yuzu fruit mixed with radishes.
Yuzu fruit isn’t something that we get very often in the UK but it’s much more prevalent in Japan. Not only did we find some pickled yuzu, Asami also introduced me to yuzu tea; a sweet and super fruity drink that was the perfect foil for a cold December day.
While I was having my yuzu tea, the meat eaters got to sample some Japanese steamed buns (unfortunately they were out of adzuki bean buns that day!). The soft and fluffy dough hides a filling which can be sweet or savoury. These buns are found throughout Japan and there’s usually a range of flavours to choose from. The buns were a hit with the husband and I lost count of how many he scoffed during our trip!
Meanwhile, the kids got taken to a sweet shop where Asami bought them handfuls of treats – that kept the smile on their faces!
Traditional Japanese lunch
We cut through the temple complex and headed through some quieter streets on the other side for lunch. Some of the shops and restaurants weren’t yet open, but their grilles were painted so you knew what you’d be able to find later. There was time for a quick stop in a sweet shop for the kids, and for Asami to explain a bit about the ubiquitous vending machines that we passed – most have hot and cold drinks, and in times of emergency, the machines will dispense for free.
The main meal stop was at a traditional, family run Japanese restaurant. On my first visit to Japan I had found it hard to find Japanese dishes without meat or fish (even innocent sounding pasta dishes would arrive with ham chunks liberally sprinkled throughout) so it was great to be able to try all sorts of Japanese food! And I definitely found it much easier to find good vegetarian food this time around; vegetarianism, though still rare, isn’t as unknown in Japan as it used to be.
This sort of restaurant serves lots of dishes to each table and you’re expected to share with your companions. We also learned about some Japanese manners and tips for eating out in Japan, especially on how to deal with your chopsticks. Basically, don’t muck about with them; don’t stick them upright in your food, pass food to someone else with them or pull your plate around with them.
Other than chopstick taboos, probably the most important tip to share is that the servers won’t come up to your table unless you signal them. In the UK we’re used to waiting for waiters to come to the table and so signalling them feels a bit rude. It’s the opposite in Japan – wave at the staff when you’re ready to order or to pay as they don’t want to disturb you at your table until they know you’re ready to order.
Japanese society has quite a few rules and things that visitors should be aware of, so I’ll have more detail about these in an upcoming post!
Asami was great at finding food to suit our two fussy kids (and their fussy mum) and we filled up on yaki soba, silken tofu, a fantastic omelette, tempura fried vegetables and asparagus. I wasn’t expecting to be able to have so much veggie variety in a traditional restaurant so I made sure I dived right in!
The tempura was some of the best I’ve had; the batter was so light and crispy. I enjoyed the fresh pesto sauce that the tempura came with, although it wasn’t a flavour I’d been expecting to find in Japan! The yaki soba was the kids’ favourite dish from all the options we had, whereas I thought the omelette was great, with just the right amount of sweet sauce and pickles to complement the egg.
Exploring the Senso-ji temple complex
After leaving the restaurant we were all feeling a bit sluggish so we took a break before we went for dessert. We finally entered the beautiful Asakusa temple complex which was busy, but as atmospheric as I remembered. Asakusa was my favourite part of Tokyo on my first visit, and a return didn’t disappoint.
There are two main religions in Japan; Buddhism and the native Shinto. The religions are often practised alongside each other and that’s the case at Asakusa, where the main building, Senso-ji, is a Buddhist temple, but you will also find the Shinto Asakusa Shrine right next door.
A huge advantage of having a Japanese guide was that we were shown what to do at the temple without having to worry about making any faux pas! First of all we had our fortune told; we shook a stick-filled cylinder and picked one of the numbered sticks, then we got our fortune from a drawer of the same number. The fortunes can be good or bad – we got number 78, the best one! It was a good omen as the rest of our Japan trip went without a hitch.
The kids were intrigued as to what everyone was doing outside the temple, so Asami took us over to a pot of incense where we wafted the smoke over our heads to purify ourselves. She then led us to a trough to wash our hands and rise our mouths before going into the main temple.
Inside we could see a huge buddha behind a screen, with people throwing coins into a box in front of the screen, before bowing and ringing bells. The kids were keen to copy everyone, so we watched a few people and then let the kids have a go. Make sure you look up in the temple as there’s beautiful artwork on the ceiling. You can also buy lucky amulets and charms from a large shop on the temple floor – just decide what you want to wish for (luck in exams, relationships, even driving safely) and there’ll surely be a charm for it!
Around the temple we saw lots of craft stalls selling decorations for New Year and souvenirs for tourists; all beautifully packaged and presented which you’ll see is the norm in Japan. There were also plenty of food stalls too, selling all sorts of street food and snacks.
Dessert, and a spot of fishing
We found that we still had some room for dessert after all our food, so Asami took us to a famous melon bread shop on the outskirts of the temple complex. Apparently this is the best place in Tokyo for melon bread, which is a sweetened dough, baked for hours at a low temperature to get a really fluffy texture underneath a crispy sugar coated exterior. And yes, it really does taste of melon.
Whether or not it’s really the best melon bread in Tokyo I don’t know, but it was definitely the best melon bread we had while we were in Japan. We tried it several more times but none measured up to this melon bread – it was delicious! The cafe itself was awesome too, and we’d never have known it was there as it was concealed behind a curtained doorway, and up a flight of narrow stairs.
We were delighted to find a tatami mat floored room (so off came our shoes) and a beautifully painted rice paper screen. We definitely felt very Japanese here, and Asami taught us how to make origami cranes while we waited for our melon bread. The kids went for chocolate ice cream and were very pleased with their choice!
Our final activity was a little impromptu, and not something I’ve ever done before! Just next to the melon bread shop, Asami showed us a shop with a goldfish fishing game. A large shallow tank held hundreds of tiny goldfish which you had to coax into a wooden box with a paper scoop. You got three paper scoops, but they tore very easily and we were utterly useless at this game and didn’t manage to catch a single fish. More seasoned players had a whole box full of goldfish but no luck for us!
After dessert our tour finally came to an end, and stuffed, the kids said a tearful goodbye to Asami, and we wandered back through the shrine and down Nakamise-Dori before heading off to Tokyo Skytree.
Would we recommend Arigato Japan Food Tours?
We would hand on heart recommend Arigato Japan Food Tours, and the Asakusa food tour for families with young children.
Asami was a fantastic guide. She was enthusiastic, knowledgeable and friendly and was the perfect person to engage with families with small children. She made sure that the kids were happy, had enough to eat and took them to sweet shops (I’m sure she wouldn’t have taken adults here). Asami was able to ensure that we had plenty of food options, including lots of vegetarian choices. I really enjoyed my main meal and was delighted that there were so many different foods that I could try – more than I thought there would be. It goes without saying that all of the food we ate on this tour was delicious.
The advantages of taking an Arigato Japan Food Tour were more than just culinary though. We learned a lot about Japanese culture, including the differences between shrines and temples and what to do at them. Asami also told us a lot about everyday life in Japan, including taking us around one of the thousands of convenience stores and telling us more about vending machines and Japanese etiquette.
As well as the food, what we found indispensable about our Arigato Japan tour was the variety of places that we were taken to. If we’d just gone to Asakusa by ourselves I don’t think we’d have found the Kannon-Dori shopping street as we’d have headed straight up the packed Nakamise-Dori street. We’d have missed out on so many of the little treats that we were able to have – there’s no way we’d have found the lovely melon bread cafe, and I probably would have struggled to get the variety of veggie food that I had on the tour.
At three hours long, the food tour was a perfect length. We walked a long way, but we had plenty of time at the restaurant without feeling rushed. As the tour started at 11am, it was perfectly timed for lunch and we then had the whole afternoon to explore the area further. Three hours was also plenty of time to absorb all that we were learning about Japanese life.
Arigato Japan Food Tours are highly recommended!
About Arigato Japan Food Tours
Arigato Japan Food Tours are available in Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Mt Fuji, and from 2019, Hiroshima (expect plenty of okonomiyaki, I’d bet!).
Keep an eye out for special seasonal tours too; cherry blossom food tours run in March and April!
Which tours are available?
There are plenty of tours to choose from, depending on what you’d like to experience in Japan. You don’t have to take a daytime tour; many of the tours operate in the evening.
You can choose from several tours in Tokyo itself – one of the most popular other than the Asakusa food tour that we went on, is the All Star Food Tour which takes you to izakaya (Japanese pubs) by Shimbashi station. If you want to learn more about izakaya before you go to Japan, then I’d recommend watching Tokyo Stories: Midnight Diner on Netflix before you go. Give Samurai Gourmet a go too!
And if you’re not sure which tour to take, then don’t worry – the tours are categorised which will help you to narrow down your choices.
How can I book Arigato Japan food tours?
Grab your Arigato Japan Food Tour discount code here!
If you book your Arigato Japan Food Tour on their site then make sure that you use this discount code: KidsandC10 for 10% off any Arigato Japan Food Tour!
We were hosted by Arigato Japan Food Tours in exchange for an honest review.
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