Tokyo Volunteer Guides. What is it, and who should use it?
Tokyo Volunteer Guides show you the metropolitan charms.
The tour guide services conducted by Tokyo Volunteer Guides present the perfect option for those looking to “get out” in Tokyo, but don’t have a strict itinerary. There are many tours around the most popular areas of Tokyo (Shinjuku, Asakusa, etc.), and will give you the gist of the area, but the real benefit here is that you won’t be at the mercy of a tour guide who has obligations to a company. The volunteer guides do this purely to support the tourists from abroad with wonderful hospitality , and are more than happy to veer from the plan if you get curious about something along the way.
Focus on fun and communication, all while the guides share tidbits about history, culture, and happenings in the area. This an extraordinarily precious resource that can not only put you in touch with Tokyo’s coolest areas, but also put you in touch with internationally minded locals who have so much to share.
The Shinjuku Walking Tour
Our tour started at the sleek and modern Tokyo tourist information center within the highway bus center “Shinjuku Expressway Bus Terminal,” connected to JR Shinjuku Station. This is a great spot to get information for nearly anywhere in Japan, and I highly recommend a stop here for both hospitality from the staff and ideas for adventures.
The tour guide, Mr. Saito, was a gentleman bursting with knowledge and humor, and of course the language ability to make it accessible. The plan was: Takashimaya Department store in the south of JR Shinjuku Station, over to the Isetan Department store in the east, swing around to the historical Hanazono Shrine, and then through the bustling Kabukicho, a classic entertainment district that’s fun during the day, and a little more “infamous” at night. It’s an exciting tour that gives a perfect overview of one of Japan’s most bustling spots, putting shopping, history, and fun all in one!
Mr. Saito (left) is a humorous and cheerful gentleman with deep knowledge of the area.
Learning about the history of the town while heading to Takashimaya.
Department stores: A tasteful adventure
Takashimaya has just about all manners of shopping, and our main stop was a terrace on the top floor with myriad food selections from all around the world, and a panoramic view of this part of Tokyo. The Isetan Department store has a world-class food emporium on the lower floor, taking you on a gourmet journey that is as much of a treat for the eyes as it is the stomach. Deli items, fresh foods, drinks, souvenir treats, and sweets seem to be never-ending, and many come to this historical department store (established in 1886!) for the food alone!
While strolling in the department store, Mr. Saito taught me an interesting difference between Japanese chopsticks and Chinese chopsticks. He told me that “Japanese chopsticks have sharper edges, making it easier to remove the fish bones”. I felt that cultural trivia like this was a "garnish" to an already tasteful adventure.
A rooftop garden at Takashimaya offers a panoramic view of the city.
Enjoy a gourmet tour of the Isetan Department store, and how about a colorful seafood boxed bento for lunch?
The shrine and an amusement area: Two kinds of oases
Hanazono Shrine stands out with its striking red exterior and refreshing, oasis-like foliage among the concrete in this downtown district. Mr. Saito showed me the proper way to pray at Japanese shrines: Bow twice, clap twice, and bow once again. After a quick wish to the heavens and a look at the various charms that also make popular souvenirs, we made our way to Kabukicho. Full of restaurants, bars, karaoke, game arcades, and so much more, this place sees all walks of people looking for a good time. The Toho Cinemas building is the center of this district, gathering everything the area has to offer in one bustling hub. And it has a Godzilla statue on top!
The guide will tell you how to pray at shrines in the proper way, so you'll look like a local in no time.
Take a walk at Kabukicho and feel the bustling atmosphere of the town, while Godzilla watches you from above.
While of course I learned so much about Shinjuku on this tour, the true value was getting a local’s perspective and guidance. I now have more tools and knowledge to do my own exploring of Shinjuku and beyond, and you can bet I’ll be joining this tour again!
For details about tour guide services by Tokyo Volunteer Guides, please check the website below:
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