1. Tokyo: Japan's Cultural Curiosities Walking Tour
Your 3-hour Tokyo tour begins in the Ningyocho neighborhood, a district known for its timeless traditions and, as you’ll discover right away, tasty treats. The fragrance of cinnamon will lead you to a shop that specializes in Japanese sweets. Established in 1897, in the Meiji Era, this shop stays true to its origins. Visit an incense store that dates back to 1705, and learn about kōdō, the art of appreciating incense. You’ll also stop at a little gift shop that carries traditional Japanese items, from calligraphy tools to decorative wares. If you’re hungry by this point, that’s good, as you’ll be stopping at a snack shop from the Showa Era that features treats popular in the early 20th century, including candies, caramels, ramune soda, fish jerky, and bean paste snacks, to name a few. Next, you'll visit a shop that specialises in a traditional snack: senbei (rice crackers), a favourite in many Japanese households, which is happily gluten and dairy free. Try sweet kawara senbei (made from flour actually, not rice), as well as salty rice crackers, a favorite in many Japanese households. Cross the street to a shamisen shop, and learn a bit about this traditional Japanese stringed instrument. Then head to a local tenugui shop, where they sell woven hand towels depicting Japanese scenes. Your Tokyo tour guide will next show one of the 8 temples in Ningyocho. Visit a shrine where virtue, longevity, learning, and wealth are worshiped. You can offer a prayer here, and wash a coin to ensure a prosperous life. Visit the nearby neighborhood of Nihonbashi, a hub for merchants during the Edo period. Today, it’s predominantly a financial district that’s home to trading firms and the Tokyo Stock Exchange. Although Nihonbashi is very much a modern neighborhood, you’ll find many traditional Japanese shops hidden in its alleyways and even within its department stores. Stop at a seaweed shop, as well as an old-fashioned stationery shop that was established in 1946. Admire the display of calligraphy brushes, inks, traditional paints, handmade greeting cards, and little dolls. Check out a toothpick shop that has been in business since 1704 and that gives a little something extra special to buyers: each toothpick is wrapped in a piece of paper with a poem. You’ll also stop at a katsuobushi shop that can be traced back more than 200 years. Katsuobushi, or fish shavings, is used to make fish broth, the very essence of Japanese cooking. Lastly, you’ll visit a shop that makes golden leaves at 0.0001 of a millimeter, traditionally used for decorating ceramics, furnishings, and even food. The tour ends at the Nihonbashi information center, where you’ll get to taste a few more traditional Japanese sweets before saying sayōnara.