7 tours that offer an authentic look at Tokyo and beyond

Tokyo, Japan CNN  — 

Navigating a Japanese metropolis as a visitor can be a challenging enough prospect.

The difficulty only ramps up when one wants to find less-visited sights and experience local venues beyond the travel hotspots.

As exhilarating as exploring a city alone can be, getting a little help from local experts often enhances one’s time in Japan significantly.

The number of city-based tours in Japan has increased over the last few years, coinciding with the rise in visitors.

And as more and more guided trips through major areas such as Tokyo and Osaka have bubbled up, a growing number of tours offer a specialized focus on these urban areas.

From tours highlighting the best food to cartoon-centric haunts, these are some of the best tours happening in Japan right now.

Magical Trip

The main star of Magical Trip's food tours is Japanese nightlife.

Tour company Magical Trip takes visitors through Japan’s major cities after dark, operating tours in Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto.

The experiences are primarily focused on food but aim to show visitors what Japanese nightlife is really like, complete with stops at local bars.

Magical Trip’s itineraries focus on specific neighborhoods, including Tokyo’s traditionally minded Asakusa and Osaka’s buzzing Namba district.

Their most popular outing is the Tokyo Bar Hopping course, which actually zeroes in on long-running drinking streets in Shinjuku and Ebisu.

Ideal for anyone looking to feel local and enjoy some libations along the way.

Ninja Food Tours

Everyone knows about sushi and ramen, which are indeed delicious. Ninja Food Tours aims to expand the culinary vocabulary of Japan visitors.

Offering tours in Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto, this group tries to highlight lesser known delights.

To that end, they organize tours such as Tokyo Retro Bites (allowing visitors to indulge in throwback street food) and a jaunt through Kyoto’s Arashiyama.

They also offer a cooking class in Tokyo, allowing visitors to get hands-on in creating Japanese cuisine.

Akibaland Tours

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Plenty come to Japan because of the nation’s pop culture. Akibaland Tours offers day trips through some of Tokyo’s havens for all things anime, fashion and beyond.

The main attraction is right in their title.

The Akihabara Culture Tour matches visitors up with a knowledgeable local who takes them around the Tokyo neighborhood devoted to all things anime, manga and video games.

It’s a whirlwind glance at this corner of Japanese pop culture, topped off by a stop at a maid cafe. Maybe not representative of all the country has to offer, but a great snapshot of a particular subset of it.

Beyond Akihabara, they also guide folks through the fashion and youth-trend capital of Japan, Harajuku.

That tour offers a glance at all things “kawaii” (cute) in Japan, including a stop at a character-themed cafe with dishes that will wow on Instagram.

Photowalk Tour

Lee Chapman's Photowalk Tour takes tourists to overlooked neighborhoods.

For those hoping to see more well-worn and lesser observed corners of Tokyo, longtime resident Lee Chapman’s Photowalk Tour serves as the perfect excursion.

Chapman has walked and photographed Tokyo for about 20 years, and his tour allows for quite a bit of customization from the participant.

If someone wants to explore a more well-known ‘hood (and snap some photos … though the Photowalk Tour isn’t a camera class), he’s here to help.

Yet his specialty is in guiding people to the alleys and side streets tucked around the capital.

For those wanting to see neighborhoods often overlooked by tourists, his tour is a good option.

Arigato Japan Food Tours

The folks at Arigato Japan Food Tours really zoom in on specific corners of Japan’s dining scene, bringing expertise – and lots of top-notch flavors – to the proverbial table.

Organizing tours in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, they offer a variety of options including a handful of family-friendly options and even green tea-focused explorations. They also can tailor their tours for those wanting to explore during the day or later at night.

A few highlights include their Hidden Gem Food Tour in Tokyo’s Shimbashi, which helps visitors navigate the labyrinthine backstreets of the capital’s business district, and their tour through Kyoto’s Nishiki Market.

ShowCase Tokyo

You can learn a lot about a city’s character and history through the buildings dotting it.

ShowCase Tokyo provides architecture tours through some of the capital’s most visually impressive neighborhoods.

The staff working here all have a deep knowledge of Tokyo architectural history, and their trips through Ginza, Omotesando, Ueno Park and more offer deep insight into the buildings in these areas along with their historical context.

One particular highlight is ShowCase Tokyo’s tour of the Nakagin Capsule Tower, one of the most attention-grabbing buildings in the city.

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