Tokyo and all of its food, culture, nightlife and more can be challenging to explore on your own. And if you’re a traveller passing through, there’s also the added pressure of wanting to maximise each moment of your limited time in the big city. Local guides are a great way to experience immersive travelling. Tours by Locals offers exactly that service with over 4,500 guides in almost 200 countries ready and waiting to share their part of the world with you. Slightly different to your typical tour booking platform, these tours are usually private and offer a unique and personalised experience no matter the destination.
To begin choosing the tour on the Tours by Locals site, simply key in your destination and the dates for the duration of your stay. Every book-able tour possible in that location will appear, but you can click on ‘More’ and narrow it down through fields like ‘special interest’ ‘activity level’ and ‘language’. As an ardent food enthusiast, I knew I wanted something that would make my stomach happy and I was quickly overwhelmed with options. There are seemingly a few duplicates with multiple guides offering similar experiences so you might need to spend a bit of time reading the descriptions of the tour as well as the guide and noting things like the price and the tour’s star rating. We decided on a Tsukiji Outer Fish Market Shopping and Home Style Sushi Making tour to combine both outdoor exploration and a food reward at the end.
On the day of our tour, we meet Fukuko san at the Tsukiji Information Centre, as stipulated in her confirmation e-mail to me several days prior. She’s warm, friendly and speaks conversational English which will definitely alleviate any concerns about communication for English-speaking travellers. She’s quick to address the dietary concerns I raised in my e-mail to her and tells me to let her know at any moment if I am unable to eat anything. The first order of business is to visit Namiyoke Inari Jinja, the resident shrine for the Tsukiji area. With ‘protector of waves’ as its namesake, the god enshrined here is prayed to for the safety and good fortune of the marketplace and its traders.
We then begin our walk through the Tsukiji market, with Fukuko san highlighting her favourite shops along the way. We cooed over Japan-made tableware and chopsticks, sampled regional ‘nori’ (a type of dried seaweed used for maki sushi) and even ate ‘breakfast’ wagyu at a stall peddling these fatty pieces of unctuous meat on a stick. With Fukuko san taking the lead, we really felt welcomed and part of the Tsukiji community as made would say hello and make us feel like welcome repeat customers.
Many might be curious about the state of Tsukiji ever since the auction market moved over to Toyosu. The outer market of Tsukiji has certainly remained and while the area wasn’t packed like I remember many years ago, it was still very lively. There’s no shortage of seafood stalls, sushi restaurants, plus the famous tamagoyaki sellers. Non-seafood related businesses are also there such as an old school coffee shop and a decent-sized yakitori stall so there really is something for everyone, even those who might not love fish.
After some satisfying shopping, we took a taxi to her home for the cooking class. It felt like an incredible privilege to be taken into Fukuko san’s space which had a beautiful kitchen layout, perfect for cooking classes. Prior to the tour, Fukuko san had already prepared ingredients and some side dishes which would all come together to form our complete meal.
She taught us how to make tamagoyaki (Japanese rolled omelette) as well as preparing maki sushi and nigiri sushi. Throughout this time she was patient and shared with us tidbits on Japanese cuisine. Fukuko san also periodically checked in to see if we were hungry or tired. She says that depending on the energy levels of her tour group, she will sometimes ask them to rest and offer to cook the entire meal for them.
The end result of our lunch was a beautiful spread of nigiri and maki sushi as well as side dishes of grilled vegetables, spinach goma-ae and a clear dashi broth with tofu. I have various dietary restrictions but Fukuko san was able to accommodate them all without compromising on a delicious meal for myself. She also offers us sake that she recommends goes well with sushi, from her time studying to be a sake sommelier.
Towards the end of the meal, she takes us through some of her notes about Japanese food and sake which enhanced our understanding of the meal we had just eaten. All of these notes and the recipes for our lunch were given to us to take home.
Prior to this, I didn’t have a lot of positive experiences on tours. I expected at most to have a short walk around a market I had already been to before plus the opportunity to eat some homemade sushi. What I actually received was several hours of getting to know someone and their world of Japanese ingredients, cuisine and a passion for promoting it to the world. Naturally, one tour guide does not make an entire platform. But if Fukuko san’s tour, her abilities and her kindness is anything to go by, Tours by Locals is a tour booking platform to consider for your next trip.
The writer participated in this tour as a guest of Tour by Locals