By Maiko Lankau
Tokyo Hospitality (Omotenashi)
“Omotenashi”—a word expressing the Japanese spirit of hospitality—is a symbolic keyword that shows Japan's devotion in exceeding service expectations with kind and generous acts. With the world's eyes on Japan for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics the Tokyo metropolitan government is preparing to put the Japanese "Omotenashi" spirit on display with highly useful services and tours designed for foreign travelers. For years, Tokyo has provided volunteer services for tourism-related events and destinations and as the Olympics and Paralympics approach, these services will continue to expand and improve to meet and exceed tourists’ expectations.
Volunteer-Guided Sightseeing Tours
One of the city’s many volunteer-run services is free guided sightseeing tours for small groups of up to five people. These are conducted in English, Chinese, Korean, Spanish, German, French or Italian, according to the availability of tour guides (there are always two guides on each tour). There are 10 tours with various themes to choose from and they last about 2-3 hours depending on the course. They involve plenty of walking, so visitors are advised to wear comfortable shoes. Most tours start at 1 pm, but a few also have a 10 am start time. Be sure to be there 10 minutes in advance to avoid delays. The tours start from the Tokyo Tourist Information Center.
Because volunteers lead these tours, they are reasonably priced—visitors only pay for transportation and entrance fees (if any) for the two guides and for themselves. This means, depending on the tour, it could be as little as 700 per person, or even free! The guides are locals who know the city inside out and are happy to share their wealth of knowledge about Tokyo and its history. They do their best to make the tours interesting and fun, as well as educational.
Overview of Two Popular Tours
Tour 1: A Town of Sumo with the Atmosphere of Edo
This tour takes visitors to Ryogoku, home of the Ryogoku Sumo National Stadium, for an exploration into Japan’s oldest national sport. The area is heavily influenced by sumo and lucky visitors may even spot a professional wrestler walking around town.
This tour ends at the critically acclaimed Edo-Tokyo Museum’s permanent exhibition, which offers insight into how people lived in old Edo (Tokyo’s former name) up until the modern day. Visitors are encouraged to try out different hands-on exhibits for themselves, and the guides are happy to give additional insight and take photos, as well.
Tour 2: Japanese Streets and an Oasis in the City
For garden and photography fanatics, this course through the Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens may be just the ticket. The guides will explain the significance of various garden structures—there is meaning behind everything—to give a greater understanding of why they are designed that way. Scenic views from Kyoto, Shiga, and even as far as China are recreated within the gardens, creating a space of natural beauty and historic significance. Following that, the guides navigate the famed narrow streets of Kagurazaka to explore the photogenic charms of inner-city alleyways. The tour finishes at Bishamonten Zenkokuji temple, which was built in 1595 by Shogun Ieyasu Tokugawa, one of the most influential leaders in Japanese history.
To learn more about these and other tours on offer and how to book them, please see the Go Tokyo website.
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Originally from Sweden, born to American and Swedish parents, Lisa grew up traversing the globe as she immersed herself in various cultures, driven by a deep-seated need to understand the world around her. Japan ultimately became her home with its lure of scrumptious cuisine and surprisingly dynamic underground music scene. When not working as a writer and translator, she spends her time visiting shrines, doing awaodori dance and making friends with every Shiba dog she comes across.