In an age where people are finding love by swiping right and left on the internet, it’s only appropriate that I fell in love with Tokyo online. I saw one video of a rainbow cotton candy on Takeshita Street in Harajuku and it was love at first sight. I knew that I wanted to spend as much time as possible in this crazy cute part of town as possible, so I teamed up with Arigato Japan to explore Harajuku with a local. Asami is from Shizuoka originally, but made Tokyo her home after working in Las Vegas. While Takeshita Street is special and fun and oh-so-kawaii, the chance to experience the area like a local was a unique experience. The experience is called the Crazy, Cute, Kawaii Food Tour, and we certainly experienced all of the above! Since I’d done quite a bit of exploring on my own, I had already hit a couple of the typical tour locations, so Asami did a quick reroute to introduce me to some new foods in Harajuku.
What will I experience on the Crazy, Cute, Kawaii Food Tour?
A little bit of crazy
This tour begins at 11am, and we hit the ground running. Every prefecture of Japan has its own regional speciality – whether that be green tea, milk or seafood. In order to save the Japanese from spending all their time running from place to place to stock their pantry, antennae stores stock regional specialties. Visiting one of these is just like visiting a market in that prefecture.
The tour begins at one of these regional antennae shops, where the regional specialty is rice. And while rice is great… it’s a byproduct of rice that we’re here to try. That’s right! We’re tasting rice wine at 11am (crazy, right?!). The Niigata prefecture is home to 89 sake breweries, and you can try fruity, dry or strong sake to start this tour off on the right foot!
A lot of culture
Continue along down the street, where we’ll visit shops and learn all about Japanese culture. Wonder why restaurants display the noren (linen above the shop entrance) when they’re open? In the olden days, before wet napkins, customers would finish their meal and wipe their dirty fingers on the noren at the exit. A dirty noren means it’s a popular restaurant. (I’d recommend not wiping your hands on the noren now.)
A TON of sesame
Despite this being a kawaii tour, the first stop was a little more retro Harajuku than present day. You see – in the past, Harajuku was the center of the goth scene… and the black sesame ice cream was a perfect place to begin. Just one scoop of the sesame ice cream contains 9,000 sesame seeds. It’s rich and creamy and packs a punch of flavor. Not enough for you? Ladle a scoop of sesame oil over your scoop for an even richer sesame experience!
All the cute
When I learned that the second foodie stop is kawaii ice cream, my little sweets-loving heart skipped a beat. I could not wait to see what we’d try. Surprise! It’s one of the most adorable ice cream shops in all of Tokyo! Choose your cone and your toppings, then get snapping… this ice cream deserves to be photographed!
Lunch on this tour is so much more than just a bento box! While exploring the streets of Urahara, visit an artist’s village, hidden in the back streets of Harajuku. Although street art is illegal in Japan, the building’s owners commission artwork, which you can admire as you slip through the nearly-hidden entrance for a lunch of Okonomiyaki. Okonomi means “as you like” and yaki means “grill” or “cook.” You guessed it! You’re cooking this lunch yourself!
Okonomiyaki is comprised of water, dashi, cabbage, flour, tempura flakes, and a mix of other ingredients of the diner’s choosing. It’s a specialty of post-war Osaka, when the Americans brought flour into popular usage in Japan.
Don’t forget to order a drink! I tried (and loved) the lychee calpis cocktail – a great blend of local fruit and the delicious milky – yet acidic – calpis beverage.
One thing I love about Arigato Tours is the focus on educating foreigners on how to experience meals in Japan while maintaining good etiquette. While some chopsticks rules are just good manners – others cause major offense when a faux pas is made. For example: you don’t pass food from one person’s chopsticks to another person’s chopsticks. In Japanese culture, bones of deceased family members are passed from family member to family member in this way before cremation… and you don’t want to remind your dining-mates of this ritual at lunchtime!
As for that drink… when you Kanpai (cheers) with your guide and fellow tour-goers, be sure to tap your glass near the bottom of the other glasses. The person whose glass is on top is most respected (but they’re also in charge of paying the bill)!
A sweet dessert
You’re probably starting to feel a bit full… after all, you are two ice creams and a whole entire lunch down! But push through!
Because I had already tried many of the famous desserts on Takeshita Street, Asami took us to a strawberry lover’s paradise. I loved trying the daifuku, a strawberry and red bean paste filled mochi, which was the perfect mix of chewy and juicy textures.
Other tours get to experience the full kawaii rainbow cotton candy and Harajuku crepes. Although crepes are originally from France, the Harajuku crepes, filled with fruit, cake or other OTT ingredients have been a staple in this neighborhood since the late 1980s!
A kawaii right of passage
If you thought the kawaii culture ended with food, you are sorely mistaken! Follow your guide and the signs for purikura!
Purikura is a photobooth like you’ve never seen before. It’s a 2-step process, where taking the photos is only half the fun! After you’ve posed for your pics, pop into the second part of the photo booth, where you can add graphic stickers, change your eye shape or color, and write on your photo. It’s an absolutely adorable souvenir from the tour.
My time on the Crazy, Cute, Kawaii Food Tour filled my belly with delicious food, sweet treats and kawaii memories! If you want to book your own tour with Arigato Japan, click here to reserve your spot!
Note: Arigato Japan hosted me on the Crazy, Cute, Kawaii Food Tour. All opinions are my own and I’d never recommend anything to you that’s not awesome!
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