Are you and your family heading to Kyoto? If, so it’s a great start to experiencing the culture of Japan! I recently returned from a week-long stay in the city with my three children, a 7-year-old and 2-year-old twins, and I can say our whole family fell in love with the ancient capital of Japan. It has an abundance of historical sites like – Kiyomizu-dera, Kinkaku-ji, Fushimi Inari Taisha, Arashiyama and the Gion district where the Geisha perform. It’s also known for its incredible food, which can be sampled at the famous Nishiki Market and thanks to Japan Wonder Travel, it was one of the most memorable days of our stay in the city.
With three kids that all follow their own tune, I prefer to do private tours when we’re visiting new destinations. We love to get to know the real culture of a place and a great way to do this is by experiencing their food. Plus, my kids love food, so it’s impossible for a food tour to go bad with them! I was thrilled to find the tour agency, Japan Wonder Travel, which not only conducts private tours but is known for their original FooDrink tour of Nishiki Market. When contacting them, they fully explained the tour and the booking process was incredibly simple. I also appreciated that they informed me that the market street is very narrow, so it would be best to babywear our twins, this small piece of advice vastly improved our day.
One the day of our meeting, it was easy to find the market because it is in downtown Kyoto, which is right next to Gion, where we were staying. We were warmly greeted by Tatsuya and his trainee Michiko at our agreed upon meeting point – the main gate of Daimaru Kyoto department store. He briefly explained who he was and about the beautiful city he calls home. He also explained the foods we would be sampling at the market before taking a small tour of the Gion area.
Our first stop at the market was at a shop selling Yuba, a type of Japanese tofu. More specifically, it is the film that is developed on the surface when soy milk is boiled. It is said to be first eaten in Kyoto and was developed into a Japanese food after being introduced from China. Yuba is often used as an ingredient in various Japanese dishes. We also had the opportunity to taste delicious soymilk donuts. From there Tatsuya showed us other foods popular in and distinct to Kyoto. He was extremely patient with us and made sure to pace the tour slowly for our children.
Our second tasting was Omusubi, which was a favorite of all three girls. It is basically a compressed ball of salted rice, often in the form of a triangle. It can be plain or have various fillings. Rice is the main staple of Japanese food, so Omusubi can be found at most convenience stores for a quick meal. It is a great snack for kids while being on the go. The twins loved eating Ombusbi because it is so easy to hold and can be pretty simple in taste. From here, we tasted fish cakes, which were also very good.
My favorite tasting was our fourth stop at a family run shop cooking up Hamo, daggertooth pike conger two ways. The first way is fried, which is basically the Japanese version of Fish and Chips (without the chips). It is truly hard to describe how moist the white fish was and the perfect fluffiness to the batter. The second way is slightly grilled with a sauce on top. We loved both, so we thought it was a perfect time to sit and savor the food before heading to taste Japanese omelet.
The final stop in the market was a sake shop, which was undeniably a welcome drink! We didn’t spend much time here because of the kids, but still enjoyed the stop. Tatsuya both filled our glasses with sake straight out of steel canister and it was one of the best we tasted in the city.
From here we made a quick stop at the Nishiki-Tenmangu Shrine at the end of the market. Ava was really interested in learning the Shinto customs and Tatsuya made sure to explain everything to her in an easy-to-understand way. He even taught her the proper process of cleaning your hands before entering the shrine.
We then made our way to the last part of the tour, a sit-down restaurant offering Japanese sweets. Kyoto is known for matcha tea and they love flavoring everything with it! We sampled Shaved Matcha ice with sweet red bean and ice-cream. While enjoying all our treats, Tatsuya took the time to answer any questions with had about Kyotian culture and people.
Being fully stuffed, we left the restaurant to take a leisurely stroll through the Gion district, which is the traditional Geisha district in Kyoto. The Geisha in Kyoto are called Geiko and Maiko, which undergo the strictest training in all of Japan. Girls between the ages of 15 and 20, train for five years to become a geiko. Till this point, they’re referred to as Maiko. Tatsuya also explained how to tell the difference between the two and how to identify a Geisha house. He then showed a school they attend. Our tour ended at Tatsumi Bashi, the famous bridge from the movie Memories of a Geisha.
We are truly thankful for the insightful day we spent with Tatsuya and Michiko. We feel like we got to better understand the food of Kyoto with having a local guide us through the market. We would have missed so much without Tatsuya! Our only regret is not organizing another private tour with Japan Wonder Travel Kyoto.
To learn more about Japan Wonder Travel, which also does tours in Tokyo visit their official website. From there, you can book any tour you want directly and email Tatsuya or one of his colleagues. For great pictures of Japan and of their tours be sure to visit Japan Wonder Travel on Instagram and Facebook.
Disclaimer: JapanWonderTravel graciously sponsored our tour in order to facilitate this review. Although, the opinions within this post are my own.