Translated by Verity Lane
Let The Last Samurai Guide You Around Kyoto in English!
Written by ふじき ゆみこ
Want to interact with locals, sample delicious food and learn a bit of Kyoto history? You can have all of that, escorted by an English-speaking Last Samurai!
Did you know that there's a sword-wielding samurai tour guide in Japan's prestigious sightseeing town of Kyoto?
His name is Joe Okuda, but he goes by the name "The Last Samurai". He guides many visitors to Japan around the streets of Kyoto.
Joe, who turns 86 this year, is the oldest guide-interpreter in Japan. He is also a professional English-speaking guide who has been appointed ambassador of hospitality for Kyoto City.
Joe's fluent English is a result of his past work at the U.S. occupation forces. He has also lived in the U.S., and has impeccable communication skills.
Even tourists visiting Japan get along well with him as soon as they meet!
By dressing up as a samurai warrior, Joe is able to interact with the locals.
Meet The Locals! The Three Highlights of the Cool Kyoto Walking Tour
Joe started working as a guide 4 years ago. He works a 5 hour stint every Saturday from 10:00am to 3:00pm, where he walks around the streets of Kyoto introducing people to the local hotspots on the Cool Kyoto Walking Tour. Here is a list of the three highlights the tour offers.
１．Joe Okuda A.K.A "The Last Samurai" will Escort You
Perhaps the most charming thing about the tour, has to be Joe himself. The sword wielding samurai show that Joe puts on should not be missed.
２．Stroll Around The Lush Kyoto Gyoen National Garden
You will be guided around Kyoto Gyoen National Garden, Kyoto Municipal's garden of relaxation. You can also visit shusuitei (拾翠亭) opened on Saturdays.
３．Meet The Locals While Strolling Around The Kyoto Townscape
Walk your way from the left over vestiges of the ancient capital, Teramachi Street, to the people's kitchen, Demachi Shopping Arcade, sampling food and experiencing many different shops a long the way.
The meeting place is the newly built, and must-see building, Kyoto city hall (shiyakusho). On this particular day, 10 visitors from various countries such as America, France and China took part in the tour.
The tour begins at Kyoto Town Hall, and makes its way to Teramachi Street, Kyoto Gyoen National Garden, and Demachi Shopping Arcade. It's a 4km leisurely walk, with a few breaks included a long the way. The streets are flat, although it might be a good idea to wear comfortable shoes.
Today our first stop was the art space on Yokaan Teramachi Street, where a kimono exhibition was taking place. Joe explained in detail about the Kimonos, the national costume of Japan.
※The exhibit is subject to change depending on the season.
Attached onto the door of the shop is a paper talisman meant to ward off evil spirits. So not only does he explain about the exhibition, he also touches upon the traditions rooted in the ancient culture of Kyoto.
The next stop is Tomiyashoten, a drinking establishment that has been in business for over 80 years. There are many varieties of locally made sake and wine available.
Here, you are able to try Japanese sake. Cheers!
While walking around, Joe, who knows a lot about Kyoto, tells lots of witty jokes and continues to explain about the city and its unique culture in English.
On this particular day, one of the tour participants asked various questions, such as: "Why is there bamboo around the front of the store?", "What's the name of the god resting here?" and "What's the difference between Jizo (Shinto) and Buddha?"
We stopped at Hanzuyoshimi, a fashion craft store that sells all sorts of materials and accessories. There are people buying bags with handles inside the shop. It's definitely a place where you will fall in love with all the handmade goods.
Next, we experience the seasonal green tea (緑茶, ryokucha) at Ryuoenchaho, a specialist Japanese tea shop that's been going since the Meiji Era. Strolling around like so, we take a breather.
Lacquerware(※1) At the shop named Zohiko, we are fascinated by all the beautiful lacquerware bowls.
※1… Lacquerware (漆器, shiki): Lacquer (漆, urushi) is made from tree sap, which is then paint on layer by layer onto various different wooden objects. The brightly coloured gloss colour-combination is quite captivating.
The next place we drop into is a Japanese calligraphy (書道, shodo) store called Kobaien, where you can try calligraphy! Here, Joe grades the participants skills.
Doreen from Germany smiles at her bitter-tasting B- grade.
This time, the participants try oinari-san (※2）for the first time at the Kyoto Sushi shop "Suehiro".
※2…Oinari-san： Also known as inarizushi, it is a type of sushi that involves filling deep fried tofu pouches with sushi rice.
This Is a Samurai! Watch This Sword Display Up Close
The highlight of the "Cool Kyoto Walking Tour" is without a doubt, the sword wielding samurai show. Joe has performed this sword show more than 2,500 times, under his swordsman name "The Last Samurai". With amazing sword skills like this, it completely makes you forget that Joe is actually 86 years old.
He places a Japanese radish and an apple on the stomach of a participant, and shows off his skills by cutting the food in half in a split second.
From Kyoto Gyoen National Garden to Demachi Shopping Arcade
At Kyoto Gyoen National Park, we visited the Japanese garden that's open only Saturdays Shusuitei※3).
※3…… Shusuitei is a noble tea house that was built in the second half of the Edo Period - more than 200 years ago. It's built in the traditional Japanese style, and is an extremely precious structure. The 100 yen entrance charge is included in the price of the tour.
Lastly, we visit the people's kitchen "Demachi Shopping Arcade", where we eat and stroll about. Joe has lived in this area for 30 years, and is by far, the face of this shopping arcade.
These are the impressive highlights of Cool Kyoto Walking Tour. It costs 4,000 yen per person, and is free for children under 12 years old. It includes a light lunch, and chances to try both the local cuisine and refreshments.
You can make reservations by e-mail or phone, and you just need to pay in cash on the day itself. Make sure you have enough change with you!
First timers and repeaters of the city of Kyoto should definitely check out this tour if you get the chance. How does talking to Joe Okuda and walking around Kyoto sound to you? Of course, both Japanese and overseas visitors are welcomed!
Cool Kyoto Walking Tour with Last Samurai
A fixed number of 5-30 people/Reservations made by phone or email.
Address (Meeting Place): Kyoto shiyakushomae hiroba (Kyoto City, Nakagyo-ku Teramachi-dori goike agaru, Kamihonjimaesho 488)
Hours: Every Saturday 10:00am - 3:00pm
Credit Cards: -
Languages: English, Japanese
Station: Kyotoshiyakusho-mae Station (京都市役所前駅)
Access: Kyotoshiyakusho-mae Station on the Tozai Line, Sanjo Station on the Keihan Line, Sanjo Station Kyoto City Bus to Kyotoshiyakusho-mae
Price: 4,000 yen or US$33 (October, 2015) Children under 12 can enter for free.※Exchange rates are subject to change.
Phone Number: +81-90-3867-3538 or +81-773-64-0033
Mail Address to make Reservations：firstname.lastname@example.org
Official Website: Cool Kyoto Walking Tour, Joe Okuda (Samurai Life)