Culture, Cuisine and Crafts: Hands On Tours in Kyoto

Tatami mat

Explore the secret worlds of Kyoto, Japan’s classical capital city, with Kyoto Hands On Tours’ range of affordable cultural, culinary, and crafting experiences.

Many visitors to Japan want to try some of the country’s unique cultural and culinary experiences during their visit, but it can sometimes be difficult to find a suitable tour, especially when it comes to lesser-known arts and crafts or private institutions such as Buddhist temples or restaurants and tea-houses where geisha entertain.

Private businesses and institutions in Kyoto in particular are known for their emphasis on privacy and exclusivity, meaning that it is often difficult to get a satisfying peek at what goes on behind the scenes if you lack the necessary connections - even for Japanese people.

However, in recent years many tour companies have sprung up that can help visitors gain access to the secret worlds unfolding minute by minute behind Kyoto’s intricate lattice-work wooden doors, and Kyoto Hands On Tours is one such company.

The company offers 100% original tours in Kyoto, split into hands-on experiences that last from a few hours to a whole day (depending on the activities included) and tailor-made tours of Kyoto that are crafted from scratch to suit your individual needs.

The hands-on experiences range from classic cultural experiences such as a kimono photo shoot in the city’s maze-like backstreets and ‘monk chat and meditation’ at a Zen temple to more niche and unusual culinary and crafting tours such as tofu-making, craft beer brewery, and tatami-making tours. Tours are generally for two to six people and prices start at 5,700 jpy (£39) depending on how many people join the tour.

Hands-on Cultural Experiences

Tofu Making Tour

Tofu-making tour

Learn how to make and eat tofu and get acquainted with this amazing foodstuff’s unknown powers and potential nutrition and health benefits (from 7,000 jpy / £47.85)

Sake Tour

Sake tour

Try a variety of different sake (rice wines) and learn how this classic Japanese alcoholic beverage is produced at one of Kyoto’s traditional sakagura (sake breweries) (from 6,100 jpy / £41.70).

Confectionary Making Tour

Confectionary making tour

Enjoy learning to make a selection of Wagashi (traditional Japanese sweets) under the expert supervision of a master artisan with a deft and delicate touch (from 6,900 jpy / £47.15).

Craft Beer Tour

Craft beer tour

Witness the production of craft beer in a craft beer brewery and taste a pairing set of a selection of the brewery’s craft beers expertly paired with Japanese side dishes (from 7,400 jpy / £50.60).

Tatami Mat Making Tour

Tatami mat-making tour

Make your own mini tatami mat under the expert guidance of a master artisan, who will introduce also you to his traditional trade (from 6,100 jpy / £41.70).

Zen Temple Tour

Zen temple tour

Join in with daily activities such as sweeping and cleaning the temple grounds at a Buddhist temple, while also meeting and talking to a Buddhist monk in person (from 7,000 jpy / £47.85).

 All tours depart from JR Kyoto Station - at the Bus Ticket Center located between the north side of the station and Kyoto Tower - with the option of being met at your hotel also available. A Travel Itinerary Manager attends all tours to ensure they run smoothly, and upon booking you will be provided with a tour contract and cancellation policy. The tour price includes transportation costs, travel insurance, and tax. 

The company offers luggage storage during tours at its office a five-minute walk from the tour meeting point. Customers can also combine multiple hands-on experiences to make a whole day tour. They also offer bespoke travel advice and support, and are happy to make reservations at restaurants, hotels and transportation and arrange tickets for museums and amusement parks.


Tailor-made Tours of Kyoto

The company also offers tailor-made tours of Kyoto, so if you are planning a visit and seeking a way to get the most out of your limited time then simply throw your wish list to Kyoto Hands On Tours and they will make it happen by crafting a unique itinerary. Plus, their Kyoto-based staff can easily keep you updated with real-time local information, from tiny local festivals to the progress of the cherry blossoms in spring. 

Their tailor-made tours are designed to cater for all wallets from budget to luxury, and offer complete itinerary customization based on your needs. Examples of the wide range of activities on offer include tea ceremony, maiko (geisha) banquet dinner, local gourmet tour, calligraphy experience, private temple (shukubo) or townhouse (machiya) stay. 

Tours can incorporate all arrangements, from airport pick-up to activities, transport and hotels, and wheelchair-friendly tours are also available. All tours are accompanied by a licensed tour guide speaking your choice of English, Chinese, French, Spanish or Russian.

Evening Banquet with Champagne in a Private Buddhist Temple

Buddhist temple banquet

Enjoy a glass of champagne (or plum wine) and a plate of tantalizing French-style appetisers as you relax in the secluded surroundings of private rooms bordering the tranquil oasis of a traditional Japanese garden at a private Buddhist temple (from 10,100 jpy / £69). Find out more here.

Maiko (Geisha) Dinner in an Exclusive Townhouse

Gion, Kyoto
Experience an authentic kaiseki multi-course dinner in a private machiya townhouse in Kyoto’s carefully preserved Nishijin area. The dining experience also includes dance performance, banquet games, and photographs with maiko (trainee geisha), plus chatting time giving you the unique opportunity to get an insight into the enigmatic world of geisha (25,800 jpy / £176). Find out more here.

Private Calligraphy Experience in a Machiya Townhouse

Calligraphy tour
Learn the ins and outs of the traditional Japanese art of calligraphy at a machiya townhouse in downtown Kyoto. The private session includes a general introduction to Japanese calligraphy, including writing tools, styles, and methods, followed by the opportunity to create a piece of calligraphy on Japanese washi paper to take home as a souvenir (from 7,500 jpy / £51.25). Find out more here.

Major Attractions Sightseeing

Kiyomizudera Temple
Whether it’s your first or your fourth visit to Kyoto, at some point seeing the main attractions is just something that has to be done, and this two-day itinerary ticks all the major boxes. Day 1 will see you taking in Arashiyama’s iconic Togetsukyo Bridge, the gently flowing Hozu River, and vivid green bamboo forests, as well as Ginkakuji (the Silver Pavilion) and Kinkakuji (the Golden Pavilion), before heading to geisha district Gion to experience its night-time vibes. 
Day 2 will see you heading to Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine, of orange torii (shrine gate) tunnels fame, and Sanjusangendo Temple, with its 1,001 golden Buddha statues, in the morning before visiting Kiyomizudera Temple, famous for its wooden balcony with panoramic views of the city, and Nijo Castle in the afternoon (poa). Find out more here.

Spend a Day Like a Local

Cycling in Kyoto

Discover the ‘real’ Kyoto as your guide shows you the ropes of daily life in Kyoto. Start the day by relaxing at a lesser-known Buddhist temple, before breakfasting on coffee and toast at a kissaten (coffee shop). Then hop on a bicycle - Kyotoites’ favourite mode of transport due to the city’s flat terrain and grid-like road layout - and follow your guide through the city’s winding streets.
Make like a local university student and enjoy a quality tonkatsu (pork cutlet) lunch at an affordable price and hang out on the banks of the Kamo River, before whiling away the evening hours dining at a local izakaya (pub) and soaking in the steaming tubs at a sento (public bathhouse) (poa). Find out more here.
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