From traditional tea ceremonies and cooking lessons to relaxing with owls and revving through the streets, these are traveler’s picks for the best things to do while you’re seeing Japan.

When you travel to Japan, it’s all well and good to see the country, but it’s even better if you can experience it. Thankfully, Japanese travel providers have a wealth of what’re called taiken (“experience”) tours and activities that let you actively participate in aspects of traditional and contemporary Japanese culture.

Of course, the downside to having a wealth of choices is that there simply isn’t time to do all of them. So to help travelers narrow down their selection, the users of TripAdvisor, hot off putting together a list of their favorite restaurants in Japan, have let their voices be heard in an annual ranking of the best activities and tours in Japan, and below are the top 10 (by the way, all of the organizations listed here have English-speaking staff and websites, and we’ll have links for you at the end of the article).

10. Tokyo FooDrink Tour (Tokyo)

If Japanese cuisine is what drew you to Japan, Japan Wonder Travel has multiple tours for fans of the country’s food and drink. Most are about three and a half hours in length, taking you to restaurants, food stalls, and pubs in an around Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market, Asakusa’s historical district, or Shinjuku nightlife center. This fall, it’s also offering a new tour that visits both Tsukiji and the scheduled-to-open new fish market in Toyosu.

9. Tokyo Miracle Cycling Tour (Tokyo)

Despite being Japan’s biggest city, central Tokyo is concentrated enough that it’s a great place to get around by bike, which offers you a more intimate view than you’d get from the train while letting you see more than you ever could on foot. Tokyo Miracle Cycling Tour lets you choose between three different three-hour courses that traverse Tokyo’s boulevards and backstreets, or cycle along its scenic waterways.

8. Ebisuya Arashiyama rickshaw tour (Kyoto)

Ebisuya operates in Tokyo, Kanagawa, and Hokkaido as well, but the company was founded in Kyoto, and their tours of the Arashiyama bamboo groves, which range in length from a single block to a leisurely two-hour trip, are an elegant way to see one of the most beautiful parts of an already beautiful city.

7. Mayuko’s Little Kitchen (Tokyo)

Like we said, many travelers come to Japan because of a desire to eat delicious, authentically prepared Japanese dishes. Eventually you’ll have to go home, though, and if you’re craving the flavors of Japan, the best thing to do is recreate them in your own kitchen, which is exactly what cooking instructor Mayuko will teach you how to do in a friendly, relaxed, setting.

6. Cycle Kyoto (Kyoto)

Kyoto’s train/subway network is petty limited, so instead of spending half your day of temple-hopping waiting in long lines for crowded buses, why not see the sights by bike instead? Cycle Kyoto’s group tours range from three to seven hours, and they also often custom-design private tours for groups of up to 40 riders.

5. Maikoya Osaka Kimono Tea Ceremony (Osaka)

Speaking of Kyoto crowds, some travelers visiting central Japan opt to stay in nearby Osaka instead, since the larger city boasts a bigger selection of modern hotels and conveniences. There’s still culture to be found in Osaka, though, and Maikoya (pictured at the top of this article) will teach you the basics of tea ceremony as well as helping you dress in a formal kimono or lightweight yukata. They’re not absolute sticklers for tradition, either, as you can also opt to participate in lessons wearing your everyday Western-style clothing, as well as sit in a chair if your body isn’t limber or spry enough to handle kneeling Japanese-style on the floor.

4. Machi Taxi (Kyoto)

While taxi services in Japan are often a simple matter of being driven from Point A to Point B, some drivers take on a more involved role, providing both a private car and informative descriptions of the city’s sites and history on a multi-stop journey through the town. Machi Taxi’s six-hour tours can accommodate up to six guests, and if you have any worries about their English-speaking abilities, just click the video above to have your ears pleased and your mind set at ease.

3. YUCa’s Japanese Cooking (Tokyo)

Raised by a family of farmers and previously a food critic working in New York and Toronto, unorthodoxly spelled YUCa offers classes in how to make comfort food such as ramen and okonomiyaki, traditional sushi and tempura, cute character bento boxed lunches, and even seasonal Japanese desserts.

2. Akiba Fukurou (Tokyo)

There’s a bit to linguistically unpack here. First, Akiba is the nickname for Akihabara, Tokyo’s games and anime district. Fukurou, meanwhile, is how you saw owl in Japanese, and Akiba Fukuro is an owl cafe, located just a short walk from Akihabara, where a “family” of three dozen owls resides. As one of Tokyo’s most popular animal cafes, reservations are highly recommended.

1. MariCAR (Tokyo)

Stick an O in the middle and a T on the end, and you’ll see what the appeal of MariCAR is. While the company’s website bills its tours as “Real Life SuperHero Go-Karting,” it’s really video game franchise Mario Kart that MariCAR is aping, as not only does it rent go karts to drive through downtown Tokyo, it also provides rental costumes.

Aside from TripAdvisor users’ glowing reviews, there’s one other reason to go ahead and book a tour with MariCAR, which is that despite the popularity of its tours, the company’s future is sort of uncertain. MariCAR has been the target of lawsuits from Nintendo itself (even as MariCAR attempts to file patents for its own business operations). In addition, multiple accidents with foreign tourists behind the wheel have been bringing increased scrutiny to a business model that essentially boils down to putting people with little to no experience with Japan’s traffic laws into cars, adding the distraction of cosplay, and driving down public roads in a highly congested city.

For now, though, MariCAR is still in business, and the number-one recommendation from TripAdvisor’s users for experience tours/activities in Japan.

Related: Japan Wonder Travel, Tokyo Miracle Cycling Tour, Ebisuya, Mayuko’s Little Kitchen, Cycle Kyoto, Maikoya Osaka, Machi Taxi, YUCa’s Japanese Cooking, Akiba Fukurou, MariCAR
Source: TripAdvisor
Top image: Maikoya Osaka
Insert images: Japan Wonder Travel, Ebisuya, Cycle Kyoto, Akiba Fukurou
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Follow Casey on Twitter, where he’d put yakatabune ride on his personal top 10 list.

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