Foodie Tours Japan, a Tokyo-based firm that offers food-focused walking tours, introduces tourists to vegan, vegetarian, Muslim-friendly and gluten-free options in English or German. Owner-operator Gizem Sakamaki explained the struggle that vegans and vegetarians face while in Japan. “A huge hurdle for tourists who are vegans or vegetarians is that Japanese foods tend to be sprinkled with meat or fish in many sneaky ways. For example, katsuo-bushi [flakes of dried bonito, a fish related to tuna] is used to season many soups and rice or noodle dishes. This makes it extremely difficult to find food without it”.
Sorting through the options that do exist can be difficult for tourists due to the language barrier. “Unlike in the US and UK, or in Australia or Europe, there are no easy labels that state if food is vegan or vegetarian. I think this stems from the root problem that—until very recently—veganism was basically an unknown topic in Japan,” said Jackie Jansen, head coordinator of the vegan tour team at Foodie Tours Japan.
The firm helps solve this problem by providing helpful phrases in Japanese and tips on what visitors should be asking for in restaurants to ensure that what they are eating is vegan.
[This article was also published in Acumen, the magazine of the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan]
Gizem meets us with a beaming smile. “I am not just a guide, I’m a storyteller and a friend,” she tells me, and of course, it proves true during our tour. Her tours aim to entertain, but also inform, as she shares her insight into Japanese culture. Her groups are usually small, as she wants to give her undivided attention to everyone, take their pictures, get to know their tastes and adjust the tour on the spot if necessary.
She says she is inspired by two major concepts, “sharing economy” and “slow travel.” Both are becoming increasingly more popular everywhere, as people nowadays are concerned about the consequences human consumption can have on the world. Gizem makes sure to include as many mom-and-pop shops in her tour as possible, thus giving her guests an authentic experience, while also sharing business with the local community.
Gizem Sakamaki is the face behind Foodie Tours Japan. Gizem is Turkish, born in Germany, married to a Japanese. She has been living in Japan since 2015, after falling in love with Japan during her Work and Travel Year in 2013.
Gizem is a polyglot with an ongoing interest in learning new languages.
She speaks German, Turkish, English and Japanese fluently. Her mixed cultural background led to a broad understanding of intercultural communication, its difficulties and its advantages. Her love for languages and the unknown, made her a passionate traveler and eater.
Foodie Tours Japan is the result of her deep love for food, crossed with a strong dedication to hospitality.
I love creating and developing fresh and fun ideas, which is what I enjoy the most about my job as the all-in-one solopreneur!
This is how in Spring this year, Foodie Tours Japan became the world’s first and only company to offer a quirky “only in Japan” tour, called “#instalicious”, where we eat and take Instagram-worthy pictures of the coolest food that the fast-moving, world-famous Harajuku neighborhood has to offer!
This tour completely contrasts my “Old Tokyo” tour, where we do slow-travel and explore the well-preserved traditional side of Tokyo. There we eat hand-picked, local delicacies at shops that are small, family-run businesses, which have been around for more than a century!
[…] I guess the thought of working a 9 to 8 job pushed me to become self-employed. Although growing up, I never really had any ambition to be my own boss. I always felt safer working for someone. Plus, I was bad at math and you need to be good with numbers to do accounting and run a business. However, my parents did own their business, so it encouraged me.
I started in hospitality then branched out to offering tours to my guests. It wasn’t easy in the beginning and I had these bouts of insecurities with myself. I was afraid of what other people might think of me. What if people laughed at the idea of a foreigner who’s only been in Japan for a year and half, give tours? What does she know? Well at least I knew more than the tourist travelling for a week. So I got over my fears and finally pulled it off. Now I can say: Don’t let what other people might think of you ever hold you back.
[W]e asked five expats: “What’s your favorite Japanese summer dish?” Learn about what some of the limited summer-time dishes are from our experts, who know the tips and tricks to stay cool and fueled in the heat.
Gizem Sakamaki (Owner of Foodie Tours Japan / 3 years in Japan)
Summer in Japan to me means local festivals, called “Matsuri”. When it gets hot and humid in July and August, I enjoy going on the less crowded local Matsuris where I always get one spit of Yakiniku and a bowl Kakigori to balance the savory and sweet. Kakigori is shaved or grated ice, topped with a colorful fruit syrup of your choice. Nowadays Kakigori can be had in all shapes and flavors, basic or luxurious, however my favorite type is the old-fashioned style from Matsuris: crunchy grains of ice, generously sprinkled with strawberry syrup and a little bit of condensed milk.
Last but not least in our “The Face Behind” series is… Gizem Sakamaki from Foodie Tours Japan!
Asked about her work and brief self-intro, Gizem says:
[…] Unlike most mainstream tours, we exclusively offer private tours to allow our guests a high quality local and personal experience. Save your time, combing through the internet and guidebooks. Kick back and enjoy every second of your precious time in Japan – by leaving the work to us, your local friends.
Go on a journey through the quirky back alleys no guidebook will list, ask the questions you have been pondering on a while, hear the stories behind the mysteries of Japanese daily life and begin seeing Japan with different eyes! Walk with a friend and get introduced to authentic Japanese foods, make unique Japanese experiences and feel like a local. […]
We aim at offering high quality and comfortable tours, taking into account our traveler’s needs and physical condition. Furthermore, we wish to be as inclusive as possible. We care about cultural and personal food restrictions and allergies. At present all our Foodie Tours can additionally be offered as Gluten-Free and Vegetarian tours. We are hoping to add halal and vegan tours in the near future!