I am admittedly not a fan of bus tours. I usually find them too impersonal and too tied into the mainstream itineraries. But when I saw an ad for a ninja and samurai themed bus tour in my favorite Tokyo neighborhood of Asakusa, I knew we had to give it a whirl on our trip up to the city earlier this month.
The Ninja and Samurai safari – run by the JTB company – starts off like most other bus tours. We boarded a trolley-type bus with seats facing outwards at the eastern edge of the Sensoji Temple complex. Our perfectly bilingual guide (a 2nd generation Japanese American named Ken) pointed out a collection of sites around the Asakusa neighborhood, from the Tokyo SkyTree to the Kaminarimon Gate … and then, the story broke. A breaking news bulletin came on the bus’ television to tell us that a ninja had escaped and was loose in Asakusa! It was our job to keep our eyes peeled for the ninja and my four-year-old took that task very very seriously.
While we spotted the ninja right off the bat, we caught up with the samurai a few blocks later. He had a wanted poster for the ninja and after we pointed him in the right direction, they met and had a bit of a scrum. The ninja escaped and the next half of our tour consisted of looking for him in various disguises as we wove our way through the western streets of Asakusa and into the Kappabashi kitchen neighborhood.
Eventually, a medieval messenger arrived with a letter of challenge (called a hatashijo) for the samurai that said the ninja would challenge him to a final battle in front of Tokyo’s oldest amusement park, Hanayashiki. The ninja ended up riding the bus part of the way with us to the confrontation (where he made us participate in his ninja quiz 😛 ) but eventually we all piled off the bus and made the short walk through the covered alleys to the front gate of Hanayashiki. A comedic final fight ensued and … well, I won’t tell you how it ends. 🙂
Sounds cheesy? Sure, I guess. But this was one of the enjoyable things we did all weekend. It wouldn’t have worked if any one of the actors involved in the production had only been half-hearted about it but all of the players – from our enthusiastic bus guide to the actors on the street – were totally committed to the production. Even when they had passersby staring at them on the street like they’d lost it (and it totally happened a time or two!), they remained in character. In truth, a good bulk of the humor was due to the comedic timing of Ken-chan and he is to be credited just as much as the costumed actors. Our daughter thought the ninja hunt was amazing until the ninja jumped on the bus and (unknowingly) scared the stuffing out of her. But she recovered and afterwards couldn’t stop talking about the tour for at least five straight days.
Supposedly, this tour will only run through the end of May, so book now if you want to get in on the fun. It runs on weekends and national holidays (Golden Week might be a great time) with three departures a day. You can book here through Japanican.