One of Kyoto’s great treasures is not found among the famous temples, gardens, museums, galleries or various artisan’s shops. Rather, it’s a largely unsung and little-known club with no splashy website: International Service Club (ISC) Kyoto.
Local people—retirees, office workers, housewives—who like to meet visitors and help them navigate the city free of charge pay an annual fee to become members of ISC Kyoto. The club then matches guides to visitors who request them.
The arrangement is kept simple. The visitors bear the cost of transportation and admission to venues for themselves and their guides. In addition, since most tours are conducted between 10:00 AM and 5:00 PM, the visitors are expected to pick up the tab at lunch or for any other refreshments they enjoy together with the guides.
It’s a sweet deal. Visitors get in-depth knowledge one-on-one. Guides can suggest local spots of interest or places to eat that visitors might not easily find on their own or be able to access without speaking Japanese.
I’ve used ISC Kyoto’s assistance in finding hot-spring day spas, special dining experiences or hard-to-find locations. As well, they’ve shown me short-cuts through fascinating neighbourhoods I’d never have seen otherwise and other advantages known only to the locals.
For travelers who want to stay away from tour buses, not waste their limited time getting lost or frustrated, and prefer a more personal sense of the city, ISC guidance is ideal.
In one specific instance, those who wish to visit Nijo-jinya must make a reservation for scheduled tours. Now a private residence, Nijo-jinya was once an inn used by feudal lords in the Edo period (1603-1867). It’s is fully equipped with state-of-the-art security devices of that era. (Details of that visit will be posted next.) Anyone who does not understand Japanese must be accompanied by an interpreter. ISC can provide one and arrange the reservation.
Because I arranged ISC guides for students travelling through Kyoto on home stay exchange programs as well as on private visits numerous times, I was fortunate enough to befriend a number of the guides. Whenever I am in the city we reconnect. It doesn’t get better than that.
How to Contact ISC Kyoto
Mitsuhiro Tokunaga: firstname.lastname@example.org
Telephone contact is through Utano Youth Hostel: +81-75-462-2288