Visiting Japanese Artisan Makers
I'll be visiting Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto with a friend over the next couple of weeks and I would love to find places that make traditional Japanese foodstuffs like Miso, Tofu, Shoyu, Sake, Soba, Udon etc. that would be willing to give tours or show us around.
Neither of us speak Japanese which I've gathered severely limits our options but we're game to try anyway using a combination of the limited Japanese we have along with sign language.
I'm having a hard time researching places since most of them are very small and don't seem to have much of a web presence but I'd love to get recommendations of places that offer such things.
Are you willing to hire a guide? That would really be the best way to do something like this. Most Japanese businesses would be very reluctant to invite non-Japanese guests in without an introduction, especially if they don't speak Japanese.
That being said, not artisan, but Yamasa gives factory tours. http://www.yamasa.com/english/sub3.html
You could also try contacting this miso maker in Kyoto http://www.honda-miso.co.jp/en/ . They have an English version of their website, so they may be a little more English friendly. Their email address is on their website.
In Kyoto you can try contacting Kyoto Foodie http://kyotofoodie.com/ . He isn't a guide, but it fluent in Japanese and has some contacts, so he may be able to help. There's a contact link on his site. He recommends Mie Tamada who I think has posted on this site, too. She works with Esprit Tours http://www.esprittravel.com/about-us/... but if you can find a way to contact her directly, it may be cheaper.
In Tokyo, Yukari comes highly recommended. She posts here, too. http://foodsaketokyo.com/about/
In Tokyo you might consider the tskigi fish market. Though it is a busy working market, definitely non English speaking, lots to see. There is a small commercial cutlery store nearby I wish I looked at but language is a problem. Japanese markups are pretty high, you may do better just buying online in us.
Getting around is pretty language friendly. Signage is also in English and train announcements are in English, too. Many Japanese took English in school but while their speaking may be poor they can often read English. Or at your hotel have an English speaker write destinations, including where you are staying, in Japanese. Show those notes to your taxi driver and he will get you there.
I'm not sure but I think many festivals this time of year and many Japanese traveling so more crowded than usual. I hope you have your travel reservations. Trains can be sro even for long trips.