Wow, what a city. Tokyo feels so vibrant! Full of life. Like a mix of New York, Hong Kong and Paris at the same time! With all of these impulses and energies coming at you, you may wonder how it would be best to spend your time? In this blog post I share my recommended 25 activities in Tokyo. For sure you will be short on time!
I treated myself with this colorful unicorn style cotton candy at Totti Candy Factory in Harajuku, Tokyo!
A fun, healthy and sustainable way to explore Tokyo, especially the city’s lush green areas, is by bicycle. You can rent one at Tokyo Bike Rentals. A one-day rental costs ¥3,000, with a ¥1,500 surcharge for every additional day.
Cuddle & Eat
Tokyo has several themed restaurants and cafes. Everyone’s has got to eat, so better make it fun! Animals such as hedgehogs, goats and owls, but also fairytales, robots, vampires, maids… the crazier the better! Or join a cooking class from a local, or in a tiny alley yakitori restaurant for example. Read all about it in my earlier blog post Tokyo’s Fun Food Fairytales at themed restaurants and cafes.
Cut fish with sashimi instructor
Do you like sashimi? Learn the tricks how to cut the fish in the Japanese way!
Harajuku is Tokyo’s hipster neighborhood. Takeshita Street is considered the heart of Harajuku. Not a long or wide boulevard, but a relatively small street full of fun and colorful cool stuff. People dressed up, crazy shops, the place to be for people watching! New boy bands trying to get your attention, school girls in uniform, fashionistas, etc.
Still hungry after your unicorn cotton candy or in the mood for something more savory? Treat yourself with a tasty bun filled with lobster, shrimp and/or crab at Luke’s Lobster! This is actually a chain from New York, but it’s getting quite popular in Tokyo. 15 min wait and ¥1380 later I understood why: delicious! Great for lunch or snack. Minus: only limited seating outside.
Draw Japanese manga
Are you creative and like reading manga books or watch manga TV series? Learn how to draw Japanese manga.
You can drink of course sake on your own occasion, or take a tour and get some further explanation from a knowledgeable tour guide. ‘Kikizake’ (sake tasting) may involve blindfolding… Voyagin offers sake tasting tours, or take a customized tour with Tokiotours for example.
Drive Super Mario cart
Born in the 80s and would like to relive your childhood’s game for real? In Tokyo this can be done! Rent a Super Mario Cart and drive around the city with your friends. Since I was alone and short of time, I did not do this, but it look-like so much fun!
This is not my video but gives a good impression:
Tip! An international driver’s license is mandatory to be allowed to drive a Mario cart, as you will be driving on the public road. So arrange this in time before leaving your home country and take it with you on the day of the drive. In the Netherlands you can get an international driver’s license at ANWB.
Tokyo has numerous parks and gardens to enjoy, such as:
- Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden (a.k.a. Imperial Garden, closed Mondays, ¥200)
- Ueno Park
- Yoyogi Park (Harajuku)
- Todoroki Valley (a.k.a. Tokodori Ravine Park)
These parks are even more amazing in blossom season. Join the ‘sakura’ celebration if you are lucky enough to be in Tokyo right in the moment when the blossom comes out. The above mentioned parks are great blossom viewing spots, plus for example Naka-Meguro (Meguro River). For more blossom stories, check out my earlier blog post Cherry blossom hunting in Japan.
Yoyogi Park is on walking distance from Takeshita Street in Harajuku
The discipline of the drawn-sword technique in Swordsmanship, or ‘batto’, was vital in times of war to protect oneself and one’s community. Learning this ancient art can be an opportunity to widen your horizon and test your sword skills. Batto (Sword) Course can be followed at HiSUi TOKYO. Metro: Ginza.
Ever heard of ‘shodo’? It’s Japanese Calligraphy (brush writing). You like being creative? Voyagin offers the possibility to give your calligraphy talents a try. Staying longer in Tokyo and like it a lot? 20 lessons at HiSUi TOKYO will take you through the basics, 112 lessons will make you a specialist.
Ninja or Samurai techniques
Do you know the difference between a ninja and a samurai? Find out at The Ninja Trick House in Shinjuku. Or learn ninja techniques in a dojo. In Harajuku there is a small yet interesting place called SAMURAI SOUL Harajuku ARMOR GALLERY where you can learn more about the samurai.
Walk through Harajuku’s Yoyogi Park to see this wall of sake barrels.
Wagashi are traditional Japanese sweets that are typically enjoyed in combination with a cup of green tea. You can learn how to make wagashi during a class by a local expert.
Play taiko drum
Like playing musical instruments? Try something new? Learn how to play the traditional Japanese Taiko drum during your visit in Tokyo. A professional instructor will teach you how to enjoy this fascinating Japanese musical instrument. From 44 euro per person.
Play video games
If you like video games, I am sure you will have this on your Tokyo-to-do-list! SEGA has several large game centers, some with multiple floors in Akihabara. Takadanobaba Game Center Mikado in Shinjuku is usually a lot less crowded. Or try the conventional arcades at Shinjuku Street (near . Hungry and/or thirsty, yet still in the mood to play video games at the same time? Combine both at 8bit Café.
Relax at a Bay cruise
Feeling like escaping the city buzz for a few hours? Sit back and relax at a Bay Cruise. See Tokyo Bay and the Rainbow Bridge from a whole other perspective: water. Metro: Takeshiba.
Shop till you drop
Tokyo is a ‘Shopping Walhalla’. All brands that want to matter, have at least a location in this vibrant city. I know people from Hong Kong who go to Tokyo to shop, just because it’s so good. Shopaholics may want to consider planning Tokyo as the only or last stop of their round trip. Or leave some space in your suitcase when you leave home, so you can shop a few things in Tokyo?! You won’t regret it.
You name it, Tokyo has it for sale. From a kimono for your dog, to a special wrapped 200 dollar melon. Check out department store Tokyu Hands for example (multiple locations), or a ‘100 yen shop’ such as DAISO. Fun shopping guaranteed!
Shinjuku is the home of many top fashion brands such as Louis Vuitton and Burberry, but also of stores like the GAP and Forever 21. Omotesando is a chic, large shopping street in Shibuya. Prada has an architectural highlight near Omotesando subway station. Chanel has a boutique at Seibu Shibuya.
In Harajuku you will find plenty of fun shops, such as Alice on Wednesday (a themed store featuring three floors of delicious sweets and pretty accessories), Condomania and Kiddy Land. But also stores like The North Face (adult and kids), Columbia, Longchamp, Intimissimi Calzedonia, etc.
Tuesday night, 8 pm, the karaoke bar at Bar Champion in Shinjuku is fully packed. A nice mixture of tourists and locals sing along with their favorite songs, guide by lyric videos. For ¥100 you can grab the microphone yourself. A great thing to do in general to my opinion, also when you are alone; a little effort and you can meet fun people from all over the world. The area is called Golden Gai; there are several more cozy (karaoke) bars around. Metro: Shinjuku.
Feeling a bit insecure and would like to have more privacy for your karaoke session? Then rent out a more traditional karaoke room for a few hours. There are a bunch of them around Shinjuku Station for example.
Sleep in a capsule
Have you ever slept in a capsule? Try it when in Tokyo, where you pay lots of yens for every inch of sleeping accommodation. A nice one is Nine Hours in Shinjuku (North), my favorite neighborhood of Tokyo. For about 22 euro you get your own capsule with air-conditioning and heating. Station: JR Shin-Okubo.
Capsule too claustrophobic for you? Then try this one: Apartment Hotel Shinjuku. It’s a very affordable hidden gem with industrial styling in the best possible area, quiet at night and still close to all the huzz and buzz of Shinjuku. Station: between Shinjuku and Shinjuku-sanchrome (metro entrance 2 min walk).
Stroll @ Tsukiji Fish Market
Tsukiji Market (try to pronounce that!) is said to be the biggest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world. An interesting place to walk around as it does not only attract tourists, but also many locals. A local tour guide can make it even more interesting, as they can tell what you see, about the history and show you the different auctions at the market, such as Tuna Auction and Vegetable Auction. Metro: Tsukiji (Chuo).
Take a photo in a Purikura
Purikura is a Japanese photo booth machine. Ikebukuro and Akihabara are good places for some purikura fun. Ikebukuro SEGA game center for example. Or in Takeshita Street in Harajuku, usually in the basement. Purikura Land NOA is a big one with at least 25 photo booths.
Get your Barbie photo booth shot at Purikura Land NOA in Harajuku
Tea ceremony & Geisha
Is Tokyo your only destination in Japan? Then you might also be interested in experiencing a traditional tea ceremony (‘sado’). Or/and dressing up like a geisha with kimono and matching make-up maybe? If Tokyo is the start of your round trip, you may want to do these activities in Kyoto or elsewhere in Japan. Soon I will write another blog about my geisha experience in Kyoto.
Japan has several excellent theme parks. In the south east of Tokyo there are Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea. So much fun!! It’s also possible to book Tokyo Disneyland or Tokyo DisneySea with transfer.
Visit a Museum
With more than 100 art museums, >70 historical museums, 19 science museums, >400 art galleries and a bunch of other museums, there is something for everybody’s interest in Tokyo. The teamLab Borderless Tokyo MORI Building DIGITAL ART MUSEUM is very popular at the moment (see video below), better get your tickets in advance. Station: Aomi Station in Odaiba, Tokyo.
Walk the Shibuya Crossing
Every day thousands of people pass the Shibuya Crossing intersection. Due to its heavy traffic and advertising screens it may remind you of Tokyo’s version of Times Square in New York City. Tip: go early (7-8 am) and see the ‘ant nest’ move below while enjoying your breakfast at Starbucks. If you are there around 08:45h, the peak of people is pretty much gone, as you can see in my photo below. Metro: Shibuya.
Want a super special picture? Dress up in a kimono and do a photo shoot on the Shibuya Crossing! How cool is that?!
Obviously there is more to discover in Shibuya. Looking for a tour? Try these:
- Harajuku – Shibuya Private Walking Tour
- Shibuya Bar Hopping Night Tour
- Shibuya Evening Walking Food Tour
One thing I always like doing in big cities, is people watching. Tokyo takes this hobby to another level. Older ladies in kimono and wooden slippers with socks on, just walking through the metro. Japanese men standard seem to wear too big shoes, shuffling their way. Like in many metropolitans, the ladies obviously pay a lot of attention to their looks.
Tokyo houses not only a lot of fashion victims, but it is also a huge source of inspiration for top fashion designers. These local ‘hipsters’ have names: ganguro girls with orange or silver hair, gothic, sweet, punk and classic Lolita’s, kodona (boyish), fairy kei (childish fairytale), etc. Harajuku is a great place to spot some Japanese fashionistas.
Coming from the west, something you will also quickly notice in Tokyo (or actually all over Japan) are the white facemasks many Japanese people wear. There are various reason people wear them: from pollution to fear of illness to fashion statement to shyness.
Watch sumo wrestling
If you are in Tokyo at the right time (Jan, May, Sep), get yourself some tickets for a sumo wrestling game! A real Japanese cultural experience. The stadium is near Ryougoku station. Out of the tournament season, there are sumo wrestling practices you can attend, but they are not cheap (around $150) and the wrestlers would appear not to take it seriously enough, thus a couple from Australia I spoke to.
Update: get your tickets now for the Sumo Tournament 2019 held in Tokyo from 8 to 22 September! Book early as tickets are high in demand.
Walk with a tour guide
Not in the mood to sort out everything yourself? Traveling alone and looking for company that can tell you all about the city? Or like meeting a local that can show you all hidden gems of Tokyo? There are many guides in town, but if I may recommend one it would be Tokiotours. Not the cheapest but a great day and quality service guaranteed!
Last updated: September 29, 2019.
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