[Special Edition] A Guide to Enjoying Japan’s Capital City! 30 Things to Do in Tokyo
Tokyo, the capital of Japan, is also the country’s largest city. It offers a wide range of spots to see, from almost futuristic attractions to quintessentially Japanese spots. You’ll be able to find foods and products from all across the country. Here’s a list of 30 things to do and see when you visit this modern metropolis!
- 1. Visit Meiji Jingu in Yoyogi
- 2. Enjoy Exploring All of Shibuya
- 3. Drink and Walk Around Shibuya's Nonbei Yokocho
- 4. Shop in Omotesando and Harajuku, the Birthplace of Kawaii Culture
- 5. Visit KAWAII MONSTER CAFE HARAJUKU
- 6. Enjoy Bar Hopping in Shinjuku's Golden Gai
- 7. Go to Kappabashi From Asakusa to Buy Made-in-Japan Products
- 8. Go to Asakusa and See the Fireworks at Sumida River
- 9. Enjoy the Cherry Blossoms in Ueno
- 10. Steep Yourself in Otaku Culture at Akihabara
- 11. Watch Kabuki in Ginza
- 12. Enjoy Sushi at Tsukiji Market
- 13. Enjoy Monja in Tsukishima
- 14. Experience Bon-odori in Hibiya
- 15. Experience Japanese Culture in Marunouchi (Tokyo Station)
- 16. Spend a Night at HOSHINOYA Tokyo in Otemachi
- 17. Experience a Summer Festival in Roppongi
- 18. Savor Outstanding Ramen at Muteki-ya in Ikebukuro
- 19. Enjoy Hot Springs in Odaiba
- 20. Enjoy a Pleasure Cruise From Nihonbashi
- 21. Be Enthralled by Maxell Aqua Park in Shinagawa
- 22. Look Around Yanaka, Nezu, and Sendagi
- 23. See the Awa-Odori in Koenji
- 24. Savor Fantastic Food in Kichijoji's Harmonica Yokocho
- 25. Full of Unique Stores! Enjoy Shopping in Shimo-kitazawa
- 26. Visit TSUTAYA Books in Daikanyama
- 27. Climb Mt. Takao in Hachioji
- 28. Go Cycling in Okutama
- 29. Enjoy Marine Sports in the Izu Islands
- 30. See Fantastic Views From the World Heritage Site, Ogasawara Islands
1. Visit Meiji Jingu in Yoyogi
Meiji Jingu is a famous Shinto shrine that attracts the largest number of visitors in Japan during the New Year. It is dedicated to Emperor Meiji, who was the 122nd emperor of Japan, and his wife, Empress Shoken. It is said to impart a variety of blessings, including good health and luck in finding love.
Meiji Jingu’s highlight is the forest that covers its 700,000 sq.m. grounds. It is actually a man-made forest that’s been nurtured for more than 100 years. Despite being situated in the center of a city surrounded with skyscrapers, it is a magical space filled with nearly 3,000 different varieties of flora and fauna. You can even find rare animals like the northern goshawk here!
2. Enjoy Exploring All of Shibuya
Shibuya is famous for the scramble crossing by its train station. It is said that up to 3,000 people cross every time the lights turn green. There are several interesting spots near the crossing, such as Shibuya Center-gai, but the area has more to offer than that. For example, there is Cat Street, which is a walking path to Harajuku that has many small alleyways. It is filled with cafes and shops selling a variety of trendy goods, and is a great way to enjoy the atmosphere that this area exudes.
If you want more information about Shibuya, stop by the Tokyu Tokyo Metro Shibuya Station Tourist Information Center, where English-speaking staff will provide sightseeing information and maps.
3. Drink and Walk Around Shibuya's Nonbei Yokocho
This is an alley filled with retro bars. Despite being in the center of a city filled with modern buildings, taking one step into it will invoke a strong sense of nostalgia, as if you have traveled back in time. There are more than 30 bars and restaurants here, including ones serving yakitori (grilled chicken skewers) and oden (a dish consisting of several ingredients like boiled eggs stewed in a lightly flavored broth). Many of them can only fit six to eight people, giving off a welcoming atmosphere that allows regulars to easily chat with the shop owners. What a plus!
4. Shop in Omotesando and Harajuku, the Birthplace of Kawaii Culture
Harajuku and Omotesando are popular areas that continue to spread the latest in "kawaii" (cute) culture. You can find desserts here that are worthy of posting on social media, such as the “coisof” soft serve ice-cream pictured below, along with numerous stylish buildings that you’ll feel a strong urge to photograph. Takeshita Street, which is in front of Harajuku Station, is a place where you can check out all the latest trends in Japan. It is home to many unique fashion stores and trendy cafes, so you’ll be able to check out many cute items!
5. Visit KAWAII MONSTER CAFE HARAJUKU
This cafe and restaurant is packed full of everything that can be considered cute. It is full of objects that you’ll want to photograph, such as a cake-shaped merry-go-round, poisonous-looking mushrooms, huge rabbits, and jellyfish that are lit up in a strange way. The menu is also unique, with examples being colorful cakes and multi-colored pasta. In the evening, it turns into a high-class cabaret, complete with music and dance performances.
Entrance fee: 500 JPY
6. Enjoy Bar Hopping in Shinjuku's Golden Gai
There are many areas for drinking around JR Shinjuku Station, such as Kabuki-cho and Omoide Yokocho. Shinjuku Golden Gai, whose roots come from the black market, is particularly well-known for its great atmosphere, especially among foreign visitors. Distinguished by its townscape of wooden Japanese row houses, it is a place with many small bars that only offer counter seating, making it great for anyone looking to bar hop while enjoying a retro atmosphere. Just walk five minutes on foot from the East Gate of Shinjuku Station to reach Shinjuku Golden Gai.
7. Go to Kappabashi From Asakusa to Buy Made-in-Japan Products
Kappabashi Dougu Street, which stretches from Asakusa to Ueno, is a shopping district with a history of more than 100 years. It has approximately 170 shops that sell tableware, lacquerware, kitchen utensils, and kitchen equipment. At shops like the cutlery store, Kama-asa, you can purchase Japanese knives. Maizuru is another interesting shop to visit for its food samples that look almost exactly like the real thing. Many shops are closed on Sundays, so visit during the week if you can.
8. Go to Asakusa and See the Fireworks at Sumida River
The Sumida River Fireworks Festival, which is held in the summer every year, originally began as the Ryogoku Kawabiraki Festival in 1733. It was renamed when it moved locations in 1978, and since then, it has become a key summer event in Tokyo. At the festival, approximately 20,000 fireworks are launched from two locations along the river. If you are lucky, you can become one of 900 people chosen by lottery to see the fireworks from Tokyo Skytree. Enjoy a fantastic view of the buildings lit up by the fireworks!
Event Schedule: July 28 (Sat), 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm
*If there’s bad weather, it will be postponed to July 29 (Sun)
9. Enjoy the Cherry Blossoms in Ueno
The central pathway of Ueno Park is famous across the nation as a fantastic place to see the cherry blossoms. Approximately 800 cherry trees blossom beautifully between late March and early April every year. The sight of them lit up at night by approximately 1,000 traditional "bombori" (paper lanterns) is something to behold.
If you go to Ueno, be sure to stop by Ameya Yokocho (Ameyoko). It is filled with shops selling food, clothing, and a variety of miscellaneous items. This unique alley is filled with the loud calls of shopkeepers inviting customers to have a look at their goods.
10. Steep Yourself in Otaku Culture at Akihabara
Akihabara is famous as one of the world's leading areas for electric appliances, as well as for being the sacred land for otaku (people with obsessive interests). Here, you’ll find numerous shops selling a variety of goods related to anime (Japanese cartoons), manga (Japanese comics), idols, and figurines. Some of them are incredibly specialized, focusing solely on selling retro games or robot parts, and there are also “maid cafes” where you’re served by young women dressed up as maids. Akihabara is also famous for cosplay (dressing up like your favorite character or celebrity). Some shops allow you to experience this by dressing up as your favorite anime character!
11. Watch Kabuki in Ginza
Kabuki is a type of traditional Japanese performing art in which a unique worldview is presented through the combination of fantastic costumes, music, and dance. Kabukiza Theatre in Ginza is a place where you can casually enjoy a kabuki performance. Devices with English captions can be rented, so you don’t need to understand Japanese to enjoy it. Single Act Tickets that can be used to see just one act are only available on the day of the performance, so just visit when you’re free. The on-site Kabukiza Gallery has costume and prop exhibits, as well as demonstrations, so you can also enjoy kabuki without actually seeing a performance.
12. Enjoy Sushi at Tsukiji Market
Famous for handling the largest volume of marine products in the world, Tsukiji Market is the oldest market in Tokyo. Although there are many eateries in the area, sushi restaurants that use fresh fish procured directly from the market are especially popular. There is a wide selection of them, ranging from high-end restaurants to more casual and reasonably priced ones, so you can choose one that fits your budget. If you have trouble deciding, go to Plat Tsukiji - the information center - for advice in English.
13. Enjoy Monja in Tsukishima
Tsukishima is an area that retains the atmosphere of a traditional working class neighborhood. Monjayaki (also known as "monja"), which Tsukishima is known for, is a dish made by grilling a variety of ingredients with thin batter consisting of flour and water flavored with Worcestershire sauce. The ingredients used range from standard ones like cabbage, pork, mochi (sticky rice), and spicy cod roe, to more unusual ones, such as hot chili peppers and avocado. There are numerous monjayaki restaurants in Tsukishima, so try a few to find the one that suits your palate!
14. Experience Bon-odori in Hibiya
Bon-odori is a traditional dance for sending the spirits of ancestors who return for Obon (mid-July or mid-August) back to the netherworld. Even now, it is held at several places throughout the country. In Tokyo, the Hibiya Park Marunouchi Ondo Bon-Odori Festival is particularly famous. Anyone is welcome to jump in and dance, making it a great opportunity to dance with the locals and physically experience a Japanese custom.
15. Experience Japanese Culture in Marunouchi (Tokyo Station)
Anyone who really wants to experience Japanese culture while in Japan should pay a visit to Tokyo City i. It is a tourist facility near Tokyo Station, a major terminal for the shinkansen (bullet train), with an area where you can do just that. There are opportunities to try origami, in which you make a variety of shapes with just one piece of paper; Japanese calligraphy; and kimono wearing (weekends and national holidays only). They also provide a wide range of tourist information in Chinese, English, and Korean, as well as various booking services.
*The image below is for illustrative purposes only.
16. Spend a Night at HOSHINOYA Tokyo in Otemachi
This hotel is situated inside a stylish black building in a corner of the business district, Otemachi. It is dedicated to providing Japanese omotenashi (hospitality), with the entire building designed so that you can enjoy the experience of staying at a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn). The moment you enter, you will see a corridor covered with tatami (straw) mats. The faint aroma of the soft rush that were used to make the mats will take you away from the hustle and bustle of the city. The guest rooms also have tatami flooring and come with sofas and beds. This tatami flooring even extends to the Ochanoma Lounge, where you can enjoy seasonal teas and sweets. There is free Wi-Fi throughout the building and English-speaking staff on-site.
17. Experience a Summer Festival in Roppongi
If you are visiting Roppongi in the summer, stop by the TV Asahi Roppongi Hills Summer Festival SUMMER STATION, which is held every year at Roppongi Hills. It is an event sponsored by the Japanese TV station, TV Asahi, that is comprised of a variety of activities, such as live music performances and attractions related to popular TV programs.
Held in late August, the Azabu Juban Noryo Matsuri also comes highly recommended by many. It is an exciting festival with numerous food stalls and traditional performing art shows.
TV Asahi Roppongi Hills Summer Festival SUMMER STATION Schedule: July 14 (Sat) - August 26 (Sun), 2018
Azabu Jyuban Noryo Matsuri Schedule: August 25 (Sat) - August 26 (Sun), 2018
18. Savor Outstanding Ramen at Muteki-ya in Ikebukuro
Muteki-ya is a famous ramen (a standard Japanese dish consisting of noodles and other ingredients in a flavored broth) shop in Ikebukuro. The secret to its popularity is the fatty pork, which is cooked up every three hours. It is devoid of any unpleasant flavors and melts into the soup, adding sweetness and richness to its flavor. The restaurant's signature dish, Honmaru Noodles, is an exquisite dish that perfectly blends together a heaping amount of noodles with a rich soup.
Average cost: 900 JPY
Foreign language menus: English, Chinese (Traditional), Korean, Thai
Foreign languages spoken by staff: English
19. Enjoy Hot Springs in Odaiba
As one of Tokyo’s leading tourist destinations, Odaiba has a variety of tourist facilities. One of them that’s often recommended by many is the hot spring theme park, Ooedo-Onsen Monogatari, which houses 13 different types of baths in a retro building. There are also restaurants, including a sushi bar, and fun attractions, such as a shuriken-throwing experience where you get to throw spinning stars around. You can definitely have a full day of fun here! It also has overnight accommodations.
Fees: 1,554 JPY - 3,044 JPY/adult (junior high school age and older), 1,058 JPY/age 4 through elementary school, Free/children under 4 years of age
*All prices include tax
*Adult fees change by the time of day and time of year
20. Enjoy a Pleasure Cruise From Nihonbashi
Nihonbashi, which is at the juncture of Kanda River and Sumida River, is the starting point for a variety of boat rides. The most popular type of boats to ride is the traditional Japanese yakatabune (pleasure boat). Harumiya, for example, offers rides on luxury boats that take you near Odaiba and Tokyo Skytree. On board, you’ll be able to enjoy tempura and other traditional Japanese dishes made with seasonal ingredients! If you can’t speak Japanese, there’s no need to worry, as they can handle everything in English as well.
Sample prices (scheduled pleasure cruises): 10,000 JPY (excl. tax)
21. Be Enthralled by Maxell Aqua Park in Shinagawa
Maxell Aqua Park is an aquarium that shows off sea creatures using lights, sounds, and videos. You’ll get sucked into a magical space that seems almost surreal with exhibits like the "Jellyfish Ramble", which shows jellyfish lit up in several colors, and a beautiful combination of fish tanks and artworks, “Colors”. Another popular show there is the fantastic dolphin performance that makes use of lovely lighting and a water curtain.
Admission fees: 2,200 JPY/adult (high school age and older), 1,200 JPY/elementary and junior high school age, 700 JPY/children aged 4 up to elementary school
*Attractions and paid-for programs require additional fees
22. Look Around Yanaka, Nezu, and Sendagi
These three working class neighborhoods (collectively known as "Yanesen") retain the vestiges of old Japan through their townscapes, which consist of wooden houses, narrow alleys, roofed mud walls, and lively shopping strips. There are many tourist destinations to explore in these areas, such as Yanaka Ginza, where you can enjoy fantastic everyday food; Nedujinja Shrine, which has 3,000 azalea bushes; and a place that’s famous for its cherry blossoms, Yanaka Cemetery. These areas are sometimes referred to as “cat towns” for their large population of cats.
23. See the Awa-Odori in Koenji
Awa-odori is a type of bon-odori that has its roots in Tokushima Prefecture. One particular awa-odori event, the Tokyo Koenji Awa-Odori, is a signature summer event in Tokyo. It is so popular that it attracts about a million people every year! During this festival, approximately 10,000 dancers dance to cheery traditional music all around Koenji. You’ll find food stalls up and running as well, so why not enjoy the festival with a drink and some food?
Schedule: August 25 (Sat) - August 26 (Sun), 2018
24. Savor Fantastic Food in Kichijoji's Harmonica Yokocho
Harmonica Yokocho is an area with approximately 100 shops that’s situated near the North Gate of Kichijoji Station. The name derives from the fact that the shops are so small, they look like the holes of a harmonica. You’ll find many stores selling foods that are great for eating while exploring the place. Examples include Shanghai Yaki Xiaolongbao, which is famous for its authentic grilled xiaolongbao (Chinese steamed buns), and Sato - a shop that offers a menchi-katsu (breaded and deep-fried ground meat cutlet) that's so delicious, people wait in line for it.
25. Full of Unique Stores! Enjoy Shopping in Shimo-kitazawa
Shimo-kitazawa is a commercial district that’s popular among youngsters. It exudes a unique atmosphere thanks to the types of shops that have made it their home. You’ll find boutiques that represent the owners’ tastes; a plethora of stores selling vintage items, especially clothing; second-hand record stores; and chic restaurants. It is near Shimo-Kitazawa Station, where the Odakyu and Keio Inokashira lines cross, and is easy to get to from Shinjuku and Shibuya. It is also easily accessed from central Tokyo.
26. Visit TSUTAYA Books in Daikanyama
TSUTAYA Books in DAIKANYAMA T-SITE is a bookstore that will entertain you all day. This stylish bookstore has a wide selection of items, including carefully selected Japanese books, Western books, and old books, as well as jazz and classical CDs and DVDs. There is a Starbucks on the first store, so you can even enjoy reading there with a cup of coffee. Overall, it’s an appealing place that has more to offer than just being a bookstore.
27. Climb Mt. Takao in Hachioji
Mt. Takao, which is a 50-minute train ride from Shinjuku, is a great place for going on a casual hike. There are cable cars and lifts, so everyone at any age can enjoy themselves. The mountain is nature-rich, with approximately 1,500 cherry trees of 250 varieties blossoming in the spring. In the fall, the entire mountain is beautifully colored by autumn foliage. It has long been considered a sacred mountain, with historic sites such as Takao-san Yakuo-in - a temple whose history dates back to 744.
28. Go Cycling in Okutama
Okutama, which is at the westernmost point of Tokyo, is an area that is more than 90% covered by forests. It has an abundance of nature, including Lake Okutama that’s upstream of Tama River and a variety of mountains, valleys, and limestone caves. If you like cycling, this area is renowned for it. For example, the 19.7 km metropolitan road that connects Okutama Town with Hinohara Village, the Okutama Shuyu Road, is a wonderfully scenic cycling route that lets you enjoy the grand scenery of Lake Okutama and its surrounding mountains. There are also cycling courses for visiting museums and other cultural sites, as well as for dropping by several waterfalls. Pick up a rental bicycle if you want to go bicycling!
29. Enjoy Marine Sports in the Izu Islands
“Izu Islands” is a collective term for a group of islands that can be accessed from metropolitan Tokyo. It is an hour and 45 minutes on a fast-speed boat to the northernmost island, Oshima, and 50 minutes by airplane to the popular Hachijo-jima. A lot of the nature on these islands have been left untouched and the surrounding ocean is amazingly clear. Many people love to do marine sports like diving, surfing, sea bathing, and fishing here! One of the attractions that this area offers is the opportunity to see a variety of sea creatures, such as wild dolphins, sea turtles, and tropical fish.
30. See Fantastic Views From the World Heritage Site, Ogasawara Islands
30 islands of varying sizes make up “Ogasawara Islands”, the World Heritage Site that’s roughly 1,000 km to the south of Tokyo. The deep blue ocean, starry night sky, and unique ecology make for a plethora of amazing sights. There are several amazing activities to experience here, such as swimming with dolphins and whale watching.
The only two inhabited islands are Chichi-jima and Haha-jima. There is a regularly scheduled boat to Chichijima that takes about 24 hours. It is another two hours from Chichi-jima to Haha-jima by boat. There are also luxury cruises and ferries that go to these islands during the tourist season.
Tokyo has such a well-developed transportation system that even places that seem far are easily accessible. If any of the places introduced here pique your interest, be sure to visit them!
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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