Let your inner weirdness thrive in Tokyo.
You can’t say you’ve traveled the world until you’ve been to Tokyo. It’s an experience too unique and too important for anyone to miss out on. For starters, almost everything is just a bit different in Japan.
People really do bow, everything really does run on time and the ramen is even better than you’ve heard, virtually anywhere you go. And you’ll soon find it’s hardly the only culinary attraction. Okonomiyaki, here you come!
Every way you cut it, the magnificent city by the sea is huge – and that means figuring out what to do can be seriously tough. Well, at least until now. Here are 11 really fun things to do in Tokyo, especially if it’s your first time visiting…
This is a Tokyo must whether you’re into gardens or not. Yes, even you. Imperial Palace Gardens is an absolutely remarkable park somewhat like Central Park in New York, with the added element of being walled in with bridges, protecting it from the rest of the city.
You’ll see the impressive palace, perhaps wave good morning to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and enjoy expertly manicured trees which make your Bonsai tree back home seem pathetic. The scenery is gorgeous, the fresh air will help with jet lag and you’ll love it. It’s free too.
Alternatively, and or in addition to: Yoyogi Park is phenomenal.
Dive Into Katsu, Ramen, Sushi – Eat Local
The only problem with Tokyo, is that it ruins you. You simply can’t go back to your local Japanese restaurant and pretend you love it anymore. Katsu in Tokyo at any Tonkatsu joint is going to crush anything you’ve had before. The same goes for any semi respectable ramen place, and any top notch sushi place.
While high end sushi in Tokyo is eye watering expensive – yet still worth it – Ramen and Katsu are much more palatable and are always a great choice. As crazy as it sounds, even the stuff in the abundant supply of Lawson or 7/11 stores is better than anything you’ve experienced!
It doesn’t take an expert to tell you that the best way to see a city is by walking it. Tokyo is quite literally one of the safest cities in the world (top 3 at last count) and walking is an experience which instantly pays off.
Ginza is the upmarket luxury shopping, after work drinks neighborhood with interesting shops, bars and restaurants at every turn and it’s the perfect place to get your bearings. Start at the Peninsula Hotel and wander to Ginza Six, the incredible design inspired mall. You can’t go wrong.
To explore more boutique and perhaps unique shopping, 6-chrome Jingumae and Harajuku are off the chains, as is the area around Omotesando. With such a safe city, there’s no reason not to wander.
Mario Karting – AKA MariCar
This is not particularly loved by locals, and it’s not exactly cultural, but for the best novelty Tokyo experience, MariCar is a total must. You can dress up as your favorite MarioKart character and zip around the bustling streets of Tokyo, even including the famous Shibuya Crossing in a MarioKart style go-kart. It’s as amazing and amusing as it sounds.
People will cheer, others will take selfies and you’ll basically live out your childhood dream of zipping around in a go-kart, dressed as a mushroom, or Luigi. Here’s a video to seal the deal…
Travelers have an irrational love for the mediocre movie known as Lost In Translation, starring Bill Murray. The film does manage to highlight the incredible Manhattan Bar at the Park Hyatt Tokyo, which is an inspiring place for a drink.
Tokyo is also home to many of the world’s best bars, like Bar High Five or Benfiddich, which you’d be crazy not to fall in love with. Plan on spending a small fortune, but loving every minute. Here’s a list of other insider recommendations in Tokyo too.
Mount Fuji Side Trip – Bullet Train
There are many ways to get to Mt. Fuji, but for your purposes there’s only one. A ride on the bullet train, like many experiences you’ll find after Tokyo, will ruin you. It’s so fast, so clean and so timely that nothing else compares. Mt. Fuji and nearby Lake Kawaguchi are every bit as stunning as you’d hope and are 100% worth the side trip.
The key to this dance is waiting for confirmation of clear weather, which may require last minute planning. Play it by ear, and if it’s supposed to be gorgeous, ask your hotel concierge to book you an overpriced tour for the clear day. Just make sure it’s one with bullet train ride.
You’ve heard the term hipster, but you haven’t seen anything until you’ve strolled through the boutique lined streets of Harajuku. Great cafes and bakeries are hidden all along the way, with incredible boutique shopping leading the charge.
Even if you’re not a “shopper”, the people watching is priceless. Harajuku girls are famous for a reason, and you’ll get your full pop culture fix in this neighborhood. A stop by Dominque Ansel or local favorite “The Little Bakery” will keep you moving.
Sensō-ji – Temple Fix
Temples are spectacular to witness firsthand. You’ll find beautiful temples everywhere in Japan, like the iconic orange gates of Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari Shrine, but when you’re in Tokyo it’s hard to beat Sensō-ji. This is the classic postcard temple of the city, and is actually Tokyo’s oldest.
This beautiful buddhist structure is spectacular to behold in the early evening with lanterns alight and is an important look into the buddhist culture of Japan.
Shibuya Crossing is every bit as nuts as you think it will be, and for an “I’m in Tokyo” picture, it’s inimitable. However, once you land in Tokyo, you’ll quickly learn that manic is just not the vibe of Tokyo, and the crossing really doesn’t represent the experience.
Go, see, conquer, and then get out of there, because much like Times Square, you won’t find too much local flare here. But yes, it’s totally worth it – once.
Airbnb and Air Kitchen each offer their own platforms to book unique culinary experiences with locals. From sushi making to eating every day meals with families in their own homes, the possibilities are endless.
These experiences range in price, length of time and neighborhood and are also available in other cities, but it’s hard to think of a more unique way to immerse yourself in the culture.
Novelty Cafes And Karaoke Bars – Because You Can
Cat cafe, owl cafe, or something even more obscure? Tokyo is a place where novelty and “cute” thrive, and there’s hardly a place where that’s more true than in the many themed cafes or karaoke bars. From serenading some Billy Joel classics to a group of your 50 closest strangers to petting owls while you sip tea, there’s something weird for everyone here and you might as well embrace it.
What’s your favorite thing to do in Tokyo?!
Featured image copyright: Irvin Bernal