Sushi? Izakaya? Harajuku? Tokyo is a lot bigger than you'd expect, with plenty of activities for the first-time visitor! Click here to see what you can do.
We all have our lists of the top 5 cities to visit before we die. If Tokyo isn’t on yours, get your eraser ready.
The following article is a kooky, quirky guide that explores kooky, quirky Tokyo in all its glory. Specifically, it lists the amazing and exclusive Tokyo experiences that the rest of the world simply isn’t Japanese enough to offer. And, as you’re about to find out, it’s worth your yen to take at least one trip there before you croak.
But, duh, you already know that. Why else would you be reading this? (Don’t answer that.)
The point is, you don’t want to miss Tokyo. More importantly, you don’t want to miss these 20 (plus 5) things to see and do in Tokyo. Seriously, check them out.
1. Tour the Imperial Palace
If you’re from anywhere besides Japan, you’ve probably never seen an emperor’s house before. So, now’s your chance. The current Imperial Palace is an authentic replica of the one we, uh, blew up in World War II.
2. Get Your Zen on at the Meiji Shrine
To summarize, the Meiji shrine is a scenic, forested park constructed in honor of Japan’s first emperor. For you, it’s an opportunity to spend at least a few moments of your frantic vacation in peace and quiet.
3. Visit the Tokyo National Museum
Want to drink in some Japanese culture that doesn’t involve anime? The Tokyo National Museum offers plenty of fascinating national treasures and other exhibitions that are mostly not about Pikachu.
4. The Oldest Temple in Japan: Sensoji
If you spend only 3 hours in Tokyo and have time to see only one attraction, make sure it’s the breathtaking Sensoji Temple. Japan does not get any more traditional than this.
5. Geek Out at Akihabara
If it’s possible to literally drown in Japanese geekery, Akihabara is where that happens. Everything you already know and love about Japan is here, in the Otaku capital of the world.
6. Geek Out Again at the Ghibli Museum
As you most likely know, Studio Ghibli is like Disney’s Japanese cousin. The Ghibli Museum is home to your favorite characters created by Hayao Miyazaki, plus a bunch of others that you’ve probably never heard of.
7. Drink Up at Izakaya Alley
Tokyo has no shortage of bars. But the most popular bar-crawling scene among the locals is located at Izakaya alley.
8. Shibuya Crossing: The "Times Square" of Tokyo
Another must-visit photo op is at Shibuya Crossing. Light-up billboards, traffic, and way too many pedestrians make Shibuya Crossing the Times Square of Tokyo.
9. Catch Morning Sumo Practice at a Beya
Want to see an authentic Sumo competition live? Well, too bad.
These competitions are so rare and so popular in Japan that the locals will buy out all the tickets before the tourists even get a chance. Instead, visit a sumo stable or “beya” to watch their morning practice, usually for free.
10. Take Your Kids to Harajuku
Normally you wouldn’t want to dine in a restaurant that’s full of rodents. However, pet cafes in Harajuku allow you to pet adorable hedgehogs, chinchillas, and even owls. This is just one example of the many family-friendly activities that Harajuku has to offer.
11. Dine With Robots
Robot Restaurant offers a 2-hour musical light show with dancing robots, plus dinner. Need we go on?
12. Eat Wagyu Beef
Trust us, you’ve never had beef like this. For a rare, Japanese delicacy that’s not too weird for westerners, taste some Wagyu beef before you exit Tokyo.
13. Eat Sushi Standing
Sushi’s pretty common, especially in Japan. But if you want good value and a unique sushi experience, try the Standing Sushi Bar in Tokyo. It’s sushi, while you’re standing!
14. Spend Way Too Much at Ginza
If you like fancy, froufrou, overpriced, high-end shopping, Ginza is your number one destination in Tokyo. Have (expensive) fun!
15. Try Japanese Candy
It’s weird; it’s different; it’s—well, “weird” pretty much covers it. But you won’t find most of this candy anywhere else in the world!
16. Try The Weirdest Pancake in the World
Okonomiyaki is a Japanese pancake that’s piled up with as many toppings as a plate of nachos. Try it for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Some places even let you flip it yourself!
17. Try Real-Life Mario Kart
If you’ve ever wanted to experience the thrill of Mario Kart in real life, you can. You need the proper driver’s license first. But, once you get that, you can rent a kart and race your friends through the streets of Tokyo.
18. Learn to Cook Japanese Food the (Only) Authentic Way
Don’t just eat the authentic Japanese cuisine while you’re there. Learn how to make it yourself. Japanese cooking classes are becoming an increasingly popular tourist attraction in Tokyo.
19. View the Unbelievably Tall Tokyo Skytree
At 2,080 feet in height, the Tokyo Skytree is the tallest man-made structure in Japan and the third-tallest in the world. Even more impressive is the view from the glass-bottomed viewing floor near the very top of the tower.
20. Don't Forget to Visit Tokyo Tower
True, the Tokyo Skytree significantly trumps the Tokyo Tower in terms of height. But that’s a sorry excuse to miss the iconic, flashy, firetruck-red Eiffel Tower replica in the heart of Tokyo that’s capable of transmitting radio and TV signals.
Before we regale you with Tokyo’s top points of interest, we’ll do you one better—or rather, five better. Here are 5 bonus travel tips for your inaugural journey into Tokyo.
Tokyo is unlike any city you’re used to. For instance, with a population of over 37 million, more people live in Tokyo than in any other city in the world.
Also, did you know that Tokyo is nicknamed, “The Windy Ghost?” Well, it’s not. We made that up.
The point is, there are plenty of other things you don’t know and won’t understand about Tokyo’s culture, either. So it’s best that you research this before you get there. Case in point, it’s plausible that your waiter may serve you fish eyes or dog meat if you aren’t careful with your order.
Furthermore, to all whom you encounter in Tokyo, you’re an ambassador of your homeland. So, you know, don’t be a jerk.
To that point, remember the culture gap that you’re diving into. Research and understand proper Tokyo etiquette so you don’t accidentally pronounce a hex on your bellhop’s grandchildren or something.
Do you know Japanese? Google does. Make your trip easier by installing the Google Translate Japanese pack on your device.
Haneda Airport (HND) is the closest airport to the city. Just pretend no other Japanese airports exist.
Free up gigabytes on your phone, get disposable cameras, do what you have to do. But get as many photos and videos as you can of your adventure.
Take This Tokyo Bucket List With You to the "Windy Ghost"
If you’ve never visited Tokyo, do it. When you visit Tokyo, bring with you this list of unmissable, bucket-list-worthy attractions.
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