Tokyo’s got something for everybody and it was definitely one of the most fun cities we visited. There were so many regions to discover, things to see and do, and of course all the traditional and interesting foods to try! We were in Tokyo for a total of 7 days and found plenty of things to fill our daily agendas. We left feeling like we had spent enough time to have seen and got to know Tokyo, but not too long that we’d be keen to come back to explore some more!
If you’re just passing by and have a few days, a week, or longer, here are my top 10 things to do in Tokyo
1. Visit Tsukiji Fish Market
We weren’t game enough to wake up to see the Tuna auction at 4am but a visit to the fish market in the morning (twice) was a fun and exciting experience. The market is full of stall holders selling everything from fresh exotic sea foods, dried fruits, pickled vegetables, to sweets and take-home treats. This would be the place the locals go to get the freshest seafood and it also makes a mid-morning hang out since there’s several competing restaurants.
Tip: If you want to try top quality sashimi, this is the place to go! Skip breakfast and get in early – the eateries are normally packed.
2. Watch a Sumo Tournament – Ryogoku Kokugikan
Because when you go to Japan, you gotta go see a Sumo match! There’s a lot of presumptions about what goes on in a Sumo match – that they just thump around on a sandy circular podium then wrestle each other until one steps out of line. Which is pretty much it in a nutshell, but it’s really cool to actually learn the rituals and rules of the sport. You can also visit the museum at the stadium to discover the history of Sumo, learn about the upbringing of Sumos, their diet, and during specific hours you can watch them train too! The Grand Tournaments happen 5-6 times a year, we just happened to be in Tokyo at the right time!
Tip: Seats are allocated but if you go to a morning match you can take advantage of the seats right up front as spectators usually attend the final rounds in the afternoon. (One way to get a cheap ticket and still get first class views!). Grand Tournament
3. Check out Akihabara
Ahh geek central! Akihabara is a district in central Tokyo famous for all its electronic shops, a haven for all the Pokemon, anime, action-figure, electronics, computer-game loving enthusiasts. Even if you’re not into any of this it’s a must-see and the place to go if you need any tech gear.
Tip: While you’re there try out one of the Maid Cafes – a popular culture icon Akihabara is known for. Basically they are themed cafe shops with waiters/waitresses dressed as butlers and maids, and customers are treated as ‘masters’.
4. Get a bird’s eye view at the Metropolitan government building
Tokyo Sky Tree and Sky View are two of the more touristy attractions to get a 360 view of the city – the equivalent of Sydney Centre point tower. But you can get just as awesome views for FREE at the Metropolitan Government building.
Tip: Free walking tours are also offered by volunteer staff to take you around the building and show you the court rooms.
5. Try your fortune at Senso-ji temple, Asakusa
This was one of my favourite places to visit in Tokyo mainly for the walk up to it! It’s called Nakamise-dori road and it’s lined with souvenir stores and food stalls selling all sorts of Japanese sweets and rice crackers which we filled up on sampling. You can also get a good matcha ice cream fix here. When you get to the temple you can make a prayer to the gods and buddhas before paying 100 yen for an Omikuji (paper fortune).
6. Get your nature fix at Meji Shrine
For the nature lovers, and those who want a bit of peace and quiet from the hustle of the city, Meiji Shrine (Meiji Jingu) offers a tranquil stroll along wide dirt paths lined with tall trees. The Shrine is actually located in the middle of a forest and there’s a couple of complexes you can pay to visit before reaching the Shrine. It felt like we walked a very long track and we got lost on the way out! But you’ll know you’ve reached the Shrine when you hit a massive torii gate.
Tip: Makes a close visit from Harauku. For more greenery, head to adjacent Yoyogi Park
7. Visit Harajuku (Takeshita Street)
Close by from Meiji Shrine is Harajuku known for it’s teenage vibe, and young/trendy fashion culture. The focal point is the Takeshita Dori street which is lined with little boutiques, discount stores, and crepe stalls. It’s seemed to be a popular hang out place for youngsters – at this point in travel, seeing so many of them holding crepes, I wondered how the Japanese could eat all day and not get round! Some nice cafes and sushi restaurants are also in the area.
8. Check out the museums
Tokyo offers an eclectic range of museums from cars, architecture, art, music, anime etc. As a fan of Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle, we were pretty psyched about visiting the birthplace of it all (at least the museum of) – Ghibli museum. It was real different experience as it was all exclusive, no pictures allowed. It was like a very big character house with everything inside shaped and inspired by his movies and characters. But you had to book your tickets in advance as there are entry times for a limited number of people. We also went to the Mori Art Museum to check out a really interesting exhibition. The ticket also gave us an express pass to the Tokyo City View observation deck so we got to also see a birds-eye view of the city at night time 🙂
Tip: Ghibli museum tickets can only be purchased in Japan from a Loppi machine in Lawson convenience stores.
9. See a Kabuki-za theatre
Ever see those Kabuki dolls sold in book stores and gift stores? This is where they’re from! Kabuki is a traditional drama form in Japan where the actors wear colourful costumes and sometimes face masks, and they would express the nature of their character through exaggerated gestures and vocals. What’s impressive is that all the roles are actually played by men and even if you don’t understand a word of Japanese, you can still pick up the meanings of the play. Japan’s theatres are like no where else in the world so it’s worthwhile a visit if you’ve got the time!
Tip: Tickets are a first come, first served basis so you’ll have line up 30 mins – 1 hour early to get a good seat in the audience. You can get an English translator radio as well so you can understand the script.
10. Go shopping in Ueno
I think we came back to Ueno 3 times to shop because it was like a giant flee market, food market, tech & gadget market, clothing & souvenir outlets and shoe stores all in one place! The whole shopping district is called Ameyoko and you could easily spend a half day here. Every time we came back we discovered/saw something new like those fish -shaped snacks and a mobile Takoyaki stand. Our highlight was coming across a store that specialised in Japanese /international foods and we probably had spent a good hour going through the shopping aisles trying to relocate the store when we returned!
Tip: save your stomach to fill up on the variety of street food stalls!