Tokyo is amazing and is one of my favourite destinations ever. It’s a bright and colourful city where you’re free to do whatever you want and be whoever you want. The Japanese people are friendly, quirky, fun and so polite, it makes visiting this eclectic city an absolute breeze.
With so many great things to do, it’s hard to know where to start or come up with an itinerary. I spent two weeks in Tokyo and have put together my list of top recommendations for things to do and see, where to eat and how to have fun in Tokyo. I warn you, this post is a big one!! If there’s anything I’ve missed out or any recommendations you have, post them in the comments below.
But first, watch this…
1. Visit a Cat Café
Even if you have a cat, visiting a cat cafe is a fun experience. Calico Cat Café in Shinjuku is central and quite easy to find, just look out for the pictures of cats. It’s packed with frisky feline’s ready to enjoy your affection, it costs around AUD$10 per person for an hour and you can buy food to entice them over.
2. Visit a Rabbit Café
One of my favourite places to visit in Japan is the beautiful rabbit cafe, Ra.a.g.f (Raabit and get fat) in Harajuku. It’s a small room with very healthy, well-loved rabbits just waiting for your affections. For around $10au you get to spend an hour with the rabbits and fresh fruit and vegetables to feed them, you’re also allowed to pick them up and take photos with them.
3. Robot restaurant
A friend of mine likened Robot Restaurant to “discovering the meaning of life,” and she was right. I don’t want to tell you too much and spoil it for you, but you’ll be treated to an evening of cute Japanese girls dancing, singing and fighting robots. You might read reviews asking if it’s worthwhile going to Robot Restaurant. Yes, yes it is. Do not miss it. Better yet, find 15% OFF Discount Ticket for Robot Restaurant Shinjuku Tokyo here.
4. Eat sashimi
Don’t even bother calling yourself a tourist if you don’t make time to eat traditional Japanese sashimi. The best chefs aren’t young bucks, they’re chefs who spent their lives perfecting the art and producing the best quality sushi and sashimi in the world. Make a reservation for Sushi Jiro Roppongi, Michelin 2-star, Tokyo here.
5. Eat tempura
I wouldn’t normally eat deep fried anything because it’s so heavy, but tempura is the exception to this rule. Real tempura chefs know how to make a light and crispy batter that doesn’t detract from the delicious seafood or vegetables inside. Funabashiya Honten is my top pick for the best tempura in Tokyo at a reasonable price.
6. Eat yakitori
Delicious fresh meat and vegetables on skewers, which soak up the charcoal flavour of the barbeque they are cooked on. ZenyaRen is a good choice for a yakitori experience as it comprises yakitori from Japans seven yakitori hotspots. But don’t be afraid to find a yakitori restaurant and wander in off the street, the more packed with locals, the better it will be.
7. Eat shute sushi
Sushi trains are for chumps, get yourself down to Japan’s only shute sushi restaurant, Uobei. You place your order on a touch screen and sit back and wait for the food to come to you. It’s a once in a lifetime experience that will see you laughing the whole time, thinking ‘is this actually happening?’ Keep in mind, this place is cheap and cheerful so don’t go there expecting the best sushi of your life.
8. Visit Don Quijote
Don Quijote is a variety store, supermarket, clothing store… EVERYTHING store, really, open 24 hours a day. This place is mind-boggling! They sell things you didn’t know you needed, didn’t know existed and have no idea what purpose they serve. A great place for souvenir shopping and stocking up on the weird and wonderful.
9. Karaoke (in a hot tub if you’re lucky)
I thought karaoke was a joke until I tried it in Tokyo. They take it pretty seriously over there and I got a bit swept up in it, despite the fact I sing like a bag full of angry cats with kazoos. Visit LoveNet for a ritzy experience of hot tub karaoke, or just stop into a corner-store karaoke shop for a quick pre-lunch warm-up.
10. Takashimaya food tour
Head to the bottom of Takshimaya in Shinjuku and get ready to feast. There are a seemingly endless number of food stalls set up selling everything from salads and gyoza to cakes and pastries. It isn’t our typical ‘food court’ it’s very high-end and the perfect place to pick up a whole lot of takeaway for a picnic in the park.
11. Meiji Shrine
Located in Shibuya, this beautiful shrine is dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shoken. The shrine and gardens surrounding it are ethereal and a tranquil oasis in Tokyo, even with the tourists. As they enter, the locals stop to cleanse their mouth and hands at a water fountain. Inside the shrine, you can throw a coin and bow to the shrine’s deities and write your dreams, wishes and thanks on wooden plaques or pieces of paper, hanging around a large tree.
12. Yoyogi Park
Yoyogi Park is a must do in Tokyo. Get yourself down there on a Sunday to see the large groups of Japanese locals doing whatever the heck it is they want to do. That includes dressing up like greasers and dancing, jumping rope, blowing bubbles, having a catwalk-style fashion show, practising dance routines and singing. The best part of Yoyogi Park is the dog park, packed full of funny little dogs with crazy outfits and haircuts.
There are two sides to Harajuku, the hectic tourist-packed weekend crowd and the low-key, super-cool weekday side. I recommend visiting both to experience them, but I really struggled with the weekend crowd. The best thing to do in Harajuku is just walk. Walk into shops, through ally-ways and into side streets. Eat a delicious crepe, buy some crazy clothes and try to snap a photo with the beautiful Harajuku girls.
14. Batting cage
It costs $3au to hit 20 balls at the Oslo Batting Cage in Shinjuku. There is no safety demonstration, no injury waiver and no rules, it’s some of the best fun I’ve ever had. You’ll need coins for the batting cage, but all you do is choose the speed you want the balls to come flying at you, chuck on a helmet, grab a bat and go for it!
15. Recreate a scene from Lost in Translation
One of my favourite movies! Visit the Park Hyatt Tokyo in Shinjuku and go up to the New York Bar and Grill for a Suntory and the chance to lip someone’s stockings! It costs $20au to get in after 8pm, so get there early to avoid the cover charge.
16. Eat Japan’s best ramen
Hototogisu near Hatagaya Station is a tiny restaurant, down an inconspicuous alley, which seats 7 at a time. How will you find it? With a map and by keeping an eye out for the line of people waiting patiently to get inside. It is absolutely delicious, worth the wait and a must-do food experience in Tokyo. Not sure what to order from the ticket machine? Get the 850yen ‘basic’ on the top left.
17. Visit Tokyu Hands
Tokyu Hands motto is ‘When you visit, you find what you want,’ and it’s absolutely spot on. I spent a long time walking through each of the levels (note: start at the top and work your way back down via the stairs) and marvelled at the massive range of things this famed department store sells, it’s brilliant! The best one to visit is the Shinjuku store.
18. See a massive robot
Heck yes! Get your buns over to Odaiba and feast your eyes on the mega-robot standing guard over the area. He’s pretty great, especially if you’re a transformers nerd like me.
19. Go back in time to an old-school arcade
Head out to Odaiba using the monorail and visit the shopping mall next to Odaiba station. If you go up to the second floor you’ll be met by a very cool souvenir shop packed full of fun, weird and affordable things. Keep going and you’ll come across a super cool old style arcade with loads of fun games that will remind you of a simpler time.
20. See the Tokyo Sky Tree
Towering over Tokyo at 634m, it’s kind of hard to miss the world’s tallest tower. It’s easy to visit by train and there are beautiful gardens within close walking distance if your neck gets sore from staring up. You can also pay to visit the 450m observatory for a bird’s eye view of Tokyo.
21. See the city from above
The Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku is free to the public and offers the best views of Tokyo, possibly even a view of Mt Fuji if it’s a clear day. It’s open from 8am to 6:45pm every day except Sunday, when it’s closed.
22. Ride your bicycle
Catch a train out to Ginza and hire a bicycle, then cycle down the coastline, zipping over bridges and through beautiful little streets. You can ride all the way down to the Rainbow Bridge, past the now-closed Tsukiji fish markets, but you cannot ride over the Rainbow Bridge. Regardless, it’s a great way to spend a day.
23. Visit a Japanese garden
There are many beautiful gardens in Tokyo and Gyoen National Garden in Shinjuku is one of them. The gardens are serene and have beautiful places to sit and have a picnic lunch, there are great photo opportunities too, especially of the NTT Docomo Tower.
24. Walk around
Just walk. There is so much to see and so much to stumble upon that no guidebook or blog post could ever list for you. Japan is very safe and people don’t tend to take much notice of polite tourists, even in the red light district you’ll be fine to walk around provided you don’t get drunk and act like a fool. Explore every little street, go into shops and try tiny hidden restaurants.
25. Have a matcha brownie Frappuccino
The matcha brownie Frappuccino is Japan’s national Frappuccino. It’s powdered green tea mixed with milk, ice, chocolate brownie pieces and whipped cream. Heaven in a cup! You’ll see a lot of people with them in Tokyo, don’t be one of the dorks without one.
26. Watch the busy intersection at the Shibuya crossing
The famed crossing at Shibuya lives up to the hype, especially at peak hour when everyone is trying to get home. The busy intersection comes alive with swarms of people bustling in, out and around Shibuya station. Choose from the cafes and shops offering a good vantage point and settle in.
27. Buy as many cute things as possible
It’s all too easy to slide into the Tokyo scene, especially when it comes to cute phone accessories, keychains, handbags and coin purses. Stock up. Don’t feel embarrassed walking into boutique shops and buying cat keychains, nobody will judge you, they’ll just love you for it.
28. Stuff yourself with pastries
Much to my surprise, the Japanese love pastry shops, there seems to be one on every corner. My favourite is Dominique Saibron, a very well-known French Boulanger who has a lovely little store in Shinjuku.
29. Have lunch at a beautiful Italian restaurant
Italian restaurants are everywhere in Tokyo, don’t feel guilty eating Italian food in Japan because the locals are doing it too. The absolute best of the bunch is Trattoria Tanta Bocca in Shibuya. It is absolutely incredible and possibly the best Italian restaurant in Tokyo, it has a great set lunch menu at a reasonable price.
30. Queue for food
Just find a queue and join it, it doesn’t really matter what it’s for, if the locals are lining up for it then it must be good. The Japanese have a knack for being very patient and have no issue lining up for quite a while.
31. Golden Gai
Golden Gai in Shinjuku is a small but famous area of Tokyo. It is made up of over 200 tiny bars, crammed into every inch of space possible. Most only seat around 8 or 10 comfortably and can be pretty localised. Nevertheless, it is a must do in Tokyo, even if it’s just to walk around taking photos. I’d recommend going there earlier in the night as it can be a bit dodgy later on I’m told.
Get your shop on in the famed electronics district of Tokyo, Akihabara. Spend hours looking through weird and wonderful gadgets or get caught up in the anime and manga culture! Rent Go-Karts and ride around Akihabara!
33. Drink $1 coffee from a vending machine
Find a Coffee Boss vending machine and splash out the 100 yen for one of the rainbow cans. Why? Well, why not!? It’s what the locals do and it’s actually pretty damn good.
34. Get classy in Ginza
Catch a train to Ginza and spend a few hours walking around the shops looking at the classy and high-end shops lining the streets. If you’ve been staying in Shinjuku or Shibuya, you’ll notice a difference when you get to Ginza, it has a more fancy feel to it.
35. Visit the markets in Ueno
Head out to Ueno and stroll through the very busy, very cool markets. There is so much to see and you’ll notice things are cheaper here too, there’s lots of great fresh food to buy and plenty of parks and spaces around to sit and eat. You can also visit the Ueno Zoo or the beautiful gardens nearby.
36. Ninja restaurant
Have a unique dining experience and let these sneaky little fellas serve you at the Ninja Restaurant. There a mixed reviews on whether or not it’s worth it, but I tend to think if you’re in Japan, you may as well because it’s such a fun and uniquely Japanese things to do.
37. Visit Kiddyland toy shop
If you want to feel like a little kid again, visit the Kiddyland toy shop in Harajuku. I recommend catching the lift to the top and working your way down. I challenge you to visit every floor and not find at least one thing you’d like to buy! Everything is so cute and fun here, but it can get crazy on the weekends so visit it early on a weekday.
38. Order food from a vending machine
Truth be told, the food doesn’t come out of the vending machine, you just order it from the machine, which spits out a ticket. It’s really a fantastic system. You walk into the restaurant, put your money in the machine, select what you want and it will give you a ticket which you give to your waitress – it’s that easy!
39. Eat vegan food
Nagi Sokudo was fantastic and one of my favourite places to eat at in Tokyo. It’s very inconspicuous and humble, tucked down a small set of stairs at an intersection. The food is fantastic and well-priced, if you visit at lunch you’ll nab a bargain from the set lunch menu. It’s a real locals spot, decorated with an eclectic mix of junk, pumping out funky music and great food.
40. Sumo style
If you can, you must go to a Sumo training session or Sumo match in Tokyo. It’s one of the best things you can do and something you just won’t experience anywhere else! Watch Sumo Wrestlers during their Morning Practice in Tokyo here.
41. NTT Docomo Yoyogi Building
For some reason, nobody in Tokyo makes a big deal about the NTT Docomo Yoyogi Building. It isn’t even mentioned or referenced anywhere as a place to see. You can’t miss it, to be honest, it stick’s out like Nicki Minaj’s glorious, shapely butt! It’s the tallest clock tower in the world and an imposing yet stunning building to admire.
42. Tokyo National Forum
It’s free to get into the Tokyo National Forum and wander around, marvelling at the stunning and unique architecture. Located in Ginza, this underrated building is definitely worth the visit to see a non-touristy place in Tokyo.
43. Start planning your return trip
There’s absolutely no way you will get to see and do all the great things Tokyo has to offer in just one visit so get to planning that return trip, pronto!
For inspiration on Things to Do in Mount Fuji, Japan read this!
Useful travel resources for your trip to Japan
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