Maybe you’re travelling Asia and want to make a stop in Japan, or maybe you’ve been planning a visit for years. Either way, you’ve finally booked yourself a flight to Tokyo, Japan and you’re certainly more than buzzing to get to the land of the rising sun.
Amongst the excitement and anticipation though, you may have realised that you have no idea what there is to actually do in the world’s biggest city. So being the kind and generous spirit that I am, I have whipped up this sexy little list to be the perfect guide for you. I’ve lived here for a year now and although there are hundreds of things to do in the world’s biggest city, these are just my gai-jin (foreigner) related suggestions on how to spend your time!
Without further ado, in no particular order;
1 – Harajuku
Harajuku is known as one of the world’s leading fashion districts. With everything from designer brands to second hand stores, it’s a shopaholic’s paradise. What most guides fail to mention about Harajuku is that there’s way more to do than just shop for clothes or walk around dressed like Lady Gaga. Meiji-jinguame Shrine is one of the most famous and popular historical shrines in Tokyo and definitely worth the 5 minute walk from Harajuku Station. Another cool place to check out is the infamous Takeshita-dori (Takeshita street), crammed with stores selling clothes and crazy foods, a must stop for any traveller who finds themselves in Harajuku and in the mood to browse.
Key points; Takeshita Street, Meiji-Shrine, CAT Street
2 – Tokyo Tower
Perhaps the most iconic and well known monument of Tokyo, Tokyo Tower is definitely worth the visit. With an amazing skyline on the middle floor, your mind will be blown if you decide to go to the very top of the tower and overlook the city.
Travellers Tip: It only costs 900yen (£9) to reach the middle floor of the tower and the view is certainly better in the evening, when Tokyo is lit (in more ways than one)
3 – Odaiba
Odaiba is perhaps not as famous as Harajuku, but it is an absolute must for anyone making a stop in the Capital of the East. Known as the ‘entertainment district’, it has a variety of unique things to do and you could easily spend a whole day exploring the area. No matter what day you visit Odaiba, chances are there will be some kind of street festival for you to get involved in. On May 5th, I turned up to find a giant Spanish festival for Cinco de Mayo, with a competing Oktoberfest Festival across the road. Needless to say it was a good day…
Key points; Joypolis Electronic Theme Park, Odaiba Ferris Wheel, Rainbow Bridge, Venus Mall
4 – Shinjuku
Shinjuku is the biggest commercial area of Tokyo and an area that is buzzing with energy 24/7. Whilst there are hundreds of shops and cafes in Shinjuku, it is mainly visited by many for its notorious Kabukicho area. Kabuikcho is best described as the red light district of Tokyo, jam-packed with bars and clubs meaning always a crazy rush of bright lights and lots of people. There’s also a pretty cool statue of Godzilla next to a skyscraper in Shinjuku, which makes a good photo and thus worth mentioning. (Your Instagram thanks me).
Key points; Kabukicho, Godzilla Statue, Golden-Gai
5 – Karaoke
Being the country it was created in, it’s no surprise that Japan takes Karaoke seriously. Almost every street in Tokyo has at least one (sometimes four or five) karaoke places along it. The most popular is Karaoke-kan, where you can wear funny costumes and rent a room out with your friends.
Travellers Tip: Careful buying food at these places though as the room comes cheap but the food does not (£10 for an ice cream no thanks).
6 – Asakusa
Stepping out at Asakusa Station feels like you have travelled back in time. The area is so rich with historical architecture and old Japanese style shops, it is hard to believe that it is in the centre of Tokyo. There are even those guys who put you on a cart and then pull you around like a weird taxi service. The giant temple at Asakusa is extremely popular and it’s no wonder why! Lined with both souvenir and traditional Japanese stores, it is definitely worth the stop by for any gai-jin in Tokyo.
Key points; Sensoji Temple, Nakamise Dori, Geisha spotting
7 – Shibuya
The area of Shibuya is mostly known for proudly owning the busiest crossing in the world. Other than crossing a road though, what else can you do in Shibuya? Well checking out the famous Hatchi-ko statue is a must (if you don’t know the story, google it now with a box of tissues at hand), as is stopping by the Mega Don-quijote Department store. After which you can stop by some of Tokyo’s best (and foreigner friendly) bars; The British Hub and Coins Bar.
Key Points; Shibuya 109, Hatchi-ko Statue, Shibuya Crossing, Don-quijote Store
8 – Studio Ghibli Museum
If you’re heading to Japan, chances are you have heard of Studio Ghibli or at least have seen one or two of their movies (Spirited Away, anyone?). When I found out that there was a Studio Ghibli museum in Tokyo I rushed to get tickets, only to find out that it’s possibly the most difficult thing to do on this planet. For residents, you have to buy the ticket at a weird Japanese machine at the nearest convenience store at least one or two months in advance, selecting a specific time and date that you want to go. As for non-residents, you can only buy the tickets online and definitely cannot buy them at short notice. Try and find the website and book well in advance.
Travellers Tip: Although tickets are cheap (£10), you have to get them early!
9 – Akihabara
Tokyo’s very own ‘Electric Town’ never fails to bring out your inner geek. Known for numerous stores selling mountains of anime and manga, you are sure to find whatever you’re looking for here. Akihabara is also a popular destination for tourists because of its worldwide famous Maid Cafes, where Japanese girls dress in cute outfits and play games with you while you wait for your food.
One warning with akihabara, however, is that one should be careful when choosing shops to enter- what may seem like a shop selling retro super Mario items, may in fact be an x rated store made for gamers… Good luck in finding out which is which!
Key points; Maid Café’s, Gundam Café, AKB48 Café, Sega Arcades, Yobobashi Department Store, Square Enix Café
10 – Ueno
Ueno has a very different vibe compared with that of Shinjuku or Shibuya. Ueno is more of a peaceful and cultured area of Tokyo as opposed to the bright neon lights and street styles of Shinjuku etc. Therefore, it is the number one place to go for museums and to learn about history in Japan. Tokyo National Museum is one of the key places to stop by, but not until after adoring the pandas at Ueno Zoo, which is one of the most popular zoos in Japan (and with an entry price of 600yen, I’m not surprised).
Key points; Tokyo National Museum, Ueno Zoo
11 – Ikebukuro
Ikebukuro is not only one of the larger and more convenient train stations in Tokyo, but the area itself is where the beautiful Sunshine City Shopping mall can be found. This is where Tokyo’s Mega Pokémon Centre can be found, as well as Ikebukuro Aquarium, Tokyo Planetarium and stores selling whatever you are looking for. Sometimes there are even performances inside the mall by famous musicians (Ed Sheeran once played there for all the shoppers to enjoy).
Key points; Sunshine City, Ichiran Ramen Restaurant
12 – Disneysea
Everyone knows Tokyo has a Disneyland, but did you know there’s a Disneysea?
Tokyo Disneysea is Disney’s attempt at a Disneyland for young adults, rather than being targeted at children. Not only can you purchase alcohol at Disneysea, but it has some of Disneyland’s most popular rides (tower of terror anyone?) and is covered with spots perfect for Instagram-worthy photos.
Travellers Tip: If you have the ultimatum of choosing Disneysea or Disneyland, I would highly recommend Disneysea unless you have little kids with you. Fetch a beer after the Indiana Jones ride and thank me later.
13 – Disneyland
Not to be overshadowed by its Disneysea counterpart, Tokyo Disneyland is definitely still worth a visit! Luckily for you, there are weekend passes that allow you into both parks across a two day period, as well as night passes that are super cheap and let you into Disneyland from 6pm – close.
Travellers tip: When buying tickets for Disneysea or Disneyland, don’t worry too much about getting them online as you are easily able to buy them at the park entry.
14 – Kawaii Monster Café
‘Tripping on acid whilst watching My Little Pony’ is the only way the Kawaii (which means cute) Monster Café could be described. It’s a crazy café by day, restaurant by night in the centre of Harajuku and a must see for a crazy Japanese-exclusive experience. The food looks like something a Care-bear would eat and the waitresses are dressed in the infamous Harajuku style (as if they’re on lots of drugs) so definitely worth a check out. Every 20 minutes the waitresses also perform special monster shows, which literally cannot be explained without using the words ‘crazy’, ‘colourful’ or ‘kawaii’.
Travellers Tip: Customers are required to pay 500yen for entry as well as buy one item off the food menu and one off of the drink menu each, so make sure you haven’t already eaten before rolling on in!
15 – Shimokitazawa
A not-so-well-known area of Tokyo, Shimokitazawa is a very pretty area which is mostly popular for its vast amounts of second hand and vintage stores. There is also a lot of street art in this area as well as a few stylish and unique bars, such as my favourite Cage Bar. (Literally a bar outside but in a giant cage). Worth a look around, especially if you wanted to buy some fashionable pieces for your wardrobe at a decent price.
Key Points; Flamingos, Cage Bar
16 – Animal Cafes
Ridiculous cafes literally everywhere in Japan and even more so in Tokyo, why not drink your coffee with a hedgehog on your lap or whilst playing with a couple of kittens? Harajuku is home to Tokyo’s only dog café, whilst cat cafes are by far the most popular. I’ve also witnessed hedgehog, rabbit, bird, owl and penguin cafes respectively.
Travellers tip; Calico is Japan’s most popular cat café but you need to book in advance. With the penguin café, although it sounds like it would be awesome, it’s the same as just eating lunch at the zoo in front of the penguin habitat. No interactions with the Antarctic’s gift to man unfortunately.
17 – Roppongi
For Japanese people and Tokyo’s residents alike, Roppongi is well known for its high-end Roppongi Hills department store by day and for being a crazy strip of bars and clubs at night. Attracting a large crowd of tourists as well as some locals, the streets of Roppongi never fail to be filled with hen-parties, stag-dos, confused Japanese people and tourists throwing up in the gutter. It is however a fun night out as long as you are careful and not tricked into a strip club! Many foreigners are targeted to be tricked into expensive clubs in Roppongi. Don’t go anywhere that is recommended by a promoter on the street, just find places by walking around or using TripAdvisor.
Key points: Roppongi Hills, Hedgehog Café, Mist All-You-Can-Drink Bar, Snoopy Museum
18 – Meguro
Similar to Ueno, Meguro is jam-packed with museums and cultural things to do. In april, thousands of people run to Meguro River, which is the best place for Japan’s famous O-hanami (cherry blossom viewing) in Tokyo. Meguro is also home to the Tokyo Metropolitan museum of Art, Yutenji Shrine and many more temples.
Key Points; Meguro River, Tokyo Museum of art, Meguro Art Museum, Yutenji
19 – Skytree
The Tokyo Skytree is basically the new and improved Tokyo Tower. Whilst Tokyo Tower is visualised as a symbol of Japan’s culture and traditions, the Skytree can be seen as the emergence of Tokyo’s popular culture, anime and music which has influenced the city and country so much in recent years. Standing far taller than Tokyo Tower, the top of the Skytree is in fact 5 separate floors accompanied by restaurants and shops which you can browse at your leisure all with the view of Tokyo over your shoulder.
Key points; Skytree, Skytree Town shopping mall
20 – Tokyo
So Tokyo’s most famous train station, is unsurprisingly called Tokyo Station. The area around this station in the heart of Tokyo provides various activities for foreigners and locals to enjoy. Check out the Imperial Palace (closed on Sundays) in the hope of catching a glimpse of the Emperor, have a stroll down Ramen Street (based inside Tokyo Station itself) and go shopping along Character street which is full of stores selling things from hello kitty to digimon, Ghibli to Nintendo (must stop for the inner kids in us)!
Key Points; Tokyo Station, Ramen Street, Character Street, Imperial Palace, Tokyo Station Viewing Platform
As mentioned before, being the biggest city in the world means that there are way over 20 things to do in Tokyo (shout out to the runner ups; Ebisu, Ginza, Tsukiji) but I hope this little number helps when planning your trip. If there’s anything you believe strongly should be on this list or you have any questions get in touch and let me know.
Current Location; Tokyo, Japan