Tokyo was everything I thought it would be and more. The endless bright signs aglow with Japanese characters are intoxicating, and there is restless energy in this city- even in the winter. This quote by Mori Toshiko sums it up: “More than any other city, Tokyo demonstrates that ‘city’ is a verb and not a noun.” Here 10 awesome (and inexpensive) things to do in the capital city.
AT LEAST 10 times. Not kidding– it’s a rush. For me, this is iconic Tokyo: modest buildings bombarded with colorful advertisements and hundreds of souls crossing paths on 2 giant criss-crossed cross walks. Cross it in the day, in the night, in a box, and with a fox!
This giant, wholesale fish/critter market is unlike any market I’ve been to. Ocean critters of every shape and size are displayed in styrofoam coolers. Japanese men with cigarettes drooping out of their mouth expertly slice slabs of fish and writhing tentacles are chopped off. The whole market has a behind-the-scenes feel. The earlier you go, the better, and wear tennis shoes because the floor is covered in mucky water.
You’ll have to squeeze up against the coolers as motorized carts carry frozen tuna (that’s bigger than a small child) through the narrow alleyways.
Outside Tsukiji, there are a few places to sit and order a sashimi bowl with fish straight from the market. It doesn’t get any fresher!
The Metropolitan Government Building of Tokyo is in a well-groomed area of Shunjuku, and it’s free! The incredible, panoramic views show how sprawling Tokyo really is. Both the North (pic #1) and South (pic #2) towers are worth a visit. Go on a clear day so you can get the full view of Mt. Fuji!
This park is lively and entertaining, and Sundays are the best day to visit. When I went on a Sunday, I saw several Elvis groups dancing in leather jackets, a comedian who imitated laughs from around the world, countless Akita dogs in santa outfits, and groups of young students jump-roping, dancing, and having a good time. It’s a great place to spend an afternoon.
You’ll never have drinks in a room so tiny… unless you invite your friends to drink in your closet. Nonbei Yokocho (aka Drunkard’s Alley) is lined with small bars that snugly hold about 5 people. But the rooms don’t have a typical ‘bar’ feel; they are personalized and quirky, and many are decorated with artwork, pictures, and other knick knacks. The intimate setting allows for easy conversation with the server and others sharing the room. I loved this. (And so did my boyfriend pictured below.)
On Sundays, traditional wedding processions often take place inside Meiji Shrine. As we walked along the outer edge of the shrine, we saw a few different brides getting primped for the procession and having family photos snapped. Soon after, the bride and groom walked through the inner area of the shrine with a line of family and friends following silently behind. The bride wore a white kimono, and both the bride and groom bowed before exiting the shrine.
I grew up idolizing Gwen Stefani, and I remember her controversial Japanese backup dancers. These Harajuku Girls were always dressed up in bright, mismatched school girl outfits with doll-like makeup. The Harajuku girls of Japan apparently hang out at the Harajuku bridge (outside Meiji Shrine) on Sundays to show off their outfits. But they weren’t there when I went! When I asked a Japanese guide about it, he laughed and said, “Ohhh, nobody can control what they do.” Here’s a video of Gwen and the Harajuku Girls instead.
Do you see the parlours where the gamers are? Just walk in. It’s an experience in itself. The noise inside is deafening, and players won’t even notice you- they are in their own anti-social world with eyes glued to their screens, gambling away, hoping to win Pachinko balls to cash in for prizes. You’ll only need to observe for a few moments before you’re running back out the door.
Despite Tokyo being so built up and busy, I love that there are so many gardens to stroll through. Japanese gardens are overwhelmingly pleasing to the eyes and soul. Although it was cold and raining when I went to Shinjuku Gyoen Garden (pictured below), I was still soothed by the peaceful setting and colorful changing leaves. I’d love to see Tokyo’s gardens full of cherry blossoms in the spring.
I originally had Kabukicho on my list. It can seem fun and entertaining, and it’s home to the famed Robot Restaurant. It’s an interesting place to see because its sex toy shops and sleazy bars show a different side than Japan’s reputed disciplined culture.
Kabukicho is a large red light district of Tokyo. If you spend money there, like in other red light districts, your money supports organized crime and the stronghold of the sex trade in Asia. Skip it; you’re not missing much.
There are millions of things to do in Tokyo from sampling the food to having a go at karaoke. Everything on this list was free, or cost very little, but there’s activities for every budget. For more awesome ideas, here’s 88 Things to do in Tokyo (and you can pick up a copy of this handy brochure in train stations and hotels).
I’d return to Tokyo in a heartbeat; there are so many crazy, amusing, and eccentric spots I have yet to visit.