10 Awesome Things To Do in Tokyo

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.

#1 Cross Shibuya Street

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!

Shibuya street

Tokyo

#2 Visit Tsukiji Fish Market

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.

Tsukiji Fish Market

Tsukiji Fish Market

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.

Tsukiji Fish Market

Tsukiji Fish Market

Tsukiji Fish Market

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!

Sashimi bowl

#3 Score a bird’s eye view from the Metropolitan Government Building

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!

view of Tokyo

view of Tokyo

 #4 Be amused at Yoyogi Park

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.

Yoyogi Park

Yoyogi Park

Yoyogi Park

Yoyogi Park

#5 Have some drinks at Nonbei Yokocho

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.)

Nonbei Yokocho

#6 Witness a Japanese wedding at Meiji Shrine

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.

Meiji Shrine

Japanese Wedding

Japanese wedding

Japanese Wedding

#7 Go searching for the elusive Harajuku girls

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.

#8 Walk into a Pachinko

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.

Pachinko

#9 Take a stroll through the gardens

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.

Shinjuku Gyoen National Park

Shinjuku Gyoen Garden

10. Kabukicho

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.

Kabukicho

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.

What’s your favorite thing to do in Tokyo?

12 COMMENTS

  1. Christina / City Sea Country | 13th Feb 15

    Whenever I think about Tokyo the Shibuya Street comes to mind. Maybe because that´s what you see on TV and on any blog writing about Tokyo. We haven´t been to Tokyo but it looks like a city to keep in mind.
    Are there any places for vegetarians/vegans too to consider because the fish market is probably not the best place to visit for us. 😉

    • Words of a Wanderer | 13th Feb 15

      Yes, Shibuya Street is fantastic! Now I see why it’s on every TV show and blog about Tokyo- totally lives up to the hype! 🙂 Honestly, Japan in general is not as vegetarian/vegan friendly as I thought it would be. I would still recommend walking around the fish market because it IS a really incredible operation to see. There are also lots of little restaurants around the fish market that have food other than fish/meat- like noodles and soups that would definitely work for vegetarians!(Or instead you could check out the Ramen museum! haha)
      Still, my other vegetarian friends who have visited Tokyo have needed to put a little more time and effort into finding their meals. Some of them love this website http://www.happycow.net/asia/japan/tokyo/ which tells you where all the vegan/vegetarian restaurants are in Tokyo! Definitely a site to keep in mind for when you visit! 🙂

  2. lesvoyagesdumonde | 14th Feb 15

    Never been to Tokyo but these are some fantastic suggestions. I will have to bookmark these “awesome” things to do for when I finally visit! P.S. Love the photos!

    • Words of a Wanderer | 15th Feb 15

      Thank you! Yes, definitely keep these things in mind! 🙂 The photos were so fun to take- but there’s so much going on in Tokyo, it’s sometimes hard to focus on just one thing!

  3. Travelling Buzz (@Travelling_Buzz) | 14th Feb 15

    Pretty interesting things to do. I will def get back to this post when I’m headed to Tokyo! But I think the pics are too heavy, why don’t you try to resize them so the post would load faster 🙂

    • Words of a Wanderer | 15th Feb 15

      I did resize them to be smaller than their original size, but I didn’t want to make them too much smaller because I feel they are a central part of the post. Tough decisions! Thanks for the suggestion! I’ll keep that in mind for my next posts.

  4. Jowita Łukaczyńska | 14th Feb 15

    Thanks for this post! I am actually flying to Tokyo on Monday, will check everythin out 🙂

    • Words of a Wanderer | 15th Feb 15

      Oh, awesome!! I know you’ll have a great time, it’s such a fun city!!! Enjoy! (I’m jealous!) 🙂

  5. Bianca Malata (@ItsAllBee) | 15th Feb 15

    Oh my goodness some of that fish looks scary. I would love to visit Tokyo some day!

  6. Kate | 15th Feb 15

    FAVORITE CITY IN THE WORLD. Great post about an awesome place!

  7. Adrian Ann | 16th Feb 15

    So many fun ideas, I love the idea of crossing the street. I’ve been in a lot of Asian cities and love the experience of getting around. I can’t even imagine what it would be like in Tokyo. Can’t wait to try it myself one day!

  8. Adventurous Journeys | 17th Feb 15

    I have never been to Tokyo, but I love markets and parks, more than museums and otuher touristic sites. This is how I observe locals 🙂

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