I spent about a week in Tokyo recently, so I wanted to share with you some of the awesome things I saw and did while I was there in order to help you in planning your own Tokyo adventure (or maybe to inspire you to travel there!).
I’ll divide it up by area since Tokyo is such a big city. That way if you see something you want to do, you won’t be criss-crossing all over town to do everything.
Also, here is a map of Tokyo so you can understand the layout of the city a little bit better. This map is from JapanDreaming.com, which also happens to be an excellent site for information on Japan, by the way, so check them out for even more information on awesome things to see and do while in Japan.
Shinjuku is a major area of the city with a lot of tourist attractions and general buzzing activity all around. It’s also one of the major transit hubs in the city, allowing you to easily access anywhere in Tokyo from Shinjuku. It was for this reason that I stayed in Shinjuku during my time in Tokyo. As a result, I probably spent more time here than anywhere else in the city. I would say it’s a good hub if you want to spend time in Tokyo. You’re going to end up there anyway, so why not stay a while?
We visited the Samurai Museum on a recommendation from a friend who had previously visited Tokyo, and it didn’t disappoint. When you visit the museum, they take you on a guided tour. Although I’m not usually one for guided tours, I really enjoyed this one. The guide spoke perfect English and really got into the history, tradition, and artistry of the Samurai. It was really interesting to learn all about the Samurai and I enjoyed the tour very much. After walking you through many examples of samurai armor and weaponry, you will be treated to a demonstration of samurai fighting forms and will even get the chance to play dress up a little and try on some armor yourself. This was a highlight of the trip, for sure, so if you’re at all interested in samurai, definitely check this museum out!
This is probably Tokyo’s biggest tourist trap, but don’t let that stop you…this place is a delightful sensory overload. Imagine the most crazy, insane display of Japanese pop culture you can possibly dream up, and then think bigger.
It does come with a bit of a hefty price tag and I recommend getting the tickets to the show only (skip the dinner, it’s expensive and the food isn’t that good). The clientele here was basically 100% tourists, but oh, man…it was hilarious and amazing and delightful all at once. I’ve never (and I do mean never) seen my husband as giddy and delighted as he was during this show. If you’ve got an evening to spare and a little bit of extra money to throw at something memorable while you are in Tokyo, this place is well worth it.
Ok, so Shinjuku station wasn’t so much a fun activity as it was a crazy, busy, whirlwind of a place. If you’re traveling around Tokyo, you’ll likely end up at Shinjuku station at some point. You will get lost, but you’ll also experience a crazy, hectic place that is so Tokyo. Yes, I got totally lost there, but there was always somebody to ask for directions and I never got hopelessly lost. Plus, I’ll admit, in a strange way, it was kind of….fun.
The Golden Gai is an older area of Shinjuku where there are tons of little bars, karaoke places and restaurants for you to check out. It’s quite delightful and definitely worth a visit. Come hungry.
Shinjuku Gyoenmae Park
There is a really beautiful park in the Shinjuku area that is especially spectacular during the springtime when the cherry blossoms are in bloom. In fact, it’s one of the best places in Tokyo to see the cherry blossoms. They weren’t in full bloom when we were there but there were a few early bloomers and the crowds of people with expensive photography equipment were already crowded around them.
See the Godzilla
While you’re in Shinjuku, keep your eyes turned upward and watch out for Godzilla. If you see him, RUN AWAY!!!
Harajuku Bengal Cat’s Forest and Owls!
We visited this place on a whim. We wanted to explore the famous Harajuku district of Tokyo, so we hopped on the Yamanote line to Harajuku station and wandered out to see what we could find. What awaited us was a delightful street full of fun fashions, interesting sights, street food…and…..a cat and owl cafe! This isn’t actually the only cat cafe in Harajuku (I wanted to visit the other one too but my husband didn’t want to visit yet another cat cafe…bummer). This one has a floor of owls and a floor of cats. You can pay to get in to one or both of them, but of course I chose both. First we wandered through an indoor forest full of owls that you could pet! Squee! It was really cool.
Then we went upstairs, took off our shoes, and hung out with some bengal cats for a little while. Warning: cats do what they want. While I did get the attention of a few cats, they mostly just wandered around ignoring people. Still, it was a lot of fun being up there, hanging out with the other clientele, and attempting to lure in cats with things like jingle bells and strings. I would say the moment I got the attention of the cats the most was when I opened up my backpack to look at my phone, rumpling a plastic bag that was in there. Cats love plastic bags, apparently.
I would link to them but apparently they don’t have a website that I could find. Here they are on Instagram.
Eat some Long Potatoes.
I don’t know why, but this place delighted me. If you want long fries with various toppings (garlic? spicy? combo?)…this place is in Harajuku. I don’t know what else to say about it, other than it might be good to share with somebody because it’s a lot of food. And it’s fries.
Go to the Meiji Jingu Shrine.
There’s a really large, beautiful Shinto shrine in the middle of Tokyo, located right next to the Harajuku station. If you come out of the station and go to the right, you’ll see the gate right behind the station. Stop into the little tea shop on your way in and have a cup of tea or maybe some green tea ice cream, and then walk through the gate and down the beautiful path to the shrine. You’ll see some other beautiful sights along the way, and the shrine itself is quite beautiful. This is a must when you’re in Tokyo, particularly if you won’t be leaving the city but still want to visit some shrines while you’re in Japan.
Buy some crazy clothes.
Harajuku is where crazy fashions can be found in abundance. If you’re into wild, colorful, delightful fashions, this is the spot to find them. I bought a delightful shirt with kittens all over it in Harajuku, because of course I did.
Eat a street crepe.
You’ll see these elsewhere around Tokyo, but Harajuku just seems like a great place to get a crepe on the street. This place was extremely popular and had a wide variety of flavors. I can’t eat crepes because of the gluten but my husband was all about it. He opted for the banana custard crepe. I watched jealously.
While you’re at it, go into the Starbucks at Shibuya Crossing. You don’t need to order anything (I didn’t), but there’s a window with an awesome birds-eye view of the crossing, where I took the above video. Thus concludes the only time I will ever tell you to visit a Starbucks in Japan. I went in there because while I was down at the crossing, I looked up, saw the Starbucks, and saw people looking out at me from the window. They got a good location, I’ll say that for them.
Anyway, the crossing…it’s crazy fun! It’s this giant convergence of streets where a whole lot of people cross in all directions. I was giggling like a giddy school child crossing over and over. We would get to the other side and I would say to my husband, “again! again!”. Apparently it doesn’t take much to entertain me.
Crossing here is like a crazy game of Japanese frogger. You have to cross the street, but you have to avoid all the other people crossing in all different directions. Good times. I know it’s just a crosswalk, but….do it.
There’s a lot of nightlife and restaurants here, so don’t just come for the crosswalk…stay for the neighborhood. If you’re looking for a fun evening on the town in Tokyo, you really can’t go wrong with Shibuya. We opted for a yakitori restaurant while we were there and it was delicious. I wanted to stay for karaoke but my husband didn’t want to, so we mostly walked the streets and just enjoyed the atmosphere. Definitely check this vibrant neighborhood out when you’re in town.
This is Tokyo nerd central. My husband is a nerd, so we spent one of our days in Tokyo exploring this area of town. My husband was SO giddy! We visited various arcades with claw machines and entertaining Japanese video games. He played to his heart’s content as he tried to figure out how to play the games (all instructions were in Japanese). We went into fun photo booths and took pictures (all of the instructions were also in Japanese, which ended up being hilarious).
My husband loved the retro video game store and arcade that is Super Potato. We visited every floor of that place while he squealed about retro video games and consoles. Then we played a few retro arcade games. I’ll admit…it was fun.
The Hedgehog Cafe!
Ok, I didn’t go here…but it’s my only regret from my Tokyo trip. After the cat cafe and the owl cafe and my wanting to go to even another cat cafe that my husband didn’t want to visit, he was over animal cafes. I wasn’t, however. Still, he’s a trooper and conceded that if I really wanted to go to the hedgehog cafe, he would go with me. It was our last day in Tokyo, however, and I was dead tired and it was rush hour on the Tokyo metro, so I ultimately decided not to go. I’m absolutely going next time, however!
Mori Building Observation Deck
I love observation decks. (LOVE them). So, I had to check this one out! Located right next to the Mori Art Museum, you’ll see signs for the observation deck. You go up, pay a fee, and are treated to some truly spectacular views of Tokyo. Definitely pay the extra to go to the rooftop if you can…it’s worth it.
If you’re interested in contemporary Japanese (and other nationalities) art, this is a great museum to check out. Combine it with a trip to the Observation deck for a pleasant afternoon.
The Tokyo Tower
We visited Tokyo Tower on our last night in Tokyo on a whim, and it was awesome. We were so, so tired by this point of the trip, but I wanted to try and squeeze a little more exploration in before returning to our hotel at the Haneda Airport so we hopped off the subway at JR Hamamatsucho Station and took a taxi straight to the tower (I was way, way too exhausted to contemplate walking). We paid the entrance fee and took an elevator up to the observation deck, where we were treated to spectacular views of the evening Tokyo skyline. Fantastic! It was pretty crowded up there since it was a Saturday night and all, but it was fabulous and I’m really glad I made the trip over. Then, we caught another cab back to the station and continued on our way back to the hotel.
The Tokyo Sky Tree
This is the observation deck I didn’t visit. I think my husband was a little observation decked-out at this point, but this one is actually the tallest, so if you’re in the area, go check it out! I’ll certainly be checking it out next time I make it to Tokyo, but I wanted to include it here in case you’re planning on visiting Tokyo. Having observation deck options is never a bad thing!
Tsukiji Fish Market
It’s a really famous fish market, so of course we had to go check it out. I’ll be honest with you here for a moment though….everybody always raves about fish markets in cities all over the world and I always end up visiting them out of some feeling of obligation. Sydney fish market? Check. Seattle’s Pike Place Market? Check. Tsukiji? Check. However…I’m not actually a huge fan of fish markets, honestly. I think they are fine. I have nothing against fish markets, but ultimately they are just….fish markets. Cue fish market enthusiasts everywhere shaming me for my lackluster opinion of fish markets, but there you have it. It was a very nice fish market, for a fish market.
A couple things I did think were interesting about Tsukiji in particular, however, were that they did have some really interesting and exotic (to my western sensibilities) fish on display at the market, and they also had a lot of little sushi restaurants in the market. We stopped to have lunch at one and I’ll say that the sushi was fantastic. Go there for the sushi even if you’re as apathetic about fish markets as I am.
Apparently the real spectacle at Tsukiji is the morning tuna auction, but it would be a tall order indeed to get myself out of bed and to a tuna auction at 4am, no matter what time zone I’m in, so I just opted to have lunch there instead.
The Imperial Palace is located in the Chiyoda area of town. I did go to see it, but unfortunately because I didn’t plan properly, I only saw it from the outside. This is one of those things that you should definitely reserve well ahead of time if you’re coming to Tokyo and you really, really want to see the Imperial Palace. The gardens are often open to the public, but they were closed when we came by as well. I wasn’t too worried about it and it was neat to catch a glimpse of the palace, but again…if it’s something you’re really interested in doing, make sure you plan ahead of time.
****UPDATE**** I am sad to announce the giant gundam has been disassembled since my trip! Never fear, kids…because they have planned a NEW giant gundam to replace it in the near future. Just another reason for me to return to Tokyo!
See the Giant Gundam
The journey to Aomi, which is on the water and slightly outside of the main area of Tokyo, was kind of a long one, but my husband really wanted to see the giant Gundam and, let’s be honest…so did I. It didn’t disappoint. It’s pretty cool. Plus, afterwards we spent a pleasant afternoon doing some interesting shopping in the mall (pictured right behind the Gundam) where we saw another exhibit on gundam, played in another arcade, and had some snacks. We also went to the Gundam cafe…
Just to the side of the Gundam statue is the Gundam cafe, where you can get snacks and refreshing beverages, all gundam themed. I had a delicious cherry soda there, and my husband got a latte with a gundam designed in the foam. Hey, why not?
Airport observation deck
Haneda airport is actually pretty cool. I don’t usually give airports high praise because they usually aren’t a lot of fun, but if you’re going to spend some time in the Haneda airport, they have made it much more pleasant for you. One of these attractions is the observation deck where you can step outside and catch a glimpse of planes and the Tokyo skyline in the distance.
Planetarium Starry Cafe
If you’re going to spend some time in Haneda Airport, head to the Planetarium Starry Cafe (upstairs). I didn’t get pictures because cameras and lights weren’t allowed, but it’s this cool little bar and cafe where you get to sit back, relax, and watch demonstrations on the stars and the planets as well as delightful animated films, on the domed ceiling. It was a relaxing way to spend the evening and I didn’t even feel like I was stuck at an airport at all!
I wanted to add this little section of just some general things you can experience anywhere in Tokyo, but that you should definitely check out.
If you go to Tokyo, you’re going to eat ramen. It’s everywhere. Literally….everywhere. Still, this is one food you should definitely try while you’re in town. In my case, I couldn’t just eat any ramen (celiac) so I had to track down special noodles made with 100% buckwheat…not easy to do…but still…eat some ramen if you can.
Ah, Japanese casinos, a.k.a. Pachinko parlors. My husband tried it while I was dead tired and napping at the Airbnb. He enjoyed himself, but said it was complicated since all the instructions were in Japanese. He did meet a nice man at the Pachinko parlor who helped him understand the rules a little bit. Why not give it a shot next time you’re in Japan?
Go into a Japanese department store.
I can’t begin to describe to you the sensory overload experience that is walking into a Japanese department store for the first time. First of all, these things have like 8 plus floors on them, and you can buy pretty much anything there, including your lunch (usually on the bottom floor). They also seem to play the same song over and over. I will never get the Yobodashi Camera Department Store song out of my head. Never. But…you should check one out when you’re in Japan, because it’s nothing if not interesting.
Purchase capsule toys and/or corn soup from a vending machine.
Does this really need an explanation? Japanese vending machines are fun!
Day Trip from Tokyo
Go to Hakone!
If you’re looking to get out of Tokyo for a day, might I suggest Hakone? It takes a while to get there and the journey involves several forms of transit, but it’s beautiful, has great views of Mount Fuji, and an awesome hot spring to soak in (for those who actually have enough time while in Hakone, which I didn’t).
Have you been to Tokyo? What was your favorite thing to see or do? Any tips you think should be added to this list? Would love to hear your thoughts!