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Because I had such high expectations of Tokyo, I was afraid I would eventually be disappointed (hello tourist traps). Luckily my expectations were definitely met. Because even though Tokyo definitely is a very touristic destination, this doesn’t bother me as much as it would with other places. This is probably because I already expect a city to be busy with people.
Tokyo is such a buzzing city with so many fun activities and when you visit, you won’t be bored for even one second! In total we spent nine days in Tokyo and had the absolute best time and we’ve done both popular and unique things in Tokyo.
In this article you can find 18 fun and unique things to do in Tokyo, created with the help of other travel bloggers. A lot of the activities below are also completely free to do. Enjoy your time in Tokyo!
Be sure to read our article on where to stay in Tokyo to find the best areas and hotels in Tokyo.
This article was originally published on July 17, 2017. It has been updated again on May 6th, 2019 with the help of other travel bloggers to include more unique things to do in Tokyo.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. For more information please check our Disclosure page.
18 Fun and unique things to do in Tokyo
1. Visit Ueno Park
Our airbnb in Tokyo was nearby the Ueno Park, which is a public park in central Tokyo. Here you can also find the beautiful Kaneiji Temple, which looks quite similar to the iconic Fushimi Inari-Taisha temple in Kyoto. Ueno Park and the Kaneiji Temple are completely free to enter.
Besides the beautiful temple, the park is a great place to roam around. Especially during the cherry blossom season in Tokyo, as they will be in full bloom at Ueno Park. Furthermore, Ueno Park is famous for the many museums on its ground, such as the Tokyo National Museum, the National Museum for Western Art, the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum and the National Science Museum.
If you haven’t used Airbnb before, be sure to use our link to get a discount! During our visit there were some very affordable places in great areas.
2. Visit Meiji Shrine
In one of Tokyo’s biggest parks, Yoyogi Park, you can find Meiji Shrine. This is a traditional Japanese Shinto shrine dedicated to the memory of Emperor Meiji, the emperor who opened Japan to the West in the 19th century, and his wife, Empress Shoken.
If you’re looking to visit a traditional Japanese shrine, this is your best bet. First of all, the area surrounding the actual shrine is gorgeous. Yoyogi Park consists of over 100,000 trees, covering an area of about 70 hectares. Even if you’re not overwhelmed by Meiji Shrine – which you will be – you can still spend as long as you want to in the park, which offers some respite from the busy city.
After a ten minute walk from Harajuku Station, you’ll reach a large torii gate – this is the entrance to the shrine. Simply walking around the shrine grounds is already impressive, and if that’s not impressive enough for you, why not take in a traditional Shinto wedding? These weddings take place at Meiji Shrine all year around, usually on Sunday morning.
Meiji Shrine is free to visit and there are no closing days.
3. Go shopping at Harajuku
If you’re looking for a cool area in Tokyo with trendy clothes stores, fashion boutiques and various shops then Harajuku is the answer. Even if you’re not planning on doing any shopping, we recommend going here to experience Japanese most extreme teenage cultures and fashion styles.
We recommend taking a photo at Omotesando entrance (which you can see pictured above), as the effect is pretty cool. If you’re interested in any plush toys or looking for some gifts, visit the Line Friends Store at Harajuku. We loved their cute (although quite pricey) products.
4. Book and vintage lover? Be sure to visit Jimbocho Book District!
While much of Tokyo is famed for its futuristic themes – pop culture in Harajuku and gaming in Akihabara – Jimbocho has a much more vintage feel and is known as the city’s book district. It’s a must for any book lovers visiting the city. There are around 200 bookstores in the area, mostly selling second-hand and antique books. Of course, most are in Japanese, but you can find foreign-language titles, plus just being in the bookstores is a wonderfully atmospheric experience. Shops that cater to English speakers include: Kitazawa; Isseido Booksellers; and Komiyama. Look out for this word, which means foreign: 洋書.
Sanseido, one of the area’s biggest shops, is also worth a visit, although its foreign section is quite small considering the shop’s size. And for a break, stop at independent roaster, Glitch, or Paper Press Cafe, which also sells English language books.
And it’s not just bookshops that make this the literary hub of Tokyo – it’s also home to publishing houses, libraries, universities and the Tokyo Bookbinding Club. Plus there’s a book fair – the Kanda Used Book Festival – in the autumn every year.
Because of all the students, Jimbocho is also a good place to pick up some budget food in one of the many soba or curry houses.
5. Cross Shibuya: the busiest intersection in the world
A popular spot in Tokyo that shouldn’t be missed: Shibuya Crossing. Some claime it to be the busiest intersection in the world, as 1000 of people can cross at a time, coming from all directions at once. It is quite an exhilarating experience when you are standing at this crossing, waiting for the light to turn green…
We found it pretty cool to take long exposure shots from the Shibuya Crossing. For instance, Jeffrey stood very still as soon as the light turned green, while I located the camera on one of the poles next to the street and put it on self timer. The featured photo of this article is the result!
Also be sure to check out Shibuya from above. This can be done at various points, such as at Starbucks, L’Occitane Cafe and the Shibuya Excel Hotel Tokyo. Downside is that you have to get food or drinks at these venues, plus a table at the window (at least at Starbucks and L’Occitane Cafe) and these aren’t always available. We were actually hoping for a cool look-out tower, but this doesn’t exist yet as far as we know.
6. Visit Tsukiji Outer Market
One of more unique things to do when visiting Tokyo, especially for lovers of fresh seafood, is to visit the Tsukiji Outer Market, where there are a variety small shops, street stalls, and restaurants whose reason for being is to satisfy hungry visitors, both locals and tourists alike, with an array of street food snacks and other tasty eating options.
There are so many stalls that it is possible to be overwhelmed by choice, so the recommended approach is to move from stall to stall trying smaller dishes and little snacks.
Some of the more renowned seafood dishes and delicacies at Tsukiji Outer Market include giant freshly shucked oysters, otoro bowls with high-end salmon belly that melts in the mouth, barbecued Japanese spider crab legs, grilled marinated tuna, dried fish (the dried octopus was my favourite), and a famous Japanese delicacy, the murasaki sea urchin.
There are very few places to sit as you walk through the market, so a nice stop is to step inside one of the sushi restaurants, where you can watch the chef prepare plates of fresh seafood right in front of you.
But it isn’t all just seafood, with a few non-seafood snacks to try. One well-known snack is the tomago, a sweet and fluffy omelette that is a specialty of the market, and to top off the eating experience, there are sweet treats on-hand including the ever popular warabimochi, the decadent ichigo daifuku, and a range of relatively expensive fresh fruits.
The Tsukiji Outer Market is closed Sundays and some Wednesdays.
7. Dress up as a Geisha
Geisha culture has deep roots in Japan, going all the way back to the 8th century coinciding with the move of the capital to Kyoto (before it became Tokyo in 1868). The predecessor to Geisha, the Tayuu, were a step above sex workers as they were highly trained in the art of kabuki dance. This evolved into the emergence of a new profession, which was focused on entertainment over prostitution. The Geisha profession took flight in the 18th century where women would entertain their male companions with good conversation, music, dance and the like. Today, there are only a handful of Geisha, mostly living in the Hanamachi district.
Becoming a Geisha for a day is a wonderful experience. Not only because you get to wear the gorgeous traditional kimono, but because it teaches you how difficult it was for these skilled women to transform. It took a total of 4 hours to put on my make-up, dress and wig! It really is a lesson in the patience these women have to endure. The kimono even took three people to put on.
Once ready, you proceed to have a photoshoot where you learn the art of posing. Men could also choose to become a Geisha for a day, or even a Samurai warrior. It is a fun and insightful experience on one of Japan’s most ancient professions, and the photos are gorgeous. Yet it is a long ordeal and the wig is wrapped on extremely tight. Those prone to migraines have been warned.
There are various establishments that provide this transformative service but my experience with Studio Geisha Cafe was great. You can book on their Facebook or send an email to [email protected]. Bookings need to be made in advance and paid in full.
8. Wear a Kimono in Tokyo
Kimono is a traditional Japanese outfit. It is a delicately designed work of art. Wearing one is a unique way to experience Japanese traditional culture. But you don’t have to pay a hefty price of owning an authentic kimono to have that experience in Tokyo.
Renting a kimono in Tokyo is easy and affordable. You can find kimono rental shops in tourist hot spots like Shinjuku, Shibuya, and Asakusa. Reputable rental shops will also provide professional help for selecting and wearing a kimono as well as styling your hair. Although the rental price varies, you can rent a decent one for about 3,000 yen for a full day.
I chose to rent a kimono for a day in Asakusa. Not only is the area dotted with many rental shops, the Sensoji Temple and other historic Edo-Period architecture work as the picturesque backdrop to take the Instagram-worthy photos. Also, many tourists and Japanese visitors to Sensoji wear a kimono. So I didn’t feel overly dressed up roaming around the area, although I did attract some (positive) attention from other tourists.
As most kimono shop employees have limited English-speaking capability, it would be wise to research and book a kimono rental in advance. It also helps to have some understanding of various types of kimono and what to expect to make the best experience. Read everything you need to know about the kimono experience and how to rent a kimono in Tokyo here.
9. Go to Akihabara Electric Town
Akihabara is a district in Central Tokyo that is mostly known for it’s many electrical shops. In recent years it has also become known as the center of the otaku, or diehard fan, culture. At Akihabara you will find a lot of anime and manga bill boards, but also in the streets people are dressed up. For us it was very fascinating to walk around and exploring the colourful streets.
Akihabara is also a great place to get some goodies or gifts, such as comics, toys and more.
10. Take a walk at the pedestrian paradise Ginza
Ginza is probably Tokyo’s most famous shopping, dining and entertainment district, with countless department stores, restaurants, cafes and more. Most shops in Ginza are open every day of the week. We did some shopping here as well, such as at the famous and worlds largest Uniqlo.
What we found most interesting about this street is the central Chuo Dori Street, because on weekends the road is completely closed to traffic. This gives the street the nickname Pedestrian Paradise.
11. Go to a sumo tournament
Watching sumo is a must-do when in Tokyo and such a fun and unique experience. Like with everything traditional in Japan, it’s hugely regimented and sacred. Its origins are in the Shinto religion and it still feels very spiritual rather than like a competitive sport. However, a sumo tournament day is also when locals let their hair down… They do a lot of daytime drinking and enjoy throwing cushions in disgust when they’re not happy with how the tournament ended!
In order to get sumo tickets, you need to check online if it’s on while you’re there and reserve in advance. It doesn’t run all year round, so it depends on your travel dates. You can find out more about booking sumo tickets in this guide on how to watch sumo in Tokyo.
Once you’re there, you’ll find your seats either in a box or on chairs (the box is more traditional but can get quite uncomfortable!) and the day will begin. The seating are all arranged around the ‘dohyō’ (sand-covered ring where the wrestling happens). Before each tournament, there’s a lot of ritual preparation. The wrestlers will also parade and that’s your chance to pick who you want to support. I normally do this based entirely on the colour of their ‘mawashi’ (the belt they wear)! After lots of limbering up, foot stomping and ceremony, the actual bout of wrestling is usually over in minutes – if not seconds. However, it’s very tense and it’s easy to get drawn into the excitement, especially as the Japanese fans will be cheering on their favourites. You may leave finding yourself suddenly a huge fan of sumo!
12. Play games at Kawasaki Warehouse
On our last day in Toyo we went to Kawasaki Warehouse Arcade to play some video games. This place is so cool, it seems to come right from a movie scene. Kawasaki Warehouse is a recreation of the famous Kowloon Walled City. In this dark and grim warehouse you can play all sorts of video games.
You will be surprised to see many grown-up Japanese locals intensely playing various interactive video games. There are multiple floors to explore; the first and second floor has the most Kowloon Walled City setting, and on the second and third floor you can find a modern video game arcade. The fourth floor contains dart boards and billiard tables. Kawasaki Warehouse is completely free to enter, but you do pay for the games.
13. Have drinks at Golden Gai
Golden Gai consists out of a few blocks packed with cute and tiny bars. Walking around Golden Gai is already an experience, as it’s quite a unique place. Each bar has their own style and decoration. Each bar only fits a few people, and in some bars only ‘members’ are allowed to come in. Furthermore, some bars don’t even allow tourists to come in. If there is a price list in English posted outside you know you can join. Some also clearly state that they welcome tourists.
We found it to be quite pricey, and often they also charge you a cover charge to enter. But, it’s certainly a great experience to have drinks here!
14. Visit the Cats of Gotokuji Temple
Another lesser known temple in Tokyo – although since we’ve been there in 2017 this tempel has gotten a lot more attention – is Gotokuji Temple. We found it online when browsing for cool places in Tokyo, and what caught our attention where of course the amount of cat statues at the temple; at Gotokuji Temple you can find hundreds of lucky beckoning cat statues!
The rest of the temple is also beautiful, and it’s definitely worth a visit. When we were there, it was almost completely empty without any other tourists. That made it a peaceful place in the busy city of Tokyo.
Gotokuji temple is completely free to enter.
15. Go shopping at Kappabashi Kitchen Town
Kappabashi Kitchen Town, otherwise known as Kappabashi Dōgu-gai (Kitchenware Street), is a treasure trove of Japanese kitchenware and servingware. Literally everything found in a Japanese kitchen, cafe, restaurant, bar or takeaway shop can be purchased on this street. While this street was traditionally frequented by chefs and restaurant owners, it’s now a hotspot for locals and tourists to pick-up ceramics, chopsticks, knives and other Japanese-style kitchen items to take home with them.
Located within walking distance from Asakusa’s Senso-Ji temple, the entrance to Kappabashi-dori is indicated by a statue of a large plump french-style chef, wearing a white chef hat and cravat, sitting on top of a building on the corner of Kappabashi Dōgu-gai and Asakusa-Dori. Here you’ll find hundreds of tiny shops packed with wall-to-wall woks, pots, pans, cutlery, ceramics, knives, bamboo takeaway items, plastic food samples and just about any kitchen-related gadget you can think of.
Some of the best finds on Kappabashi Kitchen Street are the high-quality Japanese cooking knives, hand-painted chopsticks, ceramic mugs, sushi magnets and plastic food samples, featuring realistic tiny plastic models of fruit, vegetables, meats, sushi and various Japanese dishes.
Even if you’re not planning to make a purchase, Kapabashi Kitchenware Town is well worth a look. Just a word of warning – you probably won’t walk away empty handed – you’ll be surprised what treasures you will find.
16. Visit a themed cafe
One thing you must do in Tokyo is paying a visit to at least one themed café. There are plenty of choices. For instance, we visited the adorable Pompompurin Cafe in Harajuki. Seriously everything is in theme there; the interior, the food, drinks and a little souvenir shop.
But there are more cute cafes you can visit, such as the quite popular Kawaii Monster Cafe in Harajuki, Shirohige’s Cream Puff Factory, Café de Miki with Hello Kitty and the Peanuts Café at Naka-Meguro. For all the cute cafés in Tokyo, be sure to check out this list on TripAdvisor.
17. Visit Sensoji Temple
If you want to visit cultural spots in Tokyo we recommend the Buddhist temple Sensoji, located in Asakusa. The Sensoji Temple is one of Tokyo’s most popular temples.
Before reaching the temple, you first enter the Kaminarimon or Thunder Gate. From there you’ll walk along a shopping street of 200 meters with many typical Japanese souvenirs and local snacks. Eventually you’ll reach the main hall and the Asakusa Shrine. Sensoji Temple certainly is a beautiful place to visit.
18. Eat at a conveyer belt sushi restaurant
One of the most rewarding experiences from traveling is all the new foods you can eat. Traveling to Tokyo is no exception! Japan has these eateries called “conveyer belt sushi restaurants” where Japanese food rotates around the restaurant on a conveyer belt. If you see something you’d like to eat, you simply grab it from the conveyer belt and eat up!
Each plate is coloured according to the price of the dish so they know how much to charge you in the end. However, I saw many locals order food from a menu rather than grab whatever is rotating around the restaurant. You’ll typically find the menus have an incredibly larger variety of food than what you can grab yourself. So don’t be shy and order something you truly like.
They will bring you the food directly or the conveyer belt will bring it around and you will grab it yourself! These restaurants are very popular and waiting in line is not out of the ordinary. Make sure you experience this at least once during your trip to Tokyo.
The photo featured is a 3 piece fatty tuna sushi, and it was absolutely delicious and nothing like I’ve ever had before.
Have you ever been to Tokyo? Or are you still planning on visiting? Either way give us your thought on our list of 18 things to do in Tokyo! We hope it is useful for your visit.
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