Tokyo is far too big and exciting to fit into one post, or certainly just one trip. The city is constantly changing and evolving, and if you head out into the unknown backstreets and further out into its wilder outskirts, you’ll experience something truly special.
For a trip you’ll never forget, the first time, second, or even the third time, here is a list of activities to broaden your Tokyo adventure.
Note: This is the second part of our ultimate guide to Tokyo. For part one, click here.
Currency: $1 = ¥112
Population: 9 Million
Size: Largest city in the world
Transport: Suica rail card or JR pass
Food & Drink
Toyosu Fish Market
Tsukiji, the biggest fish market in Japan has now sold its last piece of fish and closed indefinitely. But don’t despair; a new, better and well-suited market location has just opened in Toyosu.
The famous fish market has an insane reputation for the best fresh caught tuna in the world. You have to get up at the crack of dawn to see the iconic tuna action, but it’s worth it for literally the best fresh fish in the world. The restaurant and shopping floors of the market are now open (as of Oct 11th 2018).
Shin Okubo (Korea Town)
Tokyo’s Korea Town is not just full of K-pop fanatics and coveted Korean cosmetics. This vibrant and bustling area close to Shinjuku is bursting with street food, restaurants, karaoke, and more Korean cosmetics than you can shake a stick at.
Here are some highlights:
Street Food: Spicier than Japanese food and super tasty, try Korean style sushi or delicious Korean style savoury pancakes.
Fried Chicken: Honestly THE best chicken you have ever tasted, and cheap!
Bibimbap: A stone bowl full of goodness; stir in your egg and add as much kimchi as you want to satisfy those spicy cravings.
Cosmetics: Korea is famous for its super-exclusive make up and beauty brands, and you’ll find a whole host of them if you walk down the main street in Korea Town.
K-pop Cafe: K-Pop (Korean popular music) is practically a way of life in South Korea. In this cafe, you can enjoy coffee and cake while watching vibrant, brash K-pop music videos on an enormous screen.
Japan is known for its liquors — the delectable sake, the beers named after giraffes. But the most delicious and versatile of all the boozy choices has to be umeshu, a fortified wine made from the Japanese plum and various fruits.
Shugar Market goes above and beyond when it comes to the joyous Japanese tradition of nomihodia — AKA ‘All you can drink.’ There’s absolutely no time limit! With over 100 different flavours on offer, you can shot, sip, and mix umeshu to your heart’s content — or until your head takes over and you crash to the floor in a drunken slump.
They also have an ice cream tap that you can visit as many times as you want, in case you weren’t spoiled enough. Try mixing it with creamy umeshu flavours and marshmallows to really indulge.
Opening Hours: 5:00 – 23:00
Cost: ¥3,000 for all you can drink including ice cream. No time limits.
Pro Tip: Take your passport for identification on the door.
Shimokitazawa & Koenji
We started out with the kawaii (cuteness) culture of Harajuku in part one, but haute couture street style is not all that Tokyo has to offer when it comes to fashion. Wander through the alleys and avenues of the notable Shimokitazawa and Koenji neighborhoods for some serious hipster vibes.
These two districts on the outskirts of Tokyo are filled with charming old streets lined with with cafes and shops. They are heaven on Earth for vintage shoppers. The quality is second to none, and as the fashion forward folk in Japan are constantly changing their looks, this hub of style joy is constantly evolving. Iconic 50’s and 60’s pieces can be found at reasonable prices in almost every shop, but you can also pick up bargains for as little as ¥200 in the second hand shops.
Be warned: You’ll have to pick up an extra slab of baggage allowance to fit all your new rainbow colour coded matching shoes.
Find the best vintage at: Little Trip To Heaven
Bargains at: Kinji
Cute animal doughnuts at: Floresta Koenji
Shiro Hige’s Cream Puff Cafe – Shimokitazawa
Everyone knows My Neighbour Totoro right? The big, grey cat like creature with the enormous smile? Of course you do. Studio Ghibli’s Hayao Miyazaki is considered the Walt Disney of Japan, although his movies are a lot more poignant and effortlessly beautiful. Shiro Hige’s is the only Ghibli Cafe in Japan, as it is owned by the sister-in-law of Hayao Miyazaki himself. A host of delectable creamy flavours await you, ready to tickle your taste buds within fluffy cream puffs shaped like Totoro. The flavours change with the seasons, so you’re always bound for something new. Our favourite was the banana custard!
If you haven’t soaked up enough Ghibli at Shorohige’s — and thrown up from eating far too many cute treats — an entire world of Ghibli lies just outside the city at the Ghibli Museum. Alight at Mitaka station and watch out for the big yellow bus full of Ghibli characters that takes you to the museum.
Pro Tip: Ghibli tickets are insanely popular and you MUST buy tickets in advance. They can only be purchased from a Loppi Machine inside the Lawson. It’s a little tricky if you don’t understand Japanese, but here’s an awesome little guide that shows you exactly how to use the machine.
Tickets are a bargain at ¥1,000.
The Ghibli fun doesn’t stop there. There’s one more place to soak up a final bit of Ghibli obsession. Far out in the forests of Saitama prefecture lies the best kept secret in Tokyo: Sayama Hills, AKA Totoro Forest.
A quiet place, the residents of the area needed some help to preserve their glorious natural surroundings. Fortunately for them, they were the very settings that inspired the making of My Neighbour Totoro, so they built a shrine to the movie right in the forest. It’s a wonderful place to enjoy the peace of nature with a cup of green tea and an enormous friend.
From Ikebukuro Station, take the orange Seibu -Ikebukuro line to Kotesashi station. From there, catch the number 9 bus, travel 9 stops to Dainichido bus stop. Then walk a few minutes into the forest.
Tokyo Book & Bed
Ever wanted to sleep in a library? Now’s your chance. Tokyo Book & Bed is literally a bookstore where you can spend the night. There are heaps of comic book cafes with room rates all over Tokyo, but this one is certainly special. Nuzzle down with a good novel and sleep among the bookshelves from ¥4,600 per night. If you love a good bookstore and wouldn’t feel claustrophobic curling up on a library shelf, this is the place for you.
There’s no shortage of cafes in Tokyo, from pet cafes to character cafes to all out insane offers like the Kawaii Monster Cafe, where patrons are treated to a selection of treats while Japanese performers dance for them. Some are a little more unique than their original counterparts, and are definitely worth that little extra effort.
Cat Cafe Temari No Ouchi
Based in Mitaka nearby the Ghibli Museum, Temari No Ouchi is a pure kitty paradise. Inspired by the forest, this cafe has a quirky treehouse theme to excite and delight its furry residents. The cosy surroundings provide the perfect spot to make friends with all manner of funky felines. Some cats are cuddly, some are playful, some will only sit and stare at you no matter how long you try to tempt them with a fishing rod mouse full of catnip, but it’s all in good fun. Be sure to sign your name in the scrapbook at the end of your visit and check out all the cute anime drawings left by previous visitors.
One of the weirdest and most adorable is the Moomin Cafe & Bakery. The Moomins are fictional characters from a series of animated books. They’re big, white, friendly cow-like creatures. Although the Moomins hail from Finland, they have a second home in Tokyo where they delight in accompanying lonely travellers to dinner.
Solo diners, feel awkward no more at the Moon cafe! The servers will immediately sit you down with a giant stuffed Moomin to keep you company. They aren’t much for conversation, but their large white faces and blank expressions will leave you feeling better in no time.
Moomin Latte: ¥620
With souvenir cup: ¥1,500
Theme Parks & Fun
The home of Hello Kitty and the birthplace of all things kawaii. This one is more for the kids, but 6-foot bearded children are also welcome. Enter a land of dreams and take a boat cruise through Sanrio’s world of cute characters; from the ever mute Kitty, to Gudetama, the world’s most depressed egg.
Children (and older children) will be in absolute heaven seeing their favourite characters and enjoying the regularly scheduled parades and shows. Save your souvenir purses for Sanrio Puroland, as the shopping plaza goes on for days, with each character having their own dedicated shop of treasures. Grab a pair of character socks for every day of the week before you head to the restaurant to gobble up Hello Kitty’s face.
Yokohama Cosmo World
Cosmo World lies south of Tokyo in Yokohama prefecture, but it’s a mere 50 minutes away on the Keihintohoku line. The theme park’s giant ferris wheel, named Cosmo Clock 21, is an iconic feature of the Yokohama skyline; providing epic views across the city and Tokyo Bay. At night, the fun atmosphere and twinkling lights make it a great place for a romantic stroll. Wander towards the aptly named Wonder Amuse Zone and ride the Diving Coaster, which dips straight under the ground named. It’s certainly not the comfiest of coasters but is a whole lot of ‘amuse.’
Entrance is Free
Operated on a pay by ride basis: ¥300 – ¥700
Note: Cosmo World is closed on Thursdays
MORI Digital Art Museum
Japan really pulls out all the stops when in comes to light shows. Tokyo Disney likes to top it’s own mesmerising and unbelievable shows every year. And now, Tokyo has an entire museum dedicated to the phantasmagoria that is the light show. Immerse yourself in what it describes as borderless art, moving from room to room to experience the world’s most epic three-dimensional light show.
No less than 50 technicolour digital works are present at the exhibition building in Odaiba. The works move and evolve with interaction fro visitors; in the Forest of Lamps room, a tree lights up as each new person enters.
Mario Kart Drive
So, you’ve seen Shibuya crossing from a thousand different angles, now it’s time to drive on it. The thriving nerd culture in Akihabara has birthed Mario Karting. Yes, you really can dress up like a real life SuperHero and go go-karting around the Tokyo metropolis like you’ve been sucked into a game of Nintendo.
Tours range from 1-3 hours and include costume rental so you don’t need to pop by the Don Quijote on a mad dash for a Pikachu onesie. The best part? The guides are happy to take photos of your epic adventure around the Tokyo streets.
Note: You’ll need an international drivers permit. More info can be found here.
Prices: ¥7,000 and up.
Despite seeming like a concrete jungle full of neon lights and public transport, Tokyo is bursting with parks and little spots of nature; after all, the Japanese invented the tea garden.
Chidoriga-fuchi Boat Park
This huge park is surrounds the Chidoriga-fuchi moat and the Imperial Palace. After a visit to see the deity, a stroll around the scenic path is mandatory, so take some time out of your busy schedule. The park is particularly special in cherry blossom season (late March through early May) when the trees burst into life with spectacular pastel pink blooms. The boat rental house is on the north side, where you can hire a cute little canoe to cruise around and enjoy the amazing views of the trees and the city from the water.
Boat hire:¥500 per hour, ¥1,600 in sakura (blossom) season.
Pro Tip: In sakura season, the queues can get insane! Turn up early to ensure you get there in time for a boat.
This sweet little park and garden is less well-known than Chidoriga-fuchi, so it may be a little less crowded, and it also offers spectacular views in sakura season. There’s even has a little temple set back in the woods.
The pond has an array of small boats to choose from; some are even shaped like swans — how adorable! It’s also in the same area as the Ghibli Museum, so it would make a great little spot for a bento picnic after a fun-filled afternoon at the Museum.
Another delightful spot can be found at Sumida Park. 700 cherry trees line the edges of the Sumida river. This little wood burns with warm, vibrant colours in the autumn months (late October to December).
The park is home to the Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival in July, which is considered one of the best fireworks festivals in Japan, with pyrotechnic companies trying to outdo each other. Plan well in advance if you wish to see this spectacular showdown; it’s incredibly popular and a million people show up every year, so put bells on all your friends.
Day trips from Tokyo
Tokyo is the perfect base for exploring the rest of Japan on trains, buses, and even boats. If you have a JR Pass, there are so many unbelievable places that can be reached from the city. Capture a glimpse of Mt Fuji on the coast of Kamakura, or hop on the Shinkansen to Kyoto to explore the cultural heart of Japan. Pop over to our list of day trips from Tokyo for exciting adventures out of the city.