A place where the latest tech and oldest traditions meet, Tokyo offers everything from historic temples to neon-lit skyscrapers, from ancient festivals to cutting edge gadgetry.
Full of contrast and contradictions, you’ll find spots of calm serenity in among some the hustle and bustle of its crowded streets. It really is a crazy old place that needs to be experienced to be believed! When you do get that fantastic chance to take a trip to Tokyo, here are ten things you cannot miss…
Things to See in Tokyo…
The view from the Tokyo Skytree
Standing at 634 metres tall, the Tokyo Skytree is the world’s tallest free-standing broadcasting tower and, as you can imagine, it offers some spectacular views of the city and its surroundings. A super-fast elevator takes you to the 350-metre high observation deck, where you can enjoy 360-degree panoramic views of Tokyo and possibly even Mount Fuji, if the weather is really clear.
Three grand sumo wrestling tournaments take place in Tokyo every year, so if you’re visiting in January, May or September, you’ll be well placed to take in one the 15-day events and witness all manner of body locks, twists, ripples and drops as wrestlers battle it out. Try to be inside the arena at the start of a new round, when the rikishi parade into the arena wearing ceremonial aprons over their loincloths, and consider morning or midday bouts, when the arenas aren’t as busy.
If there’s one single sight that encapsulates modern-day Japan, then it’s the hustle, bustle and bright neon of Tokyo’s Shibuya Crossing – a huge intersection that is the metaphorical heartbeat of the city. What makes the crossings such a unique sight is that all its traffic lights turn red at the same time, stopping the traffic and sending hundreds of pedestrians streaming across the street in all directions.
To get the best view of the very well organised chaos, visit in the evening when the neon lights come on, or sit in the window of the well placed Starbucks to get a bird’s eye view of the street!
Meiji Shrine (Meiji Jingu)
There are countless temples you can visit during your stay in Japan, but Meiji Jingu in the heart of the city is one you won’t want to miss.
Dedicated to the late 19th-century emperor who opened Japan to the West, Tokyo’s most famous Shinto shrine is both serene and unassuming. Once there, you can purify your hands and mouth in a cleansing station before offering up a prayer, or write wishes on little pieces of paper and tie them onto the prayer wall. Or if you prefer to do as the locals do, throw a few Yen into the offering box near the enormous taiko drum, bow your head twice, clap twice, and bow once more.
Things to Eat in Tokyo…
Of course! No trip here would be complete without it. If possible, get to a restaurant where you can see the sushi chefs in action and make the most of the experience by taking the time to watch the incredible care and consideration that goes into preparing each piece of sushi. Then tuck into some of the freshest fish and seafood the world has to offer.
A style of donburi – a one-bowl meal of rice topped with meat or vegetables – ten don sees crisp tempura (battered seafood or vegetables) served on top of freshly steamed rice and seasoned with a light soy dressing. A delightful snack or main meal at any time of day.
If you need to satisfy a sweet tooth, dorayaki is a traditional Japanese dessert made up of two hand-sized American-style pancakes made from castella and wrapped around a filling of sweet Azuki red bean paste. It might sound strange to eat beans as dessert… but it’s surprisingly satisfying!
Things to Do in Tokyo…
Visit the Tsukiji Fish Market
The world’s largest and busiest fish market is a must, especially the early morning auction where you can see the legendary bluefin tuna, or maguro, being sold off. Some of these fish weigh up to 300kg, are the size of a submarine torpedo and go for some serious money – a single Bluefin tuna sold for $632,000 in January 2017. If the fish market isn’t your thing (or rather, you don’t fancy the 5am start!) then there are a host of other stalls and shops in the area, as well as some of the finest sushi you’ll ever eat.
It’s worth noting the market has some strict rules about entry, and it’s not always open to the public (especially Westerners, controversially), so it’s worth checking the website before visiting. And get there while you can, as it’s set to move to a new location in autumn 2018.
Sing in a karaoke bar
Karaoke is one of Japan’s most famous, and popular exports. If you’re taking a trip to Tokyo, you simply have to have a go at singing your heart out in one of the city’s many karaoke boxes (private rooms) – no matter how bad your singing voice! Press your personal bell and you’ll have waiters arriving in a flash in order to serve you drinks – to keep those vocal chords lubricated, of course…
Play video games
Japan is the home of the video game, a place where you can enjoy 24-hour game playing across any number of venues, from internet cafes and arcades to purikura photo booths. If retro-gaming is your thing, the top floor of Akihabara’s Super Potato games centre is an old-style arcade, complete with 1970s-style glass-top cocktail arcade cabinets, or try Shibuya Kaikan Monaco, where many of the arcade cabinets run retro games and take ¥50 coins. Most places charge ¥100 (about 70p) per play, so here you get twice the gaming for your money.
For a more contemporary and immersive gaming experience, Joypolis is a colourful theme park in Minato complete with rides, a haunted house, a rollercoaster, arcade games, and virtual reality attractions and short 3D movies.
Of course there is plenty more to see, eat and do in Tokyo, but these are our top picks! Got more ideas for us? Leave a comment!
And if you want to know more about why Tokyo is the best city in the world, check out this post.