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17 Cool Issues to Do in Tokyo

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Sensoji Temple, one of our favourite cool things to do in Tokyo

Tokyo is a city like no other. Sure, you can visit museums, temples, and eat at one of the thousands of delicious restaurants, but you can also do things you can’t anywhere else. We’ve had some of our craziest experiences in this giant metropolis and spend our time feeling bewildered, enchanted, and 100% safe.

Here are our favourite unique, weird, and just downright cool things to do in Tokyo.

Fun Things to Do in Tokyo

1) Maricar

Simon dressed up as Yoshi on our Maricar experience in Tokyo

Simon dressed up as Yoshi on our Maricar experience in Tokyo

Dressing up as Mario characters and driving a go-kart around the Tokyo streets has to be the coolest thing you can do in Tokyo. Yes, you drive a tiny go-kart on the real streets of Tokyo amongst cars, buses, and trucks!

Maricar was a dream come true for Simon, but as I hadn’t driven in years I spent the first hour of the two-hour tour terrified and the second hour having so much fun! It’s a surreal experience as you drive past skyscrapers and tiny shrines, busy crossings and quiet residential neighbourhoods, all while people stare, wave, and take your photo.

Dressing up as Mario characters and driving a Maricar go-kart is one of the many fun things to do in TokyoOur tour was from 4 – 6 pm, so we experienced the golden late afternoon light, sunset, and the neon lights once darkness hit. A highlight was driving across the massive Rainbow Bridge at full speed (60 kmph and you feel it in a go-kart) with an incredible view of the Tokyo skyline.

The go-karts are easy to operate, but you do need an international driving permit so make sure you get one before you leave your home country.

Details: We got a 20% discount on our Maricar tour by booking with Voyagin—a two-hour tour is 7000 yen ($61) from the Roppongi branch.

2) Tokyo DisneySea

The best Tokyo DisneySea rides and attractions for adultsIt might seem a waste to spend a day of your Tokyo trip at Disney, but DisneySea is unlike any of the other Disney parks in the world (and possibly the best).

The nautical theme park features seven ports inspired by real places and ocean legends including American Waterfront, Mediterranean Harbor (which looks just like Italy), Arabian Coast, and the unique Mysterious Island complete with erupting volcano.

Attractions are more adult-orientated than at neighbouring park Tokyo Disneyland and you can even see a Broadway show and have a cocktail in a 1920s lounge aboard a cruise liner.

It’s such a fun day out! Read about our favourite DisneySea rides including a recommended itinerary for adults and tips for avoiding the crowds.

Details: One day Tokyo DisneySea tickets cost 7400 yen ($65). It’s best to book online to avoid queues on the day. We booked ours on Voyagin as it was easier than booking direct.

3) Robot Restaurant

Robot Restaurant Tokyo reviewThe Robot Restaurant is not a restaurant and there aren’t many robots, but this show is one of the weirdest things to do in Tokyo. The energetic and totally insane performance features robots, dragons, ninjas, blue-haired dancers, creepy clowns, guitarists on swings, drums, a whole lot of neon lights, and really loud music.

Is it for you? Read Simon’s entertaining Robot Restaurant review to find out.

Details: Booking direct is expensive so make sure you book online with a company like Voyagin who offer discount tickets from 5,399 yen ($47). The cheapest tickets are for the earliest show at 4 pm.

4) Anato No Warehouse Kawasaki

Anato No Warehouse Kawasaki, one of the coolest things to do in TokyoJapan is the land of arcades and you won’t find one more unique than the Anato No Warehouse in Kawasaki. This huge three-storey arcade is themed like a seedy back alley in Hong Kong’s Kowloon walled city.

The theming is best at the entrance and first floor, while the second and third are more like a normal neon arcades. There’s a huge variety of games to play including taiko drumming, many rhythm games (which are hugely popular here), as well as the usual shoot-em-up and driving games.

Sci fi exit to the Anato No Warehouse arcade in Kawasaki, Tokyo

The sci-fi exit to the arcade

Details: The arcade is open from 9 am to midnight. Entrance is free and games cost from 100 yen ($0.90). It’s a 10-minute walk from Kawasaki Station, which is a 15-minute train ride from Tokyo Station.

5) Ghibli Museum

Ghibli Museum, a popular Tokyo attractionIf you’re a Studio Ghibli fan, don’t miss the whimsical Ghibli Museum. Most of the exhibits and short animation are in Japanese but it’s still cool to see props and drawings from classic films like Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro. When we visited (running until May 2018) there was a special exhibition on the food that the characters in the films eat. The attention to detail in every second of the films is astounding.

Details: It’s essential to book tickets in advance—you can find the details on the Ghibli Museum website. Tickets cost 1000 yen ($9). We booked ours online through Lawson—tickets go on sale on the 10th of each month for the following month and sell out quickly. If you don’t manage to get tickets, Voyagin sometimes has last minute tickets, but you’ll pay a premium. The museum is a 15-minute walk from Mitaka Station and a little longer from Kitoji Station through a pleasant park. Don’t forget your passport and printed tickets.

6) Harajuku

Realistic food models at Harajuku crepe stand, one of Tokyo's top attractions

Realistic food models at a Harajuku crepe stand

Harajuku is Tokyo’s youth neighbourhood with Takeshita Street at its heart. It gets super crowded on weekends, but it’s worth wandering around to see the cosplay kids, browse the quirky fashion stores, and eat from one of the popular crepe stands—crepe stuffed with a slice of cheesecake, anyone?

Nearby you can also visit the elegant shopping street Omotesando, the Meiji shrine within Yoyogi Park, and the Ota Museum (see below).

Details: Take the train to Harajuku Station and follow the crowds.

Traditional Things to Do in Tokyo

7) Sensoji Temple

Sensoji Temple in Tokyo with SkyTree in the background

Sensoji Temple with the Tokyo Skytree in the background

Sensoji is a Buddhist temple in Asakusa, one of Tokyo’s most traditional neighbourhoods where you can still find old wooden shops amongst the concrete.

The vibrant red temple gets crowded but you can escape by wandering off through the gardens to one of the quieter shrines. In the main area make sure to get your fortune told and cover yourself in incense for good luck.

Nearby head up to the 8th floor of the Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Centre opposite Asakusa Station for free views of the Tokyo Skytree (the world’s tallest tower) and the Nakamise shopping street leading to Sensoji.

Details: Take the Ginza subway line to Asakusa. Entrance is free.

8) Ota Memorial Museum of Art

The Ota Memorial Museum in Harajuku is a small gallery with changing exhibits of beautiful ukiyo-e, Japanese woodblock prints. We were lucky enough to see the 36 Views of Mount Fuji by Hokusai including the famous Great Wave off Kanagawa.

Details: 700 yen ($6) entrance fee. Closed on Mondays. Take the train to Harajuku Station.

9) Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden

The skyscrapers of Shinjuku viewed from Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, Tokyo

The skyscrapers of Shinjuku are the backdrop to these peaceful gardens

This beautiful park is at its best when the cherry blossoms are blooming or the leaves have turned red, but even in late summer we enjoyed strolling past the ponds, pagodas, and teahouse. It’s a wonderful oasis from busy Shinjuku and one of the best places in Tokyo for a picnic. There are Japanese, French, and English gardens.

Details: 200 yen ($1.75) entrance fee. Closed on Mondays. The Shinjuku Gate is a 10-minute walk from the New South Exit of Shinjuku Station.

Foodie Things to Do in Tokyo

Tokyo is foodie heaven with some of the best eating in the world from cheap eats to fine dining. Even vegetarians are well-catered for, as long as you know where to look—see our picks for the best vegetarian restaurants in Tokyo.

10) Kaiseki Meal

The tatami rooms of Bon vegetarian restaurant Tokyo

Our private tatami room at Bon

Kaiseki is a traditional Japanese multi-course tasting meal using seasonal, beautifully presented ingredients. Enjoying one of these exquisite meals in a private tatami mat room is a memorable experience. They are expensive so it’s best to go for lunch which is much cheaper than dinner. Savor Japan has a list of kaiseki restaurants to try.

Vegetarians don’t have to miss out—shojin ryori or fucha ryori is the Zen Buddhist vegan equivalent of kaiseki. We had a wonderful 12-course meal at Bon, a beautiful and tranquil space with miniature gardens, fountains, and private tatami mat rooms with sliding paper doors.

11) Ramen Vending Machine Restaurant

Ramen Ouka vending machine in Tokyo

Order your meal at the Ramen Ouka vending machine

Don’t worry, you won’t be eating instant ramen! At many ramen restaurants in Tokyo you order your meal and pay at the vending machine by the entrance, then take a seat at the counter and hand your ticket over to the chef.

There are thousands of ramen joints in Tokyo. As vegetarians we loved Ramen Ouka, which does halal and vegan ramen, and T’s Tantan, an entirely vegan ramen restaurant in Tokyo Station. If you prefer your ramen meaty, Ramen Beast has picked the top 20 ramen shops in Tokyo.

12) Department Store Food Basement

For an intriguing introduction to Japanese food head downstairs in one of the city’s massive department stores like Takashimaya or Isetan. The food basements are full of culinary delights from sake to sushi including pickled vegetables, odd-flavoured kit kats, dozens of varieties of rice crackers, beautiful bento boxes, and hundred dollar melons. Most of the time we had no idea what we were looking at, but if you’re not vegetarian, these are a great place to pick up a picnic lunch.

Things to Do in Tokyo at Night

13) Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

Tokyo free view from Tokyo Metropolitan Government BuildingThere are a number of spots in Tokyo where you can enjoy views of the city skyline, but the best place for a free view is the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku. The North Tower is open until 11 pm and you can see the skyscrapers and highways lit up in the darkness. On a clear morning you might be able to see Mt Fuji from the South Tower.

Details: Free. 9.30 am to 11 pm. 10-minute walk from the West Exit of Shinjuku Station.

14) Memory Lane

Memory Lane decorated for autumn in Tokyo

Memory Lane decorated for autumn

Memory Lane (Omoide Yokocho) is also known as Piss Alley from its post-WW2 roots when toilet facilities were non-existent. Public toilets are now available, but you’ll still feel like you’ve stepped back in time as you wander the narrow alleyways full of tiny yakitori restaurants seating just a handful of people at the counter.

Tiny restaurants on Memory Lane (aka Piss Alley) in Shinjuku, TokyoWith its red lanterns and smoke from the grills it’s an atmospheric place to wander. Most of the menus are in Japanese but you can always point to the skewers you want. As we don’t eat meat we ate at the less atmospheric but tasty CoCo’s Ichibanya Curry House instead, which has a vegetarian menu.

Details: From 5 pm to midnight. Located on the western side of Shinjuku Station (look for Shinjuku Omoide Yokocho on Google Maps).

15) Golden Gai

Golden Gai is another network of narrow lanes in Shinjuku, this time with tiny bars rather than restaurants. Many have cover charges and don’t allow foreigners, but you’ll see signs in English for the ones that are more welcoming.

Details: From 7 or 8 pm until early morning (at 8 pm on a Friday it was pretty quiet). 10-minute walk from the East Exit of Shinjuku Station.

16) Shibuya Crossing

Shibuya Crossing viewed from the Hikari Building, Tokyo

Shibuya Crossing viewed from the Hikari Building

One of Tokyo’s most iconic sights is the busy pedestrian crossing outside Shibuya Station. You can delve into the crowd yourself or get a view from above at the busy Starbucks or the quieter (but more distant) 11th floor of the Hikari Building.

While you can also visit during the day, the crossing is most dramatic at night when it’s neon-lit from the signs above.

Details: Just outside Shibuya Station.

17) Walk over Rainbow Bridge

Rainbow Bridge is a massive suspension bridge that connects Tokyo to Odaiba, an entertainment island in Tokyo Bay. You can walk across it for fantastic views of the Tokyo skyline—I recommend going at sunset to see it by day and night.

While we didn’t walk across the bridge ourselves—we drove across it on our Maricar trip—it’s on our list for next time so I can take some photos. The view was spectacular.

Details: Read this post for instructions.

Our Tokyo Bucket List for Next Time

Although we had 10 days in Tokyo on our latest trip and a week when we first visited in 2011, we still haven’t had time for all of the unique things to do in Tokyo. On our wish list for next time are:

  • See a practice session at a sumo stable or attend a tournament. After reading The Street of a Thousand Blossoms I am fascinated by sumo culture.
  • Take a Taiko drumming class.
  • Explore the bohemian neighbourhoods of Koenji, Shimo-Kitazawa, and Naka Meguro.
  • Rent a private karaoke booth.
  • Visit the Mori Art Museum and see the view from the Observation Deck at night.
  • See a Kabuki theatre performance in Ginza.
  • Take a day trip to the temples and beaches of Kamakura.

Tokyo Map

Tokyo Tips

Memory Lane in Tokyo

Memory Lane

  • Shinjuku is our favourite area to stay in Tokyo for its excellent access to transport, good food, and many of the attractions above. We stayed in an Airbnb studio apartment a 10-minute walk from Shinjuku Station. We find Airbnb to be better value than hotels in Tokyo—sign up here to get $39 off your first stay.
  • Buy a Umobile data SIM card from a vending machine at Narita airport. Having access to Google Maps makes it so much easier to get around, although there’s free WiFi in many stations.
  • The Narita Express train is the easiest way to get from Narita airport to Shinjuku, Shibuya and Tokyo stations.
  • Get a Suica card from machines at train stations to use as a ticket on all trains and metro lines in Tokyo. You can also use it for lockers, vending machines, and even in many shops.
  • Use Hyperdia to check train times.
  • Search on Voyagin for many cool things to do in Tokyo, often at discounted prices (Robot Restaurant, Maricar, etc.).
  • Don’t forget travel insurance as Japanese health care is expensive—we use and recommend True Traveller for UK and EU residents and World Nomads for everyone else.
  • Pack light as hotel rooms are tiny in Tokyo. We travel with just one carry-on backpack each—see our packing list here and my book The Carry-On Traveller: The Ultimate Guide to Packing Light where I share my tips.

More Japan Posts

  • Planning a Trip to Japan: Dos and Don’ts
  • The 12 Best Vegetarian Restaurants in Tokyo
  • Where to Stay in Japan: The Ultimate Guide to Accommodation
  • Robot Restaurant: The Most Insane Show in Tokyo
  • The 12 Best Tokyo DisneySea Rides for Adults
  • Vegetarian Survival Guide to Japan

On our first trip to Japan, Tokyo just didn’t compare to the beauty and tradition of Kyoto, but on our last visit we came to appreciate it for all the fun things to do, diverse neighbourhoods, and fantastic food. We’ll definitely be back.

What are your favourite things to do in Tokyo?

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