15 Top Things to Do in Tokyo, Japan

If you like traveling around the world and you haven't already crossed out Tokyo from your wishlist, you should visit Japan as soon as possible. The largest city on the planet and its 38 million inhabitants will provide you with a unique experience. Tokyo is a city full of contrasts and yet its balance is amazing. It is the place where modern and traditional mix and match, where bold and humble meet.

Tokyo is the cosmopolitan capital in Japan. Enjoy the day by visiting old temples and shrine, eating sushi at the restaurants, visiting museums, wandering along with the beautiful parks, and shopping at the markets. Don’t forget to visit Tokyo’s must-visit attractions such as Imperial Palace, Sensoji Temple, and Tsukiji Market. Taste the delicious Japanese cuisine and specialty dishes during your visit.

The place is very reasonable as contrasted with other well-known travel destinations where you will find comparable sorts of attractions, and this is a lot less expensive alternative for budget travelers. Tokyo could turn out to be an ideal spot in case you are looking for thrilling activities such as theme parks and ski runs. Additionally, there are reasonable accommodations in Japan that will fit finely in your budget.

Tokyo is a living breathing organism, with hyper activity that you will never understand unless you are Japanese. But that is fine just enjoy the Neon lights, Manga, the best food in the world, the best $1 coffee convent store coffee in the world, and the world class hospitality and politeness that is pressed upon you.

You have streets so clean that you could eat off them. Vending machines selling everything from beer to pants. Convenience stores every 100 yards, that have unquestionably the best food out of any convenience store in the world and better than most restaurants outside Japan. This is a hyper modern city with deep cultural routes. You can be in central Tokyo getting served by a Robot, then walk down the street and be in a historical shrine.

You have the hustle, of Shubya, the shopping of Ginza. Head out about an hour on the JR line and be in the mountains or by the ocean in Kamakura. You have world class views from the skyline and skytree. You have culture in Imperial Palace, you have nature in Yoygi park (all that are super clean).

Tokyo is an intriguing city both chaotic and ordered. So, if traveling to Tokyo is something that you are considering, go for it! Tokyo is the Asian New York, but culturally is a place where you can be reborn. Life is meaningful, and the city teaches you self-discipline. Or for the whole range of what Tokyo offers, there are tons of great places. It has some of the most beautiful gardens in the whole country - not just one, but a dozen of them - especially Koishikawa Korakuen, Kiyosumi, and Rikugien.

Umi-Shibaura station in Kanagawa prefecture is directly connected to the office of a company (Toshiba Energy Systems & Solutions Corporation) and has no exit except for it because the station itself stands in the private property of the company. Without an ID of the company or an invitation from the company, you can’t get out of this station forever.

This station is along Tsurumi line which is a normal line in a suburban area run by the biggest train company called JR East. The other stations along this line are normal. Passengers can come in and go out with a ticket. In short, Tokyo has far, far more better places to offer - and if you are visiting the city you can enjoy a way better experience by going elsewhere.

things to do in Tokyo

Here are things you must see if you are traveling to Tokyo.

1. See the Imperial Palace

According to many tourists, attraction number one in Tokyo is the Imperial Palace, also known as Kokyo. Right in the center of Tokyo, close to Tokyo Station, you can find the Imperial Palace. Surrounded by the trees and a water-filled moat, it's truly a unique location. It's free to visit East Garden, Kitanomaru Garden, and Kokyo Gaien.

However, inner grounds are open for the public only on holidays on January 2nd and December 23rd. Since so many people come to see the current residence of the Emperor of Japan, the tickets need to be booked online far in advance. If you have already done so, then you will enjoy the walks through 17th-century parks that are surrounded by old walls and moats.

The Palace stands on the site where Ota Dokan (the feudal lord) had built the first fortress in the middle of the fifteenth century. From that point, the city of Tokyo continued gradually spreading. If you are a fan of fortresses, another place you can visit is Edo Castle (Chiyoda Castle), located in Tokyo's Chiyoda district. It was built at the same time as the previous one.

Walking around some of the grounds that surround the palace is pleasant and there are some nice cherry blossoms in season.

Don't let the language barrier hold you back

Once you visit your first destination, you will notice that many Japanese people do not speak English or they do not feel comfortable speaking it. Learning a few basic phrases in Japanese can be very helpful if you plan to travel to Tokyo. The locals are all eager to help but be prepared that they might not understand you.

On the other hand, they will appreciate your effort to try and communicate with them in their mother tongue (even though your knowledge is limited to 5 basic sentences). Of course, airports, train stations, and main tourist attractions are the places where you can expect to find English speaking people, so use those opportunities to find out what you need.

The best advice that you can get is to download one of those translating apps and buy bilingual maps. Doing so will make your life much easier. Speaking of apps, if your organizational skills are not what you are most proud of, there are many international travel planning apps that you can download.

2. Witness the futuristic side in Akihabara

The Tokyo district of Akihabara is famous for its electronic shops. If you are planning on buying some high-tech gadgets, this is where you should go. It is also the best place to see the underground culture of Japan. It might interest you to see numerous shops devoted to manga and anime in this area.

The lack of WiFi might surprise you

Even though you are in the innovation capital of the world, don't expect to find Internet access everywhere you like. Getting around the city without it cannot be imagined and yet WiFi is limited. The best thing that you can do is to buy or rent a pocket WiFi device. The prices of renting are reasonable and you will have your personal hotspot wherever you go.

You should also know that many restaurants, food chains, and other stores do not take cards. Be prepared to always have some cash with you. The best souvenir that you can buy for yourself and use it while in Tokyo is a coin purse. The Japanese currency is the yen and the banknote with the smallest value is worth 1000 yens (around 9 USD), so you will be using a lot of coins.

Ikebukuro is another of the entertainment centers of Tokyo. It is also the center of the otaku culture and is especially aimed at girls.

Speaking about money, if you are looking for a place to spend it - the Ginza district is a place for you! It is the commercial center of Tokyo often compared to Times Square in New York. However, this one is much older. It is home to countless exclusive shops and some more affordable ones. Many tourists like to just go window shopping here. Two famous theatres are situated in Ginza district - Kabuki-za and Shinbashi Enbuj┼Ź.

Go to the basement of any major department store, especially around the Ginza, and check out the food hall. While you’re there, check out the kimono section of the department store. You’ll see the real kimono there, not the polyester type that they rent to tourists. They are extremely expensive but individual works of art in themselves.

Prepare for a culture shock

Whenever you travel to a new place, you should read a few travel blogs that will help you better prepare for your trip. They can give you insight into the cultural differences to be expected in Tokyo. For example, if you are using public transport, you are expected to give a seat to a child, pregnant lady, elderly or ill person. Actually, you are obliged by law to do so. You should also switch your phone to Silent mode and not answer it.

If you want to try some piece of clothing on, you will get a bag to put over your head so that you do not stain the clothes with your makeup. Moreover, they expect you to take your shoes off before entering the cabin. You should know better than to leave a tip in a restaurant, bar or anywhere else. In Japanese culture, that is considered to be rude.

But you may end up liking these customs. Many people from all over the world fall in love with this city and decide to move here – something movers such as Kokusai Express Japan can help you with.

Go to an incense matching contest! This is one of the oldest games in the world. It was invented in the Heian Period, sometime around 900–1100 CE. It used to be played by burning incense and having people guess what the components are. Nowadays people don’t know the components that well, so what they do is burn some incense, then take it away, then burn 3 other samples of incense, and you have to guess which one was the one that they burned the first time. It’s surprisingly difficult to remember a smell like that.

3. Senso-ji Temple

Expanding things a bit, there is also the Sensoji Temple. Nearly every tourist goes there of course, but it still is something well worth seeing, and there are no high fees to pay (it’s free) or long lines to waste your time. If you hate the crowds, it’s also someplace you can go in the evening when they are mostly gone.

Senso-ji Temple is located in the Asakusa district of Tokyo. A long street market where you can buy masks, combs, kimonos, toys, fabrics and so much more leads you to the temple. It is dedicated to the Buddhist goddess of compassion, Kannon. It was built in the middle of the seventh century and it managed to withstand the test of time.

Naturally, it went through some renovations but it still looks like it originally did. Its Kaminari-mon Gate is a 3.3-meter-high red paper lantern with "Thunder Gate" written on it. People come here believing that Incense Vat, would drive away their ailments. You can see people catching the smoke and directing it to the body parts that need healing.

The temple doves are also believed to have some super skills. Actually, they tell fortunes by pulling cards from the deck. You should come here at night too to see how differently the temple looks when illuminated. If you want to avoid the mobs, from late winter for 2 months there is also the “secret” Sensoji Garden, Denboin which is open. Almost nobody discovers this place either, and you can see a gorgeous place that most people won’t ever find.

The sanitation is different too

Walking from one landmark to another you will probably notice that public garbage cans are very rare in Tokyo. There are two reasons for such a choice. The first one is recycling. Unlike the places in Austria where recycling is optional, Japanese people recycle almost everything and having so many separate trash bins all over the city is impractical. The second one is due to fear of terrorist attacks. That is why you should always have a spare plastic bag with you for the garbage that you would recycle later on.

Another thing worth having at hand is a hand sanitizer. Despite the fact that Japanese public toilets are common and the toilets in restaurants and bars are very high-tech, most of them lack the soap dispenser or hand sanitizer of any kind. You will see a lot of squat toilets too.

4. Go to the Tsukiji fish market

If you get hungry searching for a place where you can throw away what you do not need anymore - go to Ebisu! It is an upscale, fashionable district that used to be famous for its beer. Now, the locals take pride in so much more! Deciding what to eat here is quite a challenge, but here are some suggestions:

  • Kushi katsu (deep-fried kebabs)
  • yakitori (skewered chicken)
  • okonomiyaki - Japanese savory pancake with a variety of ingredients - you must taste this when you travel to Tokyo.
  • aji-furai (fried fish)
  • sashimi (fresh, raw fish)

You can also go to Tsukiji fish market. It is the most famous fish market in the world where tuna auctions are being held daily. Most Japanese people eat mostly sea fish, hence their tongues are unfamiliar with the taste of freshwater fish.

Few years ago, Tokyo Banana, a banana cream wrapped in spongecake was a hit. Everybody crazed about it, a must try food when you visited Japan, and people expected you to bring it as souvenir when you returned from the trip. Mizu Shingen Mochi or Raindrop cake looks good for your Instagram and is saved by the sweetness of the kinako flour and kuromistu sauce as the topping.

The public transport is impeccable

If you are traveling to Tokyo on a budget, do not even think about using a cab. The good news is - you do not even need it! Tokyo public transport system consists of buses, overground and underground trains that always run on time, down to a minute. You can buy tickets at vending machines that have clear instructions in English.

There are two prepaid cards that you can get (Pasmo and Suica) to make your journeys easier. Get them on the day you arrive in Tokyo and top them up whenever necessary. You might find it a bit difficult to interpret the transport map at first, but you can always ask for help.

Whether you are driving a car or taking a walk, the rule is the same - keep to the left! This is very important to remember when you are about to cross the street along with a thousand other people at the same crossroad.

5. Tokyo Skytree

You have probably heard of both. But the question is which one you should climb when you are traveling to Tokyo. Well, probably both of them. Tokyo Skytree is a communications and observation tower. It became popular very quickly due to its panoramic views. The view is easily the finest in the city - no other place comes close. The question is if you want to pay the 2060 yen for it. Tokyo Tower is much older and smaller than this one, but it still remains the landmark of Tokyo.

6. Experience shopping in Harajuku

If we had to define the Harajuku neighborhood we would do it as the most original, extravagant and freakiest neighborhood in all of Tokyo. It is one of the mecca of pop culture, visual kei and gothic lolita of the whole city. But despite all this Harajuku is not known precisely for its shops and boutiques, but for its famous Cosplayers and urban tribes who meet on Sundays to show off their own style.

The meeting point is the Jingu-bashi bridge, just outside the JR Harajuku station.

7. Meiji Jingu

Strictly apples to apples, there is Meiji Shrine, which while very touristy gives you a walk through a very foresty area that makes you wonder if you are still in the ‘concrete jungle’ of Tokyo. The Meiji Jingu is the largest Shinto shrine in Tokyo and the most famous in the city. It is dedicated to the first emperor of modern Japan, the Emperor Meiji, and his wife, the Empress Shoken. When getting to the shrine, you'll travel down a road lined by impressive cedar trees before you get to an enormous tori gate.

In Treasure Museum Annex, you'll see an exhibit of the royal couple's belongings. When you pass the shrine, you'll see the Nai-en garden, the Emperor and Empress's favorite place. This shrine is a popular location to visit around the New Year holiday when people come to hang good-luck charms for the upcoming year.

There is also the Meiji Gyoen garden, which is absolutely not touristy - nearby everyone just blows past it so it is not normally crowded at all. It has some beautiful landscapes and the irises in spring are very beautiful.

8. Shinjuku

Take a commuter train at 8:30 in the morning. Preferably, take a train from Shinjuku Station at 8:30 in the morning. Shinjuku Station is the busiest train station in the world, according to the Guinness Book of Records. The west exit of Shinjuku Station takes us to the most administrative part of the neighborhood.

9. Shinjuku Golden Gai

Go under the tracks near any train station and eat some yakitori (roast chicken on skewers) in one of the small eating and drinking places that cater to people on their way home from work. And there’s always, always beer or sake to drink. Similarly, you must — absolutely must — eat some soba (buckwheat noodles) at a stand-up noodle joint (tachigui soba), which are also often located near train stations.

You first buy a ticket specifying what you want, then give ticket to the person behind the counter, who then gives you your noodles.

And the Shinjuku nightlife is especially attractive. There is the alleys of Golden Gai, where to have a few beers; the alley Omoide Yokocho where to take skewers yakitori or until Koreatown of Shin-Okubo, to enjoy the typical grilled meat. It is an area to walk around and enjoy the environment and the neons. The hostess bars and restaurants are open at the later hours, so it’s only a sight worth seeing at night.

However, the area can be a little sketchy. For one, you’ll see a lot of people, usually older men, standing in the middle of the streets advertising their restaurant or bar. For the restaurants, they will advertise that they have cheap dishes but will pile up the amount of dishes you get so that your bill gets really expensive.

It’s a lucrative but well known scam among the locals which is why they will most likely target the clueless tourists. Don’t be pressured into their convincing whims and pleas to go inside, and reject everything they have to offer, no matter how tempting. They will move on to the next person. Others will get really close to you, nonchalantly pull up a card of a sexy woman, and say they’ll hook you up with the said woman.

Now, if you’ve come to Japan’s red light districts to have fun with Japanese women, you’re in the wrong place. The woman in the picture probably doesn’t exist. Or if she does exist, she will be about twenty years older than the picture. There’s an insane amount of hidden fees just to meet the woman (around $1000), and then piled up fees just for breathing in her presence.

Even then, they’ll probably drug you up and make it seem like you’re having a good time (as they’d rather not like to overuse their merchandise), but this is if you haven’t been scammed already. If you are unable to pay, a bouncer or some other intimidating dude will follow you to an ATM and make sure you take out the amount in the bill.

If you do go to a bar and are a dude, you will most likely have a sexy woman approach you and ask you for drinks. Don’t be fooled as her drinks will be alcohol free meaning she’ll swig drink after drink without consequence while you’re unknowingly piling up your bill with those drinks which are 5x more expensive than usual.

She will be working for the bar. In the few cases where things do go further beyond drinks and shallow conversation, you’ll get into a room and go wild, but wake up the next day with all your money suddenly gone while you still have a massive bill to pay. Then, bouncer boy comes.

HOWEVER, not all bars are dangerous and the bars will rarely target foreigners as that would make business bad and the spot unpopular for tourists. Just stick to the more popular bars or the bars by the busier streets and you can still have a good time. Speaking of bars, make sure to frequently ask the bartender/server about your bill cost and to bring more cash than you expect to spend.

There are times where you go in and have three drinks only to find your bill is $300 dollars because there was apparently an unmentioned table rental fee. This hidden fee thing gets really annoying but there’s not much you can do except pay or choose your bars wisely from the start. Its really common among the bars, regardless of reputation.

If you are there with someone, you can try going to a love hotel together where you can’t see the person doing the check-in, etc. There are many different exotic kinds of rooms available.

10. Go to Odaiba Oedo Onsen

Go to the local sento or public bath around your hotel, if they have one. If they don’t, your hotel may have a large public bath in it. That’s worth a try, too. Before you go, learn how to take a Japanese bath. You can find info on this on the internet. Basically, just make sure to rinse yourself off before you get in the bath, and don’t get any soap into the bath. Note: a lot of public baths won’t let people in if they have tattoos.

11. Shibuya Crossing

Go to Shibuya, maybe for its trendy shops and boutiques - or just to see the famous Shibuya Crossing, a popular motif for movies in Japan captured by filmmakers around the world when they want to show the "bustle of humanity" or to show it empty after the zombie apocalypse.

Sitting at the Starbucks overlooking Shibuya Station and watching the scramble crossing when the lights change. Really, there no other reason to go here other than to have been there as a tourist and seen the chaos (well, maybe to see Hachiko). But totally worth it.

If there is one single thing all tourist should do when they visit Tokyo, it would be to go to Shibuya's Pedestrian scramble. The train is never even a minute late. You can sleep on the train without ever worrying about losing anything. Walk to the front and watch a few trains pass. Watch how every driver is dressed, watch how accurate they stop the train manually.

See how the time on the panel matches the time on the clock every single time. Watch how each driver speak to themselves as he checks the door and the tracks before taking off. Walk towards the scramble. Stop before the lights and just watch carefully for a few minutes. Watch as thousands of people who have never met before walk at the same pace. Watch how people wait for the lights, how they start walking and stop walking at the same time.

Notice there is not a single piece of garbage on the streets. Notice many Japanese women dye their hair brown, there are also very few really fat people. Notice there are barely any children or old people. No one look particularly rich or poor. You can see even given a matter of seconds, it is possible for as many as 3,000 people (bicycles too) to cross the same crossing without any police, conflicts or delay.

12. Nakamise Shopping Street

The Nakamise Shopping Street there though is all pretty much a long tourist trap, selling kitchy tourist junk.

13. Gotokuji Temple

There are some other temples or shrine which are easily better as well, like Gotokuji Temple. Cats galore.

14. Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

The Tokyo Metro Gov’t Bldg in Shinjuku is blasted out in the guidebooks by the “Japan experts” and now completely overrun by people. A nice view, yes, and free. But that is way more of a tourist trap. The cafeteria at lunch might be a much more sensible trip with cheap food and the same view.

15. Kabukicho

Go back to Shinjuku Station and walk around Kabukicho at 8 PM. You will never see so many eating and drinking places and so much neon in your life. That’s very local too. Kabukicho is really not a bad place as long as you act smart.
Kalyan Panja