My boyfriend and I spent five nights in Tokyo, which gave us time to visit some of the city’s most popular tourist attractions, explore some of the coolest neighbourhoods and wander aimlessly, which is one of my favourite things to do in a city. With around 37 million inhabitants (!!), Tokyo is a colossal city with so much to do and see, it can be difficult to know where to start. In this post, I’d like to share fifteen fun, cool or just plain weird things to do, which will hopefully give you some ideas for your itinerary.
In no particular order…
* Sing your heart out at a karaoke bar. This experience was everything I’d hope it would be and more! The bars have an enormous library of songs; literally everything I could think of, including my beloved one-hit-wonders from the 90s. You are put into private rooms (no public humiliation necessary), all songs have English and Japanese translations and there’s a phone in each room to order food and soft / alcoholic drinks from reception.
* Have fun winning or losing at the arcades. There are hundreds of arcades in Tokyo and they make you feel like a kid again! There are the usual shooting games, along with pinball machines and those big claws which you use to grab toys and prizes. You can win cuddly toys and figurines, along with random things like pot noodles and green tea sachets. The arcades are popular with children, teenagers and adults alike, and we saw lots of people actually winning things.
* Get a novelty ice cream at Eiswelt Gelato. These ice creams are really cute and Instagrammable! You can choose the animal shape and customize the flavours and colour scheme. The gelato isn’t world-class and it’s overpriced at €7 per ice-cream, but also kitsch and fun.
* Try conveyor belt sushi. A fun way of ordering food that’s also quick and inexpensive. You are given a time limit (usually 45-60 minutes) and aren’t seated facing your friends or family. Instead you’re are seated in rows, in front of a conveyor belt that will whizz plates of food directly to you. Orders are placed using tablets. We went to Genki Sushi and enjoyed everything we ate, although the quality wasn’t as high as other sushi restaurants we’d been to.
* Write your hopes and dreams at the Meiji Jingu shrine. This Shinto shrine is located in a peaceful forest, right in the Shibuya neighbourhood. If you pay ¥500, you can write anything you like on a small wooden board, to be displayed on the shrine. Hopefully your wishes will come true!
* Get Michellin-starred ramen. Before visiting Tokyo, I couldn’t fathom how a bowl of ramen could win a Michellin star. Then I tried ramen at Nakiryu and now I get it! It is a tiny restaurant with an enormous queue; the first time we tried to get in, the queue time was 2hr 30. The second time, we arrived 30 minutes before opening and still had to queue for an hour. Was it worth it? Yes! I had the soy sauce based broth and my boyfriend had a spicy red pepper and sesame broth. We were given some toppings on the side; duck meatball, a soy-dipped, soft-boiled egg, thinly sliced pork, a shrimp and pork wonton and some juicy, thick slices of grilled pork. We also went for a side dish of slow-cooked pork with wasabi mayo and rice. It sounds like a lot of food but it was so delicious and moreish.
* Discover the magic of Japanese convenience stores. They’re infinitely better than convenience stores back home! There is an enormous variety of sushi, baked goods, pastries, crisps, chocolate and nuts. You can buy hot and cold food, including freshly grilled yakitori (meat skewers) and deep-fried chicken and pork. We both fell in love with Japanese sandwiches; white fluffy bread with the crusts cut off. I don’t know how they do it but their egg mayo sandwiches are far superior to any I’ve tried before or since. We also enjoyed the fruity sandwiches; orange & kiwi, and blueberry & cream cheese. The weirdest thing we found were dried anchovies and cashew nuts with a chilli dusting. They were salty and spicy, with a very fishy aftertaste.
* Find a bargain in Don Quijote. It’s a massive discount store, with branches across Japan. You can find everything in there, including clothes, cosmetics, food, fancy dress items, electronics, toys and an incredible variety of flavoured KitKat bars. My favourites were rum and raisin, chestnut, matcha, crème brulee and mixed berries. Some Don Quijote shops have tax-free exemptions if you spend over a certain amount.
* Enjoy a free view of Tokyo. Yes, that’s right, totally free. There’s an observation deck in the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building No. 1, located 243 metres (797 ft) up. It offers fantastic views across the city; try to catch the sunset like we did.
* Buy a bento box. These ‘on the go’ boxes are a very affordable alternative to meals in restaurants and cafes. They’re composed of meat, fish, rice and vegetables, separated into little compartments in cute wooden boxes. Bento boxes cost between ¥1329 – ¥1570 (€11 – 13) depending on the ingredients. A great way to have some vegetables as fresh fruit and vegetables are very expensive in Japan.
* People-watch in the Harajuku neighbourhood. Known as the centre of Japanese youth culture and fashion, anything goes in Harajuku. Make sure to bring your camera because there are some very stylish people strolling around, along with plenty of museums, shops, novelty themed cafes and shrines to keep you busy.
* Rub elbows with the locals, in lively bars in the Ebisu district. There’s such a fun atmosphere; people squeezed together on small tables, drinking beer and eating the Japanese equivalent of finger food and bar snacks. You may have to guess what you’re ordering – or point at what someone else is eating – but that’s all part of the fun!
* Get your geek on in Akihabara. It’s a shopping hub renowned for its electronics, anime and manga. You can find the Tokyo Anime Center there, along with countless shops specializing in video games, trading cards and toys. Cosplayers show off their creative costumes, while teenagers in maid outfits try to lure people into nearby maid cafes.
* Splash some cash (or just window-shop) along Omotesando. It’s a long shopping street which has a mix of luxury and high street brands. For more budget-friendly shopping, visit Sunshine City shopping centre. A lot of their shops seemed to be French/Parisian-inspired, and there are dedicated Pokemon, Studio Ghibli and Disney stores as well.
* Be awestruck by the food replica shops. The who what now? Japanese restaurants often show what dishes they have on offer through plastic models, displayed at the entrance of the restaurant. It’s actually really convenient for those of us who can’t read Japanese menus! And where do they buy these uncannily realistic plastic models? At food replica shops. My boyfriend and I spent way too long admiring the craftsmanship of these models… and laughing at these saucy carrots!
I hope this post gives you some good ideas for whenever you visit Tokyo. If you’ve got any more suggestions, please leave them in the comments below!
Ciao for now
The Curious Sparrow