Tokyo is such a cool city. It’s been on my list for years but I always felt it was too expensive to visit. Having just spent two weeks in Japan, the reality is that it is more affordable than I thought. Tokyo is brimming with quirky and unusual experiences and is less overwhelming that I imagined it to be. I am definitely returning here in the future as there are so many unique experiences in Tokyo to be had.
If you’re planning a trip to Japan and are visiting the capital, I’ve included some of unique experiences in Tokyo as well as the must-do activities to do in the city.
Unique Experiences in Tokyo
1. Asakusa District and Senso-ji Temple
Japan is known for its temples and Senso-Ji Temple is one of Tokyo's oldest and most significant Buddhist temples. Located in Asakusa, this neighborhood in Tokyo beautifully blends tradition and modernity and exploring Senso-ji allows you to immerse yourself in Japan's rich cultural heritage.
The temple itself is a magnificent sight, with its vibrant red lanterns and the iconic Thunder Gate (Kaminarimon).
As you approach the temple, you'll pass through the lively Nakamise-dori shopping street where you can sample traditional Japanese street food before or after your visit.
2. Tokyo Skytree
Tokyo Skytree is an iconic landmark that dominates Tokyo's skyline and is a must-visit attraction in Japan's capital. Standing at a staggering height of 634 meters (2,080 feet), it is the tallest tower in the world and offers panoramic views of Tokyo and its surroundings. The Skytree's sleek, futuristic design is also very cool too.
You can buy tickets for its observation decks on various floors such as floor 350 and 450. From the floors you can see Tokyo's sprawling metropolis, including landmarks like Tokyo Tower and Mount Fuji on clear days. The tower also houses a shopping complex with a wide range of souvenirs and dining options, making it a great place to spend some time whilst enjoying the views. Last entry is at 20:00 so make sure you get there before that. I reached there at 19:45 and spent an hour just walking around and enjoying the view.
Whether you visit during the day or at night when the city lights up, Tokyo Skytree is a must-see when you're in a city and an essential stop for any Tokyo itinerary.
3. Taking a Jewellery Making Class
One activity that I saw in Japan was creating your own jewellery which as well as allowing you to dive into Tokyo's artistic culture, is a unique experience.
Creating your own handcrafted sapphire rings in the heart of this bustling city is a treasured gift that you can take home for yourself. MITUBACI is a well-established ring workshop in Sangenjaya where skilled craftsmen guide you through the art of ring making. Or, if you're more of a beginner, you might prefer the Aoyama School of Jewelry and Metalsmithing, which offers a range of jewellery-making and metalwork classes.
4. Discover Gotokuji Temple
Head over to Setagaya, a cozy neighborhood in southwestern Tokyo. Gotokuji Temple is a hidden gem here, and it's all about the adorable ‘beckoning cat' figurines. This place offers a one-of-a-kind and slightly quirky experience that's perfect for solo female travelers looking for a relaxed vibe.
Known as Maneki-Neko in Japanese, these cute cats are often placed at shop entrances to attract customers. If you decide to buy one at Gotokuji Temple and leave it there, it's said to bring good fortune to your business. The price for a Maneki-Neko ranges from ¥300 ($2.70 USD) for a tiny version to ¥5000 ($47 USD) for the largest one. It's definitely worth seeing.
5. Explore Harmonica Yokocho
Not far from the north exit of JR Kichijoji station, you'll find a maze of narrow alleyways filled with tiny dining spots. Harmonica Yokocho, marked by a yellow sign, got its name from the arrangement of vendors, closely packed along the corridors like the reeds in a harmonica.
This charming network of lanes started as a post-war flea market in the 1940s but transformed in the 90s when lively bars and restaurants moved in. During the day, you'll experience a relaxed and truly local atmosphere, with fish sellers and traditional confectioners at work.
6. Dive into Otaku Culture
In Japan, ‘Otaku‘ usually refers to young people with a deep passion for computers or specific aspects of pop culture, often at the expense of their social skills. Akihabara is their playground, filled with maid cafes and video game shops and showcases Tokyo's unique and eccentric side.
Anime enthusiasts can also spot locations in Akihabara used in popular Netflix Japan series like Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 and Darker than Black. For a more feminine perspective, consider visiting Ikebukuro, a hub for butler cafes and independent shops selling anime and manga – a paradise for female fans.
7. Catch a Sumo Wrestling Event
Sumo wrestling is Japan's national pastime and watching a sumo wrestling event is a one-of-a-kind experience. These sumo athletes, revered for their extraordinary skills, are a spectacle to watch and a must-do when you're in the city.
Saying that, getting a ticket to the grand annual tournaments in Tokyo can be a challenge and unfortunately they were all booked out when I was here. But if you manage to snag one, you're in for a treat! And if not, attending a sumo show is still a fantastic way to see these wrestlers in action and even learn some of their techniques from the experts.
8. Stroll Down Takeshita-Dori
Takeshita-dori, located in the heart of Harajuku is Tokyo's top tourist spot, a neighbourhood known for its unique fashion and youth culture. Takeshita Street is a vibrant and colourful alley where you can find quirky shops and trendy boutiques offering unconventional fashion items.
Located between Shibuya and Shinjuku, you'll see teenagers and adults flaunting the latest Harajuku fashion trends while patiently waiting in line for the newest soft-serve ice cream sensation. If you visit on a Sunday, you might also catch a glimpse of Harajuku's “cosplay” culture, where young people dress up in elaborate costumes.
9. Meiji Shrine
After exploring Harajuku, you can walk 30 minutes to Meiji Shrine. Located in the heart of Tokyo, Meiji Shrine offers a serene escape from the city's hustle and bustle. This Shinto shrine is set in a lush forested area, and the towering wooden torii gate at the entrance is an impressive sight. The shrine is dedicated to Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken and is a place of quiet reflection amidst the urban chaos.
10. Relax at a Thermal Spring-themed Amusement Park
If you're seeking relaxation rather than thrills, spend a day at Oedo-Onsen-Monogatari. It's Japan's premier hot spring theme park, where you can soak in steam baths, open-air hot springs, and foot baths for ultimate relaxation. Afterward, enjoy nostalgic carnival games and savor delicious Japanese sweets. Inspired by Japan's Edo period, this serene park also offers all the amenities you'd find at a local beauty salon. It's an ideal place to relax after all the sightseeing.
11. Go-Karting in Tokyo
This one is definitely not an activity that you would initially consider when visiting Japan. But taking on the Tokyo streets in a go-kart, dressed as your favourite character, is undeniably one of the most thrilling activities you can do in the city.
You'll navigate a small go-kart through real Tokyo traffic, including cars, buses, and trucks! It's an extraordinary experience as you zip past towering skyscrapers, charming shrines, bustling intersections, and peaceful residential areas, all while becoming the center of attention with people waving at you.
12. Tsukiji Outer Market and Sushi Breakfast
The Tsukiji Outer Market is a paradise for seafood lovers and a culinary adventure you shouldn't miss. While the Inner Wholesale Market has moved to Toyosu, the Tsukiji Outer Market remains a bustling hub for fresh seafood and delicious street food. One of the highlights is indulging in a sushi breakfast.
Many sushi restaurants here serve incredibly fresh sushi and sashimi that were sourced from the nearby Toyosu Market. Enjoying a sushi breakfast in Tsukiji is an authentic and mouthwatering experience that allows you to savor some of the finest seafood in Japan.
13. Experience Minimalist Living at a Capsule Hotel
Tokyo is all about simplicity, and capsule hotels embody this perfectly. If you've ever wanted to try minimalist living, then you have to stay at a capsule hotel. Capsule hotels are a testament to Tokyo's efficiency, providing a comfy bed, privacy curtain, and even a small TV for your entertainment. They are small so you have to crawl inside (unless you opt for a deluxe cabin), but they have everything inside that you need. The showers and toilets are separate and there is usually a common area where you can get hot water.
Staying in one is a quirky yet exciting experience you shouldn't miss while exploring Tokyo. I stayed at Lightning Hotel in a capsule room for 3 nights and really enjoyed it! They even had luxurious toiletries to use!
I hope that this gives you some unique ideas on what to do in Tokyo. It's such a cool and vibrant city and there is honestly so much to do here that one visit just isn't enough. And it's one of the safest places that I have been. You have to go!