There are certain activities that all visitors absolutely must do while in Japan, to get the full experience. Ask anyone who has spent time in the country, and I guarantee you that they will agree. Here are the top 17 Things to do in Tokyo (or anywhere in Japan).
I don’t care who you are, or how terrible of a singer you are, find a way to make some Japanese friends and spend an hour or two in a karaoke box (named due to the striking resemblance to a box). Karaoke complexes in Japan are more comparable in appearance and function to a hotel than anything else. Usually a multi-level building with numerous small rooms, complete with large TV, party lights, sound system, and a phone to order near-instant food and drinks. Karaoke is also popular with aging salarymen at hostess clubs, but that’s probably not going to be much fun for a tourist. Either way, best enjoyed with Japanese friends while out for the night.
Large karaoke complexes and smaller ones are scattered throughout Tokyo and each major city in Japan. Some of the major chains are Shidax, Big Echo and Uta Hiroba. You can spot them easily and there is usually someone on the street trying to waive people in on the weekends. These chains will have English menus as well as English friendly song ordering and music.
Karaoke boxes typically have different “sets” you can order, priced based on time, and whether you choose “Nomihodai” (No-mee-ho-die, or an all-you-can-drink). Just order the 1 or 2-hour Nomihodai and you’ll be taken care of.
*Insider Tip: If you plan to spend more than a few hours (or you need to stay there to catch the 5:00 train because you missed it or can’t find a hotel) order the “free time” set. This is usually priced the same as 3 hours would be and may or may not come with all you can drink. Yes, that’s right. You can pay a small amount of money to drink for hours and hours. Clearly, this is one of the many things that would not work outside Japan as this would be taken complete advantage of and the business would go under, or be sued.
The Japanese love baseball and they get very into the games. A great time if you have the chance, and plentiful with food and drink. Highly recommended even if you hate sports. You’ll love the beer maids, carrying mini-kegs of beer on their backs serving it cold on the spot, and the chants the fans have for each player. It’s really a different experience than any sporting event you’ve probably been to.
The regular season in Japan is from April to September, with the playoffs in October. The Tokyo Yomiuri Giants (Baseball teams in Japan are sponsored by companies, the Giants are sponsored by Yomiuri) play at the famous Tokyo Dome in the Bunkyo area. If you can’t catch a Giants game, the Tokyo area is also home to a few more teams. That’s right. New York has two teams but Tokyo? There are 5. You’ve also got the Yokohama Bay Stars, Saitama Lions, Tokyo Swallows, and Chiba Marines. And if you’re wondering why the strange names? Good luck with getting an answer.
- At the small souvenir shops inside, buy the small plastic bats (to join in on the chants) and the small balloons. These come in handy later, you’ll see. Japanese baseball fans make the game’s fun, even if you aren’t into baseball. Mimic them when they blow the balloons up before the 7th inning.
- If you need a back on your seat, get an infield ticket.
- Buy tickets in advance, especially if the team is doing well. These are sold online and easily found through English sites.
Attend a Sumo match. These are held in the largest cities at differing times of the year and deserve to be on your list: In Tokyo, the tournaments are held in January, May, and September at the Ryoguku Kokugikan (Sumo Hall) in Asakusa. Each one lasts for 15 days, all day, and you can obtain a ticket of varying seating class at the booth on-site or from a tour site like Viator. If not traveling then, you can also visit one of the Sumo stables in Tokyo, many of which are located in the Asakusa area. Here, you can get close and really experience it.
The Ryuguku stop on the Sobu line will get you to the Sumo Hall. If you’re in town in the offseason, however, some of the Sumo Stables allow viewing of practice such as the Kasugano Beya (Stable) and Takasago Beya (Stable). Go to Triplelights for more information on seeing during the off-season.
Hanami (ha-na-mee) Celebrations
The annual cherry tree blossom blooming in April. A time-honored celebration that lasts briefly each year and symbolizes the short time we have on earth. Fun time complete with outdoor BBQs, beer and friends. The best places to enjoy this in Tokyo are Yoyogi Park near Shibuya, Nakameguro River Park, and Ueno Park.
There are also many great places near Mount Fuji, including Chureito Pagoda in Fujiyoshida City, where the famous photo of Mount Fuji with the cherry blossoms and pagoda can be taken.
Tokyo is home to many temples, and temple sightseeing is one of the most popular things to do in Tokyo, and many can become very crowded during the day on weekends but you must visit. Below are 3 of the best to see:
Meiji-Jingu Shrine: In Yoyogi Park. Being here you’ll forget you’re even in Tokyo. Not too crowded and a 30-minute walk into the forest. Accessible from either the Harajuku or Sangubashi Stations.
Sensoji Temple: Perhaps the most famous and photographed of temples in Tokyo, also situated in a high concentration of souvenir shops and eateries. This area is practically deserted yet still open to the public at night. Eerily enjoyable after hours. Accessible from the Asakusa stop on a few different lines.
Sengakuji Temple: Minato Ward, where the famous 47 Ronin are buried. Accessible from the Sengakuji Station. Walk West from there.
There are plenty more temples in Tokyo. Below is a map of the Top 10. For more reading on all of the Tokyo shrines and temples, I recommend Tokyo’s 25 Best Temples and Shrines from the Kindle store.
The best part of being in Japan during the Summer is the festivals. Held in every town and city throughout Japan, Tokyo is host to many festivals complete with fireworks, food stalls and cultural performances, including massive street marches. This is where the entire population dresses in traditional summertime Yukata, and the fireworks are the best you’ll ever see. Do be advised to prepare for the heat and horrendous crowds though. Below are some of the most popular:
Sumida River Fireworks: Held in the historic area of Asakusa and perhaps the biggest fireworks display in Tokyo.
Shinjuku Eisa Festival, Fukugawa Hachiman, Sanjo and Sanno Festivals: Cultural festivals held throughout the Summer.
Summer Sonic and Fuji Rock Festivals: Annual music festivals held at Tokyo Dome and areas near Mount Fuji.
There are more Festivals in Tokyo than we can cover here. For more information on the Tokyo, festivals visit Live Japan.
Onsens (Hot Springs)
Japan is full of volcanic activity, and one of the benefits is the abundance of hot springs. Most popular in Wintertime, a visit to an Onsen (hot spring) should be high on your list. There are public and private onsens, and hotels dedicated to onsens. There are a few famous onsen towns within a day journey of Tokyo:
Atami: Shizuoka Prefecture. Accessible in a few hours via Shinkansen or local train and South of Tokyo and not far from Mount Fuji. Also, a nice beach retreat if visiting in the Summer.
You’ll need to ensure that you follow the rules at any Onsen. Mainly:
- No visible tattoos are allowed. They may allow you in with a covering or shirt.
- Bathe or shower before entering the Onsen. They’re for soaking, not bathing.
- Obey the segregation rules. Public Onsens are typically gender-segregated.
Additionally, many neighborhood Onsens abound, but you’ll likely want to go with a Japanese friend to ensure you don’t break a rule, and that they allow you in. Below are a few of the AMAZING Onsen Ryokan around Tokyo.
|The luxurious rooms each come with an open-air hot spring. Also 3 even more incredible Onsens on the premises for reservation.||Just 2 hours from Tokyo, this hotel contains two outdoor Onsens with natural volcanic spring water.|
|Check Prices||Check Prices|
I recommend at least a visit to get up close and enjoy some of the activities the area around Mount Fuji has to offer. Japan’s highly regarded spiritual mountain, many climbers flock to the top each year to make the 2 to 3-day trek to the 10,000-foot summit of the volcano, yet there is still much more to do in the outlying areas. The sites and Onsen towns around the base of Mount Fuji are a nice peaceful time and can be reached via Shinkansen or bus in a few hours. If not hiking, 2-3 days is adequate to enjoy this area. If hiking AND sightseeing, you may need 5 days to get it all in.
How you get there will really depend on where you plan to stay, as Mount Fuji is so large that many towns are located at its base for you to choose from. A combination of bus, shinkansen, and the local train is likely in your future. Below are a few of the best options:
Fujigoko or “Fuji Five Lakes”: The area to the North of Fuji is where most people decide to head due to the great views and many options.
Tip: The famous Chureito Pagoda is located here in Fujiyoshida City (pictured).
Kawaguchiko: Onsen town at the base, and also sits on Lake Kawaguchiko of the Five Lakes and a very popular place to stay for the views and the Onsens.
Hakone: Also an Onsen town with nice views of Fuji. 2nd in popularity to Five Lakes.
Gotemba: Small shopping town near Mount Fuji easily accessible via rail.
Kamakura: Also home to the Giant Buddha statue on many tourist lists.
Fuji Q: In addition to the views, it contains a famous amusement park.
For a multitude of local hotel options around Mount Fuji, check Agoda. They have more local hotels listed than other sites.
If you choose to make the trek to the top, don’t go in the winter as not only is it illegal, but you will probably die. Otherwise, plan out at least 2 days from start to finish, and you’ll need to consider which route to take as some are harder and more time consuming than others. You’ll also need to plan on bringing oxygen bottles and proper weather attire including hiking sticks (for the way down), it’s not a stroll in the park as many seem to think. I recommend going through a tour provider for this who has experience with these arrangements.
Many choose to start the hike from the main visitor center which lies at around 30% up. From here, you can get to the top in 1 whole day, but many choose to stay at one of the many stops near the top, and summit in the early morning on the 2nd day before making your way back down. I recommend doing this as the hike is harder than most think, and you’ll need to rest your muscles and get a warm meal in you. It is rather cold up there, even in the Summer.
Japan Guide has much more detailed information on visiting Mount Fuji.
A visit to a local sake factory is always a nice time. Japan has many types of sake made all over the country, each with its own distinct character from the local water and flavors. Sake tasting tours are given at many of the sake breweries surrounding Tokyo, most within an hour train ride. Just don’t drink too much or you’ll have trouble getting back to Tokyo. If venturing that far out worries make sure to read my tips on getting around in Japan.
The Top 10 Sake Breweries offering tours and tastings can be found below.
Formerly located in Tsukiji, and named the Tsukiji Fish Market, the Toyosu Market is now the largest Fish Market in the world, from where all fish is distributed through the city and surrounding regions. Fresh fish enters the auction market each day where local vendors and restaurants participate in auctions each morning. You can view these auctions as a tourist, and given the large appetite the country has for fish, it’s certainly a sight to see.
You’ll need to be there before dawn though, as the fish needs to get to its destinations in time for lunch. Go to watch and also for the fresh fish available at the on-site restaurants. You can also visit the former site, the Tsukji Fish Market, for plenty of fresh fish, as many of the restaurants and food stalls didn’t also relocate, only the auction itself.
Many are waiting to see what exactly happens to the dynamic since the move.
Getting There: Accessible via Shijo-mae Station on the manmade island of Toyosu, between Tokyo and Odaiba.
Another cherished summertime tradition, Beer Gardens can be found atop many of the department stores and hotels in Tokyo and every other major Japanese city. Similar to an open-air restaurant, many with a buffet or grills right at your table and finger foods on order, a great pastime for winding down from the week with friends and coworkers before hitting a night out on the town.
One of the best things to do in Tokyo during the Summer, Spring and Fall.
Locations of the Top 10 Beer Gardens in Tokyo are below.
Great views of Tokyo and even Mount Fuji can be had from the Tokyo Skytree, Fuji Television, Roppongi Tower, Grand Hyatt Bar, Rooftop Bar at Andaz Hotel, Sky Circus, Tokyo Metropolitan Government Buildings Observatory, Sky Lounge Stellar Garden and Bellovisto bar.
Since you’re in Tokyo, you may as well hire a local to show you the best food in the city. I personally take these types of tours when I visit new cities to get a jump start on familiarizing myself with the city and the food. Kill two birds with one stone. These usually run no more than $100 per person and include food, transportation and guide fees.
Halloween in Tokyo
Halloween isn’t just for kids in Japan. If you are up for a party and in Japan during Halloween, this is a must-do. I would compare Halloween in Tokyo to Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Where you can really take advantage of those foreigner stereotypes. The biggest parties are in Shibuya, make sure your costume is up to par. Remember, you can be anything.
If you really want to get attention, dress up as a character from a famous foreign (to Japanese) movie that has recently come out.
If that isn’t possible, a famous character from your home country will do fine. Play the foreign stereotype card to your advantage and you’ll be the life of the party.
Arcades or “Game Centers”
Everyone is familiar with the popularity of video game culture in Japan. Besides being the birthplace of Nintendo and Sega, and every video game cult classic since then, the cult following is HUGE here. Arcades in Japan can occupy entire 10 story buildings, packed with hundreds, if not thousands, of video game obsessed youth (and yes many full-grown men as well) at all hours of the day and night.
And they aren’t just playing your average run of the mill games either…
…there is really some fascinating stuff going on you need to check out, at minimum, to observe how big of a phenomenon it is. Some say this is also a major contributor to the declining birth rate in the country but, who am I to say. The most arcades per capita probably on the planet is in the Akihabara neighborhood. You’ll know where you are as soon as you leave the station.
Real Life Super Mario Kart
As if being the arcade capital wasn’t enough, you can actually drive Go-Karts around Tokyo dressed as characters from Mario Kart. It’s true. You’ll actually get tired of seeing it if you are in town for long. Visit Maricar for booking.