People are always asking me for a list of things they should do/eat/drink in Tokyo. So I decided to put a lot of my Tokyo blog entries and suggestions in one place. THAT PLACE IS HERE! Annnnnd if you’re not interested in Tokyo, scroll down to the bottom for some of my entries about other cities in Japan. This is all sort of generally geared towards people who haven’t been to Tokyo and who don’t speak Japanese.
A few of my related entries that might be helpful:
Getting Stuff Done in Tokyo (useful stuff for travelling)
Airbnb in Japan (it’s cheaper than you think)
Subway Vocabulary (what does mamonaku mean, anyway?)
Are you ready? Let’s go! 行きましょう！
– Visit the Edo-Tokyo Museum
This museum is amazing. I don’t see it recommended enough, but it should be. Admission is a mere ￥400.
– Hang out with Totoro and sit in a park
If you’re a Miyazaki fan, the Ghibli Museum is a must. Order your tickets a day in advance from the machine inside Lawson (some Japanese ability required) because you can’t buy them at the museum. If you have time, take a walk around nearby Kichijoji and the very lovely Inokashira Park.
– Wander around Harajuku and Omotesando
Wacky fashions, high end designer stuff, incredible shopping. Definitely check out Spinns (スピンズ) for teenager-trendy Japanese clothes and Sailor Moon t-shirts (I admit I’ve bought a lot of weird-print skirts here) and Kiddyland for ALL THE TOYS. Visit the designer stores in Omotesando (Tsumori Chisato is my favourite) or just window-shop. If you get thirsty, have a frappuccino on the massive Tokyu Plaza Starbucks patio and enjoy the view. And if you get hungry, try one of the seemingly zillions of pancake places. (Tokyo loves pancakes.) Maisen and Gyoza Lou (see below) are in this area too.
– Visit Character Street in Tokyo Station
If there’s a Japanese character you like (Domukun? Hello Kitty? Rilakkuma? Kapibara-san?) there is probably a store devoted to it here. Stop by to look around or add to your stuffed animal collection. In the main part of the station, there’s also a store that sells Suica Penguin goods. If all this toy shopping makes you hungry, Tokyo Station has a ramen street with a bunch of different ramen restaurants.
– Watch a baseball game at Tokyo Dome
You should definitely experience a Japanese baseball game while you’re in Japan. To enjoy the most insane fans, go to a Giants vs. Tigers game. The season runs March to October. (You can read about my adventures watching the Hanshin Tigers here.)
– Pet some cats at a cat cafe
Cat cafes are starting to expand to the rest of the world, but Japan is the original home of petting cats in a cafe. Nekorobi in Ikebukuro is a solid, English-friendly choice. They have lots of cats and all the CC Lemon you can drink.
– Go planespotting at Haneda Airport
Haneda is simple to get to via the subway and has several observation decks for maximum planespotting fun.
– Ride the train
Japan’s transportation systems are famously clean and efficient. And it’s true — trains come ON TIME and are remarkably spotless. Get a Suica card when you arrive at the airport and avoid having to figure out fares. I hate the Yamanote Line (it’s the green one), but it goes in an above-ground circle around Tokyo and makes for nice sightseeing. And if you get the chance, ride a shinkansen. They’re fast!
– Wander around Shibuya
My favourite area of Tokyo. Say hi to Hachiko outside Shibuya Station, and visit Tokyu Hands or Loft for souvenirs and fun browsing. Try Mike’s favourite ramen restaurant (see below), sing some karaoke, or play some UFO catchers. TONS AND TONS AND TONS of shopping and restaurants.
– Be a hipster in Shimokitazawa
Shimokita, as it’s called, is sort of a hipstery area of Tokyo. Lots of plaid shirts, little shops, organic restaurants, tiny bars, and music venues. A great place to spend an afternoon or an evening. Stop by Mother for a drink in a weird, Gaudi-esque cave-like bar.
– Spend a night in Hakone
Hakone is beautiful and serene and very different from Tokyo. Spend a night a ryokan (I highly recommend Hakone Ginyu), enjoy a kaiseki meal, and soak your cares away in an onsen.
– Take a day trip to Nagoya
If you want to get in a ride on Japanese’s awesome high-speed shinkansen and don’t have time to go all the way to Osaka/Kyoto, then consider visiting Nagoya! For the more hardcore fans of Miyazaki, Nagoya has the INCREDIBLE TOTORO HOUSE. And you definitely need to try the Nagoya food specialty, misokatsu. If you have more time than money, consider taking a bus from Tokyo to Nagoya.
– SING ALL THE KARAOKE!
You must do this. Karaoke is the best and I hate singing. Some of the big chains include Karaoke Kan and Shidax. (Karaoke Kan in Shibuya is where Bill Murray sings in Lost in Translation.) The price depends on the day and time of day — weekday days are cheapest and weekend nights are the most expensive. I don’t think I ever encountered a karaoke place where anyone spoke any English, but they’re always willing to help you. Sneak in your own alcohol or go for the nomihodai (all-you-can-drink) option.
– See the pandas at Ueno Zoo
Do you like pandas? Ueno Zoo has them! They also have all the panda-shaped foods and merchandise you could ever hope for.
– Drink beer at the Yebisu Museum
Yebisu is a delicious Japanese beer that’s not exported, so you can only find it in Japan. Head to the Yebisu Museum at Ebisu Garden Place for a tour (¥500) and some beer. The tour is only in Japanese, but admission to the museum is free so you can always look at the exhibits and taste some beer on your own. The samples are ¥400 and you can try several varieties.
– Eat ramen at the Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum
Worth the trek to Yokohama if you’re a ramen fan. You can try many different kinds of ramen from around Japan. Luckily the restaurants offer a regular and a mini size bowl, so you can try a bunch without getting too full. The museum is set up to look like Tokyo in 1958, with authentic buildings and shops. Admission is ￥300. And since you like ramen and are already in Yokohoma, why not also visit the Cup Noodles Museum?
– Feel confused at NHK Studio Park
English guide: http://www.nhk.or.jp/studiopark/guide/pamphlet/stp_pamph_en.pdf
There’s almost no English here (except for the above guide), and I’m not sure how much the average person will get out of the visit if they don’t know anything about Japanese TV or NHK, but it’s fun anyway.
– Go to DisneySea and load up on Duffy merchandise
I don’t like Disney, but I love DisneySea. Prepare to buy yourself a Duffy bear to fit in with the crowds. If you’re like me and don’t really care about Disney, go after 6pm for half price entrance to the park.
– Have a picnic in Yoyogi Park
Pick up some snacks at the conbini and soak up the sunshine. Great people-watching too. Sunday afternoon is the busiest time, but also has the most interesting people. And while we’re on the subject of Yoyogi Park, there’s a fun festival happening there practically every week. (Here’s an entry where I go to the Okinawa fest at Yoyogi Park. Time Out Tokyo’s page for Yoyogi usually lists upcoming events at the park.)
– Go to a (war criminal-free) temple in Asakusa
You’re in Japan. Go to a temple. Go to a shrine. Asakusa has both! BONUS: Neither include the bodies of war criminals, so you’re safe from a Justin Bieber-like faux pas.
– For all your shrine needs, visit Meiji Shrine
You will probably also visit Meiji Shrine because everyone does. It’s right by Harajuku Station. Write your wish on an ema and hope it comes true!
– Visit the Emperor
Tell him I said hi.
– Climb Mount Takao
No time for Mount Fuji? Consider Mount Takao! Easy to get to from Tokyo, it’s a very easy hike to the top annnnnnd there’s tasty food on the way. Scenery! Fresh air!
– Play UFO catchers in Akihabara
As you probably know, this is one of my favourite things to do in Japan. Of course, there are arcades everywhere, but Akihabara has an especially high concentration of them. (I’m partial to Taito Station.)
– Get lost in an electronics store
Even if you don’t need anything electronic, a stroll through the giant multi-floor Yodobashi Camera or Bic Camera is always interesting and may border on overwhelming depending on your tolerance for catchy jingles. Warning: Japanese voltage is lower than North America so be careful if you want to actually buy anything.
– Celebrate the seasons
You know how much I love sakura. Everyone loves sakura. It’s pretty much a Japanese national obsession. The cherry blossoms in Japan might be one of my favourite things in the entire world and are definitely one of the most beautiful. But Japan also has lots of other seasonal happenings. Momijigari (leaf viewing) is basically the fall version of cherry blossom viewing. And if you’re in Tokyo over Christmas, check out the Christmas illuminations in Roppongi.
– Line up early on January 1 for the best fukubukuro
Speaking of seasonal things in Japan, if you happen to be in Tokyo over the new year, you can buy fukubukuro (lucky bags)! I love fukubukuro. See the above entry for more info.
– Stay out late in Kabukicho
4am in Kabukicho is um, interesting. And Tokyo with empty streets is a cool sight in itself.
– See all of Tokyo at the Tokyo Skytree
Everyone likes towers. Be prepared to wait in line. If you want nice views FOR FREE, check out the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku instead.
– Ride a ferris wheel and sit on the beach in Odaiba
As far as large man-made islands go, Odaiba is pretty cool. You can take an automated driverless monorail to get there and enjoy the beaches, eat at the Takoyaki Museum, go shopping, soak at the Ooedo-Onsen-Monogatari sento, or ride a ferris wheel among many other things. There’s a lot to do in Odaiba and it’s a pretty fun place to spend the day.
– Check out the tiny bars in Golden Gai
Hurry and see this Tokyo institution of tiny bars before it gets demolished for the Olympics!
– Pretend to be a Lolita in Harajuku
Have you ever wanted to be a Japanese Lolita? (Me neither, but I tried it anyway — see the link above.) If you want to have your own Japanese Lolita experience, check out Maison de Julietta in Harajuku. They’ll dress you up in a frilly dress, give you Lolita hair, and take photos. Misako Aoki not included.
– Try out a “head spa” or get a hair cut
Getting your hair cut in Japan is very different from getting your hair cut in North America. Different in a good way, especially if you like head massages! If you don’t have the time or inclination to get your hair cut, go for a “head spa” instead. It’s usually a head massage and treatment. A salon I like is Deco in Shibuya. (They’re super friendly, generous with the head massages, and don’t care if your Japanese is terrible.)
– Buy everything at the dollar store / ¥100 ショップ
You can find almost anything at the ¥100 store in Japan. And the best part is that everything is only a dollar! Daiso is the most well-known chain, but there are ¥100 stores all over. Although it’s slightly more money, my favourite is probably 3 Coins, where everything is ¥300. They have really cute home stuff and eco-bags (reusable totes).
– Wander around Kappabashi, buy some plastic sushi and chopsticks for your friends
Also known as “Kitchen Town,” Kappabashi is a street in Tokyo filled with restaurant-supply stores and plastic food. You can buy anything from a kakigori machine to fancy Japanese lacquerware bowls to chopsticks here. You’ll know you’re there when you see the giant chef head.
– MAKEUP MAKEUP MAKEUP at a Japanese drugstore / Matsumoto Kiyoshi
Oh, Matsukiyo. I love you so much. Japanese drugstores are basically like all my dreams have come true in one place.
– Pretend to be a supervillain at The Metropolitan Area Outer Underground Discharge Channel
Okaaaaaaaay, maybe this is a weird suggestion, but if you can swing it and/or you’re in the Saitama area, I recommend visiting. It’s a massive unnderground facility built to mitigate flooding in the Tokyo area, and it’s THE WORLD’S LARGEST underground flood water diversion facility. Cool, right? It would make a good subterranean lair if you’re a supervillain. Like I said, it’s in Saitama, so it’s a bit of a trek from Tokyo. The tour is also only in Japanese, so if you can’t speak Japanese, you need a translator for safety reasons. But still! If you want to do something different…
– Find pretty much anything at Don Quijote
Donki is an almost indescribable store. There’s locations all over Japan, with multiple locations in Tokyo. It’s sort of like Honest Ed’s in Toronto on drugs. Donki sells everything and is often open 24 hours. If you need fake eyelashes, a Louis Vuitton bag, or some instant ramen at 2am, Donki is your place. They have an extensive makeup department and it’s often cheaper than drugstores. If you need weird souvenirs or Japanese Kit Kats to take home, this is an excellent place to pick them up.
For more things to do in Tokyo, check out Time Out’s list of 88 Things to Do in Tokyo.
My food and drink suggestions skew towards the cheap and English-friendly. If you want to splurge and/or you speak Japanese, Tokyo is your oyster. Tokyo has more Michelin stars than Paris!
I know there are places that I’m forgetting, but part of the wonder of Tokyo is that you can walk into almost anywhere and have a good meal.
Check out this entry for photos of some of the places mentioned.
– Asuka 亜寿加
One of Mike’s favourite ramen shops. No English menu and no vending machine, but all you need to do is order the paiku tantanmen. It’s topped with paiku (fried pork ribs) and it is delicious.
– Uoshin 魚真
This is a chain of seafood izakayas, and the food is very good. The Shibuya location does have an English menu available (I doubt all of them do) BUT I would heavily suggest not ordering from it. The Japanese menu changes daily and the best things are circled in red. So if you can’t read Japanese, be adventurous and order some random circled things. I also recommend the nokkezushi (house sushi roll PILED with seafood) and the kegani (horsehair crab).
– Kurazushi くら寿司
I love ¥100 sushi. I don’t care if it’s pedestrian. I just love it. Kurazushi is usually my ¥100 chain of choice — it’s all over the place in Kansai, but there are a couple in Tokyo too. There’s one near Shinbashi Station. I also like Sushiro near Roka-koen station, but it’s a bit far out of the way. ¥100 sushi places are incredibly popular with Japanese families, so be prepared to wait in line.
– Kaikaya 開花屋
This place has an English menu (and website!) and English-speaking staff. Very easy for foreigners to navigate and decent food. Uoshin (above) is better, but if you want something easy, Kaikaya might be your place.
– Ichiran 一蘭
Not my favourite ramen, but it’s fun to try because of the weird counter/booth seating. The one in Shinjuku is also open 24 hours, in case you find yourself in Kabukicho at 4am and hungry.
– Torikizoku 鳥貴族
Basically an izakaya with an emphasis on yakitori. Really cheap food and drinks — everything is ¥280! There are locations all over Japan. Do as everyone does and order the bottomless cabbage from the speed menu.
– Ippudo 一風堂
Way better than the one in New York. Get the tiny gyoza! Every meal also includes free iced rooibos tea and Japanese pickles.
– Harajuku Gyoza Lou 原宿餃子樓
SO cheap! I love the cucumber with miso.
– Tsurutontan つるとんたん
Delicious udon in a modern setting. Try the mentaiko cream udon! There’s a location in Roppongi, and one in Shinjuku. I don’t know if they have an English menu, but the menu has photos of everything so it’s easy to navigate.
– Mugi to Olive むぎとオリーブ
Fancy ramen in Ginza. This place is featured in the Michelin Guide and I love the hamaguri (clam) ramen. No English, but you order from a vending machine. Here is a photo of the vending machine. The one that says 蛤 SOBA (¥980) is the clam ramen. The one to the left of it is the chicken ramen.
– Tokyo Underground Ramen
Hidden deep in Ikebukuro Station, Tokyo Underground Ramen has solid rating on Ramen DB and distinctive ramen. Tsukemen with fat noodles and a delightfully thick, fishy broth.
– Kushiya 串家物語
Kushikatsu (fried things on sticks) is best eaten in Osaka, but this Osaka chain is pretty fun. Basically, for about $20, you get all-you-can-eat kushikatsu that you fry yourself at your table. There’s a buffet of things to fry (I like the mochi and the chikuwa with cheese) and a variety of sauces to dip them in. Each table comes with a well of scalding hot oil for frying, so it could be dangerous if combined with nomihodai. There are a bunch of locations in Tokyo. I’ve been to a couple locations in random malls and this one in Shinjuku.
– Tokumen Kotsuicchou 特麺コツ一丁ラーメン
Tasty ramen in Hatagaya. When you order you will be asked one question in Japanese: do you want minced garlic? The answer is hai (yes).
– Tokyu Hands Cafe ハンズカフェ
On the top floor of the Tokyu Hands store in Shibuya is an adorable cafe. They have a small food menu as well — get the curry and choose how many tiny crabs you want added to it!
– Bills ビルズ
A chain from Australia, so if you’re Australian, don’t go. But the ricotta pancakes are amazing. Go to the one in Odaiba if you don’t want to wait in line for eighteen years.
– Slappy Cakes スラッピーケークス
This is a chain from Portland that seems to fit in perfectly in Japan. Pancakes (Tokyo is OBSESSED with them) that you make yourself at a your table! Order your favourite batter and toppings and pancake away.
– Maisen まい泉
The best tonkatsu. Eat at the original location (a former bathhouse) in Omotesando, or get a tiny, perfect tonkatsu sandwich to go.
– Ryuku Sakaba 琉球酒場
This Hatagaya restaurant is good but probably not worth going out of your way for because there are so many Okinawan restaurants in Tokyo. But I’ll use this opportunity to tell you that you must try an Okinawan restaurant when you’re in Tokyo! The food is very different from mainland Japanese food but sooooooo delicious.
– Cafe Nooks
A really, really cute cafe in Shimokitazawa. Perfect for brunch or drinks!
– Shot Bar Zoetrope ゾートロープ
Nice cozy bar in Shinjuku with a MASSIVE whisky selection. English menu available, ¥600 seating charge.
– Sakuragaoka Cafe 桜丘カフェ
The food at this Shibuya cafe is kind of meh, but they have goats! REAL GOATS YOU CAN PET! (You can pet the goats without eating at the cafe.)
– Konaya 古奈屋
Their curry udon is my favourite. I’m kind of obsessed with it. I always order the えび天カレーうどん (curry udon with tempura shrimp). There’s one in Ueno and one in Ikebukuro.
– Ivan Ramen
There’s two Ivan Ramen locations in New York now, but in Tokyo you can visit the original! Get the tsukemen. As a bonus, it’s foreigner-friendly, with one of the very few ticket machines in English that I’ve seen.
– 8 bit cafe エイトビットカフェ
Visit the 8 bit cafe and have some video game-inspired drinks while playing video games! Nerdy and fun. ¥600 seating charge.
– CONA コナ
Everything is ¥500. Stop in for a beer and a ¥500 potato and tarako pizza (my favourite!). I used to go to the location in Hatagaya all the time. The link is about the Shibuya location but there’s a couple of them in Tokyo.
– Zauo ざうお
If you’re a fan of catching your own meal, then this is the place for you. It’s an izakaya in Shinjuku where you can fish for your own dinner! You may remember that I went there with the Japan Tourism Agency. (Read that entry here.)
– Kin no Kura Jr. 金の蔵Jr
Fun because you order all your food and drinks via a touch screen. Everything is ¥270. The food is kind of gross and terrible so I usually only go here to get drunk or when I am drunk. There are locations pretty much everywhere.
– Fast food
Definitely try fast food in Japan! My favourite of the burger chains is Mos Burger, but I also like Freshness Burger and Lotteria (from Korea). Plus, American chains like McDonalds and KFC are also very different in Japan. I love the Ebi Filet-o (shrimp burger) from McDonalds! Also worth trying is Japanese fast food: places like Yoshinoya and Sukiya (gyudon) and Coco Ichibanya (Japanese curry). And don’t forget Japanese doughnuts — Mister Donut is famous for their “pon de ring” doughnut.
– Conbini food
Everyone loves Japanese convenience stores. Even David Chang and Anthony Bourdain are big fans of Lawson’s egg salad sandwiches and fried chicken. Onigiri (rice balls) are a quick and cheap snack. (Mike’s favourite kind is ツナマヨ — tuna mayo.)
– Department store food floor (depachika)
You can often find wonderful food, and it’s easy because you just grab what you want and pay. Every department store has a food floor.
– Tsukiji Market
A good way to capitalize on your jet lag — get up early for some sushi at the famous Tsukiji fish market. Sushi Dai and Daiwa Sushi are the two well-known sushi shops with the massive lineups, both are extremely foreigner friendly.
– Other foods you should try
Shabu-shabu (meat swirled in hot broth), sukiyaki (hot pot), yakiniku (grilled meat you cook at your table), yakitori (grilled meat on sticks), okonomiyaki (best eaten in Osaka), takoyaki (also best eaten in Osaka), takiyaki (fish-shaped dessert usually filled with red bean paste), tempura (there’s the Tsuruhachi honten in Shinjuku if you’re looking for something cheap and foreigner-friendly, or the two Michelin starred Kondo if you’re feeling fancy), tendon (tempura on rice), Harajuku crepes, Japanese bread (seriously, go to any bakery for some impressively yummy bread, and make sure you try shokupan and my favourite, curry pan), omurice (an omelette filled with rice), and oden (the best winter meal).
And for outside of Tokyo, here are some of my blog entries about the Kansai region and Okinawa:
Flying Peach to Okinawa
The Foods of Okinawa
Kyoto sakura and yet more Kyoto sakura
Osaka birthday (including Universal Studios)
Kani Doraku in Osaka
Tsuruhashi (Korean area of Osaka)
Wakayama (riding the cat train!)
Fukuoka and more Fukuoka (Fukuoka has the best ramen ever)
Kaita (spoiler: you don’t need to visit)
Miyajima (definitely visit!)
Nagoya and also the Totoro House (BEST PLACE EVER) and Train Museum
Whew! So that’s my master Japan entry. If you think of anything I’ve missed, leave me a comment!