There is so much to see and do in Tokyo that you could spend weeks exploring this mega city. It has its fair share of world-renowned art galleries and museums (Sumida Hokusai Museum, Edo Tokyo Museum and the Beer Museum are all worth a look), plus beautiful ornate gardens, and did I mention the impressive and imposing Imperial Palace? But, there really is so much more to Tokyo.
Below is a list of places to see and things to do that will take you into the heart and soul of Tokyo (and Japan), not just ticking off tourist sites.
The Asakusa area in downtown Tokyo’s Shitamachi District is a must for any visitor to Tokyo. It offers an array of interesting sights, culture and a great mix of old and new Tokyo.
In the 1800s, the Asakusa used to be the heart of Tokyo’s red-light district. Now, it entertains locals and tourists in other ways. The three main things to see are the impressive Sensoji Buddhist Temple, dating back to the 7th century, the much photographed Kaminari Gate and Nakamise Street full quirky shops.
We had some locally made ice creams. What an experience! I had red bean flavour and Dennis enjoyed purple potato flavour – only in Japan.
As a tourist just walking around, trying some strange ice cream flavours and mixing it up with locals is the best way to experience Asakusa.
Tsukiji Fish Markets
One of the largest wholesale fish markets in the world, this place is crazy busy with buyers, sellers and lots of smelly seafood of every variety. Tourists have good access to walk the markets and check it all out. That said, watch out for the many motorised vehicles carting fish around the market as the drivers seem out of control and in a bit of a hurry.
Lunch with a sumo
Sumo wrestling is still one of the most popular sports in Japan and sumos are treated like superstars. We were lucky enough to have lunch with a retired Sumo to learn all about this fascinating sport and their way of life. The Sumo (he stands at 6 foot-5 inches and weighed 180 kg when he competed) was very open and explained how it all works, how much they train and more interestingly how much they consume per day to remain in peak fatness for competition. The hotpot lunch was also very tasty.
The Akihabara area of Tokyo is nerd heaven, where electronic mega shops and Japan’s anime/manga world collide. Electronics are king with all the latest gadgets up for grabs in mega sized electronic department stores that are mixed in with manga and anime shops, making it a kaleidoscope of colour and noise.
Young Japanese love to dress up as their favourite anime and manga characters and can be found in this part of Tokyo, parading around and posing for photos.
Dennis ended up buying the latest 360-degree camera and I bought some comics (manga) and a Pokémon outfit (joking). I choose you Pikachu.
Ride the Subway
Make sure you at least venture underground and take a ride on the extensive subway system that services Tokyo. It’s a little confusing, directions are almost totally in Japanese and the system is so crowded, but it’s a local experience for sure. Plus, it’s a lot cheaper and quicker than taking a taxi.
The Ginza district of Tokyo is all about up-market shopping, latest fashions, trendy restaurants and art galleries. It’s a mecca for cashed up locals looking for luxury goods as well as window shopping tourists. It’s a great place to spend the afternoon exploring and people watching as it’s one of the busiest parts of Tokyo.
Vending machines are everywhere and it’s hard to walk a block in the city without passing a bank of vending machines. They mainly sell snacks and drinks (both hot and cold). We also saw vending machines that sold dog food, umbrellas, clothing items and even adult toys.
One of the busiest road intersections in the world, Shibuya Crossing needs to be seen to be believed. Eight roads come together outside the Shibuya train station, making it an incredibly busy place with up to 1000 people crossing the roads from all different directions at once. The buildings around the crossing have massive neon signs, so seeing it at night is very impressive.
Visit Kappabashi Street, as it’s the heart of the fake food industry in Tokyo. Here you will find shops specialising in plastic and wax foods that are used in cafes and restaurants all over Japan.
It’s a fascinating industry as the fake foods look so real and lifelike. Both Dennis and I ended up buying fake ice-creams to take home as souvenirs.
Japanese love fully automatic and electronic toilets. What, I hear you ask? Well, it’s true they have updated the humble toilet, you will need a degree to use it and I am sure you will enjoy the experience. That is, if you press the correct button……. good luck!