Tokyo, the capital of Japan and the most populated city in the world, no trip to the country is complete without exploring Tokyo. I visited in January, where I was given beautiful crisp winter mornings with some snow on the ground near Mount Fuji. The best time of year to visit is obviously springtime when the flowers blossom but what Japan has to offer goes far beyond the season. Keep reading for some great things to do in Tokyo.
1. SUMO WRESTLING MORNING PRACTICE
This wasn’t an experience I would usually do, as I don’t like organised tours and I don’t usually spend extra money whilst travelling, but I was so happy I decided to do this sumo wrestling tour, it was amazing! I booked through Get Your Guide, and I have linked the tour below. The tour is quite pricey and says it’s for two hours but in total I would say it was nearly three. The local guide was very knowledgeable. We met at a nearby station and then walked through town to one of the sumo wrestling practice centers. We were ordered to be quiet and not talk throughout the whole practice, we could take photos, but no flash, and no videos. This was due to them not wanting to leak video footage of wrestling techniques to competitors. The atmosphere in the room was equal to the viewing itself. It was one of those silences that was just so silent and tense, filled with anticipation. The sumo wrestlers are very focused, they don’t talk either. The occasional grunt, or loud shout filled the silence but other than that there were a lot of buttock waggling, intimate squatting, and homoerotic aggressive hugging (or wrestling as most call it). I would completely recommend this experience. One great moment of the tour was when the group met outside, and we saw one of the sumo wrestling hurrying away from practice in his kimono and flip flops (in the middle of winter).
Wow this Buddhist temple is big, popular, and very colorful, complete with a five-story pagoda. I was at Senso-ji mid-week, and it was packed. Tourists, locals, and a disproportionate amount of Japanese school groups.
To get to Senso-ji you should aim to arrive at Asakusa Station. From the popular Tokyo Station, you can take the Yamanote Line to Kanda Station, then you need to hop off and take the Ginza Line train (journey takes around 12 minutes). There is a busy 200-meter shopping street called Nakamise that goes between the first entrance gate and the second gate. Full of souvenirs and, traditional snacks. Whilst wondering around the temple, there are these cool prayer cards that you can get by picking a numbered wooden stick at random and finding the corresponding number on a tiny draw, which has your fortune reading on it.
3. SHIBUYA CROSSING
Located just outside of the Shibuya Station this intersection is often referred to as the world’s busiest crosswalks. It’s believed that thousands of pedestrian’s scuttle across the intersection like small ants throughout the day. It sounds strange when you think about it, literally putting a crossroads on a must-see list, but it really is epic. It was one of my favourite spots in Tokyo. Being on the ground at the Shibuya Crossing is great but you should definitely view the intersection from above. My recommendation is the Magnet by Shibuya 109 viewing spot. It costs 300 YEN (US$2.70) to enter and it’s open from 11am to 11pm. There is a rooftop bar that serves snacks and drinks that you can enjoy whilst you people watch. I personally spend I think over an hour just people watching. And be sure to get a time-lapse video! Whilst in the area also make sure you wonder around neighbouring streets at night too, flashing neon signs and hordes of people makes for an entertaining evening for the eyes.
4. STAY IN A FUTURISTIC POD
There are so many experiences that you can only get in Japan and sleeping in a futuristic space style pod is one of them. Technically I did not stay in one in Tokyo but instead my first night in Osaka was spend in a space capsule! I stayed in a hostel called Nine Hours, and they also have a Tokyo branch, ‘Nine Hour Otemachi-Imperial Palace’. A single bed capsule in a single sex dorm is around $26 dollars a night. Pricey in my opinion for a hostel, but we are talking Tokyo. It was a really cool experience too, super clean and ultra-modern, a must stay in Japan!
5. TOKYO TOWERS
There are a couple of towers you need to see in Tokyo. The Tokyo Tower (an original name) and the Tokyo Skytree. The Tokyo Skytree is the long thin broadcasting and observation tower which made it the tallest tower in the world in 2011. Ticket prices adult ticket prices for the Tembo Galleria (450th floor) and the Tembo Deck (350th floor) are 4200 YEN (US$37) and 3200 YEN (US$28) for just the 350th floor observatory.
The Tokyo Tower is the red and white, Eiffel Tower lookalike. I love this red tower because it looks completely out of place compared to all the grey buildings surrounding it. The Tokyo Tower also boasts a world’s tallest award for being the world’s tallest self-supported steel tower. The Tokyo Tower main deck (150m) ticket price is 1,200 YEN (US$10.80) and 2,800 YEN (US$25.30) for the 150m and 250m top deck tour. Make sure you book online as its 200 YEN cheaper than buying at the ticket counter.
6. TEAMLAB BORDERLESS
Not an altogether Tokyo experience, but definitely one that shouldn’t be missed, and one perfect for a rainy day in Tokyo. Located on the 2nd floor of the Palette Town next to the giant Ferris wheel, it’s hard to miss. How to describe this experience… artwork that evokes sensory stimulation including vast projections, ginormous gym style balls, a room full of squishy mattresses and even a room full of water! You are advised to change into shorts or roll up your trousers to knee length because you do get wet. Being a photographer, I wanted to take so many pictures, but I ended up hardly taking photos and just really immersing myself in the experience. Ticket are 3,200 YEN (US$28.80) and well worth the price!
7. SEARCH FOR STRANGE SNACKS
Japan home of the crazy snacks. You don’t necessarily have to eat them but just looking out for the strangest ones and taking photos is actually pretty fun. You may have already heard of Japan’s unique Kit Kat collection. Flavors that make you question who buys them. From green tea to apple vinegar, sweet potato to wasabi, each box leaves you more surprised than the last! Check out some of the Japanese bakeries too, there are panda face breads, koala loafs, and teddy bear sweet treats!
8. MEIJI SHRINE & YOYOGI PARK
Yoyogi-Koen Park is one of the biggest and most popular parks in Tokyo. It’s a great place to wander around for the morning or an afternoon and make sure to check out the nearby Meiji Shrine it really is beautiful! Be sure to check out the beautifully painted sake barrels that are an offering to the shrine.
9. STREET WANDERING
Tokyo being so large it can be tempting to just take the metro from place to place, but I implore you to instead try and walk between locations. There are so many streets and things to see that cannot be named on a list of top things to see in Tokyo, as they are largely mundane. But each street in Tokyo seems to have something happening, something new to smell, and something to discover. Keep an eye out for manhole covers that are like pieces of artwork or small origami creations, it’s the minor details that really Tokyo and in fact Japan so worth seeing.
So when all of this COVID crap is over book yourself a flight to Japan and be sure to visit this megacity!