Fun things to do in Tokyo
Tokyo is an amazing futuristic, metropolitan city that is well worth the long flight over there from the United States. It’s modern, peaceful, and jam-packed full of things to do at all the same time. It also felt very safe. Prepare for the crowds because in the touristy areas of Shinjuku and Shibuya, there are lots of people at the intersections; less during weekdays but on weekends it is jam packed with Japanese and tourists alike.
There’s tons to do in Tokyo. We stayed at Hotel Gracery in Shinjuku, which was an awesome hotel with rooms that had a tub and whole shower room with amazing shower pressure and a bidet. The hotel rooms are tiny but who cares. There’s so much to see you shouldn’t be in there long.
We tried to pack in as much as possible in three days. Here’s my husband and I’s favorite things to do.
Visit the Buddhist temples and shrines
My husband and I really enjoyed the Meiji Shrine and the Sensoji Temple. While we didn’t understand everything that was going in, it gave us a good glimpse of the culture.
The Sensoji Temple is located in Asakusa, near the Asakusa subway station. It was very easy to find. It’s worth a visit simply because it’s Tokyo’s oldest temple, built in 645. It was bombed and destroyed during World War II and was rebuilt soon after.
The temple is also one of the city’s most colorful and powerful. Its five story pagoda makes for great pictures as well as its entrance. There it’s common to see women walking around in traditional Kimonos.
Within the temple, there are o-mikuji stalls, where for a donation of 100 yen, visitors can consult the oracle and receive divine answers to their questions.
Best of all, it’s free to enter.
Surrounding the temple are rows of shops. If you’re looking to buy a kimono, this is the place. There’s also lots of Japanese souvenirs for sale, such as the traditional yukata or folding fans.
The Meiji Jinju Shrine in Harajuku is also a peaceful experience. It’s a shrine of national prayer for peace and prosperity. Wear walking shoes because it’s a big park. There’s tons of places to take cool pictures including in front of the sake barrels and at the shrine itself. I got to do the ritual of cleansing my hands and mouth with water before praying. They have paper where you can write down your wishes and stick it in an envelope along with a few coins and drop it in a box to be read during the next ritual ceremony. Even my husband decided to partake in this. Lord only knows what he prayed for.
If you go on the weekend it’s highly likely you'll be able to crash a Shinto Japanese wedding, like we did. I had a ball. Probably had better pictures than the photographer she hired. It was very cool to watch the wedding procession happen right in the middle of the shrine courtyard. She wore a very fancy white kimono with an intricate headpiece and walked so gracefully through the courtyard as if no one was watching. The funniest part was watching her try to get into the car. It took her like 15 minutes. It was fascinating to watch as weddings usually reveal a lot about a culture.
This shrine was free to enter as well.
Enjoy a tea ceremony
Just a few steps away from Sensoji is Nadeshiko, where you can participate in a traditional tea ceremony. For $50 each, my husband and I were dressed in traditional kimonos. I was shocked to learn the women’s kimono includes 35 pieces of clothing. We then learned how to crawl into the tea room in our kimonos, hold our glasses, and we got to taste traditional matcha tea and mochi filled with a red bean paste and served on an oak leaf to keep it moist. We learned you’re not supposed to drink on the side of the cup that’s painted. You’ll definitely want to reserve this in advance.
Eat out as much as you can
Like any other major city, restaurants are everywhere. Ask the Japanese what are the best restaurants in your area. Or read my previous post about foods to try. Check out the sushi restaurants, which look like diners with conveyor belts of sushi on display, go to the ramen noodle spots and check out yakinuku where you cook your own meat, etc. And don't forget dessert.
Take the subway
The subway is an experience in itself. Inside the Shinjuku station, one of the largest in the world, there’s an entire shopping mall attached to it with luxury stores such as Chanel, Louis Vuitton, you name it. The machines have English so it wasn’t too difficult to purchase our fares. We just had to know which line to get on and which station to get off at. When we had trouble, we went to the information desk and they had people who spoke English who helped us. Some of the Japanese were helpful and friendly too, if we lucked out and found one that felt confident English. Many of the stations also have cool dessert shops attached to them. It’s fun to people watch and be immersed in Japanese culture. It’s pretty quiet on the trains. They didn’t seem to approve of loud talking or playing music or eating on the train for that matter.
Shop till you drop
There’s lots of stores selling designer purses and clothes and even second hand stores where you can get these items for cheap. Their malls are interesting because they are like six stories high and each level has several shops on it. We visited a couple and enjoyed the experience. They had a couple of boutique shops that I haven't seen in the States such as Onitsuka Tiger, which sells vintage Asics shoes. It’s one of the oldest shoe companies in Japan. Unfortuanately, the clothes in the stores didn't fit me well. A lot of their waistbands are elastic. Some of the pants were one size fits all which I found interesting. Their women’s clothing is very loose and conservative, which for a tiny person like me wasn’t helpful. I had no curves to fill it up so the clothes kind’ve swallowed me. I admired that their dressing rooms came with these face sheets that you put over your face so you wouldn't get makeup on the clothes you’re trying on. We need those in the States. In many of the dressing rooms, it was required to take off our shoes before entering. Some of the stores also had self-check out which I thought was cool.
When I asked my husband what he wanted to do in Japan, all he said was he wanted to go record shopping. Sure thing. It turns out Tokyo is a vinyl record collector’s paradise. There’s over 25 stores with music from around the world. One of the stores, HMV record shop, in Shinjuku literally had a music concert going on in the store. Then we visited Desinee in Shibuya for about three hours. It turns out crate digging is one of my husband's favorite pastimes. He looked at records and put them on a player and debated back and forth until he bought about ten of them. Now, we’re at home jamming to soulful Japanese music without a clue of what they’re saying.
Explore the nightlife
Like any other major city, Tokyo does not sleep. I heard nightlife in Roppongi was popping but we were too tired to catch the subway there. So we hung out in Shinjuku near our hotel. We visited the Golden Gai area which was pretty cool. It’s alleys with a bunch of tiny bars with only six or so seats inside. It made for intimate conversations with the bartender and customers, some tourists and some Japanese. We met another American couple who gave us great suggestions for places to visit. The beer was good and my husband approved of the whiskey. It was a chill evening out. On our last night, we discovered there was a salsa bar right across from our hotel, Fiesta Latin Spot Bar. It was small but the people had all of the moves down pat. They appeared to all be Japanese but you would’ve thought you were in Puerto Rico watching them dance salsa. One of the Japanese men who I think was with his wife asked my husband if he could dance with me. My husband said yes. Man, that Japanese man was twirling me all over the floor. He gave me a workout and I could barely keep up. My husband filmed the whole thing and was laughing the entire time. It was a great way to end our time in Tokyo. Tokyo is amazing and there’s so much to see.
If you’ve been, share in the comments your favorite thing to do in Tokyo.