If you’re looking for experiences that will make your friends back home wish they’d come along, here are my favorites!
Thousands of fancy goldfish elevate aquariums to art in Ginza
Thousands of fancy goldfish are displayed at a giant gallery, lit up like jewels with laser lights. Each aquarium is custom designed to highlight the beauty of the fish, and many different varieties are on display.
Take photos of yourself in amazing situations at the Trick Art Museum in Odaiba
You’ve got forty-five chances to take the most killer profile pic ever! Insert yourself into this series of life-size illusions that make it look like you’re defying death, befriending wild creatures or just stepped out of a masterpiece.
Marvel at the talented artists who leave prayer plaques at the shrine devoted to anime and manga in Akihabara
Where anime and manga artists come to pray for success
Make your own plastic food in Kappabashi
There’s a store in the restaurant supply district where you can sign up for a two-hour workshop to learn how to make a piece of tempura and a head of lettuce! Or if you’re short of time, you can buy kits there to take home and DIY.
Ogle outlandish goods at the street market on Koshinzuka Street
From bamboo ear cleaners to dried snake tea, you’ve never seen a street market like this
Every 4th, 14th and 24th of the month, Koshinzuka Street is taken over by vendors selling handmade bamboo ear cleaners, crispy cricket drinking snacks, and poisonous dried snake tea. Of course, you can still visit the Big Red Underwear store and buy a magic umbrella, even if it’s not a special day.
Watch a fire ceremony in Monzen-nakacho
If you thought Buddhism was all about silent contemplation, you haven’t been to a fire ceremony! The Fukugawa Fudo temple dishes up bonfires of flaming prayer sticks and towering taiko drums. This ceremony takes place five times daily at a fascinating temple that also has a hall of 10,000 crystal Fudo figures and a room filled with glow-in-the-dark gods.
Watch the best free entertainment in Tokyo, every Sunday afternoon at Yoyogi Park in Harajuku
Ride a roller coaster through a skyscraper in Koraku-en
How can you resist this amusement park, right in the middle of Tokyo?
Spend three hours on the edge of your seat at the Kabuki theatre in Higashi-ginza
If you think three hours of stylized acting in archaic Japanese might be wasted on you, think again! First of all, the English earphones are so great, even my Japanese friends use them because they explain stuff like, “that flute music you’re hearing always plays when someone is about to die.” The costumes and sets are amazing, and the stories are real classics of love and betrayal and pranksterism and death. I guarantee, you won’t be bored. Here’s a step by step guide to how to get tickets and what to do when you get there.
Banish negative people from your life at the dish-breaking shrine in Kamakura
Get rid of negative people in the most satisfying way possible at this Kamakura shrine, then take home a dragon clapper to summon good fortune and frighten away bad.
Double your money at the Zeni-arai Benten money-washing shrine in Kamakura
The gods who promise to double any money you wash in the spring at the Zeni-arai Benten shrine in Kamakura must be in a generous mood because the live in one of the most beautiful shrines I’ve ever seen. Hidden away through a tunnel carved through a cliff, it’s a cool grotto of ferny walls, with trickling waterfalls and loads of small shrine buildings and torii gates.
Go inside the giant Buddha in Kamakura
Yes, you can go inside the Daibutsu and see how it was made!
Meet a hedgehog up close and personal in Roppongi
Like a cat café, only prickly
Play with the adorable hedgehog of your choice
Sit among the musicians at the world’s smallest live jazz bar in Shimo-kitazawa
Most nights of the week, live jazz spirals up into the night from the basement lair of the Apollo bar in Shimo-kitazawa. For the price of a beer and a cover charge of less then $20, you can sit so close to the musicians you can see the scratches on their instruments. One night it’s Brazilian, one night Afro, the next night blues, but the quality of the music is always amazing. Japanese jazz musicians love experimenting with unusual instruments too – it’s the only place I’ve seen someone jamming on a bass flute or a six-string bass!
See monkeys & a lovely shrine at the top of Mt. Takao
This mountain on the outskirts of Tokyo is a great place to see autumn leaves, cherry blossoms, and hike year-round. There’s a nice monkey park at the top, and a beer garden in the summer.
Get served by iconic assassins in your own private dungeon at the Ninja restaurant in Akasaka-mitsuke
If you want to see what this flaming egg turns into, let’s go to Ninja Akasaka. I was expecting something pretty cheesy, with lousy food, but I was pleasantly surprised. The place itself is a delightful dungeon full of drawbridges and secret passageways, staffed by ninjas who conjure up delicious dishes with surprising twists. This experience does not disappoint.
Lunch at a maid café in Akihabara
Have the ultimate otaku lunch, being served by uniformed maids who call you “Master of the House”!
Catch your own noodles at Chaya Kado in Kamakura
Catch your own noodles as they float past in the stream running down the middle of your table! Cold noodles dipped in a savory sauce with tempura and a beer are an unforgettable hot weather treat from May to October.
You can’t enjoy these things all year round, but if you’re in Tokyo when they’re happening, they are well worth seeing!
Watch a battle of the titans at a sumo tournament in Ryogoku
For this only-in-Japan experience, you need to be in Tokyo during one of the three fifteen-day tournaments (January, May, December), but if you’re lucky enough to be here then, don’t miss watching some sumo! These mountains of muscle clash like forces of nature, and in between matches, the pomp and ceremony are as interesting to watch as the wrestling.
Sample the traditional entertainment at a Japanese festival
If you’ve never been to a rollicking Japanese festival, check to see which of my favorite events are happening while you’re in town. You’ll see why in my next life, I definitely want to come back as a Shinto god. Matsuri always feature the neighborhood folk carrying one or more golden portable shrines though the streets, lots of beer and saké, and sometimes a parade in period costume. Everyone ends up at the local shrine, where food booths, old-fashioned carnival games, and entertainments like monkey shows go late into the night. Best of all, this only-in-Japan entertainment is FREE!
Be amazed and delighted at Tokyo’s holiday illuminations
One of my favorite things to do in Tokyo is to ride the trains around to see all the holiday Illuminations. From late-November to mid-January, neighborhoods try to out-do each other’s displays. Every one of them is a visual treat, and the wildest ones are animated and set to music. Don’t miss this free entertainment if you’re in Tokyo over the holidays.
Wander through a winter wonderland of fairy lights at the Sagamiko Illumillions Theme Park outside Tokyo
November through mid-April • If you love holiday lights as much as I do, let’s go to the Illumillions theme park at the Lake Sagami Pleasure Forest! They’ve covered the entire landscape with millions of colored lights, including a forest of golden trees, an underwater wonderland, and a palace that sparkles with a musical water fountain show several times an hour. There are even a couple of psychadelically glowing tunnels you can walk through!
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