Unforgettable experiences

If you’re looking for experiences that will make your friends back home wish they’d come along, here are my favorite things to do that most people don’t know about.

Take photos of yourself in amazing situations at the Trick Art Museum


You’ve got forty-five chances to take the most killer profile pic ever! Life-size illusions range from being swallowed by a shark to battling ninjas to being trapped by a giant in his wineglass!

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Play with hedgehogs

Like a cat café, only prickly

Play with the adorable hedgehog of your choice

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Watch a kabuki show

Experience Japan’s most iconic traditional entertainment

How to get tickets and enjoy the performance in English

Watch the best free entertainment in Tokyo, every Sunday afternoon in Yoyogi Park


 Watch the rockabilly dancers, try slackline, check out the costumed dogs, marvel at the Skate Beagle, and more!

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Ride a roller coaster through a skyscraper


How could you resist going to this amusement park, right in the middle of Tokyo?

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Watch a taiko-drumming fire ceremony


If you thought Buddhism was all about silent contemplation, think again! The Fukugawa Fudo temple dishes up bonfires of flaming prayer sticks and towering taiko drums. This ceremony takes place several 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.

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Sit among the musicians at the world’s smallest live jazz bar


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 about $15.00, 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!

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Make your own plastic food


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.

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Double your money at the Zeni-arai Benten money-washing shrine


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.

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Go inside the giant Buddha


Yes, you can go inside the Daibutsu and see how it was made!

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See monkeys & a lovely shrine at the top of Mt. Takao


You can get there by cable car, chair lift or hiking trail • The monkey park features lots of lively & entertaining monkey families • Nice shrine, snack bars & souvenir shops at the top • All-you-can-eat-and-drink beer garden is open from July-Oct • Great place to see cherry blossoms (early Apr) and autumn leaves (mid- to late Nov).

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Now you see it, now you don’t, at the Ninja restaurant


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 totally surprised. The place itself is a delightful dungeon full of drawbridges and secret passageways, staffed by ninjas who conjure up quite delicious dishes with surprising twists. This restaurant does not disappoint.

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Lunch at a maid café


Have the ultimate otaku lunch, being served by uniformed maids who call you “Master of the House”!

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Catch your own noodles at Chaya Kado


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.

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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


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.

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Sample the traditional entertainment at a Japanese festival


If you’ve never been to a rollicking Japanese festival, check to see what festivals are happening when you’re in town! 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, but the wildest ones are animated and set to music. Don’t miss this free entertainment if you’re in Tokyo over the holidays.

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Wander through a winter wonderland of fairy lights at the Sagamiko Illumillions Theme Park


November through mid-April • If you love holiday lights as much as I do, let’s go to the Illumillions theme park! 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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The Last Tea Bowl Thief was chosen as an Editor’s Pick for Best Mystery, Thriller & Suspense on Amazon

 For three hundred years, a missing tea bowl passes from one fortune-seeker to the next, changing the lives of all who possess it…read more

“A fascinating mix of history and mystery.” —Booklist

Jonelle Patrick writes novels set in Japan, produces the monthly e-magazine Japanagram, and blogs at Only In Japan and The Tokyo Guide I Wish I’d Had

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