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I was chatting to a friend recently, who was in the midst of planning their very first trip to Japan. My friend mentioned that they felt overwhelmed when researching because there were so many things to do in Tokyo!
Since I was fortunate enough to live in Tokyo, I never really thought about how this could be a problem. I mean, when you have endless time in one city, you don’t really need to narrow down your bucket list!
So I’ve decided to put together a guide to the ultimate bucket list experiences you can have in Tokyo.
These bucket list Tokyo experiences are completely unique to the city of Tokyo and will hopefully be helpful when planning your trip!
So if you’re planning your vacation to Japan and aren’t sure what are the “must-sees” while you’re in Tokyo, read on!
1. Scramble across Shibuya Crossing
Shibuya Crossing is probably one of the most famous traffic crossings in the world.
The sight of crowds of people crossing in all directions is so iconic to Tokyo.
This is definitely a must-see (from a distance) and a must experience too!
Things to know before visiting:
- You can visit Shibuya Crossing by taking the train to Shibuya Station
- The best way to experience the crossing is to cross yourself
- There are incredible views of Shibuya Crossing: the Starbucks cafe has an upstairs seating section with incredible views (this can get busy + crowded!) or you can pay entry to Shibuya Sky, an observation deck which opened in late 2019
2. Visit Tokyo’s oldest temple
Located in the neighborhood of Asakusa, Sensoji temple is one of Tokyo’s oldest and most popular temples.
Dedicated to the Buddhist goddess of mercy, Sensoji is an incredibly grand temple. The entrance of the temple is through a very intricate red gate, known as the Kaminari-mon.
Things to know before you visit Sensoji Temple:
- Entry into the Sensoji temple is free
- If you get hungry, right outside the temple are rows of food stalls where you can get snacks or matcha soft serve to munch on
- As one of Tokyo’s most popular temples, Sensoji temple gets busy with both international tourists and locals
3. Get lost in the streets of Shibuya
I’m a lil’ biased because I actually lived in Shibuya in Tokyo, but in my humble opinion, Shibuya is one of Tokyo’s coolest suburbs.
Not only is Shibuya home to the Shibuya Scramble Crossing, but it also has streets filled with tiny hole-in-the-wall eateries, endless shopping, and so many department stores!
Shibuya (and the nearby neighborhood of Shinjuku!) are the best places in Tokyo to experience nightlife.
These neighborhoods are incredibly young, and you’re more likely to see young Japanese enjoying a meal out with friends than your fellow tourists.
How to get to Shibuya:
- The best way to get to Shibuya is via train to Shibuya Station, served by the JR Yamanote Line, JR Saikyo Line, JR Shonan Shinjuku Line, Hanzomon Subway Line, Ginza Subway Line, Fukutoshin Subway Line, Tokyu Toyoko Line, Tokyu Den-Entoshi Line, and the Keio Inokashira Line.
- If you don’t have much time, you can also visit Shibuya straight from the airport, as Shibuya is also a stop on the Narita Express!
4. Interact with art at the MORI Building Digital Art Museum: TeamLab Borderless
TeamLab Borderless is Instagram famous.
I know this is not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you love modern art and you’re a fan of Instagram, chances are, you’ll love the TeamLab Borderless exhibition in Tokyo!
The exhibit is one big interactive light show which stimulates your senses.
Things to know before you go:
- It can get very crowded and busy, as over the last few years TeamLab Borderless has become incredibly popular with social media influencers (be prepared for lots of people taking photos!)
- Entry to the museum is timed, and it’s best to purchase tickets in advance – you can purchase tickets directly from TeamLab Borderless (I’d recommend purchasing direct over purchasing from a 3rd party like Klook)
- Avoid visiting on weekends and public holidays
- Some of the rooms have mirrored floors, so think twice about wearing short skirts
- TeamLab borderless also have a 2nd site called TeamLab Planets -make sure you visit the correct location!
5. Go-kart the streets of Tokyo like Super Mario
Yes, you read that correctly – you can go-kart the streets of Tokyo dressed as your favorite Super Mario character, just like in Super Mario – except this is real life.
The tour operators that offer this have a tour guide that you’ll follow (no, you can’t randomly drive the streets of Tokyo in a go-kart!) and they’ll include super Mario costumes in the tour price.
Things to know before you go:
- Go-karting is a popular activity so make sure you book in advance
- You do need to know how to drive in order to do this and require an international drivers license (in addition to your country’s drivers license) to take part
- You’ll be driving real streets in actual traffic – so be wary that like many activities this comes with its own risks.
6. Appreciate seafood at either the Tsukiji or Toyosu Fish Markets
The Japanese have a deep appreciation for seafood and especially fresh fish.
You only have to look at the many specialty sushi and sashimi restaurants, where many chefs have trained for years and take their work seriously.
The best way to see this in action is not just by consuming sashimi or sushi, but by observing fresh fish being sold at the fish markets.
Tokyo has two fish markets, the Tsukiji Fish Market and the Toyosu Fish Market.
The Tsukiji Fish Market is probably the one you’ve heard of the most. This is the original fish market, and up until late 2018 was the site of the famous early morning tuna auctions.
Today, the Tsukiji Fish Market is still home to the Tsukiji Outer Market, which consists of local restaurants selling Japan’s freshest seafood.
The Toyosu Fish Market is where the famous early morning tuna auctions have moved.
The auctions happen around 5:30 am and are a great way to gain an appreciation of the work that goes on behind the scenes before your tuna hits your plate.
Things to know before you visit the fish markets:
- Tsukiji Fish Market is the original site of the early morning tuna auctions, and thus is more “authentic” in appearance, as the buildings are older.
- The Toyosu Fish Market is more modern, and the location of the auctions are held in a brand-new modern building
- If you’re short on time, it’s important to take these into account
- If you want to visit the Toyosu Fish Market to observe the tuna auctions, there are 2 locations here to see it, the Tuna Auction Observation Windows and the Tuna Auction Observation Deck. The later requires advance reservations, which is decided by a lottery system.
7. Go electronics shopping in Akihabara
Akihabara is known as the “electronics” town of Tokyo.
After WWII, Akihabara became an area known for black-market electronics.
Today though, this neighborhood has become the best place in Tokyo to bargain hunt for electronic goods.
You can also find endless second-hand electronics stores too. And for all my anime fans, Akihabara will be heaven for you too – because there are endless anime + comics stores here too!
Things to see in Akihabara:
- Akihabara Electric Town: get lost in the endless stores selling floors and floors of electronics, anime plastic models (collectibles to many), cosplay (short for costume play) and comic books.
- Kanda Shrine: Yep, you read that correctly, a shrine! This shrine sells talismans to protect electronic devices from harm.
8. Spend a night in a capsule hotel
Tokyo is one of the most densely populated cities in the world, resulting in clever solutions to space restrictions.
One of these “solutions” are capsule hotels.
Capsule (or pod) hotels are tiny hotel rooms – and by tiny, we mean tiny.
These pods have all the essentials you need for a good night’s sleep.
Not for the claustrophobic, spending a night (or a few) in a capsule hotel in Tokyo is definitely one for the bucket list.
Things to know before you stay in a capsule hotel:
- Capsules or pods are often gender-segregated, which means if you’re traveling with someone of the opposite gender, your pods will be separated.
- Some capsule hotels do have a larger couples option, which is worth researching especially if you’re a couple
- I wouldn’t recommend capsule hotels if you’re claustrophobic or have problems climbing into a bunk bed.
9. Visit the happiest place
on earth in Japan
While it might be easy to assume that if you’ve been to one Disney Park, you don’t need to go to another (aren’t they all the same?!) Tokyo Disney Resort is uniquely different, and many visitors find it a fun experience to visit Tokyo Disney even if they’ve been to other Disney locations already.
As many Disney fans know, each Disney Park is different – in Tokyo, the rides are all in Japanese (which can make for a bewildering, but fun experience) and the Disney themed food is adapted to Japan, resulting in concoctions that you can’t get elsewhere (hellooo Star Wars-themed mochi)
10. Climb Fujisan (Mt Fuji)
Mt Fuji, known as “Fujisan” in Japanese is Japan’s tallest peak, and many desire to see it on their travels.
But did you know you can actually climb Mt Fuji?
The summit of Mt Fuji is 3,776 meters (12,389 feet), making this one tall mountain (technically volcano) and thus conditions can vary widely, making the hiking window quite short.
The hiking season is typically over summer (check the official website for actual dates)
Things to know before you Climb Fujisan:
- Climbing Mt Fuji has a reputation of being an “easy” climb, with some people completing the hike in sneakers: as someone who is a keen hiker, I do not recommend doing this
- Make sure you do extensive research before you go, and come prepared!
- The hike takes between 5 to 10 hrs, depending on where you begin your hike + your pace, and some people even spread this hike across 2 days
11. Go on a day trip to see Fujisan
If you’re not too keen on hiking, or you’re visiting during a non-climbing season, seeing Mt Fuji from a distance should still be on your bucket list!
You can see Fujisan on a day trip from Tokyo, and there are so many locations you can see this incredible peak.
After all, did you really go to Japan if you didn’t see Mt Fuji?!
Psst: Fujisan is notoriously shy, and some people can organize day trips specifically for this purpose, only to find that Fujisan is playing hide and seek behind clouds. Check the weather before you go – clear, cloudless, sunny days are best!
There are many places to spot Mt Fuji from, two of my recommended places include Fuji Five Lakes region and Hakone.
Iconic places to see Mt Fuji in Fuji Five lakes include:
- Chureito Pagoda
- Lake Kawaguchiko
Iconic places to see Mt Fuji in Hakone include:
- Lake Ashinoko
- Hakone ropeway
12. Dine-in at a themed cafe
From Pokemon to Snoopy, whatever your favorite character or cartoon there’s a themed cafe for you!
Themed cafes in Japan are all the rage, and Tokyo has so many you can visit.
My favorite is the Pokemon cafe (because who doesn’t want Pokemon-themed food?!)
Visiting a themed cafe:
- Not sure what themed cafe exists? Just google your favorite cartoon + cafe + Japan and see what comes up!
- Some of the more popular cafes require bookings, they get that busy, so make sure you research ahead so you don’t miss out
- It’s important to remember that often the food in the themed cafes are not the best. Often the focus of the cafe is on creating kawaii or “cute” food, rather than the best tasting food.
And there you have it – my list of bucket list experiences in Tokyo!
Regardless of how long you plan to stay in Tokyo, there’s an endless list of things to do.
Hopefully, you found more experiences to add to your Tokyo plans!
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