We just got back from Japan a few short days ago, and first off let me say – it may be one of my favorite countries in the world. The people are amazing (so nice and helpful), public transportation will take you anywhere you want to go, and the list of things to do is seriously endless. If you find yourself in Tokyo, you might feel a little overwhelmed with deciding how to spend your time. Through lots of research and 2 trips to the city, I’ve put together a must-do list if it’s your first (or only) visit. From food to sights to unique Japanese experiences, you won’t want to skip any of these. Read on for 12 spectacular things you can’t miss in Tokyo!
1. Experience Conveyor Belt Sushi
What could be better than the FRESHEST, most authentic sushi in the world? That sushi coming to you on a conveyor belt. Yes.
Although there are plenty of places in Tokyo where you can experience conveyor belt sushi (and you probably won’t have bad sushi anywhere in Japan), it pays to do your research and find a spot that comes highly recommended. We did just that and ended up at Kappa Sushi – also known as Sushi-Nova. You can read details about our conveyor belt sushi experience here.
2. Take in the view from the top of Tokyo Skytree
Yes, you’ll have to wait in a long line. Normally tourist attractions like these wouldn’t make the cut, since there is an observation deck with a view in just about every major city on the planet. But when you’re in the most populated city on the face of the earth, there’s an exception to be made. Don’t forget that we’re also talking about the tallest tower in the world (and the tallest structure second only to Dubai’s Burj Khalifa). If you have 2 hours to spare – don’t miss it.
3. Visit Sensoji Temple in Asakusa
Sensoji Temple in Asakusa is the most visited temple in Tokyo – and for good reason. The massive red lanterns that hang at Kaminarimon (the entrance or “Thunder Gate”) are something you won’t see anywhere else. There’s plenty to do in the area too. Just wander down the main shopping street (Nakamise) and you’ll come to the second gate, Hozomon. Afterwards, explore the surrounding area for great food & shopping.
4. Go to an Owl Cafe (or Hedgehog cafe, Fox cafe…)
Japan is known for some of the most eclectic places out there when it comes to cafes & restaurants. A staple among them are owl cafes. Have a cup of coffee while you walk around in the midst of baby owls and fully-grown ones alike. Some are for petting and some are just for looking, but regardless it’s an experience you won’t find anywhere else.
5. Walk through Harajuku’s famous Takeshita-Dori street
This street is anything but boring. If you’ve ever heard the word Harajuku – you know what I’m talking about. Flashy clothing, bright colors, and funky hair & makeup are all around you. Just be warned that the street gets VERY crowded. Even if you’re not interested in buying anything, a quick walk down Takeshita-Dori is worth it. Grab a crepe from a nearby bakery before you leave!
6. Experience an authentic Japanese Sumo Tournament
Sumo wrestling is truly something else. Hands down one of the most interesting and unique experiences I’ve ever had. Japan’s Grand Sumo Tournaments are only held a few times a year, so you’ll have to plan ahead for this one. But if at all possible, make sure your trip falls on corresponding dates. The entire thing is in Japanese, but I promise it won’t make any difference! If you’re planning to go, make sure to read this post for everything you need to know about watching sumo in Japan.
7. Go for a tasting at a standing room only Sake bar
You have to have sake when in Japan. Most people think of sake as served hot, but you can have it both hot and cold. You should absolutely try both! For the best experience, find a local sake bar (you’ll know it’s the real deal if it’s tiny & standing room only) and taste a little of everything!
8. Have coffee overlooking the infamous Shibuya Scramble Crossing
If you don’t know what the Shibuya Scramble is, just do a quick search on Youtube and you’ll see why it’s famous. It’s the busiest and biggest crosswalk in the world. The pedestrian crosswalks go all directions (where 10 lanes of traffic converge) and they all turn green at the same time. At peak times, it’s said that over 1000 people are crossing at once. Trust me, you’ll want the view from above here.
9. Catch a glimpse of Mt. Fuji (from afar or near)
If you want to see Mt. Fuji up close, you’ll need to set aside an extra day for the trek out of Tokyo. Personally, I think it may be just as impressive from afar. You can catch the view a couple of different ways on a clear day, but make sure you at least get a glimpse before leaving Japan. We got a full 15 minutes of viewing Mt. Fuji from our train ride down to Osaka – if you do the same, keep an eye out on the right hand side!
10. Take a ride on Japan’s fastest bullet train
The Shinkansen is Japan’s bullet train – and if you’re doing it right you’ll want to take the fastest version, which is the Nozomi train. Reaching speeds of up to 186 mph, the ride is so smooth you can fall asleep on it (and we did)! It’s perfect for making the most of your trip and hopping all over the country in a few hours!
11. Order from a local Vending Machine Ramen restaurant
It’s hard to pick the most authentic Japanese experience we had, but this might be it. Ramen is a Japanese staple, and it’s SO much better than the packaged stuff we think of when we hear the word. You can find it everywhere, but if you want to do as the Japanese do, go to a tiny local spot with a vending machine outside. You’ll put your money in and place your order there – then bring your ticket inside and let the chef work his magic! Prepare to leave full! For more details on how to eat ramen in Japan, click here.
12. Get a view of Tokyo Tower from Roppongi Hills
Roppongi is known for it’s nightlife, but you should also visit there for some of the best views in Tokyo. Head to the observation deck in Mori Tower – there’s a small fee, but you’ll have a direct line of sight to Tokyo Tower (the famous Tokyo landmark – a “red eiffel tower”). On a clear day, you’ll be able to see the whole city – and it’s much less crowded than other popular spots.
Hope you guys enjoyed 🙂 Check back in the weeks to come for more detailed information on some of our favorite spots listed here!