Top Ten Things to Do in Tokyo

Tokyo, Japan’s capital city, is where tradition and the cutting edge intersect.

From the latest tech gadgets to historic temples, the city offers a seemingly unlimited choice of shopping, entertainment, culture, cuisine, and nature to explore. While you could spend weeks discovering what this city has to offer and not even scratch the surface, here are our top recommendations on where to start:

Meiji Shrine

Completed in 1920 and dedicated to the late emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken this shrine is surrounded by a forest of more than 100,000 trees located inside the massive torii gate, a peaceful oasis from the hustle and bustle of the city. At the shrine you can take part in typical Shinto activities, such as purification, making offerings at the main hall, or writing a wish on a wooden plaque or piece of paper. Just across the street from the shine is Harajuku, the famous center of teenage culture and fashion.

The Meiji Shrine is a peaceful oasis from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Shibuya Crossing

The busiest pedestrian crossing in the world, up to 3,000 people traverse in five different directions during one two-minute light change cycle. Cliché as it may be, it’s a must see and so much fun. Nearby outside Shibuya Station you will find the equally famous Hachiko statue, honoring a dog that returned to the station each evening to wait for his owner, long after he was deceased.

Sensoji Temple

Also known as Asakusa Kannon Temple, it is the oldest religious site in Tokyo (it dates back to 628 AD), this temple is also the city’s most visited. Dedicated to Asakusa Kannon, the Buddhist god of mercy and happiness, Sensoji Temple’s most iconic structure is the huge red lantern hung at the outer Kaminari (Thunder) Gate.

The oldest religious site in Tokyo (it dates back to 628 AD), this temple is also the city’s most visited.

Inside the gate you will pass along Nakamise Dori, a shop-lined street, some of them more than 100 years old, to Hozonmon Gate. Inside this second gate sits the main temple building, with a large cauldron of incense whose smoke is believed to bring good health, so be sure to waft some over your body as you go by.

Kabuki

This type of traditional Japanese theater uses drama, dancing, and music. Performers often wear elaborate costumes and makeup, including masks. What started in the 1600s as a form of entertainment in the red light district of Edo (Tokyo’s original name), with many ups and downs since, has grown into a national treasure — UNESCO recently inscribed it to the List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. You can watch a performance at Kabukiza, the main Kabuki Theatre in Tokyo and the biggest Kabuki theatre in Japan.

UNESCO recently inscribed it to the List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Akihabara

This is the district for everything Japanese, from electronic goods and video games to anime and manga. You’ll find multi-story arcades or game centers to entertain you for the day, major department stores, and cafes where the wait staff dress up like manga characters. On Sundays, the main street through the district is closed to car traffic, so it makes a great place to wander.

Tsukiji Fish Market

Even if you aren’t a sushi lover, there’s nothing quite like experiencing the buzz of over 480 different kinds of ultra fresh seafood, worth $14.6 million, sold each morning. If you are willing to get up before dawn (we’re talking before 5 a.m.), you can have the opportunity to witness the famous tuna auction (tickets required). After wandering around the wholesale market head to the restaurants and shops outside to refortify yourself and pick up a souvenir like a handmade sushi knife.

Eat

Speaking of sushi, as a city, Tokyo has received the most Michelin stars in the world. But you don’t have to spend top dollar to eat well.

Tokyo has received the most Michelin stars in the world. But you don’t have to spend top dollar to eat well.

Packed with restaurants to suit every taste and budget, Tokyo is a food lover’s paradise. Be sure to try some classic Japanese food like tempura, soba, sukiyaki, katsu curry, and our favorite Japanese comfort food — okonomiyaki. Izakayas are Japan’s version of a small-plate gastro-pub, and a great place to sample a variety of dishes in a very convivial atmosphere, while other have-to-try experiences include ramen houses and securing a coveted seat at one of the city’s famed sushi bars.

Trail Running

Yes, that’s right, trail running. Are you looking to add a little active adventure to your next trip? Tokyo is a great destination for running, whether you prefer the city streets or mountain trails.

Columbia Employees, Ruy Ueda and Sandrine Christin hit the ground running in Tokyo, from the city streets to the mountain peaks.

Check out their journey up Mt. Nabewari, where they had a bowl of ramen waiting for them at the top:

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