Home Japan Travel GuideTop Things to Do in Tokyo

Top Things to Do in Tokyo

Tokyo is a magnetic city that draws in travelers from all over the world who want to experience its ancient history and modern marvels. This truly enchanting and sprawling metropolis has something for everyone, whether it's experiencing Tokyo's high tech lifestyle, being surrounded by hundreds of world-class restaurants, or exploring the local culture. Tokyo is a must-see when traveling in Japan.

Because of the sheer volume of things to do in Tokyo, it can sometimes be difficult to narrow down which ones are best to do during your limited stay. In this article, we will discuss some of our favorite things to do in Tokyo that are also well-loved by our travelers.

Highlights

  • If you want to learn more about Japanese cuisine and food culture, our advice is to explore the Tsukiji Outer Market, take a sushi-making course, or participate in a tea ceremony.
  • If you are interested in Japanese history or ancient Japanese culture, a great way to learn more about it is by taking a calligraphy or Iaido class, making crafts from the Edo Period, or by watching a Kabuki performance.
  • If you are interested in martial arts you can head to Ryogoku to watch a sumo wrestling match or take a samurai sword dancing class.
  • If you are interested in Japanese manga and anime, then you can check out J World, the Pokémon Center, or the Studio Ghibli Museum.
  • If you want to explore the streets of Tokyo or go shopping, you can check out the vibrant and bustling districts of Shibuya, Shinjuku, and Ginza.

Experience Japanese cuisine by visiting the Tsukiji Outer Market and making sushi

Recommended visiting time: 4 to 5 hours

Tokyo is one of the food hotspots in Japan and the best thing about the city is that great food can be found at any price anywhere. Our two favorite ways to experience Tokyo’s cuisine is by trying out the street food and by participating in hands-on cooking classes.

Tsukiji Market is a famous wholesale fish market in Japan that used to provide fresh ingredients to the majority of Tokyo's restaurants. Although the wholesale market has relocated, the lively Outer Market is still there, selling some fresh produce as well as made-to-order street food classics.

Another great way to experience Japanese food culture is by taking a sushi-making class. Many cooking classes will start at the Tsukiji Outer Market to buy fresh ingredients and then often take participants back to a local person's home in order to learn the traditional process of making famous Japanese cuisine. Having a cooking class taught by a local in their own home is an exciting, delicious, and unique cultural experience.

Get hands-on with an Edo crafts experience

Recommended visiting time: 1 day

The Edo period in Japan was well known for its explosion of art and culture. Many of the art styles and skills that developed during the Edo period have been passed down by skilled craftsmen from generation to generation and can still be seen in Japan today.

A great way to get more involved in Japanese culture is to understand Edo-style artwork and crafts and Tokyo is the perfect place to do it. You can start by visiting the Shitamachi Traditional Craft Museum or by exploring the Asakusa district of Tokyo which is full of Edo-period temples and buildings.

For visitors who like to have a more hands-on experience, there are Edo crafts classes where participants can learn to make Kiriko cut glass or Edo-style bamboo blinds. Both crafts are elegant and make meaningful souvenirs.

Learn about art and culture through Iaido and Japanese calligraphy

Recommended visiting time: 1 day

Although Japanese art and culture can take many forms, two examples that we think all visitors should explore further, include calligraphy and Iaido which is a type of Japanese swordsmanship. Although at first, it may not seem like the two are related, calligraphy and martial arts have always been seen as similar in Japan because they require similar focus and precision.

Iaido is often practiced using a bamboo sword and making smooth and controlled movements. Because of the grace and fluidity of the movements of Iaido, it is sometimes referred to as "moving Zen". Although Iaido is technically a martial art, is has often been considered to be closer to philosophy or meditative practice than other more aggressive styles of fighting in Japan.

After learning about Iaido, visitors can put down the sword and pick up a paint brush, to start learning about the intricacies of Japanese calligraphy. Just like sword dancing, calligraphy requires smooth and controlled movements in order to master the strokes of each kanji (Japanese character).

Although both, calligraphy and Iaido, are difficult skills to master, introductory classes are a great way to get a peek into the local culture and to understand some of Japan's most important values like patience, harmony, and perfection.

Watch a tea ceremony in a serene Japanese garden

Recommended visiting time: half-day

Tea was brought to Japan from China in the year 700 and has since been a very important part of the lifestyle and culture of the nation. Even today, tea is the most popular beverage in Japan and can be bought anywhere, from vending machines and convenience stores to tea plantations and tea houses.

Experiencing a tea ceremony is a great way for visitors to learn more about the importance of tea culture. A tea ceremony is a choreographed ritual of preparing and serving tea with some traditional Japanese snacks. The goal of most tea ceremonies is to achieve a balance of flavors as well as inner harmony. Tea houses are meant to be areas of escape from the hustle and bustle of the cities where people spend most of their time.

One of our favorite places in Tokyo to experience a tea ceremony is at the Happo-en Garden because it is beautiful during every season of the year, and the tea master is very skilled and provides an excellent tea ceremony service.

Learn the meditative sword dancing technique of ancient samurai

Recommended visiting time: 2-3 hours

One thing that has always intrigued travelers about Japanese history are the legends of the samurai. The stories and secrecy surrounding the samurai have inspired many books and movies, creating a worldwide curiosity.

Although not all of the ways that the samurai are portrayed in pop culture are accurate, the samurai were skilled fighters who lived their lives according to a strict code of ethics.

One way to get hands-on experience with this ancient tradition is by taking a Samurai Sword Dance class where participants wear the traditional costumes of ancient samurai and learn about their lives. Students will also learn the basics of kembu which is an elegant and precise sword dance style that was traditionally used by samurai for meditation.

If you are interested in ancient Japanese culture and heritage then this is a fun and rewarding way to get a glimpse into a samurai's life.

Explore the colorful world of manga and anime

Recommended visiting time: half-day

Manga (Japanese comics) and anime (Japanese animation) are not only an important part of Japanese culture but also popular with people all over the world and with all ages. If you want to explore the world of anime and manga to see what it’s all about and where it started, then Tokyo is definitely the place.

The first stop on the anime tour should be J World which is an amusement park. It is focused on the stories of some of the most popular characters from the Shonen Jump stories which is Japans best-selling manga magazine. Afterward, visitors can head to the Pokémon Center where all kinds of Pokémon memorabilia and souvenirs can be found.

For visitors who are interested in the creative process behind some of Japan's most famous anime, exploring the Ghibli Museum is a great way to get more insight into some of the classics created by Studio Ghibli, including Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, and My Neighbor Totoro.

Get a glimpse into the life of a sumo wrestler

Recommended visiting time: half-day

Tokyo is home to the most famous sumo center and arena in Japan which is located in the Ryogoku district of the city. Ryogoku has a sumo stadium that hosts six large annual tournaments as well as other smaller competitions that happen between the wrestlers every day.

In sumo, the fighters are known as rikishi and their goal is to launch themselves at their opponent in order to knock them out of the ring. Matches in the Ryogoku Sumo Hall start every day at 9:00 am with the up-and-coming fighters and slowly progress to more noteworthy competitors.

After the visit to the sumo hall, travelers can also explore the rest of the district that includes chanko-nabe hot pot restaurants, which serve the same meals that the wrestlers eat every day, as well as the sumo stable which is where the rikishi live and train.

Experience a visual feast by attending a Kabuki show

Recommended visiting time: half-day

Kabuki is a traditional type of Japanese theater where the actors wear elaborate costumes, bright face masks, and makeup and use danc and music to tell stories. Kabuki originally started in the red light districts, but then it became more stylized and went through some changes, and now Kabuki can be seen throughout Japan.

The best place to watch a Kabuki show is at Kabukiza which is the largest Kabuki theater in Japan. The performed Kabuki show changes every month and there is a matinee (11 am to 3:30 pm) and an evening show (4:30 to 9 pm) every day.

Each Kabuki show normally has three to four acts with 20 to 30-minute intermissions between each one. Tickets for shows can cost as much as JPY 20,000 (US$ 185) and you can book tickets online or at the box office on site.

Learn about local life by exploring the streets of Shibuya, Shinjuku, and Ginza

Recommended visiting time: full day

For visitors who want to experience the bustling streets of Tokyo, full of people from all walks of life, the best places to start exploring are in Shibuya, Shinjuku, and Ginza.

Shibuya is one of Tokyo's most busy and colorful districts, with shopping, great dining, and nightclubs, pulling in swarms of visitors. Shibuya is Tokyo's center for youth fashion and culture, and walking the streets visitors can see some of Japan's newest street fashion trends.

Shinjuku is also another great district to explore in Tokyo because it is the business district and has the city's largest skyscrapers, most luxurious hotels, government buildings, as well as some amazing department stores.

Lastly, we suggest, while you are exploring, to check out the Ginza District. Ginza is Tokyo's most famous upmarket area with fine dining, upscale shopping, as well as art galleries and nightclubs. Although Ginza is fun to explore, the prices are rather high, including cups of coffee that are US$10.

Find that special souvenir while shopping in Tokyo

Recommended visiting time: half-day

Tokyo is a paradise for people who love to shop. Whether it is cheaper clothes or luxury brands, Tokyo is full of shopping arcades and department stores where visitors can find just about anything they are looking for.

If you are looking for high quality and more expensive products, you should start in the department stores. Our favorites included Mitsukoshi in Ginza, and Takashimaya and Isetan in Shinjuku. Mitsukoshi started out selling kimonos over 300 years ago and has become a popular place to buy clothes, household items, jewelry and much more.

Shinjuku Takashimaya is a multi-story department store that sells world famous luxury brands and also has some of Tokyo's finest restaurants inside. Isetan is a department store chain which attracts both locals and visitors and where anything can be found from wedding gowns to teas and souvenirs.

If you are looking for a more local and traditional shopping experience, you can explore the shopping arcades hat are often located near busy train stations or bus terminals. These shopping arcades are often narrow streets filled with small shops of all different types, where you never know what you'll find.

Explore Tokyo with Asia Highlights

Want to explore Japan but don't know where to start? At Asia Highlights we specialize in planning tailor-made trips that suit the needs and desires of our clients to make sure that dream trip becomes reality. To talk to one of our experts, please reach out here.

5-Day Tokyo Highlights Tour: A Quick Sketch of Tokyo

9-Day Japan Highlights Tour: A Stimulating Fusion of East and West

11-Day Traditional Japan Tour: Historical Monuments and Lively Modern Cities

11-Day Classic Japan Tour: Explore a Cluster of Scenic Cities and Quaint Towns in a Remote Mountain Region