Bustling Tokyo is a study in contrasts. The old and the new blend easily without the one overpowering the other. Tokyoites are fashion-forward, but stay firm in following traditions. Temples and ultramodern skyscrapers co-exist harmoniously in the chaotic city.
This mega metropolis may intimidate some with its sheer size and dizzying layout of the streets. And yet, Tokyo draws visitors who yearn to experience the wacky and warm-hearted side of Japan’s capital. Here are ten extraordinary things to try when you visit Tokyo.
1. Stay in a ryokan lodging
For an authentic experience of traditional hospitality, staying in a ryokan is your best bet. These Japanese inns offer the old-school lodging style in quaint wooden homes with sliding doors, low tables for dining and tatami mats for sleeping. Some of the reputable ryokans in Tokyo are Homeikan, Seikou and Taieikan.
2. Get a bird’s eye view of the city from Tokyo Skytree
Don’t miss the chance to climb the tallest tower in the world, Tokyo Skytree. Rising to a height of 634 meters (that’s over 2,000 feet), the imposing broadcasting tower now serves as the city’s landmark. On a clear day, you can even see good old Mount Fuji from the tower’s viewing decks. There are shops and restaurants in the premises for those who would like to linger and admire the views.
3. Watch sumo wrestling in Kokugikan
Sumo wrestling goes way back to ancient times when it was used as a form of entertainment for the Shinto gods. Today, it still reigns as the national sport. Sumo differs from the kind of wrestling you see on WWF in the West. There are religious rituals that are followed during the matches. In Tokyo, there are three tournaments open to the public held every year in the Kokugikan sumo stadium found in the district of Ryogoku.
4. Bite into the freshest catch of the day in Tsukiji Market
Visiting the world’s largest fish market located in Tokyo has become a bucket list item for most tourists for a good reason. After watching the rush of vendors and the fish auction in the early morning, you get to sit down in one of the sushi counters and eat the catch of the day! Visitors can also watch the skillful sushi chefs at work, which is a treat in itself.
5. Eat, drink and be merry under cherry blossom trees in Ueno Park
If you are planning to visit Tokyo for the first time, go during the cherry blossom season. When these delicate pink flowers bloom, it signals the beginning of spring. Cherry blossoms, or sakura, play an integral part in Japanese culture. The short blooming period is celebrated through viewing parties called hanami festival. Ueno Park in Tokyo is the prime venue for hanami parties when people enjoy picnics, sing songs and drink beer under a canopy of cherry blossoms.
6. Go for a pub crawl like no other in the Golden Gai
Where can you go for a nightcap and rub shoulders with the locals? At Golden Gai in Shinjuku district, you can literally do both. The cramped quarters of this historic neighborhood contain a warren of some 200 watering holes. Hole is the apt word to use as each bar typically offers up to 8 seats. Definitely not for the claustrophobic Westerner, bars in the Golden Gai attract interesting local characters, from celebrities to artists. Though most joints use minimal English, some do cater to foreigners. Just look for English signs on the door, and walk right in for an unforgettable night ahead.
7. Scramble your way across Shibuya Crossing
Considered as the busiest intersection in the world, the Shibuya Crossing is an amusing spectacle to behold. Join the crowds cross from all sorts of directions, or watch the fray from a ‘viewing spot’ such as the Starbucks right in front. At night, the neon lights from the buildings add to the chaos in the crossing. Shibuya is also a popular hangout spot for Tokyo’s youth who love to shop in the district’s myriad of stores.
8. Get your geek on in Akihabara
Akihabara has been Tokyo’s hub for gadget shopping since time immemorial, but in the past decades, this frenetic district turned into ground zero for geekdom. It’s the perfect place to witness ‘otaku’ subculture at its best. The term otaku roughly refers to fangirl or fanboy. In Japan, most otakus geek out on anime (computer animation) and manga (comic books). They go to Akihabara to get their daily fix from specialty shops selling toys, books, magazines and other collectibles. Nevertheless, gadget shops still thrive in the neighborhood. You can still buy cheap cameras, the latest laptops and other electronic items in the area.
9. Meet Lady Luck in Sensoji Temple
Tokyo’s oldest temple is Sensoji Temple, located in Asakusa. Historical sites abound inside the temple, which was established in 645. You can also bring home souvenirs such as amulets for luck, calligraphy scrolls, traditional fans and woodblock prints. Walk around the temple’s area too, as the surrounding streets are lined with food stalls selling traditional snacks.
10. Live the high life in Ginza
High-end shopping is on the agenda at Tokyo’s retail mecca of Ginza. Everything here is pricey – real estate, boutiques, restaurants and even a cup of coffee. If you’re a big fan of designer brands, then Ginza is your go-to place. Aside from boutiques, Ginza offers huge department store chains such as Mitsukoshi, Printemps and Matsuya.