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Be adventurous when it comes to food | © mnimage / Shutterstock
Be adventurous when it comes to food | © mnimage / Shutterstock

10 Things You Must Try Before You Leave Tokyo

Picture of Alicia Joy
Tokyo Writer
Updated: 9 November 2017

With so many things to do and delicious things to eat, it can be hard to narrow down your Tokyo bucket list. Whether you’re here for a week, a month or a year, here are our top picks for experiences you have to try before leaving this world-class city.

Hike Mount Takao

Mount Takao is a favorite hiking spot for many locals. Because of its proximity and easy access from central Tokyo, exploring the mountain can be done in a single day. Well-developed trails and beautiful scenery await climbers who decide to make the trip. One of Mount Takao’s most attractive qualities is that it actually isn’t an impressive mountain at all. At around 600 meters (1,968.5 feet) high and marked by gentle slopes, even casual or first-time climbers can enjoy themselves.

Visit Tokyo Disneyland

Tokyo Disneyland is the second most visited theme park in the world. The best time to visit is around the holidays when the park is dressed up for the season. Tokyo DisneySea isn’t a waterpark but instead Tokyo Disneyland’s neighbor with a seafaring theme. If you’re a bit over the whole Disney thing, head over to Sanrio Puroland for a theme park experience you won’t find anywhere else.

Discover music in Koenji

Koenji is known for its underground music scene, and you can’t go far without stumbling upon a live house or performance of some sort. This hip neighborhood has a growing reputation for offbeat, unconventional fashions, and underground art.

Be adventurous with food

With more restaurants, Michelin stars and food variety than any other city in the world, Tokyo is a foodie’s paradise. Challenge yourself to try one dish that tests the limits of what you think is palatable, and you might just discover your new favorite recipe. Whether that’s basashi (raw horse meat), motsunabe (offal hotpot) or even just snacking on the ubiquitous chirimen jako (tiny dried, salted sardines), you’ll be glad you did.

Sip coffee in Shimokitazawa

Shimokitazawa is Tokyo’s original hip neighborhood. The area was once known for its low rents, which attracted a generation of young entrepreneurs. Cool cafés, vintage and secondhand shops, record stores, and performance art venues are some of Shimokitazawa’s defining features. But the area is slowly losing its charms as redevelopment progresses.

Stand in Sukiyabashi Crossing

Sukiyabashi Crossing is the lesser-known cousin of Shibuya Scramble. Located in Ginza, Sukiyabashi lies at the junction of Harumi-dori and Sotobori-dori. It’s marked by the eye-catching Crystal Building Ginza, the Tokyu Plaza Ginza, and the Sony Building (currently under renovation). Like Shibuya, the bright neon signs and lights capture the energy of downtown Tokyo.

Participate in a tea ceremony

In Tokyo, there are endless choices when it comes to a tea ceremony, from casual to luxury experiences. If your hotel or ryokan doesn’t have a tea ceremony experience, check out local tea houses, kimono rental shops or local festivals that allow you to join. The Nihonbashi Information Center offers all kinds of Japanese cultural experiences, including an in-depth introduction to Japanese tea and a tea ceremony.

Catch a kabuki performance

Tokyo’s Kabuki-za, a performance art theater in Ginza, is one of the largest kabuki theaters in Japan and the best place to take in a kabuki play. With elaborate costumes, makeup and sets, even those who don’t speak Japanese can have an easy time enjoying this traditional performance art, but for a small fee, you can rent the G-Mark Guide, which gives explanations in English.

Take a trip on a shinkansen

The company JR East operates most of Japan’s shinkansen, or bullet trains. Riding the shinkansen is a completely different experience from riding the subway; it can reach speeds over 300 kilometers per hour (186 mph). Once in a while, the company comes up with a limited edition themed train—for example, the kid-friendly Pokémon with You Train and the Genbi Shinkansen, a contemporary art-themed bullet train.

Wear traditional dress

If you want to wear kimono, summertime is the best time to visit Tokyo. Locals rarely wear kimono, but in warmer weather, they’ll dust off their yukata for fireworks displays or local festivals. Companies are happy to rent out kimono or yukata for a day, night or even just for a photography shoot in-house.

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Wearing yukata in Naka-meguro | © Bento Yoshida / Shutterstock