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Sometimes our travel expectations don’t match up to reality, and Tokyo is no exception. Whether you’re looking to skip the tourist traps or just can’t stand the crowds, these are the places you should think about avoiding on any trip to Japan’s capital.
Takeshita Street is known as the heart of Harajuku, one of Tokyo’s most popular fashion districts. But some days, it looks more like a herd of cattle than a catwalk, and most of the shops here know exactly who their main clientele are—tourists. Instead of elbowing your way through the crowds, head off into the side streets near Takeshita. This trendy area is known as Ura-Hara and will show you the quirky fashions and offbeat boutiques you’re looking for.
Tokyo Skytree is a multi-level mall and observation deck popular with both foreign and domestic tourists, meaning you might have to wait your turn to take that coveted panorama shot. But it’s also just one of many pay-per-view observatories in Tokyo. So if you don’t want to take your chances here, then it’s best to head to one of the others instead.
Robot Restaurant rose to fame by capitalizing on Japan’s reputation for the wacky and weird. As a result, it’s a really fun show but also really gimmicky—not to mention expensive. A sure sign of a tourist trap is when the audience is mainly composed of tourists, and you’ll definitely find that here, along with an overpriced dinner bento (boxed meal).
It used to be that the barkeeps of Golden Gai gave all foreigners the cold shoulder. But these days, foreigners make up the majority of customers at this cluster of tiny bars, and only tourists would happily shell out 1,000 yen for seating charges night after night. It’s still a pretty cool area to stop for a drink, but maybe not the best place for bar-hopping.
In Japan, sumo wrestling is actually not as cool as you’d think. The only people who go to sumo matches these days are tourists and the elderly, so prepare yourself for the anticlimactic atmosphere of the Ryogoku Kokugikan, Tokyo’s primary sumo hall. But still, if you’re into professional sumo, it is something you can only find here in Japan—so don’t cross it off your list just yet.
New York Grill is a bar on the 52nd floor of the Park Hyatt in Shinjuku. Among foreign visitors, the bar’s main claim to fame is that it was used for a scene in Lost in Translation. Even though that movie came out way back in 2003, it’s still high on the must-see list of a lot of visitors. But there are so many other sky bars in Tokyo you’d miss out on that offer even more amazing views.
Nakamise-dori is the shopping street that leads up to Asakusa. The place is super touristy, selling things such as fake omamori (amulets from the shrine), and there’s a 100% chance that anyone you see in a kimono is not from around here. But it’s kind of hard to avoid if you intend to visit Senso-ji, and there is one thing worth grabbing here—the agemanju or filled sweet cakes, a classic Asakusa souvenir.
From a distance, Mount Fuji is a thing of beauty. But start climbing it, and you’ll quickly realize what a dusty, foggy and exhausting little expedition you’ve embarked on, one that does little to redeem itself in terms of beautiful scenery. Mount Fuji’s neighboring mountains are more popular among climbers for a reason: good ol’ Fuji-san probably looks its best from afar.
The Kawaii Monster Cafe is one of Tokyo’s biggest tourist traps and proud of it. The café charges a door fee plus the cost of a drink and an order of food—and both are mandatory for everyone at the table. To be fair, the staff actually are super kawaii and put on a good show, so it’s up to you to decide if it’s worth checking out.
One thing all of us tourists have in common is a love of free stuff. Word spread quickly about the no-cost observatories in Shinjuku’s Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, and now you’ve not only got lines for the elevator but the good window real estate too.
Ameyokocho is known as one of Tokyo’s biggest open-air marketplaces. It’s a little old-fashioned and a lot rowdy, which is part of what makes it so attractive to visitors. In recent years, the place has become more and more touristy, crowded and expensive, making it a bit of a letdown for some first-timers.