12 Quirky Experiences in Tokyo, Japan

Experience Japan’s more unusual side with a fascinating tour or workshop
Experience Japan’s more unusual side with a fascinating tour or workshop | ©Retales Botijero / Getty Images
Photo of Jessica Esa
14 November 2020

‘There’s something for everyone’ is a phrase used with abandon. But when it comes to Tokyo, it couldn’t be more apt. Whether you’re into sumo wrestling, samurai performances or slicing fish, there really is an experience you’ll enjoy. Here are some of the more offbeat ones.

Visit the most unusual places in Tokyo

Museum
Map View
Parasites are displayed in jars at the Meguro Parasitological Museum
Parasites displayed in jars at the Meguro Parasitological Museum | ©Damon Coulter / Alamy

Explore Tokyo via its most curious sites on this expert tour. You’ll get an introduction to the weirder and wackier side of the city – from hedgehog and owl cafés to a museum jam-packed with parasites. Follow your local guide as you enjoy drinks in lesser-known spots, feast on authentic Japanese snacks, and visit fascinating places only insiders know about.

Mochi and traditional Japanese vegan sweet-making class

Family style, Dessert, Japanese
Map View
Wagashi are traditional Japanese sweets loved by all
Wagashi are traditional Japanese sweets loved by all

Japanese confectionery, or wagashi, is an important part of Japanese culture: the sweets represent the changing seasons and are widely enjoyed across the country. This traditional Japanese sweet-making class uses vegan ingredients to teach you how to create the tastiest confectionery from scratch using Japanese tools and techniques. Craft three different types of sweets: dango mochi (sweet rice cakes), nerikiri wagashi (made with bean paste) and daifuku mochi (rice dough stuffed with a sweet filling), and enjoy complimentary green tea alongside your creations.

Learn the secrets of the samurai

Sports Center
Map View
Samurai training in a traditional dojo, in Tokyo
Samurai training in a traditional dojo, in Tokyo | © fabio formaggio / Alamy Stock Photo

For anyone who grew up with Japanese movies, video games or history, samurai are figures of endless fascination, often shrouded in mystery. “Secrets of the Samurai” is a traditional stage workshop that will allow you to walk in the shoes of these legendary warriors and discover the world they inhabited. This Ginza-based dojo runs samurai kembu classes, which see participants learn to fight with a katana (traditional sword), dance with Japanese fans and recite poetry like a bushi (warrior). Bowing and walking lessons let you embody the spirit fully while you wear the full costume. Besides your memories, you get to leave with pictures and a completion certificate.

Wrestle and eat chanko nabe with a professional sumo

Sports Center
Map View
Japanese sumo wrestler training in their stall
Japanese sumo wrestler training in their stall | ©Oleandra / Alamy

Try out the national sport of Japan for yourself at this sumo demonstration. You’ll not only learn about the history of sumo wrestling, but you’ll also learn some key moves and have a go at wrestling with a professional. After working up an appetite in the ring, participants will be treated to a chanko nabe, the traditional hotpot lunch enjoyed by sumo wrestlers. Sit down to a delicious meal and learn about its history before taking a photo with former professional sumo wrestlers. By the time you leave, it’ll be quite obvious why sumo is a national obsession.

Learn to make cartoon bentos with a master

Building
Map View
Immerse yourself in a slice of Japanese culture and learn how to create your very own mini lunchbox
Immerse yourself in a slice of Japanese culture and learn how to create your very own mini lunchbox | ©Sourcenext / Alamy
Bento boxes are a staple in Japanese culture and are enjoyed by all across the country. Immerse yourself in Japanese culture and learn how to create your very own mini lunchbox at this bento masterclass. Fill yours with nutritious, seasonal ingredients before crafting a kawaii (cute) character to display on top. These characters are another fun Japanese tradition and you’ll learn the craft from a local guide, who will also be on hand to share stories of Japan.

Visit a maid café in Akihabara, Tokyo’s electric town

Architectural Landmark
Map View
Maid cafe in Tokyo's Akihabara district
Maid cafés are a popular attraction in Tokyo’s Akihabara district | ©Mark Andrews / Alamy

For anime and video-game fans all over the world, Tokyo’s electric town is a spiritual home – giant anime billboards, themed cafés and stores bursting with memorabilia make for a contagiously exciting atmosphere. This 2.5-hour sightseeing tour allows you to explore the neighbourhood with a guide dressed in a maid costume that you’ll see everywhere in this district. After learning about otaku culture, and exploring the city’s anime culture, you’ll finish with lunch, a drink and a chat with your guide at one of the local cosplay cafés.

Take a selfie at an incredible immersive light installation

Art Gallery
Map View
Mikado of lights by Team Lab in Odaiba
Mikado of lights by Team Lab in Odaiba | © Matthieu Lafare / Alamy Stock Photo

This digital art museum on the island of Odaiba is an absolute must-see. Housed in the unremarkable Mori Building is one of the most awesome artistic experiences in Tokyo. Conceived by teamLab Borderless, this immersive light installation allows you to wander through scenes that look like they’ve been pulled straight out of a painting or video game. The spaces and colours react to your presence and touch, making for some amazing photos. They even offer sakura-themed rooms during cherry-blossom season. With this experience, you’ll also get a transfer so that you don’t even have to navigate the busy Tokyo subway.

Pet an owl at a café in Harajuku

Building
Map View
Owl cafe, Tokyo
Owl cafe, Tokyo | © se Pui Lung / Alamy Stock Photo

Due to high living costs and tiny apartments, most people in Tokyo don’t have the space to look after pets. The solution? Animal cafés. One of the most famous of these is the Harajuku Owl Café where you can get up close and personal with those fearsome yet beautiful birds. You can try holding the bird with the help of a trained expert, or you can take a selfie before relaxing in the garden with your free drink while watching these incredible creatures go about their day from a distance.

Dress up in a kimono

Natural Feature, Architectural Landmark
Map View
Embody the spirit of Japanese culture
Embody the spirit of Japanese culture | ©Willian Chang Nakahira / Alamy

This tour will give travellers the chance to really embody the spirit of Japanese culture. You’ll be dressed in a traditional Japanese kimono and get your photo taken in some gorgeous temples, shrines and gardens. To add to the experience, you’ll be filmed in your kimono and have the video to keep for your memories or Instagram account.

Take a traditional handicrafts and tram tour

Building, Train Station, Architectural Landmark
Map View
Japanese paper lanterns
Japanese paper lanterns | © MARIUSZ PRUSACZYK / Alamy Stock Photo

Few visitors know about Tokyo’s two tram lines operating in the northern and eastern parts of the city. The journey offers a chance to enjoy views of the city and access places you might not otherwise visit. On this tour, you’ll drop by lesser-known spots like Chochin’s workshop, where you’ll make Japanese lanterns and decorate them with calligraphy. At the second stop, a Hina Doll workshop, you’ll create a card case with luxury Nishijin-ori brocade, a traditional silk fabric used for doll dresses.

Make your own hand-woven souvenirs

Art Gallery, Building
Map View
Traditional Japanese weaving
Traditional Japanese weaving | © blew_s/Shutterstock

If you’re looking to take home a perfect souvenir of your time in Japan, then why not create your own? This experience is an ideal way to embrace local folk arts. You’ll learn traditional Japanese weaving methods and use them to make items such as coasters, placemats and centrepieces. This relaxing, almost meditative experience will leave you with new skills and a deeper appreciation of Japanese design.

Learn how to cut fish like a professional sushi chef

Fishmonger, Japanese
Map View
Itamae or master chef, slicing fish with a large knife for making sushi
Itamae or master chef, slicing fish with a large knife for making sushi | ©Mint Images Limited / Alamy

Japanese food is all about quality and precision; it’s a cuisine that can take decades to perfect – if it can be mastered at all. This fish-cutting class is dedicated to the art of sashimi and cutting the fish correctly to obtain a good flavour. You will learn how to cut fish like a pro and enjoy a full sashimi meal of your own making. Working with a professional Japanese chef, you’ll also learn about which fish is in season and when and why certain fish are chosen for sashimi.

Jessica Dellow contributed additional reporting to this article.

These recommendations were updated on November 14, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.