With so many choices, it can be hard to decide what to do first, especially if it’s your first time in Tokyo. We’ve selected 15 fun things to do in Tokyo that are great for first-time tourists as well as frequent visitors.
Fun things to do in Tokyo
- Shibuya-ku: Shibuya Crossing
- Sumida-ku: Climb The Sky Tree
- Chiyoda-ku: Experience Otaku Culture Shopping in Akihabara
- Sumida-ku: Sumo at the Ryogoku Kokugikan arena
- Setagaya-ku: See Tokyo’s Maneki Neko (“Lucky Cat”) at the Gotokuji Temple
- Kabuki-cho: See Godzilla in the flesh
- Chūō-ku: Luxury Shopping in Ginza
- Mitaka-ku: Ghibli Museum
- Kōtō-ku: Digital Art Museum
- Multiple Locations: Visit a Themed Cafe
Shibuya Crossing, the pedestrian scramble in the world, has become almost as much of an attraction in Tokyo as the city itself. Located outside Shibuya subway station’s Hachikō exit (named for the famous Akita dog who displayed unyielding loyalty to his master), Shibuya Crossing accommodates multi-directional foot traffic. The intersection is framed by three colossal television screens mounted on buildings that reach up out of the intersection. The screens face into the intersection and are on 24 hours a day. Advertisements and bright lights round out the iconic scramble.
It’s a popular location for filming and photography. In addition to popular American movies like Sophia Coppola’s Lost in Translations, Shibuya Crossing has featured in countless news broadcasts, music videos, vlogs, and advertising campaigns. It’s so popular that finding a time when someone isn’t filming or taking pictures is almost impossible.
While the exact number of people using Shibuya Crossing daily is difficult to pin down, experts estimate approximately 2,500 pedestrians use the scramble every two minutes, or almost 2 million people every week.
Climb The Sky Tree
With the addition of a new top section in 2012, the Tokyo Skytree became the world’s second tallest tower in the world. The Skytree, reaching up out of urban Tokyo, is more than double the height of the Eiffel Tower in Paris and offers an equally spectacular view for visitors who want to climb the tower and enjoy the 2,080 feet (634 meters) view of Tokyo. On a clear day, you’ll be able to see Mt. Fuji peeking up out of the horizon. And from the Tembo Galleria, the upper observation deck, you can even see the curvature of the planet.
Reservations aren’t necessary, but if you buy a Tokyo Skytree ticket ahead of time, you’ll not only save money but you’ll also avoid having to wait in line to purchase tickets.
Experience Otaku Culture Shopping in Akihabara
Akihabara or Akihabara Electric Town is the name given to the area surrounding Akihabara subway station in Tokyo. Many people view Akihabara as the heart of contemporary pop culture, in addition to being a key shopping area for items such as electronics, manga, anime, Figma, video games, and other computer-related items–many areas of interest for those associated with the “Otaku” sub-culture.
Otaku’s influence over how Akihabara is evident in the game-like feeling shoppers experience wandering the streets, interacting with cosplayers–like those working at some of the Maid cafes in the area–handing out advertisements or promotional materials.
Each year, in January, May, and September, the Ryogoku Kokugikan National Sumo Stadium is home to three Grand Sumo tournaments called bashos. Each tournament runs for 15 days. Rooted in the Shinto religion, Sumo, Japan’s official sport, dates back to the Heian period (794-1192), and you’ll see that tradition on bold display during each day’s matches. The Ryogoku Kokugikan is a short one-minute walk from the Ryogoku Station on the JR line or a slightly longer, five-minute jaunt from the Ryogoku Station stop on the Toei Oedo Line.
If you can’t get tickets (which sell out quickly), you can always take in a morning training session–called keiko. The Tokyo Arashio Beya (training facility for sumo wrestlers based in Tokyo) offers visitors the opportunity almost most mornings (training sessions are not available in March, July, and November.)
See Tokyo’s Maneki Neko (“Lucky Cat”) at the Gotokuji Temple
Japan’s symbol of good luck, the Maneki Neko cat, is believed to bring good fortune and happiness. The white cat sits with one arm raised, welcoming you. If the cat has its left paw raised, it welcomes people; a raised right paw welcomes money and abundance.
Each year thousands of visitors make the trek to the Gotokuji cat temple to ask for a financial blessing or to say thank you for blessings they have already received.
Outside the temple, you can ring the temple bell. The suzu rope attached to the bell resembles the cat’s, and ringing the bell is believed to attract benevolent spirits while preventing evil spirits from doing harm.
Look up, way up, and you’ll see Godzilla.
Located in Kabukicho (Shinjuku, Tokyo), the 80-ton sculpture occasionally exhales smokey plumes or sports glowing red eyes. Erected in 2015, the Godzilla figure was attached to the hotel, referencing the countless Showa-era (Emperor Shōwa’s reign: 1926 to 1989) Godzilla movies that saw the reptile storm through the streets of Tokyo.
Godzilla first reared its head in a post-war Japan, still recovering from the ravages of atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and subsequent atmospheric hydrogen bomb tests. The rampaging monster was embraced by a population dealing with trauma and fear tied to nuclear activity with such passion that an entire genre of monster movies was born.
Ginza (銀座) is arguably Japan’s most expensive real estate sector. With one square meter of retail properties carrying a price tag of 40+ million yen (US $370,000 USD/sqm or 35,000 USD/sq ft) and in some locations up to 64 million yen (570,000 USD/sqm or 53,000 USD/sq ft).
It should come as little surprise then that Ginza is Tokyo’s most affluent shopping district, boasting high-end brands from around the globe.
Chuo Dori, Ginza’s main street, runs roughly one kilometer through the popular tourist district that is pedestrian-only on weekends. Chuo Dori features souvenir shops, boutiques, and department stores featuring both domestic and international brands.
Studio Ghibli may just be the most famous animation studio in the world.
The museum is located a short 15-minute walk from the Mitaka subway station on the Chūō Main Line (rapid transit) at the Inokashira Park’s edge. The multi-level exhibit features displays offering details on how animation actually works, in addition to a 2nd-floor reading room (with books available for purchase) and a rooftop garden featuring a Laputian robot from Castle in the Sky.
Designed by Hayao Miyazaki, the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, Tokyo, attracts tourists from around the country and around the globe. For the best experience, it is recommended that visitors purchase tickets several weeks in advance of their trip via the Ghibli Museum website.
Digital Art Museum
In June 2018, teamLab, a digital art collective made up of scientists, artists, and designers, launched a permanent art installation: the world’s first museum of digital art in Odaiba, Japan.
Don’t expect to see MOMA-style here. Utilizing 470 projectors and 520 computers to create an immersive experience, Tokyo’s Mori Building Digital Art Museum is quite unlike any other museum experience.
What makes this museum experience so original is that the art itself is dynamic–continually in motion. Within moments, you can experience scenery changes that shift from bright yellow sunflowers to pastel sakura blossoming without taking a step in any direction. There’s even a cafe where you can enjoy watching digital flowers bloom in your teacup.
Visitors to Tokyo can enjoy any number of themed cafes to rest and reset before tackling the next adventure.
Animal cafes, like the Cat Cafe Mocha in Harajuku, offer visitors an opportunity to enjoy gourmet coffee in the company of a feline friend. If cats aren’t your ideal coffee companion, don’t worry. Tokyo offers a number of animal-themed cafes, including Sakuragaoka Cafe (goat cafe), Harry Cafe (hedgehog cafes) and Cafe Hoot Hoot (you guessed it, an Owl Cafe).
If animals aren’t your thing, Shinjuku’s Robot Restaurant offers technophiles a laser-filled robot dining experience. Horror fans will enjoy visiting The Lockup, a dungeon-themed cafe. With nine Tokyo locations (15 across Japan), Maiddreamin’s popular Maid Cafe chain offers live shows that start every two hours, food, and photo ops for their customers.