9 Incredible Things To Do In Tokyo

9 Incredible Things To Do In Tokyo

When asked “Why the great love for Japan” I don’t have to ponder for even a moment…it was ignited by the mysterious pen pal from Kyoto who wrote to me monthly when we were eight years old. My life in Christchurch New Zealand many thousands of kms away – yet intrinsically the nature infused childhood, slower pace and artisan style of living quite similar. From the moment we first visited Japan in 2016 our family felt at ‘home’. 

Yet with Tokyo the first stop, a sense sense of overwhelm and ‘otherworldly’ settled. At once pulsatingly urbane, hectic and hedonistic, to traditional, contemplative, artisan. 

Credit: Conde Nast
Credit: Vanity Fair

One thing can be agreed – however long you visit this wondrous city – ‘the most densely populated urban area in the world’ – it will never be quite enough, the real gem is there will ALWAYS be more to see and do. A bewitching state that leaves me longing to return annually. To stroll and discover more. 

Here are a few of my favourite things to do in Tokyo – the ones I return to;

(note: Tokyo is HUGE, made up of 23 special WARDS (suburbs), each unique, each a ‘city’ in their own right. I have included the ‘area name’ for each hidden highlight). . 

My tip for finding your way in Tokyo is to not have a prescriptive itinerary – albeit a certain amount of pre-trip research is paramount, nothing worse than returning home to realise you were literally ‘next door’ to something fabulous. That said, the true spirit of travel is a fluid state – with this in mind leave your days open to surprise and chance happenings. 

A place as large as Tokyo will ever evolve, just because it is on my list of ‘where to go in Tokyo’ today, does not mean it will remain there forever – something equally wonderful is bound to have taken it’s place. Be a flanuer, a wanderer, a seeker of surprise – ultimately the reward will come from the unexpected. Have fun.


I’ve made a sweeping assumption you are travelling with partner/family/kids – should you find yourself alone (or with a small group of discerning friends) I have included FOR YOU section at the bottom. The things I do when I can ‘sneak off for a bit’.

What you wear on your feet will make or break your Tokyo trip. Smart sneakers will take you everywhere – this is a walking town. Many locations also ask you to remove footwear before entry, leave socks with holes at home.

Tokyoites take ‘dressing with care’ seriously – you will feel more comfortable if you do too. Not flashy, just well groomed.

Buy a Suica or Pasmo card (buy with cash only – from every convenience store, there will be several along EVERY block). Use for trains and purchases in many stores – top up as you go.

Convenience stores have plentiful food options, high turnover makes for FRESH – salads, sushi, bakery items, alcoholic beverages – great if you are travelling with kids. I love the Natural Lawsons brand for healthful options.

English is spoken more widely than when I first visited, however off the beaten path (which I highly recommend) you will still find older Japanese do not speak English. A little bit of effort goes a long way. Learn these phrases:

  1. Ohayo Gozaimasu (Good Morning) say ‘ohio’ ‘goz-eye-mus’
  2. Konnichiwa (hello after 11am, before 5pm) say ‘con-itchy-wa’
  3. Kombanwa (good evening) say ‘kom-bun-wa’
  4. Arigato gosaimasu (thank you so much, formal) say ‘a-ri-ga-taw’
  5. Hai (yes) ‘high’
  6. Iie (no) ‘ee-e’
  7. Sumimasen (excuse me – I use this OFTEN) ‘su-mi-mus-en’

Travelling with hungry kids? The department store foodcourts (see below) sell fantastic food fare at ‘discount’ from about 6.00pm. Excellent for a night exhausted little bodies could do with ‘in room dining’.


START HERE –  Dig Tokyo Tours – an adventure with Andy (ex Melbournite) will help you get your ‘Tokyo feet’…he can tailor (within reason) to your group size/ages. For a taste of; the quieter side of Tokyo and traditional street food/shopping/cultural areas.

TOYOSU teamLabs Planet Tokyo – brilliant for every age, except very young ones. Aim for tickets early in the day.

ASAKUSA Sensoji Shrine – the street food is authentic and exciting. Do not eat and walk, only consume at the stall. Don’t miss the ‘fortune teller sticks’ located just before you enter the shrine. Before you visit – cross the road to Asakusa Cultural Information Centre, excellent for area guides/maps, also a super view from the eighth floor.

ROPPONGI Mori Art Gallery – a contemporary art space AND a viewing area – go early to beat the crowds and for the best views over Tokyo. Saves queuing for hours at the Skytree complex.

SHIBUYA ‘Scramble’ Crossing – at night – because it is ‘quintessential Tokyo’ – explore the laneways on all sides for shopping.

GINZA -the main ‘strip, Chuo dori’ is closed to vehicles on the weekends. The perfect time to stroll and people watch. Don’t be deterred by the ‘ritzy’ reputation, head into the laneways for 100 year old coffee houses, vintage kimono boutiques, then reemerge for the glamorous, high end options (sizing not necessarily catering for westerners, however I have purchased wonderful designer brand items that are never available in Australia (costume jewellery/shoes/accessories). Take your passport and get tax free receipts (this is available in Uniqlo too). Itoya is the crème of what Japan does the best, stationery. 

YANAKA – Old Tokyo – I love to escape the crowds and dive into the nostalgic charm of Yanaka Ginza. Traditional buildings still line the streets – unique as they survived the Great Earthquake 1923, & WWII bombing (the remainder of Tokyo not so fortunate) Ginza. This is not a flash area, it is also compact – so tie in a visit here en route to Tokyo National Museum – I like to stop for a mid morning . This hidden shopping street in the old Yanaka district boasts traditional shops, local crafts, and a slower pace. Wander through the cobblestone lanes and savor the timeless allure of Old Tokyo.

VINTAGE SHOPPING TOKYO – in a word, vast. Try;

  1. OMOTESANDO/HARAJUKU – Chicago vintage shopping, now quite mainstream with many locations. The ‘jumble sale’ essence still remains, vintage kimono treasures sit ‘cheek to jowl’ with other secondhand fashion.
  2. KOENJI – scruffy, edgy, the home of underground punk and jazz – by day vintage shops line ‘Look Street’ – my teens always find it fun to fossick for vinyl and music t’shirts. I’ve unearthed fashion pieces too.
  3. SHIMOKITIZAWA – meandering backstreets, cool coffee houses, vintage fashion galore.


  1. Vending Ticket Ramen – don’t leave town without sitting in a ‘hole in the wall’ noodle house, grab a ticket at the vending machine.
  2. ‘Depachika’ Department Store foodcourt – an event – row after row of incredibly presented patisserie, seafood, salads, bakery – traditional and euro style. A superb spot to view immaculately dressed Tokyo women buying their household food for the day. Try; Isetan/Shinjuku. Daimaru/Tokyo Station, Takashimaya/Nihonbashi (great fashion sales too), Mitsukoshi/Ginza.
  3. Rooftop Gardens and bars – always look up, you never know what you will unearth.
  4. Antique, Farmers, Flea Markets – Oedo (not far from Tokyo Station) my pick. Generally held the 1st & 3rd Sunday of the month.
  5. Don Quiote (DONKI) – from supermarket items to sex toys. Once seen, never forgotten. These mega outlets are dotted everywhere.
  6. Hands (previously Tokyu Hands) – THE one stop shop for (mostly) made Japan


HIBIYA (next to GINZA) Imperial Hotel – parts of this hotel retain sections of Frank Lloyd Wright design brilliance – a sense of stepping back in time. I like to sit for a coffee break. Ditto AMAN – try brunch, set in the Otemachi Forest, an oasis.

GINZA Shisedo The Store (dreamy facials), Shopping (Ginza Six, Barneys New York, Uniqlo, Dover Street market). Look out for small, inexpensive Tempura ‘hole in the wall’ lunch spots along the laneways.

TOKYO WIDE – architectural walk – I’m still devastated at the removal of the quirky original capsule building ‘Nagagin’ a few years ago – I appease myself with these architectural highlights

TOKYO WIDE – Atelier Soka – Ikebana – traditional floral arranging class. Sublime, meditative, not something I am the least bit interested in at home – yet, when in Tokyo!

TOKYO WIDE – Green Tea Ceremony – not for the faint hearted. Care and time taken – a sense of Ikagai in the truest form. A traditional tea ceremony is lengthy – but recommended. My favourite, Sakurai Tea Experience, is upmarket and modern.  Linking in nicely with a visit to Nezu Museum and a stroll around up market Omotesando.

ROPPONGI – 21_21 Design Sight –  contemporary art gallery, check ‘what is on’ before you visit (I scored a 10/10 with the Christo & Jeanne Claude exhibit). Time your arrival to pop over to the roof top bar at the Ritz Carlton next door, spectacular sunset views.

Photo Credits

Nick Kwan, Aleksandar Pasaric, Bluefish Japan (Pexels), Teamlabs, Monique van Tulder, Conde Nast, Vanity Fair

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