Japan is my soul country and Tokyo is my spirit animal. It fuses Japan’s rich heritage of stoicism and tradition with a molotov cocktail of Hello Kitty, karoke and electric nightlife. In 2015, I decided to stop putting off my bucket list trip and finally make that trip to Japan.
From the moment my butt hit the chair of the train from Narita Airport to downtown Tokyo, I fell in love.
I meandered through the city, visited the Meiji Shrine, walked across Shibuya, rode in bullet trains, shopped at Daiso, gawked at the fashionable antics at Harajuku on Takeshita Street, wore in a yukata and wandered the alleys of Takayama and tasted sake all afternoon, soaked in the relaxing hot baths in the onsen experience and drank beer from a vending machine. But it still wasn’t enough time.
(And by the way, while you’re thinking about visiting Japan, hop over here and check out some of my favorite travel gear.)
If you’re looking for awesome things to do in Tokyo – here are the 5 top five things to do in Tokyo that I never actually did…
1. Tsukiji Fish Market and the Tuna Auction
This is the best activity to do your first morning in Tokyo since you probably can’t sleep anyway, and what better way to combat jetlag than to inhale the smell of fresh ocean fish and hear the clamor of the tuna auction? Getting in is doled out on a first come first served basis. During peak tourist times (spring and autumn) both sessions of the tuna auction may fill up before 5:00 am, so the earlier you get there the better.
According to TokyoCheapo.com “One of the things you may or may not have noticed about Tokyo is the fact that there is no 24-hour train (or bus) service in the city. Simply put, no trains are running at 4:00am, when you need to arrive at the fish market. As a result, you must spend the night somewhere near the market if you want to visit the live tuna auction.” So in other words, you have to really, really want to go to the auction.
And that’s why we didn’t make it…get there by 4 am. Yeah…uh….about that. But you can skip the auction and still attend the market, so if 6 am is more your style, you can still enjoy the bustle of the world’s largest wholesale fish and seafood market. Meander through the market and have sushi for breakfast at the Tsukiji Fish Market. (Note, if you can’t stomach the sight of raw fish in the morning much less eat it for breakfast, this isn’t your scene.) Note that most shops and stores close early in the afternoon and both the Inner and the Outer Market are closed on Sundays, national holidays and occasionally on Wednesdays.
Always check the calendars before you visit for major holidays or other instances that might affect operations.
I learned the hard way in Australia that everything closes on Good Friday, including much of the public transit.
Before you go, make sure to check out TokyoCheapo’s write up on the market.
2. Cat Cafes
Although I’m a dog person, I do have a cat at home and admittedly, she’s pretty sweet. I spend my mornings writing and catching up on email with a cat named Midnight curled up on my lap. So I get it Tokyo, I get it. Life is just a little bit better if you can pet a cat while sipping a drink. We already know that Japan has a thing for cats, right?
Tokyo apartments are too small to accommodate pets, so clearly there’s a need for bonding with an animal companion. A quick search on TripAdvisor for “Tokyo Cat Cafe” yields no less than 65 results, so mostly likely, there’ll be one near you. Cat cafes run about 1,000 Yen per hour.
Tokyo didn’t stop with cat cafes; they added owl cafes and wait, there’s a hedgehog cafe? Yup, Tokyo is home to Hedgehog Cafe Harry. You’ll need reservations to cuddle with an owl or a hedgehog, so look them up before you go and reserve online.
UPDATED: Whoa. I didn’t realize that the owls and hedgehogs are often treated inhumanely. Thanks for your feedback, y’all. Stick with the cat cafes.
3. Lunch at the Ramen Museum
Ah, yes I had ramen. Delightful, wonderful, comforting ramen. Although I did not trek to the Ramen Museum and absorb the history of the noodle soup, I guarantee you that I ate fresh ramen soup at every opportunity.
Instant ramen is a different animal than the brothy bowl of noodles. Beloved by college students over the world, why not pay homage to instant ramen? The Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum is located in Yokohama which is about an hour to an hour and a half outside of Tokyo, so make a day trip of it.
There are NINE ramen shops in a replicated 1958 alley (the year instant ramen was invented) so come hungry.
4. Sumo Wrestling Practice
After all that ramen, you’ll need to feel better about your carbohydrate intake. Either catch an actual match or get to Arashio-beya for practice to watch the stables through the windows for free. Should we stop right there and ask why the English translational word is “stables”? No, okay let’s move on and admire the discipline, the tradition and the thongs of the wrestling art of sumo.
It’s an early morning to watch the practice, 7 :30 am – 10:00 am. (but like sleeping in compared to the fish market) and it’s FREE. Their English website clearly outlines their rules , so be respectful and play it cool. 😉
Hakkaku | 1-16-1 Kamezawa, Sumida-ku, Tokyo, Japan 130-0014
5. Traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony
Snarkiness aside, a traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony would fill my soul to the brim. When you travel in small groups, as I did on my trip to Tokyo, you have more people’s tastes and schedules to accommodate and sadly, a traditional tea ceremony didn’t make the schedule. (However, we did an impromptu drinking of Okinawan sake which put a smile on my face and a hangover to my brain.)
Make sure you hit at least a couple of these activities on your trip to Tokyo or — wait — or you’ll need to go back for another round. Genius. Now that bucket list trip will be known as my first trip to Tokyo. Until we meet again, Tokyo.