14 high issues to do in Tokyo, from sushi to kabuki

Toyko is the megacity that different world capitals look as much as. Nowhere else has fairly the identical mixture of timeless historical past and space-age tech, of strict custom and up-to-the-second fashions, of bewildering crowds and moments of utter serenity. It is the previous and future wrapped up collectively into one thrilling package deal – and understandably, it is one of many high vacationer locations on the planet.

Deciding what to do in a metropolis as huge and sophisticated as Tokyo can take some consideration. You may spend your days purchasing for next-century electronics in futuristic malls or discovering internal peace in timeless temples and serene zen gardens, and your evenings sipping sake in back-alley bars or clubbing with the cosplay set dressed up as a manga superhero.

So much will depend on how a lot time you may have and the way comfy you’re diving into Tokyo’s complicated however environment friendly public transport system. However if you wish to maximize the expertise in your first journey to Tokyo, listed here are 14 of our favourite issues to do.

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Expertise a conventional Japanese artwork kind

One among Asia’s most iconic megacities, Tokyo solely turned the capital of Japan in 1868, when the nation’s rulers determined to desert centuries of conservative custom and embrace the skin world. Since then, Tokyo has regarded firmly to the longer term, however the metropolis nonetheless has a deeply conventional coronary heart, greatest skilled by conventional arts and artforms.

For a pattern of conventional Tokyo, watch kabuki (theatrical dance) on the Kabuki-za theater in Ginza, eat a conventional multi-course kaiseki meal to a backdrop of performing geisha in Asakusa, or admire one of many 7000-plus Japanese treasures on present on the Edo-Tokyo Museum. Regardless of the way you embrace them, the normal arts are an excellent introduction to how Tokyo was once earlier than the town fell in love with all the pieces trendy.

Akihabara’s digital malls supply a space-age journey by future tech © f11photo / Shutterstock

Dive into Akihabara’s popular culture

The Akihabara neighborhood is sort of a pilgrimage vacation spot for the town’s otaku (die-hard pop-culture followers), who outline their lives by themes of geeky nostalgia and inventive eccentricity. Flanking Akihabara’s fundamental avenue, Chuo Dori, are shops stuffed with second-hand online game consoles, towering gaming arcades and manga comics shops, in addition to flagship anime merchandise outlets.

If you happen to’re on the hunt for old-school online game treasures, peruse the bountiful cabinets of Retro Game Camp and Tremendous Potato Retro-kan. Nonetheless, you needn’t love manga or anime to take pleasure in this quirky neighborhood. With its neon-bright electronics shops, retro arcades, cosplay cafes – and now the possibility to drive go-karts by the streets – it is equal components sensory overload, cultural immersion and simply plain enjoyable.

Grilled seafood scallop and sea urchin eggs on sale at Tsukiji's Outer Market
Grilled seafood scallop and sea urchin eggs on sale at Tsukiji’s Outer Market © Gumpanat Thavankitdumrong / Alamy

Style the Pacific at Tokyo’s fish markets 

Bestowed with the honorary title of ‘Japan’s Kitchen,’ Tsukiji was previously the placement of the town’s most well-known fish market, however the bulk of the wholesale fish-selling shifted to Toyosu Market on Tokyo Bay in 2018. Nonetheless, there’s nonetheless loads of motion at Tsukiji, the place the outer market space stays a lot because it was within the early Showa Interval, when the market was based.

The cramped alleyways are permeated by the saline smells of the Pacific. A rainbow menagerie of sea creatures decorates the stalls from high to backside each day, and octogenarian fishmongers hail passersby with guarantees of culinary delights. The fist-sized seared scallops, tamagoyaki (rolled omelet) and uni (sea urchin) sushi at Tsukiji are must-eats.

Over at Toyosu, the biggest seafood market on this planet conducts its enterprise inside big ventilated hangars in Koto Ward. Constructed as a state-of-the-art improve to Tsukiji, it lacks the country appeal of its predecessor, functioning extra as an environment friendly buying and selling ground for the seafood that retains Tokyo’s eating places in enterprise. Nonetheless, it’s now dwelling to Tokyo’s legendary morning tuna auctions – an excellent addition to any itinerary for early risers.

Gallery-goers are visible in silhouette in a large room which is strung with neon-pink lamps, which are reflected prettily in the mirrored floor
Resplendent shows and visible trickery at teamLab’s Borderless artwork exhibition in Tokyo © Charly Triballeau / Getty Pictures

See leading edge digital artwork at teamLab Borderless

Trendy artwork collective, teamLab, have made Tokyo the point of interest for his or her ultratechnologist experiments in artwork and trendy media. The perfect place to have interaction with their digital creativity is the group’s Borderless exhibition in Tokyo’s Odaiba district, a procession of warehouse-sized artworks and dynamic gentle projections linked by way of tunnels in a 107,639 sq ft (10,000 sq meter) occasion area.

Weaving collectively a number of fantastical worlds, this futuristic artwork expertise is surprisingly pleasant and makes for some nice photographs. Digital artwork is trending throughout Tokyo, and you may see it labored into many different points of interest across the metropolis. Borderless is in style so ebook tickets upfront.

The mirrored entrance of Tokyu Department Store, Tokyo
Entrance of Harajuku Tokyu Division Retailer, a temple for fashion-conscious teenagers in Tokyo © Jirat Teparaksa / Shutterstock

Be part of the purchasing legions in Harajuku

The tree-lined avenue of Omote-sandō is famed for mixing trendy Japanese aesthetic preferences with Western hipster tendencies. This vibrant thoroughfare, lined with Zelkova bushes, is dominated by high-end boutiques from Emporio Armani to Gucci, housed behind jarringly artistic architectural facades. The Tokyu Plaza, with its fractal mirrored entrance, is especially prepossessing.

The backstreets of Harajuku are Tokyo’s street-fashion laboratory; that is the place you will discover the trendsetters, the peacocks and the type photographers who chronicle all of it – and the classic outfitters staffed by resident bohemians that maintain all the pieces transferring. Holding according to the hipster theme, hit up Commune 2nd for lunch, a big outside cover surrounded by meals vehicles serving such favourite Japanese road bites as karaage (battered rooster thighs) and tebasaki (fried wings), alongside vegan delicacies and craft beer stalls.

In a dramatic moment in a wrestling ring, circled by salt, one sumo wrestler bends forward to lunge at his opponent, who resists, with a look of concentration
Sumo is steeped in spirituality and it is an unforgettable spectacle for guests to Tokyo © The Asahi Shimbun / Getty Pictures

Benefit from the huge thrill of stay sumo 

Sumo, probably the most enduring components of Japan’s religious tradition, originated within the early Nara Interval (CE 710–794), when bouts between wrestlers have been conceptualized as a method to entertain the Shinto gods. Though sumo is undeniably a sport within the trendy age, a lot of the spiritual pageantry lives on: the salting of the pre-bout ring, the just about ascetic dedication of wrestlers, and the reverential regard by which yokozuna (grand champions) are held.

Sumo has six stay annual occasions, three of which happen in Tokyo’s Ryōgoku Kokugikan in January, Could and September. Tickets usually promote out nicely upfront, so make sure you maintain your eye on the official website for ticket launch dates. If you happen to’re fortunate sufficient to nab one, mentally put together your self for a liquid lunch of rice wine, impassioned crowd assist and extremely audible slaps of stomach on stomach.

Ornate arrangements of sushi and small plates are arranged on leaves and in bamboo containers
From easy sushi to elaborate

Eat Michelin-starred Japanese delicacies

Washoku (conventional Japanese delicacies) was designated an intangible component of cultural heritage by Unesco in 2013, and Tokyo is its standard-bearer. Greater than 200 Michelin stars have been awarded to eating places throughout the capital, starting from easy ramen outlets the place a bowl of soup prices lower than an hourly wage, to 11-course haute delicacies menus that can burn a reasonably sizeable gap in your retirement fund.

For uncooked fish, beg your lodge concierge for a seat on the elegantly simplistic Sushi Saito (however do not be shocked should you get handed over for an area VIP). Ramen-lovers ought to slurp stone-milled noodles topped with truffle oil at Tsuta in Sugamo, whereas trendy advantageous eating is typified by Florilège, a double Michelin-starred French-Japanese fusion the place tasting menus are prepped within the culinary theater of an open kitchen.

A man cycles past a cafe in Tokyo, which is open to the street, with diners and drinkers visible beneath its canopy roof and hanging lanterns
Huddle up in one in all Tokyo’s alleyway pubs for a style of genuine Tokyo nightlife © John S Lander / Getty Pictures

Drink deep of Tokyo nightlife 

Yokocho (alleyways) are as a lot part of Tokyo’s tradition as they’re of its city design. Shinjuku’s Golden Gai is the most well-liked yokocho zone, with 250-plus ramshackle pubs crammed into an space the dimensions of a soccer discipline (together with a vibrant assortment of LGBTQIA+ dance bars). Nomiya Yokocho is a less-touristy choice in off-beat Kita-Senju, with a brand new wave of overseas eating places becoming a member of the charmingly claustrophobic chaos of its conventional bars.

Alternatively, take a look at Kichijoji’s Harmonica Alley, a community of corridors full of the crackle of dripping meat skewers on open grills, cheap-as-chips standing bars pouring draft glasses of Asahi, and hole-in-the-wall snack joints. Anticipate finding a karaoke parlor or two close by the place you possibly can end the night at full quantity.

Aerial view of Shibuya crossing covered in people in Tokyo
The Shibuya crossing is likely one of the world’s most well-known scramble crosswalks © Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

Marvel on the crowds at Shibuya Crossing 

That is the Tokyo you’ve dreamed about and seen in films: the frenetic tempo, the mind-boggling crowds, the glowing lights and the large video screens beaming larger-than-life celebrities over the streets. At Shibuya’s well-known ‘scramble’ crossing, all of this comes collectively each time the lights change, and it’s an superior sight. Come through the day to get the proper overhead shot from a close-by rooftop, or on a Friday or Saturday evening whenever you’ll discover the amount turned as much as 11.

An ornamental bridge crosses still water in Tokyo's Rikugi-en gardens, where autumn colours are tinting the trees orange and dark red
Bridges, bushes and manicured gardens create a second of calm in Tokyo’s Rikugi-en © John S Lander / Getty Pictures

Discover your calm within the gardens of Rikugi-en

Highly effective daimyo (feudal lords) dominated a lot of Japan from the tenth to the nineteenth centuries, however in Tokyo – a metropolis stricken over the centuries by rampaging fires, earth-shattering quakes, bombing raids and poor maintenance of conventional structure – few seen remnants of their affect stays. However the place yow will discover it, the outdated Tokyo nonetheless exudes a strong magic.

Designed by Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu, lord of the Kawagoe property, across the flip of the seventeenth century, the Rikugi-en backyard in Bunkyo Ward is a bucolic splotch of inexperienced amid the turgid bustle of city Tokyo. Mossy footpaths, waka poetry-inspired religious masonry, mirror-like ponds and cobblestone bridges are joined by shifting autumn foliage, and a resplendent weeping cherry tree in spring. Come and step again by a number of centuries.

Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa, Japan
Uncover Tokyo’s religious facet at Sensō-ji © TTstudio/Alamy Inventory Photograph

Interact with Japanese spirituality in Sensō-ji 

The religious dwelling of Tokyo’s ancestors, the Buddhist temple of Sensō-ji was based greater than 1000 years earlier than the town acquired its official begin. Whereas engulfed by the town at present, it retains an alluring, timeless environment redolent of the peak of the Edo interval and the mercantile bustle that outlined Tokyo’s golden age. The colourful Nakamise-dōri arcade approaching the temple complicated overflows with distributors promoting snacks and souvenirs.

The principle plaza holds a five-story pagoda, renovated in 2017, and a large cauldron of incense, saved always smoking by the crowds of holiday makers who throng the compound each day, notably at weekends. Altogether, Sensō-ji is a heady mixture of the secular and sacred, and one in all Tokyo’s most iconic sights.

People picnic under cherry blossoms at Yoyogi Park in Shibuya
Yoyogi Park in Shibuya is likely one of the high spots in Tokyo to look at the spring cherry blossom © KanokpolTokumhnerd / Shutterstock

Observe the cherry blossom in Yoyogi-kōen 

Come spring, 1000’s of cherry bushes across the metropolis burst into white and pink flowers, ushering within the season for hanami (cherry blossom viewing). If Tokyoites have one second to let their hair down en masse, that is it. Locals collect in parks and alongside river banks in big numbers for sake-fuelled cherry-blossom-viewing events beneath a cover of pink and white flowers.

Grassy Yoyogi-kōen, one of many metropolis’s largest parks, is the place you will discover a few of the most spirited and elaborate bacchanals – full with barbecues, sake-sipping and DJ turntables. Many revelers keep lengthy after darkish for the spectacle of yozakura (illuminated blossoms at evening).

The Robot statue in an open garden space at the Ghibli museum
A robotic statue guards the gardens on the Ghibli Museum © cowardlion / Shutterstock

Immerse your self in a cartoon world on the Ghibli Museum

Even these unfamiliar with the magical world of grasp animator Miyazaki Hayao – creator of anime (Japanese animation) classics together with Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away – will discover this museum enchanting. Followers simply will not need to go away. Miyazaki designed the area himself and, like his movies, it is full of whirring steampunk-esque machines and fairy-tale buildings.

Whilst you will not see workers cosplaying (costume enjoying) any characters, many well-known Ghibli characters have been cleverly labored into the material of the museum. Strolling round actually does really feel a bit like falling into the fantasy worlds created by Miyazaki Hayao.

Exterior of the Meiji-jingū Shrine in Shibuya
The sweeping eaves of the Meiji-jingū shrine in Shibuya © Photographer253 / Shutterstock

Uncover the secrets and techniques of Shinto at Meiji-jingū

Tokyo’s largest and most well-known Shintō shrine feels a world away from the bustle of the fashionable metropolis. It’s reached by way of a protracted, rambling forest path marked by towering torii (entrance gates), and its grounds are huge, enveloping a collection of picket shrine buildings and landscaped gardens in a thick coat of inexperienced.

Meiji-jingū is a spot of worship and a memorial to Emperor Meiji, and it’s additionally a spot for conventional festivals and rituals, the place weddings are held and milestones are celebrated – one thing you may catch should you time your go to proper.