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11 Must See Sites in Tokyo

Tokyo is an electric city with experiences you will not see anywhere else. It was not originally on my bucket list, but easily is one of my favorite places on Earth. In the fall of 2016, Josh and I spent one week in this vibrant city and had many of our “firsts” as a couple! In this blog, I offer 17 unique experiences in Tokyo, Japan

1. Become overwhelmed at Robot Restaurant

This immersive experience mashes Japanese culture and robots, bringing a new world of over the top entertainment. Get there early and do not blink an eye,  action-pack shows combine bizarre characters to create a really loud, neon-lit story in a nightclub “seated” setting. 

The Robot Restaurant is one of Tokyo’s most popular tourist attractions (and with good reason). It’s overwhelming, crazy, astonishing and perhaps equally pointments. You must go immediately! Book your tickets well in advance as space is limited. 

2. Show up for cherry blossom season

Sakura (cherry trees) typically begin to blossom in April, lasting nearly two weeks.  You’ll notice in your research many sites say the bright bursts of color occur between mid-March and early-May. However, the best time to see Japanese Cherry Blossoms tend to vary year to year. 

Japan’s annual pandemonium of pink petals are unmatched around the world and we unfortunately did not come at the right time. However, we can recommend the best place to see the blush-tinted blooms are in Mount Yishinoyama, Himeji Castle, and Fuji Five Lakes. No judgment on including this in my list. It’s a must see!

3. Discover unusual eat & drinkers at theme cafes

Tokyo is exciting, but sometimes downright weird. Give into the culture shock and experience a few of their uniquely themed cafes. There’s a cafe for everyone’s tases including including Kawaii Monster Cafe (Harajuku), Pokemon Cafe,  and Alice In Wonderland Cafe.

 I can not urge you enough to do your research before you visit to make sure you know WHERE the restaurant is and WHICH ones you want to go to. They are sometimes hard to find and so many to choose from. 

Example: Alcatraz ER – “The Lock Up Experience”

We went to Alcatraz ER which can be described as a medical prison where cocktails are stirred with sex toys. When you first arrive, you will be handcuffed and led to your cell. The dirty interior with steel tables give off a haunted prison theme for the criminally insane. 

There’s graffiti, fake blood and old hospital TVs that add to the effect. Drinks are served by ‘nurses’ in medical urine sample cups and lab flasks. At some point, you enjoy your visit to Alcatraz ER and the next lights will go off and red strobe lights and emergency sirens sound. This means it’s time for entertainment to commence. 

We were at the end of the row on our own (which made it even scarier). We think the idea is that some of the most insane inmates were on the loose and enjoyed showing off their unusual dance moves – even a psycho clown. If you are into this sort of thing, go for it! If not, I would look up different theme restaurants for entertainment. 

4. Love on animals 

If you’re an animal-lover, Japan will instantly feel like home. It’s not only Hello Kitty! Real-life animal encounters allow for a cuddly, yet unique experience. Sipping green tea with cats in a cat cafe might be at the top of your bucket list before landing in Japan, but don’t stop there.  Visit cafes for bunny, owl and cat cuddling or take a dip in the onsen with the company of happy monkeys at Jigokudani Monkey Park. The possibilities are endless! 

5. Get walking Shibuya Crossing

Often referred to as the world’s busiest crosswalk, Shibuya Crossing is pure organized chaos. Thousands of pedestrians scramble across the 10 lanes of traffic and 5 major crosswalks daily. Sometimes referred to as having “Time Square Vibes,” the “scramble” epitomizes the efficient madness of this cutting edge city. No matter how busy, the gigantic intersection is rarely congested. Find this major neon-colored canyon located in the heart of Tokyo. 

6. Let’s-a-go! Mario Kart” in Tokyo

There are many ways to see Tokyo – from busy trains to taxis, but what if you want something a bit different? Spend the afternoon zipping and zooming in real-life (but completely unofficial) Mario Karts in Tokyo. Street Cart, and a few other rental companies, offer up an opportunity to dress like an unofficial game character. Most of the karts come with GPS and communication bands, but you can follow the guide at all times to prevent misguided havoc. This thrilling experience is very safe and fully compliant with local laws and regulations. (We had to ask a local). Grab discount tickets at Voyagin. 

7. Experience nightLife until the early AM

When the sun sets, there is no lack of activities in Tokyo. Dine at a themed cafe, sight-see or sign your heart out in karaoke, there’s always something for everyone to do.  Delicious dining options are offered all overthe city. However, some may find it’s best to plan their night around after hour activities. Some of Tokyo’s best nightlight districts are Shinjuku, Shibuya, Ginza and Roppongi. Personally, we spent a great deal of time dancing at Club Camalot and grabbing ramen at 6:00 AM immediately after. Shibuya (where we stayed) is known for the younger local audience and love hotels. It’s an area easily navigable without knowing Japanese language than other districts.  We highly recommend grabbing ramen on your way home. 

 8. Cram yourself into a tiny bar at Golden Gai Bars 

Tucked away in Shinjuku is an architectural relic from a past time known as Golden Gai (Golden District). This small cluster of alleys, connected by even smaller passageways, is home to over 200 teeny-tiny bars. Some of the bars are so small only they can only fit 2-3 people at a time. It’s easy to find what bars are most “American-welcoming” by finding signs written in english or signs of “foreigners welcome”. Double check the hours; most bars in this district do not open before 9pm. 

9. Discover the hype of Japanese Pachinko 

I don’t get Japan’s biggest gaming obsession: Pachinko. This mechanical game originates from Japan as a gambling device and a recreational arcade game. Pachinko parlors are loud and unusually legal. However, due to the specific legal “low-stake” loophole can exist. Business Insider suggests casinos legalize casinos, but revenue estimates do not come close to pachinko. 

10. Experience new tastes and smells at Tsukiji Outer Market (築地場外市場, Tsukiji Jōgai Shijō)

Closing October 6th, 2018, this whole sale market was famous for its tuna actions. It consisted of several blocks of wholesale and retail shows, crowded lanes of restaurants and odd-ball gift shops. Here you could find fresh and processed seafood and produce by the thousands. Thankfully, Josh and I were able to make a visit to this fresh fish spot before it closed. Some of our favorite memories of Tokyo included walking around sampling unique flavors like BBQ Swordfish. The inner market, full of shops and restaurants, did not close and remained in business. 

 11. Be a kid again at Ghibli Studio

Eat, play and imagine all your favorite animes under one roof! Hayao Miyazaki, Executive Director of the Ghibli Museum created a museum that is interesting and relaxes the soul. This museum is put together as though it is a film – “not arrogant, magnificent, flamboyant, or suffocating”. It’s where individuals are welcome to discover, ponder and feel right at home. From pouncing on the cat bus to admiring Our Guardian on the rooftop, this museum allows patrons to leave with a bigger heart and inspiration for years to come. Don’t forget to find treasure at the “MAMMA AIUTO!” gift shop. 

 12. Snap the perfect picture at the Trick Art Museum

Strike a pose for photos in this collection of 3D optical-illusion paintings at this Trick Art Museum. You’ll have fun breaking traditional ‘museum rules’ in this Instagrammers paradise. We spent the afternoon attempting to snap the perfect photo while laughing loudly in this popular Japanese attraction. 

 13. Sing your heart out at a Japanese Karaoke lounge

Learn a new set of rules and etiquette before a night out in Tokyo. Japanese style karaoke is different than most western countries. It’s more of a “all together” experience rather than a public performance and humiliation. In most cases, you’ll need to read the room before heading up for a mic-night. Some lounges offer karaoke booths that have a magic box full of songs which allow for private performances. I want to remind foreigners, especially Americans to mind their language. I don’t mean saying curse words; but rather deciding on if you’re going to wingJapanese pop all night or picking Justin Beiber jam. If you’re wanting everyone to have fun, I’d pick something consistent. It’s almost best to pick crowd-pleasing songs that everyone might know. Luckily for Americans,  in most cases people know American pop songs best. 

 14. Scarf down conveyor belt sushi (Kaitenzushi (回転寿司))

Come in, sit down, push a few buttons and watch fresh sushi assemble out of the kitchen at a traditional conveyor belt sushi joint. These restaurants are convenient and affordable for those wishing to pound down some sushi without all the hype of a fancy restaurant. Items are plated on different color plates which signify different cost levels. When you’re finished smashing, take your plates up to the front or grab your ticket. It’s almost satisfying knowing that you have a stack of plates up to the roof and it only costs a little bit of money. We went to one in particular several times, but do not remember the name of it. 

 15. Mediate in a Japanese garden

Visiting a traditional Japanese garden can be timeless. Some of the best gardens in Japan include the same magical landscape concepts – coy ponds, rock gardens, zen temples, volcanic peaks and spacious lawns. The gardens we visited gave off a sense of coolness, subtlety of design and aura of wisdom and respect. Before visiting, become familiar with must-have anti-itch bug bite products (as I wish I did). 

 16. See the Godzilla in Shinjukiu

Godzilla’s head is a tourist attraction found in Shinjuku on the Shinjuku Toho Building. It depics Godzilla, occasionally with “glowing eyes and smoky breath”. If you walk to this building, you’ll find him! He’s too big to miss. If you are going to Shinjuku for the mean monster head alone we recommend researching things to do in Shinjuku first. After all, it’s just a fake monster coming out of a building. 

Making the most of Tokyo is hard to do with so many things to do. 

17. Get lost (on the wrong side of the mountain)

Funny story! We can’t read Japanese which led us to miscommunicate our way down the wrong side of the mountain. It’s totally okay; there was wine. In this happy note, I encourage you to get out of your comfort zone during your travels. The world is not as scary as some make it out to be.From vibrant neighborhoods like Shinjuku to quiet mediation in a traditional japanese park, give the culture a change and explore once post-pandemic travel “becomes a thing” again. We absolutely cannot wait to get back to Japan!

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