Springtime during Tokyo’s “Cherry Blossom Season” is truly a sight to see as the national flower, the sakura blossom, drowns parks and streets with its bright pink petals. While Tokyo is a good idea any time of year, if you’re aiming for the ULTIMATE Tokyo bucket list experience, consider trying to visit during this season. Even when not visiting during the spring months, there is so much to see and do in this capital of Japan. Tokyo is a city unlike any other Asian city, and when I visited I wanted to make sure I had the most epic and quintessential Tokyo experience ever. Here are the top 15 things to do in Tokyo to get the most out of this crazy city.
Looking for a place to stay in Tokyo? Check out my recommendations at the bottom of this post!
Ultimate Tokyo Bucket List
1. Have your mind blown at the Robot Restaurant
The Robot Restaurant is a popular and INSANE tourist attraction that is the perfect introduction to Tokyo and best visited on one of your first nights there. More of a show than an eatery, you will be both amazed and amused by giant robotics, colorful lights, and costumed Japanese girls singing J-Pop.
UPDATE: The Robot Restaurant has reportedly closed. Please check back soon for another great recommendation.
2. Do Karaoke in Shinjuku
After the Robot Restaurant, explore the streets and nightlife district of Shinjuku. Wander into the many bars and clubs to find yourself a place to do Karaoke. There are many different types of Karaoke bars to be found here ranging from venues with private rooms for groups, to traditional style pubs that have an open mic and screen. Shinjuku is THE place to party in Tokyo as it is also the infamous Red Light District (Kabukicho), so even if karaoke isn’t your thing, you’ll be sure to find a spot that is perfect for you.
3. Eat the freshest sushi ever at Tsukiji Fish Market
Stay up all night or wake up early in the morning to go to the tuna auction at Tsukiji Fish Market at 5:00AM (Many start lining up as early as 4:00AM.) The number of visitors allowed at the tuna auction is limited so arriving bright and early is highly suggested. The open parts of the Tsukiji Market are only allowed to be visited after 10:00AM.
Even if not seeing the tuna auction, you’ll want to have sushi for breakfast at Tsukiji by waiting in the (sometimes very long) line for some of the best and freshest sushi Tokyo has to offer. The sushi shops open at 5:00AM, and close around noon. For the absolute best from the market, visit Sushi Dai, or for a (slightly) shorter wait, Daiwa-sushi where Sushi Dai’s son is the chef.
4. Check out the views from Tokyo Sky Tree
Visit The Tokyo Sky Tree and observation tower for stunning 360 views of Tokyo. This is Tokyo’s largest structure and the second-highest skyscraper in the world! Bonus: For another spot for amazing views, have dinner or drinks at the Park Hyatt hotel, and feel like you are in the movie Lost in Translation.
5. Ride the bullet train
Use the Shinkansen (bullet train) for a day trip to the nearby culture-rich city of Kyoto, or to see the auspicious Mt. Fuji. The bullet train is an integral part of Tokyo’s (highly efficient) transit system, and it is really, really fast.
6. Cross the street at Shibuya Crossing/Shibuya Scramble
Walk through Shibuya Crossing/Shibuya scramble, known as the busiest intersection in the world. Tip: The second floor of the Starbucks on the corner has the best view for watching the madness from above.
7. Drink Japanese whiskey in a tiny bar
Spend a night exploring the tiny stacked bars of Golden Gai (Golden District), some of which can only seat 4 people at a time! Find the famous Piano Bar, where the room is so tiny it can only fit a piano and a few bar patrons at a time.
8. Relax at an onsen
Visit an Onsen, a natural hot spring or Japanese bathhouse. The one I visited was just outside the city of Tokyo and was called Fujiyoshi Onsen. It is one of the few onsens that are private and therefore co-ed bathing (a rarity) and tattooed people are allowed (both these typically go against Onsen etiquette.) There are multiple different baths and hot springs, each allowing for only you and whomever you are with to enjoy; as opposed to the many other onsens that are public and therefore crammed with many naked strangers. Fujiyoshi is also along the coast and therefore has beautiful views of the ocean, making the two-hour train ride a sight to cherish.
50 miles from Tokyo you can also find this Onsen theme park, where you can bathe in red wine, green tea, or coffee!
9. Eat at the crazy, cute, Kawaii Monster Cafe
Eating at the Kawaii Monster Café – much like the Robot Restaurant — is as Tokyo as it gets! Kawaii is the word for cute, so be prepared for kawaii overload from the food and drinks, to the décor, to even the staff who are all dressed up in typical kawaii fashion.
10. Sip coffee while petting cute and tiny animals
Visit a cat/bunny/hedgehog/owl café. Animal cafes are abound in Tokyo. Sip coffee or tea while playing with cute little animals, but please research animal cafes before visiting, as some can be questionably ethical. 🙁
11. Get entertained at a Maid Cafe
Are you starting to see a pattern? Themed and cosplay cafes are all over Tokyo, each one offering something unique. At maid cafes, Japanese girls dressed as French maids serve and entertain you with song and dance.
12. Visit the anime district of Akihabara
Wander the anime district of Akiabara. Here you will find all things anime, as well as electronics, video game arcades, and plenty of the aforementioned maid cafes.
13. Get romantic (or weird) at a love hotel
Spend a few hours or a night in a love hotel. Tokyo’s Dogenzaka district (nicknamed “Love Hotel Hill”) is known for its dense population of love hotels. Each room in every hotel has a unique theme and offer fun novelties such as costumes, karaoke, and some even have hot tubs inside. While love hotels are traditionally used by young Japanese men and women who want some romantic private time due to the cultural norm of living with parents until marriage, you don’t need to have a lover to enjoy the ever-amusing love hotels –IF you can get passed the seediness of it. You can pay by the hour to check it out as a place to rest, or spend the night.
14. Go shopping and admire the Harajuku kids in Harajuku
Go shopping in the colorful streets of Harajuku. Here you can often find the Harajuku kids (especially on the weekends) colorfully dressed up in cosplay as their favorite anime characters.
15. Play real-life Mario Kart
Dress up as Super Mario characters and literally race go-carts through the busy streets and traffic of Tokyo. You will need to apply for an international driver’s license for this one before-hand, so make sure you take care of it if this is something you wish to do (and you definitely should!)
BONUS! This one should go without saying but eat all the sushi, ramen, and treats you can! Conveyor belt or revolving sushi is a fun experience, as is hunting down all the unique Japanese treats. Green tea Kit-Kats, Wsabi flavored Kit-Kats, Cherry blossom flavored Red Bull and sushi-flavored potato chips can all be found at 711 or other convenient stores, so make sure to pop in and see what kind of fun snacks you can find.
Where to Stay in Tokyo: Recommended Top Hotels for Your First Time in Tokyo
There are no shortages of luxury hotels in Tokyo. Experience the incredible Japanese hospitality at one of these luxury Tokyo hotels within locations that can’t be beat.
The Best Capsule Hotels in Tokyo: Luxury Pod Hotels
If you are on a budget or simply wish to experience a night in one of Tokyo’s famous capsule or pod hotels, consider staying in one of the following top choices. These tiny little sleeping pods are some of the nicest in Tokyo, and are perfect for travelers on the go who just need a place to sleep at night.
Tokyo is quirky, charming, and picture-perfect. With all of the craziness that Tokyo has to offer, the people are some of the kindest in the world. There are many aspects of Japanese culture to be aware of when planning a trip to Japan; and while many Japanese people may seem shy or appear reserved, most locals are happy to help, chat, and answer questions. Japan is an extremely fascinating country, and the food is amazing. The streets are impeccably clean as there are strict rules around garbage disposal and recycling, and eating or drinking in public is generally frowned upon. For all that is mentioned in this blog and more (um hello toilets that have warm seats, spray water to clean you, blow-dry you, AND play music so people don’t have to hear you go…) Tokyo is definitely one of the most fascinating cities in the world.