The Do List – Tokyo
Photo: Vincent St Thomas/Dreamstime

101 things to do in Tokyo

Our ultimate checklist of the best things to do and see in Tokyo, from museums and art galleries to restaurants and bars

Written by
Time Out Tokyo Editors
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We get it: Tokyo can be overwhelming. If you've been up to one of Tokyo's observatories, you'll know the city seems to go on forever, and to make things more confusing, there isn't a discernible centre for Tokyo. So where do one even start exploring? We say, start with this ultimate checklist, where we have compiled the best things to see, do and eat in one of the world's greatest cities.

Whether you're into Tokyo's traditional Japanese gardens, sensational art scene or world-famous restaurants that would make any chef weak in the knees, there's always something going on in the city. So get out there and enjoy them.

Due to current Covid-19 restrictions, these venues may have different opening hours. Always check the official websites before heading out. 

RECOMMENDED: The best nature escapes in Tokyo

Shibuya

  • Attractions
  • Shibuya

What is it? The madness that is the Shibuya crossing is a quintessential Tokyo experience – but first, go pet Hachiko, the statue erected in memory of the world’s most loyal dog. Then, cross the scramble and head up to the Shibuya Sky observation deck at Shibuya Scramble Square for the best views.

Why go? Enjoy a breathtaking bird’s-eye view of the busy junction below from 230 metres above ground, plus 360-degree views of the entire Shibuya area from the open-air sky deck. You might even be able to spot Mt Fuji on a clear day. Don’t forget to snap a photo from at the ‘Sky Edge’, a corner where you can look down at the cityscape below without any obstruction. 

Don’t miss: At night, you'll be able to see a light show called the 'Crossing Light' as 18 beams illuminate the city sky.

  • Shopping
  • Aoyama

What is it? A short stroll from the world’s busiest pedestrian crossing is where you’ll find this bustling weekend farmer’s market featuring local farmers from across Japan.

Why go? Every weekend farmers and producers from across the country descend on the forecourt of the United Nations University to sell their fresh fruit and vegetables, flowers, rice and honey, as well as artisanal products like miso from Nagano and ponzu from Okinawa.

Don’t miss: There’s a range of food trucks to pick up a coffee or beer and a bite to eat, and the market has a regular festival schedule celebrating everything from tea to sake.

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  • Restaurants
  • Sushi
  • Shibuya

What is it? Looking for an omakase sushi meal that won’t break the bank? Edo-style sushi specialist Sushi Tokyo Ten, located in the super central Shibuya Stream complex, has one of the best deals in town.

Why go? Don’t be put off by its classy décor; dinner omakase is just ¥7,700 a person and you’ll be treated to more than your fair share of seasonal fish plus plenty of additional items including side dishes and miso soup.

Don’t miss: The lunch set is an even bigger steal, coming in at just ¥3,850 a person.

  • Restaurants
  • Ebisu

What is it? This self-styled ‘champion’ of grill-it-yourself meat restaurant stands out even in Ebisu, a neighbourhood known for its unparalleled selection of yakiniku joints.

Why go? All the beef served is of the highest A5 grade, and in addition to listing familiar fillets, ribs and sirloin, the menu offers a veritable lesson in steer anatomy through its comprehensive list of rare cuts – how about some abomasum or top blade muscle?

Don’t miss: When visiting for the first time, your best bet is to order one of the set dinners (from ¥5,600), which include appetisers and dessert to go with a selection of the day’s best meat. Reservations essential.

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  • Attractions
  • Religious buildings and sites
  • Harajuku

What is it? Located just minutes from Harajuku Station, this serene shrine is home to lush greenery and a tranquil environment where the spirits of Emperor Meiji and his consort, Empress Shoken, are enshrined. 

Why go? The stroll through the sacred grounds feels both refreshing and enlightening. Plus, it’s the perfect place to get away from the overwhelming madness of the neighbouring Harajuku. Exceedingly popular, especially at New Year when it draws crowds of a million-plus, the shrine hosts numerous festivals throughout the year. 

Don’t miss: The Inner Garden, located just off the main path to the shrine, is exceptionally quiet, and boasts a colourful iris field in early summer around June.

  • Museums
  • Shibuya

What is it? The D47 Museum in Shibuya Hikarie is dedicated to Japan’s 47 prefectures. Each exhibition showcases either the culture, food, design or history of a particular prefecture, or is curated to a theme.

Why go? So far, past themes have been contemporary and stimulating, such as off-the-grid living, product and packaging design, and fermentation culture. The museum shop is the perfect place to pick up artisanal, made-in-Japan gifts and souvenirs.

Don’t miss: Try out regional specialities at the adjoining restaurant, D47 Shokudo.

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  • Clubs
  • Shibuya

What is it? The much-beloved nucleus of the Tokyo indie music scene, Ruby Room is a little box of a venue that punches well above its size.

Why go? The musical genres on show vary quite a bit, featuring everything from rock to R&B to house music. With a handful of live shows put on every week, about half-and-half Japanese and Western, this is the perfect place to experience the local music scene.

Don’t miss: And if you really want to feel like a local, check out the weekly open mic night on Tuesday, where you’ll be treated like a regular as soon as you walk in the door.

  • Restaurants
  • Yoyogi
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What is it? One of Tokyo’s best udon restaurants, serving freshly made noodles in traditional as well as new and inventive styles. 

Why go? Don’t be put off by the long lines at Shin. The laborious work and artistry that go into making the fat wheat noodles will make it worth your time. The dough is aged overnight to achieve its optimal moisture and salt levels before being cut and cooked to order, to maintain the noodles’ signature springy, chewy texture. 

Don’t miss: You can’t go wrong with anything on the menu, really, but we recommend the inventive ‘carbonara udon’, where you toss the noodles in a mixture of raw egg, parmesan cheese, butter and pepper, and – get this – it’s served with a slab of bacon tempura.

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  • Restaurants
  • Shibuya

What is it? This late-night eatery specialises in takoyaki, a ubiquitous street snack consisting of tender pieces of octopus encased in gooey, piping hot batter topped with spring onions, pickled ginger and a generous drizzle of sauce. 

Why go? There are few things more satisfying than a fresh batch of takoyaki after a night of karaoke, best paired with a frothy cold beer. Tempu owner Masahide Sakuramoto is from Osaka, where the dish originates, and serves perfectly golden brown spheres fresh off the griddle in this standing-only eatery where customers pour their own drinks and pass dishes to each other in cheerful comradery. 

Don’t miss: The classic takoyaki is topped with takoyaki sauce and mayonnaise, but Tempu also serves unique variations of the dish you won’t find in other places by replacing the original sauce with ponzu or olive oil instead.

  • Restaurants

What is it? Cute, kitschy and invariably crowded, Harajuku is the street fashion capital of Tokyo – but it’s also a great place to go on a street food binge. 

Why go? This is where you’ll discover the latest food trends in Tokyo. Head to the neighbourhood’s main street, Takeshita-dori, and start your eating with a rainbow cotton candy at Momi & Toys, then move on to Eiswelt Gelato’s animal-shaped ice cream cone before digging into a rainbow grilled cheese sandwich at Le Shiner and one of Harajuku’s famous crêpes. 

Don’t miss: Don’t forget the crunchy stick-shaped cream puffs at Croquant Chou Zakuzaku, and finish off with a kawaii 3D latte art at Reissue. Your Instagram feed, sorted.

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  • Bars and pubs
  • Shibuya

What is it? Another aspect of Tokyo’s vibrant music scene, music bars emphasise audio enjoyment over drinking. So whether you’re looking to shake it with your friends or nurse a drink all on your own, this small but spunky music bar in Shibuya always does the trick.

Why go? Laidback and welcoming, it’s a comfy place where owner Michael can usually be found spinning the decks while his wife Mio prepares delicious pub grub and drinks behind the counter.

Don’t miss: Daily specialities include curry, pasta and stiff drinks flavoured with ginger, while most Friday nights see guest DJs spin records until the early hours.

  • Shopping
  • Bookshops
  • Daikanyama

What is it? This is a bookstore like you’ve never seen before. To start with, Daikanyama T-Site Tsutaya is mind-boggling in its expansiveness, with a great variety of Western literature alongside obscure Japanese works, plus art books, magazines, vinyl records and more.

Why go? More impressively, it operates like a carefully curated gallery of goods paired with the books related to them, like cocktail recipe books displayed with artisanal glasses. The bookstore, with its café and copious comfy seating, is designed for you to while away until as late as 2am.

Don’t miss: The upstairs lounge Anjin, where you can sip on a cocktail and flip through over 30,000 vintage magazines.

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Indulge in a late-night parfait at Parfaiteria Bel
  • Restaurants
  • Shibuya

What is it? Out late but don’t feel like drinking? Parfaiteria Bel specialises in one of Tokyo’s quintessential desserts, parfait, and is open until the wee hours of the morning. 

Why go? The menu changes seasonally, and details the many components that go into each indulgent parfait. We’ve seen creations made with 17 ingredients including sake jelly, strawberry gelato, matcha mochi and sakura mousse. 

Don’t miss: Add on a drink such as coffee, tea or cocktail to make it a set, and get there early to grab a number – the café can get pretty packed. Otherwise, it has a second location called Parfaiteria Momobukuro in Ikebukuro.

  • Things to do
  • Shibuya

What is it? No trip to Japan is complete without a karaoke experience. Head to Karaoke Kan in Shibuya Udagawacho and ask for room 601 (in the annex building), where the filming from ‘Lost in Translation’ took place.

Why go? Visitors to Tokyo have been seeking the ‘Lost in Translation’ experience ever since the now classic movie debuted in 2003. Once you’ve got your photo of the Shibuya scramble, how about replicating the unforgettable scene in which Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson belt out karaoke with Tokyo’s nighttime skyline panning out behind them?

Don’t miss:  Several other Karaoke Kan locations also offer great night-view sing sessions: try the Ikebukuro South Exit branch, or the Nishi-Shinjuku one close to that other ‘Bob Harris’ hangout, the Park Hyatt Tokyo.

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Dig for rare vinyl at Ella Records
  • Music
  • Yoyogi-Uehara

What is it? Despite Tokyo’s many technological advances, it’s still an analogue city – at least with music. The Nishihara area of Shibuya has seen an influx of hip shops and galleries, which helps draw new and much-deserved attention to this outstanding neighbourhood record shop.

Why go? Scour its shelves for rock, soul, jazz, house, rare grooves, Japanese oldies and much more, and settle into one of the ‘listening chairs’ to enjoy your pick while gazing out the window at the sleepy shopping street.

Don’t miss: Vinyl connoisseurs will enjoy digging through the discount corner, which occasionally hides true gems.

  • Restaurants
  • French
  • Harajuku

What is it? Florilège’s owner-chef Hiroyasu Kawate has trained both in Japan and France, and brings together flavours and techniques of the two cuisines in his elegant, basement-level restaurant.

Why go? Of all his inventive, beautifully plated dishes, the aged beef carpaccio with smoked potato puree, beetroot puree and red apple sorbet is a standout. The dish demonstrates the restaurant’s expert use of sustainable ingredients while reducing food waste. There are only 16 seats at the counter (plus six more in a private room), so book ahead.

Don’t miss: Keep an eye out for pop-up events announced on Instagram as Florilège tends to host seasonal kakigori shaved ice and tsukemen ramen days at the restaurant.

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  • Restaurants
  • Shibuya
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What is it? Uogashi Nihon-ichi Shibuya Dogenzaka is a standing sushi bar that serves up fresh nigiri and temaki (hand rolls) made right in front of your eyes.

Why go? Eating and drinking while standing is a very Tokyo thing to do, with the origins of the custom dating back to Edo-era (1603-1868) bottle shops. The menu is organised on plaques lined up on the wall behind the sushi chefs. Don’t worry – there are English translations written down to help you out. If that’s still confusing, you can always point to the seafood you want as all the fresh fish is displayed at the bar.

Don’t miss: If you're not around Shibuya, you'll be glad to know that Uogashi has a few other outlets around the capital including branches in Kyobashi, Akihabara, Kichijoji, Akasaka and more.

  • Shopping
  • Vintage shops
  • Shibuya

What is it? This hyper-modern store may look like a gallery but you can actually buy from its treasure trove of Japanese and international cult labels such as Comme des Garçons, Yohji Yamamoto, Maison Margiela and Raf Simons. 

Why go? The clothes are edgy and fashion-forward, mostly vintage or rare collectibles from past seasons – and they are one of a kind. 

Don’t miss: Check its website regularly as the shop often hosts exhibitions featuring signature pieces from a designer’s oeuvre.

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  • Shopping
  • Shoes
  • Harajuku

What is it? If you’re hunting for that elusive Yeezy or Air Jordan, try your luck at Harajuku’s Worm. This collectors’ shop carries a wide range of sneakers, from the cult collabs to unique colourways from brands including Adidas, Nike, Converse and more. 

Why go? Tokyo is a haven for sneakerheads, offering flagship stores of today’s hottest brands on top of countless speciality stores stocking rare editions and collectibles in mint condition. 

Don’t miss: The store even has a respectable selection for kids. Cop matching pairs for you and your little one.

Chuo

  • Shopping
  • Ginza

What is it? Japanese lifestyle brand Muji is worshipped for its clean, functional design, and the fandom reached fever pitch with the opening of its global flagship store and first hotel in Japan. 

Why go? This Ginza landmark offers the complete Muji lifestyle; aside from two restaurants, a bakery, a bar and two galleries, the retail space stretches over five floors, stocked with swoon-worthy stationery, clothes, furniture, kitchenware and home accessories, plus a fresh food section offering bento boxes, a custom tea-blending station and a juice bar. 

Don’t miss: Stay the night and check in to one of Muji Hotel Ginza’s gorgeous rooms, which are the perfect embodiment of Muji’s sleek, minimal aesthetic.

  • Theatre
  • Higashi-Ginza

What is it? The stylish home of kabuki, this main theatre in Ginza has stood on the same spot for over 120 years, but its present incarnation is rather newer than that – it only opened in April 2013. 

Why go? The Kabukiza Theatre has been an icon of Ginza since it opened in 1889: fires and wartime damage almost destroyed it, but it was rebuilt every time. Performances are held most days of the month, and if you aren’t sure about committing to an entire show, there are single-act tickets available at the door (single-act tickets currently suspended due to Covid-19). 

Don’t miss: The souvenir shop on site is worth a look for nifty gifts and fun trinkets. There’s also a gallery on the fifth floor, which displays kabuki costumes and holds cultural exhibitions.

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  • Shopping
  • Department stores
  • Nihonbashi

What is it? As Japan’s first department store – established in 1904 – the Nihombashi Mitsukoshi Main Store is an architectural time capsule and a must-visit for eager shoppers. 

Why go? It showcases an eclectic mix of era-defining building styles through the years: from the classical columns and the art-deco tower to the vaulted stained-glass ceiling and, most recently, a futuristic addition by the country’s top architect, Kengo Kuma. 

Don’t miss: Kuma’s revamped space-age, all-white reception area sets off the lobby centrepiece, a jaw-droppingly grand, antique statue of the Goddess of Sincerity. It’s no wonder this department store is designated an Important Cultural Property of Japan.

  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • Shiodome

What is it? Once a hawking ground for the Tokugawa shogunate, Hamarikyu Gardens’ main appeal lies in the abundance of water in and around it, and the fact that it feels deceptively spacious, thanks to beautiful landscaping.

Why go? Situated on an island, it’s surrounded by an ancient walled moat with two entrances (it’s also possible to reach Hamarikyu by waterbus from Asakusa). The focal points are the pond, which contains two islands (one with a teahouse) connected to the shore by charming wooden bridges, and a photogenic pine tree which is believed to be 300 years old.

Don’t miss: Guided tours in English are offered from 11am on Saturdays and 10.30am Mondays (tours temporarily suspended due to Covid-19).

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  • Bars and pubs
  • Wine bars
  • Tsukiji

What is it? Tucked away in between the fish vendors and sushi restaurants of Tsukiji outer market, Shubiduba is one of Tokyo’s best standing wine and sake bars.

Why go? This place is truly blink-and-you’ll-miss-it small, but the range of drinks certainly isn’t – expect to find around 250 varieties of wine and 15 types of sake by the bottle, and at least 10 varieties of each available by the glass. Shubiduba specialises in natural wine and sake with a good mix of local Japanese wines and international brands thrown in for good measure.

Don’t miss: If you’re new to sake, try the nomikurabe comparison set, which gives you three small cups of contrasting varieties, a great way to work out which style suits you best.

  • Shopping
  • Ginza

What is it? Ginza Itoya is a 12-storey stationery wonderland, offering everything from fancy fountain pens and designer paper to custom notebooks and leather goods like wallets and card holders.

Why go? Each floor is curated according to a certain function, such as things for your work desk, travel, crafts and fine paper. There’s even a café on the 12th floor that uses salad leaves grown in-store in hydroponic trugs.

Don’t miss: Before you leave, stop by the second floor, where you can purchase cards and note paper, fill them out and mail them off on the spot.

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  • Art
  • Ginza

What is it? Hidden amidst Ginza’s glitzy shopping malls and boutiques is a time capsule, an apartment built in the Showa era (1926-1989) that’s a prime example of early modernist architecture.

Why go? The Ginza Okuno building is beautifully preserved with many of the lots now turned into antique shops and art galleries. For a glimpse into what life was like back then, walk into room 306, which was left as is since its last tenant.

Don’t miss: You can’t visit Ginza Okuno without taking a ride up and down its manually operated elevator.

Cruise Tokyo Bay on a Yakatabune Harumiya
Photo: Yakatabune Harumiya

27. Cruise Tokyo Bay on a Yakatabune Harumiya

What is it? See Tokyo from the water by booking a two-and-a-half-hour cruise on a traditional yakatabune (barge).

Why go? Operating during the warm season, these depart from near Kachidoki Station and travel beneath the Rainbow Bridge, past Odaiba and up the Sumida River, all while you feast on a full kaiseki dinner featuring tempura and sashimi, with beer and sake also included.

Don’t miss: After the meal, you can get up on the deck to take in the night view in all its glory. Some cruises feature lion dancing, folk music or other Edo-style performances. Reservations (via email in English) are taken for groups of two or more.

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Get a taste of noh at Suigian theatre restaurant
  • Restaurants
  • Nihonbashi

What is it? This theatre restaurant in Nihonbashi offers a daily roster of beginner-friendly noh and kyogen (traditional comic theatre) performances. 

Why go? Compared to the usual two-and-a-half-hour long performance, the shows at Suigian are just 40-minutes short and therefore easier to digest. The plays come complete with an English explanation booklet, plus you may even get to try on a noh mask during selected sessions. 

Don’t miss: Enjoy a traditional Japanese meal, or an afternoon tea with classic Kyoto-style confectionery, while taking in the engaging show.

  • Things to do
  • City Life

What is it? A renovated 1920s bank turned trendy hangout, K5 now houses a boutique hotel, a café, a restaurant and two bars.

Why go? Situated in Kabutocho, recently named Tokyo’s coolest neighbourhood, K5 has everything you need for a good time. The restaurant Caveman is run by the folks behind Tokyo’s popular restaurant Kabi, and is also attached to an outpost of Switch Coffee. The expansive building also houses an underground beer pub and a library cocktail bar if you’re looking for a few watering holes.

Don’t miss: Looking for a place for a staycation? Book one of the 20 guest rooms at K5 which are outfitted with a dreamy blend of Scandinavian and Japanese aesthetics.

Chiyoda

Experience a microcosm of Tokyo without leaving Tokyo Station
  • Travel
  • Train stations
  • Marunouchi

What is it? More than 100 years old, Tokyo Station’s distinctive red-brick facade is a prominent reminder of Japan’s rush to modernisation in the early 20th century. 

Why go? A major spot for many travellers passing in and out of the city, the sprawling station is also home to an overwhelming selection of restaurants and shops. If you’re short on time, this is a one-stop centre to sample popular Japanese dishes and stock up on souvenirs. 

Don’t miss: Tokyo Ramen Street beneath the station features outposts from some of the country’s most revered noodle joints. You can try many different variations of ramen all in one convenient location.

  • Attractions
  • Historic buildings and sites
  • Chiyoda

What is it? The Imperial Palace is the former site of the Edo castle and this new incarnation has been home to emperors since 1888.

Why go? As we are now in the new imperial era (named Reiwa, meaning ‘beautiful harmony’), it’s time to revisit the significance of Japanese monarchy, believed to be the oldest in the world. You’ll need to register for the twice-daily guided tour of the inner grounds via the website – but you can freely rock up and roam the beautiful parks on the outskirts: East Gardens, Kokyo Gaien National Garden and Kitanomaru Park. The latter is especially stunning in spring, when the cherry trees flanking the Chidorigafuchi moat are in full bloom.

Don’t miss: The nearby National Museum of Modern Art is worth a visit when it’s free entry on the first Sunday of the month.

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  • Shopping
  • Department stores
  • Marunouchi

What is it? Depachika are Tokyo’s food halls, giant spaces generally found underneath the city’s top department stores and loaded with everything from ready-to-eat meals to beautifully packaged sweets and confectionery.

Why go? A compendium of local cuisine and a custodian of Japanese gift culture, they are an essential visit. We recommend the Daimaru that’s attached to Tokyo Station, which also features a bento street for you to quickly grab a boxed lunch for your shinkansen ride.

Don’t miss: In need of some help? Just ask the depachika concierge if you're having troubles navigating your way around and they'll be glad to help you out.

  • Shopping
  • Off licences
  • Marunouchi

What is it? Legend has it that geisha used sake as a facial lotion before applying makeup, and that sake brewery workers have soft, smooth hands, thanks to the high nutritional content of fermented rice. At the flagship store of Fukumitsuya sake brewery, you can get the full lowdown on Japan’s national drink.

Why go? At the store you can not only taste and shop for excellent junmai sake, but also discover the myriad of other products derived from the sake-making process: beauty and skincare products, ice cream made with sake lees, energy drinks made with koji, seafood pickled in sake lees, and many more things to eat, drink and apply.

Don’t miss: You can even shop for Japanese artisanal ceramic and glassware to store and serve sake.

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  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Kudanshita

What is it? The haute cuisine of Japan, kaiseki is a traditional multi-course meal showcasing the textures and flavours of the season – and you can experience the meal of your life at Kudan Otsuka. 

Why go? Run by a husband-wife duo, this quaint restaurant serves up impressive kaiseki creations that are modern yet still stay true to tradition. Unlike most dinner-only kaiseki restaurants, Kudan Otsuka is open for lunch as well. 

Don’t miss: If you’re not keen on shelling out ¥9,680 (at least) for a dinner course, you can still sample the chef’s ingenuity with the special weekday oyakodon lunch set course (egg and chicken over rice) for an easy ¥3,270.

  • Hotels
  • Takebashi

What is it? Do you love manga so much you often fall asleep with a volume or two by your side? Imagine that times 5,000, and you’ve got the Manga Art Hotel.

Why go? Near Akihabara, Tokyo’s manga and anime mecca, Manga Art Hotel is a capsule hotel with a twist – it’s a manga library you can sleep in. The hotel has a sleek, minimalist feel a world away from your typical manga café. It’s stuffed with some 5,000 volumes of carefully-curated manga – and about 20 percent of those are in English.

Don’t miss: If you fall in love with a manga, you can even buy it. Better bring an extra bag.

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  • Things to do
  • Games and hobbies
  • Akihabara

What is it? Something of a local landmark in Akihabara, a town famous for its many electronics shops, Tokyo Leisure Land offers five floors of gaming, with its lineup of over 100 different video, crane and arcade games guaranteeing entertainment for hours on end.

Why go? Occupying the entire ground and second floors, the crane game (‘UFO catcher’) machines contain plenty of rare character merchandise – queues regularly form in front of the games with the most in-demand items.

Don’t miss: Looking for a little late night fun? The lights stay on until 12.55am daily, opening up possibilities for a quick Street Fighter or Mobile Suit Gundam session on your way back from the bars.

Sumida

  • Sport and fitness
  • Ryogoku

What is it? Tokyo’s historic Ryogoku neighbourhood is famous for its sumo culture. It’s home to many venues championing and preserving Japan’s traditional sport. 

Why go? Start at sumo’s spiritual home, the Ekoin Temple, which hosted matches in the sport’s early days. Catch a bout (in May and September) at the current sumo stadium Kokugikan; even if you can’t get a ticket, the adjoining sumo museum is free to enter (on non-match days). On the nearby Kokugikan Street, you’ll also find a host of rikishi (sumo wrestler) statues. 

Don’t miss: Try chanko nabe, a sumo wrestler’s daily meal. This meaty stew is done particularly well at Tomoegata.

  • Art
  • Galleries
  • Ryogoku

What is it? ‘The Great Wave off Kanagawa’ (part of the print series ‘Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji’) is to Japanese art what the ‘Mona Lisa’ is to Italian Renaissance art. 

Why go? Explore this iconic woodblock print while learning about its creator, the famous Edo-era (1603-1868) artist Katsushika Hokusai, and his other original works and hi-res reproductions at his eponymous museum.

Don’t miss: The permanent exhibition’s multilingual touch screen panels and videos provide explanations of his art, while a life-size diorama of his atelier will shed some insight into his creative process.

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  • Museums
  • Ryogoku

What is it? This futuristic structure towering over Ryogoku provides a glimpse into the Tokyo of yore with the city’s largest collection of exhibits covering the capital’s history throughout the Edo period (1603-1868). 

Why go? Stroll across a life-size model of the former Nihonbashi bridge, admire a replica of the Nakamura-za kabuki theatre façade, and peer into large dioramas of old Tokyo houses detailing the lifestyles of the city’s former residents.

Don’t miss: Sign up for a multilingual guided tour (daily between 1.10pm and 2.45pm) to make the most of your visit (tours temporarily suspended due to Covid-19).

Shinjuku

  • Attractions
  • Sightseeing
  • Shinjuku

What is it? Head up the South Observation Deck at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku to fully appreciate the seemingly endless cityscape of our sprawling metropolis.

Why go? Entry is free and you can even spot Mt Fuji on the horizon on clear days. 

Don’t miss: There’s a working grand piano adorned with Yayoi Kusama’s signature polka-dot motif that is free for anyone to play.

Take a dotted selfie at the Yayoi Kusama Museum
  • Museums
  • Waseda

What is it? Everyone’s favourite polka-dot pumpkin artist, Yayoi Kusama has her very own museum in central Tokyo. The opening came as a surprise when it was announced back in 2017, and the reservation-only ticketing system has only added to the mystique.

Why go? Inside, it’s a very curated look into the Kusama cosmos, with the fourth floor dedicated to changing installations (as of July 2021, it’s dedicated to Kusama’s monochrome works) and a rooftop featuring even more artwork. One for the true Kusama lovers.

Don’t miss: Be sure to pop by the loo (or the elevator), as both are adorned with mirrors and just as dotted as the pumpkins.

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  • Music
  • Shinjuku-Nichome

What is it? Drawing exceptional acts from across Japan and around the world, the Pit Inn remains an icon in the Tokyo jazz scene.

Why go? The club emphasises music above all else, with all seats facing the stage and minimal service and disruptions during sets. Tickets are also quite reasonable, with many evening shows starting at just ¥3,300.

Don’t miss: On most weekdays, you can also catch a lunchtime matinee for as little as ¥1,430.

  • Bars and pubs
  • Shinjuku

What is it? There are about 280 tiny bars in these legendary alleyways packed with weekly regulars as well as curious first timers from all corners of the globe. The protocol here is simple - order a drink, befriend your fellow bar goers and hop to the next den. 

Why go? If you’re looking for something more casual than crafted cocktails in Ginza and less rowdy than nightclubs in Roppongi, Shinjuku’s Golden Gai is the obvious choice for an unforgettable night out (depending on the number of shots you take). While some neighborhoods in Tokyo are livelier on weekends than on weekdays, there are no off-days for the nooks on these streets that come alive past 9pm into the early hours of the morning. 

Don’t miss: If you find yourself craving some sustenance after a couple of drinks, head to Ramen Nagi, which serves some of the best ramen in the city in a fish-based broth.

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  • Things to do
  • Okubo

What is it? Tea ceremonies are a formal tradition in Japan influenced by Zen Buddhism, and you can experience it at the long-established tea utensil dealer Masudaya.

Why go? You can book either a basic class (¥2,500 per pax for groups of at least three) or the full monty (¥10,000 per pax for groups of at least two), in which participants change into yukata robes before the ceremony (you get to keep the yukata, too).

Don’t miss: If you’re alone, go for the monthly tea parties, which don’t require reservations and include a bowl of matcha plus a traditional dessert for just ¥1,000.

  • Restaurants
  • Ramen
  • Shinjuku-Nichome

What is it? There are currently only two Michelin-starred ramen restaurants in the world – and they’re both in Tokyo. 

Why go? The most recent entry in this noodle hall of fame, Sobahouse Konjiki Hototogisu has won over critics with a complex broth that tastes of the ocean, made by boiling down hamaguri clam and red sea bream, and seasoned with Mongolian rock salt and Okinawan sea salt. The noodles are then finished with Italian white truffle oil, porcini mushroom sauce, pancetta bacon bits and inca berry sauce. 

Don’t miss: You can’t go wrong with either the signature shoyu soba or the recommended shio soba. They are both next-level ramen, and you’ll be compelled to finish the soup to the last drop.

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  • Bars and pubs
  • Nishi-Shinjuku

What is it? Make a beeline for Zoetrope, an intimate bar hidden in the back alley of Nishi-Shinjuku offering 300 labels of local malts – many of which are no longer on the market.

Why go? While Japanese whiskies are gaining critical acclaim from the world over, the stocks are depleting at an alarming rate – so much so that several popular labels have been discontinued. At Zoetrope, you can still get your hands on drams from big brands like Suntory and Nikka to lesser known distilleries such as Venture Whisky and Mercian.

Don’t miss: Catch a flick while you're at it; owner Atsushi Horigami is a massive cinema geek and often screens films during the evenings.

  • Museums
  • History
  • Shinjuku

What is it? In Kabukicho you’ll find a small museum exploring the myths and history of this military nobility through its permanent displays of swords, matchlock guns and other battle weaponries

Why go? Samurai has long been the lore of Japan’s medieval history, and images of the fearless warriors going into battle all bedecked in armour and wielding katana have long spurred the imagination of visitors to Japan.

Don’t miss: Besides witnessing the free sword performance, you can also sign up for calligraphy lessons and other samurai experiences (separate charges may apply).

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  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars
  • Shinjuku
  • price 2 of 4

What is it? Great bartenders are like modern-day alchemists – and this analogy is especially true for Hiroyasu Kayama of Bar Benfiddich, who’s famed for creating spirits, liqueurs and cocktails from scratch, using herbs, spices, roots, fruits and plants harvested from his family farm.

Why go? There’s no menu here; state your preferred base (whisky, gin, absinthe…) and taste, and Kayama will concoct your drink off-the-cuff, often using a pestle and mortar to mash up the botanicals as much as a conventional shaker.

Don’t miss: If surprise cocktails aren’t your thing, the bar happens to have an impressive whisky collection, too.

  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Kagurazaka
  • price 2 of 4

What is it? There’s no better restaurant to dine on soba than Kyorakutei, who makes their noodles purely from buckwheat – a rare find in Tokyo.

Why go? Perhaps more than ramen or udon, soba is an art, where only the most skillful and dedicated chef will make the noodles from 100 percent buckwheat (most cut it with 20 percent wheat flour for easy handling). And you can really tell the difference at Kyorakutei – because its handmade juwari (pure) soba features a distinct nuttiness that’s absent from lesser noodles.

Don’t miss: The soba is good to eat on its own, but do order a side of tempura as the restaurant also does it better than its competition.

Shinagawa

  • Restaurants
  • Tea rooms
  • Shinagawa
  • price 1 of 4

What is it? Once a classic summer dessert, kakigori (shaved ice) has become a year-round Instagram-friendly treat – and this small café's version is almost too pretty to eat. 

Why go? Each bowl’s quirky name like Paper Moon or Mother Goose gives no hint to what’s inside the dessert, but expect shaved ice creations doused in earl grey and lychee syrups, topped with sakura, strawberry, white chocolate and more. 

Don’t miss: What sets this spot apart is its colourful and dramatic presentation, and the seasonal menu offers some of the wackiest flavour combos in town. Your Insta feed will thank you.

  • Shopping
  • Art, craft and hobbies
  • Tennozu

What is it? Visiting Pigment Tokyo is like falling into a rainbow. True to its name, this unique store sells colour – more than 4,500 pigments in powder form – which are organised into neat, dazzling arrangements within the stunning Kengo Kuma-designed store.

Why go? Aside from raw pigments, you can shop for 200 sumi (Japanese ink) sticks, as well as calligraphy and paint brushes. The staff are well-versed in the intricacies of the products, and are happy to show you how to use them.

Don’t miss: For those keen to learn more about materials and techniques, check the website for workshop schedules.

Setagaya

  • Attractions
  • Religious buildings and sites
  • Setagaya

What is it? Thought to be the birthplace of the iconic Japanese beckoning cat maneki-neko, Gotokuji Temple is overrun with these cute figurines in all sizes.

Why go? Aside from visiting the temple, you can purchase a lucky cat at the administration building – though customarily, you should return your cat to the shelves at the shrine after your wishes have come true. Hence the hordes of these arm-waving felines here.

Don’t miss: Take a walk around the neighbourhood surrounding the temple as the quaint streets are filled with numerous cafés and restaurants to relax in after a trip through the temple grounds.

  • Shopping
  • Shimokitazawa

What is it? Hipster central Shimokitazawa is renowned for its great assortment of vintage and thrift shops. 

Why go? One of the standout shops is New York Joe Exchange, a popular consignment store selling mainly imported non-branded goods with occasional designer fare thrown in to reward the dedicated treasure hunter. Clothing swaps are also available, where you can trade in your old duds for cash or credit to use in store.

Don’t miss: The first Sunday of every month is the best day to go – when everything in the store is half price.

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Throw yourself into Japanese nightlife at Sankaku Chitai yokocho
  • Restaurants
  • Sangenjaya

What is it? This labyrinthine cluster of alleys lined with small bars and restaurants dates back to the early postwar era, when rickety shacks built with whatever materials were available started popping up haphazardly near Sangenjaya Station.

Why go? Some of the structures from those days are still standing, adding to the chaotic but charming atmosphere. After dark, you’ll be drawn in by the glow of red lanterns, loud conversations and enticing aromas emanating from the various eateries, which range from curry shops to hip wine bars.

Don’t miss: Our favourites include the superb sake bar Akaoni and oldschool yakitori (grilled skewered chicken) restaurant Tokoshima.

  • Restaurants
  • Shimokitazawa

What is it? For a crash course on Japanese izakaya culture, visit Shirube for its pub food staples with a twist.

Why go? The epicentre of Japanese dining and going-out culture, izakaya are closest in style to a gastro pub or tavern, but encompass much more than that. They are the gathering point of choice for many a Tokyoite – and it’s the perfect place to sample a myriad of classic Japanese dishes from sashimi to yakitori and teppanyaki, all in one seating. Most of the best ones are small, local and slightly rowdy, and can often be found clustered in alleyways known as yokocho.

Don’t miss: Order Shirube’s nikujaga (beef and potato stew) served with garlic bread, and a glorious ‘tofu cheese’ with honey. Wash everything down with a glass of sake (ask for recommendations) or one of the shochu cocktails.

Meguro

  • Restaurants
  • Cafés
  • Jiyugaoka

What is it? Sample the Instagram-famous soufflé pancakes at one of Flipper’s many locations throughout the city. 

Why go? The pancake specialist’s airy, wobbly goodies are made from premium ingredients including eggs from local farms, and are known for their melt-in-the-mouth texture. The appropriately named kiseki (miracle) pancakes come in two types: the plain version is served with a dollop of house-made maple butter cream, while the other is topped with seasonal fruit. 

Don’t miss: The chain’s takeaway stands sell cutesy little miracle pancake pudding, which is like a shot of custard topped with a mini souffle pancake.

  • Hotels
  • Meguro

What is it? This Meguro hotel opened as a luxurious ryotei (restaurant) in the early 1930s, and the otherworldly décor of that glamorous era remains on full display throughout its hallowed halls

Why go? Vivid murals, sculptures and other pieces of Japanese art add to the grandeur, while a traditional garden, complete with a small waterfall, lends the lobby a sense of serenity.

Don’t miss: If you don’t feel like splurging on a room, consider attending the Morning Art Yoga session (¥3,800), held from 7.30am every Sunday. The price includes a one-hour class in one of the art-filled halls, followed by a superb buffet breakfast in the hotel’s eighth-floor executive lounge.

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  • Restaurants
  • Cafés
  • Nakameguro

What is it? The expansive Starbucks Reserve Roastery Tokyo along the Meguro River is one of the largest Starbucks locations in the world.

Why go? The massive space houses the roasting factory on the fourth floor, with each floor below devoted to a different type of Starbucks hangout. The first floor is a bakery and café; the second floor is a Teavana tea room; and the third floor an Arriviamo cocktail bar. Be sure to admire the exquisite architecture by the famed architect Kengo Kuma.

Don’t miss: When the weather’s nice, snag a seat at the outdoor terrace overlooking the Meguro River. It’s particularly stunning during cherry blossom season.

  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • Ikejiri-Ohashi

What is it? The most unusual of Tokyo’s urban oases, the Meguro Sky Garden is built on the roof of a circular loop junction on the Metropolitan Expressway. 

Why go? The 400m-long green lung is home to 1,000 trees – including cherry and pine – a Japanese garden and bamboo grove. It’s a leafy jungle amongst the city’s concrete one, and a perfect place to catch the sunset over a picnic. 

Don’t miss: Grab some baked goodies from the nearby Italian pastry shop L’atelier Motozo and look for Mt Fuji in the distance on a clear day.

Minato

  • Attractions
  • Sightseeing
  • Shiba-Koen

What is it? With its red and white steel frame, the 333m-tall Tokyo Tower is the city’s most distinctive landmark, noticeable from far away and especially picturesque at night when it’s all lit up. 

Why go? Besides its two observation decks, from which you have marvellous views of the cityscape, there’s also a One Piece-themed amusement park, attracting manga fans from the world over. 

Don’t miss: To stop by tofu specialist Ukai on your way downhill towards Akabanebashi Station; the restaurant’s traditional setting, complete with a Japanese garden, is the perfect hideaway to forget the hustle and bustle of Tokyo streets.

  • Art
  • Roppongi

What is it? When stars collide – in this case, famed architect Tadao Ando and illustrious designer Issey Miyake – you get an impressive institution dedicated to the world of design.

Why go? The stunning architecture bears Ando’s signature styles; the low-rise concrete structure is a masterful exercise in clean lines and light play, and holds a cavernous subterranean space. There are regular exhibitions, talks and workshops, and the institution has hosted incredible shows with major artists and designers like Christo and Jeanne Claude, Shiro Kuramata and Ettore Sottsass.


Don’t miss: Head across the lawn to Tokyo Midtown for some retail therapy or a meal at one of the mall’s many restaurants.

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Sample Japanese craft beers at iBrew Shimbashi
  • Bars and pubs
  • Shinbashi

What is it? iBrew Shimbashi is a perfect mix of neighbourhood pub and craft beer bar.

Why go? It’s located opposite a main train station (Shinbashi) in the city centre, the prices are low (¥430 for a half-pint) with no table charge, and there are up to 30 mostly Japanese craft beers on tap. It’s no wonder the no-frills joint is keeping the after-work drinking culture alive among the salarymen – and your Tokyo experience will be that much happier if you join in the warm, friendly crowd for a toast, or five.

Don’t miss: Check out the website as the bar uploads its beer menu daily with the latest brews on tap.

  • Restaurants
  • Bakeries
  • Nogizaka

What is it? Bricolage Bread & Co is a case in point of why artisanal bread should be on your Tokyo list.

Why go? Ingredients are sourced from organic farmers across Japan, and are used in creative bread and pastries ranging from traditional French-boulangerie style to those with more of a Japanese spin. Our favourites include a flaky yomogi (mugwort) danish and the signature Bricolage Bread, which is a medley of ancient grains.

Don’t miss: Dine alfresco on the deck, or try the cosy restaurant at the back of the bakery.

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Line up for the best pizza in Tokyo at Savoy
  • Restaurants
  • Pizza
  • Moto-Azabu

What is it? Run by the affable Bungo Kaneko, Savoy is a local pizza institution that arguably rivals many a pizza place in Italy. 

Why go? Savoy was originally started by the owner of Seirinkan, another one of Tokyo’s top pizza restaurants. The pizzas (margherita and marinara) at Savoy, however, have less cornicione, while the marinara is notable for its use of garlic: thinly sliced and distributed just right. 

Don’t miss: Go for the lunch set, where you get a pizza, a salad and a drink for only ¥1,000.

  • Clubs
  • Aoyama

What is it? The swanky shopping district of Omotesando seems an unlikely location for a basement party, but the first-class sound system at Vent combined with its cult following of music lovers makes this event space one of the best of its kind. 

Why go? Vent hosts a different set of artists every week, with music varying from acid jazz to techno. Look forward to seeing up-and-coming local artists as well as seasoned international DJs in an intimate space with a revolutionary sound reinforcement system. 

Don’t miss: A main performance floor and separate bar area means you freely mingle with local music lovers without shouting over the speakers, or take your drink towards the front of the stage and fully immerse yourself in the live music.

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Hang out with the hip crowd at Commune 2nd
  • Things to do
  • Aoyama

What is it? An ambitious open-air experiment occupying a prime piece of Omotesando real estate, Commune 2nd consists of food stalls, shacks, caravans and shops, plus a huge festival tent area where you can sit down to enjoy the food, drinks and atmosphere.

Why go? Don’t miss the steak from Dote Café/The Lodge, and grab a craft beer to wash down the goodness. Occasional DJ sets and other events add to the laid back vibe, as do Commune’s various eco-friendly and socially conscious initiatives.

Don’t miss: Commune now has a second outpost on the rooftop of Shibuya Parco. Head over for good food, drinks and winning views.

  • Attractions
  • Sightseeing
  • Roppongi

What is it? On top of Mori Tower, at 270 metres above sea level, Tokyo City View’s Sky Deck lets you take in one of the city’s most breathtaking vistas out in the open air, not stuck behind glass.

Why go? An uninterrupted 360-degree panorama encompasses both Tokyo Tower and the Skytree, with Mt Fuji also visible if the weather’s kind. Very lucky visitors will get to witness ‘Diamond Fuji’, the spectacle of the sun setting directly behind the mountain. 

Don’t miss: Below your feet, and an essential stop-off before or after your walk in the sky, is the Mori Art Museum and, looming next to the tower, a giant spider sculpture known as Maman.

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  • Restaurants
  • Tea rooms
  • Aoyama

What is it? Sakurai is a cool and modern interpretation of a Japanese teahouse, where you’ll experience an almost meditative tea session, complete with some dainty Japanese sweets known as wagashi. 

Why go? You can choose a tea course (from ¥4,800) to sample the different types of Japanese tea, or pick from a selection of green tea grown across the country to have it freshly roasted into hojicha (from ¥1,700). 

Don’t miss: If you really want to fully appreciate the creativity of the tea masters here, ask for the house-infused tea liquor: sencha-infused gin, hojicha-infused rum, or beer with matcha.

  • Restaurants
  • Nishi-Azabu

What is it? This tonkatsu (deep-fried pork cutlet) restaurant is set in a beautiful traditional Japanese house and offers an encyclopedic menu of top quality pork. 

Why go? Butagumi elevates this classic Japanese comfort food to new heights with a menu that categorises its tonkatsu by animal breed and cuts. Don’t know where to start? Try out the entry-level Ryuka-ton from Okinawa which offers a lean fillet and crisp exterior. 

Don’t miss: As with most traditional tonkatsu restaurants, you can ask for refills of the plain rice and cabbage salad that come as accompaniments to the pork.

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  • Shopping
  • Nogizaka

What is it? Looking for that special memento? Forget cheap tourist tat and head straight to the amazing gift shop located inside The National Art Center, Tokyo.

Why go? Souvenir From Tokyo, as its name suggests, carries a wide range of keepsakes, clothing, tableware, beauty products, accessories and bric and brac by brands and artisans from across Japan, including wares by feted local designers such as Mina Perhonen and Anrealage.

Don’t miss: Make sure to stop by the SFT Gallery space within the store for a rotating circuit of exhibitions and workshops.

Taito

  • Restaurants
  • Cafés
  • Ueno

What is it? How about some coffee, cake and a ticket back to the Tokyo of 1977? Galant, a kissaten (traditional coffee shop) in Ueno, hasn’t changed a bit during its 42 years of business.

Why go? While its furniture and interiors – including the garish lamps and pink telephone in the corner – show their age, they also serve as charming reminders of a bygone era. The dessert selection is equally retro, with the delicious but less-than-photogenic chocolate parfait harking back to the good old days before Instagram.

Don’t miss: If you’re feeling peckish, opt for something more substantial, such as Galant’s omurice (rice wrapped in an omelette), a classic yoshoku (Western-style Japanese food) staple.

Say a prayer at Sensoji Temple
  • Attractions
  • Religious buildings and sites
  • Asakusa

What is it? Asakusa’s main attraction, Sensoji Temple with its blazing-red Kaminarimon Gate and Nakamise shopping street is a world on its own.

Why go? To understand the scale of the place, head to the upper floors of the tourist information centre across the road for a view from above. The compound also houses Asakusa Jinja shrine, which is the origin of the Sanja Matsuri: an annual festival which turns Sensoji and surrounds into a festival bonanza in mid-May, with multiple mikoshi (portable shrines) carried around Asakusa from midday to night.

Don’t miss: If you can’t make it for the annual festival, strike down at any izakaya on nearby Hoppy Street to experience the same jolly vibe.

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  • Things to do
  • Classes and workshops
  • Asakusa

What is it? A cooking school in Asakusa offering a wide variety of Japanese cooking classes in a very relaxed atmosphere. 

Why go? Taught by professionals in English, classes here will teach you how to make all the classic Japanese foods: ramen, okonomiyaki and more, plus vegetarian versions too. Although the price tag is rather steep, the courses are worth it – they steamroll you through a series of easy-to-understand recipes so you can recreate the magic at home. 

Don’t miss: The add-on options for a rickshaw ride or a traditional kimono dressing experience after your class. Make sure to book in advance online.

  • Shopping
  • Asakusa

What is it? The age-old aizome-dyeing technique is woven into Japan’s traditional crafts and indigo is used in everything from kimono to noren curtains. 

Why go? Today, there are still a few studios practicing this unique art. In Asakusa, Wanariya is where you’ll find indigo-dyed garments and accessories including bags and scarves. 

Don’t miss: Walk in on one of the shop’s dye classes, where you can colour a handkerchief or tenugui hand towel for just ¥2,000.

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  • Shopping

What is it? Spot the enormous, jolly-looking chef’s head atop the Niimi building in Kappabashi and you’ll know you’ve hit the pearly gates to kitchenware heaven.

Why go? This ‘kitchen town’ is made up of over 170 wholesale stores selling crockery, pots and pans, knives, chopsticks, plastic food models, grills... everything you need to step up your cooking game at home – or even set up a restaurant. The stores run along Shinbori-dori, from the corner of Asakusa-dori, so if you’re visiting Asakusa’s Sensoji Temple, Kappabashi is about a 10-minute walk and worthwhile detour for the budding, established or curious cook.

Don’t miss: Stop by Kama-Asa Shoten where you can get yourself a proper Japanese knife complete with personalised engraving.

  • Things to do
  • Ueno

What is it? Tokyo has some of the finest museums in the world and many of these top institutions are concentrated in Ueno Park.

Why go? The Tokyo National Museum holds the largest collection of Japan’s important cultural properties dating back to antiquity whereas the Le Corbusier-designed, Unesco World Heritage Site-listed National Museum of Western Art is home to an impressive collection that includes Rubens, Pollock, Rodin and Monet. With kids? Bring them to the interactive National Museum of Nature and Science and they’ll love the dinosaur skeleton exhibits.

Don’t miss: Make a pit stop at Ueno Zoo which is also located inside the park and visit the two resident pandas, Ri Ri and Shin Shin.

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  • Things to do

What is it? One of the few neighbourhoods to have survived the World War II firebombings, Yanesen – short for the combined ’hoods of Yanaka, Nezu and Sendagi – is a haven of traditional culture with a touch of modern craftsmanship.

Why go? The main shopping thoroughfare of Yanaka, Ginza is a reminder of old town Tokyo, while you’ll find lots of hidden gems from modern galleries to local designer shops and homely eateries in the backstreets towards Nezu and Sendagi stations.

Don’t miss: Rent a bicycle at hipster Tokyobike and pedal your way to the area’s highlights: art gallery Scai the Bathhouse, multicomplex Ueno Sakuragi Atari, udon specialist Nezu Kamachiku and the serene Yanaka Cemetery.

  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Ueno

What is it? A family-style fugu (blowfish) specialist restaurant located between Asakusa and Ueno. 

Why go? Fugu is poisonous and lethal if not prepared properly, but the cluster of food safety certificates on the walls should assuage the fears of even the most ardent fugu-phobes. The menu is short: fugu six ways (jellied, raw, grilled, deep-fried, soup, hot pot) plus Makino’s blowfish-free signature dish – a colossal hot pot of crab, daikon and melting butter, to be topped up with rice, cod roe and egg when you’ve polished off the seafood. 

Don’t miss: After eating a mustard-flecked cube of wobbly nikogori (boiled fugu encased in its own jelly) you’ll have a spring in your step, and not only because you successfully ate the hardest food in the world to negotiate with chopsticks.

Koto

  • Things to do
  • Toyosu

What is it? Set your alarms early and head to Toyosu Fish Market from 5.30am to 6.30am to experience Tokyo’s renowned tuna auction (auction temporarily suspended due to Covid-19).

Why go? Observe the rituals of the buyers: rubbing a smidgen of meat from the tail between their fingers to test for texture and fattiness, smelling the meat, and using hand signals to indicate their bid. It all feels quite analogue and old-worldly in high-tech Tokyo. You can watch the action from the visitor’s gallery above, or apply in an online lottery for a spot in the observation deck on the same level as the auction.

Don’t miss: Enjoy the spoils of your early rise and eat sushi at one of the adjoining restaurants before the crowds pile in.

  • Art
  • Kiyosumi

What is it? There’s more to Japanese contemporary art than just Yayoi Kusama and Takashi Murakami and you can discover the breadth of the local scene at the recently reopened Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo.

Why go? Surrounded by the greens of Kiba Park, the institution’s impressive 5,400-work-strong collection dates from 1945 to the present, featuring seminal works from the likes of Tatsuo Miyajima and Fuminao Suenaga. In fact, over the years, this space has helped propel local artists like Taro Okamoto, Mitsuhiro Ikeda, Tokujin Yoshioka and Seiji Togo into the public eye.

Don’t miss: While you’re there, visit the museum shop, restaurant, café and lounge, where you can grab a bite or buy art-related goods once you’re done exploring.

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  • Museums
  • Aomi

What is it? Tokyo is the land of cutting-edge advancements in robot science and Miraikan is where you get to explore the next frontier in android tech.

Why go? Meet Honda’s famous humanoid robot Asimo, talk to the lifelike android Otonaroid, and discover the Uni-cub, a personal mobility device. There’s also a stunning 6.5m Geo-Cosmos globe hanging from the atrium, which displays environmental data such as human migration movements and more. 

Don’t miss: To get there via the futuristic Yurikamome line, as the train takes you across the iconic Rainbow Bridge for a great view of Tokyo Bay.

  • Art
  • Odaiba

What is it? One of Tokyo’s hottest museums, teamLab Borderless is a peerless digital art museum on Odaiba, created by self-styled 'ultra-technologists' teamLab. 

Why go? A good 60 artworks are on display, divided into five sections across 10,000sqm, which are all interactive. You're encouraged to touch, follow, disrupt or add to them. It's truly immersive, 'borderless' art. 

Don’t miss: The ‘Sketch Aquarium’. Draw your own fish-inspired image on a piece of paper, scan it, and it’ll start swimming on the walls before you know it.

Toshima

Watch out for the ‘flying’ penguins at Sunshine Aquarium
  • Attractions
  • Zoos and aquariums
  • Ikebukuro

What is it? Topping the massive Sunshine City retail and office complex, the popular Sunshine Aquarium’s giant overhead water tank makes it look as if the penguins have taken to the skies, swimming about with Tokyo’s cityscape as the backdrop. 

Why go? It’s a breathtaking view that makes for a great photo op. 

Don’t miss: The hypnotising deep-blue Jellyfish Tunnel as well – and if you’re feeling peckish, the on-site café serves up cute pancakes with penguin motifs and ocean-coloured beverages.

  • Things to do
  • Games and hobbies
  • Ikebukuro

What is it? The Gashapon Department Store, located inside Ikebukuro’s Sunshine City shopping centre, is now home to the largest number of gashapon machines at a single location, boasting a whopping 3,000 capsule toy machines.

Why go? You'll find an incredible array of toys available through these 3,000 machines. There are anime figurines from the likes of Pokémon, Gundam, Ultraman and Doraemon as well realistic food replicas. Many of the selection will only set you back ¥200-¥300, with some premium items available for ¥800.

Don’t miss: Stop by the neighbouring arcade where you can try your hand at a few UFO machines for bigger prizes

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  • Museums
  • Ikebukuro

What is it? Tokyo is no stranger to earthquakes, but there’s no need to panic. The Tokyo Fire Department’s safety learning centre in Ikebukuro is where you can pick up first-aid training and survival tips.

Why go? Learn in the form of guided tours that pass through a very realistic quake simulator and a smoke maze, plus the only chance you’ll ever have to play with fire extinguishers without getting in trouble. The only downside is that guidance is in Japanese only – bring a friend if your language skills aren’t up to par. Reservations recommended.

Don’t miss: For a sneak peek of what you can expect, check out Bosaikan’s official YouTube channel where you’ll find videos of Tokyo's fire department and other safety tips.

Suginami

Go graffiti-spotting in Koenji
Photo: Whole9/Koenji Mural City Project

86. Go graffiti-spotting in Koenji

What is it? Tokyo may not be known for its street art, but the impressive Koenji Mural City Project (spearheaded by BnA art hotel) is leading the charge by collaborating with prolific graffiti artists to transform the urban landscape.

Why go? Start at the YS Building, which has had its 20m-high wall covered with Whole9’s vibrant mural of an eagle. There are more artworks to discover along and around Pal Shotengai (shopping street), where you’ll find beautiful images adorning walls, shop shutters and building façades.

Don’t miss: For more street art around the capital, check out the backstreets of Harajuku or head over to Tennozu Isle. The city is also home to a number of free public art sculptures which are worth a look, too.

  • Restaurants
  • Koenji

What is it? Grungy Koenji’s reputation as a haven for nonconformists makes for vibrant street life, and regardless of how well you speak Japanese, the easy atmosphere means you’ll soon have some new best friends.

Why go? Pull up an upturned beer crate outside one of the down-home yakitori joints lining this street parallel to Koenji’s train track and enjoy some of Tokyo’s best people-watching – with a grilled chicken skewer in one hand and a cold beer in the other. 

Don’t miss: Our pick for sticks? Taisho is a Koenji institution, boasting plenty of alfresco seating and yakitori from just ¥110 a pop.

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  • Shopping
  • Suginami

What is it? The Yard and Kimono Hazuki are two of the city’s best-stocked kimono shops.

Why go? Run by century-old kimono dealer Yamato, The Yard specialises in contemporary made-in-Japan designs and carries a plentiful lineup of accessories, while also offering 90-minute dress-up lessons for beginners. Hazuki, on the other hand, sells colourful secondhand and vintage kimono at reasonable prices. You’ll find bargain-price contemporary kimono as well as antique ones from as far back as the early 1920s.

Don’t miss: Check its Twitter and Instagram to see what’s in stock before you head over.

Across Tokyo

  • Shopping

What is it? No one does convenience stores – or konbini – quite like Japan. Where else can you get a delicious meal, plus all sorts of emergency necessities like a spare shirt and alcohol at 3am in the morning?

Why go? Tokyo's konbini are one of the many reasons why our capital is considered so convenient. Whether you’re just looking for a quick bite to eat or even some tasty souvenirs, konbini have you covered. 

Don’t miss: From Anthony Bourdain-approved egg sandwiches (they are at Lawson, by the way) to freshly brewed coffee and a wide selection of hot meals, you’ll be spoilt for choice. Keep an eye out for the seasonal specialities, too – it’ll be mint chocolate everything in summer and then warming oden come autumn.

  • Things to do

What is it? Japan’s impeccable attention to detail is best exemplified in the beautiful manhole covers that adorn the city streets. Tokyo (and Japan as a whole) has managed to turn this integral but otherwise inconspicuous component in the urban landscape into a work of art.

Why go? Most municipalities here have their own designs inspired by the area’s heritage. So look out for the tribute to Hachiko on the drain covers in Dogenzaka (Shibuya), or Hello Kitty designs in Tama, home to the Sanrio Puroland theme park, of which the famed cat-girl is a central figure.

Don’t miss: Tokyo is now home to six colourful Pokéfuta, or Pokémon manhole covers which can be found in Serigaya Park in Machida.

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Catch the summer fireworks
Photo: F11photo/Dreamstime

91. Catch the summer fireworks

What is it? Instead of New Year fireworks, Japan lets it all rip in summer with its many hanabi (fireworks festivals).

Why go? Held in Tokyo over several weekends in July and August, these events are spectacular, elaborate affairs, where the fireworks not only feature physics-defying patterns and shapes like smileys and Pikachu but are also synchronised to music. 

Don’t miss: To dress up in yukata (light cotton kimono). For the ultimate experience, arrive early to secure a good vantage point, and fill up on festival fare from the surrounding stalls, such as kakigori (shaved ice with syrup) and yakitori (grilled chicken skewers).

Take yourself out to the ball game
Photo: Meiji Jingu Stadium

92. Take yourself out to the ball game

What is it? Baseball is big in Japan and Tokyo is home to two professional teams: the Yomiuri Giants are based at Tokyo Dome while the Tokyo Yakult Swallows at Meiji Jingu Stadium. 

Why go? Surprisingly, it is quite easy to catch a game while you’re in town. The best part is that you can usually rock up on game day and get your tickets at the door. 

Don’t miss: If you’re rooting for the Yomiuri Giants, bring along an orange towel; for Tokyo Yakult Swallows, wear bright green and get ready to learn a cheerleading routine using an umbrella. You’ll love the sporting camaraderie.

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See Tokyo in its many seasonal colours
Photo: Navapon Plodprong/Dreamstime | Sakura at Chidorigafuchi Moat

93. See Tokyo in its many seasonal colours

What is it? Tokyo across the seasons is sensational – especially when the scenery changes with a different colour each season. 

Why go? Spring and autumn are the most scenic: the former brings pastel pink cherry blossoms to the city’s major parks, gardens and riversides, while the latter is associated with the 150 mustard-yellow ginkgo trees that line the 300m long boulevard at Meiji Jingu Gaien. 

Don’t miss: To gaze at the vibrant fireworks lighting up the skies in summer whereas sparkling illuminations bedeck the city streets come winter.

Partake in a traditional festival
Photo: Jason Arney/Koenji Awa-Odori

94. Partake in a traditional festival

What is it? Tokyo is a city where the old and the new co-exist, and this is especially apparent during the traditional festivals that throng the streets throughout the year.

Why go? Most happen in August, such as the Bon-Odori festival to honour the ancestral spirits and the Awa Odori street dance festival, which is said to have originated from a drunken celebration back in the late 16th century.

Don’t miss: Tokyo’s not the only city with a host of traditional festivals. From Kyoto to Aomori, Japan is home to stunning festivals that will take your breath away. Be careful out there – many traditional festivals have been cancelled or scaled down due to Covid-19.

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Hang out with rescue cats at Econeco
Photo: Time Out Tokyo

95. Hang out with rescue cats at Econeco

What is it? Run by Sakuradai pet clinic together with the non-profit Little Cats, Econeco turns the usual cat café business model on its head by providing a safe haven for rescue kitties longing for love and pampering.

Why go? Its 20 or so furry residents are all cared for and monitored by the clinic’s staff, who make sure the animals stay both physically and mentally healthy. The best time to visit is between 11am and 1pm, and prices are ¥1,200 for the first hour, including a drink, with ¥500 for an extra 30 minutes. Note that there’s no entry for children under the age of six or anyone under the influence of alcohol.

Don’t miss: For an update on all the resident kitties, check out the Econeco blog, where staff upload photos and happenings at the clinic on a daily basis.

  • Health and beauty
  • Spas
  • Itabashi

What is it? Genuine, 100 percent natural onsen (hot springs) are scarce in Tokyo, for geological reasons, but there’s one place where you can experience the real thing without the hassle of leaving town – Itabashi’s Saya no Yudokoro.

Why go? Here you’ll likely forget you’re still in the metropolis, as you unwind in an array of baths all fed by a gushing spring 1,500m below ground, set within a traditional Japanese house. 

Don’t miss: The must-try? Gazing upon a tranquil landscape garden while soaking in the rotenburo (outdoor bath).

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  • Things to do

What is it? Shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, is the practice of surrounding yourself in nature to relieve stress. With all the magic that Tokyo offers, it’s also a city of great bustle and chaos

Why go? Take a well-deserved respite by hopping a short train to Okutama, the first site in Tokyo approved for forest therapy. The certified therapists at Okutama Forest Therapy will guide you through the five different therapy routes.

Don’t miss: You can also join yoga classes, pottery classes or soba-noodle-making classes in the forest to really up the relaxation angle.

  • Travel

What is it? Known as the ‘Galapagos of the Orient’, the Ogasawara archipelago is a stunning subtropical paradise comprising 30 islands with only 2,400 residents.

Why go? Since the islands have never been connected to a mainland continent, the wildlife features tons of exotic, endemic species that have undergone a unique evolution. Part of the archipelago’s otherworldly beauty comes from the islands’ remoteness, with the only access to the island group being a 24-hour ferry. Be sure to explore the incredible marine life – snorkel, dive, or go on a whale or dolphin watching tour.

Don’t miss: Ogasawara is not only known for its beaches, but stunning hiking routes which snake through the island and lead you to lookout points and some of the best swimming spots. Check out our guide to Ogasawara for more.

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Visit the award-winning sake brewery Sawanoi
  • Things to do
  • Ome

What is it? With over 300 years of history, Sawanoi is a sake brewery where you can discover the culture and production process of Japan’s national drink while sampling some top tipples.

Why go? Located in the lush Okutama region of Tokyo Prefecture, about an hour and a half train ride from Shinjuku Station, the brewery features a large garden overlooking the Tama River, with an open-air area where you can order bowls of noodles and sake tasting sets to enjoy as you bask in the tranquil nature.

Don’t miss: Join a tour in English, but just make sure to reserve in advance via the website.

  • Art
  • Kichijoji

What is it? Ghibli Museum is a homage to the studio that brought classics such as ‘Spirited Away’ and ‘My Neighbour Totoro’ to the upper echelons of anime society – and the world.

Why go? Designed by Studio Ghibli co-founder Hayao Miyazaki himself, the museum is as whimsical as the films, with no set route inside. You’ll find a few permanent exhibits which show the creative process, plus a changing exhibition on topics as diverse as Miyazaki’s life to the role of food in the films. For a pick-me-up after browsing, pop by The Straw Hat museum café for a Ghibli take on a cappuccino

Don’t miss: Stop by the restrooms on your visit at the loos are also a whimsical spot you can’t miss.

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  • Shopping
  • Nakano

What is it? Built as a high-end shopping centre and residence back in the 1960s, Nakano Broadway has transformed over the years into a subcultural paradise, packed with tiny shops hawking rare comics, figurines, video games and just about anything else your geeky heart desires.

Why go? Just wandering the halls is an adventure: the labyrinthine space reportedly inspired some of the levels in legendary RPG ‘Dragon Quest’. And if all that dungeon crawling tuckers you out, replenish your HP by hopping into one of Broadway’s many cafés and eateries.

Don’t miss: Takashi Murakami’s souvenir shop, and the mile-high soft-serve ice cream found in the basement.

Know more, do more, see more

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