by Catherine Kelly
Tokyo is one of the world’s busiest cities and can leave your head spinning when it comes to deciding what to fit in during your stay there. Here are a baker’s dozen of some obvious and not-so-obvious things to do when in Tokyo…
1. Serenity at Sensoji Temple
One of the highlights of any trip to Tokyo is a visit to Sensoji Temple, more popularly known as Asakusa Kannon Temple. Kannon is the Goddess of Mercy and the tall main hall is dedicated to her.
2. Be enchanted by the beauty of Hamarikyu Gardens
This public park was remodelled on the site of the 17th century family villa of the Shogun Tokugawa. Surrounded by a moat filled by Tokyo Bay, its vast 250,000m² of Edo-style landscaped gardens centre around Shioiri Pond.
It is one of Tokyo’s best spots from which to experience hanami (spring cherry blossom viewing) and the changing colour of the maple leaves during autumn.
3. Catch a sumo match in the Ryogoku district
Contrary to popular belief sumo matches do not run year round in Japan but are held in a series of 6 tournaments (Honbasho). If you are in Tokyo in January, May or September it may be possible to purchase tickets but be prepared to book at least 6 weeks in advance and pay anywhere between 3,500-40,000 yen ($40-$450AUD).
At other times of the year explore the Sumo Museum to learn more about this national sport.
4. Ride the Yamanote line
Ride this railway loop around downtown Tokyo and travel through 29 of the city’s many stations.
A complete loop takes just over an hour but hop off if you are keen to explore some of the city’s districts. Maybe just avoid peak hour!
5. Explore a Japanese 100 yen shop ($1 shop)
If you are looking for something quirky (& cheap) for your workmates or grandchildren then you are bound to find it here. One of the largest Japanese 100 yen shops is the chain Daiso. In Tokyo they have a store spread across 4 levels in the famously colourful Harajuku district.
6. Travel to the top of Tokyo’s SkyTree
The SkyTree was completed in 2012 and is currently the world’s second highest structure at 634 metres high. The views of Tokyo are hard to beat and on a very clear day you might catch a glimpse of Mount Fuji.
Travel to the Tembo Deck at 350 metres for shopping, restaurants and views or head up further to the Tembo Galleria at 450 metres. Here you can walk along the world’s highest skywalk for some thrilling views of the city below.
7. Trawl for vintage magazines and second-hand books in Tokyo’s Jinbocho district.
In Jinbocho, a.k.a. Book Town, you will find approximately 180 book-related businesses including second-hand shops and publishing houses. Many of the books are printed in Japanese but there are enough in English to make this worth an avid reader’s while. This area is also popular for antique hunters.
8. Ginza Shopping District
Hit the luxury shops of the Ginza district and indulge in some window shopping. The big fashion houses can all be found here in buildings designed by world-renowned architects including Japan’s own Toyo Ito.
On weekends between 12pm-5pm the main street is closed to traffic to become a ‘pedestrian paradise’.
9. Toy with the latest technology
Toyota, Panasonic and Sony all have public showrooms in Tokyo where you can go and play with the latest gadgets across multiple levels.
Karaoke in Tokyo may seem like a cliché but it can be a lot of fun. Establishments can be found all over Tokyo but Roppongi and Shibuya districts are particularly well known for their nightlife. For the serious singers you could head to an open bar but those not blessed with a set of golden tonsils might enjoy hiring a box where you can sing in private to your heart’s content.
11. Batter Up!
Japan is a nation of sporting enthusiasts and whilst sumo is the national sport, baseball is Japan’s most popular. Tokyo is home to two baseball teams – the Tokyo Yakult Swallows and the Yomiuri Giants. Try to get to a game during the season which runs from March to October.
12. Embrace your inner child at the Ghibli Museum
For fans of Hayao Miyazaki’s animation a visit to the Ghibli Museum is a must. Extremely popular with the locals it is essential to book in advance as tickets are not sold on-site, and be aware that it is closed on Tuesdays. Even if new to his work and that of Studio Ghibli, the museum offers an insight in to the art and technique of animation with special exhibitions featuring throughout the year.
13. Shuffle through Sugamo
This is a shopping district with a difference – affectionately known as the ‘Old Ladies’ Harajuku’. This strip is 800 metres long and sells clothing, food and other items aimed towards the older generation. There are shops here that sell nothing but supplies to help you celebrate your 60th birthday. These shops are easily distinguished by the array of red underwear and clothing – in Japan it is customary to wear red on your 60th birthday!
Bunnik Tours’ small group tours to Japan offer leisure time in Tokyo where you are free to explore on your own. It is also possible to add a pre-tour extension to Tokyo to your trip.
For more information and travel tips, visit the Japan National Tourism Organization.