If you’ve never been to the land of the rising sun, you are in for a treat. The country’s capital city of Tokyo sits atop many a wish list, famed for its futuristic neon-lit streets that are woven with both traditional and modern sites.
Maybe you’re visiting Japan to see the cherry blossoms and cuddle with a cat. Or you’re climbing Mount Fuji and are looking to eat the best meal of your life afterwards. Or perhaps you just want to walk around the city, absorbing the energy, and maybe dip into a karaoke bar..? No matter what type of trip you are planning, Tokyo will deliver.
With so much to see, do, and eat, where to start if it’s your first time? We’ve rounded up our top-five musts for your Tokyo debut.
People Watch in West Tokyo
In western Tokyo, the neighboring Shibuya and Shinjuku districts are the beating heart of the city. The image of hoards of bodies zooming past each other is iconic of Tokyo’s West side — Shibuya has the world’s busiest pedestrian crossing, with an estimated 1,000 — 2,500 people crossing the intersection every 2 minutes. (You read that right.)
Where else to experience the crowds? Shinjuku is the city’s top nightlife destination, and just so happens to be home to the Kimpton Shinjuku Tokyo. Escape the hustle and grab a bite at District, a modern brasserie offering brunch, afternoon tea, lunch, and dinner.
If you’re exploring Shinjuku at night, pop in to 8ighty 6ix, a cozy rooftop bar featuring cocktails inspired by the American Prohibition era. Movie buffs will want to beeline for the towering New York Bar, a spot that evokes the spirit of its namesake — the city that never sleeps — and was also the setting for Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray’s hit, Lost in Translation.
Visit a Themed Café
When you go to Japan, you’re going to experience weird cafés — our favorites are themed around beloved films, novels, and characters. At the top of the list is Alice’s Fantasy Restaurant, a fantastical space in Shinjuku based off of the beloved classic. If looking to reminisce on your childhood, swing by the Peter Rabbit Garden Café in Jiyugaoka, a café with a British inspired menu and the most delightful afternoon tea.
If you love all things Sanrio, swing by the Pompompurin Café in Harajuku, a café based off of the beloved golden retriever, Purin. Swing by the golden café for an assortment of curries, with rice balls that just so happen to look exactly like our favorite cream-caramel-pudding-loving-pup.
Animal cafés are the best-known in Tokyo, though they can often be cruel to the animals themselves. If you truly want to experience one, research ahead to ensure the café abides by ethical practices, and stick to pets who are used to human interaction (like dogs and cats) rather than the exotic and wild.
Witness the Cherry Blossoms
The sakura (cherry blossom) is the national flower of Japan, representing a time of renewal and optimism at the end of winter and beginning of spring. In the Spring, Japan’s iconic sakura cover the streets, parks, and gardens like a pink-hued daydream.
In Tokyo, lovers can capture this magical time professionally via Flytographer, which connects vacationers with local photographers in cities worldwide. These photographers are experts in each location and can dig out the most photogenic of corners, with photos edited and emailed within five days.
Tip: Our favorite spot for cherry blossoms is in Yoyogi Park, and the Alishan Park veggie cafe is a must-stop to enjoy the blossoming beauty once the shoot is over.
Watch Sumo Wrestlers in Action
Sumo is a uniquely Japanese style of wrestling, and is Japan’s national sport. Originally created to entertain the Shinto deities, Sumo wrestling is simple: The first man to step out of the ring loses.
If you want to catch a true Sumo match in Tokyo, you’ll need to time your visit to coincide with a tournament in January, May, or September. For those visiting outside the time frame of the big matches, the good news is that you can still see the big boys in training year-round.
On GetYourGuide, there are experiences where you can interact with a trainer or former professional wrestler, learn about the art, eat a delicious self-made Chanko Nabe hot pot (a sumo stew), and potentially have a (playful) match yourself.
Sing Kanpai at Karaoke
Besides “Arigato” (“Thank You”), you’ll need to learn another word when visiting Tokyo: “Kanpai” (“Cheers”) — for the Japanese seem to consume liquor relatively frequently and in large quantities. Why? Because, karaoke.
There are karaoke booths all over the city from big chains like Joysound and Big Echo, both of which offer selects in English alongside a food and beverage service. Whether you’re into Adele ballads or can attempt a J-Pop hit, order up a bottle of sake, bites like yakitori or edamame, and kanpai through the night.
Where to stay: Kimpton Shinjuku Hotel