Experience Tokyo Off The Beaten Track
Eight Must-Do Tokyo Activities
Skytree? Been there. Asakusa shrine? Done that. It’s time to move on to new adventures.
Say what you want about Tokyo—just don’t call it unexciting or predictable. When it comes to cool and eccentric attractions, quirky entertainment and extraordinary experiences, Japan’s metropolis qualifies in more ways than one. But while the ultra popular Robot Restaurant and Maid Cafés have had their moment in the limelight, there are plenty of other off-kilter things to do to make lifetime memories here. As hard as it’s to narrow it down, here’s my recommended roundup of eight only-in-Tokyo experiences to put on your exploration bucket list.
1. Tour Tokyo dressed as your favorite character
You say cosplay, I say Mario go-karts – a city tour that takes sightseeing and cosplay to a whole new level. If you are looking for one of the most exhilarating experiences in town, then this is it. For a few hours you’ll have a chance to dress up in a costume of your favorite character (Super Mario being one of the most popular) and cruise Japan’s metropolis in a shiny red go-kart. You can choose between two- or three-hour city tours, hitting sights like Odaiba, Roppongi and Shibuya’s famous scramble crossing. Expect to be the center of attention as crowds gather, cheer you, and take selfies with you. And no, it is not dangerous in any way: an experienced guide is there to steer you in the right direction. Make sure you have a domestic or international driving license on hand.
2. Unleash your inner Harry Potter at Owls Café
Thanks to Tokyoites’ obsession with animal cafés you have a chance to unleash your inner Harry Potter and play with an owl or two. As soon as you enter the café, you immediately find yourself in nothing less than a tiny forest. Maple tree leaves, sounds of trickling water, seasonal decorations, very dim lights and eclectic music – you know you are in for a somewhat therapeutic experience. Most importantly, a tiny room inside is filled with approximately two dozen owls of different breeds, shapes and sizes. After receiving a brief instruction from a very nice hostess at the front desk – no flash photography, no sudden movements, one free drink included in the ticket price (¥980) – you are given an hour to spend with the birds. You can find the owl cafés in Akihabara and Asakusa.
3. Taste Totoro at Shiro-Hige’s Cream Puff Factory
Located right across Setagayadaita station on the Odakyu Line and relatively close to Shimokitazawa — Tokyo’s bohemian neighbourhood — tiny Shiro-Hige’s Cream Puff Factory transports you into Studio Ghibli’s one of the sweetest imaginary worlds. Expect to be greeted by Hayao Miyazaki’s cousin herself who puts her heart into every single hand-baked Chibi Totoro choux neatly lined up in a glass display. The bakery offers enticing classics as well as seasonal flavors like vanilla, strawberry, peach chocolate cream, caramel banana, matcha and chestnut. As cute as these creations are the delicious taste will keep you coming for seconds. Read more about this and other top-level dessert shops here.
When it comes to cool and eccentric attractions, quirky entertainment and extraordinary experiences, Japan’s metropolis qualifies in more ways than one.
4. Get lost at Kawaii Monster Café
If you’re in search for something truly quirky head to Kawaii Monster Café in Harajuku. A huge carousel, Harajuku girls in their cute yet seductive outfits and lots of colorful food is there to give you a sensorial overload. Décor is a hybrid of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory and Alice in Wonderland (don’t miss the infamous toilet!), while the menu is perplexing to say the least – Monster Burger and Poison Parfait being the highlights.
5. Spend the morning with sumo wrestlers
Traditional sumo wrestling is a big part of Japanese culture and watching the tournament live is certainly once in a lifetime experience. However, tickets are typically very hard to come by and timing can also be a challenge as the competitions are held on specific dates only few times a year. Those who would still like to partake in the experience can actually head to one of the sumo stables in Tokyo for an observation of the wrestlers’ morning practice, known as asageiko. Most sumo stables are located near to the Ryogoku Kokugikan sumo stadium where the Tokyo grand tournaments are held. Arashio Beya in Nihonbashi is well-known among foreigners, but due to popular demand, visitors can only watch the practice from a large window. Perfect if you’re visiting for a quick peek.
Other popular stables are the Musashigawa Beya in Uguisudani; Kasugano Beya near Ryogoku Station; and Takasago Beya near Asakusa Station, home of the legendary and controversial yokozuna Asashoryu. For more information, see here.
6. Relax at Mahika Mano Hammock Café & Gallery
Can there be a better place to hang-out (!!!) after a day full of sightseeing than a hammock café? Kick off your shoes and comfortably settle into one of the hanging nets. An interesting book paired with one of the house-made desserts and coffee/tea will guarantee an enjoyable hour or two. The place, located at around 10-minutes walk from Kichijoji station, actually doubles as a showroom for a company called Hammock 2000, so in case you feel so relaxed and comfy that you don’t want to give up your hammock, you have an option to buy it right then and there.
7. Pose as Maiko, Geisha or Oiran
Another unforgettable way to experience Japanese culture is to spend a few hours at a photo studio in Asakusa where you’ll be fully dressed like a maiko, geisha or oiran (Japanese courtesan) and pose for some photos. Prices range from ¥20,520 for a standard oiran plan to ¥27,000 for a geisha or maiko plan. All plans include full on make-up, hair-do, kimono and accessories. Dress your partner as a samurai for ¥15,120. Talk about the best souvenir to take back home.
8. Tour Tokyo by helicopter at night
Perhaps the most romantic way to fully experience the capital, this night helicopter cruise takes you on an unforgettable private sky journey all the way from Odaiba to Ginza and everything in between for ¥48,600 for two. If you choose the premium course (¥64,800 for two) you’ll also see Shinjuku, Skytree, Asakusa and other major sightseeing spots in details. It’s not cheap, but what breathtaking experience is?
What is your most unique off-the-beaten-track experience in and around Tokyo? Share your thoughts in the comments below!