There are as many unusual things to do in Tokyo as there are lists of them, and whether you’re visiting for the first time or the 10th, there’s always something new to try. So, once you’ve seen the Robot Restaurant, karaoke-d, visited Tsukiji, braved Shibuya Scramble and tried a maid cafe, what else can you do…?
1. Meet (and eat) Totoro
Tucked away in a quiet suburb, the Shirohige Cream Puff Factory is an adorable Totoro-lover’s dream of a cafe. Serving up fresh homemade pasta for lunch every day, they also sell the sweet treats that made them so popular. Perfectly-recreated in cream-puff form, minitaure Totoros are filled with chocolate, vanilla, strawberry or a seasonal custard and are deliciously crispy on the outside and creamy within. If you can make it past that little face, it’ll be well worth it!
2. Squirm at the Parasite Museum
Meguro’s Parasitological Museum proudly boasts of being the only one in the world, and after a visit you might understand why. However, that makes it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity if you’re here, and it’s definitely fascinating, if in gross way (and you might be thankful for once that there is hardly any English translation). Highlights include the record-holding tape worm and the photos of the untreated—great if you’re saving on lunch money or have been doubting your vegan/vegetarian inner-strength lately!
3. Go undergound, literally
There can’t be many places in the world where you can go on a free guided tour of the drainage systems, but in Tokyo you can! (Well, nearby Saitama anyway). Enjoy the feeling of being in an early scene of the latest low-budget disaster movie and learn all about water flow. The G-Cans project tour does require Japanese, but a booklet is provided at the end in English, and appreciating the amazing structures can be done in the universal ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhhhs’ .
4. Practice your “Ruuuuun!!!” pose with Godzilla
If you’re strolling through Shinjuku, try not to panic if you spot Godzilla himself towering above the city. In recognition of the beast’s contribution to culture and tourism, Godzilla was the official tourism ambassador for Shinjuku in 2015, was given residency to the city and had this life-size head built as an ode. Following the release of the Shin-Godzilla movie, he now occasionally roars and glows in a menacing manner, if you’re lucky. Make the most of him with some terrified poses or use him as an alternative meeting point (take that Hachiko). You can see the world from Godilla’s point of view on the deck, if you want to understand the monster.
5. Feast like an apocalypse king at Mr Kanso
With an impressive rocket in popularity, the Mr Kanso offers canned delights from all over the world for you to enjoy with a drink. Opened up and served on the spot it’s a great way to enjoy your long-lost favorites and discover some new oddities like Hokkaido Bear meat in a supermarket style. You pick up your color-coded choices, add them to your basket and check out. With bars all over Tokyo and further afield you won’t struggle to find one! We reviewed the Osaka bar here!
6. Spend the night at a love hotel
So you can stay in a fancy hotel, a trendy hostel or a capsule hotel—whatever—but for a bit of the unusual try one of Tokyo’s many love hotels. You might fancy a light-up hot tub, a rotating circular bed or a vending machine full of…entertainment, with a million more odd options available. Oddly, the rooms are actually often bigger than normal hotels and the themes make for a memorable stay (try illuminated cabinets of puppet clowns for one). They are also perfect for a cheap day nap with the ‘rest’ option, ideal if you arrive at a funny time or your jetlag kicks in!
7. Have the dinner of your nightmares
If a regular meal is a bit boring, why not throw some terror and gore in there to spice things up a bit? There are a few options for this, with the popular Lockup chain offering a prison theme with zombies and sirens, and Underworld offering hellish version of dinner to all. Hail the waitress with a severed hand and try not to panic if your cell is stormed by a monster-zombie as you enjoy your eyeball cocktails and blood-stained meal. (My highlight at The Lockup was a birthday group of teenage girls nearly dying as a zombie delivered the cake. I’ve never seen anyone scream denials of their own birthday so intensely.)
8. Real-life Mario Karting around the city streets
Mario is still everyone’s favorite character (even Abe’s), and if you happen to be in Tokyo you can play real-life Mario Kart through its streets! All you need is a valid driving license (Japanese, international, SOFA or translated from certain countries) and you and your pals can race through Shinjuku, Roppongi and cross the Shibuya Scramble, all in full costume. Obviously no throwing banana skins and keep it safe, as you will be on busy roads, but there are plenty of great photo opportunities and passersby cheer and wave you on like no one’s business. It’s definitely an alternative way to view the city, and you can choose a guided tour or pick your own circuit! There are a few companies that offer this including this one and this one!
9. Become a Cup Noodle creator
It may be cheating slightly, as it’s technically Yokohama, but the Cup Ramen Museum just can’t be left out of the list. Perfect for a rainy day (or any day to be honest), you can see the trippy explanation videos, larger-than-life replicas of Cup Noodles, a historical timeline and best of all…make your own! From cup decoration to ingredient selection it’s your baby, and it certainly makes for a more interesting hostel dinner than the regular kind.
Our guide to prepay SIM cards, wifi routers, cafe wifi and other places to quickly find wifi whilst visiting Japan.
10. Sit in at the sumo stables
Watching the sumo in Tokyo is an amazing experience and even if you’re here between tournaments or can’t get tickets, all is not lost. An alternative to the big fights is to attend the training sessions in Tokyo’s backstreets—either sit in or watch from the viewing windows. You can check with stables in advance—we have some suggestions here.
11. Have dinner in Piss Alley (or “Memory Lane” if you need to convince people)
For tiny seats crammed in between salarymen and pensioners, unidentified meat on a skewer, smoke in your face and a beer in your hand—head to Piss Alley. Streaking through the dodgy end of Shinjuku by the rail tracks, you’ll find the grimy backstreets you’ve been looking for. The more-food less-hipster version of Golden Gai, Piss Alley was once known for its dodgy clientele who would piss against walls, but now has unmissable toilet signs instead. Be prepared to eat a lot of meat, be elbowed for the first time in Japan and to make some new friends.
12. Get maid-over (sorry)
Maids will serve you coffee, take a photo with you or…clean you ears? Yeah. So normally a cute boyfriend-girlfriend activity here, ear cleaning can also be done by maids, and it’s very, very popular. Whereas most people consider the ear canal a no-go-zone for pointy objects, if you can shrug off your fears you’ll have some lovely clean lugholes you can be proud of.
One of the most well-known places is Moemakura in Akihabara and they have an English menu. (Side note, they will also slap or kick you if you want them to. Just in case someone was looking for that.) And for a slightly less violent experience this maid ear cleaning service includes head and foot massage, with prices starting from 4,300yen.
13. Watch the sun set from an unusual rooftop garden
Meguro is home to the rather strange decision to place a rooftop garden above a motorway interchange, but don’t worry, Meguro Sky Garden is a lot more green than the picture suggests! With a vegetable garden and well-kept flower beds, the 9th-story garden is a spectacle of modern architecture and a perfect escape from the city. Head up with a drink for the sunset and enjoy the view. If it’s raining or a bit too cold for your liking, you can head to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Buildings to see the skyline, and Fuji if it’s not too cloudy!
14. Get your robot fix
You can’t really come to Tokyo and not see any robots, and if you hadn’t seen, they’ve advanced quite a bit. For all things past and future you should head to the Miraikan Museum. Fully interactive and great for exploring, you can see the future, meet Asimo and see the world’s most advanced androids in action (and try not to get creeped out). Of course, these may not be the robots you’ve heard about, and if you haven’t seen the robots-on-acid version yet, remember to get discounts online as you can make some nice savings!
And check here for more ways to meet a robot.
15. Sail the Sumida River
If you’re tired of buses and trains, try a Yakatabune and sail down the Sumida River, enjoying stunning views of Tokyo. Strung with red lanterns and offering food and drink courses, they can make an amazing evening in Tokyo that will be unlike anything you try.
16. Strike a pose at Purikura no Mecca
With these shiny, glittering photo booths everywhere, you’d have to have been willingly ignoring them if there aren’t at least a few anime versions of yourself tucked into a photo frame or folded into a wallet somewhere. And if that’s the case, then why on earth? Regardless of who you are, in fact, the less suited you think you are the better! The posing can be ironic, wholehearted or planned out in exact detail for a story line—whatever you prefer. The post-production enhancements can be subtle or bordering on alien-like and the decorations gaudy as hell or, if you really prefer; tasteful. Whatever you like, cute hearts, lion heads and dinosaurs are all options, and they’re the perfect way to remember your days (and nights) in Tokyo whilst seeing everyone in their full outfits! Head to the biggest collection—Purikura no Mecca in Shibuya for a ridiculous amount of choice, or any game arcade (Harajuku has loads obviously!)
17. Get naked, but not in Kabukicho
There is nothing more relaxing to some, and horrendously terrifying to others, than getting naked in front of a load of strangers and hopping in a bath. I was the latter and have been transformed, and you can be too (our guide might help). Onsens are great—you come out feeling relaxed and soft and great (and maybe a bit dehydrated so don’t ignore the milk vending machine). In Tokyo you can choose from the local sentos like this one which are like bathhouses, traditional onsens or full-blown resorts and even onsen towns like Hakone. Traditionally they are divided by gender, but you can find many mixed pools which require bathing suits. Tattoos are often banned but this is relaxing slowly, and many are now tattoo friendly. Try it once; it’s a brilliant part of Japanese culture and you’ll be stared at far less in Tokyo than rural Japan – so it’s ideal if you’re nervous!
Ok, so we said 17, but you want to feel like a true Tokyoite right? There’s only one way…
Bonus: Experience the sardine system for yourself at rush hour
Tokyo is famous for people, millions and millions of people… and the Shibuya Scramble is a great place to see most of them, but if you want to feel like a real Tokyoite head to the central stations at rush hour for the chance to see the pushers and crowds at work. If you have somewhere to be, or just really want to try it, you can be pushed on yourself (but maybe watch a couple of times first, as there are techniques—the backwards lean and push is effective) and it can be daunting). Not for claustrophobics and watch out for gropers (grab the hand and yell “CHIKAN!” if it happens—or kick them in the balls, whatever suits). You can use this guide to see the busiest stations.
Still not enough for you? Try our 101 cheapo things to do in Tokyo for more ideas!
Our favorite (read: cheapest) maid cafes in Akihabara. These types of cafes are one of Japan’s pop culture icons.