Planning a trip to Tokyo? We’ve got you covered with the best things to eat, see and do.
It’s been a long time since our last adventure to Tokyo (no thanks to Covid-19). And you can bet we’re itching to get on the next plane to the capital city of Japan. It’s the best possible place for a mix of modern city life and traditional Japanese culture. Think hip cafes, bustling shopping streets and gorgeous historical sights. Never been to this part of the globe? No problem. Bookmark this guide to Tokyo for recommendations on the best things to do.
What to know before you fly
If you’re triple-vaccinated with an approved vaccine, you’re good to enter into the gates of Japan. However, do note that Chinese-made vaccines aren’t recognised. If you fall in this group or aren’t vaccinated, you’ll need to produce the results of your pre-departure PCR test within 72 hours of departure. Oh, and mask wearing is still highly prevalent in Japan. So don’t forget to keep your masks on in public spaces, outdoors and on public transport.
Here’s another helpful tip: when booking tickets, choose to land in Haneda airport instead of Narita airport. It’s much closer to the city, and you’ll save a good amount of time and money getting to your accommodation.
Tokyo guide: Best things to do
1. Visit the iconic Shibuya Crossing
Have you really visited Tokyo if you haven’t snapped a photo of its famous Shibuya Crossing? Seven crossroads meet at this intersection, and when the traffic lights turn red, a scramble occurs from all ends as pedestrians make their way to the other side. It’s quite the experience. This iconic location has also been used as the backdrop for several popular movies and TV shows. Think Lost in Translation, Resident Evil: Afterlife, and Alice in Borderland.
2. Raise a toast at izakayas in Shinjuku
The best of entertainment, business and shopping collide at Shinjuku – no wonder it’s one of our favourite districts to visit in Japan. Pop by vast department stores like Isetan, Takashimaya and Odakyu and fill your shopping baskets to the brim. Or, if you’re looking for a late-night activity, bring on the booze and grilled delights at some of the area’s top bars. We recommend reserving seats at izakayas like Kisaiya Hide and Yorozuya Okagesan.
3. Immerse in kawaii culture at Harajuku
Next on our list of things to do in Tokyo is a trip to the colourful and quirky district of Harajuku. Anime enthusiasts and closet otakus will love this part of the land. Not sure where to begin? Start your adventure at Takeshita Dori for a mixture of trendy fashion boutiques, adorable crepe stands and shops selling eccentric trinkets (think resin syringes and skeleton clips). There are also several themed cafes – like the typical maid cafe – to explore here, if that’s your jam.
4. Shop til you drop at the largest Don Quixote
Can’t get enough of Don Don Donki in Singapore? Trust us when we say it’s nothing compared to the real deal in Japan. The Mega Don Quixote Shibuya Store is the largest you’ll find in the city, with eight floors worth of affordable products, cosmetics, groceries and alcohol. If you love the piping hot sweet potatoes sold outside Don Don Donki in Singapore, then you’ll have to pop by level one and get your hands on sweet potato boba at the store’s Tapimo booth.
5. Browse electronic goods and otaku merchandise at Akihabara
If you’re looking for electronic goods or parts at duty-free prices, Akihabara is the place to be. Megastores like Yodobashi Camera and Laox are must-visits, with almost everything that you need to build your own computer (literally). A camera battery once died on us and wouldn’t charge, so we snapped up a new one quickly at a random retail shop on this street. You’ll also find plenty of stores hawking anime merchandise and games amongst the shuffle of electronic retailers. Perfect if you’re looking for rare collectibles.
6. Receive blessings at a temple
Of course, we can’t forget the rich history and culture that Japan swims in. For a good dose of it, go ahead and visit some of Tokyo’s gorgeous temples and shrines (and don’t forget to grab a quick blessing on your way out). Some noteworthy ones to add to your itinerary include the grand Sensoji Temple at Asakusa (with hundreds of food stalls on your way in); and the Meiji Jingu Shrine near Yoyogi Park. The latter is dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife, and you may even catch a glimpse of a Japanese wedding taking place here.
7. Spend a day (or two) at enchanting theme parks
Japan is a paradise for the most wonderfully-built theme parks, and the good news is, you can find a good bunch of them in Tokyo. Book tickets to Tokyo Disneyland and Disneysea, and enjoy thrilling rides across themed zones like Adventureland and Tomorrowland. Don’t forget to snap pictures with your favourite Disney princesses and characters against the gorgeous backdrop of Cinderella’s castle.
Or, pop down to Universal Studios Japan and immerse yourself in the larger-than-life magic worlds of Spider-Man, Jurassic Park and Jaws. Potterheads should make time to enter the Wizarding World of Harry Potter situated within the theme park as well.
Any Studio Ghibli fans? The new Ghibli Park just opened its doors on 1 November. While it may not be in Tokyo, it’s worth the three-hour train ride out to the Aichi prefecture. Pose with No-Face on the iconic Spirited Away train, or traipse through the quaint home of Kiki from Kiki’s Delivery Service. But make sure you’ve booked your tickets in advance before heading down. We hear you can get them through Lawson’s boo-woo tickets service, or when you buy a package at the JTB travel agency.
Tokyo guide: What to eat
8. Springy noodles at Ichiran Ramen
We make a beeline to the first Ichiran Ramen outlet we see whenever we’re in Tokyo. If you’re craving a bowl of ramen that doesn’t disappoint, this is the place to be. You can customise your noodles and broth according to your liking (whether that’s firm or soft, or less oily) so every bowl is tailored to your tastes. Plus, you don’t have to worry if you’re dining alone because this store comes with booths made for the solo traveller.
Ichiran Ramen, multiple locations including Ueno, Asakusa and Shinjuku
9. Fresh sushi and sashimi at Tsukiji Outer Market
Tsukiji Fish Market may be out of bounds to the public now, but you can still head to its outer market to try all sorts of traditional Japanese food. Food stalls that sell delish seafood like sushi and sashimi are a dime a dozen here. You can guarantee its products are fresh from the fish market. Not into raw food? No problem. Walk around and you’ll find stalls selling seared scallops and tamagoyaki in myriad flavours.
Tsukiji Outer Market, 4 Chome-16-2 Tsukiji, Chuo City, Tokyo 104-0045, Japan
10. Tender sticks of yakitori at Yakitori Alley
Also known as Omoide Yokocho (or memory alley), this little street near Shinjuku is flanked by up to 81 yakitori restaurants. It’s a bit of a grungy spot, but it’s full of character. And it’s the perfect location for a late-night hangout (think delicious grilled skewers, gyozas, noodles and cold beers). Not sure which yakitori joint to head to? Our visits to Tachan and Kabuto have never failed us.
Yakitori Alley, 2 Chome-3-3 Yurakucho, Chiyoda City, Tokyo 100-0006, Japan
11. Crispy tempura donburi at Tempura Kondo
The best Japanese food comes in simple (yet unbeatable) combinations. Think golden shrimp and vegetable tempura on a bed of steamed rice, with a salty dipping sauce on the side. That’s the magic of tendons (or tempura donburi). In our opinion, Tempura Kondo serves one of the best tendons in all of Tokyo. Don’t leave without trying its signature sweet potato tempura – the batter is oh-so-light.
Tempura Kondo, Level 9, Ginza 5-5-13, Sakaguchi Building, Tokyo 104-0061, Japan
12. Comforting omurice at Azabu Shokudo
We don’t know about you, but we love those viral videos of runny eggs enveloping a mountain of omurice. If you’re in Tokyo, you definitely can’t miss having a plate of this well-loved dish to yourself. We recommend a trip to Azabu Shokudo – it’s perfected its technique for the brown shiny demi glace (characteristic of every good plate of omurice) that’s sure to give your taste buds a treat.
Azabu Shokudo, B1, Chome-18-1, 4 Azabu West, Minato City, Tokyo 106-0031, Japan
13. The world’s richest matcha ice cream at Suzuki-en
Any matcha fanatics out there? If you love matcha-flavoured desserts, you have to make a pit stop at Suzuki-en during your trip to Tokyo. This teahouse is located in Asakusa, and has made a name for itself serving the world’s richest matcha ice cream. Choose from seven different levels of intensity, or taste other roasted tea or rice flavours like hojicha and genmaicha. We also can’t resist digging into a scoop of black sesame.
Suzuki-en Asakusa, 3 Chome-4-3 Asakusa, Taito City, Tokyo 111-0032, Japan
There you have it! Our guide to the best things to do and eat on your next trip to Tokyo.