You think you know Tokyo, but you haven’t truly experienced the exuberance of Tokyo until you fight a sumo, eat rainbow spaghetti, watch robots dance, make your own udon noodles and go-kart through the streets in an adult-sized Mario onesie…. Tokyo is seriously a...
You think you know Tokyo, but you haven’t truly experienced the exuberance of Tokyo until you fight a sumo, eat rainbow spaghetti, watch robots dance, make your own udon noodles and go-kart through the streets in an adult-sized Mario onesie…. Tokyo is seriously a big kid’s playground, and if you want to experience the fun side of Tokyo and delight your inner child, check out our ULTIMATE Tokyo itinerary for ‘big kids’ below.
Cook (and eat!) delicious food
Japan is foodie heaven, so why not learn how to make some of the culinary delights from a local? Ayuko at Buddha Bellies Cooking School is a trained sushi instructor, Sake sommelier and professional cook. She shares her passion for food in small, intimate classes, where you will learn to make a range of delicious Japanese food, from udon noodles, to teriyaki and more. The best part though? Eating the food at the end and being pleasantly surprised by how great you can cook Japanese food.
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Tokyo is known for some of its crazy fashion and characters, and Harajuku is the heart of it all. If you want to buy some funky items (and spend up big), this is the place for it. Here you will also find eclectic ‘op shops’ (thrift stores) and unique stores. The atmosphere is buzzing and if you really want to get amongst the thick of it, try navigating your way down Takeshita Street!
If all the crowds and characters get a little too much for you, take a short stroll up to Meiji Shrine, where the loudness of Harajuku will feel like another world away. Wander through the tranquil forest-like gardens and temples, purify yourself at the cleansing stations, make a prayer and, if you are lucky, witness a traditional Japanese wedding.
Eat rainbow monster food
After feeling anew, head back to the main part of Harajuku and visit Monster Cafe. This colourful cafe can only be described by imagining a cafe being taken over by psychedelic muppet-monsters and harajuku girls. The booths are like something from Alice in Wonderland and all the food looks like it’s made out of rainbow playdough. Rest assured it isn’t and the food isn’t half bad. Of course, it’s no Michelin meal, but it is fun to taste each coloured cream ‘blob’ on the plate or ice-cream and realise each colour is a different bold flavour. Monster Cafe also have performances at night and at unspecified times during the day, so if you want to see some of the quirky performances, time your visit well (and perhaps book in advance if you want to see a show).
Fight a sumo (or watch a match)
Sumo wrestling is a national treasure of Japan and a sporting tradition that is still going strong after many centuries. Sumo wrestling tournaments only occur in the odd months of the year, so if you are not visiting during the matches, you can do something even more memorable, fight a sumo yourself! The Asakusa Sumo Experience is a great way to learn the intricacies of sumo wrestling and even attempt to take on one of the masters. And, once finished challenging the sumo wrestlers, you can tuck into a well-earned hearty sumo wrestler lunch.
If you aren’t too exhausted from your morning match, take a leisurely wander through the streets of Asakusa towards Sensō-ji Temple. Sensoji is Tokyo’s oldest temple, dating back to 628, and one of Tokyo’s most photogenic. The charming alleys around the temple are also worth strolling through and stopping to try snacks along the way.
Watch a psychedelic Robot Show
A visit to Tokyo is not complete with a night filled with neon lights, pyrotechnics and…. dancing robots. Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku highlights the craziness of Japan that we all have heard about and loved. It’s pretty over-the-top and a little cheesy, but you will have a hard time trying not to smile or laugh at the amazing electronic cabaret show before your eyes.
For dinner, you are spoilt for choice, with ramen bars and my favourite chain: Co-Co Curry. You can easily find some good meals for under ¥1500.
Hakone Day Trip and Hot Springs fun
If the hustle and bustle of Tokyo gets a little too much, then a relaxing day trip to Hakone will set you right. Only 2 hours from Tokyo, Hakone is home to some relaxing onsens (hot springs) and amazing views of Mount Fuji. You can take a boat ride out on Lake Ashi, visit the Hakone Shrine and unwind in one of the hot spring resorts. If you are after an onsen with a quirky twist, Yunessun Kowakien onsen park is a great place to visit. You can rotate between unique baths filled with wine, sake, coffee and more, enjoy some fun outdoor baths and slides or, for the traditionalist, relax in the traditional outdoor (read: naked) onsens. There is a restaurant at the attached hotel, but we found a really lovely soba restaurant beforehand by wandering from the train station through the town and over the bridge and stumbling upon Hatsuhana Soba Honten. Note: Japan have a pretty strict ‘no visible tattoos’ policy in a lot of onsens and it also applies to this onsen park.
Check out our post to find out how to get to Hakone and read about the unique Yunessun Kowakien onsen.
Check out the busiest street in Tokyo & Whiskey Alley
To fit two extremes in the one day, serene to hectic, head out for a fresh sushi dinner at Sushi Zanmai in Shibuya, cross the busiest street in Tokyo and finish with a night cap in Nonbei Alley – An ambient alley filled with tiny whiskey bars that can hold 5 people at a time (but that doesn’t stop the locals from squeezing more in for a raucous night out).
Hoon through the streets Mario-style
Let the big kid really let loose and spend your fourth day in Tokyo by go-karting through the streets, MarioKart style. MariCar offer 2 and 3 hour accompanied laps of Tokyo, dressed as your favourite cartoon character. This is the coolest way to see Tokyo and will leave you amazed that this is legal. It also turns you into the attraction, with many pedestrians stopping to take quick photos of you as you wait at the traffic lights.
Shopping for interests
After a cheap lunch in one of the train station eateries, it’s time to flex your bank account. If you love cooking, make your way to Kitchen Street to pick up all the tools and utensils you need to create a Japanese feast at a bargain price. The important thing to note however, is that all the stores only accept cash, and the atms are few and far between (best bet is a 7eleven). If you prefer shopping for electronics, Akihabara or even Shinjuku have plenty to offer (we liked the electronic department stores) and if you want fashion, you can’t miss Harajuku, Shibuya and Ginza.
If you prefer more sightseeing, this is the perfect opportunity to visit the Imperial Palace and grounds. Conveniently located in the heart of Tokyo, the site has beautiful gardens, remains of the Edo castle and the Imperial Palace itself. For the history buffs, you can take organised tours to visit parts of the Imperial Palace.
And to top off the ultimate Tokyo itinerary, spend your last night enjoying the incredible neon views from one of the rooftop bars.
Where to stay in Tokyo
We loved staying in Shinjuku, as it is very central and well connected by the metro. Super Hotel Shinjuku Kabukicho was good value, with daily breakfast and cute amenities offered for free (for female guests). If you want a unique experience, book a night at Book and Bed Capsule Hotel. Japan is famous for capsule hotels, and this one has a unique bookish charm – not for the light sleepers of claustrophobics though! For something a little risqué, but not too naughty, Hotel & Spa An Shinjuku is for adults-only fun. The rooms are fitted out with a fancy bathroom, luxurious toiletries and even your own in-room karaoke! For more choices, check out booking.com
How to get around
A JR Pass is great for travel throughout Japan and covers all JR operated trains (including the bullet train). Alternatively, Tokyo is well connected by the metro and is a ‘walkable’ city.
What to eat
Tokyo has no shortage of places to eat. Our picks are Co-Co Curry House, the crazy little Ramen places (you’ll know them when you see them) and and even convenience stores and train stations have excellent food that is reasonably priced. We’ve also written some delicious suggestions on What to Eat in Japan and even picked out some of the most Insta-worthy foods.
What do you think? Is this the ultimate Tokyo itinerary? What else would you add?
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