Tokyo-Only Guide: Traditional, Modern, & Pop-Culture (+Kyoto Alternatives)

Limited travel time? On a budget? Not yet confident with navigating public transportation beyond Tokyo? Or maybe you want a comprehensive experience in Tokyo! Whatever the reason may be, this comprehensive guide includes popular attractions and activities in Japan that are popular must see and do for tourists. Take the advice from someone who has worked in the travel and tourism industry! This guide is created with common (and unique) requests from clients and my own personal experiences and interests in mind.

Keep in mind, Japan is home to people just like you and me. People all over the world have their own hobbies and preferences. While there are the stereotypical reasons why tourists come to Japan (*cough* like anime and sushi *cough*), there is a wide range of interests and attractions in Japan! Things you want to see and do might not be as big of a deal to people who live there ([sarcasm] you mean there’s Japanese folks who don’t like anime and sushi?? *gasp*). Or quite the opposite; there might be activities and sights Japanese folks are trying to experience as well; major cities like Tokyo are facing serious crowding issues. So please have an open mind, learn on your travels, express curiosity and excitement, and stay conscious of locals trying to carry out their daily life :)

Jot down some places of interest from this guide, because in my next post, I'll show you how to smoothly plan a Japan trip from start to finish!

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At a Glance:

Popular places to visit:

✿ Shibuya (scramble crossing, Hachiko, shopping, cafes)

✿ Asakusa (traditional architecture, souvenirs, street food)

✿ Shinjuku (nightlife/clubbing/bars, cafes and restaurants, shopping)

✿ Akihabara (anime, manga, electric district)

✿ Harajuku (fashion, trendy finds, cute “kawaii” things)

✿ Ginza (upscale shopping and dining)

Day Trips from Central Tokyo:

✿ Kamakura (for that Kyoto feel; Great Buddha statue)

✿ Nikko (UNESCO World Heritage Sites, like Toshogu Shrine, Rinno-ji Temple, and Futarasan Shrine. Nature sites like Kegon Falls and Lake Chuzen)

May’s Recommendations:

✿ Yokohama (one of my faves! Gundam factory is gone, but check out Chinatown, Ramen Museum, and the Red Brick Warehouse)

✿ Shimokitazawa (thrifting, indie performers)

✿ Shinokubo (Koreatown, K-pop)

✿ Odaiba (giant true to scale Gundam, DiverCity, Rainbow Bridge)

✿ Nakano Broadway (retro finds, markets, anime)

✿ Ikebukuro (centrally located in Tokyo, anime, Round 1 Arcade, Bowling, and Karaoke, similar to Akihabara but less crowded)

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Sample Itineraries:

A few days:

  • Asakusa + Shibuya (for the old and new feel of Tokyo)
  • One other place of interest, like Akihabara for anime/games/electronics or Kawagoe for traditional Japan

A week:

  • Asakusa
  • Shibuya / Harajuku
  • Day trip to Kamakura or Nikko
  • Shinjuku, Akihabara, Odaiba, or Ikebukuro 
  • One other place of interest, like Ginza for upscale shopping or a theme park


Top Japan Experiences for tourists in (or near) Tokyo:

Kawagoe shi in Tokyo Japan

Is it worth it to go to Kyoto? Do you have to go to Kyoto to see ancient sites?

In short; YES, Kyoto is worth experiencing at least once! Many tourists want to visit Kyoto to immerse themselves in traditional Japanese culture and architecture. Kyoto definitely ✨ delivers ✨, but can get insanely crowded (especially during peak travel seasons). Also, Kyoto is about 2.5-3 hours away from Tokyo by bullet train, and costs anywhere from US$150-250 roundtrip (depending on the currency conversion rate and season). If you’re limited on time, on a budget, or want to avoid crowds, Kawagoe is a decent Tokyo alternative. Kawagoe is about a 30-minute train ride from central Tokyo and known as “Little Edo.” If you can travel a bit further, Kamakura is referred as the “Kyoto of the East” and is the birthplace of Zen Buddhism in Japan. Kamakura is about an hour away from central Tokyo, and offers more experiences regarding Japan’s spiritual history and traditional architecture than Kawagoe.

See the giant Great Buddha statue in Kamakura near Tokyo

Kamakura—much closer to Tokyo and home to a few popular experiences similar to Kyoto.

✿ Great Buddha statue: also known as the Kamakura Daibutsu, is a large bronze statue of Amida Buddha. It stands at 13.35 meters (43.8 feet) tall and dates back to the 13th century. Amazing!

✿ Hokokuji Bamboo Forest: walk along the paths surrounded by towering bamboo stalks. Quieter, and you can still get your iconic selfie in a bamboo forest.

✿ Sasuke Inari Shrine ⛩️: while not as numerous as the famous torii gates at larger Inari Shrines, you will find a small pathway lined with vibrant red torii gates leading to the main shrine area. Still a surreal experience and neat photo op!

✿ Shrines, traditional buildings, onsen (hot spring baths), and more!

Other Historical/Preserved/Old Towns Sites:

✿ Kagurazaka: known as “little paris” and for its Geisha heritage
✿ Yanaka: enjoy the rustic atmosphere and good food
✿ Edo Open Air Architectural Museum: a restoration project that recreates historical Edo life

⛩️  If you want to see red torii gates in Tokyo, such as the ones you find in Fushimi Inari, Kyoto: 

✿ Hie Jinja Shrine: Near the neighborhoods of Akasaka and Nagatacho and features stairs covered by 90 vermilion red torii gates. I visited in the fall. It was pretty empty!

✿ Nezu Jinja shrine: Located in Tokyo's Bunkyo Ward and consists of a pathway lined with hundreds of red torii gates. During the spring, azalea flowers bloom along the path. 

Bamboo Forest

The Arashiyama bamboo forest in Kyoto is a popular tourist and photo spot. If you can’t make it to Kyoto, there are a few bamboo forests near Tokyo (if you’re limited on time, I would just visit Kamakura tbh):

✿ Chikirin Park: Also known as Chikurin-no-Michi, is a beautiful bamboo grove located in the city of Mitoyo, Kagawa Prefecture, on the island of Shikoku, Japan.

✿ Jidayubori Park: A public park with bamboo lined trails located in the city of Mitoyo, Kagawa Prefecture, on the island of Shikoku, Japan.

Geisha Geiko Maiko in Tokyo


Many are interested in seeing these masters of art, elegance, and entertainment! The Gion Geisha District in Kyoto is a popular area to find Geisha or Maiko. They can be harder to find in Tokyo, but you can try the following:

✿ Asakusa Kenban/Asakusa Geisha Union: An organization that represents Geisha and Maiko in Asakusa. They may appear at events or perform in local venues, or private performances may be reserved for special events in advance. 

✿ Kagurazaka original Geisha/Geiko District: Geisha enounters are rare, but possible. Check out local events and venues in Kagurazaka for Geisha appearances. 

✿  Shinbashi: Particularly the area around Higashi Ginza, has a few upscale ryotei where you may be able to arrange a geisha entertainment experience. These establishments typically cater to corporate clients and may require advance reservations.

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Jorenji Giant Buddha Statue in Tokyo

☸️ Buddha

Aside from the Great Buddha in Kamakura, the 3rd largest Buddha statue is in Jorenji Temple in Tokyo if you can’t make it out to Kamakura!

Sumo Wrestling Practice


Sumo originated in ancient Japan as a ritualistic activity performed to entertain the Shinto gods and ensure bountiful harvests. Over time, it evolved into a professional sport with organized competitions and tournaments. As sumo is very particular to Japan, I understand why visitors want to see them in person!

✿ Arashio-beya Sumo Stable: Observe sumo wrestlers (rikishi) training in the stable's training area for free. Sumo training sessions typically take place in the early morning.
✿ Ryogoku Sumo District: Eat like a sumo wrestler (Chanko nabe) and visit museums and shops dedicated to the world of sumo.
✿ Grand Sumo Tournaments: are held in Tokyo at the Ryogoku Kokugikan a few times a year.


Located in the Asakusa area of Tokyo, Ninja Trick House offers interactive experiences where visitors can learn about ninja history, techniques, and tools. You can participate in activities such as shuriken throwing, ninja star training, and navigating through a ninja maze.

✿ Ninja Akasaka is a ninja-themed restaurant in Akasaka combines dining with entertainment, featuring ninja performances, magic tricks, and themed decor. Guests can enjoy a meal in a ninja-themed dining room while being entertained by skilled performers dressed as ninjas.


✿ Located in Shinjuku, the Samurai Museum offers an immersive experience where visitors can learn about the history and culture of the samurai through displays of armor, weapons, and artifacts. The museum also hosts live demonstrations of swordsmanship and other martial arts.

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🐵 Monkey park

✿ Japanese macaques hold cultural significance in Japan and are often depicted in art, folklore, and literature. If you can’t head up to Jigokudani, Mt. Takao Monkey Park in Hachioji, Tokyo is home to 60-90 Japanese Macaques. Watch them from the observation deck or participate in their feeding sessions!

Public bath at the Edo Museum

♨️ Onsen / Hot springs

Hot Springs in Japan are known for therapeutic effects, health benefits, and traditional significance. Visitors flock to natural hotsprings to appreciate these natural wonders. You’ll have to head out of central Tokyo for more luxurious onsen. If you prefer to stay central, try out the local sento (man made public bathhouses).

 Kinosaki (onsen town)

✿ Atami (onsen town)

✿ Owakudani (if you wanted to see natural hot springs in Hakone)

🗻 Mt Fuji

Mount Fuji or Fujisan, is a famous Japanese landmark. You can visit any one of the observation decks/stations at the base of Mt Fuji, or you can hike one of the different trails. If you just want to see Mount Fuji while in Tokyo, you can check out some observation decks in the city. Keep in mind, it is hard to predict when Fujisan can be seen. Wintertime, when there is less rain has a higher chance!

✿ Tokyo Skytree: The observation decks of Tokyo Skytree, one of the tallest towers in the world, offers scenic views of the Tokyo skyline and surrounding area. On exceptionally clear days, you may be able to see Mount Fuji in the distance from the observation decks.

✿ Roppongi Hills:
The Mori Tower in Roppongi Hills has an observation deck called Tokyo City View, which provides views of the city. On clear days, you might be able to spot Mount Fuji from this point.

✿ Shinjuku Metropolitan Government Building: The observation decks of the Shinjuku Metropolitan Government Building offer free views of Tokyo. On days with good visibility, Mount Fuji can sometimes be seen in the distance to the west.

✿ Odaiba Seaside Park: Odaiba, a waterfront area in Tokyo Bay, offers several points where you can enjoy views of the bay and the city skyline. On clear days, you may be able to see Mount Fuji across the bay.

✿ Hakone: peaceful and known for its nature scenery; features a scenic ropeway to Owakudani with views of Mt fuji on clear days. 

🌸 Plants/Flowers/Gardens

Stay tuned for a post about seasonal blooms and where to find them :)

✿ Starbucks Coffee - Yomiuri Land HANA·BIYORI
✿ Shinjuku Gyoen
✿ Meiji Jingu Inner Garden
✿ Hamarikyu Gardens
✿ Rikugien Gardens

🥾 Hiking

✿ Mount Takao: Located in Hachioji, Mount Takao is one of Tokyo's most accessible hiking destinations. It offers several hiking trails of varying difficulty levels, stunning views, and cultural attractions such as temples and shrines.

✿ Mount Mitake: Situated in the Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park, Mount Mitake is known for its lush forests, serene waterfalls, and scenic hiking trails. Visitors can take a cable car to the mountaintop and explore the area's hiking paths and cultural sites, including the Musashi Mitake Shrine.

✿ Mount Tsukuba: Located in Ibaraki Prefecture, Mount Tsukuba is a popular hiking destination accessible from Tokyo. It offers two main peaks, Nyotai-san and Nantai-san, connected by hiking trails that provide panoramic views of the Kanto Plain.

⛷️ Skiing

If you can’t travel to Hokkaido to ski in Niseko, Karuizawa is about 90 minutes away from Tokyo and offers a variety of facilities and amenities, including rental equipment shops, ski schools, restaurants, and hot springs (onsen) where you can relax and unwind after a day on the slopes.
✿ Gala Yuzawa: has a direct bullet train (Shinkansen) station located within the ski resort complex. This makes it incredibly convenient for visitors coming from Tokyo, as they can take the Shinkansen directly to Gala Yuzawa Station without transferring trains.

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The following are pretty standard finds in Tokyo. 
You can find anime merchandise and exhibits, endless uniquely themed cafes, and plenty of restaurants and stores to shop at!

If you are looking for smaller activities, like Gachapon/Gashapon (Gacha) and crane games/claw machines, you can find them throughout Tokyo (Tip: keep plenty of 100-500 yen coins with you in a pouch or organizer at all times). Temples and shrines can also be found all over Tokyo. Sometimes, you’ll encounter some smaller ones randomly on a leisurely walk.


Welcome to the home of anime and manga! A huge part of Japan’s soft power lies in the anime industry. From beloved classics like Pokémon, Gundam, and Studio Ghibli films, to newer trendier shows like Jujutsu Kaisen and Demon Slayer, anime admirers—old and new—will find something in Tokyo. Aside from previously mentioned places like Akihabara, here are a few other suggestions:

✿ Odaiba (DiverCity plaza, Gundam statue, Hello Kitty cafe, Gundam cafe)
✿ Nakano Broadway (small shops, retro finds)
✿ Ikebukuro (sunshine city, otome road, Muscle Girl, Round1 arcade & karaoke, Pokemon Center)


Aside from unique and bargain finds, I enjoy seeing the fashion scene at thrift locations. You can see how locals and visitors make pieces fit them. My favorite clothing finds are ones with tailored/DIY add-ons, like university crewnecks with ruffles sewn on them. Very fun and a great way to bring character to old clothing.

✿ Shimokitazawa (fun and trendy, but many clothes are pricey despite being secondhand)
✿ Koenji
✿ Kichijoji
✿ SPINNS Vintage (located in Shibuya, Harajuku, Nagoya, Osaka, and Kyoto)


This is something many people look forward to on their travels. From small alleyways to tall multi-story shopping centers, there is definitely going to be a food or shopping place that meets your interests in Tokyo. Japan really utilizes their space; for example, you can also shop and eat underground or inside train stations. I think it adds to the fun of it~

✿ Asakusa (Nakamise street)
✿ Harajuku (Takeshita and Omotesando, but try the back streets for less crowds) 
✿ Ginza (high end, upscale)
✿ Shibuya (PARCO, Seibu, Loft)
✿ Shinjuku (Lumine 1 and 2, West Exit) 
✿ UNIQLO and GU (I prefer GU)
✿ Don Quijote (“Donki” carries what feels like everything; perfect for souvenir shopping or essentials)
✿ MUJI (known for their stationary, but they sell a lot of other things from clothing to furniture)
✿ ABC Mart (for plenty of shoes at great prices)


Most of these can be found in Shinjuku or Shibuya!

✿ Maid cafe (Maiddreamin is the most popular)
✿ Square Enix
✿ Peanuts (Snoopy)
✿ Sanrio Cafe (Cinnamoroll, Pompompurin, Hello Kitty)
✿ Dog Cafes (there are other animal themes, but the quality of care can be questionable)
✿ Monster Hunter Cafe
✿ DAWN Avatar Cafe
✿ Pokémon Cafe
✿ Robot Cafe
✿ Kawaii Cafe


Food is a personal preference, and I have a number of dietary restrictions so this isn’t my forte. I’ll probably talk about my own experiences in more detail later on. Chains like Ichiran (single booth ramen) and Sushiro or Kura (conveyor belt sushi) are VERY popular among tourists. Yeah, they are hyped up, but I still think it is a fun experience for first-timers. Moss Burger is another new trendy place (I tried it, and it was okay). I have had clients and friends who wanted to try fast food restaurants like back home (McDonalds, Starbucks, KFC, etc.). Not my thing, but I can see the fun in comparing to what you know! If you aren’t picky, I think walking around and trying out local hole-in-the wall restaurants and street vendors is the best way to experience authentic food in Japan! Konbini is a fun explore if you don’t have anything like it where you live. The convenience store trinity is Seven Eleven, Family Mart, and Lawson. You can find hot and cold drinks and foods—actually convenient and open 24/7. For fancier dining experiences, reservations may be required in advance. 
I’ll talk about Japanese foods in depth in another post~

Stamp Collecting

Carry a blank notebook or two, because you can collect stamps all over Tokyo (and other parts of Japan). You can find them at temples and shrines, castles, and some other public buildings like museums (sacred sites should have its own dedicated notebook out of respect). You can find stamps at stations as well! You can ask the staff to point you in the right directions, if you are having trouble locating them. 

Other Activites

Stay tuned for more in-depth details about some of these!

✿ Rickshaw Tour Ride in Asakusa
✿ Water Taxi to Odaiba
✿ Tokyo Dome Ferris Wheel (with karaoke)
✿ Disneyland
✿ DisneySea
✿ Sanrio Puroland
✿ Ghibli Museum
✿ Ghibli Park
✿ TeamLabs
✿ Kimono Rental
✿ Shibuya Sky 
✿ Sky Tree
✿ Tokyo Tower
✿ Restaurant Bus
✿ Baseball
✿ Kabuki 

Lastly, there are tons of seasonal events and pop-ups in Tokyo! For example, I saw a few K-pop themed food pop-ups and the moving Gundam in Yokohama in October. There was a local celebration in Harajuku where a crowd was chanting and carrying a small float (mikoshi) down the street. In Shinjuku, there was a small flea market at the local shrine. Eateries and shops may have limited offers, like a figure shop in Akihabara gave out anime themed energy drinks to my friends after they purchased some merchandise. 


  • Want to learn more about planning a budget trip to Japan (what season, events and festivals, how to prepare, where to stay, transportation, etc.)? COMING SOON
  • What Japanese do you really need to know for your trip (no frills and actually useful)? COMING SOON
  • How to be a mindful traveler (don’t be THAT troublesome foreigner!) COMING SOON 


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