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Top 5 Things to Experience in Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo is the megacity capital of Japan with a population of over 14 million residents. Given its size and energetic vibe, there’s a wide range of activities for tourists to do. However, there’s also value in experiencing the city, whether it’s sitting back and watching the Tokyo crowd pass by or exploring a certain part of the city.

Here’s a list of the top 5 things for a tourist to experience in Tokyo.

5) Experience Akihabara, Tokyo’s otaku capital

Akihabara, Tokyo, Japan at night.
Akihabara, Tokyo. Photo by Pat Krupa on Unsplash.

Akihabara is a district in Central Tokyo that’s famous for its otaku culture. Otaku has various definitions that have evolved over time, from being a term with negative connotations regarding one’s obsession with a particular interest such as computers, to now more generally being used to describe people who are fans of anime, manga and video games.

Even if you’re not an otaku, Akihabara is well worth a visit, particularly on weekends when there’s a buzzing, lively atmosphere. You can walk through various arcade halls such as the GiGO Akihabara Buildings and watch rows of people engrossed in their gaming. Outside, you’ll likely see people dressed in cosplay of anime, manga and video game characters, as well as maids encouraging you to visit their cafes.

Maid cafe waitress, Japan
Maid café waitress.

Maid cafes are a unique concept of themed cafes where waitresses dress up as maids and treat customers as masters or mistresses in a fun and light-hearted way. Some will talk with you while you have your drink/meal, and others might want to play board games with you or sing a song.

4) Experience Sensō-ji Temple in Asakusa

Sensō-ji Temple, Tokyo, Japan
Sensō-ji Temple, Asakusa, Tokyo.

Sensō-ji Temple is Tokyo’s oldest temple, founded in 645 AD and located in Asakusa district. It’s a great place to take in traditional Japanese temple architecture and experience a bustling market vibe. Nakamise-dori Street, which leads up to Sensō-ji Temple, is lined with market stalls selling Japanese street food and snacks, as well as Japanese souvenirs. If you want to avoid large crowds, it’s preferable to visit early in the morning or in the evenings when markets stalls are closed and you can have a more tranquil exploration of the temple grounds.

Upon reaching Sensō-ji Temple, you can experience Japanese culture as people, some of whom are wearing traditional Japanese dress, purify themselves with fountain water, burn incense, offer prayers and participate in omikuji (Japanese fortune-telling).

3) Experience the lights of Shinjuku, Kabukichō district

Bright lights and neon signs at night, Shinjuku Kabukichō district.
Kabukicho district in Shinjuku.

Shinjuku’s Kabukichō district is a vibrant part of Tokyo that comes to life at night with its dazzling display of neon lights and signs. It’s a unique and memorable experience to walk through the wide streets and narrow lanes, taking in the kaleidoscope of bright lights, with each street providing a different, picturesque perspective of Shinjuku’s fluorescent urban landscape.

While Kabukichō should generally be ok to explore, bear in mind it’s an entertainment district that has various host and hostess clubs, love hotels and nightclubs. Be aware of your surrounding and as always, use common sense, particularly if someone outside an establishment is persistent that you enter. If Kabukichō doesn’t sound like your thing, the next suggestion is a good alternative.

2) Experience the Shibuya Scramble Crossing

The Shibuya Scramble Crossing is the world’s busiest pedestrian crossing, located in Shibuya, Tokyo. It’s quite a sight to witness 2,500 pedestrians crossing every 2 minutes, bringing the total daily average number of pedestrians crossing to around 2.4 million people. You can either watch the throng of pedestrians from a vantage point or experience the crossing itself. Whichever you choose, the Shibuya Scramble Crossing can also be a contemplative experience, bringing to light how the world is bigger than our own little bubble that everyone has their own desires, goals and stories. In the evening, it’s nice to experience the crossing against the backdrop of brightly lit billboard screens, storefronts and street signs.

1) Experience the Tokyo subway

Woman in a crowded carriage in the Tokyo subway
The Tokyo subway is a defining feature of the city.

The Tokyo subway is a memorable experience. Once you’ve taken a train during rush hour, you can officially say you’ve been to Tokyo! There’s nothing quite like being packed in a crowded train carriage with passengers pressed against each other as you all fall over in unison as the train swerves along its tracks. There’s ‘crowded’ and then there’s ‘Tokyo subway crowded’.

And if you really want the full Tokyo subway experience, head over to Shinjuku station during rush hour. Shinjuku holds the Guinness World Record for busiest station in the world, serving over 2.7 million people every day. During busy periods, you may even see an oshiya at work. Their job is to patrol platforms and squeeze passengers into crowded train carriages.

You can learn quite a lot about Japan by taking the subway. The general silence is reflective of a culture of respect. Later at night, you’ll likely notice salarymen looking tired or even sleeping, which is indicative of Japan’s long working hours and intense corporate culture. And the fact that people can be pressed against each other, fall over together and not express any emotion when it happens suggests that it’s normalised and people in Tokyo are habituated to the high population density.

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