Behind the scenes on the streets of Tokyo
In a world full of colourful, fascinating places and new experiences, Tokyo is one of the unique destinations of them all. With a culture full of mystique and a whole lot of customs that will prove unfamiliar and extremely intriguing to foreigners, this is a place that has to be seen to be believed.
Beyond the obvious pastimes of going to watch some enormous, very sweaty men battle it out at the sumo wrestling and singing your heart out at one of the city’s hundreds of karaoke bars, there is plenty more to discover off the beaten track. Tokyo is a city of surprises and hidden treasures, a place that is always evolving, producing new places to visit and super trendy hangouts. Come with us on a journey around the hidden gems of this city, where we’ve discovered five of the very best unique attractions in Tokyo.
1. Discover ancient Japan
While Tokyo itself is an ultra modern city with a thriving business centre and fascinating tech culture, it can be tempting to get away from it all and discover the history of this fascinating land. For a closer look at where it all began, pay a visit to the open-air museum at Nihon Minka-en, one of the most unique attractions in Tokyo. Home to a collection of old folk houses (Minka) from the 18th and 19th centuries arranged as a village over sloping hills, you can wander among the homes and enjoy specialty coffee in a house that is over 100 years old. The village also includes farmhouses with traditional thatched roofs, water mills, cultural buildings and an old kabuki stage. The exhibition centre explains all you need to know about the ancient Japanese way of life illustrated by some great 3D exhibits. You can even take part in the traditional Japanese handicraft of indigo dyeing in the on-site workshop and take some time out with a bowl of steaming hot soba in the soothing surrounds of the Shirakawagou restaurant. There are regular events too, including folk storytelling and traditional dancing.
2. Eat, drink, shop, sing and dance with the cool kids
If you always wanted to hang with the cool crowd, there is no better place in Tokyo to do so than in the vibrant district of Shimokitazawa (often shortened to Shimokita) in the west of the city. This is the latest trendy place where you can enjoy some of the greatest new shops, eateries, bars and live music on the city scene. Many of its narrow streets are inaccessible to vehicles, adding to the carefree, fun vibe that resonates throughout the area. Home to an array of independent fashion retailers, this is the place to go to find a piece of clothing that no one else will have; the secondhand and vintage shops are also a treasure chest of wonders, with old animation-themed toys and music records. With a mixture of authentic rustic style and effortless chic, this is an area where you can spend hours just marvelling at the bargains, enjoying a coffee in one of the trendy cafes or taking in a concert at one of the many live music venues. The district is also famous for its theatre culture, both past and present; it’s the home to the historic Honda Gekij? theater and today hosts the annual Shimokitazawa Theater Festival in February with plays performed in the small venues. For all things cultural and trendsetting, this is one of the most unique attractions in Tokyo.
3. A fairytale comes alive
For a more serene experience, this one ranks high amongst the most unique attractions in Tokyo. As if there is not already something incredibly special about visiting an authentic Buddhist temple in the heart of Japan, the Meiji Shrine goes one better. Situated in the centre of the city, the shrine is surrounded by a vast evergreen forest, imbuing the site with a magical, fairytale-like atmosphere. While Japan has total religious freedom, a significant proportion of the population is believed to be Buddhist and Shinto, and this Shinto shrine is a highly respected area of the city. Dedicated to Emperor Meiji, the late, deified 19th-century emperor, this site is of incredible historical significance, as Meiji was the first emperor of what we know as modern Japan. It was during his rule that Japan became recognised as one of the world’s great superpowers, and the country itself was significantly modernized. Not that you would know it when visiting this peaceful site. There’s a real authenticity and an incredible feeling of escapism from the moment you make your way in via the forested path and under the 40 foot-high gate made from cypress that is over 1500 years old. Head to the site at sunrise or sunset to really get the most out of the beautiful atmosphere at this place of worship or pay a visit on a Sunday when, if you’re lucky, you’ll get to witness a traditional Shinto wedding. Visitors can also take part in traditional Shinto activities, such as making offerings and leaving a prayer on a traditional wooden plate (ema).
4. Amuse yourself
One of the greatest and most fun aspects of Japan is the kitsch, ironic and childlike culture, where everyone just wants to act like a kid and have a superb time. But in the city that is known for its ultra-modern — often slightly off the wall — entertainment, it is one of the oldest places that is the most fun. The Hanayashiki amusement park in the city’s Asakusa district began life as a flower park and was then developed into an amusement park in the late 19th century. It is home to the oldest rollercoaster in the country and a whole lot of rides and attractions divided into areas such as the “Mystery and Panic” section and the “Speed and Thrills” corner. A kiddy Ferris wheel, merry go round and daily ninja training demonstrations will make sure that kids of all ages have a great day out. For a more sedate way of experiencing the traditional culture, try the kimono and tea ceremony experience. This is kitsch fun at its very best.
5. Fishing around
When it comes to unique attractions in Tokyo, the Tsukiji Fish Market should be very high on the list of any traveller’s to-do list in the Japanese capital. With origins dating back to the 16th century, the market today is the biggest, busiest and – let’s face it – most ‘aromatic’ fish market in the world. It’s bursting with atmosphere from the early hours, as fishmongers rush past with truckloads of stock – the market handles around 450 species and three thousand tonnes of fish and seafood every day. The famous tuna auctions do live up to the hype but make sure to get there early (around 5 am) as admittance into the auction is limited. The centre of the market and the outer area is home to a series of restaurants with predictably delicious sushi and fish dishes. If you’ve ever wanted to be more adventurous with your food choices, this is the perfect time to experience one of the best unique attractions in Tokyo.
Where to stay
Contrary to popular belief, staying in Tokyo doesn’t need to be pricey and the Andaz Tokyo Toranomon Hills hotel offers everything you could need with a very user-friendly price tag. With a traditional Japanese design, awe-inspiring city views and suites that have been named among the best in the world, this is one of Tokyo’s finest hotels. Located in the city’s second tallest tower, the hotel’s crown jewel is the rooftop bar, where you can sip on a cocktail and enjoy the city’s beautiful skyline. There’s also a large pool, spa and fitness centre and even rooftop yoga classes, offering a very memorable way to exercise. The hotel is the perfect base from which to enjoy the mesmerising and unique attractions in Tokyo.