You’ve done all the traditional touristy stuff in Tokyo, now what?
The non-traditional stuff, that’s what! These unique sights, activities, and noms will show you Tokyo through a quirky lens and allow you to explore the city’s cultural and culinary nooks and crannies.
What to See
1. Shinjuku Neighborhood’s Godzilla Head
Lounging outside of the Hotel Gracery Shinjuku’s 8th floor lobby, the hotel’s resident pet peeks over the building, roaring and spitting light and smoke a few times each hour. While only guests of the hotel can see the Godzilla Head up close, the best view is from the street, as you walk towards the hotel from Shinjuku Station’s east exit.
2. The World’s Busiest Intersection
If you want to glimpse orderly chaos, head over to the 2nd floor of the Starbucks in the Shibuya neighborhood. Situated at the head of the world’s busiest intersection, watch hundreds of pedestrians walk the spider-web crosswalks as they cross the intersection.
If you love animals and want to have your heartstrings pulled, head to the Shibuya metro station. Outside of it is the famous statue of the Akita dog Hachiko (1923-1935), which symbolizes fidelity and loyalty. Hachiko waited every day for his owner, a professor of agriculture at the University of Tokyo named Hidesaburō Ueno, to return home from work. One day, he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage during a lecture and did not return on his commute home. Hachiko kept waiting in the same spot for his owner for nine years, finally passing away when he was eleven years old.
What to Do
1. MariCAR Tour
MariCAR is hands down the must-do activity for first-time visitors to Tokyo. There is no better way to experience the energy of the city than to zip through traffic in a go-kart. And doing so in full costume is the quirky cherry on top of this wacky sundae of sightseeing. The tour options range from one hour to three hours. The one-hour tour is 6,000 Yen per person (roughly $54) and you drive by the Tokyo Tower and through Shinagawa. The two-hour tour is 8,000 Yen per person (roughly $72) and you drive by the Tokyo Tower and through Roppongi, Shinagawa, and Shibuya (where you drive through the World’s Busiest Crosswalk). The three-hour tour is 10,000 Yen per person (roughly $90) and you drive by the Tokyo Tower and through Roppongi, Odaiba (where you get to test the speed limits of your go-kart as you drive on the Rainbow Bridge and see the bay), Shinagawa, and Shibuya. I recommend the three hour tour at sunset (tour started at 6:30pm and ended at 10pm). Seeing the cityscape at night lit up and sparkling is breathtaking.
2. Robot Restaurant’s Evening Cabaret Show
The Robot Restaurant’s Evening Cabaret Show a psychedelic blast. For 8,000 Yen per person (roughly $72), you get 90 minutes of this high-energy, Alice-in-Wonderland-esque performance. It’s the flamboyant love child of Cirque du Soleil (without the acrobatics) and Medieval Times (exchange the horses for lit-up robots) and definitely a unique experience. You’ll leave entertained but scratching your head at what exactly you just saw.
3. Owl Café
Skip the clichéd cat café and visit an owl café instead. At the Owl Village Harajuku Café, you get to interact with nine owls for an hour which costs 1,500 Yen per person (roughly $14). Included in the price, you get a drink before and one free souvenir after playing with the owls. You can pet and hold them and pay extra to feed them. Definitely do the feeding. Some of the owls are being trained and you can participate in the training by having them fly to your arm to retrieve the raw meat treats.
What to Eat
1. Anti-Social Ramen
If you want to taste some of the yummiest ramen in Tokyo, head over to one of the local shops where you order your ramen through a vending machine of sorts. Made for those with hermetic tendencies, this is a limited-human-interaction experience. Once you place your customized ramen order through the machine (select extra toppings like a soft-boiled egg, additional garlic, etc), the machine will spit out a ticket. Once you plop down on a bar stool with privacy screens on each side, you hand the ticket to the pair of hands that reach through the window in front of you. Once your ramen is served through the front window, the server pulls down the sliding screen and you can slurp your noodles in privacy. Try Ichiran in the Shinjuku neighborhood.
2. Yakitori in an Izakaya
For carnivorous souls, head over to an Izakaya, a Japanese tavern, like Torikizoku Okubo in Shinjuku. A local joint, half the fun is navigating the Japanese-only picture menu and ordering through a touchpad screen located at each table. Salivate over succulent skewers of grilled meats and don’t forget to try the fried chicken skins and chicken butt.
3. All You Can Eat (AYCE) Yakiniku
Translating to “grilled meat”, the Japanese BBQ is a fun experience. Much like Korean BBQ, each table has a grill in the middle of it and you order an assortment of beef, pork, seafood, and/or vegetables to grill yourself. If you’re in the Shibuya neighborhood, try the Yakiniku Fufutei Shibuya. In addition to AYCE, you have the option of ordering All You Can Drink. You’re allotted two hours to eat and drink to your heart’s content. Try the beef tongue.
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