With so much to offer, it is nearly impossible to narrow down this list to just ten. I’ve rewritten it countless times and debated with myself over why each item deserves to be on the list. For starters, no touristy places — they are easy enough to find in any tourist guide. And I avoided adding the major districts, like Shibuya or Akihabara.
Some items where chosen for cultural or historical value. Some for that “only in Tokyo” experience. Some for the discovery factor because isn’t traveling about finding something new and different? My hope is that if you do any of the things on this list (or maybe even all!) it will be the highlight of your trip to Tokyo!
1. Antique Market
The best place for finding Japanese odds and ends are the temple markets. On Sundays, try Yasukuni Shrine near the Imperial Palace or Hanazono Shrine in Shinjuku. The largest regular antique market is the Oedo antique market held on the first and third Sundays of every month at the Tokyo International Forum and once a month at Yoyogi Park (canceled in case of rain).
Shimokitazawa is a pocket neighborhood that is one of the best places to wander around in Tokyo. It is known for its indie vibe with plenty of used clothing stores, record shops, cafes and much more. At night you can check out the underground rock scene at one of the many live houses in Shimokitazawa. Easily reached from either Shinjuku (Odakyu line) or Shibuya (Keio Inokashira line).
3. Seven Lucky Gods
The seven lucky gods (Shichi Fukujin) are dealers of good fortune, health and happiness. You can take a mini-pilgrimage to seven shrines and temples to receive their blessings and collect a stamp (goshuin) at each one. There are a number of courses in and around Tokyo. Try going to the Tourist Information Center in Asakusa and pick up a Shichi Fukujin map in English. The Asakusa course has nine stops instead of seven and is about 10km long! But it also takes you through Kappabashi, aka Kitchen Street.
4. 2k540 Aki-Oka Artisan
This is one of the most unique shopping malls in Tokyo. For starters, it’s like an urban cathedral located under the train tracks. Furthermore, the shops feature mainly craftsmen-made products. 2k540 Aki-Oka Artisan is the perfect place to find high quality made in Japan gifts. Afterwards, it’s a short walk to Ameyokocho shopping street in Ueno.
5. Architecture Park
If you love old houses there are actually two places just outside Tokyo where traditional Japanese buildings have been relocated for preservation:
Japan Open-Air Folk House Museum
Edo Tokyo Open-Air Architectural Museum
Alternatively, if you only have time to see one Japanese house, just one stop from Shibuya you can visit the Kyu Asakura House in Daikanyama.
6. War Museum
Since the museum is dedicated to Japan’s military past, it’s not promoted in the tourist guides. But for history buffs, the Yushukan Museum is a must-see and it’s one of the few museums where everything is in English. The museum is located on the grounds of Yasukuni Shrine.
7. Nakano Broadway
You know all the cool stuff your mom threw away when you were a kid? It ended up here–if you were a Japanese kid that is. The upper floors of this mall have been taken over by pop culture collectors. You can find old anime collectibles, old robot toys, old movie posters, old–well you get the picture. After window shopping, grab a bite in the alley that runs parallel to the mall.
8. Maid Cafe
On the list of “offbeat Japan,” the maid cafe is near the top. The staff dresses in kawaii maid outfits and the food is given a flavor boosting spell when served. While most maid cafes can be found in Akihabara, try MaiDreamin in Shibuya where after 8pm you can order an idol dance show!
9. Run the Imperial Palace
The best running course in Tokyo is a 5 kilometer loop around the Imperial Palace. You won’t have to worry about car traffic or waiting at any pesky crossing signals plus you can enjoy the beautiful views of the old castle moat that surrounds the palace grounds.
10. Sento – traditional bath house
The sento is losing out to modernity, but Tokyo-ites can still take a communal dip at one of the surviving bath houses. If you don’t get a chance to get out to the countryside for a visit to an onsen, or hot spring, then a sento is a must-do in Tokyo.