22 Things To Do in Tokyo, Japan

I came up with 3 Ps to describe Japan – more specifically, Tokyo. And they are “precise, pristine, and polite”. As a young, fanatical judo guy back in the day I quickly became enamored with Japanese culture but I never took the chance to visit. Well, I finally went and it is better when you’re older.

Tokyo is still a top travel destination in East Asia.  Let’s find out why.  Here are 22 things to do and see in Tokyo, Japan.

The Tokyo Tower is very similar in appearance to the Eiffel Tower and is used for television and radio broadcasting. There are 2 levels to access – one at 150 meters, the other at 250 meters. Walking to the tower will bring you through a very nice neighborhood as you look up and see the tower appear before your eyes. The views from the upper deck are very impressive on a clear day.  If you don’t like heights, don’t look down though the holes in the floor.

ITA - Photo LogoTo get another great view of the Tokyo tower, I headed over to Roppongi Hills. It’s a new, upscale urban center for business and all things leisure including restaurants galore, shopping, cafes, and theatres. The Mori Tower is the central highlight of this district and it’s from here that you can people watch and get great views of the city – including the Tokyo Tower at night.

Asakusa is a district in Tokyo that is common among travelers from all countries as you’ll quickly notice once you get there. There were so many different languages being spoken around me. The most popular attraction in Asakusa in the Senso-ji Buddhist temple, though there are many other buildings in Asakusa as well. Walking up to the grounds will feel a bit touristy with the countless shops selling souvenirs – still, Asakusa is a must see.

The Yurakucho restaurant district is located under the subway tracks and has a quaint feeling about it.  There are many places to eat and drink and the location is great for those looking to shop as well. Just nearby is a large, sprawling, modern shopping district. Among the many things to eat at Yurakucho is Yakitori, or different types of skewered goodness.

Food Break: Obviously, I went for the Yakitori.  My choices at this restaurant were grilled chicken skin, young chicken meat, and chicken livers. A cholesterol nightmare, but completely delicious. Along with a nice beer it was the perfect way to end my day.

Meiji Shrine is a Shinto shrine located in a 170 acre forest. Even though it’s located in one of the largest cities in the world, it feels very secluded.  The huge torii gates are placed at different locations in Meiji. Standing at tree level, they really give a majestic feel to the complex. There is the main shrine, a wedding hall, prayer cards, and a large wall of sake wrapped in straw.  Meiji was one of my favorite visits in Tokyo.

The Yasukuni Shrine is a temple which serves as a memorial to Japanese who lost their lives in war. The grounds include the impressive tori, or gates, huge steel structures throughout the temple grounds. There are many memorials throughout including a statue of a kamizake pilot.

Adjacent to the Yasukuni Shrine is the Yushukan, military and war museum.  This is no ordinary museum as you can see artifacts from many different eras of war. There are weapon artifacts, artillery, planes, uniforms, samurai armor, and very informative explanations of the different battles in which Japan has been involved. You don’t need to be a history or war buff to appreciate what’s inside Yushukan museum.

You can also swing by the Nippon Budokan, home of many high-level martial arts events and concerts.

Akihabara is an anime lover’s wonderland. There are more cartoons, comics, and action figures here to see in one visit. Whatever your flavor is, you’ll find the anime version of it here. All the figurines from back in the day can be found here as well. This is a metropolis of animation.  Akihabara stretches for blocks and blocks with full buildings dedicated to this genre of entertainment.

Food Break: Located right near the subway station in Akihabara is a western-style eatery where the pictures of the burgers lured me in. This is a bacon cheeseburger with avocado. It was better than it looks, if you can believe it. Hearty and greasy. Someone definitely learned their trade.

Many people try and fail. Timing the sumo events is a tricky effort, but I based my trip on this event. Competitions are held at the Ryogoku Kokugikan stadium. Sumo is a distinct characteristic of Japanese culture and something that anyone can appreciate and enjoy. Top sumo wrestlers are cultural icons of sorts. It’s a mix of ceremony and competition as each match has its own pre-game activities. These wrestlers are not just massive, but highly agile and skilled. Some of the throwing techniques are the same as in judo. I personally saw a huge hane goshi, or springing hip throw, and even heard the MC say uki goshi on more than one occasion. Just imagine seeing a body that size flying through the air. There is also a museum at the stadium, but no cameras are allowed. Definitely make a sumo event part of your visit to Tokyo.

Diver City Tokyo Plaza has an epic feel to it. The shopping centers are vast, the views nearby are expansive, and…there’s a full size Gundam robot with a moving head there! The Japanese are the true masters of the whole mechanized robot fantasy, so of course they would know exactly how to bring to life this mobile suit to make our dreams a reality. Gundam stands guard over its own toy shop and a multi-floor mall with a fantastic food court. You should try to see Gundam when in Tokyo.

Shibuya is a very Times Square-feeling shopping district of Tokyo. It’s a very eclectic crowd where all types come to shop and flaunt their stuff. The highlight of this area is the pedestrian crossing right outside of Shibuya Station. It’s clearly an event that attracts foreigners trying to be a part of the sea of people rushing to get to the other side of the road. The best time to see the crossing is around 7 or 8 o’clock at night.

Tsukiji Fish Market is split into two main arenas – the inner market with the tuna auctions, and the outer market with restaurants and shops. The inner market is what we all think of when we hear fish market.  Because of this, only around 120 visitors are allowed per day and reservations are required.  Still, the rest of Tsukiji Fish market is a great experience and you should definitely eat there.

Right next to the fish market is the Tsukiji Honganji Temple.  What makes this temple unique is the Indian-style architecture of the building. It’s a beautiful building both inside and out and it even has a pipe organ in the back. It’s definitely worth a stop when visiting the fish market.

Food Break: It would be a shame to visit Tsukiji Fish Market and not eat there. There are rows of 1 story buildings with shoulder to shoulder restaurants. Most people go for the sushi, I couldn’t resist the fried shrimp, oysters, and scallops. The scallops were awesome because they were still slightly raw in the middle.

Food Break: This is Takoyaki. Ball shaped batter with chunks of octopus inside. They are cooked in special pans and turned constantly to give them the perfectly round shape and there are different sauces you can choose from.  This is a very popular food in Japan so make sure you give them a try when visiting.

I’ll count the Imperial Palace and East Gardens as one place to visit. The Imperial Palace is one of the most valued properties in Japan. The palace itself is not accessible, but the East Gardens and exterior structures can be seen and photographed. It’s located right near Tokyo Station and is well worth the visit to view the gardens and the outer grounds in general. Bring your walking shoes and a good camera.

Not everything in Tokyo is glitzy and upscale. An interesting neighborhood for the local yokels is Shinjuku Golden Gai. It’s a grouping of very small rooms that are actually bars. They feel a bit like going to friend’s kitchen for a drink. A friend that has a very cool kitchen. Golden Gai has a very different vibe than the other major sightseeing destinations and it’s very cool.

Shinjuku Chuo Park, or Central Park, is a serene place in the midst of chaos. Though not as large as the Imperial Park, Shinjuku Gyoen, I chose to visit this park because of the shrine at the back side of the park. I love the architecture of shrines and temples in East Asia, so when I get a chance to see a new one, I take it. The Kumano Shrine looks renovated and is surrounded by trees making it a nice getaway. Standing in front of the large waterfall will give you great views of the downtown skyscrapers.

The Gakuen Cocoon Tower is an awesome example of modern architecture and style. As I exited Shinjuku Chuo Park I looked up and saw Gakuen as it was in stark contrast to the stock-appearance of the other corporate buildings. The interior looks equally amazing as you can see the criss-crossing, honeycomb beams that make up the shell of the building. Hop on the elevator to get an awesome 50 story view of Tokyo.

Food Break: Right near where I was staying was a nice restaurant with great soba noodle soup.  Soba is buckwheat noodle and I went for the tempura on top. You can have it with either cold or hot broth. Don’t be quiet while eating either.  The louder you slurp the better, but be careful some of the pieces don’t go where they don’t belong.

The Tokyo Dome is the home of the Yomiyuri Giants professional baseball team. Many of the stores are baseball themed as a result. It’s also used for other events such as concerts and Japanese superhero shows. The Tokyo Dome Complex includes an outdoor amusement park with a Ferris wheel and rollercoaster.  There’s also a hot spring, a hotel, and many restaurants to boot. If you travel with family, this is probably a very good choice for a day.

The Tokyo Skytree is the tallest tower on earth, and the second tallest structure overall. For a little over $30 to take a ride to the top, it may not be the best choice for budget travelers. Also Disney World length lines to go up, still a monumental sight by any standard.

The Bunkyo Civic Center Observatory deck is a great alternative to get nice views of the city. It’s free to visit the observation deck and, at 25 stories, you’ll get some very nice views. It’s located within walking distance from the Tokyo Dome with many restaurants nearby.

If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably a judo friend of the Red Dragon Diaries. Did you think I’d leave judo out of a Tokyo, Japan video? Fear not. As a lifetime member, I stayed at the center of the judo universe. The Kodokan Judo Institute is the birthplace of and headquarters for Olympic sport, judo. If you enjoy martial arts, judo in particular, you simply cannot miss a chance to visit the Kodokan.



  1. Hey, Tom~
    I contacted you a while ago about meeting up but I think you were tied up with an accommodation move!
    I’m also a 4 year ++ veteran, like yourself, and I’d love to hear your opinions on a few matters regarding ESL teaching, and life here, in general~
    I remember you well from original orientation and it would be great to see you again. As I said before, I came across your blog totally by accident! It’s a good read, and I hear ya on lots of issues.
    Please let me know when and if you’re free for a beer, or coffee, or whatever~


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