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Top 10 things to do only in Tokyo

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Only in Tokyo can you encounter a wealth of fascinating obsessions found nowhere else in the world. Feel the tingle of eating blowfish, check out Tokyo’s youth dressed up as comic-book characters and head back in time to Edo Tokyo ryokan hotels with this guide to the city’s unique experiences.

Time-warp Tokyo in Yanesen

Be transported back to pre-war Tokyo amid the sliding wooden doors of old ryokan, historical bathhouses and vintage pawnshops in the neighbourhoods of Yanaka, Sendagi and Nezu (collectively Yanesen). Located in Tokyo’s far north-east, these peaceful, cobblestone districts escaped bombing in the Second World War and remain home to artisans and craftsmen.

Ancient rituals at the Center for Arts and Wellness

Breathe in heady, mysterious scents and experience the peace and calm of the rhythmic ritual of kodo (incense ceremony). Small charcoal censers burning sandalwood, frankincense, etc are passed around in this ‘game’ – have a go at the Center for Arts and Wellness.

301, 3-20-15, Tsurumaki, Setagaya-ku

Sumo action at Arashio-Beya

Enjoy ringside seats as enormous sumo wrestlers fight, staggering around an earthen ring in loincloths during morning practice. Afterwards, eat steaming bowls of chankonabe (a stew of chicken, fish, tofu and vegetables) with the wrestlers and their oyaka (master). Arashio-Beya’s half-day programme through H.I.S. Experience offers an insight into life in beya (sumo stables).

Adventurous eating at Fugutake

A meal of fugu (blowfish) will leave the lips tingling from the neurotoxins found in the glands of Japan’s most dangerous delicacy. An evening at Fugutake restaurant showcases fugu in myriad tasty ways. Sample it in broth, marinated, as sushi or even infused in sake (rice wine).

3-2-9 Azabu-Juban

Gothic vampires and the Mad Hatter with Diamond Dining

Gothic vampire waiters, coffin tables and dishes oozing ‘blood’; tea party cocktails, dishes saying 'Eat Me”, psychedelic art and playing card coasters; Vampire Café and Alice in Wonderland Café in Ginza take themed dining to imaginative new heights.

Gizmos and gadgets in Electric Town

Walk through Japan’s Electric Town in Akihabara for a look at whole streets of shops filled with the latest cameras, mobile phones and digital technology. It’s heaven for tech-lovers as you play with walking, talking robots or try game consoles not found anywhere else in the world.

Costume karaoke at Festa

Dress up as Hello Kitty, Pokémon, a tiger or a Japanese schoolgirl and sing karaoke at the top of your lungs in one of Festa’s 25 private rooms. You will be singing till the early hours with 6,500 English songs to choose from and musical instruments to play with.

1-2/F Amerex Building, 3-5-7 Azabudai, Minato-ku 

Photo booth fun at Adores Milan

Hop in a photo booth with friends at Shinjuku’s Adores Milan arcade, which bustles with Tokyo youths any time of day. Take plenty of funny-faced pictures; pick your sticker design, the colours, the message and print away for amusing keepsakes. 

1-3/F Shinjuku Tokyu Milano Building, 1-29-1 Kabuki-cho, Shinjuku-ku 

Comic-book heroes and cartoon characters

See Tokyo’s youth dressed in full character with brightly coloured wigs, capes and gloves at Harajuku’s Jingu Bridge on Sunday afternoons. You might spot life-size, well-known characters such as Sailor Moon, Chibi Chibi or Hello Kitty at the annual Tokyo International Anime Fair in March. 

Pinball mania in Shinjuku

Whirring noises, flashing lights and amusement park music: it’s all on offer at Tokyo’s numerous Pachinko parlours, vast arcades packed with people playing Japan’s version of a pinball machine. Visit Espace in Shinjuku for a true Pachinko experience spread over five floors. 

1-23-3 Kabuki-cho, Shinjuku