The first leg of our vacation brought us to Tokyo. Believe me when I say that even if you spend two weeks in just Tokyo, you’ll still feel that it’s not enough time to do & see everything the city has to offer. Tokyo is huge. But if you want some strong recommendations on things to do, here are some things we did during our seven days there.
Go-karting on public streets
One activity that’s going viral on social media is go-karting through Tokyo streets, specifically through this company called Maricar. This was first on our Japan adventure agenda.
Before booking, know that you’ll need to obtain an international driver’s permit from your home country. In the US, you can buy one at any AAA shop & costs about $20 you’re out the door in less than 30 minutes.
We called months in advanced to book the date & time we wanted to drive. We had the option of either the two or three hour tour that passes numerous Tokyo landmarks like the Tokyo Tower & the Shibuya Crossing. We booked two hours but I easily could have gone much longer.
When you arrive, you walk in this small shop that’s basically a room filled with costumes.
You confirm your reservation, meet your tour guide (who was dressed as Doraemon that day), go through the brief lesson on how to use the go-karts, traffic rules, & hand signals. We chose our karts, decided pole position, then off we went on local roads!
To note that when trying to find this place: it’s in a residential neighborhood, but keep an eye out on the side streets for a place with a bunch of red go-karts parked out front.
When you roll up to the Shibuya Crossing, it’s a surreal feeling. It’s dense with people, but when they hear loud go-karts rumbling at the stop light, they’ll stop in the middle of the road to take your picture. You follow the lead of the tour guide who does the Japanese cute peace-sign-head-tilt smile & embrace the attention.
There are a selection of themed cafes that entice all types of visitors. Take your pick with cafes with owls, Alice in Wonderland, robots/Gundam, bunnies, you name it. For first timers, we chose the most tame of them all: the maid cafe.
In Akihabara, many maids are out on the streets advertising for their cafes, but you can take your pick from many options in the area as they all have generally the same offerings. To be seated & be served by a young Japanese girl in a frilly maid costume, you have to select something from the food/drink menu.
Most of us just ordered a basic drink—which was still pretty sweet & fancy—but comes with staff service with pomp that’s over-the-top. Typical Joseph went all out with his dessert & ordered an ice cream sundae, complete with a chocolate cookie with Princess written on it:
Photos of the maids in the cafe are forbidden, so the alternative is purchasing a Polaroid shot with you & a maid of your choice.
Also in Tokyo is another type of an ‘owl cafe’, though not authentically Japanese:
Car racing in mountain passes
Not really racing, more like cruising through mountain towns in classic Japanese supercars & taking it to a winding roads. Sometimes cruising in excessive speeds, but definitely not racing.
There’s a company a few hours west of Tokyo called Fun2Drive that rents out sports cars for a few hours. It took more than two hours to the rental place in the middle of the countryside & a commute that started long before the sun came up, but worth it because I got to check off one more thing in my bucket list: drive the J-spec-iest of cars, a Nissan Skyline, in a Japanese mountain pass at high speeds.
The drive is conducted in a tour format with a pace car leading the way. The other cars in the tour were other Skylines, a Toyota Supra, a Ferrari, & a Subaru Legacy, the surprisingly fast pace car. The shop owners let us be a little naughty & gave us permission to blast through this tunnel at speeds peaking at 120kmh. You can hear the Ferarri’s engine screaming in the tunnel. As expected with a heavy-duty sports car, it felt stable even at high speeds, though I didn’t have the nerve to maintain for an extended amount of time. I don’t think I have the spirit to be a street racer.
Nearly all their available cars have only manual transmission so make sure to brush up on your stick driving skills before renting.
Visit the massive 1:1 scale of a Gundam
Visiting this massive statue requires visiting a man-made island south from the center of Tokyo called Odaiba, reached by making a train transfer onto a train line called the Yurikamome from the JR Yamanote line.
You get off the train, walk around a large building, & if you’re not prepared for the view, a massive white robot will peak around the corner. The massive crowds at the base of the robot will probably preempt you first.
Of course, the mall behind the Gundam also contains a Gundam museum if you still wanna get your fill.
If Gundams aren’t your thing, Odaiba is still worth visiting. The island is filled with shopping malls, awesome food (top floors of malls have food courts), a hot spring, & even the presence of a major Japanese TV network.
Or if you’re on a strict budget, window shopping. The major cities have a seemingly boundless amount of shopping you can do. It’s easy to get carried away, but know that Japan will offer things you can’t find anywhere else in the world. A quick outline of things you can see in the Tokyo area:
- Food: Any mall near major train stops, basement level for souvenir snacks, top floor for food courts.
- Clothes: Malls like 0101 or Isetan in Shinjuku. Harajuku for urban wear.
- Toys: Akihabara if you’re into anime. If Akihabara prices are too rich, consider the shopping area Nakano Broadway for a marketplace of second-hand toys & potentally rock bottom prices.
- Souvenirs: A personal secret of mine is a store called Village Vanguard. This is a gold mine of really clever & funny things you can buy for your friends & family back home. Tokyu Hands & Loft are also two of my favorites that are uniquely Japan.
At a minimum, go out to these areas to people watch. Places like Shibuya & Harajuku will have young adults out in really cool outfits.
If you’re like me, you’ll travel to Japan with an empty suitcase with the intention of filling it up with clothes & snacks until you literally have to punch the suitcase closed to make everything fit. A favorite chain I like to visit is Jeans Mate, where I do most of my jacket shopping:
You gotta love Japan for getting the small details, too. The shopping bags they give you have rope handles. They know you’ll be carrying these around all day & rope handles & heavy bags aren’t a good combo, so as a courtesy, they wrap the handle with a piece of spare foam & tape it closed so that now you have a comfortable grip.
Visit the Shibuya Crossing
You’d probably seen it in Lost in Translation or even The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. It’s that huge intersection in the middle of Shibuya where all traffic lights flash red & for a few seconds, a huge swarm of humanity crosses the street.
If you visit this place after a few days of sightseeing & want to rest your weary feet for a spell, check out this photo I took of the crossing at night & note the Tsutaya sign on the bottom right:
On the first & second floor of that building is a Starbucks. Buy a drink, take it to the second floor, find a seat next to the window. Now you can people watch & see the masses cross the street every other minute! It’s always an uncanny sight to see.
Explore side streets
Tokyo has this crazy phenomenon where even though it’s a noisy, bustling metropolis, as soon as you turn the corner into a suburban neighborhood, the sound stops & becomes eerily quiet. It’s also a nice reprieve from the flashing advertising & other visual noise.
Also, you’ll never know what you’ll find! Take this car, for example:
Yes, you’re seeing that right. A garage that perfectly fits the height of this sedan. We came across this when walking to our first Airbnb in this quiet neighborhood.
More blogposts in my Japan 2017 series:
- How to handle Japan in 10 days
Tips on Japan survival, accommodations, travel & eating tips, sightseeing advice
- Things to do in Kyoto (post coming soon!)
- Eating/drinking in Japan (post coming soon!)
- How to get around (post coming soon!)