Throw your guidebook in the bin and see what else Tokyo has to offer
Tokyo is a great place to live, but a difficult one to visit. The sheer size of the metropolis can be daunting for first-time visitors, many of whom clutch to their guidebooks for dear life as they navigate the city. The result is that many tourists in Tokyo only scratch the surface, taking in the traditional ‘must-see’ sites such as Tsukiji Fish Market, the Imperial Palace and Shibuya’s famous scramble crossing.
Here are ten unique places that may not feature in your guidebook that are sure to make your trip to Tokyo even more memorable.
Yoshino Baigo: Plum Village
Nestled snugly between the Tama River and the Yoshino mountains in the far western reaches of Tokyo, this little hamlet is like something straight out of a Final Fantasy video game. Even the name, Plum Village, is insanely cute. Out here you’ll see wooden train platforms, rusting signs and people carrying bags of rice as opposed to briefcases during the insane Tokyo rush hour. Make the pilgrimage in March and marvel at 25,000 pink and white blossoms in bloom. Read more here.
Brush past spider webs and dusty shrines and immerse yourself in Tokyo’s best kept secret. Some know about it, some don’t. But anyone who has been here agrees: it’s quite unlike anywhere else in the city. The only natural gorge left in Tokyo, Todoroki truly is a special place – a welcoming oasis scattered with hidden temples and mossy waterfalls. It’s the city’s most unconventional green space. If you are visiting Tokyo for the first time, or have been living here for years, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Read more here.
One of the best things about living in Tokyo is the ease of which you can escape it. Travel an hour in any direction and you’ll either end up on the beach or on top of a mountain. Standing tall at 1,252 metres, Mt Oyama rightly deserves its place on the list of Kanagawa’s 50 most scenic sites and is unfairly overlooked by Tokyo guidebooks. On your climb to the peak you can see see Fuji amongst the clouds, and drink holy water at Afuri Jinja Shimosha shrine. Stunning. Read more here.
Tokyo shrines are usually quiet places, peaceful refuge from the insanity of the city. This shrine is not – it shares its grounds with a kindergarten. Alongside the sound of screaming kids you will hear songs about Anpanman and the cheers of teachers as they rally on their students practising for Sports Day. It may not be peaceful in the normal sense of the word, but with this much innocence and energy, the shrine takes on an altogether different aura. This is a place where the past and the future blend harmoniously into one, where naivety and spirituality combine. The future leaders of Japan, sliding down slides and giving you presents of flowers picked from the ground. Read more here.
Tokyo is filled to the brim with nondescript little areas. Each train station in the city is essentially the core of a little town. So with 924 stations in Tokyo, that’s 924 little (or big) towns. It really is hard to portray the size of this city. Your guidebook will be filled to the brim with things to do in Shibuya, Shinjuku and Ginza – but for once forget about these places. Buy a train pass and get off at a small random station. You’ll see family-run stores and bamboo train crossings. Neighbourhoods like this are the lifeblood of the real Tokyo, and it’s a shame that many visitors will not experience these mini pockets of daily life. Read more here.
Tokyo’s Robot Restaurant is an insane assault on the senses. $125 million in the making, it’s a place where the real world simply does not exist: a place where every night, two storeys underground, giant mechazoid robots fight dinosaurs to the bitter death while bikini-clad girls hang from the ceiling. As entertainment goes in Japan – or in the world for that matter – this is pretty hard to beat. Go now. And have your mind altered forever. Read more here.
Climb up a narrow stairway, open the unassuming door, and daylight turns to dark. Held on the final Sunday of every month, Tokyo’s Zombie Bar is lavishly decorated in black leather, with soft lighting, ornamental sex toys and a stuffed crow hanging from the wall. The zombie staff (who refer to each other by number not by name) are busy giving people gruesome makeovers and serving cocktails such as Zombie Blood and Zombie Bile. More fun than going to church. Read more here.
So, um OK, the Parasite Museum. Basically about a hundred parasites lined up in jars filled with formaldehyde. On the second floor there’s a souvenir shop where you can buy postcards and tshirts of these flesh eating monsters – and on one of the walls there is s a giant picture of a man with elelphantitis of the scrotum. Visit on the weekend and you’ll share the space with children smiling sweetly beside an eight-metre tapeworm to get their photo taken by their parents. Bizarre. Read more here.
Shooting Bar EA
Tokyo’s BB gun shooting range is a place where the menus are chock-full of booze and guns, and pacifism should be left at the door. Hanging on the wall there are Glocks, Sig Sauers, Colts, as well as insane amount of machine guns and sniper rifles. You can shoot them all. There’s even a Samurai Edge, the handgun used in the Resident Evil video games. Sign a bit of paper, choose your weapon, have a beer and shoot stuff. Lovely. Read more here.
Browse the Children’s Book Section
No joke, if you really want to have your head mangled in Tokyo just visit the children’s section of any large book store. Educational books for children in Japan cover everything from toilet training to breast feeding in a way that you can’t even begin to imagine. Superheroes that fly through the sky with poo… Large smiley-faced breasts that squirt milk into happy kids’ mouths… You’ll end up buying one just to show your mates back home. Read more here.