The urban life in the Japanese capital isn’t like any other in the world. The city mixes the old, the new, and the offbeat in the most (surprisingly) seamless way as if everything fits organically together, making it hard to narrow down the list of cultural experiences to have in Tokyo.
Trying to set up a trip to Japan as an independent traveler can be a bit of a headache, especially if you’re a first time visitor. Are you willing to sacrifice your traveling style and compromise on a pre-packed tour?
What if I told you that Pacific Holidays understands exactly what you mean and that you can have the best of both worlds? Well, I have some really great news for you.
The first great news is that this Pacific Holidays Independent Japan tour is the perfect marriage between independent traveling and having all the nitty gritty details taken care for you (we all need a break from planning now and then).
The other great news is that this tour itinerary includes one day to enjoy the Japanese capital on your own, and if you think choosing what to do can be hard, I believe you can gather inspiration from these top 10 cultural experiences to have in Tokyo.
Learn the ancient ritual of the tea ceremony
One of the fascinating aspects of the Japanese culture is that every detail is accounted for and even every step of such an ordinary ritual like brewing tea has purpose and meaning.
Although minding etiquette and the rules of social conduct might be a thing of the past, experiencing a tea ceremony in Tokyo it’s like taking the 101 class in Japanese customs.
You won’t know what sushi and sashimi are until you try it in Japan
Globalization is a wonderful thing, allowing us to experience cuisines from all over the world right at our doorstep. However, and as a traveler you will know this for a fact, the food served at international restaurants back home is always an adapted version of the real deal.
There will be plenty of places in Tokyo to try the authentic sushi and sashimi, prepared to perfection right before your eyes, and served to you piece by piece. You won’t be just having a meal, you’ll be witnessing the work of a true artist.
Deliciously offbeat, let the Japanese pop culture wash over you
In all modern cities you can find the mix of old and new, but in Tokyo, the contrast is shocking and natural at the same time.
From Anime and Manga to cosplays, to the world’s most famous cartoon cat, Japan’s pop culture is alive, well, and vibrant in the streets of Tokyo.
For the ultimate geeks (otaku in Japanese), there are enough collectibles-filled shops to pose as a mini heaven on earth for the hardcore fans of anime and manga comics.
Experience royal life at the Imperial Palace
Unlike most castles and palaces one might find in Europe (the bigger, the higher, and the more embellished the better), the Imperial Palace’s presence may not be as imposing but it is as firm and strong in its purpose.
The Imperial Family’s official residence is surrounded by the quiet, carefully maintained East Gardens, where visitors can stroll through the wide lawns and explore the Ninomaru Japanese garden.
Curious about sumo wrestling? Watch the athletes practice
You don’t have to fully understand the rules of sumo wrestling to be curious about this sport. The game is definitely more intense than what you think, and the best way to get to the bottom of it is to visit a sumo stable and watch them practice.
Keep in mind that this is not a tourist attraction and there are is a set of rules you must respect while attending a practice. Etiquette is as important here as in any other cultural event in Tokyo.
Unveil classical Tokyo in Yanesen
Yanesen is an acronym for the three areas of Yanaka, Nezu, and Sendagi. It’s the most famous area in Tokyo to explore its classical side since it was one of the few places to escape unharmed from World War II.
Popular spots to visit include the famous and most photographed Nezu Shrine, the Yayoi Yumeji Museum, a museum dedicated to the art of the pioneer of Japanese graphic design, and stores selling chiyogami, paper with printed patterns.
Have an immersive cultural experience at a sento (the Japanese public bath)
These days, people don’t use a sento for the same reasons they did back in the day (all modern homes are equipped with baths now), but the tradition has not disappeared completely yet and the Japanese house baths are still around in Tokyo.
From establishments offering services close to the spa facilities to others that have a more traditional approach, there is plenty to choose from. Just keep in mind to abide by the rules of etiquette and you’ll have a wonderful experience.
Have a bright and loud time at a Pachinko parlor
Looking to having fun in an environment of bright neon lights and loud noises? Forget all the video arcades you’ve ever stepped into, find a Pachinko parlor in Tokyo and brush off your skills at this electronic game of pinball-meets-vegas-slot-machines.
It takes more focus and strategy than one might think to play what is “just” a game. It’s not “just” a game. The avid regular players take pride in their technique.
Get down to business at the Tsukiji Market
For urban explorers and cultural travelers, markets are the places we visit to experience the rawest of cultural interactions between local customers and vendors. It’s all about the business relationship, even the most colloquial of chit chats.
The heart and soul here is the inner market, where they trade seafood, but it will be relocated soon to Toyosu. Although you might miss one of the most famous events at the market, the tuna auction, the outer market will still be up and running, and with plenty of great street food stalls available to have a meal.
Explore Asakusa, one of the historical neighborhoods in Tokyo
A pet peeve for those who would rather skip the crowds, Asakusa is a must-see neighborhood in Tokyo. And, let’s face it, in a city with 13.6 million people that welcomes close to 20 million tourists every year, it’s impossible to completely escape a crowd.
So, embrace it, go with the flow, and enjoy the view from the top of the Tokyo Skytree, discover the best ramen you could possibly eat or take a ride at the 1883 Hanayashiki amusement park.