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Visiting Japan can feel like stepping onto another planet. It is at the same time more straight-laced and crazier than any other place I’ve been. And that’s before you even consider the wild food options.
If Japan isn’t on your bucket list, it should be. There are few places in the world that are cleaner, safer and more fun. And it’s easy to get there on the cheap by using miles & points!
Every city has there iconic tourist activities or sites you need to check off your to-do list when visiting. And most of these are iconic for a reason. Sites like the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Eiffel Tower, and the Statute of Liberty have earned their fame.
There’s also a second class of tourist attractions. These are what I like to call the “Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.” options because there’s usually a Bubba Gump Shrimp or Hard Rock Cafe nearby waiting to take your money. These areas can be hit or miss and generally, I like to limit myself to only spending 1 day of my vacation browsing overpriced t-shirts and paying too much for a Mama Gump’s Garlic Bread Basket.
But at the same time, I don’t think “touristy” is a curse word. And gems that aren’t hidden are just as valuable as gems that are hidden, right? So here are 4 “touristy” attractions you should not miss on your next trip to Tokyo!
4 Activities to Add to Your Tokyo Itinerary
An entire generation, or two, grew up bonding with friends over a game of Mario Kart. And you can take that experience and bring it into your real life! MariCar operates Mario themed go-kart tours all over Tokyo (and other areas of Japan too). My wife and I did the tour in Akihabara and loved it. But I can’t imagine that you’d be disappointed with any of their tours.
If this is something you want to add to your itinerary, you’ll need to plan ahead because you must have your International Driving Permit (IDP) to participate. And the most popular times can sell out quickly.
To give you an idea of how popular this is, my wife and I went to the AAA office (in Chicago) on separate days to get our IDPs. Both times the AAA employee found out we were going to Japan they asked if we were taking the MariCar tour. They made it seem like most of the IDPs they issued were specifically for this experience.
To book your MariCar adventure, contact them through their Facebook page.
2. Robot Restaurant
If you’ve been to Tokyo, chances are you’ve experienced the show at the Robot Restaurant and you weren’t disappointed! The show is like an 80s Jim Henson fantasy adventure that took way too many psychedelics and went to a rave. It is sensory overload! Every square inch is covered with lasers, neon lights, or sequins.
I loved the show for the same reason I enjoy watching Japan games shows – there is a whole lot of effort put into something that doesn’t seem to make sense at all. I think we would all be happier if we took ridiculous things more seriously!
The best advice I got before going was to eat beforehand. The show is great, but the food is not. Honor is a big part of Japanese culture and almost everything is done with excellence, especially the food, even at convenience stores. But the Robot Restaurant is not only a bit over-priced, but the food looked second-rate and I was glad we skipped it.
You’ve only got a limited amount of meals to eat on your trip, and I wouldn’t recommend wasting one here!
3. Eat at a Themed Restaurant
Tokyo is home to dozens of themed restaurants. And they aren’t anything like the themed eateries you’re used to in the US. Hard Rock Cafe and Rainforest Cafe are child’s play compared to what you’ll find in Japan. The only place I’ve been to in the States that comes close is the Safehouse in Milwaukee.
Jess and I visited the Kawaii Monster Cafe, which is essentially a less intense version of the Robot Restaurant. So if you’re going to the Robot show, I would skip this particular spot. There are lots of lights, bright colors, and a short show. The menu consists of pastel-colored dishes with monsterish names. It wasn’t a bad experience, but with so many other options, you can do better.
There are lots of other themed cafes with better food and more interesting personalities. On my next visit to Tokyo, I plan on stopping by the Ninja Akasaka cafe that you enter through a series of secret passages and trap doors. And, of course, you’re served an array of well-reviewed ninja themed dishes from appropriately dressed staff.
If you’re into fresh seafood, Zauo is a restaurant where you can go fishing for your dinner in a huge aquarium. You get to use a pole for free, but you’ll have to pay for the bait. On the plus side, if you catch your own dinner you’ll get a discount!
4. Blow Money at an Arcade
Maybe spending an unreasonable amount of money at an arcade ($20 is unreasonable right?) is only enjoyable to me because it’s something I wasn’t allowed to do as a kid. But if you’re looking to splurge on some good old-fashioned electronic candy, then Tokyo won’t disappoint.
If you’ve got spare change burning a hole in your pocket there are plenty of options for putting it to work. Japan takes their vending machines very seriously. You can grab a quick snack or add to your collection of trinkets on just about every street corner.
But I suggest saving your Yen for the crane games.
Crane games in the US are harder to come by and even harder to win. I don’t remember ever coming to close to winning. But in Japan, it seems much more realistic that you’ll walk away with a prize in hand.
Plus, the variety of prizes is better! You can win electronics, figurines, and snacks, in addition to the usual stuffed animals and toys. I knocked down a prized giant can of Onion & Jalapeno Pringles – score!
I found the most frustrating part about Tokyo is the abundance of choices. There are 10 times more things to do than you could ever fit into a lifetime, much less one trip. But you won’t go wrong starting with these options.
Have you visited Japan? What should I add to my to-do list for my next trip there?
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