One of the most common questions I’m asked from time to time is, “I’ve got one day free in Tokyo. What should I do?” Having lived in Tokyo for two and a half years, I know that “Tokyo” covers a large area, but thankfully it also offers the world’s most connected and efficient public transport. So, if you have one day left to explore Tokyo, plan well, get up early and get going early. Here are 10 Things to do in Tokyo in a day that I myself enjoy doing and have suggested to numerous friends of mine. I don’t include the usual suspects such as Ginza, Asakusa and Shinjuku, though, assuming that you’ve done them all already.
All the 10 things to do in Tokyo are equally fun and worth having a go on your free day.
1. Fuchu: Free Beer, Cheap Gifts and Horse Race
The first on our list top 10 things to do in Tokyo is to visit Fuchu City. Fuchu City isn’t really a major tourism destination yet. But it offers a range of fun things to do with a free transport at the courtesy of Suntory. First, hop on the Keio Line from Shinjuku and get off at Bubaigawara Station, from which you can catch a free shuttle bus to the Suntory Musashino Beer Factory. There, you get to learn about the amazing process of beer making and, at the end of the factory tour you are rewarded with free three rounds of beer and snacks.
When you are done at the factory, just walk to the next door and you’ll find the Great Tokyo Wholesale Centre. They have a number of shops selling noodles, snacks, fish, meat and home and kitchen ware, and they do retail as well.
If you are visiting there on a weekend, it’s worth visiting the Tokyo Horse Racetrack. It’s a walking distance from the Great Tokyo Wholesale Centre.
From the Tokyo Horse Racecourse, have a walk towards Fuchu Station (the Keio Line) and visit the Okunitama Shrine. Founded by Emperor Keiko in 111, Okunitama Shrine hosts gods from six different shrines in Musashi province. It’s one of the most significant shrines in Japan.
Walking out of Okunitama and past its main gate of Babadaimon, you’ll see a road lined with an impressive number of Japanese Zelkova. Fuchu Station is located 500m or so from the date.
2. Kichijoji: Most Popular Town, Zazen and Totoro
Kichijoji has been chosen as the most desired place to live in the Kanto region for the fourth year straight. It’s located in the Musashino City of Tokyo. What’s so great about this town? Apparently it’s to do the fact that (1) it takes less than 20 minutes to Shinjuku on the JR Chuo Line and to Shibuya on the Keio Inogashira Line; (2) Kichijoji has many major shopping centers and thriving shopping arcades in the northern area, as well as entertainment district in the east and south of the station, and yet, (3) one of the most beloved parks by the Japanese, the Inogashira Park, is just a short stroll from the station. This is why Kichijoji is second on our list 10 things to do in Tokyo.
To get there, hop on the JR Chuo Line or the Keio Inogashira Line and get off at Kichijoji. Do the following to explore Tokyo’s most popular town:
- Visit the ‘shotengai’ or covered shopping arcades that are interconnected. Start with the Sun Road which is the main shotengai visible from the north exit at the station.
- Visit Gesso-ji temple on the Sun Road. They hold a free zazen session between 6 and 8am on every first Tuesday of the month. Zazen is a Zen meditation, conducted in the lotus position. The next session is on the 5th of January 2016.
- For lunch or dinner:
- The Harmonica Yokocho: a small entertainment area that was first built as a flea market in the postwar Japan. It’s now a vibrant area full of cool restaurants, izayakas and western style pubs.
- Iseya: a yakitori shop and my personal recommendation. Eat at the outside counter while mingling with the local regular customers.
- Toriyoshi at the Inogashira Park: a chicken speciality restaurant and my personal recommendation. They have several branches, but the one at the Inogashira Park has the best atmosphere and a great Japanese garden.
- Maria: an okonomiyaki shop and my personal recommendation. Walk inside the restaurant and you’ll be transported back to the Showa era.
- Walk down to the Inogashira Park and explore the area. Best time to visit is the sakura season in March-April.
- Then, visit world’s beloved Totoro, Nausicaa and more at the Ghibli Museum, located near the Inogashira Park. Make sure you get tickets before you visit via online.
3. Todoroki & Futako Tamagawa: Valley, Temple and Japan’s First Upscale Suburb
Feeling dizzy after sightseeing in busy Tokyo? Then, try visiting the Todoroki Valley, the only valley in the entire Tokyo. It’s located in Setagaya-ku (one of Tokyo’s best districts) and access is very easy. Get on the Tokyu Oimachi Line and get off at Todoroki Station. The entrance of the valley is only a 3-minute walk and begin your exploration at the red Golf Bridge. The valley is a kilometer or so and you will soon see the Todoroki Fudoson temple along the way.
After the walk in the valley, hop back on the Tokyu Oimachi Line and head to Futako Tamagawa Station, only two stations away from Todoroki (you could walk from Todoroki to Futako Tamagawa, but if you are pressed with time, take the train). Futako Tamagawa, aka “Nikotama”, is Japan’s first upscale suburbia boarding between Tokyo and Kawasaki City of Kanagawa Prefecture. Although traditionally farming areas, Futako Tamagawa is full of major shopping centers and unique shops and restaurants today. Yet, the town is also full of nature as it’s built along the Tama River.
Major attractions of Futako Tamagawa are as follows:
- Futako Tamagawa Rise: the latest shopping complex with unique shops and hosting the headquarter of Rakuten, Japan’s biggest online shopping platform. You MUST try the Tsutaya there. Tsutaya is a Japanese rental shop chain with hundreds of shops across the country, but the one at Futako Tamagawa Rise is the most impressive with unique and upmarket electric goods, homeware, books and DVDs on sale. You can easily spend a few hours there, checking out books and electronic items while shipping latte at cafes.
- For lunch or dinner:
- Cafe Soul Tree: a warehouse-converted cafe super popular with locals and visitors to Futako Tamagawa. 12 minutes walk from the Futako Tamagawa Station.
- Midori Zushi: one of the most popular sushi restaurants in Tokyo. The headquarter is in Umegaoka, but their branch is located at Futako Tamagawa Takashimaya Shopping Center. Expect a long queue during lunch and dinner time…
- Kokonotsu Ido: a cool Japanese restaurant located in the basement of the Takashimaya East Building. They recreated an old traditional Japanese house as a restaurant, serving soba, udon and other traditional Japanese washoku dishes.
4. Mt. Takao: Michelin Guide’s Three-Star Mountain
Mount Takao, located in the City of Hachioji in western Tokyo, was given a three star by Michelin in 2007. Get on either the Keio Line Express (Going to Takao Yamaguchi)(44 minutes: 360 yen) or JR Chuo Line Rapid (41 minutes: 550 yen) and get off at Takao Station. Mount Takao is a small mountain, and unless you are in for a serious hiking, you don’t have to have all the hiking gears. In fact, many people go to Mount Takao dressed casually to have a look around and dine at restaurants. Take the cable car or the chair lift to get to explore Mount Takao.
- Take the cable car or the chair lift to get to explore Mount Takao.
- Visit the Monkey Park and meet the cute Japanese monkeys (Entrance: 420 yen for adults, 210 for up to primary school children).
- Explore the Mt. Takao Yakuoin Temple.
- For lunch or dinner
- Mt. Takao Beer Garden: an all-you-can-eat and drink restaurant located on the mountain with a great view of Tokyo metropolis. Open only in summer.
- Musasabi: a BBQ restaurant on the mountain, offering an all you can eat deal on the weekends.
- Fumotoya: an Italian restaurant with a free foot spa
- See “Diamond Mt. Fuji”. Diamond Fuji happens when the sun sparkles like a jewel above Mt. Fuji during sunset or sunrise. Mt. Takao is one of the best viewing locations. Best time is December 19 – 24 between 16:00 and 16:30.
- Finish up your day excursion at Keio Takaosan Onsen Gokurakuyu. Review the onsen manners here before you dip in.
5. Tabehodai: All You Can Eat in Tokyo
If you haven’t done so, try ‘tabehodai’ (‘all you can eat’ in English) before leaving Japan. There are just so many restaurants, hotels and cafes that offer all great deals, but below is our recommendation.
6. Sento: Truly Local Naked Experience
You might have been to onsen hot springs, but have you tried a small local public bath called “sento”? Sento is the simplest form of public bath, without any extra frill and services like massage, body scrub, restaurants and rest rooms, all of which you can find at ‘super sento’. But sento that I’m talking about here is not that extravagant super sento, but the simple, one bathtub sento with the wall drawing of Mt. Fuji or golden fish. The fee is usually around 460 yen or so, much cheaper than super sento which charges anywhere from 600 yen to 2000 yen.
Not many tourists go to sento, so you won’t find a foreign friend in there. But if you are in for a true local experience, sento is the way to go.
For 10 Things to do in Tokyo my personal recommendation is Kanparu-yu in Ginza. Ginza is the super upmarket shopping district in Tokyo, but Kanparu-yu has managed to keep its simple form, look and service. The following sento are also awesome:
- Teikoku-yu: Probably the king of sento in Tokyo… so grand, so Taisho… Get on the JR Joban Line and get off at Mikawajima Station. 7-8 minute walk in south east from the station. Address: 3-22-3 Higashi-Nippori, Arakawa-ku, Tokyo | Business hours: 15:00 – 0:00 | Fee 460 yen
- Myojin-yu: Another king of sento, often used as a filming site by TV and movie production companies. Address: 5-14-7 Minami Yukigaya, Ota-ku, Tokyo | Business hours 16:00 – 23:30 | Closed on the 5th, 15th and 25th of every month.
- Musashi Koyama Onsen Shimizu-yu: a modern sento located in Ota-ku, Tokyo. Address: 3-9-1 Koyama, Shinagawa-ku, Tokyo | Business hours: Weekdays 12:00-24:00 / Weekends 8:00 – 24:00 | Fee 460 yen
- Shimizu-yu: a modern sento in fashionable Omotesando. Address: 3-12-3 Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo | Business hours: 12:00-24:00 (weekdays) & 12:00 – 23:00 (weekends) | Fee 460 yen
7. Learning How to Make Soba
Love soba? Then, learn how to make soba by hands in three hours in Tsukiji. Tokyo Cooking School is located in Tsukiji and offers various classes for beginners. In Japan, opening a handmade soba shops is one of the most romanticised dreams of salary men getting close to their retirement age. As Japanese cuisine is taking the world by storm, you could also aim to open a soba shop in your home country. And start your dream from taking a fun lesson first.
8. 10 Things to do in Tokyo: Visiting Otaku’s Sacred Site
While Akihabara is considered as the birthplace of otaku culture, Nakano also has the castle of all things Otaku – Nakano Broadway. The building is located at the end of a super vibrant shopping arcade, Nakano Broadway Shopping Arcade, that begins immediately as you get off the JR Chuo Line at Nakano Station.
In addition to all otaku-related toy shops, second hand book shops, second hand jewelry shops and figure shops, Nakano Broadway also has a great basement floor full of delicious Japanese food and sweets and maid cafes. Make sure you try the Daily Choco’s colorful tower soft serve and the Challenger’s cheap but super delicious crepes (better than what you get in Harajuku) in the basement.
After you visited Nakano Broadway, explore the small backstreets that are connected the shopping arcade. Stand at the entrance of Nakano Broadway, facing towards the Nakano Station, and take any of the small streets on your left. You will see many interesting small restaurants and shops on the backstreets.
For lunch or dinner:
- Maguro Mart: for those who love maguro tuna – you won’t regret this. Address: 1-10-12 Arai, Nakano-ku, Tokyo | 17:00 – 24:00
- Jo-chan: an ordinary looking izakaya specializing in yakitori, but chosen as the best restaurant in Nakano online. Address: 3-32-10 Nakano, Nakano-ku, Tokyo | 17:00 – 24:00
- Higashiya Nakano So: A retro curry and rice restaurant with the shop sign with a cute boy. Address: 5-55-15 Nakano, Nakano-ku, Tokyo | Business hours: 11:30-22:00 (L.O.21:30)
9. Chofu: Yokai, Soba and Onsen
Yokai Watch is taking the world by storm, which is the reason why is was added to our list 10 things to do in Tokyo off the beaten path . But the most famous yokai among adults in Japan is still “Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro”. Meet Kitaro, his one-eyed father “Medama Oyaji” and his yokai friends at Jindai-ji temple in the city of Chofu in western Tokyo. Take the Keio Line from Shinjuku and get off at Chofu. Go to the north side of Chofu Station and wait at Stop 14 for Cho 43 bus heading to Jindai-ji.
As soon as you get off at the last stop of Jindai-ji, you’ll see many shops around the temple. Go to Kitaro Jaya (Kitaro’s cafe) and try yokai desserts and souvenirs.
Jindai-ji is also famous for soba noodles and there are many soba restaurants around the temple. The most popular ones are:
- Yusui: Selected as the best by soba experts. Expect a long queue.
- Ikkyu an: Also expect a long queue, but you can watch the soba making demonstration while waiting.
Another thing Jindai-ji is famous for is Yumori no Sato, an onsen spa. Yumori no Sato is within a walking distance and the address is Jindaiji Motomachi 2-12-2 Chofu, Tokyo.
10. Flea Markets in Tokyo
Last but not least on our top 10 Things to Do in Tokyo off the Beaten Path. Tokyo off Tokyo is a flea market paradise. In Japan, second hand goods are often as good as new. Flea Market Insiders is a very useful website to find flea markets held in Tokyo. My personal recommendation is Ajinomoto Stadium BIG Flea Market in Chofu City. I hope you enjoyed our list of 10 things to do in Tokyo off the beaten path.