Tokyo has many tourist activities for both foreigners and locals, but we wanted to cover some of the lesser-known. Here are our top five off-the-beaten-path ideas, in no particular order:
- Yakatabune Dinner Cruise – Yakatabune boat cruises are a wonderful way to relax with friends or family. They serve a traditional kaiseki style meal along with drinks of your choice with tatami mat seating. They have open-air decks so you see the surrounding sights after and during your meal. When we went on our cruise, there were only 3 native English speakers on the boat (including the two of us), but the server spoke English very well, so we had no trouble. It was a very enjoyable experience, and it wasn’t too difficult to get to by train. We booked our cruise through Veltra.com.
- Love Hotel – Love hotels are an interesting experience for any traveler, even if you don’t wish to use them for their intended purpose. They are notable for their unique themes and intriguing decor. There are many options to choose from, including Hello Kitty, Gundam, trains, or even ones with in-room Karaoke. They can easily be found on Love Hotel Hill in Shibuya, located behind the 109 Building. They usually give you the option between stay or “rest,” (typically 1-4 hours). In some cases you can select your room from a vending machine (how Japanese), or speak to a host at a counter like you would a conventional hotel. Go inside the lobbies to peruse pictures of the rooms; there are no hard feelings if you don’t like what you see and simply walk out. Be aware that some locations may turn down foreigners or same-sex couples, and only two people are accepted in a room.
- Komakata Dozeu – While wandering through Asakusa looking for lunch, we nearly passed this place by, as you almost cannot tell it’s a restaurant from the outside. Upon walking through the doors, we were instantly impressed with the atmosphere and traditional-style food. It was probably the most amazing meal we had during our time in Tokyo. Here, you order a set meal, sit on tatami mats, and enjoy eating delicacies you never knew existed but are simply awesome. This is a great place to stop for lunch on your way to Sensoji shrine.
- Harajuku Wandering – Hop off the Yamanote line at Harajuku Station and walk down Takeshita Street to see trendy shops, clothing stores, and crepe stands. There is no real plan for this one; just explore and see what is around. While it is geared towards youth culture, there are many adult shops and food as well. We found this one quiet evening by just getting off the train at a random stop. It was well worth it!
- Toritsu Shiokaze Park (Odaiba) – This park is located on an artificial island, Odaiba, which is across from Rainbow Bridge and offers great views of Tokyo. Many nights they put on a light show with a full-size Gundam statue that actually moves. It goes along with a short anime video that is played on a large projection screen. It wasn’t totally off the beaten path, but this show was a rare find we simply happened upon.
Onsen/Sentou (Hot Springs/Public Bath) – At Ooedo-Onsen-Monogatari, you can experience a hot spring using water pumped from 1400 meters underground. They have various pools inside and outside, so be sure to try them all. The indoor springs are clothes-less and segregated by gender, so don’t expect to spend time with friends or spouses of the opposite sex. Outdoor pools are commingled, a bit cooler temperature, and you wear a yukata they provide. There is also a pool where you can get fish therapy. These tiny fish seek revenge on your dirty feet by eating little bits of dried skin off your feet and between your toes. It is completely harmless and worth paying extra yen for the experience, though be warned: it’s terribly ticklish! This Japanese spa is a bit more touristy, but there weren’t many foreigners while we were there, and the experience is worth the mention.
Do you know of any secret spots in Tokyo? Please let us know in the comments what we (and others) should try on our next visit!