Tokyo poses a fascinating fusion. Here, centuries-old temples stand alongside soaring skyscrapers, old-fashioned traditions play out beneath flashing neon lights and sweet Hello Kitty paraphernalia tumbles out onto the sidewalks as rapidly as do the slick, high-tech gadgets of tomorrow. It's perplexing yet alluring at the same time. From the cool to the kitsch and the quirky, be sure to tick a few of Tokyo's most unique and peculiar attractions off your list.
When the lights turn red at this busy intersection, magic happens. Somehow, hundreds of pedestrians flood the junction like a swarm of ants criss-crossing from one side to the other, without colliding. The scramble is a sight to behold (and we recommend watching it from the third-floor Starbucks cafe nearby), but it’s even more fun to be a part of the chaos on the ground. There's no better place to put your best people-dodging skills into practice.
Forget kabuki; Sumo is just as theatrical. An ancient Japanese tradition and the national sport, it’s an entertaining, jostling mix of body locks, dropping and twisting to wrestle one another out of the ring, with plenty of showmanship in between. Think stomping, eye-staring, stretching and loud and proud thigh-slapping. The professional wrestlers, called Rikishi (which means ‘strong man’ in Japanese), weigh between 160 and 250kg and dedicate their lives to training – and eating – to stay in top form. Sumo tournaments are a big deal, with three major tournaments held in Tokyo throughout the year that are well-worth a ticket.
For locals, Harajuku is the place to be seen. For tourists, it’s the place to see. Prepare yourself for an overload of cutesiness, extreme hairdos, sky-high heels and funky styles in every shade of bubblegum along this famous street fashion and shopping district. It certainly poses a curious mix. It’s so catchy that Harajuku is considered its own fashion trend as well as a destination. Fashion-forward-thinking young women and teens descend on the area to flaunt their most eccentric, free-spirited and imaginative interpretations. Staring is welcome – or else try your own on for size at Laforet mall, the ground zero of Harajuku fashion.
Are you a dog person or a cat person? If you’re the latter, get your kitty fix at one of the many cat cafes dotted across Tokyo. They’re the latest craze in Japan and about half of them call the capital home. But don’t worry – the cats serve as company, not dinner. Dine and drink surrounded by these furry felines in all shapes and colours. The catmosphere is purrfect for a few kitty cuddles (though some maintain a no-touch policy unless the cat comes to you). Some of Tokyo’s coolest cats are so popular they have their own Mixi profiles (that’s Japan’s biggest social network). For the non-superstitious and those looking to test the theory, there’s also a highly exclusive black cat cafe.
Tsukiji Fish Market
They do things a little differently at Tsukiji, the world’s largest fish market. At the crack of dawn, the rapid-fire bidding comes flying from left, right and centre from bidders screeching their best prices for the fresh fish and seafood on display. It’s quite the spectacle and certainly worth the early start. The auction begins at 5am, with the 120 free spectator tickets getting snapped up very quickly. If you can’t drag yourself out of bed that early, head there any time before lunch to try the best and freshest sushi in Tokyo. The sushi back home will never taste the same again after Tsukiji.
Karaoke originated in Japan (of course!) so it goes without saying that a turn at the mic is a great way take part in the favourite local pastime. While the standard karaoke scene involves private rooms with dedicated waiters, at karaoke bar Smash Hits the show gets amped up a notch to include a real live audience. If you missed your calling to the stage earlier in life, don’t miss your second chance. Belt out some tunes before a random, rowdy audience in your best DIY performance yet. There are plenty of English songs on the song menu, including classics from Billy Joel, Queen and Guns’N’Roses. Best of all, newcomers are regularly shuffled to the top of the playlist schedule. This is your time to shine!
The Japanese are renowned for being gamers, yet despite the massive advances in technology and their tech-loving nature, there’s still a might stash of pinball machines about. All across the city, the manic racquet of pinballs crashing and rebounding can be heard echoing out of pachinko parlours – noisy, multi-level arcade floors brimming with pinball machines. Pull out some loose Japanese yen coins and release your competitive inner child for a game, or simply duck your head in to glimpse the flashing buttons, eager players and of course, a few added animation clips (a local touch). It still makes for a fascinating wander down memory lane.
A hit for locals and tourists alike, in Tokyo’s electronics district, Akihabara, it’s hard to go far without stumbling across a Maid Cafe where waitresses dress as anime-style maids ready to wait on you hand and foot. They also deliver a range of quirky entertainment. Some sing and dance cutesy songs, others have extra-special costumes (at Queen Dolce the girls dress up like beautiful boys instead) and most will be sure to keep you enthralled with quirky games at your table. From a special spoon-feeding service to chants that supposedly make your drinks taste better, you can’t always know quite what to expect, really – but that’s half the fun!
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