More insider guides for planning a trip to Tokyo
Temples and skyscrapers, sumo wrestling and zen gardens, karaoke and onsen baths: there are so many things to do in a city the size and colour of Tokyo. Avoid feeling overwhelmed by not trying to pack too much in – and don’t forget to look behind the city’s gleaming façade of skyscrapers for a glimpse of its slower-paced cultural core. Telegraph Travel Tokyo expert Danielle Demetriou has the inside track.
Watch a sumo wrestling match
Embrace Japan’s national sport and time your Tokyo visit to coincide with one of three annual sumo tournaments, in January, May and September, each lasting 15 days. Tournaments take place at the Kokugikan Arena in the Ryogoku district. Up to 11,000 spectators gather around a central ring where wrestlers toss salt, stamp feet and lunge at opponents.
Insider’s tip: You don’t have to stay all day: the most exciting time to watch is normally between 3pm and 6.30pm, which is when the top-rated wrestlers fight. And when it’s over? Head to one of countless nearby restaurant for 'chanko nabe' – a healthy stew eaten by sumo wrestlers.
Contact: 00 81 33 623 5111; sumo.or.jp
Opening times: Around 8.30am-6.30pm
Nearest station: Ryogoku Station (Chuo-Sobu and Toei Oedo lines)
Get a head for heights at Japan's tallest skyscraper
One landmark in Tokyo that is, quite literally, impossible to miss is Tokyo Skytree. The world’s tallest free-standing broadcast tower looms over the city's skyline. Standing at more than 2,000ft, the tower has become a major tourist attraction since opening in 2012. Explore the shops, restaurants and cherry tree-lined plazas at the tower base before taking high-tech lifts to the two viewing platforms.
Insider’s tip: Same-day tickets are possible but it's best to arrive early or reserve in advance. If you want an alternative view, check into the Kengo Kuma designed hotel ONE@TOKYO and ask for a room that looks out on the tower.
Contact: 00 81 35 302 3470; tokyo-skytree.jp
Opening times: Daily, 8am-10pm
Nearest station: Tokyo Skytree Station (Tobu Skytree line)
Discover pre-modern Asian arts in a serene space
On a quiet street not far from the retail bustle of Omotesando is the unexpectedly serene Nezu Museum. Designed by cult architect Kengo Kuma (who is also behind 2020 Tokyo Olympic Stadium), the space is a minimal haven with walls of bamboo, pebble walkways and expanses of glass. It showcases exhibitions curated from its 7,000-strong collection of pre-modern Asian arts, including calligraphy, textiles, paintings and tea ceremony tools.
Insider’s tip: Whatever you do, don’t miss the gardens. Take your time exploring the lush, green and beautifully maintained expanse of trees, moss-covered statues, ponds and teahouses. There is also a small modernist café in the garden, serving sandwiches, cakes and green tea lattes.
Contact: 00 81 33 400 2536; nezu-muse.or.jp
Nearest Station: Omotesando Station (Ginza, Chiyoda and Hanzomon lines)
Opening times: Tue-Sun, 10am-5pm
Take a futuristic river cruise
With their curved glass windows and high-tech lighting, the Himiko and Hotaluna waterbuses would not look out of place in a sci-fi film as they glide across the water. Both ferry guests along the Sumida River towards Tokyo Bay, with sights ranging from cherry blossoms to the Tokyo SkyTree. One of the best routes is the 55-minute ride from Asakusa (home to the city’s oldest temple Senso-ji) to Odaiba Seaside Park.
Insider’s tip: If the weather is good, opt for Hotaluna over Himiko due to one key design difference: the roof deck will open on the final leg of the journey before arriving in Odaiba.
Contact: 00 81 12 097 7311; suijobus.co.jp
Nearest station: Asakusa Station
Opening times: See website for each boat's departure times.
Sing like no one is watching in a private karaoke booth
No visit to Tokyo is complete without indulging in one celebrated national pastime: karaoke. Pretending to be Madonna while waving a tambourine in the air has been elevated into an art form in Japan. Fortunately, many karaoke venues consist of floors of endless private rooms rented by the hour – complete with large screens, some percussion and a telephone for food and drinks orders. One such spot is the Dogenzaka branch of Uta Hiroba in Shibuya.
Insider’s tip: Karaoke is not just for adults: it’s a fun place to take children during the day (they’re normally allowed up until around 10pm), with a medley of Disney tunes in the system.
Contact: 00 81 33 780 9771; utahiro.com
Opening times: Daily, 11am-6am
Nearest station: Shibuya Station
Explore a cutting-edge gallery
Design-lovers should make a beeline for 21_21 Design Sight, the brainchild of fashion designer Issey Miyake. Located at the rear of Tokyo MidTown shopping complex, the abstract concrete Tadao Ando-designed building showcases a string of innovative shows every year, often curated by top creative talents such as product designer Naoto Fukasawa (past themes range from rice to motion science).
Insider’s tip: Roppongi is emerging as something of an art hub – combine a visit with a trip to other galleries in the area (Mori Art Museum, National Art Center and Suntory Museum of Art among them).
Contact: 00 81 33 475 2121; 2121designsight.jp
Opening times: Wed-Mon, 10am-7pm
Nearest station: Roppongi Station (Hibiya and Oedo lines)
Relax in an urban hot spring
The ultimate way to relax in Japan is to slip into the steaming waters of an onsen (hot spring) bath. Fortunately, there’s no need to leave the city to enjoy this - Oedo Onsen Monogatari is a popular family-friendly onsen complex inspired by old Tokyo, with wooden buildings, lanterns and 13 types of baths. Wearing kimono-style 'yukata' outfits, visitors can also enjoy massages, toy shops, live performances and food stands (the sushi is recommended).
Insider’s tip: The brave should not miss the Doctor Fish foot bath, a particularly ticklish if unusual experience that involves tiny fish nibbling the dead skin off your feet. The slightly strange exfoliating treatment leaves you with soft, smooth feet.
Contact: 00 81 35 500 1126; daiba.ooedoonsen.jp
Opening times: Daily, 11am-9am the following day
Nearest station: Telecom Center Station (Yurikamome line)