20 Non-Touristy things to do in Tokyo, Japan | Solo Female Travel
A trip to Japan is always a fun-filled one. The country has so much to offer, and it has something for everyone. No matter what your preferences are, picturesque Japan serves it to you on a platter. The capital city of Japan, Tokyo, is on everyone’s list. A fast, busy, futuristic city with cutting-edge technology, yet there is an ancient element. There is a surprise waiting for you at every corner, and you can spend days just exploring the city.
But as a female solo traveller, sometimes we want to avoid the ordinary and instead walk the path less travelled. The essence of Tokyo is not just in the ‘touristy’ places. As visitors, there’s a lot we miss out on because we don’t find them when we look up ‘places you have to visit in Tokyo’ on the internet. But fear not. Today I will take you through 20 Non-Touristy things that you can do in Tokyo.
1. Relive your childhood at the Ghibli Museum
If you have grown up with a healthy dose of Hayao Miyazaki’s creations, this is where you should visit. Located in western Tokyo in Mitaka, take the train from Shinjuku to Mitaka station, and a bus awaits you outside to take you to the museum.
Remember that tickets sell out very fast, and they are not sold at the door of the museum where a Tortoro waits for you. Only 200 overseas visitors are allowed per day so keep an eye on the website as tickets sell out fast. You also require a separate ticket for the gift shop inside the museum, so don’t just walk in without one(Speaking from experience, of course).
The museum is whimsically designed in Ghibli films’ style, and when you step inside it, you feel like you are a part of the animated experience. Also, do not miss the life-size robot on the roof from Ghiblis’ Castle in the sky’.
2. Clock strikes one
Your Ghibli experience should not be restricted to the museum alone. Miyazaki’s design that adorns Tokyo is a gigantic three stories high and 60 feet wide clock that is somewhat likened to the aesthetics of ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’. Situated in the Shiodome section of Tokyo at the Nittele Tower, this is a Ghibli-lover’s dream, and one could spend hours just examining the intricate design. Take the Yurikamome Line to the Shiodome station to reach here.
Telling time is not the only thing this clock does. Just at the stroke of noon, 3 pm, 6 pm, and 8 pm on the weekdays (and two different shows over the weekend), the clock spring to life. It’s a good idea to reach a few minutes early as you can watch it from the start. Be ready when the music begins and the clock chimes and performs with accompanying music! The evening show at 8 pm is even more spectacular because the clock is lit up along with the drama.
3. Bibliophiles take note
Tucked away in the nook of Tokyo is the Jimbocho Book Town, and as the name suggests, it is a sanctuary for bookworms. If you are like me and love reading old books (and smelling them), take a train to Jimbocho station and take the A-7 exit. The place is just a 1-minute walk from there. With 200 bookstores here filled with books from the floor to the top shelf, this place is called Tokyo’s bookstore. While most second-hand books available are in Japanese, you will also find plenty in English. Trust me when I tell you it is a treasure trove, and if you think that second-hand bookstore means books just stacked here and there in shops, you are wrong!
4. Mickey Mouse and Pickachu at a shrine
This is a destination recommended by someone I had chatted up with at the hotel bar the day before. When I first reached the spot, I was disappointed. What is there to see here? It looks like any other shrine. I was bewildered…
And then my eyes fell on the statues of Mickey Mouse and Pikachu. Yes, you read that right. I got to know that although it isn’t entirely clear when the shrine was founded, it is believed to have been built during the Edo era and was initially called the Kiji-no-Miya or the Pheasant shrine. It was later relocated to its present spot to keep it from being lost in floods. The shrine’s history is quite fascinating, but that isn’t what makes the shrine special and unique. It is rather quite unorderly-kept statues of characters like Mickey Mouse, Pikachu, Doraemon, Ninomiya Kinjirō, etc.
This place is a 3-minute walk from Osaki station.
5. History through a gastronomical experience
Like any other country, Japan houses different cultures, history, and cuisines but the tales of Ainu, a group of indigenous people native to Japan’s northern-most island Hokkaido is not well known. So, eat a meal at Harukor, Tokyo’s only Ainu restaurant, and learn about their history. The hole-in-the-wall restaurant uses authentic Ainu herbs and spices, which the extremely polite owner family brings from Hokkaido.
Try the venison and salmon cooked in Ainu style, Ohaw (a vegetable and salmon soup) wash it down with cold Sapporo beers. This restaurant may be a little difficult to spot, so it’s best to look up Shinjuku North Hotel on Google map as Harukor is just beside it.
6. Visit the Parasite museum
This next one is not for the faint-hearted. I wouldn’t say I like parasites (like most people, I am guessing), and I am happy to keep them as far as possible from me. But the nerd in you raises its head when you visit the Meguro Parasitological Museum, probably the only museum in the whole wide world dedicated to parasites! The museum and research facility was established in 1953 by medical doctor Satoru Kamegai and is today mostly visited by science enthusiast children. But it was also a popular date spot. Who said romance is dead?
It is a 15-minute walk from the JR Meguro Station, but you can also take a taxi here. I had read that the building housed over 60,000 samples of parasites, but I was taken aback at how tiny the room was when I first entered. Then I got to know that most parasites from upstairs are for research purposes, and only 300 were on display.
But the main attraction here is the world’s longest tapeworm (8.8 m) with a rope beside it of the same length to give you an idea of its size.
7. Ghost stairs of Obake Kaidan
Now, who doesn’t love a mystery? And if you love a good one, head over to the Nezu district of Tokyo. The staircase has a strange feature. There are 40 steps when you go up the stairs but only 39 when you come down. Woah?! It blows your mind.
The staircase was once narrow and dark, and that added to mystery for sure. But now you have handrails, and they’ve widened the stairs as well. As a female solo traveller, you make friends and one such person I met shared with me some of the urban legends surrounding these stairs. It is said that the stairs are made of gravestones, and counting them would lead to unaccountable deaths. I did crack the mystery, but I would rather not disclose it. Go and unravel it for yourself.
8. Play with some furry creatures
As a female solo traveller in a foreign country, it might sometimes get lonely. And then your heart longs for some company but not human. Here is my guide on what NOT to expect from your first solo trip. At this juncture, you must visit Temari No Ouchi. The cafe is located on the third floor of a building, and it is just a minute walk on foot if you exit the North exit of the JR Kichijoji station.
Hobbiton inspires the decor of the cafe, and with the cats relaxing all around you, it feels straight out of a dream. On a wall, you find posters of all the cats available to play with there, and you can also vote for your favourite in the elections held at the cafe. But how do you vote when you want to play with them all? But there are restrictions you must follow. When you first enter, you have to wash your hands, and then you can pet the cats, but you cannot lift them. Also, please don’t feed them food from your plate.
Sit and enjoy some much-needed feline time at this cafe.
9. Down the rabbit hole
From the fairytale cat cafe, now let’s delve into another fairytale world. Japan loves Alice in Wonderland so much that it has many restaurants dedicated to the Lewis Carrol masterpiece.
The restaurant is located on the fifth floor of the Taiyo building along with one of Tokyo’s upscale shopping district, Ginza. The lobby is adorned with a giant reproduction of the pages from the original book, and you know you will live out a fairytale inside. The host dressed as a Mad Hatter greets me and takes me inside the labyrinth.
The dining area floor looks like a chessboard, and the decor is on point, with the main attraction being a vast blue and white teacup shaped table in the room. Oh, and the server is dressed as Alice! The food and drinks served are also inspired by the book, like a Cheshire cat-shaped pizza or snacks shaped by a stack of cards.
There are also loads of vegetarian options here at this whimsical restaurant.
10. Disney on water
If you are a theme park fan, you should check out the Universal Studios in Osaka, where you can enjoy being a part of the Harry Potter experience. But if you are looking for something off the beaten track, Tokyo’s DisneySea is the place to be. It is unlike any other theme park globally, and many I have met over the years as a female solo traveller has argued that it is the best.
It features seven ports designed to look like real-life ports. And trust me, it seems so authentic. You can spend time in ‘Italy’ at the Mediterranean Harbour while taking a ride in a gondola here in the heart of Japan. But the best is the mysterious island which has an erupting volcano!
You can get here on the train to Tokyo DisneySea station or a bus from Tokyo.
Also, the themed food courts are to die for. You can enjoy a New York deli or a Middle Eastern souk market. There will be entertainment, smiling people, nostalgic moments, and you will forget that you are in Tokyo! Learn more about the rides before heading out.
11. Go into a sensory overdrive
We have all grown up playing video games and getting yelled at by our parents for not studying and playing instead. But you are a grown-up woman now, and if you want to video games, go into an arcade in Tokyo and play to your heart’s content.
While gaming arcades all over the world are finding it hard to sustain themselves during a time when everything is already there on a smartphone, Japan has proudly held on to it. One of the best places for this experience is Club SEGA, which has arcades all over the city. But if you want to go and play at the best one, head out to their Shinjuku location at Taito Station, which houses over 200 machines. Along with old classics, you can also get a sneak peek into unreleased games here. Oh, and most of the arcades have floors just for women. How cool is that?
12. Life is a roller coaster
If crazy rides are your thing, then Fuji-Q Highland just outside Tokyo should be on your itinerary. When a ride in an amusement park holds a Guinness Book of the world record, you know you are at the right place.
Take a train to Shinjuku station, and you can reach Fuji-Q by bus from here. The first thing you notice as soon as you walk in is the King of coasters, Fujiyama. It goes up 79 metres before plunging headlong. It holds a record for the tallest, fastest roller coaster in the world. Adding to that, you can also see Mount Fuji from the crescendo. Scary, but also exciting!
13. Catch your dinner
You might have been to restaurants where there was an array of live fish laid out for you. You could pick your choice of fish and ask the chef to prepare it for you. Well, not in Zauo.
When you enter this restaurant in Shinjuku Washington Hotel, right off Shinjuku station, you will see a giant boat in a moat. Take a closer look and you will find the moat filled with fresh fish ready for you to catch. Yes, you read that right. Here you have to rent a rod, and the bait is free. If you don’t have any prior fishing experience, don’t worry, as there are plenty of servers to help.
After you catch your fish, do remember to click a victory picture before you send the fish away to the chef. My advice would be to choose the sashimi option because you don’t have to worry about the fish’s freshness.
14. Spend an evening at Piss Alley
While we think Tokyo is always the glossy city, there is a different side to it too. Visit the Piss Alley just beside Shinjuku and see the city in a whole new light. The narrow lanes and tiny bars look straight out of the movie Blade Runner.
Omoide Yokocho (Memory Lane) earned its name in the post World War period when drunk men would relieve themselves on the street. Thankfully that doesn’t happen anymore, but the drinking still does. Despite its shady name, the area is safe for a female solo traveller, so don’t miss out on the opportunity to eat delicious food and wash it down with cheap sake and beer. Check this map to plan your evening better.
15. Experience Japanese fashion with a twist
Everything in Japan is exceptionally visual, and if you can visit Harajuku (the fashion hub of the city) on a lazy Sunday, you might be in for a treat. Cosplay, or the practice of dressing up as characters as your favourite film, book, or video game characters, is very popular in Japan, and Harajuku is just the place for it. You will find not only people dressed up as your favourite characters out and about but also the best places to buy cosplay dresses for yourself.
If you want to heighten the experience, plan your trip around the Comic-Con in Tokyo. You can thank me later though!
16. Rainbow and everything nice
Kawaii is another pre-dominant culture in Japan, and Kawaii Monster Cafe in YM Square is where you should be at to enjoy everything OTT. Designed by Sebastian Masuda, this cafe encapsulates everything cute and loud and neon. The restaurant is a visual overload and almost borders on maniacal.
When you enter the cafe, you enter the belly of a google-eyed monster. From here, you have the option of four different dining sections –
- the mushroom disco (which has multi-coloured fungi seats),
- the milk stand (which has baby bottles as chandeliers),
- the bar experiment where people can sip on their cocktails inside a glowing indigo jellyfish, and
- the Mel-Tea room where giant macaroons surround guests.
Read more about the kawaii experience on my blog, Top 13 things to do alone in Japan.
17. Caravan days
While hotels and capsule hotels are a rage in Tokyo, not many opt for staying in a trailer. But as a female solo traveller, this is something you will enjoy.
The caravan, turned into an Airbnb, is near the bustling Harajuku neighbourhood, and is complete with sleek Japanese innovative designs, all amenities while also being relatively affordable. You cannot stay away from booking your stay here after looking at the interior and exterior pictures.
18. Book and beyond
If you have ever dreamt of sleeping in a room with just books (true bibliophiles will know what I am talking about), you can live in a bookshop! Book and beyond is a 2-1 bookstore capsule hotel in Ikebukuro, where beds are tucked away in bookshelves.
Two types of beds are available here. You either sleep behind a bookshelf or choose a cheaper option, which is bunk. Here you can stay way past your bedtime and read whatever book you pick up. You just need to switch on your lamp above your bed.
You can get a clearer picture of this accommodation here.
19. Food on a conveyor belt
Are you one of those people who finds it difficult to order food off a menu because you have no idea what it will look like? Well, I am, and if you are like me, Kura Sushi is just for you. There are several branches around the city, so find the one closest to the place you are staying. There is usually a waiting time here, so reach a little early.
You will see little plates of food going by you on a conveyor belt. Choose whatever looks appetizing to you and take it off the belt. You can also order food on your iPad at the table, and it comes to you on a different conveyor belt. The plates’ price is too low, so you can eat as much as you want without worrying about your pocket. But hold on, the best part is yet to come! For every five plates you order, they give you one chance to try your hand at their in-house Gachapon – a vending machine that dispenses capsule toys. You can get lucky on your first try or play after five more plates.
20. We all scream for ice-cream
Let’s end our list with something sweet, or is it? Located inside Namjatown, Ikebukuro, this ice cream museum called Icecream city offers some exciting flavours.
If you are courageous enough, try out the ‘raw horse meat’ flavor or the foie gras, or maybe some corn on the cob for you? What about some spicy pickled mango? Take your taste buds on an adventure here.
Now that we have unearthed 20 non-touristy things to do in Tokyo, maybe you should pack your bags and set off to discover these places. You can also check out my blog on Exploring Japan’s Cherry Blossoms alone. Happy travelling.
An introverted blogger who is looking to make unforgettable solo travel memories with one short life.