Things to Do in Tokyo to Avoid Tourist Traps

In 2021, Japan ranked number one on the Travel and Tourism Development Index (World Economic Forum). With an abundance of history, culture, and mouth-watering cuisine, it’s really no wonder why. As one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, Tokyo can be an overwhelming place to navigate, especially when trying to uncover the city’s hidden gems amidst. However, aside from the must-visit spots, you might be tempted to discover some “off-the-beaten-path” treasures.

Which places should you avoid? Are there any tourist traps in Tokyo? Where do locals like to go? Get ready to uncover Tokyo’s hidden gems and create unforgettable memories on your journey of discovery. We’ve listed 16 alternative things to do in Tokyo that is a great escape from the crowds and a way to dive deeper into Japanese culture and history. 

Why you should avoid tourist traps

When visiting a popular city like Tokyo, it’s easy to get caught up in the tourist traps that are designed to cater to the masses. These traps often leave visitors feeling like they missed out on the authentic experiences that make a city truly special.

Of course, there isn’t anything wrong with going to “tourist traps” in Tokyo. After all, you can’t leave Japan without ever visiting the Shibuya Crossing, eating Ichiran, or taking a peak at what makes Golden Gai so famous. However, tourist traps often come with inflated prices, long queues, and overcrowded spaces.

And if you are just visiting Japan for a few days, waiting hours for a viral spot may be underwhelming compared to going to lesser-known but locally loved places.

1. Instead of Tokyo Skytree: Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

In Shinjuku, on the 45th floor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, gaze out at Tokyo’s magnificent cityscape. On a clear day, you’ll even be able to see Mount Fuji. We recommend visiting at sunset to capture those fantastic shades of oranges and yellows and hang around for the nighttime view. The best part? It’s completely free! A great budget-friendly alternative to Shibuya Sky or Skytree, which typically requires advanced reservation (during the weekends) and costs around 2,500 yen.  

Check out: 20 Free Things to Do in Shibuya

2. Check out local festivals at Yoyogi Park

If you want to get a piece of what Tokyo life is really like, check out Yoyogi Park, lounge in the grass fields, picnic under the cherry blossom trees, spend the afternoon playing badminton (with the equipment you purchased from Daiso or Donki hote). Yoyogi is very popular among Tokyoites, and for good reason, it’s huge and has something for everyone. It’s also the perfect place for dog spotting at its dog park and if you feel so inclined, at the nearby “Dog Heart” you can rent a dog to walk. At Yoyogi there are multiple events held every month, from food stalls with dishes from around the world to dancing, you can check out their list of scheduled festivals here.  

3. Relax at Ueno Park

Ueno is a beautiful spot to spend the day and there’s an endless list of activities to do. From the Tokyo National Museum (which is huge) to seeing pandas at Ueno Zoo, to visiting Shinobazunoike Benten-do temple and eating Japanese street food. You can spend the whole day in Ueno or half a day – it’s up to you. The Shinobazunoike Benten-do temple is located on a little island over a pond with hundreds of lily pads giving Studio Ghibli vibes and just up the hill is yet another temple. We recommend taking a picnic or purchasing a bento box and exploring Ueno at your own pace.    

4. Ride a roller coaster in a shopping mall at Tokyo Dome City

If you’re a fan of baseball then Tokyo Dome may already be on your list, along with the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. But even if you don’t know the first thing about baseball, Tokyo Dome City has a lot to offer. Just next door to the stadium is a large shopping mall that’s hard to miss, with huge roller coasters running through it. What’s great about these roller coasters is that you pay per ride so you can decide which roller coasters you want to experience and just pay for that. In the meantime, there’s an abundance of restaurants, and shops, including a Jump Shop for anime and manga fans, an onsen and even an arcade. 

5. Relax in a tranquil Japanese garden at Koishikawa Korakuen

If you head out to Tokyo Dome City, we suggest also adding Koishikawa Korakuen to your list, which is just next door. This peaceful Japanese garden dates back to the 17th century. It has multiple ponds, small waterfalls, rice paddies and numerous turtles. At just 300 yen per ticket, it’s a lovely little escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. 

6. Take a boat from Asakusa to Hamarikyu Gardens 

Home to the oldest temple in Tokyo (Senso-ji, built in 645) Asakusa is sure to be on your list already. But did you know that from Asakusa you can take a boat to Hamarikyu Gardens or the Ryogoku area, famous for sumo wrestling? To Hamarikyu Gardens, the ticket includes an entrance fee to the gardens, and the journey takes approximately 40 minutes. In spring, the Sumida River is lined with cherry blossom trees and you’ll be right in the center, perfect for viewing. Taking a boat to the gardens is an excellent way to unwind after a busy day exploring Asakusa. Check out the boat’s website to view the timetable and purchase a ticket in advance.  

7. Shop for kitchen supplies at Kappabashi Dougu Street 

Looking for a Japanese chef knife, perhaps with your name engraved on it? Or are you looking for a traditional wooden bento box? Or perhaps a Japanese tea set? Kappabashi is a street well-known for its kitchen supplies, just a 5-minute walk from the bustling crowds of Asakusa. Kappabashi is the place to stock up on any Japanese kitchen supplies you’ve had your eye on. Prices range depending on the shop but you can definitely find a bargain or two. You’ll also find specialty stores, the price will be higher, but you definitely get what you pay for in terms of quality. 

8. Instead of TeamLab, Visit the Art Aquarium Museum in Ginza

While the immersive art facility can offer a mesmerizing experience, we’ve heard how some people felt that the entire thing is underwhelming compared to the price. If you loved the light displays at TeamLab in Odaiba, then you’re sure to love the new Art Aquarium Museum on the 8th floor of Ginza’s Mitsukoshi, a high-end shopping mall. Based on the concept of “evolving art” the aquarium is very unique, housing hundreds of goldfish amidst a light show. Adult tickets are 2,300 yen if purchased online in advance.

9. Go kayaking near Mount Mitake

Mount Mitake to the west of Tokyo is known for its beautiful autumn hiking routes but did you know you can also go white-water rafting, SUP boarding, and kayaking? A great way to cool down if you visit Japan during the summer months. Check the following website for more information and to book online.  

10. Take a train to explore Tokyo’s neighboring city, Yokohama

Just a 30-minute train ride from Shibuya station and you’ll arrive at Yokohama station. Yokohama is a port city that received a lot of influence from overseas over the years which can be seen in its unique architecture today. From Yokohama station, you can easily access Chinatown or Minato Mirai. Minato Mirai has a theme park where you pay per ride instead of an entrance fee, a Ferris wheel, and an events area next to the “red brick warehouse” where everything from beer festivals, and Christmas markets, to Pikachu festivals, are held. Take a look at what event is happening next on their events page

Check out: 10 Day Trips You Can Make from Tokyo

11. Take home a maneki-neko from Gotoku-ji temple 

Take the adorable cat train on the Setagaya line to Gotoku-ji temple where you’ll find thousands of lucky cat statues, maneki-neko. You can even purchase one to place on the temple grounds or take home with you.

The temple itself dates back to the Edo period and was financially backed by Naotaka Ii, the lord of the Hikone domain, who enshrined the spirit of the lucky cat he once encountered on his way home from hunting. The cat beckoned him to the temple where he struck up a conversation with the temple master. In doing so, he missed the thunderstorm and thanked his luck to the cat. Now you can find cats everywhere in Gotoku-ji, even in the woodwork. Take a look at the temple’s official homepage to see where you can spot cats engraved in the architecture. 

If you haven’t checked it out yet, read our comprehensive neighborhood guide to Shibuya!

12. Take a step back in history at Zojoji temple 

Zojoji is famous for being the grand temple sitting a stone’s throw away from Tokyo Tower. But aside from its picturesque exterior, this temple holds a lot of history, holding the mausoleums of multiple warlords and dating back to 1590 when it was relocated to its current location by a warlord, Tokugawa Ieyasu, who brought around the Edo period and made Tokyo the capital of Japan. Zojoji used to be far larger, with multiple schools on its ground, but unfortunately, most of that has been lost to time, war, and natural disasters. This is all except the front gates which have stood strong since 1590 and are the oldest wooden structure in Tokyo. To the side of the main building, you can also spot 1000 Jizo statues. These are small stone statues, often wearing knitted hats with colorful spinning flowers in front of them. These statues are in remembrance of stillborn babies and miscarriages. Parents can purchase items for the statue to remember their little ones. 

13. Instead of Ichiran, eat soba noodles at Jindaiji temple

To the west of Tokyo, you can find an old temple founded in 733 and rebuilt in 1919, that still has its 17th-century gate and holds an annual soba noodle festival in mid-November. On the temple grounds are well-preserved woodland groves with natural spring water and a bell tower, which was used in the olden days to tell people the time. Street vendors around the temple grounds sell delicious soba noodles, manju and dango. We recommend stopping by “Ikkyuan” for handmade soba noodles and delicate soba mochi. Next to Jindaiji temple is a botanical garden, a little nature escape to add to your trip. 

14. Drink tea at Yamamoto-tei in the Shibamata neighborhood 

For just 100 yen, you can enter a restored 1920s Japanese house that has a mix of both traditional Japanese architecture and design with some European influence. There is also a tranquil private garden and for an extra fee, you can purchase a tea and sweets set to enjoy while soaking up the views. In addition, on Sundays from 13:00 to 14:00 a performance with a traditional Japanese instrument called a “sou” takes place. The surrounding Shibamata neighborhood is well worth visiting also, with a traditional shopping street leading to an old temple. This neighborhood, bathed in history, is still off the radar for many tourists and is far less crowded than central Tokyo.   

15. Eat chanko nabe in Ryogoku 

Ever been curious about what a sumo wrestler eats? Chanko nabe is a type of hot pot with vegetables and meat served alongside rice, and it is a staple for sumo wrestlers. The Ryogoku area is a must-visit for sumo fans, as just out of the station, you’ll find the handprints of many famous sumo wrestlers preserved in stone and the stadium where many sumo matches take place. There are lots of sumo stables in the area and thus lots of chanko nabe restaurants. “Kawasaki Chanko” is the oldest chanko nabe restaurant in Tokyo which has been serving the dish for over 80 years! You’ll want to arrive early though as there tends to be a line, especially around tournament days. 

Top tip: When searching for a restaurant on Google Maps, instead of searching in English, search in Japanese, you’ll find a far larger selection. 


So, put on your explorer’s hat, grab your camera, and get ready to immerse yourself in the rich tapestry of Tokyo. Whether you’re strolling through the historic streets of Yanaka, savoring the flavors of a local izakaya, or participating in a traditional tea ceremony, each experience will create memories that will last a lifetime.

Have you visited any of these locations or done any of these activities? We’d love to hear about your experience, let us know in the comments. 

Want to learn Japanese in Tokyo?

Coto Academy offers short-term courses. Whether you’re just visiting Japan or looking for flexible Japanese classes to fit in between your busy work schedule, we have a course that will match your level, availability and preference!

If you want to study Japanese in Shibuya soon — or in our main Iidabashi school, fill out the form below (or contact us here), and our staff will get in touch!


Where can I go instead of Harajuku?

Try Shimokitazawa, a trendy neighborhood, a quick train ride away from Shinjuku station. This neighborhood is particularly famous for having many second-hand clothing stores. 

How many days should I spend in Tokyo?

Typically most tourists spend two weeks in Japan, leaving anywhere between three to five days for Tokyo – but it depends on just how much of Tokyo you want to see!

What makes Tokyo unique?

Despite being such a big city with a huge population, it is one of the wealthiest and safest cities in the world. It also has numerous world heritage sites and is the city with the most Michelin-star restaurants in the world (2022), some of which are very affordable.

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