Set against a backdrop of neon lights, busy buzzy Tokyo offers a diverse wealth of entertainment options you won't find anywhere else on the planet. With traditional theater, sumo wrestling, modern museums and colorful theme parks and more to explore, there's no shortage of unforgettable experiences just waiting to be discovered in Japan's capital city.
Characterized by elaborate costumes, exquisite masks and amazing makeup artistry, a kabuki theater performance is one of the most quintessential ways to experience a taste of long-ago Japanese culture. With highly stylized elements of music and dance, this graceful art form traces its roots nearly four centuries to the Edo period. Today, the Kabukiza is one of the premiere venues in which to watch all-male casts perform dramatic shows of intrigue and interactions between courtesans and samurai.
Food and sake are typically available, and shouts and feedback from the audience are expected during the performance. Also, no need to worry about the language barrier; guests can simply rent a pair of headphones to enjoy an English translation of the two- to four-hour performance. If time is an issue, you can buy a ticket for an individual act as opposed to the entire show.
The national sport of Japan, sumo wrestling is alive and well at Ryogoku Kokugikan (also known as Ryogoku Sumo Hall). This indoor sports arena hosts three of the most prestigious yearly tournaments (in January, May and September), as well as professional wrestling competitions, boxing matches and concerts. The sumo tournaments usually start in the morning and proceed through skill and age levels to the championship matches later in the day.
Between bouts, check out the first-floor museum filled with fascinating sumo-related material and artifacts. Note: Tickets for tournaments tend to sell out quickly; be sure to plan ahead and purchase early.
New Yorkers will feel right at home in this famous intersection reminiscent of Times Square. Constantly populated with a cross-section of humanity, Shibuya Crossing offers a mélange of shopping, dining and entertainment for the masses. After navigating the thrilling "scramble" pedestrian crossing (all traffic stops and pedestrians inundate the intersection), which is reputed to be the busiest in the world, the trendy Shibuya 109 shopping center is well worth a wander through. Several statues — the Hachikō dog and a Moai statue — represent popular meeting places for local residents, making this a great spot for people-watching. Keep your camera charged and ready.
Families with young children in tow will definitely want to put Sanrio Puroland on the must-see list during any visit to Tokyo. The theme park is home to all things Hello Kitty with live performances throughout the day, experiential rides, a parade, gift shop, several restaurants and plenty of pink costumed characters to interact with.
The Ghibli Museum is a visual feast for those who adore animation. Enter and you will enjoy vivid colors and whimsy in a gorgeous space filled with glass domes, shining marble and fresco ceilings. Discover the characters and relish in the wonder of their worlds as you peek into the imagination of their creators. Don’t miss the theater in the basement where you can see an exclusive original animated film.
Yakatabune cruise on Sumida River
How would you like to travel in a boat designed for emperors back in the Heian Period (A.D. 794 to A.D. 1185)? The original yakatabune were imperial pleasure boats, intricately decorated with dragon heads and other animal motifs. Modern boats add air conditioning, heating, karaoke and fine Japanese cuisine to enjoy on your lunchtime or dinnertime tour. The Sumida River flows through Tokyo into Tokyo Bay, affording new and exciting views of this stunning city.
This area in central Tokyo is known for its many electronics stores as well as a host of shops devoted to anime and manga. Anime (think animation) are cartoons characterized by colorful graphics and characters. Manga is a style of Japanese comic book encompassing a range of themes: fantasy, horror, romance, sports and more. Americans refer to any comics that originate in Japan as manga. Anime and manga are popular among adults as well as children. This is a not-to-be-missed place for fans of this art form.
For an extra dose of whimsy, be sure to visit one of several “maid cafes” in the area where you will be served by wait staff in anime and maid costumes. Additionally, manga cafes (manga kissa) offer a place to browse the internet, read manga or watch an anime DVD.
Snoopy, Woodstock, Charlie Brown — the gang's all here. A surprising taste of Americana in Japan, the world's first Snoopy Museum opened in Tokyo in the spring 2016. Calling to mind the idyllic setting of its parent, the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, California, this all-ages attraction features original cartoon drawings of the lovable "Peanuts" characters and a rotating schedule of exhibits that changes every six months, including previously unseen artwork. See it while you can — the museum is planned to stay open for only 2 1/2 years.
Sample and celebrate Japan's eclectic musical scene with a visit to one of the legendary clubs in the Shibuya district, such as Vuenos (hip-hop), Club Asia (electronic), O-nest (indie) or Quattro (varied). And if you enjoy musical theater, you might want to check out the Takarazuka Revue, an all-female troupe that puts on Broadway-style productions as well as stories adapted from manga or traditional tales.
Whatever your taste, you're sure to find a venue that will fit the bill in Tokyo.
For more information on entertainment options in Tokyo, see the Official Tokyo Travel Guide: http://www.gotokyo.org/en/.
—Amy Lynch for Tokyo Convention & Visitors Bureau