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If you’re anything like me, a trip to Tokyo will shatter your expectations. The city is a mix of order and chaos, a place that values tradition yet tirelessly innovates. Each neighborhood has its own personality, the only constant being a vitality that permeates every corner of the metropolis.
It would take a lifetime to explore everything Tokyo has to offer. To help you get started, here are a few of my favorite teen-friendly activities in the world’s biggest city.
1. Get Lost in Ginza
Sometimes called the “Times Square of Tokyo,” brightly lit Ginza makes its New York City counterpart look dim by comparison. The shopping district is home to hundreds of restaurants, boutiques and most famously, department stores. While you’re here, be sure to explore multi-story retailers like Matsukazaya, Wako and Mitsukoshi, which are all home to fantastic food courts in their respective basements. You can find practically any type of food you want there, from elaborate bento boxes to traditional French pastries. Or, if you want to bring home some Japanese stationery (the best in the world, in my opinion), check out Itoya, with its 12 floors of pens, notepads and craft paper. On weekends between 12:00pm and 5:00pm, Ginza’s main street becomes a pedestrian only zone, making it the perfect place for an afternoon stroll.
2. Explore Scenic Asakusa
While most of modern Tokyo was built in the past several decades, the ancient district of Asakusa has its roots in the Edo period. Pass through the Kaminarimon Gate, built in 941, into a Tokyo from the past, where you’ll find a bustling open-air shopping street and the ancient Sensō-ji Temple, the oldest in Tokyo. For a real treat — and a donation of 100 yen — find out your future at a traditional o-mikuji (fortune telling) stall inside.
Asakusa feels like a self-contained town and the entire neighborhood is full of relics from all different eras. Don’t miss Hanayashiki, an adorably old-fashioned amusement park that’s Japan’s first and oldest. Once you’re done, get seiro soba (cold buckwheat noodles) at local lunch spot Takadaya and a drink at any of Asakusa’s tiny one-off coffee shops, like Sekai Cafe or Kappabashi Coffee.
3. Escape the City in Hamarikyu Gardens
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the world’s biggest city. Parks — a welcome respite — are few and far between in downtown Tokyo, where space is at a premium. But not too far from the action of Ginza are the lovely Hamarikyu Gardens, which were first built as a royal home in the 17th century, but nowadays are open to visitors. Hamarikyu’s beautifully landscaped paths are perfect for a quiet afternoon stroll. Stop by the teahouse in the middle of the central pond for matcha tea and traditional sweets.
4. Take a River Boat to Odaiba
Larger-than-life Odaiba, one of the less dense parts of town, feels a little like Dubai — part city, part playground — and is built on a giant artificial island in Tokyo Bay just a short ride down the Sumida River from Asakusa. Once you’re there, be sure to visit Miraikan, a state-of-the-art science museum home to ASIMO (one of the first walking robots) and dozens of hands-on exhibits. Other larger-than-life attractions in Odaiba include one of the world’s tallest Ferris wheels, a Venice-themed shopping mall and a replica of the Statue of Liberty.
5. Visit the Studio Ghibli Museum
If you’ve ever enjoyed any of Studio Ghibli’s iconic movies, such as Castle in the Sky, Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle, you’ll love visiting the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, a city west of downtown Tokyo. Take a day trip here to explore the movie-inspired building and grounds, watch unreleased Ghibli short films and learn more about one of the world’s most famous animation studios. If you have a younger sibling, take them to see the Cat Bus — a miniature from My Neighbour Totoro — and they can climb inside! The Ghibli Museum isn’t just for kids, though, and is fun for visitors of all ages.
6. Take in Amazing Views of the City — for Free
Ascending the 2,000-foot Sky Tree in Sumida is a worthy experience in itself. But if you want to see Tokyo from another angle — or don’t want to pay the hefty Sky Tree admission fee — there are plenty of buildings in Tokyo with free observation decks. Head to the 45th floor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building in Shinjuku for one with a restaurant, café and fantastic views of Mount Fuji.
Tokyo is as much defined by the past as it is by the future. The nerve center of Japan is not just a city — it is its own society, complete with its own traditions and a unique culture. Aside from visiting the city’s incredible sights, take time to see the little things that are quintessentially Tokyo, from one-of-a-kind vending machines and cat cafés to 100 yen stores, which can be a fun place to pick up some souvenirs for friends and family back home.
What are your favorite things to do in Tokyo? Leave your tips in the comments below.
Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.
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