13 Unique Things to Do in Tokyo and Osaka for Every Kind of Traveller

13 Unique Things to Do in Tokyo and Osaka for Every Kind of Traveller

You’ll never run out of new things to do in Tokyo and Osaka. But if you want a one-of-a-kind experience, here’s where you can start.

​​Welcome to Japan, where tradition meets futuristic explosions of creativity. Apart from the usual tourist spots like high-end malls, renowned restaurants, and art museums, Japan offers plenty more unconventional things to do off-the-beaten track. 

Since it’s time to leap into experiences you won’t find anywhere else, we’ve put together a list of unique things to do in Tokyo and Osaka for your next adventure.

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Unique things to do in Tokyo

1. Visit the lucky cats at Gotoku-ji Temple

gotokuji temple tokyo maneki-neko

Image credit: Leung Cho Pan via Canva Pro

Known as the “cat temple,” Gotokuji Temple is home to maneki-neko, the Japanese word for “beckoning cat.” You’ve probably seen these adorable waving cats around; they’re sold all around the world as a symbol of good luck. 

Legend says that a cat saved a feudal lord from a tumultuous thunderstorm by beckoning him and his servants with a raised paw, urging them to seek shelter at the Gotokuji Temple. Nowadays, thousands of maneki-neko dot the property.

There are so many temples in the city that it’s no wonder it’s one of the most popular things to do in Tokyo. Other offbeat ones that you can visit: Sengakuji Temple, known for the graves of the famed 47 ronin; Kanayama Jinja Shrine, which hosts Japan’s famous penis festival; and Zojoji Temple, home to the garden of unborn children.

2. Explore the colourful world of poop

unko museum unique things to do in tokyo

Image credit: Roméo A.

Art museums are a dime a dozen, but what about museums dedicated to poop? We know this doesn’t sound like the most appealing way to spend a few hours, but we guarantee the experience is far from crappy. Few things to do in Tokyo capture the city’s wacky energy as well as Unko Museum.

Amazingly, this interactive museum has a fun and vibrant take on unko, or poop. From Instagrammable pastel-coloured toilets and poop-shaped figures to the arcade featuring all-poo-inspired games, we’re enamoured with this underrated gem in Tokyo.

3. Bring your Mario Kart fantasies to life

go karting tokyo unique things to do

Image credit: Ajay Murthy

Even go-karting in Tokyo is nothing of the ordinary. It’s not unusual to see scores of tourists in full costume speeding down the streets of Shinjuku and Shibuya. Somewhat of a dream come true to anyone who has played Mario Kart as a child (or as an adult), this is one of the best and most fun ways to go sightseeing in Tokyo. 

Pro tip: Go-karting is best experienced at night when the gaudy lights of the city make a dazzling backdrop for photos. Just keep in mind that you need an international driving permit to drive a go-kart in Japan.

📍Near to Citadines Central Shinjuku Tokyo and Citadines Shinjuku Tokyo

4. Train to be a samurai

samurai classes

Image credit: Oneinchpunch via Canva Pro

Samurai have long faded from history, but their art remains. In Tokyo, travellers can learn to wield a sword like these famous Japanese warriors in places like Samurai Theater Tokyo and Ninja Samurai Dojo. While you probably won’t be battle-ready after the class, you’ll learn the basic techniques of using a katana like a true samurai.

5. Watch a sumo wrestling match

sumo wrestling tournament things to do in tokyo

Image credit: Alessio Roversi

This is one of the best things to do in Tokyo for sport-loving travellers! Anyone who appreciates athletic prowess will no doubt be keen to see these incredibly powerful sumo wrestlers compete in Japan’s national sport. Even if you know nothing about this sport, the sheer strength, agility, and discipline of these martial artists will leave you in complete awe.

Sumo wrestling tournaments in Tokyo take place in January, May, and September in Ryogoku Kokugikan. Expect a fun and competitive atmosphere, with attendees waving colourful banners for their favourite wrestlers. If you’re in town during the off-season, watch sumo wrestling practices instead. Many stables allow sumo fans to watch the wrestlers practising for a few hours in the morning.  

Immerse yourself in the history of sumo wrestling at the Sumo Museum inside the stadium to admire sumo-related pieces, like nishiki-e prints of ancient wrestlers.

Then, end your day eating like a sumo champion at one of the chanko restaurants around the arena. Make sure you order a hearty bowl of chanko nabe, a protein- and veggie-filled soup that wrestlers typically savour in large quantities.

📍20-minute train ride from Ascott Marunouchi Tokyo

6. Familiarise yourself with the weird and wonderful world of Japanese cafes

There’s probably no place in Japan that provides a better — or weirder — coffee shop collection than Tokyo. Our pick? Vampire Café. If that sounds macabre, well, that’s exactly its draw.

This cafe in Ginza lets travellers indulge in their Interview With the Vampire fantasies, with dark Gothic furniture, blood-stained décor, and bloody drinks. (It’s not real blood, of course, but some are startlingly life-like.)

📍15-minute walk from Somerset Ginza East Tokyo

If a vampy experience isn’t your cup of tea, endless cafes line the streets of Tokyo. And we appreciate how each one is stranger than the last, from cheeky maid cafes to adorable animal cafes.

Also read: 8 Unique Cafes In Tokyo and Where to Find Them

7. Enjoy a soothing soak in an onsen

onsen woman japan

Image credit: Leung Cho Pan via Canva Pro

No trip to Japan is complete if you’ve not taken a bath at an onsen, especially during winter when it’s cold and snowy. Famous spa town Hakone is less than two hours away from Tokyo, a great day trip if you’re willing to venture a little bit out of the city. The seaside city of Atami, which is also known for onsens and shoguns, is even closer at just under an hour away.  

Travellers who’d rather stay in Tokyo can find natural hot spring pools in the city, such as Thermae-Yu in Shinjuku and Niwa no Yu in Nerima.

Ready to explore a different side of Japan? With six properties in Japan, get up to 30% off stays at ASR participating hotels and serviced residences in Japan when you book from now until 31 Dec 2022. Plus, enjoy complimentary WiFi, room upgrades and more benefits.

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Unique things to do in Osaka

8. Delight in Bunraku puppet theatre

bunkaru osaka theatre

Image credit: Kate Nevens

With the city being the original home of bunraku, catching a performance at the National Bunraku Center is a must-add to your Osaka itinerary. Bunraku, a traditional puppet drama, is highly entertaining, musical, and very visual. That means it’s one of the classic experiences that even non-Japanese speakers can fully enjoy and understand in its original form.  

9. Binge on iconic street food along Dotonbori

dotonbori things to do in osaka

Image credit: Juliana Barquero

Perhaps this isn’t among the most creative things to do in Osaka, but a food crawl in Dotonbori is definitely one of the things you must do at the nation’s kitchen. After all, the dazzling Dotonbori foodie scene is vibrant enough to stand on its own. Savour famous Osaka delights like takoyaki, yakisoba, and okonomiyaki with locals and fellow travellers.  

Plus, the backdrop of live music, arcades, and eye-catching neon lights add to the binge-eating experience. A Tonbori River Cruise down Dotonbori Canal is also available if you’d like to learn about the backstory of Dotonbori, or simply see the area from a different view.  

📍15-minute walk from Citadines Namba Osaka 

10. Sample fried maple leaves

minoh park

Image credit: blanscape via Canva Pro

Fall foliage paints the Japanese landscape in beautiful hues, but there’s an underrated part of autumn in Osaka that we love: deep-fried maple leaves. If you haven’t tried this delicious delicacy, then you’re missing out! Crispy maple leaves, or momiji tempura, are a speciality of Minoh. Minoh Park is a great place to sample this deep-fried treat, while enjoying Osaka’s natural scenery during your trip.

katsuoji temple daruma dolls

Image credit: Roméo A.

Trek the scenic four-kilometre trail from Minoh Park to the beautiful Katsuoji Temple. Tucked away in the lush mountains, this picturesque temple known as “the temple for winner’s luck” is a photographer’s dream.

Oh, and quirky daruma dolls fill the sprawling temple grounds. According to legend, wishes written on dolls in Katsuoji Temple have a knack for coming true. Thus, all the daruma dolls around the temple are a sign of endless prayers granted to the devout who pay homage to Katsuoji.

11. Make your own version of instant ramen

Raise your hand if you think cup noodles are worthy of a place in the foodie circuit! After all, not all of us are kitchen whizzes who can whip up an authentic bowl of ramen at home. If you’re the type of eater who enjoys the occasional (or frequent) cup of instant noodles, then make space in your itinerary to visit Osaka’s Cup Noodle Museum.  

Niche? Probably. But the Cup Noodle Museum is certainly an interesting stop, showcasing a crazy amount of instant ramen varieties that have made their way to public consumption over the years. And you can even mix your own original instant ramen. This is your once-in-a-lifetime chance to flex your expertise on cup noodles!

12. Experience old Osaka in Shinsekai

shinsekai unique things to do in osaka

Image credit: Robby McCullough

Travellers who want to experience a blast from the past must visit Shinsekai, a charm-filled district that feels frozen in post-war times. Walk down the alleys and embrace the nostalgia surrounded by retro shophouses, rustic kushikatsu diners, and cosy dive bars. Inspired by Paris, Shinsekai even features its own version of the Eiffel Tower: Tsutenkaku Tower, built in 1912 and overlooking a scenic view of Osaka.

When in Shinsekai, kushikatsu is a must-try. Many say this skewered delicacy of deep-fried meat and vegetables is Osaka’s most underrated dish, and we’re likely to agree. Shinsekai is the best place in Japan to get a taste, with numerous kushikatsu bars and restaurants lining the streets.

13. Explore Osaka on a vintage train

hankai tramway japan

Image credit: note thanun

Finally, discover the delightful sights of Osaka on the vintage Hankai Tramway, a streetcar that’s been running for more than 100 years. Even after a century of operation, this retro tram is still chugging along! Spend a lovely day riding the only tramway in Osaka and hit several tourist spots on the way, including the Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine, Myokokuji Temple, and Shinsekai’s Tsutenkaku Tower.

Also read: 16 Unique Things to Do in Japan That You Can’t Do Anywhere Else

Excited to try our list of things to do in Tokyo and Osaka? At these two popular cities in Japan, you won’t be disappointed, whether it’s your first or nth time. Happy travels! 

Wondering what else lies beyond the six ASR properties of Japan? Be on your next adventure beyond Japan while taking advantage of ASR’s biggest sale of the year!

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About Author

Celia Grace Nachura
Celia Grace Nachura

There are very few things Celia won’t do for a good story, but her favourite ones always involve the beach, animals, or any type of outdoor activity. She’s been writing for as long as she can remember, and can usually be found typing away at home with her cute dogs at her feet. Away from work, she spends most of her time trying out every hobby she can get her hands on, from running to crocheting to baking (she’s pretty okay at most things that don't involve cooking).