10 Unique Things To Do in Shinjuku, Tokyo

by Allie d'Almo  |  Published May 30, 2024

From its neon-lit nightlife to Tokyo’s most famous park, Shinjuku is crammed full of unique things to do. 

unique things to do Shinjuku Japan

Shinjuku never sleeps (Photo: Jaison Lin via Unsplash)

Shinjuku is, quite literally, the district that never sleeps. Located in the northwest of Tokyo, this business-shopping-entertainment district is a microcosm of the capital: commuters jostle alongside tourists, while skyscrapers sit alongside centuries-old yakitori stalls. With so much going on all day, every day, the problem isn’t so much finding ways to fill your time, it’s deciding what to skip. To help make the decision, we’ve cherry-picked ten of the most unique things to do in Shinjuku, Japan. 

Experience the world’s busiest train station

A staggering three million people pass through Shinjuku train station every day, making it the busiest station in the world. There are more than 200 exits and a mind-boggling number of platforms, which makes it one of the easiest places to get lost in the city too. It’s undeniably appealing for avid trainspotters, but amidst the chaos, there’s plenty to keep other types of travellers happy too. With four multi-storey shopping malls, a handful of department stores and some of the city’s most iconic stores, like Kinokuniya Bookstore, you can guarantee a good dose of retail and culinary therapy without even getting your hair wet if it rains.  

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Check out the cherry blossom in Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden 

The Japanese Garden at Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden (Photo: Allie D’Almo)

A short stroll from Shinjuku Station and slap-bang in the middle of the mayhem is one of Tokyo’s most peaceful spots. Originally the residence of a feudal lord during the Edo Period and later a botanical garden owned by the Imperial Royal Family, the park opened to the public after the war in the early 1950s. Today, it’s one of the capital’s largest and most popular parks for picnics and leisurely afternoon strolls. As well as manicured lawns and serene lakes, there are several gardens to explore, including a traditional Japanese landscape garden with islands, bridges and impressively groomed shrubs. It’s also home to more than a dozen varieties of cherry blossom, which bloom from late March to early April, making it a popular hanami (flower-watching) spot. 

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Catch a view of Mount Fuji for free at the Metropolitan Government Building Observatory

Tokyo isn’t short on skyscrapers, but most charge a fee for their views. Thriftier travellers should hotfoot to the Metropolitan Government Building Observatory, which offers sweeping views over the city as far as Mount Fuji, for free. The landmark building was built by Tange Kenzo in 1990 with twin towers inspired by those of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. At 243 metres tall, it was the tallest building in Tokyo until 2007. The building features two sweeping observation decks on the 45th floor, both open until 10:30 pm. For the best views, head here after sunset to see the city in all its twinkling glory. 

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Take a stroll down “Memory Lane” 

The narrow streets of Omoida Yokocho (Photo: Kenn Reynon via Unsplash)

Omoide Yokocho, also fondly known as “Memory Lane” and “Piss Alley” is a narrow alleyway home to a collection of teeny tiny bars, yakitori restaurants and street food stalls. It started life as an illegal drinking quarter in the 1940s and gained a reputation for its cheap drinks and cabaret-style hostess bars. Since the bars were too tiny for toilet facilities, punters would relieve themselves on nearby tracks – hence the less-than-favourable nickname. Thankfully, those days are long gone and visitors can visit freely without fears of getting their feet wet. Stop off at one of the many restaurants for local specialities like grilled freshwater eel, skewered meats and frosty beers. 

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Dine with Samurais 

Shinjuku’s infamous Robot Cafe used to be the ultimate stop for weird and wacky entertainment, but now that it’s closed for the foreseeable future, tourists have to travel elsewhere for kitschy kicks. Enter, the Samurai Restaurant. The two-hour show includes a simple bento box and two alcoholic drinks, complete with bright lights, lasers, over-the-top costumes and cartwheeling samurai. It’s impossible not to buy into the spectacle. 

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Grab a drink in the Golden Gai 

Located in the Kabukicho entertainment district of Shinjuku, the Golden Gai (Golden Block) is a block of six narrow alleyways crammed with low wooden buildings housing hole-in-the-wall bars. Originally famous for black market trading in the aftermath of World War II, it soon became popular with writers, artists and intellectuals who established member clubs here. Today, there are around 280 bars and eateries, some no larger than a wardrobe with just five or six seats. Some of the most popular stops include Kenzo’s Bar, Ace’s and Blue Square, though it’s hard to make a wrong decision. 

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Take a snap with Godzilla – and an animated cat 

One of three larger-than-life animated cats in Shinjuku (Photo: Allie D’Almo)

Based on Godzilla’s appearance in Godzilla vs. Mothra, this massive statue of one of Japan’s most famous cultural exports sits 50 metres above the city, the same height depicted in the Showa era films. It’s easy enough to spot the 80-ton head from down below, but for an even closer view, head to the aptly-named ‘Godzilla Terrace’ on the eighth floor of Hotel Gracery Shinjuku. Keep your eyes peeled for movement; he breathes smoke every now and then. Once you’ve had your fill, it’s worth taking a look at the district’s famous 3D billboards displaying cute, freakishly realistic animations. There are now three to see, but the first and most famous, appeared in 2017 and displays a larger-than-life cat who sleeps and strolls past pedestrians in a crystal clear 4k picture on a curved screen. 

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Hit a Homerun at Shinjuku Batting Centre 

At the Shinjuku Batting Centre, visitors can step into the shoes of their favourite baseball stars and experience the thrills of hitting a home run in Tokyo. As well as giving tourists the chance to experience a quintessentially Japanese pastime (baseball is Japan’s most popular sport), it offers a welcome break from traditional sightseeing. The centre is equipped with state-of-the-art pitching machines with adjustable speeds and ultra-realistic simulations to allow players to test their skills against fastballs, curveballs and sliders. Suitable for everyone from novices looking for batting practice to seasoned ballplayers, it’s an exhilarating experience for all. 

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Test your ninja skills at Ninja Trick House 

Ninka Trick House is one of the city’s most popular family-friendly attractions (Photo: Ninja Trick House)

This much-loved attraction gives visitors the chance to learn ninja techniques, and then put them to the test in a series of obstacle courses and challenges in a ninja-themed environment. Inside, aspiring ninjas are invited to pass under a passageway of vermillion tori gates and discover the secrets of this ancient art in a traditional tatami mat room. From mastering the art of shuriken throwing to navigating secret passages and trapdoors, adventurers of all ages are encouraged to embrace their “inner ninja” and travel back to ancient Japan. 

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Treat yourself to some “me time” at  a 24/7 spa 

Muscles aching from pounding the pavements all day? Make a beeline for Thermae-Yu, a haven of relaxation and rejuvenation amidst the urban hustle and bustle. This traditional Japanese onsen (hot spring) facility boasts both indoor and outdoor baths and a wide range of spa experiences, from carbonated baths to steam rooms. The dressing rooms are just as dreamy, equipped with high-end Japanese toiletries and a full-on beauty salon. Plus, it’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Bathing is nude and tattoos aren’t allowed. 

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