The Best Tokyo Adventures Are Planned Accidents

Chad Thiele Updated April 16, 2019
Tokyo Alleys

I like the word adventure.

It conjures images like hiking through the dense jungle or free-climbing a steep rockface. Or diving the Great Barrier Reef.

Adventure is awesome. It’s what drives us.

We learn from our adventures. Develop new memories, experiences, and skills from the sights, sounds, and smells we discover on our adventures.

But planning a trip to Tokyo is hard; right?

What if I told you that after 22 years in Tokyo I’ve learned there is one simple thing you can do to have the most amazing adventures in Tokyo?

Where you’ll discover something unique and never have waste time planning it out.

Don’t Waste Time Planning

Don’t waste your precious time at that crazy tourist attraction. The ultra-busy, overcrowded places that — yes — are amazing — but will cost you your soul to enjoy.

Don’t try to find a step-by-step day trip plan.

Don’t try to map out every step of your journey.

Especially don’t try to schedule out every moment of the trip.

Not only do these things take a long time to set up, and you’re always going to feel like you could have done it better, but there will inevitably be a problem throwing off your plans.

And in a country where you probably can’t speak/read the language, you are almost guaranteed to run into problems with a strict plan.

So what should you do instead?

A Plan That Isn’t a Plan; Serendipity at It’s Best

Here’s what you do. And the reason at first may not be apparent, but you’ll understand soon.

By the way, this trick is when you’re already in Japan.

Ready?

#1 Pack a Bag

You’re going to want a few basic essentials. Things like money, a drink, a hand towel… maybe a snack.

Pack light. You’re not going on a dangerous hike through arctic bear country.

You want things that will help you out in an urban setting and the current season.

Also, you want a bag so when you discover interesting things and make purchases you have somewhere to store them without becoming a burden.

#2 Grab the Nearest Train

It’s almost time for the adventure to begin. Actually, in some ways, this could be the starting line.

It’s a simple step. I need you to:

  1. Walk to the nearest train station and get on a train. Pretty much any train will suffice
  2. Ride for any random number of stops
  3. Get off the train

#3 Explore the Train Station Area

Now the true adventure begins.

You think I’m joking, but I’m not. Every station will have something new for you to discover.

From a boutique souvenir store to an amazing ramen shop, or a mom ‘n pop izakaya that’s been in the family for decades.

Sometimes It Will Be Fun; Sometimes It Will Be Incredible

The streets around the train station range from dank, narrow alleys at the smallest stations, to remarkable atmosphere and character.

And they’re all different.

For example, get off at Nakano station and you’re greeted with a long corridor of shops under a brightly colored archway. At the end of this corridor is a geek mecca: The Broadway Mall — full of the most obscure collectibles.

Get off at Shibuya station and you’ll be lost in the labyrinth before figuring out how to even exit the station to find that famous “Shibuya Crossing.”

Or if you get off the train at Akishima station you’ll find packed back alleys outside one exit, and a nice shopping mall out the other exit (there’s a nice Harley Davidson store here too).

Pick the Station; Enjoy the Experience Just the Same

Okay,  maybe you’re the type of person where the idea of going to a random train station doesn’t seem like a great time. Maybe it even stresses you out a little.

That’s alright. Perhaps the following tactic can help. Because in the end we’re trying not to over plan the entire trip through and through.

From the comfort of your home, hotel, or Airbnb:

  1. Open Google Maps on  your smartphone
  2. Locate the train station nearest you
  3. Find another station along the same track
  4. Go there

But don’t spend time researching what’s there. Just go there. Let the ambiance… the sights, sounds, and smells draw you in.

Let the adventure take you wherever it wants you to go.

The Best Part

The magical thing about this technique is no matter how long you’ve been in Tokyo there will be something new to discover.

Take me for instance. I’ve been in Tokyo since 1996.

I know, it sounds impossible to me too. Being in Tokyo 22+ years has been incredible and wow has the time flown by.

Even after all this time, there is one thing I can always count on — train stations.

I know that no matter what, and without planning, I can go out with my wife, hop on a train, and create new memories together.

That’s what I want for you.

Get out there — create new memories.