Travel is about new experiences and new horizons. The last thing you should do in an unknown city is eat the same food as you eat at home, or do the same stuff you usually do on weekends. Live a little! Tokyo will blow your mind with its spectacular subcultures, its odd etiquette and its juxtaposition of ancient and new millennium. Here are just a few suggestions on how to spend your time in the Japanese capital.
1. Soak yourself to relaxation in a hot springs theme park
To the uninitiated, a Japanese onsen can be a bit confronting. You are literally bathing – naked – with total strangers. Most will have separate baths for men and women, but there are those that offer unisex bathing. At Tokyo's hugely popular Oedo-Onsen-Monogatari. This compelling theme park, perfect for stressed-out folks and foot-weary tourists features two enormous hot spring baths filled with water that is pumped from 1,400 metres beneath the ground.
There are also another five baths that are offered at various optimum temperatures so there is plenty of capacity for you to find your particular comfort zone. Designed to look like the Japan of 'yesteryear', Oedo Onsen is enchanting to the eye as well as calming for the body. While there, you can purchase food and drinks from the myriad restaurants and play mini games, have a massage or see a fortune teller. You wear a wristband that contains your locker key and features a barcode so all your expenses are charged to it and you don't have to carry your purse or wallet around. Shampoo, soap, hair dryers and slippers are provided.
Entry includes three hours of bathing, and the use of a yukata (cotton kimono) and towel. Etiquette is explained on brochures guests receive. Be aware that you are not permitted to enter if you have any kind of permanent or temporary tattoos or skin diseases or conditions and young children are able to accompany either parent.
2. Cuddle a hedgehog in a café
You've heard of cat cafes, where you can sip a latte while hanging out with a bunch of kitties, but in Tokyo, they take things to new levels all the time. How would you like to be on cuddling terms with a hedgehog? Not the cuddliest creatures, you might think, but for around $10 AUD, you can purchase an hour at ' Harry' to spend with 20 to 30 hedgehogs of various breeds. They serve drinks there (non-alcoholic) or you can bring in your own food and drinks.
Watch the hedgehogs catch up on nap time in their little glass tanks or simply hold one with all the love and compassion you can muster and it may just open up to you. You can even feed them their mealworms.
3. Shop for cheap knick-knacks and get an eyeful of the weird and wonderful
Tokyo is an exciting shopping destination because it's so diverse and unpredictable. You really never know what's going to take your interest (and your yen). At the budget end is a colourful precinct called Harajuku Takeshita. Takeshita is a little semi-claustrophobic street that is lined on both sides with shops that do a lively trade in fashion subcultures. For the full experience, go on a Friday where the place is teeming with cos players wearing their favourite anime costumes. Prepare to have your senses assaulted because the air is heavy with a fairy floss-like fragrance thanks to the many crepe vendors, and you'll be amazed at the sights and sounds. Splash out a few yen on some quirky and affordable Japanese fashion and accessories while you're there.
4. Explore the luxury shopping world of Ginza
One place you won't expect to find cheap, quirky or cute is Ginza, Tokyo's (and in fact, Japan's) priciest and most luxurious shopping and entertainment precinct. Rents are astronomical so you will only see the elite brands there. Window shopping is a popular pastime, particularly for those who want the Ginza experience without the hefty credit card bill at the end. It's the reason why the department store windows there are decorated in extravagant and sometimes quite bizarre style.
If you drool over stationery, then you have to go to Ito-ya which is an astonishing nine floors of difficult to find stationery products. They sell 1,800 different types of pencils and fountain pens, 50 types of globes and there is a wall featuring 1,000 papers of every imaginable colour and quality. The Mikimoto Boutique (famous for the world's finest cultured pearls) and one of Japans biggest toy stores, Hakuhinkan Toy Park are in Ginza. If toys aren't your desire, you might like to stop by De Beers to browse the exquisite, flawless diamonds.
5. So that's where those plastic foods come from!
Those delicious looking plastic food displays in Japanese restaurants all over the world mostly come from one place - Kappabashi in Tokyo. It's a street that's definitely worth your time if you like a bit of quirky window shopping. For sale there are mostly kitchen supplies meant for restaurants but walk into one of the shops and you'll be blown away by the kaleidoscopic appearance of the displays featuring individually wrapped plastic fried eggs, fruit slices, bread rolls, cheese, prawns, ice creams and all kinds of candy. You might also pick up some new Japanese tableware for your next home sushi party.
6. Have a good cry in a room that's made for it
Yes, you can check into a hotel that offers special 'crying rooms'. Created by the Mitsui Garden Yotsuya hotel to soothe the stresses of hard working Japanese women, the rooms are outfitted with complimentary 'cashmere-soft' tissues, warm eye masks, makeup remover and a selection of tear jerker films including Forrest Gump, to encourage those all-important tears to flow. The bed linen is extra comfortable and soft for pulling up around the neck and getting cosy with your emotions.
7. Get your Maccas fries with chocolate
Ok so Loaded Fries are available in McDonald's restaurants in Australia but what if you want to go next-level and try a sweet version? In Tokyo, you can! The company says that the cacao plus white chocolate combination "creates a wonderful salty and sweet harmonious taste". Anybody who enjoys salted caramel or who dips their popcorn in their ChocTop at the movies already knows that!
There seems to be no end of innovation, experimentation and celebration in the way Tokyo treats its residents – and tourists – to fabulous new experiences. The minute you get your plane tickets, you should make a list of all the crazy things you want to do there, and if it only contains standard fare, then you're missing the whole point of Tokyo!