Tokyo is the capital of Japan and, with 35 million people, the largest metropolitan area in the world. Japan is home to 68 Fortune 500 companies, with 47 located in Tokyo, the most of any city in the world (in comparison, New York City has only 18 Fortune 500 companies and Seoul has just 12).
As the capital of the Nation Tokyo is the financial nerve center of Japan and the place where it is all happening in Asia. Having rebuilt itself from nothing, Tokyo is now one of the most expensive cities in the world and a world showcase for technology. From its roots as an imitator of other countries, it is now a world innovator in everything technological.
Tokyo has something for everyone: busy shopping areas, famous nightlife, historical sights, quiet parks, and amazing scenery. Most visitors will find plenty to keep them busy, if they can find their way around the complex web of neighborhoods that make up Tokyo.
Here are the best things to do in Tokyo:
1. Harajuku And Omote Sando
Omotesando is a neighborhood in the Shibuya Ward of Tokyo located between Harajuku and Shibuya crossing, but much closer to Harajuku. The main street, a wide tree-lined boulevard, was created as the primary entrance to Meiji Shrine. Today the area is one of Japan’s high end shopping districts, featuring several major huge outlets for major brands. The street is known as as Tokyo’s Champs-Élysées, due to its resemblance to the street of this name in Paris.
2. Mt. Fuji – Day Trip
Mt. Fuji mainly open in early summer till early Autumn from late May till early September. Most of the people visit here at late night and then wait for the morning sun raise. The temperature here goes down to -5C in summer, a sweater is a must bring item. Besides, beers and tip bits and friends will cheer up your day trip to Mt. Fuji.
Ginza is a high-end shopping and fashion district, known as one of the most luxurious shopping areas in the world. Some of the big stores here include Chanel, Dior, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, the Sony showroom. It is also home to Tokyo’s most famous live theater, the Kabuki-za theater.
While Ginza’s main streets are lined with tall, modern stores and shops, the back alleys are much more interesting. Almost every alley is lined with small Japanese restaurants, with their traditional paper lanterns, and you can also discover some small gardens and shrines.
Historically, Ginza was a silver manufacturing district, surrounded by moats to defend the nearby Edo Castle. The grid pattern of the neighborhood was originally laid out nearly 400 years ago.
Ginza was also the setting for parts of the original Godzilla movie. In the film, Godzilla got pissed that the clock bell on the Wako Department Store in Ginza rang, so he destroyed both the clock and the store. Once he finished in Ginza, he crossed the railroad tracks, getting shocked on his way to Hibiya. Today a small Godzilla statue stands in Hibiya Chante Square, behind the Toho Building, which houses the company that owns the rights to Godzilla.
There is a lot to see and do in Odaiba. Its a man made island out near Tokyo bay. There is lots of shopping themed areas like little Hong Kong and Little Italy. Fuji TV is located there. You can ride a big Ferris wheel also there is an onsen too. You can spend an entire day just walking around here shopping and eating.
The best station to get off at is Tokyo Tele port. From Shinjuku station take the Saikyo Line and then transfer at Osaki station to the Rinkai Line and get off at Tokyo Teleport.
This is where you will find many buildings with typical Japanese architecture mixed with modern designs. I would suggest Sumida Park (隅田公園) – a nice place for Hanami (cherry blossoms viewing), if you are there during Spring.
Otherwise, visit these any time:
Sensoji (金龍山浅草寺) – a Buddhist temple dedicated to the Bodhisattva, Kannon (観音), or “Goddess of Mercy” as known to many.
Hanayashiki Themepark (花やしき) – is the oldest amusement park in Japan (since 1853). I think its rather expensive so don’t bother going in unless you are a die-hard fan for themeparks. No harm taking a picture with it though.
Taishou-kan (浅草大勝館) – a traditional Japanese theatre. Nice to visit if you understand Japanese plays.
Asahi Beer Headquarters – While the HQ is closed to public, no harm checking out Asahi Annex, a food and beverage place. Be prepared to pay though.
Jakotsuyu (蛇骨湯) – a natural Onsen to soak away stress and fatigue. A basic bath begins at 430yen. You deposit your shoes in a provided locker, buy coupons of your desired package from the vending machine at the door and go in to relax.
6. Sensoji Temple (Asakusa Kannon)
Sensoji Temple, located in Asakusa, is one of the city’s most colorful and popular Buddhist temples. The temple was originally completed in 645 AD, which makes it Tokyo’s oldest temple. The roots of the temple go back to 628, when two brothers apparently found a statue of the god Kannon in the nearby river, so the village chief erected a temple for the statue and the god it represented. The temple, like so many other relics in Tokyo, was destroyed by Allied bombing during World War II, but it was rebuilt to its former glory.
Upon entering the temple area, first you will pass through the Thunder Gate, a torii located near Asakusa Station. After this outer gate, you will wander through a 200+ meter (650 ft) shopping arcade, filled with souvenirs and food. Next you will walk through the Treasure House Gate to the temple’s large inner compound. Most Japanese walk straight up the stairs the the main temple building, launch some coin into the donation box, and say a few prayers before enjoying this peaceful spot
Some visitors then stop at the omikuji, stalls where you donate money, then shake a metal box filled with sticks. When a stick finally comes out of the tiny bottom hole, you open the corresponding drawer to reveal your fortune. Bad fortune for us English speakers, because the sticks, drawers, and fortunes are all in Japanese.
Around the temple, you will enjoy a quiet park-like area with green space, a five-story pagoda, some Buddhist statues, a few graves and even some restrooms. Many of the interpretive signs are in English and Japanese, so you can at least get some idea of the history.
7. Imperial Palace (Kokyo Gaien National Garden)
The Japanese Imperial Palace is home to the Emperor of Japan. I didn’t know they still had an Emperor after World War II, but the current Emperor is Hirohito’s oldest surviving son (Hirohito ruled before and during WWII and was likely responsible for millions of civilian deaths, but his name in Japan is Emperor Shōwa, meaning “abundant benevolence”). The Japanese line of succession for emperor excludes females, except in rare and temporary circumstances.
The Imperial Palace occupies the site of the ancient Edo Castle, which was established in the 1450s. It is said that construction of the castle involved the labor of some 300,000 men, and the massive complex had 38 gates. In 1868, the Japanese emperor moved the nation’s capital from Kyoto to Edo castle.
Over the next 70 years many of the old buildings were removed, damaged by earthquakes or fires, or destroyed by bombing during World War II. In the 1960s the main palace hall and residential areas were constructed.
The main palace area is closed to the public, except on 2 January and the Emperor’s birthday each year. Many of the palace’s huge gardens are open to the public, including the East Garden, the Kitanomaru park to the north of the palace, and the Kōkyo-gaien to the south near Tokyo Station.
8. Ueno Park and Zoo
Ueno Park, right across the street from Ueno Station, was constructed in 1873 during the Meiji period of Western-style development. The park sits on land that was once home to the Kan’ei-ji temple, destroyed in 1868 during the Boshin War. There are two historic strructures remaining from the temple: the five-storey pagoda (1639) and the Kiyomizu Kannondō (1631).
The park is home to several major museums and is famous for its 1200 cherry blossoms which bloom in April. Shinobazu Pond is full of lotus plants, birds and giant carp. Museums include the Tokyo National Museum (1872), National Museum of Nature and Science (1872), National Museum of Western Art (1959) and Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum (1926). Schools in the park include the Japan Academy (1879), Tokyo School of Fine Arts (1889), and Tokyo School of Music (1890). Other facilities include the Imperial Library (established 1872 and opened in Ueno Park in 1906), theTokyo Bunka Kaikan opera and ballet house (1961), and the Ueno Zoo (1882)
Attracting 10 million visitors a year, this is Japan’s most visited city park.
Shinjuku is not only the most crowded part of Tokyo, but it has a little something for everyone… especially if you like a wide variety of nightlife.
Shinjuku is a transit hub. It has the busiest train station in the world. Over 3.5 million people travel through this station every day.
Shinjuku is the heart of city government. While the national government is clustered around the Imperial Palace, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government is housed in the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku. The city offices occupy three buildings: the main 45-story tall structure, a 33 story building, and an 8 story building.
Shinjuku is for lovers. This area of town hosts the city’s largest red light district in Kabukicho, Tokyo’s gay district–the world’s largest–in Shinjuku Ni-chōme, and a geisha district in Kagurazaka.
Shinjuku is for Hanguk-in. Shin Okubo is home to a Korea Town with some 80,000 Koreans, mostly recent arrivals. Signs on storefronts are often in Hangul, Japanese and English, and the restaurants serve great kimchi, kimbap, and kalbi.
Shinjuku is for drinking. An area called Golden Gai boasts 200 tiny, run down bars packed into a few narrow alleys. This is a very popular place for drinks, music, and food, but many bars do not welcome strangers.
10. Tsukiji Market
Tsukiji Fish Market is the world’s largest fish market and is famous for its early morning tuna auctions, when some fish occasionally sell for almost $2,000,000 US. That’s right, in January 2013, a Tokyo sushi shop paid $1.76 million U.S. dollars for a 488-pound bluefin tuna, averaging $3,600 per pound!
Tsukiji is a massive market that sells some 400 different kinds of seafood bid on by 900 licensed dealers. The market employs over 60,000 people, and it generates US $7-8 billion in revenue each year.
Visitors often line up at 5:20 in the morning for the tours of the tuna auctions. The market now limits visitors to just 140 tourists a day during the auction times. Beyond the inner market, visitors can eat sushi at the small market known as Uogashi-Yokocho, or check out the huge Jogai market, where shops, grocery stores and restaurants lines streets filled with shoppers.
Akihabara Electric Town is known primarily for two things: it is the center of Japan’s consumer electronic culture, as well as the center point for much of the city’s anime and manga culture, including unusual “maid cafes.”
The electronics in the area are sold in huge megastores alongside small, locally owned shops. You can buy just about anything here including new and used cameras, computer parts, peripherals, video games, cellular phones, televisions, appliances and more.
The anime culture is much more interesting. Here you can find collectible anime and manga items like figures, games, DVDs, etc. The odd thing here is the maid cafes, where local high school girls, often in their official school uniforms, work as hostesses for lonely male customers.
12. Kamakura – Day Trip
If you are looking for a pleasant day trip that simple to pull off, you might consider taking a train to the town of Kamakura. Kamakura is on the coast about 1 hour from Tokyo (leaving from Shibuya station). Kamakura has a feel of an older Japan, with it’s many shrines and temples. The biggest attraction is probably the Great Buddha. Apparently the second largest in Japan.
The cost is about 890 yen from Shibuya to Kamakura Station.
13. Tokyo Tower
The Tokyo Tower, built in 1958, is the second tallest structure in Japan, behind Tokyo’s Skytree, which was just completed in 2012. The Tokyo Tower design was based off of Paris’ Eiffel Tower and was constructed of steel, much of which was scrap metal taken from US tanks damaged in the Korean War. When completed in 1958, Tokyo Tower was the tallest freestanding tower in the world.
Today, the Tokyo Tower remains a symbol of Tokyo, despite its being replaced by the much taller Tokyo Skytree. The main observation deck is located 150 meters (490 ft) above the ground and a “Special Observatory” is located at 250 meters (820 ft). Despite it being replaced by the Skytree, the Tokyo Tower still hosts antennas for nine TV stations and seven radio stations.
Cost to visit the main observatory is 820 Yen (about USD 10) and the cost for the special observatory is an additional 600 yen (almost USD 8).
This area is famous for its love hotels and its nightlife, which naturally go hand in hand. Shibuya is also home to the Meiji Shrine, and its surrounding forest; Shinjuku Gyoen (Sendagaya), former Imperial gardens; and Yoyogi Park, which provided lodging for contestants in the Tokyo Olympics.
Shibuya’s good bars include The Aldgate British Pub, Dubliners Irish Pub, Goodbeer Faucets, and The Hub. My favorite restaurant in Shibuya is Genki Sushi, a computerized made-to-order conveyor belt sushi restaurant. Of course, Starbucks is also famous for its views of the huge Shibuya Crossing intersection.
15. Meiji-Jingu Shrine
The large park where the shrine to the Meiji Emperor is located behind the JR Harajuku station. A short walk through the crowds (most of them are going shopping in nearby Omotesando Dori) found us in a wide gravel path, lined with massive trees. We passed under two massive cedar Tori gates and within minutes, the bustle of the city was replaced by the tranquility of the forest in Yoyogi Park. By the path we saw barrels of sake and wine, sadly lacking taps so they could be sampled. Lanterns and sconces in which fires could burn lined the ceremonial way, but were presently unlit.
At the Shrine, where the spirits of Emperor Meiji, and his Empress Shoken are venerated, visitors participate in traditional Shinto practices, washing at the well, making offerings at the main hall, buying charms, fortunes (Omikuji) and amulets, and writing wishes on wooden plates which are hung in the hope they will come true.
Meiji and Shoken ruled as Japan progressed from a feudal state to a modern nation. The shrine is a popular place to visit, especially at New Year, when millions make the journey.
16. Hamarikyu Garden
Hama-rikyu Gardens is a great park in central Tokyo, along the bay. It is very conveniently located, walking distance from Tsukiji Fish Market, Ginza, Hibiya Park, and Shimbashi station.
This large park has a unique history. It was the site of a 1600s villa belonging to the Shogun Tokugawa family. Here, within the large walled, moated compound, they hunted duck in uniquely designed duck blinds and drank tea along the water.
Today the garden contains remants of the Tokugagwa-era villa, such as the huge duck pond, but it also offers many other natural sights for visitors. The reconstructed tea house is a favorite for many visitors, as are the plum trees and cherry trees which blossom in spring.
Entrance is 300 Yen per person. Closed each year from December 29 to January 1.
To get to the park, use Shiodome Station or take the Sumida River water bus. The cost for the water bus is about 720 Yen each way, but you also have to pay to enter the park.
17. Disney Resort
Getting to Disneyland or Disney Sea Tokyo is really very easy from either Tokyo, Shinjuku or Narita Airport. From Tokyo, it takes about 45 minutes.
You can use the JR Keiyo line to Maihama station, and switch to the Disney resort Line. This little circular loop, covers about 5 km and 4 station stops.
For those going to DisneyLand, there is no need to get onto this internal monorail, as it is only a short walk from JR Maihama station to the Disneyland entrance. However, for those opting for Disney Sea, it is advisable to pay 200 yen to get you there.
18. Zojo-ji Temple & Shiba Park
Zojoji Temple is located just about a 5 mins walk from Tokyo Tower. The temple was founded in 1393 and it belong to the Jodo Buddhist Sect. Zojoji was destroyed in 1945 and were replaced by replicas.
The deepest impression of Zojoji Temple is not the structure but the rows of little statues of Jizobosatsu dressed in red knitted baby clothing, caps and holding a toy windmill. They are said to be the protector of the souls of stillborn child.
A cedar tree that was planted by President Ulysses S Grant in 1879 is found in the garden near the Sanmon. A huge temple bell casted in 1673 can be found in the garden.
Zojoji Temple is located just about a 5 mins walk from Tokyo Tower.
19. Metropolitan Government Office Building
The observation decks at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku offer some of the best views over Tokyo (along with the Tokyo Skytree and Tokyo Tower). There are two decks, one in the north tower and one in the south tower of the same building. Both decks are on the 45th floor of the main building, located 202 meters (662 ft) above the surrounding city. The south deck is said to offer better daytime views into the heart of the city, while the north deck is preferred at night by some.
South Observation Deck: Open 9:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (Closed 1st and 3rd Tuesday of each month)
North Observation Deck: 9:30 a.m. – 10:30 p.m. (Closed 2nd and 4th Monday of each month)
20. Sumida River
The Sumida River branches from the Arakawa River at Iwabuchi, flows north to south through Tokyo and finishes into Tokyo Bay. The river runs through Tokyo for 27 kilometres (16 miles), flows under 26 bridges spaced at about one bridge per kilometre and includes the Kanda and Shakujii rivers.
21. Hakone – Day Trip
Hot springs are not unique to Japan, but it is certainly a unique experience, especially if you’re going to a traditional ryokan!
Hakone is a hot spring area, and you can either drive there (~ 2 hours from Tokyo) or take the Romance Car.
There are plenty of hot springs to choose from, and you can either do a day trip, or have a overnight/weekend stay at the ryokans, which are traditional Japanese inns.
Best thing to do is to set off early in the morning to beat the crowds and traffic jams, then arrive in time for a kaiseki lunch (set lunch with many small dishes), and then spend the afternoon relaxing in the hot mineral waters.
When you check into the ryokan, most will provide a simple robe (yukata) and you should change into that before leaving the room.
After you get to the bathing area, leave your yukata and other belongings in a locker, then make sure you scrub yourself clean at the showers before you jump into the water. This is absolutely necessary as a courtesy to fellow bathers. Some inns provide toiletries at the shower area, but you should bring your own just in case, or if you prefer your own stuff. FYI, the shower area usually comes with little stools for you to sit while you shower.
Most inns will have an indoor and outdoor spring, but whatever it is you fancy, remember there is a code of etiquette.
One, the little square towel is for you to cover your face or place on top of your head while sitting in the water, but don’t put it anywhere else in an attempt to cover your modesty.
Two, do not stare!
22. Imperial Palace East Gardens
The Imperial Palace’s East Garden — or Kōkyo Higashi Gyoen in Japanese — were once key defenses of the Edo Castle, but are today public gardens in the heart of Tokyo. Here guests can visit a number of historical relics such as the palace moats, guard towers, barracks, gates and walls that made up the inner two rings of defenses for the emperor and his family.
The East Garden became a public park in 1968 after the new Imperial Residence was completed in the 1960s following the destruction of World War II. Today the area still houses some public buildings and adminsitrative facilities for the Imperial family such as the Imperial Tokagakudo Music Hall, the Music Department of the Board of Ceremonies of the Imperial Household, the Archives and Mausolea Department of the Imperial Household Agency, and the Museum of the Imperial Collections.
23. The Statue of Hachi (HACHI-KO)
This statue commemorates the loyal Akita dog of Professor Ueno. This dog walked the professor to and from the subway station for years, until the professor passed away. The dog continued to go to the station every day until his death.
24. Edo-Tokyo Museum
The Edo-Tokyo Museum was built to educate people about Tokyo’s history and its transformation from the old world of Edo to the modern metropolis it is today. They’ve recreated a half-size version of Nihonbashi Bridge and the Nakamura Theater in the center of the museum are impressive exhibits. The museum is quite attractive in this way, beyond exhibits themselves.
But of course, the exhibits are worthwhile and informative. The Edo exhibits feature artifacts from its earliest days with many displays about the culture and lives of the average person. Exhibits also focus on its growth and industries as you move from the Edo portion to the Tokyo Zone. The Tokyo area has information about a lot of local architecture and the industrial revolution, which of course was influential in shaping the city. It also has displays about the Great Kanto Earthquake that devastated the city, World War II (including the balloon bombs sent across the ocean to America, which I was really happy to see), and other interesting things, such as the Tokyo Olympics.
When I entered, I thought it didn’t look so big, but don’t be fooled! You can spend hours here! It’s very worthwhile as an introduction to Tokyo. It helps you to appreciate how far the city has come in a relatively short period of time to become what it is today.
Entrance is 600 yen.
Roppongi is famous for being a popular attraction for foreigners and an area where a lot of foreigners live or work. The area is energized with activity, things to do, places to go, and places to eat.
There is a Hard Rock Cafe located in Roppongi.
Not far from Roppongi you can get to Tokyo Tower.