Things to Do in Kanto
Located on the former site of the Ministry of Defense in Roppongi, Tokyo Midtown opened in 2007 as a multi-use entertainment district complete with apartments, office space, restaurants, shops, museums and park space. Tokyo Midtown comprises six different towers. The luxurious Ritz Carlton Tokyo occupies the top floors of Midtown Tower, while the Galleria building houses a four-floor shopping complex and the Suntory Museum of Art. The complex is also notably home to 21_21 Design Sight, a design gallery and workshop space created by architect Tadao Ando and designer Issey Miyake.
Tokyo Midtown also features two green spaces. Hinokicho Park, a former Edo-era private garden, is now a Japanese-style garden open to the public. Neighboring Midtown Garden is a popular picnicking spot, especially in late March and early April when its cherry blossoms are in bloom.
If you're burned out from sightseeing and just want to kickback and have some fun like the locals do, you'll find what you're looking for at Tokyo Dome City, a massive entertainment complex in the Bunkyo district. The area's centerpiece is the Tokyo Dome: the world's largest roofed baseball stadium. The dome, also known as The Egg, is the home stadium of the Yomiuri Giants and Nippon Ham. It can seat up to 55,000 people, and often fills up for popular matches. If you have a chance, catching a game offers a uniqe insight into Japanese sports culture.
Also in the area you'll find a small but fun amusement park (the roller coasters are a highlight), an arena for boxing and martial arts known as Karakuen Hall, a 43-floor hotel, bowling center, shops and eateries. A recent addition is the LaQua Spa onsen complex.
Shibuya is a popular shopping district and entertainment center in Tokyo. It is home to the eccentric fashions of Harajuku, department stores and boutiques, post-modern buildings, and many different museums. Known for its busy streets, flashing lights, and neon advertisements, Shibuya is a definite sight to see. Next to the Shibuya train station is the statue of Hachikō, a legendary dog that waited for his late master, every day in front of the station, for twelve years. The surrounding area is known as Hachikō Square, and is the most popular area for locals to meet.
Nearby is the Center Gai, a little street packed with stores, boutiques, department stores, restaurants, and arcades. Close to the Center Gai are a series of strange and fun museums, including the Bunkamura-dori, Tobacco and Salt Museum, and the Tokyo Electric Power Company Electric Energy Museum. There are many clubs and performance spaces in the area as well.
The Meiji Shrine is the most important and popular Shinto shrine in Tokyo. It was dedicated to the Emperor Meiji and his wife Empress Shōken in 1926. The shrine is made up of buildings of worship, forests, and gardens. Each tree in the Meiji Forest was planted by a different Japanese citizen wanting to pay his respects to the Emperor. Meiji is thought of as the man who helped modernize Japan, and though the shrine was originally bombed in WWII, the shrine was restored in 1958.
Harajuku is a section of Tokyo known for its wild fashions. This is where you can spot local teens on the weekends, dressed-up in colorful and outlandish punk, goth, and anime costumes. But there’s more to Harajuku than just its extreme fashions. Sights to see include the Meiji Shrine, Yoyogi Park, and the Ometasando and Takeshita-dori shopping streets. You can’t go to Harajuku without people-watching and shopping.
The Meiji Shrine is considered Tokyo’s most popular and sacred Shinto shrine. It houses the Meiji forest, stunning gardens, and a memorial hall dedicated to Emperor Meiji, the man who many credit to modernizing Japan. Then there’s Yoyogi Park, known for its cherry blossom trees and religious festivals.
Famous for its architecture and nightlife, this small neighborhood in the heart of Tokyo is comprised of narrow alleys and passages lined with roughly 200 informal bars, clubs and food stalls. Old school buildings are just a few feet wide, some of the most popular bars seat only five or seven people, and streets are so narrow that travelers must walk single file.
Despite these cramped quarters, Golden Gai is a popular destination for visitors to Tokyo and draws local artists, musicians and writers to local watering holes. With the highest number of bars per square meter in the world, this lively spot is the perfect place to pop in for a drink, meet some locals and experience the girt (and charm) of Tokyo night life. Travelers say most bars charge a cover, but once inside, drinks are cheap and strong.
You'll want to grab an (english language) map upon entering this large park that stretches across Shinjuku and Shibuya. There is a lot of ground to cover here.
The park is split into gardens of three distinct styles: French formal, English landscape and Japanese traditional. Not surprising the Japanese section is the most interesting and beautiful with waterlily ponds, artfully trimmed bushes and statues. The nearby Taiwan pavilion is an elegant spot for photos.
The original gardens date back to 1906, but were destroyed and rebuilt after the war. The diverse and well manicured gardens are great for wandering, taking photos or having an afternoon picnic. The garden has over 1500 cherry trees trees that burst into vivid blooms in late March or early April. It's a favorite spot for blossom viewing and can be very crowded during those times.
More Things to Do in Kanto
Considered to be Tokyo’s best green space, the Hama Rikyu Gardens offer a Central Park-like experience with Tokyo’s skyscrapers towering in the background. The sprawling garden originally served as the duck hunting grounds for Tokyo’s feudal lords more than 300 years ago. Today, the pools, bridges, ponds, tea houses and viewing pavilions are perfect for a quiet morning or afternoon outdoors.
Birdwatchers can spot the herons, ducks and other migrating birds who take up residence around the many ponds. For a different kind of wildlife spotting, visit the park’s most unique asset, a saltwater tide pool that rises and falls with the ocean. The teahouse on an island in the middle of the tidal pond is a pleasant place to sit back, relax and enjoy the scenery. Hama Rikyu certainly isn’t one of Tokyo’s best spots for cherry blossom viewing in spring, but you’ll still be able to see them and without the crowds of the city’s more popular viewing points.
The Hakone National Park, known as the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, is the most incredible outdoor-excursion in Japan. With relaxing hot-springs, Lake Ashi, and of course, Mt. Fuji, The Hakone National Park is a nature-lover's paradise.
Divided into four general areas, including the Hakone area, Mount Fuji area, Izu Peninsula, and the Izu Islands, there is much to see in this park. In Hakone, you’ll encounter Lake Ashi, also known as Lake Ashinoko, with Mt. Fuji as its backdrop. Another popular destination in Hakone is Mt. Kintoki, filled with the ruins and shrines of old-Japan.
Then, there is the legendary Mount Fuji. At 12,388 feet (3,776 meters), Mt. Fuji is Japan’s highest mountain. With spectacular, 360-degree views of Lake Ashinko, the Hakone mountains, and the Owakudani Valley, climbing Mt. Fuji is an unforgettable experience.
Located in Tokyo’s popular Shinjuku ward just north of the world’s busiest rail station, you’ll find a small alley called Omoide Yokocho. The historic alley, known locally as Memory Lane or Piss Alley depending on who you ask, is in fact one of Tokyo’s more authentic and atmospheric dining destinations.
Don’t let the negative nickname deter you. Today, it’s a bit of a misnomer anyway. In 1999, the entire alley was destroyed in a fire. It has since been rebuilt in much the same way and with the same old world Postwar Tokyo atmosphere, but with one notable exception. The alley now has bathrooms. The nickname “Piss Alley” harkens back to the days when no such facilities existed. As you walk down the narrow alley, you’ll see tiny bars and restaurants tightly packed together on either side with the occasional tattered red paper lantern lighting the way.
Travel about 60 miles (100 kilometers) out of Tokyo and into Kanagawa Prefecture and you’ll find yourself in the Great Boiling Valley of Owaku-dani. The live volcanic valley makes for one of the most enjoyable -- and smelliest -- day trips from the big city. The area has long appealed to domestic and foreign tourists for its beautiful scenery, hot springs, occasional scenic views of Mount Fiji and for black eggs, eggs that are hard boiled in the sulfurous waters, turning their shells black.
A short walking trail leads from the base of the Hakone Ropeway past bubbling sulfurous pools to a tourist stand where you can purchase black eggs. Local legend claims that eating a single egg will extend your life by seven years. From the Owaku-dani tourist station, you can either return on the Hakone Ropeway or continue to hike up to the peak of Mount Kamiyama and nearby Mount Komagatake. From there, a ropeway will ferry you down to beautiful Lake Ashi.
How did Tokyo become a bustling metropolis and leader in technology, innovation, and design? The Edo-Tokyo Museum chronicles Tokyo’s evolution from Edo, a small fishing village, to one of the most culturally and economically relevant cities of today. Featuring architecture, art, and special exhibitions from the 15th to early 19th century, this is a museum that you won’t want to miss.
Journey to the past as you visit the legendary Edo Castle, the historic Nihonbashi Bridge, and a reconstruction of the breathtaking Kabuki Theatre inside of the museum. Watch films in the Audio-visual Hall that cover the surreal experience of riding the Tokyo subways, or what it would be like if a boy from the future visited modern-day Tokyo.
An hour train ride west of Tokyo sits the mountainous area known as Hakone, an area known for its views of some of Japan’s most famous natural sites. Domestic and international tourists have been coming here for decades to gaze upon snowcapped Mt Fiji, Lake Ashi and the Great Boiling Valley. On a clear day, the best way to enjoy the sights is on the Hakone Ropeway, the second longest cable car in the world.
The 30-minute journey on the Swiss-made cable cars stops at three stations along the way; for the best photo op of Mt Fiji in the distance, hop of at Owakudani Station. Pack a swim suit for a dip in one of Japan’s famous onsen, volcanic-heated sulfuric hot springs. The entire ropeway extends 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) and hangs 427 feet (130 meters) above a large crater at its highest point.
Ameyoko Shopping Street, short for Ameya Yokocho (candy store alley), is one of Japan’s most popular shopping streets, famous throughout Tokyo for its cheap prices and the wide variety of products on offer.
As the name suggests, the alley was once filled with candy shops. In the years following World War II, candy shops gave way to black market stalls selling illegally imported American goods. Today, you won’t find much of either. What you will find is a range of clothing, accessories, cosmetics, spices and foods in more than 400 shops. For many locals, the New Year season means taking a shopping trip to Ameyoko to pick up traditional New Year’s foods like fish cakes, crab and roe. Even if you’re not in the market for Japanese food products, a stroll down Ameyoko Shopping Street still makes for an enjoyable experience. Soak up the atmosphere, pick up some souvenirs and sample some traditional street snacks from the local vendors.
Kabukicho, one of Tokyo’s busiest nightlife and red light districts, offers the foreign visitor nothing short of a bizarre cultural experience. An estimated 150,000 people pass through the district’s 200 clubs and 80 love hotels each day, and you’re much more likely to see groups of male work associates in business suits than couples or families. After dark, the district lights up with LED signs in every color covering nearly any open wall surface. Many of the clubs catering to executives and lonely husbands are themed, so you’ll see girls wandering around in full costume on their way to or from work.
While Kabukicho isn’t a place to take the kids, it isn’t nearly as promiscuous from the street as other red light districts around the world. Come enjoy the people watching after a dinner in one of the district’s many izakayas. Even the restaurants here are themed, allowing you to enjoy a meal locked up in a stone jail cell or in a cafe full of real cats.
The Open-Air Museum in the suburb of Hakone is an easy train ride from Tokyo and a great place to spend a sunny day. This sculpture park contains hundreds of works by both Japanese and Western artists ranging from elegant to surreal and spread out over 200 acres.
Bring your camera, because many surprising photo opportunities await you: a massive three-ton head turned on it's side, vibrant dancing geometric shapes and giant zombie hands that reach into the sky in an ode to the movie Shaun of the Dead. Start your tour at the rainbow colored stained glass tower with a staircase to the top for a view of the massive park. All of the sculptures are framed by naturalistic trees, fields and mountains. Kids (and possibly adults) will enjoy the massive Children's Pavilion with it's innovative and colorful play structures.
Hanayashiki in Tokyo is proud to lay claim to being the oldest amusement park in Japan. It opened in 1853 as a flower park, but is now packed with an array of eateries, shops, and theme park attractions, ranging from the oldest steel-track roller coaster in the country, to rideable robot pandas. Other rides include a merry-go-round, a small ferris wheel, a haunted house, a drop ride named the Space Shot, and a spinning one called Disk ‘O’. It also has a 3D theater and a range of attractions for smaller children.
Located in Tokyo’s historic Asakusa neighborhood, Hanayashiki is divided into three themed areas: Fantasy & Dreams, Mystery & Panic, and Full of Excitement. Naturally, Hanayashiki is especially popular with children, although adults will be sure to appreciate the sense of nostalgia that this traditional theme park evokes.
The Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku's Kabukicho district (red-light district) may well be unlike anything you’ve seen before. A sort of sci-fi Japanese cabaret starring giant robots, this show is loud and proud, both visually and audibly, with its flashing lights, multiple mirrors, and huge video screens accompanied by the sounds of taiko drums and pumping techno music.
There are four 90-minute shows every night, in which dancers in dazzling costumes perform alongside robots, giant pandas, dinosaurs and more. At one point, neon tanks come out to do battle with samurais and ninjas. It’s a surreal place that needs to be seen to be believed!
There are several options for attending the show. You can pre-purchase entrance tickets for several different time slots, or you can bundle the entrance ticket with a dinner package.
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