Things to Do in Tokyo
With its signature combination of neon-lit strips, Shinto shrines, and world-class cuisine, Tokyo is a city that can go from bustling to serene at the turn of an alley. Shinjuku, the city’s sprawling central district, encompasses the winding alleys of the historic Golden Gai neighborhood; the manicured gardens of Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden; and the red-light district of Kabukicho, where robots and samurais dance side by side in the Robot Restaurant. Nearby Tsukiji Fish Market and Kokugikan Sumo Stadium and Museum offer high-octane experiences, while the serene Asakusa Temple, Ueno Park, and Meiji Shrine—surrounded by 1,700-year-old cedar trees—provide a healthy dose of calm. Get your sightseeing in with panoramic city views from Tokyo Skytree, one of the world’s tallest buildings; shop ‘til you drop in Shibuya, Ginza Shopping District, and Harajuku, birthplace of “kawaii” culture; or opt for a cruise around Tokyo Bay or on the Sumida River, a truly idyllic experience during “sakura” (cherry blossom season). Alternatively, you can hang with the locals and go kart around Akihabara, one of the best places for electronic stores and gaming arcades. If you’re a nature lover, no visit to the capital of Japan is complete without heading to Nikko National Park and Mt. Fuji, a UNESCO World Heritage Site iconized by its snow-capped summit. The legendary mountain is a 2.5-hour car journey from Tokyo, making a visit to Mt. Fuji’s 5th Station—as well as on-the-way attractions such as Lake Ashi and the hot springs (onsen) of Hakone—achievable in a day.
- Language: Japanese
- Currency: JPY ¥
- TIme Zone: UTC (+08:00)
- Country Code: +81
- Best Time to Visit: Spring, Fall
When to Visit: Sakura (cherry blossom season) is indisputably the best, albeit busiest, time to visit Tokyo. The peak of the season varies each year according to the weather, but blooms are generally at their brightest from late March to early April. If you want to avoid the crowds, fall (September to November) is a great time to see Japan’s natural landscapes drenched in autumn colors.
Getting Around: Due to its status as the world’s largest city, Tokyo doesn’t lend itself well to walking. The best method of getting around is the metro, an efficient yet mind-boggling transport system of multiple branches. Make your life infinitely easier by getting a PASMO, a prepaid travel card that will save you from lining up at ticket machines and trying to decipher Japanese characters to determine ticket costs.
Tipping: In Tokyo, tipping is not customary, even though excellent service comes as standard. In restaurants, bars, and taxis, don’t be offended if your tip is refused — profuse thanks receive much more of a warm welcome.
You Might Not Know… For a unique cultural experience, don’t miss an early-morning tuna auction at Tsukiji Fish Market, where colossal tuna fish are snapped up for sushi in seconds. Viewing the free public auction is on a strict first-come, first-serve basis, so ensure you arrive at least two hours early to register.
The Sumida River surrounds Tokyo, and is a great place to go on a cruise or boat tour. Going under bridges, viewing the Tokyo Tower, and passing Shinto shrines are just some of the sights that you’ll see while riding on the Sumida River.
The Sumida River branches from the Arakawa River and into Tokyo Bay. Running 8 miles (27 kilometers) around the city, it passes under 26 bridges. If you can, go to the Sumida River Firework Festival, which is held during July each year, since there is nothing like seeing the spectacular explosion of lights against water. You can also cruise along the Sumida River to get to other destinations. One of the most popular rides is between the stunning Asakusa Temple and the Hamarikyu Gardens. This ride allows you to see cherry blossoms in full bloom along the river before you arrive to Hamarikyu, where there are meticulously kept, lush gardens.
This famous mountain station lies at the halfway point between the Yoshida Trail and the summit of Mount Fuji. Its easy access to public transportation makes it the most popular of the mountain’s four 5th stations—particularly during climbing season.
Situated some 2,300 meters above sea level, Mt Fuji’s 5th Station offers unobstructed views of the Fuji Five Lakes, as well as panoramic looks at Fujiyoshida City, Lake Yamanaka and Komitake Shrine. The station’s Yoshida Trail, which can take between five and seven hours to climb, is a favorite among hikers. It may be one of the most crowded summits, but epic sunrises make it worth the congestion.
The 47-foot (14-meter) tall bronze Buddha statue of Kotokuin (Great Buddha of Kamakura) is only the second tallest statue of Buddha in Japan though likely the most recognizable. The seated figure is that of Amitabha Buddha, worshipped by Japanese Buddhists as a deity of salvation. The statue was completed in 1252 after the site’s previous wooden Buddha and its hall were damaged in a tsunami in 1248. Hundreds of years later, you can still see traces of the original gold leafing. The identity of the artist who cast the statue remains a mystery.
The temple of Kotokuin where the Buddha statue resides falls under the Jodo Sect of Buddhism, the most widely practiced branch of the religion in Japan. While the Great Buddha is the real draw, visitors can tour the temple grounds to see the four bronze lotus petals originally cast as part of a pedestal for the Buddha, as well as the cornerstones of the hall that originally sheltered the statue.
With its neon lights, towering department stores, and nightclubs, the Ginza Shopping District is a chic, cosmopolitan adventure. You can catch a live Kabuki show, check out the latest Japanese film, or tour the most prestigious and innovative restaurants of Tokyo. And of course, there’s shopping!
Featuring the most exclusive stores and brands, like Louis Vuitton, Prada, and Chanel, this is window shopping at its finest. Highlights include the Sony Building and Hakuhinkan Toy Park. Another must-see attraction is the Wako Department Store, a Neo-Rennaisance-style building known for its impressive clock tower.
The Ginza Shopping District is also a great destination for entertainment. The Kabuki-za Theater presents traditional Kabuki Theatre daily. On the side streets of Ginza, there are clusters of art galleries, and then there’s the Ginza Cine Pathos, housing dozens of film theaters, small bars, and food-stalls built in a tunnel underneath Harumi-dori.
Located on the Island of Honshu, Lake Ashi, also known as Lake Ashinoko, is located inside of Japan's Hakone National Park. With Mt. Fuji as its backdrop, it is a dazzling view on the water. It is considered sacred by the Japanese and has a Shinto shrine at its base.
Take a boat ride, relax, and enjoy views of Mt. Komagatake and the lush greenery of the other surrounding mountains, or catch a spectacular view of Lake Ashi on one of the trails in Hakone National Park. One trail even leads from the summer palace of the former Imperial Family, talk about a sight fit for a queen!
See the so-called Nagano Alps from Japan's highest aerial tramway, the Komogatake Ropeway. The Ropeway opened in 1963 and is a popular way to take in one of the most stunning, scenic views in Japan. The Ropeway runs from the edge of Lake Ashi to the summit of Mount Komagatake, its namesake. The ropeway carries passengers 950 meters (3,116 feet), making it the highest vertical aerial tramway in the country. The ride soars through the clouds to provide views of Japan's highest mountain - Mt. Fuji, as well as the seven Izu Islands, Lake Ashinoko, and expansive coastline.
At Mt. Komogatake's summit, passengers off-load to a woodland area with a small shrine and numerous hiking trails to explore. Since the panoramic views are the highlight, it's recommended to only ride the Ropeway on clear days when the mountain summits can be spotted from the ground.
More Things to Do in Tokyo
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 Asakusa Temple combines majestic architecture, centers of worship, elaborate Japanese gardens, and traditional markets to give you a modern-day look at the history and culture of Japan.
Erected in the year 645 AD, in what was once an old fishing village, the Asakusa Temple was dedicated to the goddess of mercy, Kanon. Known as the Senso-ji Temple in Japan, it is located in the heart of Asakusa, known as the "low city," on the banks of the Sumida River. Stone-carved statues of Fujin (the Wind god) and Raijin (the Thunder god) guard the entrance of the temple, known as Kaminarimon or Thunder Gate. Next is the Hozomon Gate, leading to the shopping streets of Nakamise, filled with local vendors selling folk-crafts and Japanese snacks. There is also the Kannondo Hall, home of the stunning Asakusa shrine.
At 1,092 feet (333 meters) tall, Tokyo Tower is an impressive Japanese landmark that offers 360-degree views of the city. Housing an aquarium, two observation decks, a Shinto shrine, a wax museum, and the famous Foot-Town, Tokyo Tower is a great center for entertainment.
Built in 1958 and inspired by the Eiffel Tower, Tokyo Tower is the central feature of Tokyo. At night, the tower lights up, creating a beautiful glow throughout the city.
The first floor is home to an aquarium that has over 50,000 fish, a souvenir shop, restaurants, Club 333, and the first observatory. Next is the second floor, which houses the food court. Then there’s the wax museum and Guinness World Record Museum on the third floor. The fourth floor has an arcade center, and finally, on the top floor is the Main Observatory and the Amusement Park Roof Garden.
For kitschy souvenirs and trinkets to bring home as gifts or mementos of your time in Japan, there’s really only one place to shop, and that’s Nakamise Street. The name roughly translates to “Street of Inside Shops,” and you’ll find both sides lined with stores selling knickknacks, souvenirs and snacks.
The shopping street owes its existence to the Senso-ji Buddhist temple, dating back to the seventh century. The temple has drawn in enough devotees over the centuries to spawn a thriving commercial district. The shops once served as homes for the temple servants who cleaned the grounds, but now it’s wall to wall shops. Here you’ll find folding fans, kimonos and their accompanying wooden sandals, Edo-style colored glassware and the typical lineup of tourist trinkets. Save room in your stomach to sample some of the traditional Japanese snacks sold along the street, particularly the savory rice crackers, Azuki bean paste and sticky rice cakes.
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.
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.
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.
Omotesando is an attractive, well-groomed, tree-lined street between Shibuya and Minato in Tokyo. Designed as an entranceway to Meiji Shrine, the street pays homage to the deified spirits of Emperor Maiji and his wife, Empress Shoken.
In modern years, Omotesando has earned a reputation as one of the most fashion-forward neighborhoods in the world, with high-end shops all within close range of one another. Some of the brands featured in this area include Louis Vuitton, Prada and Dior. Due to its chic style, Omotesando is also a prime location for people-watching. Many of Tokyo's elite can be found shopping and dining here.
Ten years ago, a visit to the Roppongi district of Tokyo meant you were either visiting an embassy or going out to party with the foreigner community. While Roppongi remains one of Tokyo’s best nightlife districts, particularly with foreigners, the city of Tokyo has successfully broadened the appeal of Roppongi to include foreigners, locals and domestic tourists with a wider variety of entertainment options.
Perhaps the most influential and much-anticipated development project was of Roppongi Hills, a behemoth modern shopping and entertainment complex housed at the base of Mori Tower. Apart from the upscale shopping options, Roppongi Hills is home to the Mori Arts Center Gallery, Mori Art Museum and Tokyo City View, a viewing platform with 360-degree views from 820 feet (250 meters) above ground.
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.
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