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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.



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Sumida River (Sumida Gawa)
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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.

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Mt. Fuji 5th Station
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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.

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Mt. Fuji (Fuji-san)
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The legendary Mount Fuji is 12,388 feet tall (3,776 meters) and 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. Named after the Buddhist fire goddess Fuchi, Mount Fuji is a holy mountain that attracts over one million people annually to hike to the summit. The climbing season is from July to August, when the weather is the mildest.
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Robot Restaurant
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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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Lake Ashi (Ashi-no-ko)
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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!

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Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park
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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.

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Owakudani
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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.

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Hakone Ropeway
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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.

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Hakone Open-Air Museum
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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.

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More Things to Do in Tokyo

Aokigahara Forest

Aokigahara Forest

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The eerily quiet Aokigahara Forest calls out for lost souls. This forest, situated at the northwest base of Mount Fuji, has a long and storied history in Japanese mythology as a place of evil, demons, and paranormal activity. It’s not all ancient history, though; today, Aokigahara Forest sees more suicides per year than anywhere in the world other than the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

The forest has several nicknames, including the “Sea of Trees,” and – less flatteringly, “Suicide Forest.” Locals around the area say that people come into the forest for three reasons: hikers looking to see the splendid ice caves that dot the deep forest floor; people attracted to the stories and looking to see the carnage for themselves; and those people who do not plan to return. Suicide has become such a problem in the Aokigahara Forest that local authorizes have taken steps to curb it.

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Fuji Five Lakes (Fujigoko)

Fuji Five Lakes (Fujigoko)

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The Fuji Five Lakes are a group of lakes situated at the northern base of the majestic Mount Fuji, around 100 kilometers west of Tokyo. These lakes are Lake Motosu, Lake Shoji, Lake Sai, Lake Kawaguchi, and Lake Yamanaka. Along with its incredible scenery, the area offers ample opportunities for hiking, camping, and fishing. It also features hot springs, museums, and even one of Japan's largest and most popular amusement parks, Fuji-Q Highland. Lake Kawaguchi is easily accessed and offers a wealth of things for visitors to see and do. It’s also a great starting point for climbing Mount Fuji for those inclined to do so, and also popular with Tokyo locals escaping the heat and pace of the city, particularly during the summer. The largest lake is Yamanaka, while perhaps the most picturesque is the horseshoe-shaped Shōji. Elsewhere, Sai and Motosu are great spots to set up camp and enjoy water-based activities such as boating and fishing.

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Senso-ji Temple (Asakusa Temple)

Senso-ji Temple (Asakusa Temple)

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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.

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Meiji Shrine (Meiji Jingu)

Meiji Shrine (Meiji Jingu)

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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.

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Tokyo Imperial Palace

Tokyo Imperial Palace

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The Tokyo Imperial Palace is home to the head of state, and is where the Imperial Family lives. It is also the former site of the Edo Castle. Filled with gardens, ancient stone bridges, and museums, the Tokyo Imperial Palace is a beautiful, historical, and important cultural landmark in Japan. In front of the Imperial Palace, visitors can view the Nijubashi, two ancient, stone bridges that lead to the inner palace grounds. The inner palace grounds are not open to the public, except on January 2 and December 23, two days that commemorate the New Year and the Emperor's birthday. However, the Imperial East Gardens are open to the public, and stand at the foot of the hill where the foundation of the Edo Castle tower still remains. The gardens have a natural pond, with groomed trees and lush greenery.
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Tokyo Tower

Tokyo Tower

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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.

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Shibuya

Shibuya

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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.

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Akihabara

Akihabara

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Akihabara, also called Akihabara Electric Town, is the go-to district in Tokyo for electronics, anime and manga products. Hundreds of electronics stores line the neighborhood streets, selling everything from computer parts to home goods and ranging in size from small stalls to mainstream chains. North of Akihabara Station sit stores selling video games, popular manga comic books, card games, costumes and souvenirs.

In recent years, Akihabara has become famous for its "otaku" culture, or diehard anime and manga fans. It is a great place to people-watch and see "cosplay," short for costume play, in which fans dress up as their favorite characters in anime and manga. Numerous maid cafes are found in this area as well, where you’ll find a dining experience in which the servers dress as maids and other characters.

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Ueno Park (Ueno Koen)

Ueno Park (Ueno Koen)

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Ueno Park is a public park made up of museums, historical landmarks, and natural beauty. It houses the Tokyo National Museum, the National Science Museum, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Fine Art Gallery. Other popular attractions include the Tōshō-gū Shrine, a zoological garden, the Shinobazu Pond, and an abundance of cherry trees. The southern entrance of Ueno Park is guarded by a statue of Saigō Takamori, an influential samurai from the Meiji period. It stands in front of the Tokyo National Museum, which has about 100,000 art pieces and the National Science Museum, exhibiting life-size representations of different forms of life. Nearby is the Tōshō-gū Shrine which was built in 1617, across from the lovely Shinobazu Pond. Next to this is the Ueno Zoo, which houses rare and exotic wildlife. Cherry blossoms surround the zoo and the park, and during cherry blossom season it is where the Japanese hold hanami parties that celebrate these special trees.
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Ameyoko Shopping Street (Ameya-Yokocho)

Ameyoko Shopping Street (Ameya-Yokocho)

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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.

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Harajuku

Harajuku

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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.

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Shinjuku Golden Gai

Shinjuku Golden Gai

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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.

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Tokyo Skytree

Tokyo Skytree

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Opened in May 2012, Tokyo's newest landmark, the Tokyo Skytree, has entered the record books as the world's second tallest building. A broadcasting tower that houses a restaurant, a café and two observation decks, Tokyo Skytree towers above Tokyo at a height of 634 meters (2,080 feet). At 350 meters (1,148 feet) and 450 meters (1,476 feet) high, the Tokyo Skytree has the highest observation decks in Japan with unsurpassed views over Tokyo. To reach the highest observation deck, visitors can walk up a spiraling corridor that circles the tower and offers dizzying views across the city below.
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Tsukiji Fish Market

Tsukiji Fish Market

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The Tsukiji Fish Market is the largest wholesale fish market in the world. Located in central Tokyo, it handles over 2,000 tons of sea products a day. Because of the huge and rare fish available, and the busy atmosphere, the Tsukiji market is one of the most popular destinations in Tokyo. The tuna fish auction is especially bustling and fun to watch, as buyers and sellers shout and compete for better prices, but it is only open to visitors from 5:00am to 6:15am to keep the numbers of people at bay and to conduct business properly.
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