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.
Kasai Rinkai Park, Tokyo’s largest park, opened in 1989 on Tokyo Bay, a beautiful area that overlooks the water and the city beyond. Built on reclaimed land, the park was developed with conservation and preservation in mind.
The Diamond and Flowers Ferris Wheel is by far the park’s most famous site, an iconic behemoth that sits 383 feet (117 meters) tall. Any trip to the park is incomplete without the 17-minute ride on the famous structure, as the views from the top encompass all of Tokyo and the surrounding areas, including Mt Fuji on a clear day.
Also on site is the Tokyo Sealife Aquarium, which features an all-glass dome that transports visitors straight into the sea with fish and other aquatic life swimming above, around and below them. There is also the Sea Bird Sanctuary, an outdoor preserve that takes up nearly one-third of the park.
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.
Happo-en means "beautiful from every angle." When visiting the Happo-en Garden in Tokyo, you’ll see that the name doesn’t even begin to describe this Japanese garden and teahouse.
Take a stroll through tree-lined paths of century old bonsai, cherry, and maple trees. Take in the lush gardens and budding flowers surrounding a tranquil pond. Enjoy a traditional tea-ceremony served by women in elaborate kimonos. Then, enjoy a romantic dinner at Enju or Thrush, one of the two restaurants overlooking the lovely gardens.
Located in the Kichijoji neighborhood of Tokho, Inokashira Park (more specifically the pond found within) was the first water source for Edo (now Tokyo) until a new water supply system was completed in 1898. The public park was established in 1917 and today is one of the city’s most popular and lively green spaces.
The long Inokashira Pond stretches east to west through the park, and tree-lined paths meander around it. Locals and visitors come to the park to picnic in the shade, rent paddle boats for a trip around the pond, feed the ducks or visit one of the park’s bigger attractions, a small zoo or the Ghibli Museum. On the weekends, local artists are often seen selling their wares while buskers perform for tips throughout the park. During spring, some 250 cherry trees surrounding the pond provide a stunning display of blossoms.
The symbol of the Asakusa neighborhood in Tokyo, Japan, the impressive, large, red Kaminarimon, or Thunder Gate, gives visitors a grand welcome to Senso-ji Temple (Asakusa Temple). Standing 38 feet tall (11.7 meters), Thunder Gate gets its powerful name from Raijin, the god of thunder, one of the two deities it honors. Four statues guard Thunder Gate: at the front, the Shinto gods of wind and thunder attract the most attention. The other two – a Buddhist god and goddess - rest at the reverse side of the gate. Under Kaminarimon, a giant red lantern draws the eye next. The fragile piece was restored and donated to the temple complex in August 2003 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the start of the Edo period. Kaminarimon’s history dates back to the year 941, when a military commander constructed the now iconic gate. Over the centuries, it has been destroyed by fire at least three times, and has always been rebuilt on the same ground.
Disneyland is to Mickey Mouse what Sanrio Puroland is to Hello Kitty. The indoor theme park on the western edge of Tokyo attracts 1.5 million visitors a year with its attractions, themed rides, restaurants and musicals based around the Sanrio company’s characters. Westerners may only be familiar with Hello Kitty, but Sanrio also came up with Jewelpet, My Melody and Cinnamoroll among others.
Sanrio Puroland opened in 1990 to mixed reviews, but with a boom in Hello Kitty’s popularity, it’s now one of the most popular attractions in Japan. The park’s hypercute highlights include a life-size version of Kitty’s house, a boat ride filled with Sanrio characters and three theaters with daily live stage productions. Most attractions are aimed at a decidedly young demographic, so if you’re traveling with teenagers, you might be better off at Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea.
It's not the biggest or most modern baseball stadium in Tokyo, but Meiji Jingu Stadium in Shinjuku is worth visiting for it's unique atmosphere and history. Opened in 1926, it's one of the few stadiums still in existence where Babe Ruth played (along with Lou Gehrig on a 1934, 22-game tour of Japan).
Today it's home to the Tokyo Yakult Swallows, as well as a popular host of many college match-ups. If you have time, it's an excellent place to watch a game. Because it is rather small nearly every seat is close to the field. Unlike in the US, Japanese baseball is a very rowdy interactive game for fans with organized chants, dancing and cheerleaders. The traditional way fans cheer for the Swallows is to open their umbrellas and sing a song, so be sure to come prepared!
More Things to Do in Tokyo
If you are looking for love, make your way to Tokyo Daijingu Shrine. Two sun goddesses and three gods of creation and growth are enshrined here. Together, these deities are known to play matchmaker. Famous, too, for serving as the location for the first traditional Shinto wedding ceremony, Tokyo Daijingu is believed to bless marriages. On weekends, Tokyoites and Japanese from all over the region line up here to worship and ask the deities for blessing in love and marriage.
Tokyo Daijingu Shrine was founded in 1880 in the resemblance of the famous Ise Jingo Shrine located in Mie Prefecture. The original Ise Jingo was a famous pilgrimage for Shinto Japanese in the 17th century. Today, still, many make the pilgrimage to this famous shrine. Emperor Meiji deigned the creation of Tokyo Daijingu to facilitate worship of the enshrined deities without making the long trip to Mie. Today, Tokyo Daijingu remains one of the five great shrines of Tokyo.
The Beni Fuji no Yu Onsen offers some of the best vantage points in the area. The large public bathhouse has both indoor baths and two rooftop ones, but no matter which pool you’re in, the views of Mt Fuji are stunning. The ones on the roof boast views of a zen garden and trees, as well as the majestic cone-shaped peak of Fuji in the distance. The outdoor baths are arguably best in the winter, when the hot, therapeutic water complements the cold air and snow-capped peak.
The onsen offers guests a multitude of services in addition to the baths. A restaurant serves local cuisine, while visitors can also purchase massages and beauty treatments. There is enough to do within the onsen that many people choose to spend an entire day here, making the unassuming onsen a true highlight of a trip to the Mt Fuji area.
Located in Tokyo Midtown within the city’s Art Triangle Roppongi, 21_21 Design Sight opened to the public in 2007 as a museum and exhibit space dedicated to all forms of visual design. The major art venue, housed within a concrete and glass structure, was the work of Pritzker Prize winner Tadao Ando in partnership with fashion designer Issey Miyake.
The name, inspired by the English term “20/20 vision,” was chosen to express the aim of the museum to generate and inspire forward-looking design. The museum houses rotating exhibitions and regularly hosts talks and workshops.
Sunshine 60 is a skyscraper in Ikebukuro with, you guessed it, sixty stories stretching 240 meters high. For a short while it was the tallest building in Japan until the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building surpassed it in 1991.
The observatory sits on the sixtieth floor. Getting up there is half the fun- the elevators in Sunshine 60 are some of the fastest in the world, whipping passengers from the lobby to the top floor at 600 meter per minute. Once you reach the top there are both indoor and outdoor observation decks. On a clear day you can see up to 100 kilometers. The view is particularly stunning at night. Be careful though- the open air deck can be quite windy!
Tokyo Disneyland opened to the public in 1983, making it the oldest Disney theme park outside of the United States. The park is modeled after the original in Anaheim, and you’ll find its rides and attractions spread out over seven themed areas.
World Bazaar serves as the entryway into the park and is similar to Main Street USA in other Magic Kingdom Parks, an area dominated by shops and restaurants. Adventureland is home to popular attractions like the Jungle Cruise and Pirates of the Caribbean. Westernland, similar to Frontierland in other parks, has an Old West theme with rides like Big Thunder Mountain and the Mark Twain Riverboat. Critter Country, one of the park’s smaller areas, has only one ride, Splash Mountain. Fantasyland, Toontown and Tomorrowland are all nearly carbon copies of the same areas in the US.
Seaside Top is the observation deck of the World Trade Center Tokyo, a towering 40 story building. The Hamamatsu-cho subway station exits directly into the building making it easy to exit, pay the ¥620 fee and hop in the elevator.
At the top you'll find a unique view of Tokyo Bay, other skyscrapers like the Tokyo Tower and Tokyo Sky Tree and even Mount Fuji on a good day. Display screens with light up buttons help you to determine exactly what you're looking at. The deck is usually not crowded so you can linger and enjoy the 360 degree views. The night view is considered particularly romantic, but keep in mind that the deck closes at 8:30.
This well-curated museum showcases the ancient art of sword making and is home to more than 150 artifacts. Swords, mountings, armor and metal work are beautifully displayed in this tiny Tokyo destination known as Token hakubutsukan by locals.
The four-story structure houses a gallery and bookstore, where items are available for purchase in a variety of languages. Displays offer visitors English translations with details on the design and use of swords, including some that date back more than 900 years.
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