Dubbed the busiest intersection in the world, the Shibuya Crossing is Tokyo’s epicenter of pedestrian crosswalks. Wait for the walking light to turn green for that’s when the magic begins. With all four crosswalks going green simultaneously, what you have is a fascinating not-to-miss scramble of people trying to get from one side to the other!
Tokyo’s Harajuku District famous for its contrasts. Here you can expect to find the Meiji-jingu, an ancient shrine that is an oasis of calm in bustling Shibuya. But once you step outside, you will encounter wild colorful teen fashion on display in the streets. Visit Harajuku on weekend afternoons for a perfectly entertaining stroll.
Asakusa is home to the oldest and most colorful temple in Tokyo – Senso-ji. No matter how many Japanese temples you will have seen by then, Senso-ji is definitely worth a visit. Enter the temple through the impressive Kaminari-mon gate, which leads to the picturesque Nakamise Street where you will find numerous stalls selling local snacks and souvenirs.
Tokyo’s Imperial Palace grounds and surrounding gardens are home to the Japanese emperor. Go here for some unique insights into the history of Japan, as well as a pleasant stroll in the surrounding park.
History buffs can take a journey back in time at the excellent Edo-Tokyo Museum, a great spot to learn about Japan’s history. And if this doesn’t fix your craving for Japanese culture, head over to the Tokyo National Museum for more art and culture.
Akihabara’s Electric Town area is a strip showcasing an assortment of electronics, gaming stores and anime. Bustling at any time of the day, the area is lit up by night, which makes for the perfect time to feel its electric vibe.
At the Tsukiji fish market, you can wander around and marvel at all the fish and diverse sea creatures you never imagined existed. And at Shinjuku you will find the spot that offers some of the most spectacular views of the Japanese capital: the Tokyo Government Metropolitan Building.
Tokyo is one of those destinations that belong on every serious traveler’s to-do list. Ever the pacesetter, Tokyo is full of economic drive, cultural flavor, architectural innovation and trendy subcultures. All this makes for one incomparable travel destination, one you’ll never forget.
Sumo is Japan’s national sport in which two wrestlers fight inside a sumo ring – and Tokyo’s Sumida area is famous for being home to Ryogoku District, the place at which all things sumo can be found. From the sumo arena, to numerous sumo stables, restaurants selling sumo stable food, and many other sumo related attractions, Ryogoku is literally the center of Japan’s sumo world.
Professional sumo has 6 divisions, the highest of which is Yokozuna. Each wrestler belongs to a registered sumo stable in which they live and train. Some stables allow visitors to watch sumo practices which typically take place in the morning.
Sumo events have been staged in the Ryogoku area for a very long time. However, until the beginning of the 20th century, Japan’s sumo tournaments were held outdoors at temples and shrines. The Tokyo Grand Sumo Tournament is held in May at the Ryogoku Kokugikan, Tokyo’s National Sumo Hall which also hosts a Sumo Museum. The tournament lasts 15 days, so plan your visit around this time.
Follow up your visit to the Sumo Museum with an even more fascinating museum – the Edo-Tokyo Museum. Situated in a striking building that resembles a traditional Japanese storage house, the Edo-Tokyo is a historical museum that offers insights into how ordinary people lived during the Edo Period, when the city of Tokyo was both one of the biggest and most developed in the world.
The Edo-Tokyo Museum offers an interactive learning experience on various aspects of earlier Tokyo, including the inhabitants’ way of life, Edo Period architecture, political climate, cultural heritage, commerce and more. The museum features many models of towns, figurines and life-sized figures that make it an interesting space to learn about how towns were constructed during Japan’s past.
Step inside the main exhibition hall and you will be immediately transported back to the heart of old Edo, at the Nihonbashi Bridge. This was the center of Edo and remains the place from which all distances in Japan are counted.
Move out of the Edo period and into the museum exhibits on modern Tokyo, which showcase the city’s development during the Meiji, Showa and Taisho periods. Here, the focus is on modern buildings and the modernization of infrastructure, which is reflected in detailed dioramas that depict the age.
The museum offers a mix of historical exhibits and modern technology through large dioramas that provide an overview of how Edo was like during its day, and when it began to develop into modern-day Tokyo. Take your time slowly meandering your way around the exhibits as you progress gradually from the Edo of the Shoguns to the modern-day Tokyo.
Some exhibits contain objects used in the stores and workshops of the time. You will love the incredible level of detail so be sure to bring your camera along. There are numerous picture-taking opportunities to be enjoyed here, including those of vehicles and other items used in the past in Tokyo. Pre-recorded audio tours are available, in addition to multilingual written displays.
One of Tokyo’s most amazing neighborhoods, Shinjuku is home to the busiest subway station on the planet, with more than two million people going through it each day. Shinjuku is also an affordable shopping district in Tokyo, which has a red light district, a famous gay hub and the marvelous Shinjuku Gyoen Gardens to enable an escape from the Tokyo bustle.
The Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden is a beautiful park that features several gardens: a Japanese traditional garden with a teahouse, a French garden and an English garden. This garden makes for a great spot for viewing cherry blossoms in Tokyo, when spring and autumn colors are especially beautiful.
Shinjuku is also home to the Tokyo Government Metropolitan Building. The building is popular for its observation decks which offer some of the best panoramic views over the Japanese capital and beyond. In favorable weather conditions, you will be able to see famous landmarks such as Mount Fuji, Tokyo Tower, Tokyo Skytree, Tokyo Dome and the Meiji Shrine.
Rising to 243 meters, the building comprises 2 towers each of which houses an observatory at a height of 202 meters. The towers and surrounding buildings house the offices and the assembly hall of Tokyo’s metropolitan government. Each observatory has a souvenir shop and café. The North Observatory remains open later at night, which makes it a popular spot for catching night views of the metropolis.
The Government Metropolitan Building was Tokyo’s tallest building until it was dethroned in 2007 by the Midtown Tower.
While in Shinjuku, also pay a visit to Kabukicho, the largest red light district in Tokyo that offers an endless array of nightlife entertainment opportunities. Here you will find adult entertainment venues, nightclubs and bars. Not far off is the Shinjuku ni-chome, Tokyo’s famous gay district which is home to between 200 to 300 gay bars and clubs.
If you love Japanese swords, you will enjoy a visit to the Japanese Sword Museum where you can see modern and antique swords on display, in addition to sword-making exhibits.
Shibuya is one of the most colorful and busy of Tokyo’s districts, a popular entertainment area full of dining, shopping and nightclub facilities. Fast, sparkling and futuristic, Shibuya is the site of colorful neon sights, lively karaoke clubs and the very latest of Tokyo fashion trends.
Shibuya is famous for its large intersection situated in front of the Hachiko Statue. A prominent Shibuya landmark, the intersection has been heavily decorated in glittering neon signs; giant video screens and becomes flooded with pedestrians each time the crossing turns green. During the Tokyo rush hour, the huge crosswalk is an incredible spectacle of thousands of pedestrians crossing the street all at once.
This amazing spectacle has made it a popular spot for taking photos and making movie scenes. The best spot from which you can watch this organized chaos is from a second-floor window that overlooks the crossing.
A local and tourist magnet, the Hachiko Statue is one of the most popular Tokyo meeting points. The statue was erected in honor of a dog that waited for his master each day in front of Shibuya Station, and continued to do so years after his master had passed away.
A center for youth fashion and culture, Shibuya’s streets are the birthplace of many of Japan’s fashion and entertainment trends. In particular Center Gai is a busy pedestrian zone in the heart of Shibuya which is lined with stores, boutiques and game centers. During the evenings, the street is crowded with young people off to night clubs, bars and restaurants or just hanging about.
But if you prefer a little tranquility in the midst of the Tokyo bustle, head over to the Meiji-jingu. This is a shrine in the Harajuku District of Shibuya, which is dedicated to the spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife, who took over the reins of the country after the fall of the 400-year long military rule known as the Shogunate. It was they who created what was to become modern Japan.
While their actual graves are in Kyoto, their spirits are enshrined at Meiji inside a structure found in one of Tokyo’s largest parks.
Standing in the middle of the park, it is easy to forget that you are in one of the world’s biggest cities. This is due to the serenity provided by the cedar trees, the gravel paths and the lush forest growth that conceals a shrine complex of plain wood and copper-roof buildings. The inner sanctuary itself is a serene and sober haven.
The site also hosts cafes, restaurants, and a treasure museum that displays objects owned by the Meiji emperor and empress. There is also a martial arts hall for practitioners of the traditional “budo” martial arts.
The souvenir shop at the Meiji shrine is located in the outer buildings and has the widest assortment of traditional amulets. The Japanese amulet comprises of a little bag that holds a small piece of paper with some Buddhist scripture written on it. It is said to work, but only if you believe.
The shrine borders Yoyogi Park, one of the popular public parks in Japan and is a major destination for Japanese New Year celebrations. Visitors can join the endless stream of locals who flock the Meiji shrine to pray for a successful new year.
Traditional Tokyo is alive and well in Asakusa, in particular, the brand of Japanese folk culture that was the hallmark of working class culture, and which symbolizes all that is friendly and neighborly to Tokyoites.
Asakusa is a temple town that flourished during the Edo period. It boasts an old Japan atmosphere that attracts many tourists throughout the year. Most tourists visit Asakusa during Japanese festivals such as the New Year.
When most people think of Japanese temples, Senso-ji is the one place that often comes to mind. The oldest temple in Tokyo, Senso-ji temple also goes by the name ‘Asakusa Kannon’ and comprises a Buddhist temple and a Shinto shrine which hosts festivals. The temple is the main building on the grounds and is dedicated to the goddess Kannon.
Kaminari-mon is a gate of the Senso-ji Temple. With its huge red lantern, the gate is a famous Asakusa landmark. The Chinese characters written on the lantern say “Kaminari-mon” which translates to “Thunder-gate”.
Another nearby attraction is the Nakamise-dori. During the Edo period, Nakamise-dori was the place to shop for special sweets and other novelties.
Today, Nakamise-dori is a pedestrian shopping street that leads from Kaminari-mon to the Senso-ji Temple. Here you will find numerous shops selling traditional Japanese foods and items lined up on both sides of the street. This makes for a great spot to shop for souvenirs. Visitors can buy some Japanese papers, dolls, fans, kimonos and a lot more.
You will also enjoy sampling the traditional Japanese snacks that are available here. Be sure to try the Ningyo-yaki which are small cakes formed in the shapes of doll faces. Other treats include the Kaminari-okoshi, which are colorful, crunchy snacks; Monjayaki, a Japanese-style pancake, Unagi dishes and Tempura.
Once you exit the Nakamise-dori, you will arrive at the temple proper. Walk through a gate that is guarded by the deities of wind and thunder up to the temple yard where you can purchase predictions of the future. Inside the temple are several book stands and a place where visitors can buy amulets, which make for great souvenirs.
While the temple traces its origins to a small fishing village, it got a boost when Tokugawa leyasu, the shogun who united Japan made it the place where supplicants should pray for the success of the Shogunate. However, the current buildings were rebuilt following World War II when almost everything was burned to the ground by American air raids.
For your tour of Senso-ji Temple, take a rickshaw, which is the popular way of seeing Asakusa. There are numerous rickshaws available around the Kaminari-mon gate.
During May, the temple grounds host the Sanja Matsuri, one of Tokyo’s biggest festivals. The annual festival is hosted at the Asakusa-jinja, a shrine situated adjacent to the Senso-ji Temple.
There are also other smaller festivals worth attending here such as the Hagoita-Ichi and those around the peony and chrysanthemum plants. During these festivals you can sample fried octopus, fried noodles and fried potatoes at food stands. Also attend the poetry readings and the children’s’ kabuki theater.
Other festivals worth visiting in Asakusa include the Japanese Lantern Fair. Here you will find merchants selling Japanese festival foods such as fried noodles, candied apples and chocolate-dipped bananas. There’s also the Karumeyaki festival that celebrates a honey-comb toffee, a crisp candy that became popular during the post-war era.
A visit to Asakusa is like stepping into another time. This is where ancient Japanese culture comes to life in an area that has a very traditional feel to it. Very few buildings in Japan survived the earthquakes and bombings of the last 80 years. And those that did are likely to be found in Asakusa. The atmosphere here is all about Japan pre-war traditional shops, houses, and ancient shrines and Geisha teahouses.
If your wandering takes you onto Asakusa’s Kannonura Street, you just might bump into a Geisha. Geishas are traditional Japanese entertainers famous for their kimonos and white makeup. To see a geisha performance of song, dance and music, you can visit a handful of Asakusa’s teahouses.
If you are curious about the Geisha way of life, Ginza is another place in Tokyo to gain insights into this Japanese tradition. In any case, Kannonura Street has a lovely traditional Japanese feel to it so do take a walk there.
Other neighborhood attractions include the Sumida Koen Park, which is situated along the Sumida River. This is one of the most popular spots in Tokyo for viewing cherry blossoms.
You will also enjoy a visit to the Yamamoto Sanbari store to see the soroban, a traditional Japanese calculating tool. Also visit the Taiko Drum Museum at Miyamoto Unosoke, which has a studio that teaches the playing of Taiko drums.
At the Taito City Traditional Crafts Museum you can see how wares were made during the Edo Period, including tortoiseshell jewelry, woodblock prints, pottery, combs and wigs.
On weekends, the museum offers traditional pottery making demonstrations and other craft exhibitions throughout the year including those for making traditional bamboo screens, wooden chest and other items typically found in Edo-era homes.
Kabuki is a traditional Japanese form of theater, which traces its roots back to the Edo Period. Recognized as one of the 3 major classical theaters in Japan, Kabuki is an art form that is rich in showmanship, and involves the use of elaborately designed costumes, striking make-up, outlandish wigs and most importantly, the exaggerated actions of the performance actors.
Kabuki originated in the early 17th century with interesting features such as the revolving stage. The stage revolves while shifting scenes in the play. This technique is known as mawari-butai and is one of the most famous characteristics of the kabuki stage. You should also find of interest the traditional Japanese music that accompanies the kabuki performances.
Part of the excitement of watching kabuki comes from the audience, who during the play will shout out the names of the actors. Some kabuki theaters offer audio guide players in English that you can rent to better follow the performance.
One of the best places to watch kabuki in Tokyo is at the Kabukiza Theater in Ginza. The theater regularly hosts popular performances so be sure to plan your visit to see one.
Visit the Kabukiza Theater to explore the behind-the-scenes machinery of ghosts, sudden appearances, scene shifts and other technology that is characteristic of this very special Japanese art form. Watching kabuki close up and getting an explanation of how its mechanics work is an experience that will create a lasting memory, whether or not you’re interested in theater or technology.
Another Ginza attraction is the Imperial Palace, which is home to one of the world’s most discreet royal families. Headed by the Japanese emperor, the Japanese royal family is more a symbolic figure for whom the Japanese hold great respect. Only in rare occasions does the emperor make a speech to the general public.
Visitors to the Imperial Palace can go on a leisurely stroll around the Japanese gardens that surround the palace. Plan your tour of the palace gardens during the spring cherry blossom season when they are especially beautiful, as well as the plum blossom which occurs in March and April. The palace gardens are also beautiful in autumn.
The inner buildings and gardens of the Imperial Palace are closed to the public except during the Emperor’s Birthday on December 23 and for the New Year’s Greeting on January 2. This is also when the Japanese royal family makes a public appearance. On the other hand, the palace gardens are open daily to the public, except on Mondays and Fridays, with guided tours available.
The Imperial Palace became the official residence of the Meiji Emperor in 1868 after the Shoguns lost their power. Destroyed by the Second World War bombings, the temple was rebuilt in the same traditional style in 1968.
For over 1,500 years, emperors have ruled over Japan – and they all came from the same family. Throughout the history of Japan, the power of the emperors was purely symbolic or limited for it was actually the Shoguns who ruled Japan. While the Japanese emperor today holds no real political power, he is a very strong spiritual figure for the Japanese people.
An elegant shopping quarter by day and a fantastic nightlife district by night, Ginza offers a unique mix of the trendy and traditional in Tokyo. At night Ginza’s main street Chao Dori resembles a jeweled box with sparkling and glittering neon signboards showcasing luxury brand buildings in a spectacle that is nothing short of breathtaking. Stroll the streets of Ginza by night to take in this amazing architecture.
Ginza is also famous as a shopping, dining and entertainment district, which houses many art galleries, boutiques, restaurants, cafes and night clubs.
A good time to visit Ginza is on weekend afternoons when the central Chuo Dori Street is closed off to automobile traffic, and transformed into a large pedestrian zone.
Japanese-style karaoke offers the ultimate experience in Tokyo nightlife and Ginza is a great area for patronizing Karaoke Bars. Sing in front of a crowd at a karaoke bar or rent a private room for just you and your friends to sing, eat and drink to your heart’s content. Brace yourself for an unforgettable, hilarious and fantastic time in Tokyo by night at a Ginza Karaoke bar.
Situated in central Tokyo, Akihabara is a large district in Tokyo that’s famous for its numerous electronics shops. Hundreds of electronics shops ranging from tiny one man stalls that specialize in a particular electronic component to the large electronic retailers line the main street, as well as the crowded side streets of Akihabara.
This is the spot to find the latest computers, newest cameras, mobile phones, video games, electronic parts, home appliances, as well as second-hand items. Here you can expect to find electronics that you will only see in your own country a year or two from now.
But you don’t have to be crazy about electronic gadgets to enjoy a visit to Akihabara, as there are so many other things that appeal to all sorts of interests. You can also visit just to see the striking architecture of skyscrapers blanketed with neon lights in a variety of contrasting colors.
While famous for being the best place in Tokyo to shop for electronic goods, Akihabara is also the epicenter of Japanese pop culture.
In recent years, Akihabara has gained the reputation of being the center of Japan’s manga and anime culture. Numerous shops and establishments devoted to the genres can be found dispersed among the district’s electronic stores. The stores also sell retro video games, card games, figurines and collectibles associated with the genre.
One good spot for purchasing manga in the area is at the Tokyo Anime Center. Situated in the Akihabara UDX building, the Anime Center is filled with lots of information on anime.
7. Tokyo National Museum
Tokyo National Museum is the largest and oldest of Japan’s top-class national museums. Originally established in 1972, the museum started at Yushima Seido Shrine before moving to its current location at Ueno Park.
The Tokyo National Museum is home to one of Japan’s best and largest collections of art and archeological artifacts. Comprising more than 110,000 individual items and close to 100 national treasures, at any one time the museum has on display approximately 4,000 different items from its permanent collection. Temporary exhibitions are also regularly held at the museum.
Its large museum complex comprises 6 separate buildings each of which specializes in different artworks and exhibitions. At the Honkan building you can view various Japanese artworks from ancient times to the nineteenth century, such as antique Buddhist statues, maps, painted sliding doors, scrolls and ceramics, as well as cultural items like costumes, masks, weapons and armor.
The Hyokeikan building is a good example of Western-style architecture from the Meiji Period and is primarily used to hold temporary exhibitions. The Toyokan building has galleries that display artifacts and art from Korea, China, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, Egypt and India; while the Heiseikan building houses exhibits on ancient Japanese cultures, in addition to special large scale exhibitions.
The Horyuji Homotsukan was designed to house a collection of religious objects that mainly comprise small intricate statues and copper relief images, which were donated by the Horyuji Temple. Kuroda Memorial Hall features a rotating collection of the paintings, sketches and other artwork by Kuroda Seiki, who is regarded as the father of modern Western-style painting in Japan.
The Tokyo National Museum also features a Japanese-style garden with teahouses, along with a number of cafés and shops spread out across the grounds. English information and audio guides are available for your tour of the Museum.
8. Rikugien Garden
The best time to visit Tokyo is during spring when the metropolis’ green spaces are dyed in the color of cherry blossoms. The appearance of the long-awaited pink blooms is a message that the harsh winter is finally ending. Because this famous part of spring in Japan can only be enjoyed for 2 weeks in the entire year, many go to view the cherry blossoms and feel the transition to a warmer season in their hearts.
The best spot in Tokyo for “hamami” or the viewing of cherry blossoms is arguably at the Rikugien Garden. Situated in Bunkyo-ku, Rikugien is widely regarded as Tokyo’s most beautiful Japanese landscape garden.
Rikugien was built around the 1700s for the fifth Tokugawa Shogun. Rikugien translates to “six poems garden” and has been designed to reproduce 88 miniature scenes from famous Japanese gardens. The Garden is a great example of an Edo Period strolling garden and features a big central pond surrounded by manmade hills and forested areas, all connected by a network of trails.
Rikugien Garden is wonderful to visit during spring when the different flowering trees and shrubs bloom around the garden, most notably the weeping cherry trees near the main gate. These typically bloom between late March and early April, while the azalea bushes planted along the shore of the central pond bloom between April and May.
Autumn is another great time to visit Rikugien, as this is when many maple trees transform the garden into one of the best autumn color spots in Tokyo. The views here are especially beautiful around the stream that runs around the Togetsukyo Bridge, by the Tsutsuji no Chaya teahouse, and from the Fujishirotoge viewpoint. The colors usually appear between late November and early December.
It should take you about one hour to cover the entire network of the spacious Rikugien Garden’s walking paths at a leisurely speed. The trails wind around the gardens, through open lawns and forests, leading up to a number of teahouses. The Fukiage Chaya teahouse situated at the northwestern shore of the pond makes for an ideal spot to have some tea and take a rest.
9. Happo-en Garden
Happo-en means “The Garden of Eight Views.” And when you visit Tokyo’s Happo-en Garden, you will quickly appreciate why the Japanese garden and teahouse deserves its reputation for beauty.
Situated in Tokyo’s Shirokanedai area, the Happo-en Garden is a traditional garden ideal for a visit by travelers who are curious about Japanese culture, those who want to enjoy a traditional Japanese tea ceremony or those just looking to sample traditional Japanese cuisine in unique environment.
With the backdrop of old Edo’s gentle hills and a natural stream running through it, the Garden measures roughly 33,000 square meters and boasts a long history going back 300 years. The site was originally the residence of a Samurai of the Edo Period.
Visitors can go on a stroll through the tree-lined paths of century old bonsai, maple and cherry trees, and take in the budding flowers and lush gardens that surround a tranquil pond. Most of the bonsai trees you find here are more than 100 years old, with one being 520 years old.
You can also enjoy a traditional Japanese tea-ceremony served by women in elaborate kimonos. Sip on some tasty matcha green tea while biting into the season’s confectionery. Thereafter, sample a sumptuous dinner at Thrush or Enju, a restaurant that overlooks the splendid gardens.
10. Tsukiji Fish Market
The most famous of Tokyo’s markets, Tsukiji is best known for housing the largest fish market in the world, which handles more than 2,000 tons of marine products each day. With over $15 million worth of fish and seafood sold here every day, Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market is also the largest seafood market in the world.
Founded in 1935, the Tsukiji Fish Market is situated at the edge of the Nihonbashi financial district. The market sits on a historic site that was the original food merchants’ quarter. Known as “the stomach of Tokyo” this was where housewives, cooks and restaurant owners would go to make their purchases. Today, the large wholesale Tsukiji market also stocks fruit and vegetable.
The Tsukiji Fish Market is a popular favorite among Tokyoites who want fresh seafood. Thousands of types of seafood get moved through the Tsukiji Fish Market on a daily basis. Bubbling in running water at the hundreds of stalls you will find piles of oysters, eels, shell fish, deep sea crabs and other small sea creatures.
However, the star of the Tsukiji Fish Market is tuna which is sold in fast, voiceless auctions that primarily involve hand movement signs. If you wish to watch Tokyo’s wholesale tuna auction, you will have to apply to the Osakan Fukyu Center. The number of visitors accepted at the tuna auction is limited to 120 a day.
The Tsukiji Fish Market comprises of 2 sections: the inner section at which tuna auctions are held and where you can tour with a guide; and the outer section where retailers and wholesalers sell to the general public and restaurants. This is where you will get the freshest and best sushi and sashimi in Tokyo.
Sit back at one of the numerous sushi counters at Tsukiji Fish Market. Forget everything you thought you knew about sushi, and instead watch and learn. Observe the masters as they slice fish caught just a few hours earlier with one perfect, dexterous caress of the knife. You will have arrived at Sushi Heaven.
The busy atmosphere of trucks, buyers haggling and sellers hurrying around is what makes Tsukiji a major tourist attraction. The market’s outdated delivery trucks are also an icon to many and are typically used as props in restaurants out to recreate the original Tsukiji atmosphere around Tokyo.
Outside the Tsukiji Fish Market are small alleys with charming shops that sell Japanese tea cups and bowls, green tea, dried fish and Japanese desserts that you can stock up on before heading to your next destination. Even if you don’t wish to buy anything, a stroll around this area will be worth your while.