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.
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!
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.
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.
The Studio Ghibli Museum houses art and animation from the world-class Hayao Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli, which produced the films Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, and Howl’s Moving Castle. With stand-out architecture, wonderful film showings, and great exhibits with stunning animation, this museum is a feast for the eyes.
Outside, a giant robot statue guards the Studio Ghibli Museum. The overall design of the museum is quirky and other-worldly, so that you feel like you are actually walking through an animated set.
The first floor of the museum houses its permanent collection and examines the history and culture of animation. The second floor has special exhibitions and films, showing both the work of Miyazaki and other celebrated animated films, like Toy Story and Wallace and Gromit.
More Things to Do in Tokyo
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Odaiba is a chain of man-made islands inside of the Tokyo Bay. With dazzling views of Mt Fuji, the Rainbow Bridge, and the bay, it is surrounded by Tokyo's beauty. A shopping and entertainment center known for its futuristic architecture and theme parks, Odaiba combines fashion-forward thinking with fun for an unforgettable experience.
The Ferris Wheel in Patel Town, is one of Odaiba's featured landmarks. At 377 feet (115 meters) high, it offers one of the best views of the city. Other architectural wonders include the Telecom Center, Fuji TV Building, and Tokyo Big Sight, known for their avant-garde design, and a replica of the Statue of Liberty.
For entertainment there's the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, the Aqua City shopping mall, and Decks Tokyo Beach, loaded with arcade games, boutiques, and a food theme park known as "Little Hong Kong."
The National Diet Building is the center of Japanese politics, as it houses both chambers of the Diet, or legislative arm: the House of Representatives, which meets in the left wing, and the House of Councillors, which meets in the right wing. Built in 1936, the building is constructed almost entirely of Japanese materials.
The building is iconic for its pyramid-shaped dome in the center of the complex, which made it the tallest building in Japan at completion. The interior is decorated with cultural artifacts and art pieces, such as bronze statues of the men who are credited with formulating Japan's first modern constitution. The building sits on land once inhabited by feudal lords, giving the spot even more historical significance. It is sometimes referred to as the House of Parliament or the Government building in Tokyo.
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.
There are many large rail stations in Tokyo, but none have quite the elegance and history of Tokyo Central Railway Station. The station sits near the Imperial Palace grounds in the Ginza district. The classical look of the main facade is fashioned after Amsterdam's main station. In 1921, Prime Minister Hara Takashi was assassinated at the south gates. Much of the station was damaged during World War II and is constantly being renovated and improved upon.
Nowadays the station is the busiest in all of Japan in terms of train volume with over 3000 trains passing through and 381,704 passengers every day. It's the starting point of many Shinkansen trains as well as JR Trains and the Tokyo Metro. It's an excellent place to people watch- just make sure to stay out of the way of the busy commuters!
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.
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.
Things to do near Tokyo
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