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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
More Things to Do in Tokyo
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.
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.
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.
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.
Kabukicho, one of Tokyo’s busiest nightlife and red light districts, offers the foreign visitor nothing short of a bizarre cultural experience. An estimated 150,000 people pass through the district’s 200 clubs and 80 love hotels each day, and you’re much more likely to see groups of male work associates in business suits than couples or families. After dark, the district lights up with LED signs in every color covering nearly any open wall surface. Many of the clubs catering to executives and lonely husbands are themed, so you’ll see girls wandering around in full costume on their way to or from work.
While Kabukicho isn’t a place to take the kids, it isn’t nearly as promiscuous from the street as other red light districts around the world. Come enjoy the people watching after a dinner in one of the district’s many izakayas. Even the restaurants here are themed, allowing you to enjoy a meal locked up in a stone jail cell or in a cafe full of real cats.
Located in Tokyo’s popular Shinjuku ward just north of the world’s busiest rail station, you’ll find a small alley called Omoide Yokocho. The historic alley, known locally as Memory Lane or Piss Alley depending on who you ask, is in fact one of Tokyo’s more authentic and atmospheric dining destinations.
Don’t let the negative nickname deter you. Today, it’s a bit of a misnomer anyway. In 1999, the entire alley was destroyed in a fire. It has since been rebuilt in much the same way and with the same old world Postwar Tokyo atmosphere, but with one notable exception. The alley now has bathrooms. The nickname “Piss Alley” harkens back to the days when no such facilities existed. As you walk down the narrow alley, you’ll see tiny bars and restaurants tightly packed together on either side with the occasional tattered red paper lantern lighting the way.
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.
The Kokugikan Sumo Stadium, also known as the Ryōgoku Kokugikan, is Tokyo’s largest indoor sports arena hosting sumo wrestling tournaments. Sumo is Japan’s most popular sport, so catch an incredible show with up to 10,000 other spectators and find out what sumo is all about.
Each Sumo tournament lasts fifteen days, and the matches begin with amateurs and end with advanced sumo wrestlers. Tournaments are held only six times a year, so grab a seat while you still can.
The Sumo Museum, known as Nihon Sumo Kyokai, is attached to the Kokugikan Sumo Stadium and is open year-round. It is a great place to learn about sumo’s important place in Japanese culture.
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!
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.
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.
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