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.
As Japan's highest mountain, the legendary Mt. Fuji (Fuji-san) stands 12,388 feet (3,776 meters) tall. Travelers from around the world head to Hakone National Park to see the mountain, and over 1 million of them hike all the way to the top each year for the 360-degree views of Lake Ashi, the Hakone mountains, and the Owakudani Valley.
Home to Japan’s Emperor, the Tokyo Imperial Palace occupies the site of the original Edo Castle (Edo-jō), the Tokugawa shogunate's castle, which was once the largest fortress in the world. Located in the center of Tokyo, the palace is surrounded by moats and serene gardens.
The must-see Senso-ji Temple (also known as Asakusa Temple or Asakusa Kannon Temple) combines architecture, centers of worship, Japanese gardens, and traditional markets to offer visitors a modern-day look at Japan’s rich history and culture. Erected in AD 645 in what was once an old fishing village, Senso-ji Temple was dedicated to Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy. Stone statues of Fujin (the Shinto wind god) and Raijin (the Shinto thunder god) guard the entrance, known as Kaminarimon or the Thunder Gate. Next is Hozomon Gate, which leads to Nakamise’s shopping streets, filled with vendors selling handicrafts and Japanese snacks. Don’t miss the Asakusa Shrine or Kannon-do Hall.
At 1,092 feet (333 meters) tall, Tokyo Tower is an impressive Japanese landmark offering 360-degree views of the city from its two observation decks. Built in 1958 from red and white latticed steel, the Eiffel Tower-inspired structure houses a wax museum, a Shinto Shrine, an aquarium, restaurants, and other entertainment spots.
The area surrounding Shibuya Station—famous for its busy streets, flashing neon advertisements, trendy boutiques, and teeming malls—ranks among Tokyo’s most energetic neighborhoods. Shibuya Crossing, one of the world’s busiest pedestrian intersections, has become somewhat of a tourist attraction in its own right.
The Meiji Shrine (Meiji Jingu) is the most important and popular Shinto shrine in Tokyo. Dedicated to the Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shōken, in 1926, the shrine comprises buildings of worship, gardens, and a forest where each tree was planted by a different citizen of Japan wanting to pay respects to the emperor. A highlight of the shrine is the Meiji Memorial Hall, where visitors find more than 80 murals dedicated to the emperor.
Since opening in 2012, the Tokyo Skytree has taken the title of Japan’s tallest building—and one of the tallest in the world—measuring an incredible 2,080 feet (634 meters) high. In addition to serving as a TV and radio broadcast tower, it has two observation decks affording spectacular views across Tokyo and the distant Mount Fuji.
The Tsukiji Fish Market is the largest seafood market in the world, handling more than 2,000 tons of marine products a day. Although the market wasn't originally intended to be a major tourist attraction when it opened in 1935, Tsukiji now regularly shows up on visitors’ lists of must-see destinations in Tokyo. Witnessing the fresh tuna auction before the sun rises is the primary draw.
One of the largest parks in Tokyo, Yoyogi Park(Yoyogi Koen) is a convenient place to relax before or after a stop at top city attractions, and it's got plenty of space for kids to run around. Unwind on the walking paths, or watch weekend street performers and cos-play performances at Yoyogi Park in the Japanese capital.
The dense Aokigahara Forest lies at the northwestern base of Mount Fuji, the iconic, near-symmetrical cone-shaped mountain that rises in eastern Japan. It holds the grim distinction of being the second-most popular destination for people intent on dying by suicide. Despite this, it’s a peaceful place to hike and enjoy nature.
More Things to Do in Tokyo
At 7,546 feet (2,300 meters), Mt. Fuji’s 5th Station affords incredible views over Fuji Five Lakes and Hakone National Park. Easily accessible by road, 5th Station lies at the midpoint of the Yoshida Trail to Mount Fuji’s summit; many hikers begin their ascent here.
In the shadow of Mount Fuji, Lake Ashi (Ashi-no-ko), is a scenic spot in Hakone National Park. Considered sacred by the Japanese, it is home to the famous Hakone Shinto shrine. Visitors come to see the shrine, take a boat out on the lake, or enjoy the many hiking trails in the area.
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.
Akihabara, also commonly known as “Electric Town,” is the go-to district in Tokyo for electronics—and a popular spot to immerse in anime and manga culture. The area’s hundreds of stores sell everything from computer parts to home goods, and north of Akihabara Station, you’ll also find video games and popular manga-related items.
The Edo-Tokyo Museum chronicles the development of Japan’s capital city, from its early days as a sleepy fishing village through the years of expansion and foreign trade wars to its transformation into a major metropolis. The museum building itself also draws visitors as a fine example of postmodern architecture.
In Shinjuku's Kabukicho district (entertainment and red light district), the surreal Robot Restaurant may be unlike anything you've ever seen. Its sci-fi Japanese cabaret show starring giant robots is loud and proud, both visually and audibly—taiko drums and techno music accompany flashing lights, multiple mirrors, and huge video screens. A sensorial extravaganza, the restaurant is no quiet night out.
Tokyo’s Harajuku district is known the world over for the youthful crowds that gather there to flaunt their wild fashions. This is where you can spot local teens dressed up in colorful and outlandish punk, goth, and anime costumes. But there’s even more to Harajuku than over-the-top street style.
Known for its impressive botanical garden, intricate Iemitsu mausoleum, and ornate Toshogu Shrine (a UNESCO World Heritage site), Nikko National Park is an area of incredible natural beauty with plenty to see and do. In addition to shrines and temples, the park is home to numerous lakes, elaborate bridges, excellent hiking trails, and two stunning waterfalls—all set against a backdrop of dramatic mountain scenery.
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.
That said, if you’re a Kitty fan or merely want a closer look at a facet of Japanese culture that’s create a worldwide phenomenon, an afternoon at Sanrio Puroland might be in order.
Set on the banks of Tokyo Bay, with great views of the city skyline, Odaiba Seaside Park is a man-made landscaped park and beach. It’s popular with locals and tourists who come to paddleboard, picnic, and relax in the peaceful surroundings.
Of all the rail stations in Japan’s capital, Tokyo Station (Tokyo Eki) is the most elegant—the neoclassical design of the station’s red-brick facade is said to have been inspired by Amsterdam Central Station. The station sits near the Imperial Palace grounds in Chiyoda Ward’s Marunouchi business district.
The well-curated Japanese Sword Museum (Token Hakubutsukan) 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.
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.
With its neon lights, towering department stores, and trendy nightclubs, Tokyo’s upscale shopping district of Ginza is a chic, cosmopolitan adventure. You can catch a Kabuki performance, check out the latest Japanese film or art exhibition, and dine at some of Tokyo’s best restaurants. And, then, of course, there’s the shopping.
Ueno Park is a public park in central Tokyo that’s home to several of the city’s top museums, including the Tokyo National Museum and the National Museum of Nature and Science. You’ll also find Ueno zoo, Tokyo’s first zoo, a boating lake, and other attractions for the whole family here.
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