Tokyo, the capital city of Japan is recognized as one of the top metropolises of the world. This marvellous city accommodates and attracts tourists of all sorts from all over the globe, offering activities and attractions from Japanese traditions to the latest entertainments. Each ward is appealing in its own way, and each one marks an unforgettable experience. With virtually unlimited sights to choose from, we have picked out the top 15 things to do that you must experience in Tokyo!
1. Observe the Cityscape from the Tokyo Skytree
The new icon of Japan is standing tall at 634m since it opened in 2012, and it is definitely worth your visit when travelling in Tokyo! The new television broadcasting tower is the tallest building in Japan, and it watches over the whole of Tokyo. Reaching the two observation decks at 350m and 450m heights will give you a spectacular 360 degree panoramic view of the city and beyond. The Skytree is also open from morning to night, so visitors can observe the change of sunlight over Tokyo with time. Some visitors might be interested in the French-Japanese fusion cuisine served at the middle floor, where you can dine with a stunning view. Those looking for a cheaper option will have a great time at the huge shopping mall plus aquarium at the base of the Skytree. Make Tokyo Skytree a priority on your travel list!
2. Walk and Watch the Shibuya Crossing
Known also as The Scramble, this crossing is said to be the busiest intersection in the world. With up to 2,500 crossing the streets together during rush hours, its existence demonstrates what a modern populated city is. Walking through the crossing for the first time is undoubtedly exciting and nerve-wracking, until you witness the extreme ninja skills everyone seem to possess as no one ever runs into each other. After surviving it yourself, try to net a 2nd floor seat at the nearby Starbucks and watch this minute-long human scramble on loop. You have yet to experience modern Tokyo until you have walked The Scramble in the Shibuya Shopping district.
Photo: IQRemix on Flickr
3. Visit Tokyo’s Oldest Temple in Asakusa
When you’re in Tokyo, visit Asakusa to get a feel of a traditional town. This extremely popular tourist location has the world famous Sensoji temple, Tokyo’s oldest temple (built in 645) with the two iconic massive lanterns hanging at the gates. Walk through the gates and you will find yourself staring at a huge crowd of visitors on the Nakamise shopping street. From traditional snacks to Japanese fans, yukata to print T-shirts, Asakusa is great for souvenir shopping if you’re looking to bring back gifts with a Japanese taste. The Tokyo Skytree is also visible and a walk-able distance from Asakusa!
4. Get Lost in Shinjuku Station
Whether on purpose or not, getting lost in Shinjuku Station is another of the “I was in Tokyo!” experiences you must try. This station, jointly operated by five railway companies with 12 lines going through, is the world’s busiest station. With more than 3.5 million passengers per day and 36 platforms in the station, you can imagine how chaotically impressive it must be. Trying to arrange a meet up at one of the 200 exits in the station without being specific is both a challenge and a mistake, but it will be a shared experience at the world’s busiest (and most confusing) station to remember as part of your Tokyo trip.
5. Contrast Tradition with the Present at Meiji Shrine and Yoyogi Park
I always visit Meiji Jingu (Meiji Shrine) and Yoyogi Park together as a combo. They are right next to each other, for starters. Meiji Jingu is the famous shrine dedicated to the spirits of passed Emperor Meiji and his wife. Occasionally you will witness a traditional Japanese wedding taking place here too! On the other hand, Yoyogi Park is a massive nature park where fans of all sorts of outdoor hobbies gather to share and express themselves. Volleyball, skateboarding, Yo-yo, Rockabilly Greaser dancers (yep, not kidding about the last one!)…Visit the shrine to experience the tradition. Then stroll through the park to witness all the passionate gatherings. They are two unique sides of Japan existing together, and you can see them both in one go!
6. Embrace the Otaku-ness in Akihabara
The electric town of Tokyo is world-renowned as the otaku/geek paradise. Fans of manga, anime, video games, toys and/or idols in any country will find themselves enjoying their time in this concentrated district. You can visit a maid café for a meal, then head over to the arcades for some UFO catcher and arcade game action. Check out any of the numerous shops to add the latest anime merchandise to your collection. Here in Akihabara, the otaku culture is embraced as its identity. Fans of the culture will find their heaven here!
7. Spend the Whole Day at Odaiba
The first time I visited Odaiba, it felt like a video-game experience. Taking the monorail to cross the Rainbow Bridge (which you can also drive or walk through), accessing this massive man-made island and arriving to enormous buildings feels surreal. Many of the structures, including the Fuji TV Building, Telecom Center and Tokyo Big Sight (famous for Tokyo International Anime Fair, Comiket and other exhibitions) are very unique in designs. Several museums, such as Miraikan, Tokyo Mega Web (Toyota Showroom) and Gundam Front attract fans of all sorts. You can also shop at any (or all) of the huge shopping malls like DiverCity, AquaCity and VenusFort. The amount of things to do on this artificial island is countless, as if it’s a different world!
Photo: IQRemix on Flickr
8. Watch Professionals at Work at Tsukiji Fish Market
As the saying goes, “the early bird gets to see the tuna auction.” The wholesale market of Tsukiji is also one of the world’s largest and oldest fish markets. Visitors line up way before the 5:00am opening hours to get one of the limited 120 spots to watch the tuna auction. Observing the professionals at work, selecting the human-sized fishes is an eye-opening experience. Afterwards (or if you missed it), you can check out the rest of the wholesale area at operation, which is open to the public after 9am. The outer market is open to the public and hosts some of the world’s best sushi restaurants. Again, visit early for the freshest catches!
In November of 2016, Tsukiji will relocate to Toyosu for size-expansion and an improved sanitized environment.
9. Feel the Young Energy of Harajuku’s Takeshita street
Harajuku is known in the world for its leading young fashion culture. Here you will find a lot of Japanese youngsters (especially girls) shopping for new and affordable clothes and accessories on this extremely crowded street. Some establishments sell the latest fashion trends, and others focus on more “unique” styles, such as Lolita dresses or extremely colourful accessories. Besides fashion, there are also quality cafes, snacks and crepe shops around, so grab some refreshments and experience the young and energetic Harajuku!
Photo: Danny Choo on Flickr
10. Spend Big (or Window-Shop) at Ginza
Ginza is the famous upmarket shopping district of Tokyo. With huge department stores, world-leading brand names, high class restaurants and entertainment establishments, Ginza is perfect for those looking for a luxurious experience with a hint of the Japanese flavour. Being one of the most expensive real estate districts of Japan, the audience here browsing for clothes and cosmetics are also different from many other subsections of the city, and so are the services provided. Fortunately, window-shopping doesn’t cost a single yen, so anyone can come here to feel the luxurious atmosphere and admire at the upmarket life-style!
11. Visit the Many National Museums at Ueno Park
Ueno Park, found right beside the Ueno train station, is a rare location in central Tokyo that is filled with both nature and culture, and many of Tokyo’s best family activities. Ueno Zoo is Japan’s oldest Zoo since it opened in 1882 (and they have pandas!). The National Science Museum is perfect for those interested in science, hosting an amazing collection of animal mounts and many hands-on exhibits. Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum and the National Museum of Western Art offer the beautiful emotions expressed in various art forms for the artists out there. The Tokyo National Museum displays many national treasures and important Japanese cultural items in multiple buildings. During the right season, you can also witness the 1000+ blooming sakura trees in the park. Ueno Park has so much to offer!
12. Take a Guided Tour of the Imperial Palace
The current imperial palace, residence of Japan’s royal family, is the peaceful location of the former Edo Castle, a short walk from Tokyo Station. Being one of Japan’s top castles, the walls, moats and castle structures are nothing short of impressive. Visitors gather at the huge plaza to view the bridge that connects the public area to the restricted imperial inner courts. If you want to have a look inside the imperial palace grounds, reserve a guided tour offered by the Imperial Household Agency throughout the year. English audio guide and pamphlets are provided to give you a better understanding of the history of the royalty.
Photo: Fg2, from Wikimedia Commons
13. Walk up Tokyo Tower
The iconic red tower of Tokyo remains one of the city’s most popular tourist spots. Built in 1958, it maintained its tallest-building-in-Japan distinction until surpassed by the Tokyo Skytree in 2012. This broadcast antenna modeled after the Eiffel Tower is still a symbol of Japan’s economic power and a high-class lifestyle. Visitors can travel up to the 150m observation deck either by elevator or the 600-step staircase. Many people choose to reach the special observatory at 250m for an even better view of the cityscape.
14. Travel Back in Time at the Restored Tokyo Station
The station of over 100 years old went through major renovations and has now been restored to its former old-school atmospheric magnificence. The mixture between European and Asian designs of the station was a symbol of Tokyo. Now, you can relive that time slip as you admire at the details of the interior and exterior of the structure. Better yet, book a stay at the Tokyo Station Hotel for a classic and elegant stay. Being around central Tokyo and near the Imperial Palace, chances are that you will pass by this Station during your trip, so take some time and admire its historical glory.
15. Attend an Event at Tokyo Dome
Tokyo Dome, the home stadium of the Yomiuri Giants baseball team, is also named the Big Egg, due to its white shell outer structure. During the times without baseball games, this venue is used for other sports events, as well as concert venues for Japanese and international top artists such as Michael Jackson, Big Bang and Taylor Swift, accommodating up to 67,000 fans at a time. Performing at the Tokyo Dome is considered the highest honour for an artist in Japan. Right beside the Dome is Tokyo Dome City, a leisure location with a spa, shopping center and an amusement park, providing even more things to do before and after the event.