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 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.
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 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 eerily quiet Aokigahara Forest calls out for lost souls. This forest, situated at the northwest base of Mount Fuji, has a long and storied history in Japanese mythology as a place of evil, demons, and paranormal activity. It’s not all ancient history, though; today, Aokigahara Forest sees more suicides per year than anywhere in the world other than the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.
The forest has several nicknames, including the “Sea of Trees,” and – less flatteringly, “Suicide Forest.” Locals around the area say that people come into the forest for three reasons: hikers looking to see the splendid ice caves that dot the deep forest floor; people attracted to the stories and looking to see the carnage for themselves; and those people who do not plan to return. Suicide has become such a problem in the Aokigahara Forest that local authorizes have taken steps to curb it.
More Things to Do in Tokyo
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
This well-curated museum 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 known as Token hakubutsukan by locals.
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 nightclubs, the Ginza Shopping District is a chic, cosmopolitan adventure. You can catch a live Kabuki show, check out the latest Japanese film, or tour the most prestigious and innovative restaurants of Tokyo. And of course, there’s shopping!
Featuring the most exclusive stores and brands, like Louis Vuitton, Prada, and Chanel, this is window shopping at its finest. Highlights include the Sony Building and Hakuhinkan Toy Park. Another must-see attraction is the Wako Department Store, a Neo-Rennaisance-style building known for its impressive clock tower.
The Ginza Shopping District is also a great destination for entertainment. The Kabuki-za Theater presents traditional Kabuki Theatre daily. On the side streets of Ginza, there are clusters of art galleries, and then there’s the Ginza Cine Pathos, housing dozens of film theaters, small bars, and food-stalls built in a tunnel underneath Harumi-dori.
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.
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