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.
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."
Considered to be Tokyo’s best green space, the Hama Rikyu Gardens offer a Central Park-like experience with Tokyo’s skyscrapers towering in the background. The sprawling garden originally served as the duck hunting grounds for Tokyo’s feudal lords more than 300 years ago. Today, the pools, bridges, ponds, tea houses and viewing pavilions are perfect for a quiet morning or afternoon outdoors.
Birdwatchers can spot the herons, ducks and other migrating birds who take up residence around the many ponds. For a different kind of wildlife spotting, visit the park’s most unique asset, a saltwater tide pool that rises and falls with the ocean. The teahouse on an island in the middle of the tidal pond is a pleasant place to sit back, relax and enjoy the scenery. Hama Rikyu certainly isn’t one of Tokyo’s best spots for cherry blossom viewing in spring, but you’ll still be able to see them and without the crowds of the city’s more popular viewing points.
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.
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!
The Hakone National Park, known as the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, is the most incredible outdoor-excursion in Japan. With relaxing hot-springs, Lake Ashi, and of course, Mt. Fuji, The Hakone National Park is a nature-lover's paradise.
Divided into four general areas, including the Hakone area, Mount Fuji area, Izu Peninsula, and the Izu Islands, there is much to see in this park. In Hakone, you’ll encounter Lake Ashi, also known as Lake Ashinoko, with Mt. Fuji as its backdrop. Another popular destination in Hakone is Mt. Kintoki, filled with the ruins and shrines of old-Japan.
Then, there is the legendary Mount Fuji. At 12,388 feet (3,776 meters), Mt. Fuji is Japan’s highest mountain. With spectacular, 360-degree views of Lake Ashinko, the Hakone mountains, and the Owakudani Valley, climbing Mt. Fuji is an unforgettable experience.
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.
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.
More Things to Do in Tokyo
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.
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.
Tokyo’s Rainbow Bridge, a suspension bridge spanning Tokyo Bay to connect Shibaura Wharf and the Odaiba waterfront area, is one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks, particularly at night. The bridge was completed in 1993 and was painted all in white to help it better blend in with the Tokyo skyline. During the day, solar panels on the bridge collect and store energy to power a series of colorful lights that turn on after sundown and give the bridge its name.
If you’re planning to spend a morning or afternoon at Odaiba, Tokyo’s futuristic “New City” filled with shopping and arcades, check to see if the pedestrial path across the Rainbow Bridge is open. If so, you can walk across in less than 30 minutes with excellent harbor views along the way. From the various observation platforms you can spot Tokyo Tower, the Kanebo building and Skytree.
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.
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.
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.
The Open-Air Museum in the suburb of Hakone is an easy train ride from Tokyo and a great place to spend a sunny day. This sculpture park contains hundreds of works by both Japanese and Western artists ranging from elegant to surreal and spread out over 200 acres.
Bring your camera, because many surprising photo opportunities await you: a massive three-ton head turned on it's side, vibrant dancing geometric shapes and giant zombie hands that reach into the sky in an ode to the movie Shaun of the Dead. Start your tour at the rainbow colored stained glass tower with a staircase to the top for a view of the massive park. All of the sculptures are framed by naturalistic trees, fields and mountains. Kids (and possibly adults) will enjoy the massive Children's Pavilion with it's innovative and colorful play structures.
Hanayashiki in Tokyo is proud to lay claim to being the oldest amusement park in Japan. It opened in 1853 as a flower park, but is now packed with an array of eateries, shops, and theme park attractions, ranging from the oldest steel-track roller coaster in the country, to rideable robot pandas. Other rides include a merry-go-round, a small ferris wheel, a haunted house, a drop ride named the Space Shot, and a spinning one called Disk ‘O’. It also has a 3D theater and a range of attractions for smaller children.
Located in Tokyo’s historic Asakusa neighborhood, Hanayashiki is divided into three themed areas: Fantasy & Dreams, Mystery & Panic, and Full of Excitement. Naturally, Hanayashiki is especially popular with children, although adults will be sure to appreciate the sense of nostalgia that this traditional theme park evokes.
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 Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office, more commonly known as Tokyo City Hall or Tochō, is one of the most distinctive and famous buildings in the Tokyo skyline. Tokyo is a huge city and their governmental offices are huge too, taking up three city blocks with three immense buildings.
The tallest is Tokyo Metropolitan Main Building No. 1, built to resemble both a computer chip and a gothic cathedral. It splits at level 33 into two twin towers which stretch to a height 48 stories, making it the tallest building in the city for many years.
Both towers have observation decks free to the public on level 45, 202 meters high. On really clear days, you might even spot Mt Fuji to the west. The view from the southern tower is considered slightly better but the northern tower remains open later, making it more suitable for night viewing.
Engaku-Ji Temple is a nearly perfect example of Zen Buddhist architecture. Located in the city of Kamakura, to the south of Tokyo, it is one of the most important temple complexes in Japan and ranked second among Kamakura's Five Mountains, or monasteries.
The temple was founded in 1282 by a Chinese Zen monk and has withstood numerous fires and other rials over the last 750 years. It's the oldest example of Tang Chinese architecture left in Japan. The most prominent features are the 16th century reliquary hall, which claims to house one of the Buddha's teeth, and a huge 14th century temple bell. Engaku-ji is prettiest to visit in Autumn when the vibrant fall foliage accentuates its minimalist lines. Inside the park area are numerous tea houses, restaurants and gardens.
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