Tokyo is a perfect amalgamation of modern and futuristic, ancient and traditional. Just around the corner from skyscrapers and offices, you may find a Buddhist temple or a small shrine. You’ll see women in suits amongst those in kimonos. Posh hotels near traditional Japanese style diners. You’ll get a sense of where Japan has come from, to where it’s heading.
There are many areas in Tokyo that are worth exploring, with each area having at least one unique landmark – temple, palace, garden or other landmark – that should feature on your list of places to visit. The train and subway system in Tokyo, make it easy to travel around all the different areas (once you get a grasp of all the different subway lines and how to navigate between the stations), but it makes sense to group together visits in areas that are on the same subway lines.
Here are a list of our Tokyo highlights, categorized according to area, and including some of our top tips for visiting them.
Tokyo’s own Eiffel Tower, the Tokyo Tower is the second tallest structure in Japan at 332.9 metres (compared to 324 metres of the Eiffel Tower). There are two observatory decks giving you views across Tokyo’s skyline, but you will need to buy tickets to visit them. We didn’t visit the Tokyo Tower itself because two of the hotel rooms we stayed in (Prince Park Tower Tokyo and Andaz Toranomon Hills), gave us great views of the Tokyo Tower, as well as that of the Tokyo skyline, which we would have had from the Tower. In that way, we saved some money!
Top Tip: The Tokyo Tower lights up in the evenings. On Saturdays between 2000 and 2200, it is lit up in a ‘Diamond Veil’ which is special lighting made of 7 different colours.
One of the hotels we stayed at, the Prince Park Tower, is nestled within Shiba Park, giving you views across the leafy park in the foreground, with the skyscrapers of Tokyo’s skyline in the background. Within this park is the Gate of Daitokuin Mausoleum – a beautiful red gate which is the only surviving part of a mausoleum destroyed in WWII. You can also find Zojoji Temple here, where scenes of the Wolverine movie was shot.
Top tip: The gate is illuminated at night, so don’t miss getting photos of this if you happen to be in the area at evening. Just as Jonny was about to take a photo of me with the gate, was when we found out that the lights go off at 2200.
The famous Shibuya Crossing is well known from many TV shows and movies. It is one of the busiest crossing intersections in the world. Surprisingly, when we saw it for the first time, it was afternoon on a weekday, and quieter than what we were expecting. It was also much smaller than we imagined it to be.
Shops, restaurants, cafes, train station, subway station, offices, shoppers, tourists, office workers – the crossing is surrounded by the hustle and bustle of society. Make sure you get the full experience of the place. Start off at one of the crossings itself, and walk out with the crowd when the pedestrian crossing lights come on. Then, just watch from the sidelines. Time the signal and how long the green man stays on for – then when it changes again, walk out into the center of the intersection and take a 360 degree video, or a panorama photo from the very center of the intersection (make sure to keep sight of the green man as you twirl around or ask your travel buddy to keep an eye out).
Revisit Shibuya in the evening when the lights come on, as you get a much different vibe from the place, and it will be likely be busier, especially if you time your visit for when people leave work (which we still haven’t got a grasp of, as we saw people in ‘work’ outfits till very late at night and couldn’t decide if they were leaving work or returning home from the pub).
Top Tip: You can get a bird’s eye view of the crossing from the Starbucks at the crossing. Please be decent about it, and go as a paying customer. The seats at the window are obviously going to be high demand. You don’t need to have a window seat, to take photos out of it, as you can easily squeeze through between the stools. However, if you are still keen for those seats, just seat yourself at one of the other nearby tables to ‘hover’ until someone leaves. There is also a L’Occitane cafe at the crossing where you can get views from, however it doesn’t give you the convenience of just popping in for a coffee and hovering.
Whilst waiting at the crossing, keep an eye out for the Mario Kart racers, who might whizz past you – so cameras at ready at all times, just in case.
Harajuku is well known for its quirky fashion scene, vintage clothes shops, yummy sweet stalls and youngsters wearing cool cosplay outfits. This is where the youth hang out. The hub of it all is on Takeshita Street, so this is where you will want to head.
To get to Harajuku from the Shibuya crossing, you can either jump on the subway for one stop or walk 20 mins. We chose the latter so we could enjoy the street view on a sunny day.
Top Tip: Visit Totti Candy Factory for one of their famous giant Rainbow Candy Floss. There are also many crepe and waffle stalls to get a snack at.
Imperial Palace & Gardens
The Imperial Palace is the residence of Japan’s Imperial family. It was once destroyed during WWII and rebuilt in the same style, afterwards. The palace itself is only open to the public on 2nd Jan (New Year’s Greeting) and 23rd Dec (Emperor’s Birthday), when the public can see members of the Imperial Family make public appearances. The rest of the year, the beautiful gardens can be visited (however, we realised it is closed on Mondays, and certain other days – so check the opening hours beforehand).
Top Tip: You can book a tour of the Imperial Palace, which takes place twice a day. The Palace and Gardens are also shut every Mondays and Fridays. You can visit the official website here for more information on opening hours.
A 20 minute walk from the Imperial Palace is Chidorigafuchi Park. We’d done our research, and knew this park to be one of the ‘hot-spots’ for spotting cherry blossoms. We had high hopes of catching some sakura trees in the park, as well as going boating on the famous lake surrounded by sakura trees. Unfortunately, by the time we got there, the sakura had been and gone (hence, minimal photos). We could only imagine how beautiful the park and lake would look surrounded by cherry blossoms.
The boating area is where you want to go during cherry blossom season, to walk along a path lined by sakura trees and to find the lake, where you can go boating.
Top Tip: We were walking around in circles trying to find the Chidorigafuchi boating area and lake. The park itself is situated across a bridge and a 10 minute walk away from the boating area. Make sure you search for ‘Chidorigafuchi boating area’ on Google Maps to find the real place.
Ginza is one of the main shopping areas of Tokyo and has many large shopping centers, boutiques, department stores, cafes and restaurants. Ginza means ‘silver mint’, and the name comes from being the site of a silver coin mint. The most famous street is Chuo Dori, which is closed to traffic on weekend afternoons, and becomes a large pedestrian zone for shoppers.
The Ginza Godzilla statue lives here – make sure you give him a visit on your travels.
We found the Ginza crossing to be just as cool if not cooler, than the famous Shibuya Crossing, particularly when we came across an extra-special view of the Ginza Crossing from one of the shopping centers.
Top Tip: There are many shopping centers in Ginza you can choose to explore. We especially liked the Tokyu Plaza. If you take the lift to the highest floor, and then the elevator, you will come upon a rooftop with views of the Ginza crossing shown here.
Akhibara & Ueno
Akhibara is the central area if you’re a fan of anime, gaming or technology. The whole area is totally buzzing with activity. You can find great deals in the electrical stores here, and you can keep yourself entertained in the arcades and ‘pachinko parlours.’
Top Tip: Visit one of the ‘Pachinko Parlours’ to experience the sheer buzz and noise of the place. These are the Japanese gambling arcades, filled with slot machines from wall to wall. Akhibara has many of these places, but you’ll also find these in places around Tokyo.
Ueno Park & Zoo
Ueno park is an absolutely beautiful park, which can be reached by jumping on a subway on the same line as Akhibara. It is full of greenary, flowers, cherry blossom trees, shrines, temples and mini Torii gates. We did not visit the Ueno Zoo, which is right next to the park, as we didn’t have time, but is worth a visit, if you have a whole day to spend in the area.
Top Tip: If you’re unable to make a trip to Kyoto, to see the famous Torii gates at the Fushimi-Inari shrine, make sure to get your photos at this mini version in Ueno Park instead! It is less crowded and you don’t have to hike up a mountain for it.
Shinjuku Gyeon National Park
We thought we had missed all the sakura trees in Tokyo, but we found them in Shinjuku Gyeon National Park! There is a small fee for entering, but is worth it for a lovely stroll through the park. The park has a Japanese, English and French gardens within it.
Top Tip: If you are able to, take a picnic basket along and enjoy a Haname during cherry blossom season. Hanames are special picnics people have during cherry blossom season, where they sit below sakura trees, simply to take it all in and enjoy the presence of them. You will see lots of groups of people, enjoying their hanames in parks across Japan.
On our last day in Tokyo, we visited the Asakusa area, where the most prominent landmark is the Sensoji Temple. A short walk from Asakusa station will bring you here.
Sensoji Temple is the oldest and most famous temple in Tokyo. The first entrance gate you will come across is the Kaminarimon Gate (Thunder Gate). It is flanked by two guardian statues, and has a large lantern in the center.
Beyond this gate, is Nakamise-dori, a street full of life – street-food stalls, souvenir shops, cafes – you will find it all here. It’s a great place to find souvenirs, and is where we shopped for most of ours (last minute!).
Walking along the street, will bring you to the second inner gate – Hozomon gate, again flanked by two guardians and featuring 3 large lanterns. Next to this is the five story pagoda, the second highest pagoda in Japan. Both the gate and pagoda are illuminated at night and look striking lit up – unfortunately, we were unable to catch this view on this trip.
Top Tip: In the temple compound, you will come across a place where you can find your fortune. There will be steel tumblers, out of which you try to ‘shake out’ a wooden stick which will have a symbol on it. You match up the symbol to a drawer, out of which you take out a piece of paper, with your fortune written on it!
Top Tip: When you are walking along the shopping street, take a walk along some of the side streets and look up. You’ll spot these statues on the tops of some of the buildings.
If you’re in the Asakusa area, you can walk or take a subway to the Tokyo Skytree, where you can get amazing panoramic views of the skyline (so we’ve read). Due to a delay on the subways, we were unable to do this, as we had to catch our flight back home! However here is a photo of a view of the sky tree from one of our hotel rooms – it is the tall tower on the very right.
There’s more blogs to come in our Japan series! Follow our blog or @thedjklife on Instagram, to be updated on our travels and blog posts!
Let us know what you think!
Love, DJK x
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