Tokyo Guide: Tokyo City Attractions
Tokyo Area Guide: Things to Do In Tokyo 東京
Tokyo is the point of entry for most visitors and business travelers to Japan and one of the world's most fascinating cities.
Tokyo city dates from around 1600 when the Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, chose Edo, then a small fishing village near the mouth of the Sumida River, as the shogunate's new capital.
Edo grew to become the world's biggest city by the 1600s, with over a million people.
Edo became Tokyo - Japan's capital - from 1868 after the Meiji Restoration and the move of the nation's capital from Kyoto.
Tokyo is now an extraordinarily vibrant, exciting and fashionable modern metropolis, which still manages to reveal glimpses of its traditional past.
Divided into a series of smaller 'cities' efficiently connected by public transport, Tokyo is the center for Japanese architecture, art, business, fashion, food, music, politics - and virtually everything else.
By night, the neon-lit city offers the best entertainment in Japan from superb restaurants, bars and clubs to traditional performances of Japanese theater: kabuki, kyogen and noh. There is something for every conceivable taste in this great city. Enjoy!
Tokyo: Areas of Interest
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Shinjuku, on the western edge - at roughly '9 o'clock' - of the Yamanote Line, is truly a city unto itself. It is divided into Higashi (east) and Nishi (west) Shinjuku by the train lines that run through Shinjuku Station.
Nishi Shinjuku in particular exudes wealth and power with its towering skyscrapers. One of the most eyecatching is Kenzo Tange's inspired citadel: Tokyo's city hall building, the 'Tocho', daily home to 13,000 bureaucrats. Nearby is the Hyatt Park Hotel (venue for the film 'Lost in Translation') occupying another soaring Kenzo Tange construction: the Shinjuku Park Tower.
Other notable buildings are the tapered and honeycombed Mode Gakuen building (also by Tange), the 54-storey Tokyo Opera City with its hi-tech NTT Intercommunication Center which features futuristic exhibitions and events.
Higashi Shinjuku, on the other hand, retains the district's original downtown shitamachi roots. This atmosphere is summed up in Shinjuku's three most well-known entertainment districts: Kabukicho, Shinjuku Ni-chome, and the odd little enclave known as the 'Golden Gai.'
Kabukicho is a red-light district behind and just east of the Studio Alta building with its huge TV screen at which crowds rendezvous. Kabukicho is the setting for much of Natsuo Kirino's novel Out. Though yakuza are out and about here, it is safe enough even at night, and plenty enough restaurants and bars that cater to every taste to keep you from having to wander for too long. Shinjuku Ni-chome is the heart of Tokyo's gay scene.
'Golden Gai' is an area that has been slated for 'urban renewal' (aka, destruction) ever since the end of the War, and its continued existence seems more accidental than anything else. This ground-level warren of tiny bars has more than a bit of that 'Blue Velvet' feel: will you be rubbing elbows with a philosopher or a hustler? It is further distinguished by being perhaps the only area in Tokyo where all the buildings are more than 10 years old.
During the day, Shinjuku's massive department stores, from Shinjuku station eastwards, are a culture unto themselves. Their upper floors are home to some of Tokyo's finest art exhibitions, the basements are a grocery/delicatessen/confectionary cornucopia - full of free munchies (samples are put out to be eaten, not stared at: foodies, dig in!), and the service is world class at Seibu, Takashimaya, and Isetan.
The neon skyscrapers of Shinjuku offer Tokyo's most vibrant night views
Koenji in Tokyo's Suginami ward is only four stops west of Shinjuku Station on the JR Chuo line. Of any station west of Shinjuku on the Chuo line, it has the liveliest atmosphere, and is renowned as a center of alternative culture in Tokyo, with a reputation as the center of Japanese punk. The local population is very youthful, thanks to the large number of cheap one-room, student-oriented apartments in the area.
Koenji's underground cred is reinforced by a decided lack of development-driven, high-rise glamor. The streets retain the look of the Tokyo of two or three decades ago. It is full of low-budget down-to-earth eateries (mainly yakitori and izakaya), ethnic restaurants, shot bars, so-called "live houses" featuring mostly rock-inspired bands, the odd head shop, "massage parlors" (down the red-light alley just west of the station), and scores of used clothing and record shops - mainly on the south side of the station.
Koenji Temple, after which the area takes its name, is 300 meters south-east of the station.
Koenji's annual Awa Odori Festival takes place every 27-28 August.
Koenji can be accessed by the JR Chuo-Sobu line (Koenji Station). The Tokyo Metro Marunouchi Line (Higashi Koenji Station or Shin-Koenji Station) will also get you there, but are a long hike from the JR Koenji Station which forms the center of the action.
The center of Japanese youth culture, Shibuya, is best experienced in small doses. Although there are department stores that draw the more matronly set, it is teenagers who dominate the scene. If you need to know which cell phone has the latest gadgets, and who of the younger generation are causing consternation among their elders, and how, then this is the place for you.
In addition to youth culture, the NHK Museum is a fun day out. Also of note is Bunkamura. Bunkamura (literally, 'culture village') is a department store/art gallery/cinema complex ten minutes walk from Shibuya Station. It has frequent exhibitions and is one of the venues for the Tokyo Film Festival held every fall. "Love Hotel Hill" is a strip of short-stay hotels - "Love Hotels" located near the Tokyu department store. Shibuya's other main landmark is a statue of Hachiko the faithful dog of the 1920s and 1930s, who waited for his master, a Tokyo university professor, long after the professor had passed away. Hachiko's remains are preserved in the National Museum of Nature and Science and his statue remains a popular rendevous at Shibuya Station to this day.
Daikanyama is a short train ride (one local stop) from Shibuya on the Toyoko Line and is an elegant counterpoint to Shibuya's noise and non-stop consumerism. High-priced boutiques, the best cafe culture in Japan, and Fumihiko Maki's Hillside Terrace make Daikanyama one of Tokyo's hippest neighborhoods.
Aoyama is a larger, less sheltered, version of Daikanyama. Tokyo's best jazz clubs (the Blue Note, etc.), high-end shopping, and beautiful people can all be found on or near Aoyama-dori boulevard (Route 246). Fumihiko Maki's Spiral Building is a multi-purpose space worth dropping in on. Aoyama is where novelist Haruki Murakami calls home, and where many of Japan's most popular writers pen their works.
Feel like a foot massage, aroma therapy? Aoyama is a new age haven, full of health clubs, spas and massage centers, as well as cafes, restaurants and specialty cuisine. The place to be if you feel like being pampered. Just stroll along Aoyama-dori boulevard (Route 246).
Ropongi is one of Tokyo's livelier scenes, full of 'beautiful people', Roppongi is still the place that Japanese and foreign celebrities go for fun and scandal. US servicemen (and women) fill certain bars, though other nationals dominate the street scene. Located on the Hibiya and Toei Oedo Lines, Roppongi contains 69 of the 127 embassies in Japan as well as a lot of extremely expensive housing monopolized by people "in finance".
The night time dazzle all happens around Roppongi Intersection, right near the two Roppongi subway stations (Hibiya line and Oedo line). The next station on the Oedo line, Azabu-juuban (exit 7), and Azabu-juuban on the Namboku subway line (exit 4), is the center of Azabu-juuban Shopping Town. This is where you can savor the sights, sounds and smells of the Tokyo of 300 years ago. Typical of the area are its taiyaki ('carp bake') shops selling carp-shaped confectioneries, soba noodle restaurants, antique shops, and rakugo performances. Ghosts of Roppongi past are neatly documented in Robert Whiting's Tokyo Underworld.
A little south-west of Azabu-juuban is Arisugawa-no-miya Memorial Park, containing the Tokyo Metropolitan Central Library. The park was the former preserve of feudal lords and nobles, and features beautiful woods for strolling through, placid streams, and many wild birds.
Walking east of Roppongi along the route of the Hibiya Line brings you to the 333m high Tokyo Tower - one of the city's major landmarks. The observation deck affords spectacular views of Tokyo below.
Roppongi Hills is the Roppongi area's defining "miracle," that was a full 17 years in the making. In the midst of what was a depressed real estate market - in which land prices were continuing their downward spiral some 15 years after the bursting of the bubble economy - Japan's leading developer Minoru Mori opened up his Roppongi Hills complex in the summer of 2003.
The 11.6 hectare mega-plex of luxury is made up of boutiques, a Virgin Cinema complex, restaurants, apartments, the Mori Art Museum, a hotel, a major TV studio, an outdoor amphitheater, parks, and more. The centerpiece of this is a 54-story office tower designed by the New York firm Kohn Fox Pedersen. Like Mori's previous projects - LaForet Harajuku (1978) and Ark Hills (1986) - this is one very big and sophisticated statement.
Roppongi Hills is sprawling and somewhat unpredictable in its design, encouraging wandering and exploration: a huge retail pot of gold that has succeeded in helping bring the middle class back into central Tokyo to live and play.
Access for Roppongi Hills from:
Tokyo Midtown is the 2007 challenge to Roppongi Hills' dominance of the Roppongi area.
Situated on Gaien-higashi-dori Boulevard, Tokyo Midtown is a six-building complex on ten hectares of land, dominated by the massive Tokyo Midtown Tower.
Outside the main Tokyo Midtown buildings in the garden space adjacent to the pleasant Hinokicho-koen is the innovative 21_21 Design Sight art gallery and event space designed by fashion guru Issey Miyake and architect Tadao Ando.
National Art Center Tokyo
Roppongi's latest cultural value added happened in January 2007 with the opening of the National Art Center, Tokyo. Just half a kilometer NNW of Roppongi Towers and slightly west of Tokyo Midtown, the National Art Center Tokyo is a massive, highly modern space of non-permanent exhibitions. Most easily accessible from exit 6 of Nogizaka station on the Chiyoda subway line.
Green and pleasant Harajuku is Tokyo's most established center of street fashion. While other areas rival it in terms of hip, Harajuku still reigns when it comes to streetwise and cutting edge. Harajuku is flanked by Jingu Gaien/Yoyogi Park to the east and the elegant Aoyama district to the west.
The tree-lined Omotesando boulevard (originally, Japan's first ever boulevard) starts from the gates of the Meiji Jingu shrine. It extends west from just south of JR Harajuku station (or directly east from Jingu-mae subway station on the Chiyoda line), bisecting Meiji-dori avenue and then Aoyama-dori avenue.
Harajuku comes in two distinct flavors: trash and class.
The shopping and stomping grounds of the wealthy since the early part of the 1900's, Ginza has lost a little of its luster as the locus of the city has moved west towards Shinjuku, Shibuya, and beyond. However it is still home to high-end stores catering to the Gold Card-carrying crowd including the multi-storey Matsuzakaya and Mitsukoshi department stores.
On Sundays, Ginza Dori is closed to traffic. Mikimoto, Louis Vuitton, Apple, Sony, and many more big brands have mega-stores here along with branches of international and Japanese banks and a number of high-end hotels. The Ginza subway station consists of three underground floors with numerous shopping outlets and is a popular meeting place. Ginza is accessible on the Marunouchi, Hibiya, and Ginza Subway Lines.
Odaiba (or Daiba), built on reclaimed land in Tokyo Bay, is a new high-tech shopping, restaurant and entertainment area in south-west Tokyo. You can catch Japanese TV dramas in the making at the Fuji TV studio, meander through Venus Fort: a "theme park for ladies" built in the style of an eighteenth century European city, or pay a visit to the Maritime Museum, housed in a reproduction of a cruise ship, and there's a great view of Tokyo Tower and the Rainbow Bridge.
Odaiba is popular with the young and dating couples. Access is by the Rinkai Line to Tokyo Teleport Station or by the Yurikamome monorail to Daiba Station, across Rainbow Bridge from Shinbashi Station. There are buses from Shinagawa station or a ferry from Hinode Sanbashi.
Akihabara is the undisputed electronics and camera capital of the universe. It has the absolute latest in everything - including manga and anime DVDs. Come see today what will be on the shelves in London and New York in a year or two and keep an eye out for the many tax-free shops in the area. Get off the Yamanote loop line at Akihabara Station. If you are buying, bargain!
However there is more to Akihabara than just bargaining and walking off with the latest. Akihabara is also the mecca of the weird and wonderful otaku and cosplay subculture.
Tsukiji Fish Market has become something or a sushi mecca for visitors to Tokyo. Located near Tokyo's center of fashion and lifestyle elegance, Ginza, Tsukiji is the most famous of the twelve locations operated by the Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market and is a venerable institution dating from 1935. While actually not exclusively a fish market (it also deals in fruit, vegetables and meat) it is most famous for its fish and other marine products.
Tsukiji is the largest fish market in the world and an estimated 17% of the world's total fish catch passes through its gates. The frantic action begins around 5am and is winding down by mid morning.
The tuna auction, which starts before 6am, is the main attraction for curious onlookers, who also have the chance to sample some of the freshest sushi available anywhere in Japan in the many small restaurants on the outskirts of the market.
The market itself is not open every day. A list of holidays is available on the Tsukiji Market website (click on the 'Tsukiji Market Calendar' - the dates marked in red are no go) and an English guidesheet and map are also available at the market's information booth.
Over recent years, the popularity of the market has resulted in large crowds of visitors from overseas, not all of whom have behaved well - disrupting the auction, leading to a number of closures of the market to spectators. Tsukiji now tends to bar visitors completely over the busy year end and New Year period.
However, whether the market is open or not, Tsujiji is always buzzing with energy. There is a crazy maze of street stalls and restaurants anxious to feed you their freshest and finest.
The impressive Indian-style Tsukiji Honganji Temple across the road from Tsukiji subway station is also worth a look for its pre-war antiqueness, its vast incense-laden cathedral-like interior and carved golden altar. You are more than likely to see a ceremony taking place before the grand altar if you stop in.
The second of five Jon Jerde projects in Japan, Caretta Shiodome is an office complex/mall that encourages strolling and people-watching. The 51-storey skyscraper's office space is mainly taken up by the advertising giant Dentsu, and houses a free advertising museum displaying over 135,000 Dentsu advertisements going back over 100 years to the Meiji period.
The area was the site of the first Tokyo railway station, and there is a replica of the original building within the complex as well as shops, cafes, and restaurants. In 2003, Caretta Shiodome attracted 10 million visitors.
A short walk from Shiodome Station on the Toei Oedo subway and Yurikamome Lines, or easy access from nearby Shimbashi station.
The Japanese Imperial Palace is located in central Tokyo on a massive plot of land (which at the height of the Japanese economic bubble in the late 1980s some went as far as to estimate was worth the market value of all of the real estate of the state of California).
The Imperial Palace began life as Edo castle, the seat of the ruling Shogunate. When the Shogunate was overthrown, in 1868, the Emperor and capital of Japan were relocated from Kyoto to Tokyo. The castle was turned into the Emperor's residence that year and officially named "Kyujo (the palace castle)" from 1888 to 1948. Since then it has been called "Kokyo", or the Imperial Palace.
Fukagawa began life as a merchant district in the old city of Edo, and much of what is worth visiting today harks back to those merchant beginnings. The present mood of the area is reflected in its surroundings: spacious, clean, subdued in color and somewhat old, but with very few rough edges.
For the visitor its main draw is its exquisite Kiyosumi Teien Gardens, the reconstructed Edo era village in the Fukagawa Edo Museum, parks, a myriad of beautiful temples, its links with the haiku poet Basho, and its proximity to the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo.
Ryogoku is synonymous with sumo, and has been for almost the past 300 years. Home to the Ryogoku Kokugikan (Ryogoku National Sports Stadium), three of Japan's six annual sumo championships take place here at the Tokyo-basho. Many sumo stables are situated here, many of which can even be visited by the tourist.
Culinary-wise the area is also renowned for its sumo connections with hearty chanko-nabe, the traditional dish of the sumo-ka.
However, as much as sumo flavors the area, there is more to Ryogoku than just the national sport. It is also home to the beautiful and history-laden Eko-in Temple, dedicated to the souls of those who died without anyone to mourn them; to the elegant Kyu-Iwasaki Teien Gardens, and the must-see Edo-Tokyo Museum.
In addition to the Bridgestone Museum in Tokyo Station, the recently opened Coredo Nihonbashi shopping establishment is luring both commuters and shoppers into and beyond Tokyo Station. Coredo Nihonbashi is located in nearby Nihonbashi, and it has forced other area retailers to spruce up in an attempt to stave off new competition. Coredo Nihonbashi - a twenty-story building that stands on the site of the former Tokyu Department store - also houses Merrill Lynch offices and Waseda University's Nihonbashi campus. The opening has resulted in the neighboring Takashimaya and Mitsukoshi department stores having to refurbish their Nihonbashi branches.
From the Esperanto word for "oasis," the recently opened Oazo complex comprises four new buildings and one existing one. It was built on the 24,000 square meter site that was the site of the headquarters of the now defunct Japan National Railways (now privatized as 'JR'). The main tenant is Maruzen Company, one of Japan's major book retailers. There is also the Marunouchi Hotel. Oazo is located just north of Tokyo Station.
A red and white web of sky-high steel by day, a breathtaking beacon of lights by night, Tokyo Tower is the most prominent and distinctive feature of Tokyo's cityscape. Tokyo Tower is situated near the city's port in the elegant Minato (i.e. 'Harbor') ward of the city, and is located on the edge of Shiba Park, one of Japan's oldest.
Tokyo Tower was built in 1958 as a TV and FM radio broadcasting tower. It serves the whole of the Kanto region (i.e. Tokyo and surrounding prefectures) in that role and in 2003 began transmitting digital signals as well.
At 333 meters (1093 feet) it is 13 meters (43 feet) higher than the Eiffel Tower, but thanks to modern engineering technology it is 43% lighter in weight.
Being the Tokyo's tallest structure makes Tokyo Tower the prime spot from which to view the metropolis.
The German-influenced three-storey National Diet Building on Kasumigaseki Hill is Japan's parliament and center of government and a well-known Tokyo landmark. The 65.5m tall reinforced concrete and granite structure was completed in 1936 after 18 years of construction work. All the building materials including the interior marble are locally-sourced.
The front of the building is approached from the east. Facing it, the south wing (to your right) contains the House of Councillors and the north wing (to your left) is the House of Representatives.
Free guided tours of the House of Councillors (about 60 minutes long) are available to the casual tourist. (A tour of the House of Representatives requires an invitation from a member of the House.)
House of Councillors: Mon-Fri (except national holidays) 8am-5pm; Tel: (03) 5521 7445 (Reception, House Police Department). (Tours may be suspended when the houses are in session.)
Access to the House of Councillors
For a tour, approach the Diet complex from behind, i.e. from the west. Coming from Nagata-cho station (Exit 1), the tour reception building is just to the right of the Annex of the House of Councillors. Look for the "Tours of the House of Councillors: Entrance" sign. Just across the road from Nagata-cho Station (Yurakucho subway line).
BEWARE: there are no less than three different "Nagata-cho" stations, all within 5 minutes walk of each other:
However, the exit numbers are shared by all three stations. They are not duplicated. Read more about Nagata-cho.
Parks, Theme Parks, Shrines & Temples
Korakuen is home to Tokyo Dome, which is where the Tokyo Giants baseball team plays its home games. Tokyo Dome is part of Tokyo Dome City, that includes the Tokyo Dome Hotel, the rest and relaxation complex, La Qua, and an amusement park with rides (closed at present due to an incident in January 2011).
Suidobashi Station is the closest stop. The Sobu, Marunouchi, Mita, and Nanboku Lines all pass through this station. Also, in the Tokyo Dome complex, the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is a fun and educational visit for baseball fans.
Ueno Park is part of Taito-ku: one of Tokyo's oldest and most down-to-earth districts. The Park offers you both sides of Taito: its earthiness and its elegance, in one big green playground. It is the grandfather of all Tokyo parks, having the longest history, being one of the biggest, and packed with far more attractions than any other.
Even if your stay in Tokyo is a short one, a day in Ueno Park is highly recommended. With museums of all kinds, Tokyo's biggest concentration of temples, a lotus pond, a zoo, and woodland, there is something for everyone of any age and inclination.
Shinjuku Gyoen Park: an ancient feudal estate that has maintained its integrity, was redesigned by a Frenchman to reflect the best of Eastern and Western outdoor aesthetics, and is now a meandering idyll of peace and quiet, and stunning seasonal beauty, in the midst of one of Tokyo's most commercially manic districts.
Yoyogi Park, which is adjacent to the Meiji Shrine, is a short walk from Yoyogi Station on the Yamanote Line. It features the site of the 1964 Olympics. Kenzo Tange's Yoyogi National Stadium was built for those Games and is still a Tokyo landmark. The Meiji Shrine, completed in 1920, is Japan's most famous Shinto shrine, and Yoyogi Park is a large, dense area of green tranquility in which the buzz and hum of the city quickly recede.
Inokashira Koen is close to the now trendy area of Kichijoji. The nearest station is Kichijoji Station on the Chuo Line or Inokashira Line, which runs from Shibuya Station. Inokashira Koen is a lovely park with a pond and zoo and training grounds. Great for cherry viewing in the spring. Warning: legend has it that couples who take a spin on one of the rental row boats on the pond are destined to break up!
Sengaku-ji Temple is forever associated with the story of the 47 Ronin and their master Lord Ako, who are all buried here. Ako was forced to commit ritual suicide - seppuku (known more popularly to Westerners as harakiri) - after drawing his sword on a rival warrior Kira Yoshinaka in Edo Castle. His followers avenged his death by killing Kira and were then allowed to commit suicide and be buried alongside their master.
Asakusa Temple AKA Senso-ji is reputed to be Tokyo's oldest temple, dating back to 628, and its huge 3 meter red paper lantern is one of Tokyo's most recognisable motifs. Sensoji Temple is always bustling with visitors who come to pray to Kannon - the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy.
A huge grey torii marks the entrance to one of Japan's most controversial sites - Yasukuni Shrine. Founded in 1869 to honor the souls of the soldiers killed in the campaign to restore the Meiji emperor to power, the shrine is now dedicated to Japan's war-dead in all subsequent wars. Over 2.5 million souls are enshrined here, including war dead from the Pacific War (read here about the kamikaze) as well as Japan's World War II leader General Tojo and those found guilty of war-crimes by the Allies after World War II. Visits by Japanese politicians invariably raise a storm of protest in China and Korea, but for many of the older generation Yasukuni is simply a place to remember family and friends lost in the Pacific war.
The Nippon Budokan martial arts hall located in Kitanomaru Park was built in 1964 to host the judo events at the Tokyo Olympics of the same year. The Budokan is now used as a venue for sports meets, martial arts practices (which are often open to the public), graduation ceremonies and rock concerts. The Budokan contains three halls, the largest of which holds 14,000 people and the building is modeled after the octagonal hall in Horyuji Temple in Nara. Among other famous bands such as Bob Dylan and Deep Purple, the Beatles performed their first concert in Japan here in 1966. On August 15 (the anniversary of the end of World War II), a national ceremony to mourn Japan's war dead is held, attended by the imperial family and the Prime Minister. Tel: (03) 3216 5100
Located in Tokyo's industrial Koto ward bordering Tokyo Harbor, Yume no Shima Koen is a splash of freshness in a landscape of gargantuan blank-faced warehouses between which runs an endless convoy of trucks and vans. Located near Tokyo's driver's license center in Koto ward.
Yume no Shima began life as a landfill and dumping ground, but was rescued from this poor fate in 1972 when it was decided to make it into a park. It is now a verdant space covered mainly with eucalyptus trees and enjoyed by strollers, sketchers, picnickers, sunbathers, and anyone else seeking refuge from the bustle.
For a full listing of Tokyo Museums & Art Galleries click here
Grutt Pass (pronounced 'goo-ROO-to,' - Japanese onomatopoeia for 'going around').
Tokyo has every kind of restaurant, bar and cafe imaginable and some more. Restaurants in Tokyo range from the ultra expensive and exclusive to down-to-earth noodle joints. After dark, Tokyo offers some of the best and most exciting bars, cafes and clubs on the planet to relax and unwind.
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