Tokyo is a futuristic fun town, with high-flying fashion and more Michelin star-rated restaurants than any other city in the world. Despite its cosmopolitan façade, Tokyo is steeped in tradition and strict cultural etiquette – which will become obvious if you think talking on the train is acceptable (tsk tsk!).
Stay in one of Shinjuku or Minato’s five-star hotels, or under the sleazy neon lights of an infamous ‘Love Hotel’ in Shibuya. Either way, make sure you perfect the obligatory peace-sign pose before taking to the streets.
Exhaust the endless shopping possibilities in Ginza or Tokyo Dome City, where shopping malls take on a life of their own and futuristic streets lead on to even more hyper urban alleyways. On the cultural front, the Japan Sword Museum and Seikado Bunko Art Museum have some of the best examples of Japanese arts and craftsmanship, as well as providing a great escape from the polite hustle and bustle of Tokyo’s streets.
Modern Tokyo has its own brand of pop culture that borders on fetishism. Between the Harijuku Girls, geishas, anime, manga and the national obsession with electronic gadgets, Tokyoites have an all-or-nothing attitude that compels you to come and play.
Beyond Tsukiji: Best Markets in Tokyo
Over 3,000 tonnes of fish pass through Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market every day and to say it’s a sight to behold is putting it mildly. Arguably the world’s biggest wholesale fish market, the action begins at 5am with the live tuna auctions. It’s a forklift, gumboot and gesticulation laden spectacle to be sure – but the tourism impact has created friction with the sellers – so ensure you arrive early and are certain they’re admitting public access on that specific day. Things start to cool off after 9am, there’s still an incredible array of produce to investigate and consume.
The market is made up of two sections – the inner market for wholesale and the outer market for retail. The outer market holds host to all manner of retail stores, fish produce outlets and restaurants – many of them unsurprisingly with a sushi focus. The best entry points are via Tsukijishijō Station on the Oedo subway line and Tsukiji Station on the Hibiya subway line. Closed Sundays and public holidays.
Tokyo’s Top 10
10. Kobayashi Doll Museum See how Japanese dolls (the sort that little girls play with, not grown men, in case you were wondering) are traditionally made in one of Sumida’s ‘small museums’.
5. Edo Tokyo Museum Experience Old Tokyo and explore its history in this museum dedicated to preserving Tokyo’s ancient traditions.
9. Disneyland Tokyo Two theme parks where all your Disney dreams will come true. You can also stay in one of Tokyo’s Disney resort hotels. Chances are you’ll begrudgingly take the kids there and end up having a ball because they do things so damn well.
4. Meiji Jingu (Meiji Shrine)is a peaceful place of self-reflection. Such places are hard to come by in dynamic, crowded Tokyo, so make the most of it.
8. Akihabara Electric Townhouses every electrical appliance you could ever dream of. A techno geek’s paradise!
3. Tsukiji Fish Market Ever wanted to go to a fish auction? Well, now you can – if you get up early enough. The action starts at 5am, when you can bid for 300kg tuna and more besides (hopefully no whale, though). The markets also have the best, freshest seafood restaurants in Tokyo (although you probably won’t want to eat fish at 5am).
7. Tokyo Tower The ‘Eiffel Tower of Tokyo’ is an icon of the skyline. The 150-metre-high observatory even has views to Mount Fuji on a clear day.
2. Tokyo Dome City is a sport and entertainment complex complete with an amusement park, a bounty of shopping and dining options – even a natural hot spring spa to unwind in.
6. The Imperial Palace Walk around the delightful walled grounds and parklands of the Palace. Japan’s Emperor lives here. Say hi from us if you see him.
1. Yoyogi Park in Shibuya is one of Tokyo’s largest and most popular park hangouts for Tokyoites. They work hard, and this is where they come to play politely. A true spectacle for visitors.
- Sensoji – A beautiful temple constructed to honour the goddess Kannon.
- Hanazono Jinja – An Inari-style shrine located close to the commercial district of Shinjuku.
- Yasukuni – A shrine founded by the Emperor Meiji in 1874.
- Bonsai Park – A collection of miniature trees and landscaping founded in the early 1920s.
- Toshimaen – A German-carved carousel can be found at this ancient amusement park.
Tokyo Art & Culture
- Edo Tokyo Museum – A museum that caters to international visitors and demonstrates the rise of Edo that later become a huge Tokyo metropolis.
- Tokyo National Museum – Japan’s largest and oldest museum, housing a staggering 89,000 items.
- Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum – This popular museum features artwork to suit all tastes, from oil paintings to calligraphy to pottery.
- National Science Museum – Evolution is the main theme of this museum, so expect to find dinosaur-related exhibits here.
- Transportation Museum – Trains are a large feature of this three-floor museum.
- Antique Market – Located in Omotesano, this collection of specialist shops offers goods at shockingly low prices.
- Ameyoko – Located in Ueno, Ameyoko is a unique open-air bazaar in Tokyo.
- Nakamise – Situated in Asakusa, this venue is ideal for those looking for Japanese souvenirs to take back home.
- Shibuya – A well-known shopping area, home to countless stores selling clothing and accessories for the young.
- Antique Mall in Ginza – An alternative to the Omotesando Antique Market, this mall has been specifically designed for the serious antique collector.
Gay & Lesbian Tokyo
- Shinjuku Ni-chome – A small sub-district in downtown Tokyo that houses more than 200 gay and lesbian bars.
- OCCUR (Japan Association for the Lesbian and Gay Movement) – A gay activist organization and sponsor of the Tokyo International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival.
- Tokyo International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival – This popular July film festival attracts thousands of visitors each year.
- Tokyo Pride Parade – If visiting Tokyo in August, be sure to catch this event.
- Tokyo Rainbow Festival – This festival is a true annual highlight for members of the gay and lesbian community.
- Tokyo Disneyland – The world’s most visited theme park and a popular attraction for kids visiting Tokyo.
- Tokyo DisneySea – The world’ second-most-visited theme park, perfect for marine life lovers.
- Sumida River – Take a tranquil boat ride along this river.
- Imperial Palace East Gardens – Take a stroll through these beautiful gardens and escape amongst the natural wonders.
- Inokashira Park – Take a boat ride in this Kichijoli park.
- Watch the Yomirui Giants baseball team at the Tokyo Dome.
- Check out the Tokyo Yakult Swallows at the Jingu Stadium.
- Pay a trip to the Yoyogi National Gymnasium II to see the Tokyo Apache basketball team in action.
- Catch a Tokyo Verdy football match at the Ajinomoto Stadium.
- Uncover the skills of the Toshiba Brave Lupus rugby union team at the Toshiba Fuchu Ground.
Tokyo is a massive metropolis, with the largest urban area and population in the world. So it helps to have an idea of what you’d like to see, and where you should begin.Chuo
One of the most central districts of Tokyo, Chuo is a great starting point for exploring the city. As well as the Tsukiji Fish Markets Chuo is home to Ginza, the fluorescent and flashy fashion Mecca. Come to splurge on Gucci, Prada, Chanel or Dior designer goods, or simply to soak up the atmosphere. Have a ridiculously expensive cup of coffee here, then head to the Sony Building to see technology you won’t get anywhere else for years.Chiyoda
The Imperial Palace gives this district a more peaceful, traditional tone. In spring, the surrounding parklands, including Kitanomaru Park and Chidoriga-fuchi Moat, are the perfect place to see the iconic Cherry Blossom Trees in full bloom. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Tokyo suburb without an entire area dedicated to electronics gadgets in some way. Akihabara is tech-central, where anything from cameras, computers, mobile phones and vacuum cleaners is on sale. Chiyoda is also fast becoming a hipster’s hub for anime and manga paraphernalia. Visit the National Museum of Modern Art (MOMAT) to see some splendid contemporary Japanese art.Minato
Minato lies southwest of the Imperial Palace and is the commercial centre for Japan’s big brands like Mitsubishi, Sony, and Toshiba. Odaiba is the heart and soul of Minato. This artificial island is built on reclaimed land in Tokyo Bay and connected to the mainland by a driverless monorail! Head to Palette Town to ride one of the world’s tallest Ferris wheels, or shop up a storm in the European-esque Venus Fort Shopping Mall.
Roppongi's reputation for crazy – and seedy – nightlife is deserved. But by day, though, it’s all about getting high at Mori Tower, with the Tokyo City View observation deck that overlooks Tokyo Tower. Roppongi Hills Shopping World is also worth a visit if size (and the absence of soul) impresses you.Shibuya
Young Tokyoites flock here for out-there street fashions and cheap food. Fake it till you make it in Harijuku, where you’ll feed a tad underdressed compared to the futuristic, anime-inspired get-ups of the locals. Street after street, there are opportunities to buy reasonably priced clothes, anime and manga souvenirs, or to have a beer in one of the many Izakayas(Japanese pubs). Shibuya’s club scene won’t disappoint. Take your pick of trance, hip-hop, indie rock and pop music venues that kick on until the wee hours of the morning.
On a more moving note, Shibuya has the famous Hachiko Statue that pays tribute to the local legend of Hachiko, a dog who faithfully waited for its owner, many years after he had died. Finally, when you spot the dodgy the Italiano balconies, it means you’ve arrived at Love Hotel Hill, where couples can enjoy a quick stay in one of the tacky themed rooms.Shinjuku
Tokyo’s commercial hub, with claustrophobic skyscrapers, blinding neon lights and over two million people pushing through the streets each day. Brash business types are met with savvy business ladies, all wanting a piece of Shinjuku’s action. Kabukicho is Tokyo’s wildest red-light district, with host and hostess bars, love hotels and strip bars. Not for the faint-hearted, Shinjuku promises a wild night out.
TheTokyo Metropolitan Government Building is the tallest building in Tokyo and, unlike the other observation decks in Tokyo, has a free observation desk with great views over the city.
Tokyo Eat & DrinkLike most international cities, Tokyo’s fine-dining restaurants are mostly found in lavish five-star hotels. But vending machine and convenience store food (known as the con-vi-ni) gives the top-notch establishments a run for their money.
Tsukiji Fish Market has a number of restaurants open for a fresh sushi breakfast or lunch from 5am to midday daily. There are restaurants in the inner and outer markets of Tsukiji, but don’t delay or you’ll miss out!
Kutani is a legendary teppanyaki restaurant with a plentiful selection of seasonal vegetables (up to 30 different veggies in one sitting) and slender slices of beef cooked to tender perfection.
Ramen Noodles is a staple of a Tokyoites diet. Try the Kyushu Jangara chain (there is one next to Harijuku train station). Rich pork stock and yummy noodles make this the perfect stop off between shops.
Gonpachi has four outlets (Ginza, Odaiba, Shibuya and Nishi-Azabu) all serving up outstanding soba noodles and succulent skewered meats. Cool and causal ambience, and not too pricey.
Enjoy a traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony at Hotel Okura
Sense at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel is posh but delicious. If you’ve got some Yen to spare, try the double-boiled shark- fin soup.
Azure 45 at the Ritz Carlton is a sophisticated dining experience using the freshest Japanese seafood to create French delights. The views from the 45th floor make this a meal to remember.
Two Rooms is a swanky establishment run by Australian chef Matthew Crabbe. A stylish bar scene accompanied by great cocktails.
New York Grill sits high in the Tokyo sky on the 52nd level of Tokyo’s Park Hyatt. Prime Japanese beef cooked just the way you like is the ideal accompaniment to the breathtaking views.
Kozue serves contemporary Japanese food using nothing but the finest seasonal ingredients inside a sleek bamboo interior. Bookings essential.
Make sure your trip to Tokyo coincides with the Sumo Wrestling Tournaments. Held in January, May and September, and lasting for 2 weeks, watch the best sumos wrestle it out at Kokugikan, the Sumo Stadium in Ryogoku. Big men in giant nappies – how can you refuse!
Doll Festival Day or ‘Hina Matsuri’ celebrates the artistry of Japanese Dolls. This festival has adapted over the years and now represents and encourages the wellbeing of young Japanese girls. Hand-painted and intricately dressed dolls are displayed in shops and window displays throughout Tokyo during March.
Setsubun Festival, otherwise known as the ‘Bean Throwing Festival’, marks the beginning of spring. White soybeans are thrown from windows and on the streets to scare away evil spirits and bring good luck for the special season. So be careful where you tread in March.
Sakura (Cherry Blossom Festival) relies on Mother Nature to deliver the goods. At the end of March to the beginning of April, Tokyo’s parks flourish with stunning Cherry Blossom trees.
Held at the Sensoji Shrine in Asakusa in May, the Sanja Matsuri Festival calls upon the spirit of the deities to bring good luck, health and prosperity to all Tokyoites. Join the colourful procession through the streets and take the chance to rub shoulders with a real geisha.
Thought beer festivals were a European thing? Think again. The Japanese Beer Festival takes place in early June at The Garden Hall in Ebisu Garden Place. Join the tipsy Tokyoites on this fun boozy beer fest by sipping your way through the 120 beer tastings on offer.
In July, the Buddhist Obon Festival marks the time when ancestral spirits return from the grave. Lanterns are hung outside homes welcoming these spirits. Food offerings are made at Buddhist shrines across Tokyo.
In summer month of August, Tokyo’s Samba Carnival is a great excuse to see skimpily clad dancers samba down the Asakusa streets. Locals parade the streets singing and dancing, all bringing the heat to this traditional downtown district. It generally falls somewhere between unintentionally amusing and actually quite cool.
The Tokyo International Film Festival is held every November, showing a wide range of new Japanese and Asian films. The main screenings take place at the Bunkamura theatre in Shibuya.
When To Go
Spring and autumn are the most celebrated seasons in Tokyo, thanks to Cherry Blossom’s blooming and autumn leaves falling. These are also the most popular times to travel to Tokyo.
Spring is from March to May
Autumn is from September to November
Summer is from June to August. Temperatures can exceed 30°C (86°F), while July is the most humid and rainiest month.
What To Miss
The Host and Hostess bars of Kabukicho in Shinjuku offer an insight into Tokyo’s interesting take on ‘companionship’. But rather than companionship, expect to find an empty wallet and a sore head the next morning.
By night, Roppongi turns into a sleazy club hotspot, with rowdy off-duty American soldiers and African hustlers prowling the streets for anything with legs. This area can get pretty rough, and drunken fights are not uncommon, so keep your wits about you if you’re planning to party here.
Peak Hour in Tokyo is a washing machine of human beings. The trains are almost unbearable, and you better hope you aren’t groped by an infamous ‘train-groper’ (ladies, stick to the women only carriages at these times) or stuck under a Sumo’s armpit.
Tokyo’s train system is reliable, fast, cheap and will get you everywhere you need to go, with main train stations in all the major districts. Just brace yourself for the crowds.
Tokyo’s bus service is reliable, and despite initial doubt, is actually easy to use. The 200 Yen flat fare also makes it a nice cheap option.
Unless you’re fluent in Japanese (and that doesn’t include over-enthusiastic arm gestures, yelling or pointing), catching a taxi can be a hard task, not to mention a costly one.
A monster metropolis, with immense wealth, size and absurd contradictions, Tokyo is not for the faint of heart. A clash of consumerism, über-modernity and whispers of ancient tradition, the city is a dynamic, hyperactive force.
With a metro population of over 35 million people, the Greater Tokyo Area can intimidate the most fearless tourist. A cursory tour of Tokyo however, should focus on the cluster of special wards that form the urban schematic of the city. From historic Arakawa and vibrant Chuo, to the parks of Kita, Tokyo is first and foremost, a regional prefecture. Swallow the city one bite at a time, in order to appreciate Tokyo as a whole.
With more attractions than you can shake a samurai sword at, where to start? For many, the Ginza quarter in Chuo City is the first line item on the Tokyo itinerary. A famous neon skyline soars above electronic shops, department stores and myriad restaurants and bars.
For shrines and Imperial landmarks, Itabashi, Nakano, Katsushika and Ota are the best areas within Tokyo, where millions visit extraordinary temples like Narihira, Arai Yakushi and Ikegami Honmon-ji every year.
The Tokyo National Museum in Ueno Park has over 100,000 works on display and remains the facility of record for the preservation and edification of Japanese culture. Other world class museums include the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art and Miraikan Science and Innovation Museum.
Despite a false reputation as a cold hub of steel and glass, Tokyo has an endowment of beautiful park space. The best and most prominent parks are Ueno, Shakujii and Yoyogi, popular oases where people relax, picnic, exercise and marvel at the cherry blossoms in spring.
The ward of Chiyoda contains Edo Castle, a premier historical site that dates back to the Imperial period of the same name. Built in 1457, the castle and complex landmarks hail from a bygone era in Japan that, apart from film and manga, seldom few see traces of in the West.
A colossal city like Tokyo is bound to offer a legion of festivals throughout the year. Celebrations in the city center on spiritual heritage, the arts and culture.
Sanja Matsuri, one of three landmark Shinto festivals in Tokyo, is held at the Asakusa Shrine, honors the foundation of a vital Buddhist shrine. Held over three days in late May, the delirious and wild celebration draws up to 2 million people.
For a venerable taste of Japanese culture, a sumo basho is the cardinal event. The sacred competitions crown the best sumo in Japan, with capacity crowds at Ryōgoku Kokugikan stadium in Tokyo.
Traditional kabuki theater is a rare spectacle you can only witness in authentic form in Japan. The Kabuki-za in Ginza is a historic and architecturally relevant venue in which to do just that.
On the other side of the cultural divide, a Yomiuri Giants baseball game at the Tokyo Dome is a strange and wonderful experience for anyone unfamiliar with Japanese fan rituals.
The city of Tokyo has a subtropical climate, with intense humidity as a result of the urban landscape and considerable population. Tokyo summers bring rain, while winters, despite occasional snowfall, are dry.
- Winter (November to February) -2-16°C
- Spring (March to May) 2-22°C
- Summer (June to August) 17-30°C
- Fall (September to October) 13-26°C
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