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.
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 Sumida River surrounds Tokyo, and is a great place to go on a cruise or boat tour. Going under bridges, viewing the Tokyo Tower, and passing Shinto shrines are just some of the sights that you’ll see while riding on the Sumida River.
The Sumida River branches from the Arakawa River and into Tokyo Bay. Running 8 miles (27 kilometers) around the city, it passes under 26 bridges. If you can, go to the Sumida River Firework Festival, which is held during July each year, since there is nothing like seeing the spectacular explosion of lights against water. You can also cruise along the Sumida River to get to other destinations. One of the most popular rides is between the stunning Asakusa Temple and the Hamarikyu Gardens. This ride allows you to see cherry blossoms in full bloom along the river before you arrive to Hamarikyu, where there are meticulously kept, lush gardens.
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!
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.
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.
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.
See the so-called Nagano Alps from Japan's highest aerial tramway, the Komogatake Ropeway. The Ropeway opened in 1963 and is a popular way to take in one of the most stunning, scenic views in Japan. The Ropeway runs from the edge of Lake Ashi to the summit of Mount Komagatake, its namesake. The ropeway carries passengers 950 meters (3,116 feet), making it the highest vertical aerial tramway in the country. The ride soars through the clouds to provide views of Japan's highest mountain - Mt. Fuji, as well as the seven Izu Islands, Lake Ashinoko, and expansive coastline.
At Mt. Komogatake's summit, passengers off-load to a woodland area with a small shrine and numerous hiking trails to explore. Since the panoramic views are the highlight, it's recommended to only ride the Ropeway on clear days when the mountain summits can be spotted from the ground.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ten years ago, a visit to the Roppongi district of Tokyo meant you were either visiting an embassy or going out to party with the foreigner community. While Roppongi remains one of Tokyo’s best nightlife districts, particularly with foreigners, the city of Tokyo has successfully broadened the appeal of Roppongi to include foreigners, locals and domestic tourists with a wider variety of entertainment options.
Perhaps the most influential and much-anticipated development project was of Roppongi Hills, a behemoth modern shopping and entertainment complex housed at the base of Mori Tower. Apart from the upscale shopping options, Roppongi Hills is home to the Mori Arts Center Gallery, Mori Art Museum and Tokyo City View, a viewing platform with 360-degree views from 820 feet (250 meters) above ground.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.