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Tokyo Night Photography: 15 Faces of Japan’s Capital After Sunset

A Japanophile who has survived 15 solo trips to Japan. His visits focus on discovering the country’s lesser-known attractions.

Tokyo, the capital of Japan, carries many titles

It is one of the largest cities in the world, home to some 13 million people. It is also Japan’s alpha city as well as its political, economic, and cultural heart.

Above all, Tokyo is the synthesis of modern and medieval Japan. A place where the past and the present coexist in a peculiar but perfect harmony.

This photo essay takes a look at some of the faces of Tokyo at night that define this harmony. If you have ever experienced Tokyo after dark, you will surely agree with me that sunset marks the beginning of a special magic in Japan’s bustling capital. This magic is as fascinating as it is mesmerizing.

Aerial view of Tokyo with Tokyo Tower in the distance.

Aerial view of Tokyo with Tokyo Tower in the distance.

1. The Sparkling

The greater Tokyo metropolitan area, which includes the cities of Yokohama and Kawasaki, is home to a staggering 33 million people, making it one of the world’s most densely populated regions. At night, this massive spread of homes and offices transforms into a sparkling sea of lights. It’s a glittering ocean that seemingly stretches on forever.

The majestic Hozōmon (宝蔵門) of Asakusa Sensō-ji (浅草寺) at night.

The majestic Hozōmon (宝蔵門) of Asakusa Sensō-ji (浅草寺) at night.

2. The Historical

Many of Tokyo’s historical monuments were destroyed over the last century no thanks to natural disasters and war. Thankfully, the best has long been restored. Come sunset, they adorned Tokyo nights with their majestic splendor. Their timeless beauty free for all to enjoy.

Sensō-ji Nakamise-dōri (仲見世通り) at night.

Sensō-ji Nakamise-dōri (仲見世通り) at night.

3. The Serene

Given there are tens of thousands of tourists in Tokyo each day, it’s sometimes best to visit popular attractions outside of typical hours. While you probably wouldn’t get to complete your souvenir shopping, the serenity is likely to surprise and please you.

JR Ikebukuro Station at 10 pm, on a Tuesday.

JR Ikebukuro Station at 10 pm, on a Tuesday.

4. The Dedicated

Japanese dedication to work is legendary. Often, to the extent of obsessiveness too.

At major transportation hubs, you will continue to see hordes of office workers wearily returning home right up to midnight. Sad as this might be when it comes to Japan’s work-life balance, the spectacle nonetheless impresses.

Neon nightmare, or perfect Tokyo night photography opportunity?

Neon nightmare, or perfect Tokyo night photography opportunity?

5. The Bewildering

To work hard and to play hard sounds like a cliché, but it does aptly describe adult city life in Tokyo. To cater to its residents, Tokyo nights host a giddying array of dining, entertainment, and relaxation choices. Often, deciding which to go for could be a task in itself.

Mecha heroes watch over Japan's capital tirelessly.

Mecha heroes watch over Japan's capital tirelessly.

6. The Vigilant

Are Manga and Anime nowadays considered synonymous with modern Japanese culture? Your answer would likely be a yes, when under the stare of one of Tokyo’s many geek-culture sentries.

Shiodome Caretta Winter Illumination 2018.

Shiodome Caretta Winter Illumination 2018.

7. The Wonderful

Japan adores illuminations, with major entertainment hubs in Tokyo competing intensely each winter to put up the best festive illuminations. During these months, it’s not an exaggeration to say there are mini slices of wonderland to be found throughout the capital. For tourists, these are among the best weeks to capture enchanting Tokyo night photos too.

Tokyo Midtown Starlight Garden 2018.

Tokyo Midtown Starlight Garden 2018.

8. The Avant-Garde

Not all winter illuminations adopt Christmas themes. For example, Tokyo Midlands opted for a surreal approach for its 2018 display. Named Starlight Garden, the ethereal display is sheer delight for fans of avant-garde art.

Does a hot bowl of ramen sound good to you?

Does a hot bowl of ramen sound good to you?

9. The Quirky

Tokyo is not as famous as Osaka when it comes to outrageous restaurant signs. Still, it’s highly unlikely you wouldn’t bump into something eye-catching while strolling about in the evening. The advice here? Always carry a camera with you—one capable of capturing the best of Tokyo at night.

Entrance to Kabukichō, Tokyo's largest red light and entertainment district.

Entrance to Kabukichō, Tokyo's largest red light and entertainment district.

10. The Transcendent

Tokyo’s red-light and entertainment district of Kabukichō continues to suffer from a negative image, no thanks to aggressive touts and notorious scams. However, if you know when to go and what to avoid, the dazzling neon-lit alleys could be a most colorful Tokyo night excursion. It is also a great introduction to the Japanese concept of Ukiyo. Not the art-style, but the Japanese transcendent world of make-belief joy.

Odaiba Beachside, with Rainbow Bridge in the background.

Odaiba Beachside, with Rainbow Bridge in the background.

11. The Romantic

Coming back to illuminations, you don’t need to wait for the year's end to feel festive or romantic in Tokyo. The Odaiba Beachside (Odaiba Kaihin Koen) is adorned with festive decorations throughout the year, the showpiece of which is an immense Christmas tree. Here, Christmas is permanent. The same goes for romance and love.

The capital's most unusual buildings could be great subjects for your Tokyo evening photos, under the right circumstances.

The capital's most unusual buildings could be great subjects for your Tokyo evening photos, under the right circumstances.

12. The Futuristic

Bluntly put, Tokyo’s modern architecture has a good number of haters worldwide. If you’re a fan of experimental designs, though, these outrageous structures could be a feast for the eyes. They are also visually striking when illuminated at night.

A gourmet dinner of wagyu beef.

A gourmet dinner of wagyu beef.

13. The Yummy

Do you know that Tokyo is the city with the most Michelin stars? If you’re willing to splurge, the best of the international gourmet dining scene is open to you here. If you’re not, despair not —there are many reasonable and budget-friendly choices too. The short of it: Tokyo is the dining capital of the world. Your Tokyo nights will never be spent hungry.

Tokyo Skytree at night.

Tokyo Skytree at night.

14. The Stunning

As of 2021, Tokyo Skytree is still the tallest self-supported tower in the world, looming over the metropolis at a stunning height of 634m. When illuminated after dark, it is not unlike a watchful beacon. When photographed from Asakusa together with classic temple structures, there is also no better expression of the harmony that exists between the old and new.

Tokyo Bay at midnight.

Tokyo Bay at midnight.

15. The Never-Sleeping

I end this photo essay of Tokyo at night by saying, the Japanese capital is perhaps the greatest city in the world, simply because it has something for everyone. Don’t you want to visit this magnificent city right away?

© 2016 Yong Kuan Leong

Comments

Doris Sorgar on April 30, 2018:

I love the pictures in this article. Asakusa pictures are probably my favorite...I have been there before, but at day-time, and it was so full of tourists that I did not find it nearly as enjoyable or impressive as it looks in your photos. Now, I am considering revisiting it at night-time.

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