This author is a former I.T. graduate turned vagabond who travelled extensively and has lived and worked in Japan for many years.
Planning a trip to Tokyo? I've lived here for years, and in my opinion, these are the 50 places you simply have to visit. From sightseeing, shopping, and restaurants to parks, museums, theater, and nightlife, this city has it all.
1. Tokyo Skytree
Tokyo Skytree is Japan’s latest tower, which is used for broadcasting signals. It opened in 2012 and has quickly become more famous than the Tokyo Tower. The Skytree also has a shopping complex on the ground floor called Soramachi. It contains many clothing shops and restaurants. On a clear day, usually early in the morning, it is possible to see Mt. Fuji—which is over 80km away—from the observation deck.
Asakusa Before the Skytree Was Built
2. Tokyo Station Ramen Street
Tokyo Station is a popular tourist destination. One could spend an entire day exploring its large underground shopping center, but the true must-see there is Tokyo Ramen Street. This spot has eight fantastic ramen restaurants with such tasty dishes that there are always long lines of people. But don't worry; the food is well worth the wait. While you're there, you should also visit Tokyo Character Street. There, you'll find character shops selling merchandise from the most famous anime brands, including characters from Pokemon to Anpanman, as well as limited edition goods only available in Japan. It's a great place to pick up gifts for people back home!
3. The World's Largest Uniqlo
The 12-story Uniqlo in Ginza is the world’s largest Uniqlo store. It is full of electronically rotated mannequins wearing brightly colored items and is an interesting store to browse through even if you're not in the mood to shop. Uniqlo sells men’s and women’s fashion items and also has a huge children's and babies' section. Sunday is a great time to visit, as Uniqulo has weekend sales and the main street outside the building, Ginza Chuo-dori, is closed to traffic and becomes a pedestrian-only promenade.
4. Yakitori Alley in Yurakucho
There are a lot of corporate offices in Yurakucho, which has helped many small after-work bars open nearby. Under the JR overpass, there are many such bars to visit, and many customers frequent the same place daily, giving these bars a friendly atmosphere. You can order just one stick of yakitori if you’re on a budget, and drink prices are quite reasonable. This is a good place to go for a cheap, tasty dinner and to meet Japanese people.
5. Tsukiji Market Tuna Auctions
The world’s largest fish market is located at Tsukiji in Tokyo. Many of Japan’s most expensive restaurants and famous chefs buy ingredients from here daily, because the fish sold here has to be of the highest quality. The tuna auction starts at 5 am every morning, and is open for the public to watch. Even though the market closes in the morning after the auctions, many nearby restaurants stay open for the afternoon. A popular dish for lunch is kaisendon (a bowl of rice and shellfish).
6. Yakatabune River Cruise
A great way to see Tokyo on a budget is to take a Yakatabune Cruise. They meander down the Sumida River, allowing tourists to take in all the sights of Tokyo’s downtown area. This is a great opportunity to photograph many famous sightseeing spots from a unique vantage point. There are also many port locations, including Asakusa, Tsukishima, and Hamamatsucho, and tourists have the freedom to start and stop the tour at any port along the way. Certain tours also serve food and drinks.
7. Fuji Television Building in Odaiba
Odaiba is a man-made island in the Tokyo Bay area. It’s a great place to visit because from there you can see a panoramic view of the Tokyo skyline including the Tokyo Tower. One of the best landmarks to see at Odaiba is the Fuji Television building, known as Hachitama, because of the giant silver ball in the middle of the building. You can take a tour of the building and photograph the sets of popular TV shows. Some visitors are even invited to see shows as they are being recorded! Venus Fort is a large shopping center that is also good to visit, as well as the Ferris wheel and the Rainbow Bridge, which connects Odaiba to the mainland. Plan to spend the entire day at Odaiba as there is so much to see.
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8. Oedo Onsen
Oedo Onsen is a Japanese hot spring theme park designed to look exactly like a street from the Edo period (1603-1868). There are both private and shared baths. Oedo Onsen also serves traditional Japanese food.
9. Imperial Palace
The Imperial Palace in Marunouchi near Tokyo Station is the Japanese emperor’s residence. This landmark—primarily composed of quiet, empty space—has an area of over 2,000,000 square meters and is located right in the middle of the busiest metropolis in the world. Entry to the palace is forbidden, but many photographers and tourists gather in the park in front of the palace gate and peer into the grounds. This is a great area to take pictures of the Palace's bridge and moat, and if you're lucky enough to be there in springtime, don't forget to snap a shot of the cherry blossom trees.
10. Shin-Okubo Korea Town
Just minutes from Shin-Okubo Station is the second largest Korea town in Japan. There, you will find many Korean restaurants and shops selling Korean products. The best meals to try include samgyeopsal barbecue and sundubu-jjigae tofu soup. Japan's largest Korea town is in Tsuruhashi, Osaka.
Akihabara, also known as Denkigai or Electric Town, is the best place in Japan to buy electronics and household appliances. Tourists can take advantage of a 10 percent duty-free discount on any electronics purchased here. It is also a hub for Japanese otaku and anime culture. There are many maid cafes, cosplay bars, anime theaters, and people dressed up in fashionable costumes roaming the streets.
Rikugien is a large garden built in the Edo period of the 1600s. It took seven years to build and is a great place to photograph the cherry blossoms in spring. The trees in this park also have amazing, vibrantly colored foliage in fall.
13. Ninja Restaurant in Akasaka
This is a famous ninja-themed restaurant in the tourist area of Akasaka. Ninjas were warriors who worked under the samurais in the Sengoku period between 1467 and 1568. The restaurant is set up to look like a fort, and while dining, there are brief ninja demonstrations to keep customers entertained.
14. Sensō-ji Shrine in Asakusa
Asakusa is the site of Tokyo’s oldest temple—Sensō-ji. People come to the temple to pray and smell the incense in front, which is meant to help prevent illnesses. Asakusa is also a wonderful place to photograph traditional Japanese culture. Leading up to the temple are markets and shops selling many kinds of souvenirs and foods (see #15, below). The Tokyo Skytree can also be seen from here.
15. Nakamise Asakusa
Nakamise is the long road of souvenir and food stalls leading to the Shrine in Asakusa. This shopping street has been here since the Edo Period, and the kinds of food and souvenirs sold here change with the seasons.
16. Sansada, the First Tendon Restaurant
Sansada in Asakusa was the first restaurant to serve tendon (tempura and rice). Asakusa has since become famous for tempura restaurants and the culture surrounding them. Tendon was an expensive food that was traditionally eaten by people of high social class in the Edo Period. Now it has become one of Japan’s most popular dishes.
17. Loach Fish in Ryogoku
Ryogoku, next to the Sumida River, has long been an area with many restaurants that serve freshly caught loach fish from the Sumida River. Loach was, and still is, a high-class food. Loach hotpot is a delicious Japanese dish that is served at many expensive restaurants. Loach soup with eggs is another extremely popular dish. If you are in this area and have the means, don't miss a chance to try this unique flavor.
18. Ryogoku Kokugikan Sumo Center
Ryogoku Kokugikan is the professional sumo wrestling center where sumo competitions are held three times a year during the months of January, May, and September. Tickets always sell out, so if you want to go, be sure to book early. During competition season, it is common to see sumo wrestlers on the streets in the area. The Sumo dish chanko-nabe is served in restaurants in the area.
19. Edo-Tokyo Museum
The Edo-Tokyo Museum of Japanese history features artwork from the Edo era, including incredibly detailed dioramas of how people lived during that time. The museum has enough to keep you busy all day. It is also a popular spot for families on the weekend.
20. Ameyoko Markets in Ueno
Ueno is one of Tokyo’s popular downtown suburbs. There, you will find a large park with cherry blossom trees and statues of historical Japanese figures, as well as a popular market called Ameyoko just across the road. The name “Ameya Yokocho" means candy alley. It was given this name because there used to be many sweet shops there. The name was then shortened to Ameyoko. Though 'Candy Alley' sounds harmless, many black market goods used to be sold there. Now, however, this market sells a variety of foods and other assorted goods. It is possible to negotiate with shop owners on prices of goods in this area.
21. Daiso 100-Yen Shop in Kinshicho
Daiso is a very popular 100-yen chain in Japan. The Daiso in Kinshicho is the second largest in Japan. The largest is in Shinsaibashi, Osaka. This store sells many things including snack food, daily items, clothes, underwear, cosmetics, and office supplies. It is much larger than regular Daiso stores and offers a broader selection of goods.
22. Ueno Park Cherry blossoms and Starbucks Cafe
Ueno was the site of Japan’s first public park, and it covers an impressive area of about 530,000 square meters. Shinobugaoka is an area inside the park where the best cherry blossom trees can be seen in spring. Shinobazu Pond is another interesting feature of the park that is good to visit all year round. This is also the only park in Tokyo that has a Starbucks inside the grounds.
23. Tokyo Tower
Tokyo Tower is a broadcasting tower well known as a symbol of Tokyo. At night, it lights up with warm orange lights and tints the Tokyo skyline. It’s a popular date spot and one that even Japanese people feel they would like to visit at least once in their lives. If a couple sees the moment at midnight when the tower lights are turned down, it’s said they’ll find happiness for eternity.
24. Roppongi Hills
Many famous Japanese celebrities live in the fashionable area of Roppongi Hills. Roppongi is most famous for its bars and nightlife, however, it is also a great place to visit in the day. It has shopping complexes, art museums, Japanese gardens, and a TV station.
25. Roppongi Nightclubs
Roppongi bars are a great place to hear the latest music. There are many lavish clubs that have celebrity clients. There are also many foreign bars and nightclubs, as well as foreign workers.
Note: Avoid small clubs that have a big guy at the front inviting you in. They may not let you leave until you spend all your money.
26. Tsurutontan Udon Restaurant in Roppongi
Tsurutontan is a famous Japanese restaurant that serves udon noodles in very big bowls. It has a high reputation for great taste and is a must if you're in Roppongi.
27. Tokyo Zen Café
The Tokyo Zen Center is a café where you can experience Zen culture. Here you can practice seated Zen meditation, as temples in Japan are too busy to allow for much relaxation and meditation. Advanced bookings are required.
28. Ichigaya Fishing Center
This is a great place to take children because there are many fun activities for them to participate in. Here, you can see and catch fish in one of Japan’s largest fishing ponds.
29. Meguro Gajoen Museum
This museum is in a luxurious building that also contains a wedding hall, restaurant, and hotel. There are tour guides who can explain the history of the Japanese art pieces in the museum.
30. Harajuku's Takeshita Dori Shopping Street
Takeshita-dori is the famous fashion street in Harajuku. There are stores selling unusual fashion genres such as gothic, lolita, and punk. Many young people can be seen wearing interesting anime outfits here. Harajuku crepes are a good food to taste in this area. There are also stores where you can buy souvenirs.
31. Meiji Jingu Shrine in Yoyogi Park
Meiji Jingu, located in Yoygi Park is where Emperor Meiji is worshiped. It is a popular shrine many Japanese people visit for New Year. Yoyogi Park also has some great weekend markets to see.
32. Shibuya Crossing
The scramble crossing in front of JR Shibuya Station is the most well-known street in Japan. Thousands of people cross every minute! A good place to take a picture of the crossing is inside the Starbucks on the 2nd floor of the Qfront building.
33. Shibuya 109 Shopping Center
109, also called Marukyu, is a 10-story building that is the top store for young peoples' fashion in Tokyo. There are many young Japanese women here looking to buy the latest fashion. They often check what the store workers are wearing to see what the newest trend is.
34. Center Gai Shopping Street in Shibuya
The shopping street that goes through the middle of Shibuya is called Center Gai. It is a very crowded street, with fast food restaurants, bars, karaoke, and shopping arcades. On weekdays after school, the area is full of high school students, and during the evening, many businessmen visit the izakaya bars or karaoke. A whole day can be spent exploring the crowded area of Shibuya.
Daikanyama, sometimes called the Brooklyn of Tokyo, is only one stop away from Shibuya on the metro and is full of chic boutiques and restaurants. There are many small, hidden, and interesting shops in this area, so walk around and explore to find them. This area is also well known for great dessert cafes.
36. Shinjuku's Omoide Yokocho and Golden Gai
Shinjuku is the business center of Tokyo where many businessmen meet. However, the area also has some great bars and restaurants, including several famous Yakitori chicken restaurants located in the tight alleyway at the west exit of Shinjuku Station. The area is called Omoide Yokocho. The nearby area called Golden Gai has small rows of buildings that used to be pleasure houses, and which have since been converted into small and interesting bars. Have a drink in this area for a great chance to meet the friendly locals.
37. Awaodori Restaurant in Shinjuku
The restaurant is only two minutes from the east exit of Shinjuku Station. It has all the popular Japanese meals such as yakitori, sushi, sukiyaki, shabushabu, and more. This restaurant also has a show called the Awaodori dance. The staff performs it twice a day.
38. Kappabashi Dogugai Shoutengai
Kappabashi Dogugai is a long shoutengai between Asakusa and Ueno. The shops here all sell items for the food industry, including cooking utensils, tableware, restaurant furniture, and so on. Professional chefs often shop here. This is also where foreign tourists come to buy the plastic food models that are often seen in the windows of Japanese restaurants. There is even a store that has a workshop where you can make your own wax food samples!
39. Kyariko Cat Café in Shinjuku
Cat cafés are a great place to relax. Usually, there are about 30 cats freely walking around the café. Customers can play with them and feed them snacks. At the Kyariko cat café, it costs about 1100 yen for 90 minutes of play time with the cats.
40. Nakano Broadway Shopping Arcade
Nakano Broadway has become a subculture shopping arcade. There are many stores here that sell anime products, toys, manga, dolls, and other otaku products. Mandarake is the most popular store in this shopping arcade.
41. Shinjuku Suehirotei Theatre
There is a great late-night burlesque show at Shinjuku Suehirotei. The show is every Saturday at 9:30 pm, and no reservations are necessary. It is all in Japanese, but even if you don’t understand, you can still enjoy the atmosphere and experience of this traditional Japanese entertainment. Ticket prices are very reasonable.
42. Butler Café in Ikebukuro
Butler cafés are the opposite of maid cafés; they are aimed at female customers. At the butler café in Ikebukuro, men dress up as butlers and treat women like princesses. It is a popular spot for women, from high school aged girls to older ladies. The butler café is on Otome Road. It also sells anime goods that are popular with women.
43. Cosme Cosmetics Lumine in Ikebukuro
The Cosme store in the Lumine Shopping center sells high-end Japanese cosmetics. Tester products are available to try. There are also staff members who can speak English and recommend products.
44. Yanesen Neighborhood in Tokyo
Yanesen is a neighborhood in Tokyo that has many historical buildings from the Edo period. This area is a working-class neighborhood with an old-fashioned shopping street called Yanaka Ginza. The Yanaka Cemetary is also nearby, where tourists can see the graves of the Tokugawa family.
45. Capsule Hotel for Women in Ikebukuro
No trip to Japan is complete without staying in a capsule hotel, yet most capsule hotels don’t allow women to visit. Ikebukuro Plaza is one of the few that has a women-only floor.
46. Ginza Hakuhinkan Department Store
In 1926, Ginza Hakuhinkan was the first department store to open in Japan. It is still well-known in Japan and sells many unique items including Japanese dolls and toys.
47. Sannou Inari Shrine
Sannou Inari Shrine is a great place to take photos of the famous Japanese red torii gates. Here, there are gates that look similar to Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari Shrine.
48. Kurosawa Restaurant in Nagatacho
Kurosawa restaurant in Nagatacho is a great place to eat shabu-shabu or turtle. Akira Kurosawa was a Japanese filmmaker who directed 30 films in a career lasting over 57 years. The restaurant has a retro theme similar to his movies, and his favorite meals are on the menu. The handmade soba noodles are a lovely dish.
49. Antenna Shop in the Kotsukaikan Building
At the end of your trip, when you want to buy souvenirs (including food-related ones!), go to the Antenna shops in the basement of the Kotsukaikan Building near Tokyo Station. Here, you'll find all kinds of products from various places in Japan, from Hokkaido in the north to Okinawa in the south.
50. Homeikan Japanese Inn
Homeikan is located in the area of Hongo, where many literary scholars including the famous Kenji Miyazawa resided in the Meiji period of 1868-1912. The Homeikan building has been reconstructed in the style of a traditional Japanese Inn (ryokan) and has been registered as a Japanese cultural property. This is a great place for foreign tourists to stay and get a feel for the traditional Japanese way of living. There is also a beautiful garden with Japanese plants.
© 2015 Dave