To first-time visitors, welcome to Tokyo. It’s a vast, entertaining city bursting with a seemingly immeasureable number of things to do during any visit. Even residents usually try focus on one category — for example, food, as Tokyo has the greatest number of Michelin-starred restaurants in the world; there are thousands of restaurants here and it would take forever to experience them all. It’s a place that never stops changing — with new openings all the time, the city boasts various sides and offers many charms. To help you make the most of your stay, here are some of the top must-see venues of this ever-shifting city, from relaxing parks to the latest technological museum. We hope visitors will come back and experience more of the city’s different sides in the near future.
Visitors can climb up the tallest, free-standing tower in the world at a height of 634 meters over the skyline, and take in views of the city from the top level of the 450-meter-high observatory deck.
Those brave enough can also stand on the tower’s “window” flooring — a transparent area from which you can see cars moving beneath, almost seemingly smaller than ants.
While it mainly functions as a broadcasting tower, it is also one of Tokyo’s most popular tourist destinations. The area around its base, Tokyo Skytree Town, is another fun and complex spot boasting about 310 shops and restaurants. People should visit Ameshin in Tokyo Skytree Town Solamachi to witness very elaborative candy crafts. The store specializes in producing delicately chiseled treats known as amezaiku (candy craft), one of Japan’s traditional crafts.
When travelers are hungry and want to try a Tokyo-style dining, Toriton sushi restaurant is the place to go. The initial shock of the long line practically counts as a Tokyo experience itself; with a little patience, you’ll see why regulars are willing to wait with empty stomachs. You’ll be enjoying quality, reasonably priced seafood delivered straight from Hokkaido sooner than you think. Also, no worries for those who can’t read Japanese — Toriton has menus in English, Chinese and Korean. Visitors looking to freshen their palates afterward should try the extra-thick green tea ice cream at Nana’s Green Tea Tokyo Skytree. To visit the observatory itself, it is best to reserve tickets through the website.
Sensoji Temple area
Local custom suggests that it’s usually nice to greet the local god when visiting an area. Therefore, it’s worth visiting Sensoji Temple in Asakusa — Tokyo’s oldest temple established in 628. Boasting over 30 million visitors a year, this huge temple is a special place for locals. The principal statue of Kannon enshrined in the temple is said to have been saving worshippers ever since first appearing some 1,400 years ago. Its glorious main hall, the five-storied pagoda and the main gate, Kaminarimon, are all very popular photo spots.
Kaminarimon literally means thunder gate, and is famous for its giant, red lantern that was restored after World War II with a donation from Konosuke Matsushita, the founder of Panasonic. There are only two occasions when the lantern is folded up — one is during the huge, local festival Sanja Matsuri to let the tall portable shrine go through. The other occasions are when typhoons are expected.
Between the gate and temple, there is a bustling shopping street called Nakamise-dori — the oldest shopping arcade in Tokyo that sells all sorts of Japanese souvenirs and snacks, some dating back to the Edo Period. When all of the shops close at night, the street is lit up and the store shutters, comprising large paintings, become an entertaining experience for visitors.
Opened in 1920, Meiji Jingu Shrine is dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his consort, Empress Shoken. Even though it is located in the bustling Harajuku area, the shrine’s vicinity remains serene — a noticeably different atmosphere once visitors pass the giant wooden torii. The shrine is located in a forest that covers an area of 170 acres consisting of 120,000 trees of 365 different species, which were donated by people from all parts of Japan when the shrine was established.
The shrine is incredibly popular, especially at New Year’s when it draws crowds of over 1 million who pray for their luck in the new year. It is also a popular venue for Shinto-style weddings — if they are lucky, visitors can see brides and grooms in their gorgeous kimono. The main building is an impressive example of the austere design and subdued colors typical of Shinto architecture.
In 2017, the whole city celebrated the birth of healthy baby panda Xiang Xiang in Ueno Zoo, the nation’s oldest zoo located in Ueno Park.
Established in 1873 as one of the capital’s first official parks, it has become one of Tokyo’s most popular and lively cherry blossom spots with more than 1,000 sakura (cherry trees) lining its central pathway. During late March and early April, people throw picnic parties under the trees to admire the cherry blossoms.
This park is also home to many renowned museums, including the National Museum of Nature and Science and the Tokyo National Museum. The museums are located right next to Ameyoko Plaza Food & Clothes Market that sells an array of souvenirs and clothes across 500 jam-packed stalls at reasonable prices. There are also a number of casual izakaya (pubs) where locals enjoy bar hopping, too.
The Rikugien Gardens is one of the most beautiful traditional Japanese gardens in the city. Covering approximately 89,000 square meters, the park’s landscape reflects traditional Edo kaiyu style, with winding paths placed around a central pond and miniature hills built on level grounds.
Rikugien is popular all year round — the new leaves in spring and varied colors of autumn are the most stunning. However, the cascading blossoms of the shidare-zakura (weeping cherry tree) are one of must-see attractions in the springtime. In the gardens, there is the Fuki-age-chaya teahouse where guests can enjoy a bowl of matcha with snacks for a mere ¥510. The teahouse is open everyday until 4:45 p.m. with some souvenir options. Close by is the nation’s first Michelin-awarded ramen restaurant Japanese Soba Noodles Tsuta, for those willing to brave the lines.
Epson teamLab Borderless
Tokyo’s latest and hottest opening of 2018, the nation’s well-known “ultra-technologists” teamLab have now got their own permanent digital art museum in Odaiba.
In this huge museum covering 10,000 square meters, about 50 works are on display, which visitors can interact with, and it is divided with five sections; some displays can even move beyond a single room.
No explanations or fixed routes are given for the huge space, allowing visitors to explore at their own pace and create their own unique journeys throughout the museum; this layout and presentation resonates with the exhibition’s “borderless” theme. It’s easy to spend an entire day there, so make sure to block out enough time when you visit. You can buy tickets through their official website.