Recently, a friend with an upcoming trip to Tokyo reached out to me for itinerary suggestions. I was more than happy to oblige because Tokyo is one of my favorite places to explore. The first time I visited Tokyo was for a study abroad program at Sophia University. Last November, I returned to Japan with my partner and a group of our friends. Previously on my blog, I shared various sites to see in Kyoto and my visit to Lake Ashi.
Sensoji Temple & Asakusa Shrine – the grounds house Sensoji (a buddhist temple dedicated to Kannon), Asakusa Shrine (a shinto shrine), and the iconic Kaminari Gate through which tourists enter the complex. There is also Nakamise, a strip of tourist shops and tasty Japanese snacks. Sensoji is Tokyo’s oldest temple. This is one of my favorite destinations in Tokyo and I highly recommend visiting for the history, architecture, and Nakamise shops. Located outside of this complex is Shin-Nakamise Street, which has even more shops and snack options.
Takeshita dori – a quirky, narrow street in Harajuku with many independent fashion shops, cute boutiques, and cafes. The Sundays are especially lively, and many people come and dress up in stylish and trendy outfits. Once turning onto any of the nearby main streets, you will find larger chain stores and also Yoyogi Koen (park). It’s close to Harajuku Station and Meijijingu-mae Station.
Meiji Shrine – a Shinto shrine that was built for Emperor Meiji during the early 1900s. The spacious paths have massive wooden torii and are lined with trees. On the complex besides the main sanctuary and shrine, is an expansive wall made entirely of sake barrels. Within the evergreen forest’s cool shade, the grounds immerse visitors within nature. The Shrine Since it’s across the street from Takeshita dori, it’s accessible by Meijijingu-mae Station and Harajuku Station.
Zozoji Temple and Tokyo Tower area – this is a great area to wander Tokyo. I enjoy the visual juxtaposition of Zozoji temple with Tokyo Tower in the background. There’s usually a Sweet Potato vendor at the base of Zozoji Temple’s stairs. If you continue past the Jisho statues and prayers at Zozoji temple, you will find Tokyo Tower.
The Imperial Palace East Gardens – was previously the site of Edo Castle, which was Japan’s second capital city. Much of the original structures are gone, except for some gates, guardhouses, and moats. Currently, the the site is now home to the Emperor, and tourists have access to wander around the outer areas and park.
Every Sunday, the streets before the grounds are closed for free cycling. However access to the public, main part of the Imperial Palace ends at 3:30pm on Sundays. There is a sidewalk that circles the grounds, but is popular with runners.
Roppongi Hills & Observatory – shopping mall with a variety of restaurants, the Mori Art Museum, a garden and an outdoor area has light shows during the summer, and the Observatory that features a promising view of Tokyo’s skyline. When you purchase a ticket to the Observatory, it includes access to the Museum, and for an additional fee you can include the Sky deck. Mount Fuji is visible on clear days from the Observatory. There are bars in the observatory section, but they are expensive (think $16 or $18 for a cocktail). Tokyo Tower or Tokyo Sky tree also provide great views of the city.
- Although it’s expensive, I’d recommend going to the Moon Lounge in the evening. Requesting a table by the window is incredibly expensive, so we settled on a seat at the bar that still provided a decent view of the city. I ordered the Gesyoku a mixed drink with red wine.
- The Shinjuku Metropolitan Center offers a free view of the city. In my opinion, the Observatory or the Shinjuku Metropolitan Center offer better views than Tokyo Tower.
Odaiba – is a man-made island located in southern Tokyo that has arcade games, amusement rides, several shopping malls, and restaurants. Here is a comprehensive guide to all of the different attractions and sites. Fortunately, I visited DiverCity Tokyo Plaza twice, the first time was with the RX-78-2 Gundam in 2012 and most recently saw the Unicorn Gundam in 2017.
Tsukiji Fish Market – this marketplace is one of the oldest and largest fish markets globally. If you’re able to arrive at 5am, you can watch the infamous tuna auctions. Although I waited over 10 minutes to order sake (salmon) sushi in the outdoor area of the market, it was honestly the best sushi I’ve ever eaten.
Shibuya – experience of the mayhem of the overwhelming intersection before Shibuya Station. When all of the stop lights turn red, pedestrians surge across.
Kabuki or Noh theatre – if you’re a fan of theatre you should spare time to see a show.
- Kabuki is known for it’s all men acting crew with dramatic make-up and decorative costumes. It also has detailed stage designs typically with features like with a bridge built into the audience, moving platforms, and trapdoors for stunts.
- Noh is a classical musical drama with symbolic plots. The actors use their movements to present the story with minimal dialogue.
- While I enjoyed Noh more than Kabuki, I felt the quality and design of kabuki outweighs the more simplified Noh shows. Moreover, Kabuki shows tend to be 3 to 4 hours in length, and Noh are much shorter. While both shows will be in Japanese, you should have the option to either listen to an English translation on a headset or follow along on a transcription of the show.
Tokyo Disneyland – it explains itself, however I loved my day here because it felt like a compact version of Disney World. However at Tokyo Disney, there are more adorable souvenirs and main characters walking around obliged to take photos.
I was ecstatic when I met Mickey Mouse and he took a photo with me. In addition to Disneyland, there’s also Disney Sea.
Miyazaki Museum – any fans of Miyazaki movies should tour this museum. While I haven’t had the chance to visit, it is on my bucket list for when I return. Unfortunately the only ways to purchase tickets are at a kiosk in Family Mart/Lawson’s (but usually needs to be done weeks in advance since they’re typically sold out) or with an overpriced tour online.