Tokyo is such a fascinating city, where modern meets old. Full of tall glass buildings and the latest technology, yet old shrines and temples are everywhere and centuries-old traditions remain. We spent eight days in Tokyo and still didn’t see everything, however we did make the most of our time there and saw pretty much everything we wanted to see (except the robot restaurant – damn!). If you have limited time in Tokyo, because you’re exploring other cities and towns, like Kyoto, here’s where I suggest you put on your sightseeing list!
8 places to see in Tokyo
Harajuku is a district in Shibuya and is the area that runs from Harajuku station to Omotesando. Around the corner is a boulevard of luxury shops but Harajuku is known around the world as being the centre of Japanese youth culture and fashion. It’s an interesting area where you’ll find a mixture of tacky, kitsch, cutesy and hipster. I loved it!
In Harajuku you are guaranteed to spot people dressing Harajuku style, like these three girls below. There are lots of girls dressed in kawaii (cute) outfits, and if you ask them politely they are happy to take a photo with you.
The crossing outside Shibuya station is fun to walk across. All the lights turn red at the same time and people cross in every direction – it’s organised chaos! Shibuya itself is a great area to explore – from the malls right by the station with their massive food halls to the bright lights of the back streets filled with pachinko parlours (a very popular arcade game) and purikura (sticker photo booths).
Sensō-ji is an ancient Buddhist temple located in Asakusa and is Tokyo’s oldest temple. It’s an absolutely beautiful temple and it’s fascinating to watch people go through the rituals, such as placing incense and letting it burn then waving it in their hand to exstinguish the flame, then placing it in the large burners and fanning the smoke towards themselves. It apparently has healing properties.
Surrounding the temple are lots of shops and a long street full of market stalls called Nakamise, where you can purchase food or souvenirs such as geta (sandles that look like a cross between clogs and flip flops, usually worn with kimonos), geta socks and folding fans.
Akihabara is known as Tokyo’s electric town and it’s where you’ll find lots of gaming arcades and department stores selling electronics and everything else (even Hello Kitty toilets). The area is also well-known for Maid Cafes and you’ll spot girls giving leaflets out. Basically they are cafes where everything is kawaii (cute) and you’ll get to play games with the girls. Even the food is cute – think rice shaped like a panda.
If you want to relive your childhood, pay a visit to Super Potato where you can play retro arcade games like Wonder Boy and Street Fighter for just ¥100 per play.
Yoyogi park and Meiji Shrine
Yoyogi park is situated right by Harajuku station and is home to the Meiji Shrine. It’s a large park that offers some tranquility from the hustle and bustle of the city. Meiji Shrine was built as a dedication to the Emperor Meiji and the Empress Shoken and was completed in 1920.
The shrine is beautiful but I loved the wooden prayer cards (ema) that people leave for the kami (spirits or gods) to receive them. Purchase one at the shrine (each shrine has their own design) and write a prayer or blessing and then hang it up.
Don’t miss the ‘wall’ of sake barrels wrapped in straw, which are offered each year by breweries to show their deep respect for the souls of the Emperor and Empress. The designs on the sake barrels are just exquisite and all are unique to their respective brewery.
Roppongi Hills is referred to as a ‘city within a city’ because it has everything – offices, shopping mall, art museum, cinema, hotel (where we stayed) and observation deck. It’s also home to one of the tallest buildings in the city – the Mori tower, which stands at 238 meters. For one of the best (free) views of the city at night and the Tokyo tower, head to the shopping complex.
Ebisu is a large district in Shibuya-ku and is full of bars (where you can drink with ‘salary men’) and restaurants and is also home to Yebisu Garden Palace. Also known as a ‘city within a city’ as it has a department store, restaurants, offices, a hotel, and a photography museum. It’s also home to Le Restaurant de Joël Robuchon, which has 3 Michelin stars and looks like a French Chateau – in stark contrast to the high rise glass buildings that surround it.
Yebisu Garden Palace is actually built on the former site of a brewery and you can visit the Museum of Yebisu Beer to find out about its history (it’s been brewing beer since 1890) and also partake in some beer tasting.
For the best shopping experience, head to a Don Quijote. A chain of department stores, here you will find everything from a Hello Kitty express pedi foot file to headphones, perfume, designer handbags, food items and everything inbetween.
They offer tax free shopping for tourists so make sure you take your passport with you. Prepare to spend a good hour or two perusing the goods on offer and stock up on Japanese candy and snacks – the cheapest you’ll find.
Passing through Tokyo on a layover to another destination? Here’s what to see if you only have 24 hours in Tokyo.