Best Things To Do in Tokyo
With more than 13 million residents to entertain, Tokyo has a lot going on. Start your morning off with breakfast sushi at the world-famous Tsukiji Fish Market then let yourself get lost in Japan’s vast and interesting history at the Tokyo National Museum or the Edo-Tokyo Museum. Take an hour or two and unwind in the verdant gardens (preferably with a picnic) of the Imperial Palace or the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. When you’re ready to take on Tokyo’s mammoth shopping scene, head to Ginza, the waterfront Odaiba or the anime-friendly Akihabara for all things tech. At the end of the day, take a lift into the sky at either the Tokyo Tower or the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building for a bird’s-eye view of the glittering city. And no trip here would be complete without visiting some of the city’s more traditional sites, including the Sensoji Temple and the spiritual Meiji Shrine.
1. Tokyo National Museum
If you’re looking to learn a little (or a lot) about Japan’s history, the Tokyo National Museum is the place to go. This museum is one of the country’s most expansive, housing about 116,000 pieces of art and artifacts that cover the longest recorded history of Japan. Strolling through the halls of its numerous buildings, you’ll spot relics such as samurai armor and swords (a traveler favorite), delicate pottery, kimonos, calligraphy, paintings, and much more, some of which are designated as national treasures and Important Cultural Properties by the Japanese government. In addition to artifacts from Japan’s history, you’ll also find pieces from all across the Asian continent, including Buddhist scrolls that date all the way back to 607.
2. Meiji Shrine
The Meiji Shrine is a Shinto (Japan’s original religion) shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. Japanese history credits Meiji for modernizing Japan by incorporating Western principles into Japanese society, including adopting a cabinet system into government. After the emperor’s death in 1912 and that of his consort in 1914, the Japanese commemorated their contributions with the Meiji Shrine. While the buildings are certainly worth visiting, the surrounding forest (considered part of the vast Yoyogi Park) is a sight to see as well. That’s because 100,000 of the trees standing were all donated by Japanese people from around the country as a thank you to emperor.While at such a holy site, take time to divulge in traditional rituals. When entering the shrine, you’ll first meet the Torii, or the shrine’s large archway. It’s traditional to bow once entering then again when you leave. To foreigners, the temizuya may appear to be a drinking fountain, but it’s actually a cleansing station where visitors have the opportunity to purify themselves with holy water. It’s common to wash your hands and rinse your mouth out, but don’t drink the water or allow the wooden dippers provided to touch your lips. When approaching the main shrine, it’s customary to pay your respects by bowing twice, then clapping your hands twice, make a wish and bow once again. Carrying out such respects are optional, the rules of the shrine are not. Don’t photograph the interior of the buildings; don’t eat, drink or smoke unless you’re in designated areas.
3. Sensoji Temple
The oldest religious site in Tokyo is also its most visited. The Sensoji Temple sees about 30 million annual visitors and dates all the way back to year 628. Despite its claim to antiquity, however, the structures that currently stand are relatively new reconstructions of previous edifices (during World War II, nearly the entire temple was razed). The Sensoji Temple is dedicated to Asakusa Kannon, the Buddhist god of mercy and happiness. According to legend, two fishermen struck gold and found a statue of the god while fishing on the Sumida River. The Sensoji shrine is dedicated to this lucky catch as well as features a small homage to the fisherman who caught the statue. Unfortunately, while here, you won’t be able to see the actual statue. It is there, but it isn’t on public display. It has never been. Either way, Buddhists and interested tourists alike flock to this attraction with the hopes that being in the presence of Kannon’s healing powers will rub off on them. After you’ve properly toured Sensoji, take some time to check out the shops that line Nakamise Dori, which you’ll find on the way to the temple.The majority of travelers enjoyed their experience at the Sensoji Temple. Visitors found the temple to be beautiful and enjoyed admiring its grand stature and intricate architectural details. The only complaint among travelers was with the attraction and all the activity surrounding it; Sensoji can get so crowded that it can be difficult to be able to simply admire the attraction. If you don’t want to share space with throngs of tourists, visitors suggest coming early morning or late at night.
Envision a mini Atlantis rising out of the water, conveniently right next to downtown Tokyo. That’s Odaiba. This neighborhood/mini-island situated on the Tokyo Bay is a hub of entertainment, eateries and eye-catching architecture, including the futuristic-looking Fuji Television building. Some of the area’s top attractions include the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation and the relaxing Odaiba Seaside Park, which comes equipped with its own beach and Tokyo’s own Statue of Liberty. There’s also a host of amusement parks the kids will no doubt enjoy. In Tokyo Leisure Land in Palette Town, you’ll also find go-karts in Mega Web and one of the world’s largest Ferris wheels.
5. Imperial Palace
You’d think the Imperial Palace would be mobbed with tourists, but it’s not. You can credit the lack of crowds to an application policy, which limits the number of visitors. That’s because the Imperial Palace is home to the Emperor of Japan and the royal family. And before that, it was the residence for some of Japan’s most important figures, including Emperor Meiji (credited for modernizing Japan) and rulers during the Edo Period (the time period before Japan was modernized by Meiji). Because of its significant importance in Japanese society, admittance to the site is hard to get (you have to put in your application several weeks in advance) and access inside the actual palace is even fewer and far between.As such, most travelers suggest skipping the application entirely (those who went on the tour were disappointed with how little of the palace is open to visitors) and admiring the compound from afar. Visitors also say the East Gardens, which are part of the Imperial Palace complex, are much more of a sight to see. This flourishing green space has plenty of shady spots and open fields, perfect for relaxing. And during cherry blossom season, these gardens are a choice spot for locals looking to enjoy the seasonal foliage.