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Things to Do in Tokyo, Japan

Published 30 March 2016

Jim Cheney

Jim Cheney

Tokyo, Japan, is one of the world’s most contrasting cities. Busy, neon lit streets lead into quiet, Buddhist temples, and the world’s latest gadgets are held by the same hands that create beautiful calligraphy. No visit would be complete without exploring both ends of this dynamic culture, and in this post Jim Cheney reveals his seven favourite things to do in Tokyo, Japan:

Stroll through Harajuku

There is no better way to experience the contrasts of modern Japan than taking a stroll through the city’s Harajuku district. Once the site of a United States military base and the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Harajuku has been recently transformed into a trendy shopping area, featuring many local designers and international brands.

But the main attraction of Harajuku isn’t the shops: it’s the people. Dressed in every type of fashion, from “Gothic Lolita” to Cosplay, a visit to the district is like walking into an anime film or a Halloween horror movie. The fashion really has to be seen to be believed.

Five girls dressed in colourful and loud clothing on the streets of Harjuku

However, cross the bridge over the train tracks, and you’ll be transported back to traditional Japan. In this area, the Meiji Shrine is one of the most important in all of Tokyo. Set in a large, forested park, the shrine is a popular location for wedding and New Year’s festivities.

Get above it all

As with most large cities, Tokyo has many different places from which to view the city’s skyline. While places like Tokyo Tower, the World Trade Center Building, and the Tokyo City View in Roppongi are popular spots, the best views are from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku.

Not only is the view from the 45th floor observation decks free, but it also offers an amazing view of both the Tokyo skyline and, on a clear day, Mt. Fuji.

Tokyo city skyline with Mt Fuji in background

See some sumo

Sumo wrestling is one of the most well-known aspects of Japanese culture, and no visit to Tokyo would be complete without watching some of the world’s largest athletes in action. Tri-annual sumo tournaments are held in Tokyo in January, May, and September and offer a fantastic chance for visitors to see this popular sport.

Two sumo wrestlers about to battle in Tokyo

However, even if you’re visiting at another time, you can still see sumo. Many of the city’s beya, or Sumo Stables, are open to visitors during their morning training sessions. Have a Japanese speaker call the day before to confirm that the following morning’s practice is open. Many hotels have a favorite beya that is located close by.

Visit the Sony Showroom

Many of the world’s largest electronics companies are headquartered in Tokyo, and Japan often gets the latest gadgets years before the West. Anyone that has even a passing interest in electronics should visit the Sony Showroom in Ginza.

Taking up the first four floors of the Sony Building, the Sony Showroom features some of the latest gadgets and prototypes available from one of the world’s leading electronics companies. Best of all, many of the futuristic electronics are on display and can be tested.

Cherry blossoms in front of the Sony showroom highrise building

Tour the Imperial Palace

Like Britain, Japan is a constitutional monarchy, and the country’s royal family live in the Imperial Palace, located in the center of downtown Tokyo. Surrounded by beautifully manicured gardens, the palace itself is only open to the public two days a year (December 23 and January 2), however, tours of the grounds are offered twice each weekday.

Traditional Japanese garden featuring bridge and pond

Another great option is to visit the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace, a peaceful area in the middle of the bustling city. The gardens offer views of the interior of the palace, so it makes a reasonable alternative for those who don’t get the opportunity to tour the palace grounds.

Visit Tsukiji Fish Market pre-dawn

As the world’s largest and busiest fish market, the Tsukiji Fish Market is a fascinating place to visit. The main attraction is the pre-dawn tuna market, where thousands of kilos of tuna are auctioned off every day. The fish are such big business that in January 2013, a 222-kilogram blue fin tuna sold for nearly £1.2 million.

Registration to see the tuna auction starts at 4:30am and only 120 tourists are permitted each morning. Make sure to cap off your visit to Tsukiji with a traditional sushi breakfast.

People shopping and taking photos at the Tsukihi Fish Market

Join the madness at Shibuya Crossing

New York City has Times Square and London has Piccadilly Circus, but Tokyo has Shibuya. In the country that took neon to a whole new level, it’s no surprise that the city has an area like Shibuyu Crossing. Known as the world’s busiest pedestrian crosswalk, the organized chaos is something that must been seen to be believed. When the lights turn red, all the crosswalks turn green at the same time, flooding the intersection with hundreds of pedestrians.

After participating in this mass migration, head to the Starbucks on the second floor of the Tsutaya Building for an excellent bird’s-eye view.

A large crowd of people at the Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo

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