Things to do in Tokyo, Japan
Posted on August 18, 2017
Tokyo (東京) is Japan’s capital and mixes the ultramodern with traditional, from neon-lit skyscrapers to historic temples. There’s an unlimited choice of shopping, entertainment, culture and dining. Here’s a 1 or 2 day itinerary of Tokyo featuring modern Tokyo on the west side and traditional Tokyo on the east side.
East Tokyo order of itinerary
- Tsukiji Fish Market (築地市場, Tsukiji Shijō)
- Hama Rikyu Garden (浜離宮) – Y300
- Water bus (水上バス, Suijō Basu) – Y760
- Nakamise Dori
- Senso-ji Temple
- Asakusa-jinja Shrine
West Tokyo order of itinerary
- Shibuya crossing
- Harajuku & Takeshita Dori
- Meji Shrine & Yoyogi Park
- Short on time? If you’re going to visit Kyoto on your trip, you could skip Asakusa
- Where to stay? Shinjuku, Shibuya, Ginza or the Tokyo Station area
- For dinner, try eating in Shinjuku, Ginza, or Marunouchi
- Best Tokyo restaurants
- For drinks, go Roppongi, Shinjuku or Shibuya
Tsukiji Fish Market (築地市場, Tsukiji Shijō)
I read reviews that don’t recommend going to the market super early for the tuna auctions. It’s an application system starting at 5 a.m. to get in and the number of visitors is limited to 120 per day. Not worth it!
Instead you can check out the inner market when it opens for public after the auctions are over. Aim to arrive at 9 a.m. to explore the outer market for an hour and then dash into the inner market when it opens to tourists at 10 a.m. on the dot.
- The market is closed Sundays, holidays, and some Wednesdays.
- The floor is slimy and wet, so wear rugged shoes and pants that can get dirty. Don’t wear heels or sandals.
To get here, take the Tokyo Oedo subway line to the Tsukiji Ichiba station and exit A1. It’s not well marked, you need to enter a covered parking/loading area to get to the market.
Once you get to the outer market, you can go left for kitchenware shops and small sushi restaurants or right for produce. Go straight and you’ll get the inner market made up of semi-circular market stalls and lanes. This is where all the seafood is prepared and sold. On the far side of the inner market, in a huge refrigerated hall, you’ll find the location of the tuna auction.
After enjoying the gardens, enjoy a sushi lunch either near the fish market or in Ginza.
- Ginza Kyubey for sushi
- Sushi Dai for fresh sushi breakfast in one of the tiny sushi bars on the market grounds
- Where to have lunch at Tsukiji Market
- Depachika Food Hall at Ginza Mitsukoshi
Hama Rikyu Garden (浜離宮)
After visiting the fish market, take a 12 minute walk over to Hama Rikyu Gardens. It’s not the best garden in Japan but convenient for a quick tour. Created more than 300 years ago, it features a traditional Japanese garden complete with moon-viewing pavilions, teahouses, and other vestiges of its Edo-era origins, as well as a bird refuge.The traditionally styled garden stands in stark contrast to the skyscrapers of the adjacent Shiodome district. Opens at 9 a.m. daily, admission is 300 yen.
Water bus (水上バス, Suijō Basu)
From Hama Rikyu Garden, you can get to Asakusa by train (12 min train, 20 min walk for 220 yen) or by boat on the Sumida River Line (35 minutes, 980 yen), which is a relaxing way to make the journey. There is a pier inside the garden and admission to the garden is included in the price of the boat ticket. Boats depart Hama Rikyu at 10:35 and 11:15 a.m., with subsequent departures every half-hour or hour.
If anything remains of old Tokyo, Asakusa is it. Asakusa preserves the charm of old downtown Edo better than anyplace else in Tokyo. At the heart of Asakusa is Nakamise Dori, a narrow pedestrian lane lined on both sides with booths selling a wide variety of Japanese souvenirs — a good place to stock up on inexpensive gifts for the folks back home. Side streets also sell traditional crafts.
Nakamise Dori leads straight to Tokyo’s oldest and most popular temple, founded in A.D. 628 to house the Buddhist goddess of mercy and happiness. Destroyed during World War II and lovingly rebuilt with donations from the Japanese people, it attracts 20 million worshippers a year, giving it a festive atmosphere virtually every day.
Opens 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. so if you’re an early bird, you could swap the itinerary around and go here first and get to Tsukiji Fish Market by 9 a.m.
Also known as Sanja-sama (“Shrine of the Three Gods”). Go to the market first and get shopping out of your system, then enjoy the shrine without being distracted.
- Waentei-Kikko (和えん亭 吉幸) – Time your visit with a live performance of traditional Japanese music, five times daily at 12:15, 1:30, 3, 6:30, and 8 p.m. Bento lunches cost 2,500 and 3,500 yen, while kaiseki dinners cost between 6,825–14,175 yen.
- Asakusa Kagetsudo for melon-pan
- well-known tempura restaurants include Daikokuya, San Sada and Owariya.
- Well known unagi-ya in Asakusa include Irogawa, Hatsuogawa and Maekawa. Costs around 2000 yen for lunch and more for dinner.
- Suzukien Nanaya Gelato claims to have the richest and most intense green tea gelato in the world. The popular shop offers about fourteen gelato flavors including seven matcha ones.
Take the Ginza subway line straight across town from Asakusa to Shibuya. It’s a 30-minute ride, so try to grab a seat and relax.
As you exit Shibuya station, say hi to the faithful dog Hachiko, who who stands guard as a statue. He even had a movie made about him!
As you leave the station, you’ll see the famous Shibuya crossing, the busiest crosswalk in the world! The best place to view the crossing is to go to Starbucks upstairs. Mornings are less busy.
Shibuya is the center of youth fashion in Tokyo, there are many huge department stores and it’s one of the top shopping spots in Tokyo. You’ll see the latest Japanese fashion styles and a variety of hairstyles.
Harajuku & Takeshita Dori
Harajuku is home of extreme Japanese youth fashion and famous for cosplay and the latest trends. Takeshita Dori is the main shopping street, where you can find everything from the super cute to goth.
Meiji Shrine (明治神宮, Meiji Jingū)
Behind Harajuku, you’ll find the entrance to Meji Shrine surrounded by a beautiful small forest. The opulent Meiji Shinto Shrine is known for its towering gate and surrounding woods.
If you are after a more lively urban park experience, walk past Meiji Jingu’s entrance and around the corner to the entrance of Yoyogi Park. Usually, Yoyogi Park is filled with families having picnics, friends playing Frisbee and Hacky Sack, bands and DJs performing, leather-clad middle-aged rockabillies dancing to Japanese garage and punk music, and more.
Nearby is Omotesando, an uptown avenue catering to the wealthy. Many top brand stores and exclusive restaurants can be found here.
At the end of Omotesando turn right and you should reach Shibuya in about 10 minutes. Alternatively, you can return to Harajuku station.
Check out this area for dinner, bars and nightlife. Head up to the 52nd floor Tokyo City View observation deck of the Mori Tower to see the city as evening falls.
To get here, take the Yamanote line from Shibuya. Shinjuku is the busiest station in Japan, this alone is worth experiencing. We also recommend a visit to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office for a grand view of the Tokyo skyline and the entertainment district of Kabukicho.
Day trips from Tokyo
- Tokyo DisneySea
- Nikko: A firm favourite. Take in Japan’s UNESCO World Heritage shrines and temples on a day trip to the mountain town of Nikkō, home to the mausoleums of the Tokugawa Shoguns. Onsen, hiking trails and even wild monkeys can be found here and it’s especially beautiful with its red autumn leaves.
- Mt. Fuji: The daddy of all volcanoes, tours to Mt. Fuji are a popular pastime for Tokyo-ites. The best spots to see the majestic mountain are Fuji Five Lakes or Hakone, both just a couple of hours from Tokyo.
- Kamakura: Home to the 2nd largest statue to Buddha in Japan (the other being in Nara), Kamakura is full of cultural highlights and a popular destination for Japanese and tourists alike.