Top 5 Things to do in Tokyo

The Greater Tokyo Area is the most populous metropolitan area on the planet, home to about 38 million people. Although most of the 10 million tourists who visit Tokyo every year come in the summer, the best time to visit this city is after the peak summer tourist season, when the temperatures are more bearable, lines aren’t as long, tourists are fewer, hotel rates are lower and the fall colours are out. But whenever you go, there’s lots to do and see. So let’s have a look at our top 5 things to do in Tokyo.

See Shibuya District

Tokyo is known for its various districts, and Shibuya is among its most famous. When people speak of Shibuya, they usually mean the fashionable shopping area around Shibuya Station, one of the busiest transit hubs in the city.

‘The Scramble” in front of Shibuya Station is a real urban wonder to behold – reportedly the busiest intersection in the world, especially on a Friday or Saturday night. When the traffic lights change and the cars stop, swarms of people – upwards of a thousand – flood the intersection from every direction, seemingly chaotic, yet they somehow manage to nonchalantly manouevre around each other. If you’ve seen the movie Lost in Translation, then you may remember its famous scene featuring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson at the Shibuya Scramble crossing. For an incredible vantage point, try getting a seat at the Starbucks on the second floor of the Q-front building across the street.

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A short stroll from Shibuya Station will bring you to Yoyogi Park. Come here on a Sunday, especially on Harajuku Bridge leading into the park, and you’ll see Tokyo’s cosplay youth culture on display. And then there are the rockabilly dancers, who may look hard in their leather jackets, but they’re more than happy to pose for photos, and you’ll find them very polite and accommodating.

Spend some time in Ueno Park

In every great city is a great park, and in Tokyo that’s Ueno Park. More than 10 million people visit the park each year. On its 300 acres you’ll find temples, shrines, museums, some of Japan’s top schools, and Ueno Zoo. The zoo, located on 35 acres, features over 400 species, including some rare and unusual specimens, such as the giant panda, the red panda, the okapi (which looks like a horse with zebra legs) and the aye aye, aka the “demon primate” of Madagascar.  

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The Tokyo National Museum, in the midst of the park’s greenery, is Japan’s oldest and biggest museum. You can trace the history of the Japanese people through incredible samurai armor, elaborately decorated swords, fine pottery, beautiful kimonos, calligraphy, paintings and much more. And with general admission at only 620 yen (about $6), it’s an inexpensive place to visit, though for some special exhibitions, you may need a separate ticket.

If you visit Ueno Park in the springtime, it’s one of the prime places for hanami, which is roughly translated as “flower viewing.” Huge crowds come to see the sakura, or cherry blossoms, in bloom, with people often reserving spots under the trees, laying down blue plastic mats and hosting elaborate picnics and parties.

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Getting to Ueno Park is quite easy. Four metro lines run by the park – JR, Ginza, Chiyoda Tokyo and Keisei – and it’s ringed by several subway stations, though most people use Ueno Station to access the park.


Visit a shrine or temple

Tokyo seemingly feeds on technology and progress. That’s what makes it one of the most exciting cities in the world. But it’s also a place with a sense of history and tradition, and one of the best ways to experience this side of Tokyo is by visiting the city’s shrines and temples.

Built in 1912, the Meiji Shrine is a Shinto shrine in the Shibuya district. You may be fortunate enough to witness a traditional Japanese wedding when you visit. With the bride in a traditional kimono and sometimes wearing white make-up to symbolize purity, the couple is ritually purified by a priest, who then announces their marriage and asks for the blessing of the kami (“spirits”) of the shrine. And while you enjoy the meditative calm of the buildings, don’t ignore the forest that surrounds the area, which features over 245 species of trees from all over the globe. The Meiji Shrine is open daily from sunrise to sunset, although some of the buildings keep varied hours.

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Situated in the neighborhood of Taito, in the north end of Tokyo, Sensō-ji Temple is one of the city’s oldest sacred sites and its oldest Buddhist temple, although most of it has been reconstructed after the previous edifices were destroyed in World War II. Getting past the shoppers of Nakamise Dori, the street that leads to the main gate, you enter a place of beauty and serenity. You can make an offering and choose a wooden stick to attain an O-mikuji (fortune paper) to see what your future holds. Good fortunes, you can keep; but if your fortune is bad, tradition says to tie it to one of the wires at the temple so it won’t follow you. The temple grounds are accessible 24/7 and admission is free. You can get to Sensō-ji Temple easily from the Asakusa Station.

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Get the best view of Tokyo

To get the best bird’s-eye view of the city, there are a few options that stand above the rest – literally!

How about the world’s tallest free-standing tower? That would be the Tokyo Sky Tree, which opened in 2012. At 634 metres, it offers two observation decks. Besides offering great panoramas of the city, it has a section of glass floor, if you dare to look down, and a glass elevator. Tickets (¥3,000 or about $38 CND) are purchased on the fourth floor, but it’s probably best to go during the week, to avoid the weekend line-ups.

Another popular option is Tokyo Tower, the distinctive red and white structure rising 333 metres from the centre of the city. Obviously modeled after the Eiffel Tower, it’s actually 13 metres taller than its French counterpart. Its central location delivers a great perspective on the city.

But you’ll get the best view of Tokyo from the 45th floor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku. And what’s even better is that it’s absolutely free! There are observation decks in both of the building’s two towers, offering fantastic views of Tokyo. If you go in the late afternoon, you can enjoy a beverage (though not cheap) in the bar or café and at sunset watch the lights of the city start to come on. It’s simply magical.

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See the wonders of Odaiba

For families and couples, you can’t go wrong with Odaiba. Built on a large artificial island in the middle of Tokyo Bay, and accessed via the Rainbow Bridge or by water bus, it’s a wonderful world of restaurants, entertainment, shopping and spectacular architecture. Among its attractions: the futuristic-looking Fuji TV Building, the Tokyo Big Sight centre and the Toyota Mega Web (a huge showroom of the company’s cars). Odaiba also has parklands and beaches, and, not least of all, amazing vistas of downtown Tokyo just across the water. It’s an island of fun, and it’s open all the time. Both the Rinkai and Yurikamome subway lines will get you there.

What were your favourite things about your trip to Tokyo? Tell us all about it in the comments below!

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