TOKYO

Tokyo was originally a fishing village called Edo. It was first fortified by the Edo Clan in the 12th century and 200 years later the famous Edo Castle was built there. In 1509, the city became the center of government when Tokugawa Ieyasu became Shogun and made it his hometown. With his reign, he also started a long time of peace that lasted over 250 years. During this time, the city grew fast and counted one million inhabitants with the beginning of the 18th century. This peace ended when the American Commodore Matthew C. Perry arrived in Japan, causing the harbours to open up for foreign goods. This measure forced prices to rise until inflation. The people reacted violently and supporters of Emperor Meiji used the situation to overthrow Yoshinobu, the last Tokugawa Shogun, in 1867.

1869〜1943

After the reign of the Shogun had ended, Emperor Meiji moved from Kyoto to Edo. The city was renamed to Tokyo which means “Eastern Capital” and it became the official capital of Japan. Before that it already was the center of politics and culture.

The building of a dense network of subway stations began. The city grew around it, focusing on the subway more than on cars and eventually making it a significant traffic system of Tokyo. Although the development of Tokyo went on, it was struck by the 1923 Kantō earthquake, with around 140.000 casualties, and then by the air raids during World War II, with around 210.000 casualties.

1943〜Today

After the city merged with the Prefecture of Tokyo into Tokyo Metropolis in 1943, it was successfully rebuilt and chosen to hold the Summer Olympics in 1964. The 1970s brought a massive development and the population increased up to 11 million. During the 1980s there grew a real estate and debt bubble that burst in 1990 causing an enormous recession. That time was called “The Lost Decade” of Japan and the country recovered slowly afterwards. In 2011, a major earthquake hit Japan but did only little damage to Tokyo itself while a tsunami destroyed a northern nuclear plant followed by a nuclear crisis. Today Tokyo is still growing from the inside and outside. It was named the third most liveable city in the world, it counts the most Michelin stars of all cities, it is the “best overall experience” for foreigners. The reasons to visit Tokyo are many and from a small fishing village it became one of the most famous and interesting cities in the world.

Tokyo, the capital city of Japan, is also home to the Imperial Palace and the seat of Government and Parliament. In East-Central Honshu, the largest of Japan's main islands, this heavily populated city is well worth exploring. One of the world's most modern cities in terms of its infrastructure and design, due largely to the 1923 earthquake and the devastation of WW2. Tokyo also holds the title of the world's most expensive city in which to live, fortunately, it is also one of the easiest to get around thanks to its superb rail and subway networks. The cultural side of Tokyo is famous for its numerous things to do and top attractions, including museums, festivals, internationally noted cuisine, and professional sports clubs, including baseball, football, along with traditional Japanese pursuits like sumo wrestling. It is also a city rich in music and theater, with numerous venues featuring everything from Japanese to modern dramas, symphony orchestras, and pop and rock concerts. 

1. Tokyo Tower

Tokyo Tower, the world’s tallest self supporting steel tower is a communications and observation tower. At 332.5 metres (1,091 ft), it is the second tallest artificial structure in Japan. Completed in the year 1958 as a symbol for Japan’s rebirth as a major economic power. Visitors can ascend to the main observatory at 150 meters (492 feet) and the special observatory at 250 meters (820 feet) to get a bird’s eye view of Tokyo. If you are lucky, on sunny days you can even catch a glimpse of Mt. Fuji rising in the distance. If you are not afraid of heights, try standing on the glass floor sections and look directly down to the ground, under you. The very top deck was renovated in early 2018, adding topsy-turvy mirrors and LED lighting effects to give the feeling of floating above the city in a high-tech spaceship. 

Open daily 09:00am – 09:00pm (main observatory)

Tokyo Tower

2. Rainbow Bridge

When the bridge was built in 1993, it was situated close to Haneda Airport; therefore there were height restrictions closely limiting it, but at the same time, it had to be tall enough for ships to pass safely underneath. Its unique design is immediately recognizable in photos and videos of Tokyo. The bridge has two decks, one to carry the Shuto Expressway's Daiba Route, and the second hosts Tokyo Prefectural Route 482 and the Yurikamome, the automated transport system running from Shimbashi to the island and around its perimeter.

Sidewalks are on either side of the lower deck, with one underpass available for a pedestrian to change from the north to the south walkway. The walkways have opening hours, as well from 9 am to 9 pm in the summer; 10 am to 6 pm in the winter. Walking the length of the bridge, which can be accessed from Shibaura-futo Station on the Tokyo side or the Odaiba-kaihinkoen on the Odaiba side, takes approximately 30 minutes. The distance is about 1.7 km from entrance to exit. The north side offers a view of the inner Tokyo harbour and Tokyo Tower, while the south side offers views of Tokyo Bay and occasionally Mount Fuji. Admittedly, many people do not care to walk across the bridge breathing exhaust and hearing the din of passing cars, so I can only rate this three stars, but for the determined tourist, particular walking to Odaiba on the south side, you will be treated to some great views!

Rainbow Bridge

3. Shibuya Crossing

Rumoured to be the busiest intersection in the world, and definitely in Japan, Shibuya Crossing is like a giant beating heart, sending people in all directions with every pulsing light change. Nowhere else says ‘Welcome to Tokyo’ better than this. Hundreds of people, and at peak times upwards of 3000 people, cross at a time, coming from all directions at once, yet still to dodging each other with a practised, nonchalant agility.

Mag's Park, the rooftop of the Shibuya 109-2 department store, has the best views over the neighbourhood's famous scramble crossing. It is screened with plexiglass, so you can still get good photos, without having to worry about losing anything over the edge. The intersection is most impressive after dark on a Friday or Saturday night, when the crowds pouring out of the station are at their thickest and neon-lit by the signs above. The rhythms here are, however, tied to the train station and after the last train pulls out for the night, the intersection becomes eerily quiet.

Shibuya Crossing is located directly outside Shibuya Station's Hachiko exit. Take the major city loop, the JR Yamanote Line, and get off at Shibuya Station. The Keio Inokashira, Tokyu Den-en-toshi and Tokyu Toyoko lines all stop at Shibuya, as do the Tokyo Metro Ginza, Hanzomon and Fukutoshin subway lines.

Shibuya Crossing

4. Akihabara

Beginning its existence as a center of postwar black-market activity, Akihabara later became the showcase of Japanese tech, jam-packed with shops selling all kinds of electronics and IT to the world. More recently, it has also become the cultural home to the diehard fans of gaming, manga and anime, the otaku. The area is an urban temple for worshippers of Japanese subcultures with pop idols, and cosplayers. Stroll Akihabara's avenues for a one of a kind cultural experience.

It is especially popular with geeks and has been nicknamed “the electric town”. It is one of the districts of Tokyo most visited by foreign tourists, mostly young ones, as it is largely dedicated to electronics and therefore a perfect place for otaku. As you walk through the station exit, your eyes are met with an array of themed shops that immediately set the tone. The largest stores can be found around the station as well as those offering tax free shopping for foreign tourists, who merely need to produce their passport, staffed with polyglot salespersons. When you look at the rows of shops selling miscellaneous articles, you may even mistake your surroundings for a Hong Kong market. On Akihabara’s main street you will also find the Sega Club, a major four story arcade venue. Fight games are just as popular as ever and it is even possible to challenge a player in the middle of a game by taking the cabinet opposite him/her. 

Akihabara

5. Tokyo Imperial Palace

The chief attraction of Tokyo's Marunouchi district is the Imperial Palace with its beautiful 17th century parks surrounded by walls and moats. Still in use by the Imperial family, the Imperial Palace stands on the site where, in 1457, the Feudal Lord Ota Dokan built the first fortress, the focal point from which the city of Tokyo gradually spread. As famous as the palace is the Nijubashi Bridge leading to its interior, a structure that takes its name "double bridge" from its reflection in the water. Other notable features include the two meter thick wall surrounding the palace and its gates, one of which leads to the East Higashi-Gyoen Garden. Tours of the Imperial Palace are available, pre-registration is required, and include the Kikyo-mon Gate, Someikan (Visitors' House), Fujimi-yagura ("Mt. Fuji View" Keep), the East Gardens, Inner Gate, the Seimon-tetsubashi bridge, and the Imperial Household Agency Building. 

Tokyo Imperial Palace

6. Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden

Once part of an Edo era (1603-1867) feudal lord's home, this massive green space was turned into a public park in 1949. Since then it has been a beloved refuge for Tokyoites looking to enjoy a bit of nature in the center of the city. Despite only being a short walk away from bustling Shinjuku, the leafy walkways and seasonal flowers make this a tranquil spot for a morning or afternoon stroll. After paying the small entrance fee, you will soon find that the noise of the city drops away and is replaced by bird song. Shinjuku Gyoen combines three distinct types of gardens, Japanese traditional, formal and landscape, with sprawling lawns and quiet groves. In the spring you can admire over 1,000 cherry trees that tinge the park pink with their delicate blooms. During the fall, you can view some of central Tokyo's best autumn colors, although the variety of plants in the gardens and greenhouse make Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden worth a visit at any time of the year.

Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden

7. Tsukiji Market

The Tsukiji Fish Market has appeared in literally every guidebook about Tokyo and is high on most visitors’ Tokyo bucket list. It was not just the largest wholesale fish market in Tokyo and Japan; Tsukiji for many years held the title for the entire planet. It also had a super-famous tuna auction that was held before the sun rose most mornings. While the tuna auction and wholesale market at Tsukiji has now moved to the shiny new Toyosu Market, is the bustling outer market area is still a highlight to explore.Tsukiji Market is Japan’s “Food Town,” where one can encounter all kinds of Japanese traditional foods. A mixture of wholesale and retail shops along with numerous restaurants line the streets and new culinary trends are born here. Originally Tsukiji Market used to be the wholesale market for the professionals. That is why items sold there were generally too big for a small family to buy. However, some of the wholesale shops in the market have started retailing high-end merchandises for ordinary customers. For example, ready to eat omelets for sushi are now sold in smaller sizes. Even a bite sized egg roll can be had for those who just want to try it. Tsukiji Market, primarily catering to the professionals, has recently opened its doors to ordinary customers and visitors. 

Tsukiji Market

8. The Sensō-ji Temple

Located in Asakusa, it is the city's most famous shrine. It stands at the end of a long street market hosting vendors selling masks, carvings, combs made of ebony and wood, toys, kimonos, fabrics, and precious paper goods. Dedicated to Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of compassion, the temple was established in 645 CE and retains its original appearance despite having been rebuilt numerous times. Highlights include the Kaminari-mon Gate with its 3.3 meter (10.9 foot) high red paper lantern bearing the inscription "Thunder Gate", the famous and much loved Incense Vat, reputed to drive away ailments. You will see people cupping their hands around the smoke and applying it to the part of their body needing healing. Also the fascinating temple doves, said to be Kannon's sacred messengers, they also tell fortunes by pulling cards from a deck. Afterwards, be sure to explore the rest of the 50 acre temple precinct with its warren of lanes.

Sensō-ji Temple

9. The Tokyo Skytree

It is hard to miss the Tokyo Skytree, a 634 meter (2,080 feet) tall communications and observation tower that rises out of the city's Sumida district of Minato like a huge rocket ship. The country's tallest structure, and the world's tallest freestanding tower, the Tokyo Skytree opened in 2012. It has quickly become one of the city's most visited tourist attractions thanks to the incredible panoramic views from its restaurant and observation decks. With a base designed in the form of a massive tripod, the tower includes a number of cylindrical observation levels, including one at the 350 meter (1,148 feet) mark, and another at the 450 meter (1,476 feet) point, which includes a unique glass spiral walkway to an even higher viewpoint with glass floors for those with strong stomachs. 

Tokyo Skytree

10. Ginza District

This is Tokyo's busiest shopping area and is as iconic as Times Square in New York, and much older. It has been the commercial center of the country for centuries, and is where five ancient roads connecting Japan's major cities all meet. Lined by exclusive shops and imposing palatial stores, the Ginza district is also fun to simply wander around or, better still, sit in one of its many tea and coffee shops or restaurants while watching the world rush past. On weekends, when everything is open, it is a shopper's paradise as traffic is barred, making it one of the world's largest pedestrian zones; come nightfall, gigantic advertising panels on its many buildings bathe Ginza in bright neon light. It is also where you will find the famous Kabuki-za Theatre, home to traditional Kabuki performances, as well as the Shinbashi Enbujō Theatre in which Azuma-odori dances and Bunraku performances are staged.

Ginza District

11. The Kabuki-za Theatre

Tokyo is home to a number of excellent theaters, none as well known as the historic Kabuki-za Theatre in the city's busy Ginza district, home to famous traditional Kabuki performances. Based upon a medieval, highly skilled, often burlesque theatrical form including song and dance, the theater's performances are as popular among tourists as they are with Japaneses. The drama and comedy are relatively easy to follow thanks to rich visuals and theatricality. The theater's interior, usually full to capacity with some 2,500 guests, is always intimate and seems more akin to an enormous family get-together than a stage show due to the fact that spectators bring their own food or purchase treats from the various restaurants spread around the auditorium. Performances can last for hours, and spectators stay as long as they wish, and no one seems to take offence at people's comings and goings, nor their loud cheering or jeering.

Kabuki-za Theatre

There are a large number of options available, and while you can also visit Mt Fuji independently, a tour provides a great option to check out the area without having to work out the multitude of bus and train options for yourself. There are day trip options which include the Hakone Region and Lake Kawaguchi in the Five Lakes region. 

Mt Fuji is located 137 km / 85 miles to the west of Tokyo, and can be seen in the distance on clear days. As Mt Fuji has a perfect circular volcanic cone it can be viewed from all directions, however for day tours from Tokyo there are two main areas on the eastern side of the mountain which are typically visited, Hakone and Lake Kawaguchi in the Five Lakes Area. Both areas can provide spectacular views of Mt Fuji. Hakone is situated to the south eastern side of Mt Fuji and is approximately 15-20km or 10-12 miles from the mountain. Lake Kawaguchi in the Five Lakes area is situated approximately 15km or 10 miles to the north of Mt Fuji, with Lake Kawaguchi being the main area visited by tours from Tokyo. Lake Kawaguchi is also a short distance to the Mt Fuji 5th Station, which is the starting point for visitors wanting to climb to the top of Mt Fuji.

A key point is that the roads between Tokyo and Mt Fuji can get very busy with traffic, particularly in peak times, so factor that into your expectations when planning your day tour. If a tour offers the option to return by Shinkansen then that can often be a faster method to return to Tokyo at the end of the day.

Best Time to See Mt Fuji?

Note that Mt Fuji is often covered by cloud which may limit viewing opportunities. When planning your visit to Mt Fuji monitor the weather forecast, and in particular the cloud factor. If the clouds are forecast to be more than 30% the chances of seeing Mt Fuji are less likely, although even on a cloudy day you can have breaks in the weather!

Mt Fuji 5th Station

Mt Fuji 5th Station is on Mt Fuji itself and is the starting point for people to climb Mt Fuji. You can also see views of Mt Fuji at that location. Note that the 5th Station is at an altitude of 2305m or 7560 ft, so ensure you take warmer clothes. There are periods where access to the 5th Station is not available, so tour companies will typically substitute an alternative activity.

Kawaguchiko Lake

Moto Hakone, Lake Ashinoko

Arakurayama Sengen Park

Tea House near the 8th Station (3,250 m) of Mt. Fuji

Moto Hakone, Lake Ashinoko