What are the best things to see and do in Tokyo?

Tokyo is one of the largest cities in the world — and with that comes a lot to see and do. Here are Forbes Travel Guide editors’ musts for your next visit to Japan’s capital city:
 
1. Visit Tsukiji Fish Market. If you’re an early-riser — or jetlagged from the long flight — head to Tsukiji Fish Market, the world’s largest and busiest wholesale fish and seafood market right in central Tokyo. The live maguro (tuna) auction starts at 5 a.m., and for safety, the market only allows 120 visitors a day to watch it on a first-come, first-serve basis. There are no guided tours for visitors, still, you can wander around the fish market packed with hundreds of stalls selling everything from live lobsters to baby eels and every kind of edible sea creature imaginable. Business starts to wind down by 9 a.m. The outer market called Jogai Shijo — meaning “food town” — is worth visiting, too. There are hundreds of wholesale and retail shops located outside the market, selling prepared Japanese traditional foods like excellent sushi and ramen noodles, kitchen tools, fresh vegetables, dried fish and more.
 
2. Explore Ginza. This area — now a shopping mecca — was once a Western quarter with two-story brick homes with balconies, the nation’s first sidewalks, gaslights, telephone poles and horse-drawn carriages. These days it’s the place to find the latest and greatest from high-end retailers like Louis Vuitton and Gucci to trendy UNIQLO and H&M. Ginza has Tokyo’s largest concentration of department stores, upscale boutiques, specialty shops, trendy coffee shops and restaurants, lively bars and pricey hotels.
 
3. See Shibuya Crossing. It’s not everyday you’re told to visit a crosswalk. But this scramble crossing just outside the Shibuya Station is one of the busiest in the world — and a destination itself. Considered the Times Square of Tokyo, this intersection is riddled with huge buildings adorned with jumbo screens, blaring advertising and J-Pop music. When the lights turn red, pedestrians hit the intersection in all directions. For the best view, grab a latte at Starbucks on the second floor of the Tsutaya building, which overlooks the crossing. The area itself is worth exploring, as it's a lively shopping and nightlife district. And while you’re at the Shibuya Station, stop by the statue of Hachiko, a faithful dog that waited for his owner here even after the man’s death.
 
4. Tour Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. Spanning 150 acres, this national garden is one of Tokyo’s largest parks on the former estate of the powerful Naito family of feudal lords. You’ll see more than 20,000 trees; none is so lovely as the 1,500 sakura (cherry blossom) trees that bloom from late March to early April. Its wide, open spaces make this a perfect spot for hanami, or the viewing of cherry blossoms. Walk along the paths that wind past ponds with water lilies and over bridges. It’s a nice reprieve from the bustling city just outside.
 
5. Stroll on Takeshita Street, Harajuku. This pedestrian-only street in the trendy Harajuku in the Shibuya Ward is a haven for teens, especially those into Japanese fashion. (The area was popularized by Gwen Stefani’s hit, “Harajuku Girls.”) This street is lined with crepe stands and funky boutiques selling some of the city’s craziest and garish looks, many of them worn by the teens shopping here. Shops here are lower-end than the upscale shopping just a street over at Omotesando, a broad, tree-lined avenue dotted with chic boutiques, cafes and restaurants.

  • On June 21, 2013
    Melinda Joe answered the question: Melinda Joe

    What is the best way to see the Meiji Shrine in Tokyo?

    It all depends on the kind of experience you want to have there. Meiji Jingu Shrine, with its contemplative, pebble-covered paths and serene gardens, can be an oasis of calm in frenzied Harajuku if you visit on a weekday afternoon.

    On the weekends, it’s more crowded, and you’ll likely have to push your way past thongs of teenagers, elaborately decked out in theatrical “gothic” costumes, along with the gawkers who hang around to photograph them.

    On Sundays, especially in late spring, you may catch sight of a traditional wedding procession through the courtyard.

    For a quintessential, if somewhat claustrophobic, Tokyo experience, head to Meiji Shrine at New Year’s. At midnight on New Year’s Eve, thousands of people pass through the 40-foot-high torii gate at the entrance for hatsumode, the first prayer of the year. Steaming hot cups of amazake -- thick, sweet sake -- are offered to take the edge off the chill. Once you’ve paid your respects to the gods, you can snack on street-food treats like takoyaki (octopus dumplings) at one of the stalls nearby. The shrine is packed from the 1st - 4th (with over 3 million visitors annually during this period), but the thrill of taking part in the festivities is exhilarating.
  • On June 17, 2013
    Sandra Barron answered the question: Sandra Barron

    What are the best boutique hotels in Tokyo?

    The Claska must make any list of Tokyo’s boutique hotels. It’s as up-to-the-minute stylish on the inside as it is deceptively bland on the outside. Clean lines and fresh materials with a modern Japanese feel are the rule. There are even rooms designed with the playful, idiosyncratic touch of local designers for a more personalized feel.
    Granbell  can’t be beat for location or style. Staying right in the middle of Shibuya means you don’t have to worry about rushing back for the last train. Rooms are cleverly designed to maximize space, and all feature quirky designer touches, like unexpected fabric and wall decor pairings.
    The Agnes Hotel is tucked away in a residential part of Kagurazaka, a wonderful old traditional neighborhood that combines kimono shops with creperies and wine bars. This is a quiet retreat that boasts a homey feel for short or long-term visitors.
  • On June 17, 2013
    Melinda Joe answered the question: Melinda Joe

    What are the best things to do in the Shinjuku district of Tokyo?

    With its swarming crowds and relentless pace, Shinjuku is the archetype upon which every modern Asian metropolis has been modeled.

    The station itself is a marvel of civic engineering, a teeming nexus at the center of a vast network of underground tunnels lined with shops and eateries. It’s possible to walk from the skyscraper district of Nishi-Shinjuku, all the way to the cluster of bars and restaurants of Shinjuku 3-chome on the east side of the neighborhood, entirely underground.

    Get lost in the crush of humanity during morning rush hour before 8am, and then head to one of the most peaceful corners of Tokyo, Shinjuku Gyoen, for a stroll along tree-lined paths through beautifully landscaped gardens. Stop in for brunch at Slappy Cakes, the newest addition to the city’s pancake scene, or leaf through international books and magazines while you have a coffee at Brooklyn Parlor.

    Hit one of the many department stores -- Lumine, Takashimaya, Marui, Isetan -- to shop for the latest fashions, and don’t forget to check out the excellent depachika food floors in the basement of Takashimaya and Isetan.

    Catch the view from the top of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building Observatories, or wait till sunset and grab a seat at New York Bar and the watch the lights go on in Tokyo (Note: there’s a hefty cover charge after 8pm).
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  • On June 13, 2013
    Sandra Barron answered the question: Sandra Barron

    What should I pack for a trip to Tokyo?

    You’ll want to be comfortable, as walking is a wonderful way to see the city, but keep in mind that locals tend to dress up a bit more as they go about daily life. It’s rare to see people in sweats and sneakers outside of the gym. Err on the side of covering up a bit if you want to minimize funny looks: Women wear barely-there shorts, but are likely to pair them with tights and conservative necklines.

    Twenty-four hour convenience stores are everywhere and they’re great for picking up just about any small thing, including socks, underwear, make-up and toiletries you might have forgotten. However, many of them do not have the simple cold and headache remedies you might want in a pinch. Best to have these with you. You’ll also want to make sure you have whatever brand of deodorant, toothpaste and other personal care items you prefer - local varieties are just different enough for some travelers not to like them. If you’re traveling during rainy season in the early summer, you’ll want to have some stylish rain gear with you!
  • On June 11, 2013
    Melinda Joe answered the question: Melinda Joe

    What’s happening this weekend in Tokyo?

    It’s a good weekend for sake lovers. On Friday, June 14, from 11:00 am until 8:00 pm, the Japan Sake and Shochu Producers Association will hold the 7th Annual Sake Fair at the World Import Mart in Sunshine City in the Ikebukuro in Tokyo. It’s a massive, day-long event (technically, it’s two events in one), and an excellent opportunity to try 400 award winning sake from the National New Sake Contest at Public Tasting, as well as local brews from around the country at the All Sake Exhibition next door.

    At 3pm, there will be a special presentation in English by sake guru John Gauntner, followed by a tasting of sake paired with regional dishes. The lecture is free, but you have to sign up in advance, or email Etsuko Nakamura at etsuko@enakamura.net.

    Admission to the All Sake Exhibition is 1,500 JPY, and 3,000 JPY for the Public Tasting. A combined ticket for both events is 4,000 JPY at the door. More details here.

    If you can’t make it to the Sake Fair on Friday, check out this tasting of sake from Toyama Prefecture, exhibited alongside one of the area’s specialties, kamaboko fish cakes, on Sunday. Tickets are 2,000 in advance, or 2,500 at the door, from 3pm -5pm at the Kotsukaikan in Yurakucho.
  • On June 9, 2013
    Nicholas Coldicott answered the question: Nicholas Coldicott

    What are the best things to do in the Ginza district of Tokyo?

    Ginza is the place for high-end eating, drinking and shopping. It's rarely cheap, but you usually get what you pay for.

    The area’s unusually wide sidewalks lend the district a spacious feeling rarely found in Tokyo and gave rise to the term 'ginbura' (Ginza strolling). You could lose an afternoon strolling Ginza, watching people and taking in the architectural one-upmanship of the international megabrands’ stores. 

    In amongst the flashy flagships are little boutiques offering the same fine craftmanship they’ve been selling for decades. Try Natsuno for chopsticks, Kanameya for folding fans, and Kyukyudo for washi paper and other stationery.

    Ginza is also home to some great art galleries. The Ginza Graphic Gallery has spent more than 25 years doing spotlighting fonts, graphics and advertising. The nearby Shiseido Gallery is arguably the highlight of the local art scene, with impressive photographic and video art shows. On a quirkier note, the Vanilla Gallery showcases all things erotic and is not the least bit family friendly.
  • On June 7, 2013
    Melinda Joe answered the question: Melinda Joe

    What is the weather like right now in Tokyo?

    In a word: fickle. Although people in the UK are still talking about spring, summer is already under way in Tokyo. Recently, the days have been a mix of hot, steamy afternoons, with intermittent cloud cover, and relatively cool, pleasant evenings. The rainy season, which runs from the beginning of June until mid-July officially began last week, but we haven’t yet had the kind of monsoon-like storms that usually accompany this season. A little drizzle here and there is all.

    At the moment, we can’t complain. Temperatures are in the high 70s, with moderate humidity (around 30%, low for summer in Japan), and the sun is peeking out from behind the clouds in downtown Tokyo. There’s a slight chance of rain over the weekend, but that shouldn’t stop you from going out.

    Enjoy these mild temperatures while they last: Once it really starts to heat up, you’ll need to walk around with two sweat towels instead of one.
  • On May 31, 2013
    Melinda Joe answered the question: Melinda Joe

    What are the best restaurants for a business lunch in Tokyo?

    It all depends on how much money -- and time -- you’re willing to spend. For a long, luxurious business lunch, Pierre Gagnaire Tokyo is a terrific choice. The tasting menu, with its series of  “multi-course” dishes, showcases the French chef’s talent for juxtaposing surprising flavors and textures to great effect. If you’re pressed for time, there are shorter prix-fixe options as well. The restaurant’s location, on the 36th floor of the ANA Intercontinental Hotel, and the 2 private rooms (in addition to the semi-private dining room) are a plus.

    For a more affordable but nonetheless spectacular experience, check out La Sora Seed by Kurkku. Perched on the 31st floor of the Tokyo Skytree, La Sora Seed serves modern, Italian-inflected cuisine prepared with local ingredients and offers stunning, panoramic views of the city. Note, however, that you’ll need a minimum of 90 minutes for lunch.

    If you’re thinking of impressing your client by scoring reservations at Sukibayashi Jiro, think again. The brisk dining pace (around 20 minutes at lunchtime) is not particularly conducive to lengthy discussion.
  • On May 28, 2013
    Melinda Joe answered the question: Melinda Joe

    What are the best local dishes in Tokyo?

    Being the country’s capital, Tokyo is a melting pot of Japan’s regional cuisines. But one of the city’s greatest gifts to the world of gastronomy is Edomae-zushi, the modern version of sushi we all know and love, which was invented in Tokyo at the beginning of the 19th century.

    Head to Tsukiji market (hint: you don’t have to go at the crack of dawn unless you really want to, but it’s best to get there before 2pm) for assorted nigiri-zushi (fish on little balls of rice) or a bowl of chirashi-zushi (various kinds of fish over a bowl of rice) at one of the many restaurants in the outer market. If you don’t mind waiting, try Daiwa Sushi or Sushi Dai -- just look for the long lines. Be warned that it may take up to two hours to get in, depending on your timing.

    A far less crowded alternative is Ryuzushi, a couple of doors down from the original Yoshinoya, where the fishmongers stop in for breakfast after the early morning shift. Or try Uogashi Senryo, a hole-in-the-wall hidden behind a dried fish store that serves a specialty called kaisen-hitsumabushi. A kind of chirashi-zushi, the dish -- tossed with various morsels of raw fish, topped with creamy uni sea urchin and a scatter of ruby red ikura salmon roe -- is almost too beautiful to eat.
  • On May 28, 2013
    Melinda Joe answered the question: Melinda Joe

    What are the best local dishes in Tokyo?

    Being the country’s capital, Tokyo is a melting pot of Japan’s regional cuisines. But one of the city’s greatest gifts to the world of gastronomy is Edomae-zushi, the version of sushi we all know and love, which was invented in Tokyo at the beginning of the 19th century.

    Head to Tsukiji (hint: you don’t have to go at the crack of dawn unless you really want to, but it’s best to get there before 2pm) for assorted nigiri-zushi (fish on little balls of rice) or a bowl of chirashi-zushi (various kinds of fish over a bowl of rice) at one of the many restaurants in the outer market. If you don’t mind waiting, try Daiwa Sushi or Sushi Dai -- just look for the long lines. Be warned that it may take up to two hours to get in, depending on your timing.

    A far less crowded alternative is Ryuzushi, a couple of doors down from the original Yoshinoya, where the fishmongers stop in for breakfast after the early morning shift. Or try Uogashi Senryo, a hole-in-the-wall hidden behind a dried fish store that serves kaisen hitsumabushi. A kind of chirashi-zushi, the dish -- tossed with various morsels of raw fish, topped with creamy uni sea urchin and a scatter of ruby red ikura salmon roe -- is almost too beautiful to eat.
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