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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.
Tokyo is a hectic megalopolis and you won’t be stuck for things to do. But make sure these are on your list.
Find out what’s really Big in Japan at a branch of RanKing RanQueen, a chain that stocks the country’s current best-selling items in all kinds of categories, from candy to cosmetics. Head to Ginza for big-brand boutiques and exquisite craftsmanship. And check out Harajuku’s backstreets for indie fashion boutiques.
You can’t go wrong with Tokyo’s restaurants. Chefs at every level use fresh, seasonal ingredients and take their craft seriously. Eat some ramen, visit an izakaya and head to Tsukiji fish market for a sushi breakfast.
The best view of the world’s most populous metropolis is from above. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government building is free and offers a 202-meter-high view from Shinjuku. The shiny new 634-meter Tokyo Sky Tree has the highest and most expensive observation deck. But Mori Tower in Roppongi is still the pick of the bunch -- it’s the only one with a world-class art museum in the middle.
The best hot springs are in nearby resorts such as Hakone or Atami and well worth the trip. But Tokyo has a few too. Best of the lot is Seta Onsen in western Tokyo. It has several indoor single-sex pools, saunas and massage rooms, plus two outdoor tubs where men and women (in swimwear) can soak together. If you’re lucky, the outdoor bar will be open too.