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What to do in Tokyo

There is so much to do and see in Japan’s vibrant and bustling capital that you could easily spend a solid week or two and not take it all in. Here are our suggestions to get you started. Tokyo is a very large city, and while public transportation is the most efficient method of travel, it can be complicated and time-consuming, especially if trying to go from one side of the capital to the other. When possible, exploring on foot is our favorite way to see a new destination! Keeping all of that in mind, it is always best to check with your hotel concierge for the best way to get to any particular site of interest.

Tsukiji Central Wholesale Market

A quick internet search reveals a fascinating and controversial history regarding the market’s current location—recently moved to Toyosu, it has been made more accessible for visitors, but the charm—and grittiness—of the original Tsukiji location has been lost. Still, those with an interest in viewing the tuna auction at 5:30 a.m. will not be disappointed, as it can now be viewed from an observation deck built for that purpose. Double check information before you go, as it has been a lengthy and complicated transition.

Kabukiza Theatre

Kabuki performances are known for their elaborate costumes and makeup, song and dance, and dramatic stories. While a full theatrical performance of three or four acts can last 4-5 hours, it is possible to purchase tickets to attend a single act. Be sure to rent a headset for explanations in English. Single-act tickets are available for purchase at the box office, cash only.
Web: kabukiweb.net/theatres/kabukiza/information/

Nihonbashi

Literally translating to the “Japan Bridge,” Nihonbashi marks the centerpoint of Tokyo, yet often gets overlooked as a business district. The stone bridge itself is worth a visit: it’s most famous for appearances in Japanese art and woodblock prints, but has existed as a route over the Sumida River since 1603 (the original structure was wooden). Within the district, you can join a guided kayaking tour to explore Tokyo from it waterways (web: tokyokayaking.jp). Or, pay a visit to Ningyocho (which means “Doll Town”), where traditional arts such as puppetry have thrived since the first kabuki theater was established in 1624. Yet another off-the-beaten-path suggestion is the Kite Museum, hidden away on the 5th floor above Tameiken Restaurant. Thousands of kites from all over Asia create an eclectic display.

Ueno Park & Tokyo National Museum

Ueno Park is a large public park originally part of Kaneiji Temple during the Edo Period. Throughout the grounds, you’ll find Shinobazu Pond (with a temple at its center), museums, the Ueno Zoo, and more than 1000 cherry blossom trees lining the central pathway. Located at the north end, the Tokyo National Museum offers a chance to see the world’s largest collection of Japanese art and artifacts, spread throughout six large buildings featuring regularly rotating exhibits. Exploring the park is easily paired with a visit to Yanaka (below), which is walking distance from here. 

Yanaka

For a sense of “Old Tokyo,” head to Yanaka. This neighborhood maintains the ambience of traditional Japan and was one of the few areas not bombed during WWII. You’ll find crafts, Edo-Period architecture, and the pedestrian-only shopping street of Yanaka Ginza. Yanaka is located 2 km northeast of Ueno Park.

Shinjuku & Sinjuku Gyoen Garden

This neighborhood of Tokyo—home to the world’s busiest rail station (Shinjuku Station)—is known for its skyscrapers, nightlife, and entertainment. Southeast of the station is also a pocket of natural beauty, Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. Covering 144 acres, it was originally created as an imperial garden in 1906 and opened to the public after WWII. Cherry blossoms bloom in spring, and you’ll find lovely foliage in autumn. A small entrance fee helps keep crowds away.

Shibuya

Known as Tokyo’s trendiest shopping and entertainment district, Shibuya is perhaps most famous for the world’s busiest intersection, located just outside of Shibuya Station. All traffic lights turn red at once, and pedestrians swarm into the crosswalks. Head below the station to visit the Tokyu Food Show, which offers a menagerie of local specialities.

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