Tokyo has served as the Japanese capital since 1869 and before then, it was the de facto capital - serving as the seat of power for the Shōgun. Now the most populous metropolitan area in the world, Tokyo blends relics of its millennial past with the future-proof modernisations of the nation’s post-war rebuilding. While this can lead to an overwhelming experience for a first-time visitor, Fixture Travel is here to guide you through the must-see sights.
Emperor Meiji is a beloved figure in Japanese history. He was crowned as Emperor in a period when the Shōgun’s power was waning. In a 45-year reign, Meiji took Japan from a strictly isolationist nation to a major industrialised power on the world stage. Whilst the Emperor is considered a deity-like figure for many, Meiji is especially revered by the Japanese people. When he died in 1912, the Diet established a Shinto shrine dedicated to the late Emperor and his wife which is known as the Meiji Shrine and is located within a 70-hectare forest providing a stunning view. After passing under an iconic torii, you will come to The Gaien. In this outer precinct, you will find a picture gallery with images from Meiji’s life as well as the old National Stadium, home of the 1956 Tokyo Olympics. Moving further into the forest, you will arrive at The Naien where you will find the shrine buildings as well as a treasure museum containing articles that belonged to the Emperor and his wife. The serenity of the shrine and surrounding area is unrivalled and combined with its historical significance is a must-see location on any visit to Tokyo.
One of the most memorable parts of your trip will be visiting Harajuku; the district of Shibuya is the heart and soul of Japanese youth culture. Many of the stores and boutiques are youth-orientated and seek to keep up with the latest trends within this thriving culture. The epicentre to see these trends in action is the Jingu Bashi Bridge, which connects Harajuku Station with the Meiji Shrine and which is a popular meeting place for cosplayers and young people. Here you will see a wide spectrum of fashion styles, from Victorian gothic and Lolita, to pastel punk and gyaru. Beyond the spectacle of the Harajuku scene, the area is home to a wide number of shops, museums and restaurants that exemplify the eclectic Japanese style. Places of interest include the famous Shibuya crossing, known in the west as the setting of the final scene of the film ‘Lost in Translation’; and Takeshita Street, which sees boutique restaurants and shops squeezed in alongside Western brands like McDonalds and The Body Shop. You are also spoilt for choice when eating in Harajuku. Given its nature, you can opt for a bright, immersive experience that embraces Japanese pop culture at places like the Robot Restaurant and the Kawaii Monster Café or you can choose to try traditional Japanese cuisine in a place like Harajuku Gyoza Lou, which specialises in gyoza and pan-fried stuffed dumplings. Harajuku is well worth your time and the memories made strolling around it will surely stay with you.
Celebrated for its stunning cherry blossom, Ueno Park is a hugely popular destination in Tokyo. From the natural beauty of the cherry blossom to the fascinating assortment of museums, Ueno Park has a variety of attractions to cater for everyone. The museums in the park include the Tokyo National Museum, Science Museum and National Museum of Western Art. Additionally, it is home to Japan’s first zoological garden, Ueno Zoo, which houses more than 3,000 animals from over 400 species, including a giant panda. A stunning place of natural beauty amongst the bustling streets and skyscrapers of Tokyo.
For history-lovers and those hoping to see examples of classic Japanese architecture, Sensō-ji is the place to go. The Buddhist temple is Tokyo’s oldest, having been completed in the year 645. It is associated with the independent Shō-Kannon sect and dedicated to the Kannon Bosatsu, the Bodhisattva (an individual on the path to Buddhahood) of compassion. Having been mostly destroyed during World War II, the temple serves as a symbol of rebirth to the Japanese people. It also serves as a symbol of inclusivity, as a Shinto shrine can be found adjacent to the temple, along with an iconic five-storey pagoda. The area is likely to be very busy, with Sensō-ji welcoming 30 million visitors a year. However, as well as exploring the temple grounds, you can also visit the Nakamise-dōri, shopping streets as you approach the temple. Sensō-ji is a place of great spiritual significance and historical value and should be included on your itinerary of the city. As an alternative, an unparalleled view of the temple can be experienced from the observation decks of the Skytree, Tokyo’s tallest building and the world’s tallest tower.
Ryōgoku Kokugikan (Taitō / Sumida area)
For sports fans, Ryōgoku Kokugikan is an essential part of any visit to Tokyo. The indoor arena is the current home of Japanese Sumo Wrestling and the third venue to carry the Kokugikan name. Sumo wrestling is a spectacle unique to Japan and has undergone a rejuvenation in recent years, with a new generation of wrestlers capturing the public’s attention. The Ryōgoku Kokugikan is centrally located and easily accessible by subway - for a real Japanese experience, make sure you visit and attend a match.
Another sporting option is the iconic Tokyo Dome, home of Japanese Baseball and which is located centrally. The Dome is the home field of the Yomiuri Giants Baseball team and is Japan’s first air-supported dome with the nickname of ‘The Big Egg’. Visited by more than 8 million people annually it has hosted Basketball, American Football, Football, mixed Martial Arts and music concerts as well as Baseball. The stadium is a wonder to behold and should feature on your trip.
Imperial Palace (Chiyoda area)
Home to the Emperor, the Imperial Palace is a traditional and impressive building in the heart of Tokyo. Just as magnificent as the palace are the beautiful gardens and moat that surround it. These are open to the public and are a lovely location for a stroll. Built on the site of the old Edo Castle, this quintessential Japanese landmark is conveniently located via a short walk from Tokyo Station.
For a taste of culture, look no further than the Mori Art Museum, located on the 53rd floor of the Roppongi Hills Mori Tower. The museum has no permanent expositions and instead shows a rotating series of temporary exhibitions by contemporary artists. The Mori Art Museum is held in high regard and has hosted the works of notable artists such as Ai Weiwei and Tokujin Yoshioka, the designer of the 2020 Olympic torch. As mentioned, the museum is found within the Roppongi Hills Mori Tower, the centrepiece of the Roppongi Hills development (developed by the late Minoru Mori, Japan’s renowned and foremost building tycoon). Whilst mostly used for office space, you will also find plenty of shops and restaurants. The area is worth visiting, but we suggest you check out what artwork is being displayed at the Mori Art Museum at the time of your visit.
Tokyo Tower is world-famous communication and observation tower in the Shiba-koen district of Minato. Built in 1958, this orange and white painted vintage tower was inspired by the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The main observation deck is 150m and is the perfect place to take in stunning views of the city.
Toyosu Fish Market (Kōtō area)
Located on an island jutting into Tokyo Bay is the Toyosu Fish Market. The $5 billion development replaced the Tsukiji Fish Market, which had stood in the city centre since 1935. Toyosu is a large-scale wholesale market, with two buildings for fish and one building for fruit and vegetables. From a viewing deck on the second floor, you can watch the controlled chaos of the market unfold, as vendors hawk their products and buyers from all over the country haggle for the best prices. Once you pull yourself away, there are restaurants located all over the complex that produce delicious and fresh dishes made from Toyosu-brought fish. Also located above the market are shops and other commercial outlets. The Toyosu Market was built with the upcoming 2020 Olympics in mind, able to effectively accommodate tourists whilst also being a functional place of business. Easily accessible using the Yurikamome Line of the Tokyo transit system, the Toyosu Fish Market is a fascinating insight into one of Japan’s biggest exports.
Tokyo Disney Resort (Kōtō area)
The Tokyo Disney Resort is the largest theme park in Japan and the whole of Asia. Consisting of two parks - Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea - Tokyo Disneyland was the first Disney Park built outside the United States, opening in 1983, whilst DisneySea opened in 2001 and set the record for the fastest theme park in the world to reach 10 million visitors. A must go destination for all the family as it is considered, by many aficionados, to be “Disney’s best park”. Make sure you plan your visit in advance in order to make the most of your time at the resort.
Tokyo truly has something for everyone, whether you are coming to immerse yourself in Japan’s unique popular culture or to discover the nation’s deep history. There is an unforgettable experience around every corner, and Fixture Travel would be delighted to help you find the best experiences for your visit.
Written on 1st December 2019 by Benjamin Mock