Tokyo: Japan’s Capital – the Top 10 Places of Interest
Do you want to take a trip to Asia, but don’t know exactly where to go? How about Tokyo, the capital of Japan? It’s regarded as one of the safest countries in the world, with a great variety of both historical monuments and modern and advanced technology.
On your trip, you should pay the capital a visit. This metropolis is a popular tourist destination – for good reason. Tokyo boasts breathtakingly beautiful parks, exciting shopping streets, great food, historical sights, and so much more. To give you an overview of the city’s highlights, we’ve listed our top 10 sights in this article. You don’t want to miss out on those!
Tokyo in a Nutshell
First, let’s give you some background information about Japan’s most important city. Tokyo is the world’s most popular metropolis, and is divided into 23 different districts. The Japanese government’s seat is also located here, making the city not only socially significant, but politically as well.
Tokyo is located on the island of Honshū in the east of the country and is characterized by a subtropical climate. This means that traveling during the summer can be a little more taxing – this is because the climate is both hot and humid. The rainy season, also called tsuyu, runs from the end of June to mid-July, with daily rainy showers. Furthermore, temperatures rise above 30 °C during the day. This is something to keep in mind when planning your trip. Check out our Japan climate guide.
The spring and autumn months are drier. We also have to inform you about the possibility of typhoons in September or October – but they rarely last more than a day. The winter months are dry and sunny. During the day, temperatures can rise up to 10 °C. It’s best to inform yourself about possible weather conditions and changes ahead of time.
One thing you can always count on, though, is Tokyo’s scrumptious food! Two typical main dishes that you may already know are ramen and sushi. These specialties taste even better when prepared locally and traditionally than what we are used to at home. However, if you’ve had your fill of these dishes, how about some melonpan? Freshly baked, this sweet melon-shaped pastry tastes heavenly! Another baking specialty that we highly recommend is monjayaki. The dough is made from flour and then mixed with shredded cabbage and either spicy or mild ingredients. It then gets fried on a teppanyaki grill until it is ready to be savored. Simply delicious!
While you can enjoy these delicacies all year round, certain events only take place once a year. The most important of these are the cherry blossom festivals. The beautiful pink cherry blossoms bloom from late March to early April, depending on the climate. It’s a great attraction!
Two of the biggest festivals are the Sannō Matsuri and the Kanda Matsuri in June. The former is held every even-numbered year and the latter every odd-numbered year. You can’t miss out on these religious and traditional Shintō. Thousands of people take to the streets to celebrate. The festivities last for a total of eleven days, during which the locals hold parades, worship deities and dance in traditional clothes.
During the summer months, it’s worth going to one of the many firework festivals known as hanabi (literally “flower fire”). The fireworks at the Sumidagawa River in the Ryogoku riverfront district are particularly impressive. Firework festivals have been taking place since as early as 1549, with the Sumidagawa being one of the first venues. Thousands of locals enjoy this spectacle when the city cools down a bit in the summer months. Why not join them?
To get around easily in Japan, we recommend buying a Japan Rail Pass, which allows you to comfortably explore the city. But it comes at a cost – 7 days cost up to ¥44,810 Yen ($368), 14 days cost up to ¥72,310 ($593), and 21 days cost up to ¥91,670($753). With this pass, you can use the Japan Rail (JR) operated railways (even some Shinkansen lines!), buses, and ferries. Tickets are available both locally and online. If you’re just in Tokyo for a short time or don’t want to spend too much money, most station vending machines sell reloadable IC cards like Suica or Pasmo. If you’re traveling by Shinkansen to numerous destinations, then the Rail Pass is a great deal.
The Top 10 Places of Interest in Tokyo
Let’s move on to our top 10 sights in Tokyo. The industrial, educational, and commercial hub is now one of the world’s most modern cities. However, it’s equally characterized by traditional monuments and landmarks. Taking this information into account, we’ll now show you the best of both modern and classical Tokyo.
Sensō-ji is a Buddhist temple in the Asakusa district, built in 645. According to a legend, two brothers fished a statue of the bodhisattva Kannon, the goddess of compassion, out of the Sumidagawa River. Even when they put it back into the river, it always returned, so they built this temple nearby. It’s accessible via the Kaminarimon (Thunder Gate), one of Tokyo’s most popular sights. Behind the Hozomon Gate are the main hall of the temple and a five-story pagoda. Just a few meters from the main hall is the Asakusa-jinja, a Shintō shrine built in 1649. Throughout the year, the grounds host a variety of festivities. Make sure to pick up a souvenir from one of the stalls on the street leading to the temple!
The Meiji-jingū, a shrine dedicated to former Emperor Meiji and his wife, Shōken, is also worth visiting. The site’s popularity, however, isn’t only due to its rich religious history. It’s also surrounded by a total of 120,000 trees. The 0.7 km² evergreen forest contains 365 different species of trees and provides a pleasant and peaceful atmosphere. So apart from visiting the three areas of the shrine, it is also worthwhile to take a walk in the surrounding area. When visiting the shrines, it is important to be respectful of the gods and other visitors.
The Tokyo Skytree is one of the city’s most popular sights and Japan’s tallest structure, standing at 634 meters. Located in the Oshiage district, this broadcasting tower ensures that digital signals are not disrupted by the many tall buildings in the area. But there’s a lot more to this massive tower – in the dark, it’s lit up in a wide variety of colors. A real eye-catcher!
Take the opportunity to climb up to one of the viewing platforms and enjoy the fantastic view. However, this isn’t for the faint of heart. At a height of 350 to 450 meters, you might start to feel a bit queasy. You can also stay here a little longer and visit one of the cafés or restaurants. They are surrounded by glass windows, so you will have a view of the entire city. For the brave travelers, there’s a 110-meter-long walkway called the Air Walk, where you can get a 360-degree view of Tokyo.
When you look at this landmark, you’ll probably immediately notice its resemblance to another world-renowned structure. That’s right, the Eiffel Tower in Paris served as inspiration for the 332.6-meter-high Tokyo Tower. The TV tower is one of Asia’s most popular attractions, with about 3 million visitors every year. It was built between 1957 and 1958. There are two observation decks here as well, one of which allows you to stand on a small glass platform. At a height of 150 meters, you can enjoy a cup of coffee and other typical Japanese foods, or go shopping in the tower’s stores. The higher platform, at 250 meters, serves only as an observation deck. But it’s still exciting because the view from up there is breathtaking!
This beautiful imperial garden is a must-see. Located in the Shinjuku and Shibuya districts, it offers you a beautiful green space with a size of 58.3 hectares. The park’s various styles are particularly tasteful. Take a stroll through the different areas of the Japanese, English, or French gardens, and learn about exotic plants in a large greenhouse. If you need a break, visit the traditional tea house. You’ll have a unique view of the park from there.
Another great park is Ueno Park in the Taitō district. Not only can you admire the countless cherry blossoms in full bloom in the high season, but you can also look at many historical statues. You can find these statues all over the park, and provide a fascinating historical experience. There are also several museums in the immediate vicinity that you can visit.
Tokyo National Museum
The Tokyo National Museum is the country’s oldest and largest museum. Founded in 1872, it now houses 110,000 exhibits, 87 Japanese cultural assets, and hundreds of research materials. It’s located inside Ueno Park. We highly recommend a visit if you’re in the area.
This magnificent imperial palace is located in Chiyoda, right in the heart of Tokyo. To visit the grounds, you must schedule an appointment ahead of time. Unfortunately, the emperor’s residence itself isn’t open to the public. However, the 110,000 square kilometer complex already is a great experience in and of itself. The palace is definitely worth seeing, even if it’s just from outside.
Shibuya and Shibuya Crossing
We have already mentioned that Tokyo is one of the world’s most densely populated cities. To really get a sense of this, we recommend a trip to the famous Shibuya Crossing. During rush hour, up to 15,000 people can cross the 36-meter-long crosswalk at once. You simply have to witness this spectacle – but don’t forget to explore Shibuya itself.
The Shibuya district is simply buzzing with life. There are lights, people, and stores everywhere – this is the center of life in Tokyo. Dog lovers will also find something of interest here – A bronze statue of the Akita dog, Hachikō, who waited for his deceased owner at the main station in Shibuya for a total of 10 years in the 1920s and 1930s. This touching story became world-famous through the 2009 film adaptation, starring Richard Gere.
Studio Ghibli fans, take note! Here you can experience your favorite movies like My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away up close. In this unique museum, you’ll learn how they made these films and how they came up with the concepts. But the museum has even more to offer. You can crawl through small doors and climb the spiral staircases, just like in Howl’s Moving Castle. It’s a real adventure that will get your heart racing.
Japan’s capital has it all! Here you’ll find modern landmarks like the huge Skytree and Tokyo Tower, or hotspots like Shibuya, with its busy crossing. But there are also more traditional sights, like the many shrines and temples dedicated to emperors or deities. Don’t forget to try the delicious Japanese cuisine, like sushi or melonpan. The fact that the Japan Rail Pass allows you to easily explore the well-connected city is a huge plus.
There’s so much to discover in Japan’s capital. We hope that our list of the top 10 sights has given you a good overview. Now you’re ready to travel to Tokyo!