10 things to do in Tokyo
11th January 2016
Although Tokyo is stereotypically known for being a modern, high-tech city, in actual fact, Tokyo is an exciting combination of old and new. There are over 100 Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples that are thousands of years old and beautiful landscape gardens and tranquil parks to sit in and relax. These older gems are surrounded by the more well-known, modern neon-lit skyscrapers and mega-malls, which create the famous Tokyo skyline. There’s certainly something for everyone in Tokyo and we’ve picked 10 attractions we recommend visiting.
1) Ueno zoo
Ueno zoo is Japan’s oldest zoo, which opened in March 1882. It has more than 2,600 animals and 460 species from around the globe including Sumatran tigers, Asiatic elephants, penguins, lemurs, polar bears and kangaroos. Their most famous animals by far are their two wonderful giant Pandas called Lili and ShinShin who arrived at the zoo in 2011. For the kids, there’s a Children’s zoo where they can learn about and interact with guinea pigs, rabbits, mice and even a miniature horse! As well as the animals there’s also an enormous five-storey pagoda which is all that remains of the former Kaneiji Temple destroyed in the battle of Ueno in 1868.
2) Sensoji Temple
Sensoji Temple is Tokyo’s oldest and most visited Buddhist temple located in Asakusa in the Shitamachi area of the city. The temple was associated with the Tendai sect but became independent after the Second World War. The temple enshrines a beautiful golden statue of Kannon, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, which is one of its main attractions. Most visitors enter through Kaminarimon(thunder gate), which itself is a popular, much-photographed, tourist spot. It’s famous for its large red lantern and statues of Gods Raijin (God of Thunder) and Fujin (God of Wind).
3) Asakusa Shrine
Asakusa Shrine is a Shinto shrine next to the Sensoji Temple. It was built in 1649 in honour of the three men who discovered the Kannon statue that inspired the Sensoji Temple. The shrine was once part of the temple but was separated during the Meiji period (1868-1912) when Japan went through a transformation from a medieval country to an economically powerful one. There’s a huge festival in honour of the Sensoji Temple and Asakusa Shrine called Sanja-Matsuri, which is held every year during the third week in May. During the 3-day festival Asakusa has an incredible buzz as it’s packed with food stalls, games and musicians playing drums and flutes.
4) Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden
Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden is one of Tokyo’s largest parks and is a lovely calm retreat away from the hustle and bustle of the busy city. There are three different types of garden to relax in within the park: a Japanese landscape garden with its own teahouse, a French garden and an English landscape garden. The park is also home to more than a dozen varieties of cherry trees, more than 400 of which blossom in late March/ early April to create a stunning backdrop for Hanami – Japan’s famous cherry blossom festival.
5) Tokyo Tower
Tokyo Tower, often described as the Eiffel Tower of Japan, is 333 metres high making it the 2nd highest tower in Japan and the tallest self-supporting steel tower in the world. The Tower opened in 1958 and is both a telecommunications hub, transmitting Tokyo’s nine television and four FM radio stations throughout the city, and a highly popular tourist attraction. There are two observation decks for visitors, one at 145m and one at 250m, from which you can enjoy stunning, panoramic views of the whole city.
6) Tsukiji fish market
Tsukiji fish market isn’t just the biggest and busiest fish market in Japan, it’s the biggest in the world. The main event, strange as it may sound, is the grand tuna auction and if you can get up early enough (it’s at 3am!) it’s a spectacle to watch. That’s mainly because you see people bidding extortionate amounts for the fish. The tuna in the picture on the left was sold for 14 million yen, which equates to just over £81,000! After the tuna auction is over why not wander around the rest of the market and pick up a sushi breakfast in true Japanese fashion. It’ll be the freshest sushi you try!
We don’t think you can visit Tokyo without watching some live Sumo wrestling! There are three large 15-day events held every year in January, May and September at Ryogoku Kokugikan, Tokyo’s national Sumo hall. If you want to go on a Friday or Saturday night during these events you’ll need to book tickets in advance but it’s definitely worth it for the incredible, crowd-roaring atmosphere. If you’re visiting out of tournament season we recommend going to watch a morning training session held in a sumo stable known as a beya. As they’re intense training sessions visitors are expected to remain quiet and keep to one side rather than cheering as you would in a sumo hall. It’s still great fun to watch though!
8) Imperial Palace
On the former site of Edo Castle sits the home of the Emperor of Japan; the Imperial Palace. The palace was completely destroyed in the Second World War so was rebuilt using the same design. Although you’re not allowed inside the palace, guided tours take place throughout the magnificent grounds during which you can see some of the ancient ruins of the original palace. If you enter via the Otemon Gate you can stop by the Museum of Imperial Collection where you can find out all about the lives of Prince and Princess Takamatsu. Imperial Palace East Gardens are open to the public all year round except on Mondays and Fridays and entry is free!
Ginza is a luxurious shopping district often described as a Japanese version of New York’s Fifth Avenue. Ginza has everything from huge shopping centres to boutiques and from large restaurants to tiny cafes. If you’re looking for gadgets, head to the enormous Sony building, it’s as spectacular inside as it is outside. For something cultural, we highly recommend seeing a traditional kabuki play in the famous Kabukiza theatre – the costumes are incredible. Although there are plenty of restaurants and bars in Ginza, why not hop one stop on the underground to Ginza’s neighbouring district, Yurakucho, where you’ll find dozens of small, open air restaurants serving delicious grilled and barbequed food.
10) Ghibli Museum
If you’re an anime fan then a trip to Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli Museum is a must. It’s a small, quirky museum in Mitaka, just outside of Tokyo and is packed with sketches and memorabilia from all of Ghibli’s iconic films such as Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke and Howl’s Moving Castle. On the first floor you can find out all about the history of the animations and watch never-before-seen short movies in a small, exclusive theatre. Upstairs you’ll find temporary exhibitions about some of Miyazaki’s favourite Japanese novels such as The Haunted Tower. Don’t forget to buy a Totoro toy from the gift shop before you leave!
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