Tokyo, the capital city of Japan, is also home to the Imperial Palace and the seat of Government and Parliament. In East-Central Honshu, the largest of Japan’s main islands, this heavily populated city is well worth exploring. One of the world’s most modern cities in terms of its infrastructure and design – due largely and the devastation of WWII – Tokyo also holds the title of the world’s most expensive city in which to live; fortunately, it’s also one of the easiest to get around thanks to its superb rail and subway networks. The cultural side of Tokyo is famous for its numerous things to do and top attractions, including museums, festivals, internationally noted cuisine, and professional sports clubs, including baseball, football, along with traditional Japanese pursuits like sumo wrestling. It’s also a city rich in music and theater, with numerous venues featuring everything from Japanese to modern dramas, symphony orchestras, and pop and rock concerts. Discover the best places to visit in the city with our list of the top attractions in Tokyo.
The Imperial Palace
The chief attraction of Tokyo’s Marunouchi district is the Imperial Palace with its beautiful 17th-century parks surrounded by walls and moats. Still in use by the Imperial family, the Imperial Palace stands on the site where, the Feudal Lord Ota Dokan built the first fortress, the focal point from which the city of Tokyo (or Edo, as it was then) gradually spread. As famous as the palace is the Nijubashi Bridge leading to its interior, a structure that takes its name (“double bridge”) from its reflection in the water. Other notable features include the two-meter-thick wall surrounding the palace and its gates, one of which leads to the East Higashi-Gyoen Garden. Tours of the Imperial Palace are available (pre-registration required) and include the Kikyo-mon Gate, Someikan (Visitors’ House), Fujimi-yagura (“Mt. Fuji View” Keep), the East Gardens and Inner Gate, the Seimon-tetsubashi bridge, and the Imperial Household Agency Building (be sure to plan ahead). Another fortress that can be visited is Edo Castle (Chiyoda Castle), built and located in Tokyo’s Chiyoda district.
Ginza District: Shop til you Drop
Ginza is Tokyo’s busiest shopping area and is as iconic as Times Square in New York, and much older: it’s been the commercial center of the country for centuries, and is where five ancient roads connecting Japan’s major cities all met. Lined by exclusive shops and imposing palatial stores, the Ginza district is also fun to simply wander around or, better still, sit in one of its many tea and coffee shops or restaurants while watching the world rush past. At weekends, when everything is open, it’s a shopper’s paradise as traffic is barred, making it one of the world’s largest pedestrian zones; come nightfall, gigantic advertising panels on its many buildings bathe Ginza in bright neon light. It’s also where you’ll find the famous Kabuki-za Theatre, home to traditional Kabuki performances, as well as the Shinbashi Enbujō Theatre in which Azuma-odori dances and Bunraku performances are staged.
The Sensō-ji Temple
In the Asakusa district of Tokyo, the exquisite Sensō-ji Temple – the city’s most famous shrine – stands at the end of a long street market hosting vendors selling masks, carvings, combs made of ebony and wood, toys, kimonos, fabrics, and precious paper goods. Dedicated to Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of compassion, the temple was established and retains its original appearance despite having been rebuilt numerous times. Highlights include the Kaminari-mon Gate with its 3.3-meter-high red paper lantern bearing the inscription “Thunder Gate;” the famous and much-loved, reputed to drive away ailments (you’ll see people cupping their hands around the smoke and applying it to the part of their body needing); and the fascinating temple doves, said to be Kannon’s sacred messengers (they also tell fortunes by pulling cards from a deck). Afterwards, be sure to explore the rest of the 50-acre temple precinct with its warren of lanes. If you can, revisit the temple again at night for a completely different (and far less crowded) illuminated experience.