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Last updated : Nov 2009
 
Tokyo Sightseeing
Tokyo Sightseeing Guide - TravelPuppy.com
Overview

Tokyo has few specifically renowned sights. Alternatively, the main attraction is the opportunity to experience a city that is on the surface so much like Western cities, yet at the heart so profoundly unfamiliar. There is no main square, no central landmark or prime focal point for tourists, as Tokyo is a combination of distinct areas, a conglomeration of mini-cities.

Ginza’s classy boulevards and emporiums cater to the wealthy; Shinjuku, a hive of office workers by day, changes into a neon-lit entertainment wonderland at dusk; Shibuya and Harajuku offer upscale shopping, sports grounds and fine parks. Meanwhile, in the old neighbourhoods around Ueno and Asakusa, situated among the small houses and shops, potted plants and roadside shrines, life goes on much as it has for decades. Ginza’s glitzy department stores are situated less than two kilometres (one mile) from the Pacific Ocean but, strangely, Tokyo offers little feeling of being on the coast. The rapidly developing waterfront rewards the visitor with a different view, while an evening stroll through the vibrant entertainment areas reveals yet another side to this chameleon city.

Tokyo is many things – a maelstrom of rampant consumerism and oases of peace, sensory overload and subtle detailed beauty. It’s a city hurrying into the future but haunted by the past. Most importantly, Tokyo is a city that works.

Tourist Information

Tokyo Tourist Information Center (TIC)
Tenth Floor, Tokyo Kotsu Kaikan Building, 2–10–1 Yurakucho, Chiyoda-ku
Tel: (03) 3201 3331 or 3201 2911 (24-hour recorded information). Fax: (03) 3201 3347.
Web site: www.jnto.go.jp
Opening hours: Monday–Friday 09:00–17:00, Sat 09:00–12:00.

Passes

There are no sightseeing passes in Tokyo.

Key Attractions

Sensoji Temple, Asakusa

Tokyo’s most famous Buddhist temple and a pilgrimage site and tourism destination for several centuries, Sensoji Temple, was founded in AD628, to enshrine a gold statuette of the Kannon Bodhisattva (the Goddess of Mercy). The temple and its 5-storey pagoda are concrete reconstructions, however the temple precincts are still always crowded with worshippers. Smoke from the large incense burner in front of the temple is thought to contain healing powers. The awesome Kaminarimon (Thunder Gate) is well known for its huge red paper lantern and frightening guardian statues, while the temple approach is lined with shops offering traditional sweets and souvenirs. This area was the centre of Shitamachi (downtown) during the Edo period and the streets, restaurants and shops surrounding the temple still preserve some of the flavour of old Edo. The great Sanja festival is held annually in Asakusa on the 3rd weekend in May. More than 100 mikoshi (portable shrines) are paraded through the streets, accompanied by great celebration and large crowds.

2–3–1 Asakusa, Taito-ku
Tel: (03) 3842 5566 (Asakusa Cultural and Sightseeing Centre).

Transport: Asakusa Station, eastern terminus of Ginza underground line.
Opening hours: Daily 06:00–17:00.
Admission: Free.

Tokyo Tocho (Tokyo Metropolitan Government Offices)

Situated in bustling Shinjuku, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Offices are known both for their unique architecture and the impressive free observation decks on the 45th floor. Designed by Kenzo Tange, 1 of Japan’s best architects, the monumental twin towers are said to have been inspired by Notre Dame, although the striking granite façade rather brings to mind Batman’s Gotham City. The observation decks – 1 in each tower and both with a café – are easily reached by high-speed elevator and provides fabulous views over the city. On particularly nice days, visitors can see Mount Fuji.

2–8–1 Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku
Tel: (03) 5320 7890.

Transport: Shinjuku Station, then a short 10-minute walk following the underground passage leading west; Tochomae Station on Toei Oedo underground line.
Opening hours: Tuesday–Sunday 09:30–22:00.
Admission: Free.

Meiji-jingu (Meiji Shrine)

Among Japan’s best examples of Shinto architecture, the atmospheric Meiji Shrine is hidden away in the centre of a dark, cool forest – an unanticipated oasis of peace in the centre of the city. Passing through a huge wooden torii gate, one follows the wide gravel path through the forest and into the shrine precincts. Finished in 1920, the shrine is dedicated to the memory of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken, under whose reign Japan speedily modernised and was opened to the world outside. On weekends, it is often possible to see a traditional wedding procession and the precincts are among the best places to observe the finery and festivities of New Year, Coming of Age Day (15 January) and the children’s festival of Shichi-Go-San (weekends approximately 15 November). The Gyoen Inner Garden, located in the shrine grounds, is well worth visiting during June, for the amazing displays of irises.

1–1 Kamizono-cho, Yoyogi, Shibuya-ku
Tel: (03) 3320 5700.
Web site: www.meijijingu.or.jp/english

Transport: Harajuku Station on the JR Yamanote loop line or Meiji-jingumae Station on the Chiyoda underground line.
Opening hours: Daily from dawn to dusk (shrine), daily from 09:00–16:30 (Jingu Naien Garden).
Admission: Free (shrine); ¥500 (Gyoen Inner Garden).

Kyoko Higashi Gyoen (Imperial Palace East Garden)

The Imperial Palace East Garden, situated on the site of the old Edo Castle of the shoguns, is the only area of the Imperial Palace that is open to the public. Entered through the Otemon Gate – once the major entrance to the castle – it is a peaceful formal garden, encircled by a section of the original moat and encompassing walls and foundations of the inner castle. Special features include a pond, waterfall and teahouse.

Otemachi, Chiyoda-ku
Tel: (03) 3213 1111.

Transport: Nijubashimae Station on the Chiyoda underground line.
Opening hours: Tuesday–Thursday, Saturday and Sunday 09:00–15:30 (November–February); Tuesday–Thursday, Saturday and Sunday 09:00–16:00 (Mach–October).
Admission: Free.

Edo-Tokyo Hakubutsukan (Edo-Tokyo Museum)

Housed in what resembles a colossal white spaceship, the Edo-Tokyo Museum is a great place for visitors to experience Tokyo’s history and culture, from the Edo of the shoguns up to the post-war reconstruction. There are full-size models of period structures and the Nihombashi ‘Bridge of Japan’, as well as displays depicting the daily life and customs of the city’s past.

1–4–1 Yokoami, Sumida-ku
Tel: (03) 3272 8600.
Web site: www.edo-tokyo-museum.or.jp/english/index.html

Transport: Ryogoku Station on JR Sobu line.
Opening hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday 09:30–17:30, Thursday and Friday 09:30–20:00.
Admission: ¥600.

Ueno Koen (Ueno Park)

Once the location of temples and nobles’ mansions, Ueno Park is now Tokyo’s premier cherry blossom viewing site and home to many significant museums, as well as Tokyo Zoo. The park is dotted with historically interesting shrines and temples, including the Tokyo ‘branch’ of the Nikko Toshogu Shrine. The Tokyo National Museum is home to treasures of Japanese art through the ages, and the National Museum of Western Art and the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum host vital visiting exhibitions.

Taito-ku, Tokyo
Tel: (03) 3828 5644.

Transport: Ueno Station on the JR Yamanote loop line.
Opening hours: Daily 05:00–23:00.
Admission: Free (park and shrines).

National Museum of Western Art
Tel: (03) 3828 5131.
Website: www.nmwa.go.jp

Opening hours: Tuesday–Thursday, Saturday and Sunday 09:30–17:00, Friday 09:30–20:00.
Admission: ¥420.

Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum
Tel: (03) 3823 6921.
Web site: www.tobikan.jp

Opening hours: Tuesday–Sunday 09:00–17:00.
Admission: Varies depending on the exhibition, with minor exhibitions from ¥500 to ¥1000 and high-profile exhibitions usually ¥1300.

Tokyo National Museum
Tel: (03) 3822 1111.

Opening hours: Tuesday–Sunday 09:30–17:00.
Admission: ¥420.

Tokyo Zoo
Tel: (03) 3828 5171.
Web site: www.tokyo-zoo.net (Japanese only)

Opening hours: Tuesday–Sunday 09:30–16:30.
Admission: ¥600.

Tokyo Rainbow Town (Odaiba)

Rainbow Town, otherwise known as Odaiba, on the group of artificial islands in Tokyo Bay, is known as Tokyo’s ‘Waterfront Town for the 21st Century’. The focal point of much futuristic development, the area incorporates prestigious businesses, parks, tourist attractions and spectacular contemporary architecture. The Fuji Television Center (designed by Kenzo Tange), the Tokyo International Exhibition Center (Tokyo Big Sight), and the Decks Tokyo Beach shopping and restaurant complex are rapidly becoming Tokyo’s new landmarks, while the ship-shaped Museum of Maritime Science has superb displays and hands-on exhibits. The driverless monorail ride to and from the island, which offers outstanding views of the area, is an attraction in itself.

Odaiba, Tokyo Bay
Transport: Yurikamome Monorail line from Shimbashi Station.

Museum of Maritime Science
3–1 Higashi-yashio, Shinagawa-ku
Tel: (03) 5500 1111.
Web site: www.funenokagakukan.or.jp (Japanese only)

Opening hours: Monday–Friday 10:00–17:00, Saturday and Sun day10:00–18:00.
Admission: ¥1000.

Additional Distractions

Tsukiji Ichiba (Tsukiji Wholesale Fish Market)

The world’s biggest fish market, over 2,500 tons of fish pass through the Tsukiji Wholesale Fish Market daily, with deals totaling approximately £15 million. The first deliveries are made in the early hours but the main action begins with the tuna auction on the quay at the back of the market at around 04:00. The bidding is fast and furious and is a great show. Spectators are welcome however visitors should keep in mind that this is a business, not a tourist attraction. The auctions are completed by 05:30, when the focus shifts to the wholesale stalls – at least 1500 of them – providing every imaginable variety of fish and seafood to Tokyo’s chefs and food retailers, who arrive to buy the daily supply. As the city awakes, restaurants located around the market offer sushi breakfasts, rounded off by a glass of beer. Nowhere in Tokyo is fish eaten fresher.

5–2–1 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku
Tel: (03) 3542 1111.
Web site: www.tsukiji-market.or.jp/tukiji_e.htm

Transport: Tsukiji Station on the Hibiya underground line.
Opening hours: Monday–Saturday 05:00–10:00.
Admission: Free.

Tokyo Disneyland

Tokyo Disneyland is a loyal replica of the Californian original, complete with Fantasyland, Adventureland, and Tomorrowland, as well as shows, parades and firework displays. The unique and brand-new DisneySea Park, situated against the backdrop of Tokyo Bay, is proving to be very popular.

1–1 Maihama, Urayasu-shi
Tel: (047) 354 0001 or (045) 683 3333 (English-language information).
Web site: www.tokyodisneyresort.co.jp/tdr/index_e.html

Transport: Maihama Station on the JR Keiyo Line from Tokyo Station.
Opening hours: Daily 08:00/09:00–22:00 (varies seasonally).
Admission: ¥5500 (adult all-inclusive one-day ‘passport’ ticket).