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.
Tokyo Tourist Information Center (TIC)
Tenth Floor, Tokyo Kotsu Kaikan Building, 2–10–1 Yurakucho,
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.
There are no sightseeing passes in Tokyo.
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
Tokyo Tocho (Tokyo Metropolitan Government
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.
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).
Free (shrine); ¥500 (Gyoen Inner Garden).
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.
Tel: (03) 3213 1111.
Station on the Chiyoda underground line.
Tuesday–Thursday, Saturday and Sunday 09:00–15:30 (November–February);
Tuesday–Thursday, Saturday and Sunday 09:00–16:00 (Mach–October).
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.
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.
Tel: (03) 3828 5644.
Transport: Ueno Station
on the JR Yamanote loop line.
Admission: Free (park
National Museum of Western Art
Tel: (03) 3828 5131.
Opening hours: Tuesday–Thursday, Saturday
and Sunday 09:30–17:00, Friday 09:30–20:00.
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
Tel: (03) 3828 5171.
Web site: www.tokyo-zoo.net
Opening hours: Tuesday–Sunday
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
Transport: Yurikamome Monorail
line from Shimbashi Station.
Museum of Maritime
3–1 Higashi-yashio, Shinagawa-ku
Tel: (03) 5500 1111.
Web site: www.funenokagakukan.or.jp
Opening hours: Monday–Friday
10:00–17:00, Saturday and Sun day10:00–18:00.
Tsukiji Ichiba (Tsukiji Wholesale
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
Opening hours: Monday–Saturday
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).
¥5500 (adult all-inclusive one-day ‘passport’ ticket).