Deciding what to do and see in Tokyo depends on how much time you have - and for your sake, we hope you have a couple of times. City streets can look like a football game being played at full speed, while quieter attractions include temples, museums, gardens, origami classrooms, and areas bohemian stay. Tokyo has too many activities to get you excited, so one word of advice: Come with a game plan and be prepared to get lost along the way, in a good way. Here, are the best things to do in Tokyo, just in time for Japan.
Nothing is too strange for the crazy Harajuku District in Tokyo. The neighborhood is the area between Shinjuku and Shibuya, near the Harajuku Station. This is the place to go if you want to break the rules when it comes to everything cultural and trendy.
Takeshita Dori is the main street in Harajuku and the best place to see crazy teen fashions. It is surrounded on both ends by crazy shops. There's a lot more going on here than just pink hair, tattoos, and knee-high boots. Even if your style is more subdued, don't worry; Harajuku also has a lot of shops that are more mainstream.
But Harajuku also has a lot of historical places to see. Here is where Meiji Jingu and the small Ota Memorial Museum of Art can be found. Overall, it's the perfect place to show off both Japan's long-standing traditions and its new, modern styles.
The Imperial Palace (Kikyo), with its beautiful 17th-century parks surrounded by walls and moats, is the main attraction in Tokyo's Marunouchi district. The Imperial Palace is still used by the Imperial family. It stands on the spot where the Feudal Lord Ota Dokan built the first fortress in 1457. This was the center from which the city of Tokyo (then called Edo) slowly grew outward.
The Nijubashi Bridge, which leads to the palace's interior, is just as well-known as the palace itself. Its name, "double bridge," comes from the way it looks in the water. The two-meter-thick wall around the palace and its gates are also interesting. One of the gates leads to the East Higashi-Gyoen Garden.
The Kikyo-mon Gate, the Someikan (Visitors' House), the Fujimi-yagura ("Mt. Fuji View" Keep), the East Gardens and Inner Gate, the Seimon-Ishibashi bridge, and the Imperial Household Agency Building can all be seen on tours of the Imperial Palace (be sure to plan ahead).
Edo Castle is another castle that can be seen (Chiyoda Castle). It was built in 1457 and is in the Chiyoda district of Tokyo.
Ueno Park (Ueno Ken) is the city's largest green space and one of the most popular tourist spots. It is a green paradise in the middle of busy Tokyo. In addition to its beautiful grounds, the park has many temples and museums that you can visit.
This 212-acre park has a lot of nice gravel paths and things to do, like taking a small boat on the reed-lined Shinobazu pond around a small island with the Bentendo Temple on it. Visit the Toshogu Shrine (Nikk Tsh-g), which was built in the 17th century and has 256 bronze and stone lanterns.
Ueno Zoo (Onshi Ueno Dbutsuen) is another great thing to see here. It is Japan's oldest zoo and is known for the pandas that the People's Republic of China gave to the zoo. It opened in 1882.
Even though it's a big attraction with more than 3,000 animals from about 400 species, a fun monorail that connects its different parts can speed up a visit (and make it even more enjoyable).
The Aqua-Zoo is also worth a visit, especially if you are traveling with kids. It is one of the largest aquariums in Asia.
In Tokyo's Asakusa neighborhood, the beautiful Sens-ji Temple (Kinry-zan Sens-ji) stands at the end of a long street market where people sell masks, carvings, combs made of ebony and wood, toys, kimonos, fabrics, and valuable paper goods.
The temple was built in AD 645 and is dedicated to Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of compassion. Even though it has been rebuilt many times, it still looks the same as when it was first built.
The Kaminari-mon Gate, with its 3.3-meter-high red paper lantern that says "Thunder Gate," and the famous and much-loved Incense Vat, which is said to cure illnesses (you'll see people cup their hands around the smoke and put it on the part of their body that needs healing), are two of the best parts of a visit.
Also interesting are the temple doves, which are said to be Kannon's holy messengers. Make sure to put a coin in the Omikuji boxes near the entrance. You can pull out a piece of paper that tells your future from those boxes.
After that, be sure to check out the rest of the temple precinct, which is 50 acres and has a maze of streets. If you can, go back to the temple at night for a different (and much less crowded) way to see it lit up.
The National Art Center (Kokuritsu Shin-Bijutsukan) is another world-class museum in Tokyo. It is housed in a beautiful curved glass building in the city's Roppongi district. This great building just opened in 2007, but it has already gotten a good name for its permanent collection of more than 600 paintings, most of which are from the 20th century. These include a lot of important modern art and regular exhibitions that come from other places.
The Mori Art Museum (Mori Bijutsukan), which is on the top floor of the nearby Roppongi Hills Mori Tower, is also worth a look. This fine art museum is known for how often it shows modern art from all over the world.
Ginza is Tokyo's busiest shopping district, and it's as famous as New York Times Square, but it's much older. In fact, it has been the center of business in the country for hundreds of years. It is where five old roads from Japan's biggest cities met. The Ginza district is full of high-end shops and stores that look like palaces. It's also fun to just walk around there. Better yet, sit in one of its many restaurants or coffee shops and watch the world go by.
On the weekends, when everything is open, there is no traffic, making it one of the largest pedestrian zones in the world. At night, Ginza is lit up by bright neon light from the huge advertising panels on its many buildings.
It's also where you'll find the famous Kabuki-za Theater, where traditional Kabuki performances take place, as well as the Shinbashi Enbuj Theater, where Azuma-Odori dances and Bunraku performances take place.
The Tokyo Skytree (Tky Sukaitsur) is hard to miss. This 634-meter-tall communications and observation tower looks like a huge rocket ship rising out of the city's Sumida district of Minato.
The Tokyo Skytree is the tallest building in Japan and the tallest freestanding tower in the world. It opened in 2012 and has quickly become one of the most popular tourist spots in the city because its restaurant and observation decks offer amazing views of the whole city.
The base of the tower is shaped like a huge tripod. It has a number of cylindrical observation levels, including one at 350 meters and another at 450 meters. The one at 450 meters has a unique glass spiral walkway that leads to an even higher viewpoint with glass floors for those who are brave.
Be sure to also check out the Tokyo Tower, which is much smaller and much older. It was built in 1958 and was once the tallest building in the city.
The Tokyo National Museum (ky Kokuritsu Hakubutsukan) has more than 100,000 important works of Japanese, Chinese, and Indian art, including more than 100 national treasures.
The TNM, as it is usually called, opened in 1938. Some of the best things about it are the many Buddhist sculptures from Japan and China that date from the 6th century to the present day. The museum also has great collections of old textiles, historical weapons, and military equipment.
It also has a large collection of old Japanese clothes and Asian ceramics and pottery that are worth seeing. Important works of art include Japanese paintings from the 7th to the 14th centuries. The museum also has a beautiful collection of Japanese and Chinese lacquer work masterpieces from different centuries, such as lacquer carving, lacquer with mother of pearl, and lacquer with gold. Calligraphy is also well done in a lot of places.
There are tours that can be led in English. The museum's traditional Japanese landscape garden is also worth seeing. It has three pavilions, one of which is the 17th-century Tein Teahouse (Rokuso-an), and the nearby Museum for East Asian Art has 15 exhibition galleries that are also worth seeing.
The impressive National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (Nippon Kagaku Mirai-kan), which most people just call the Miraikan, is one of the newest museums in Tokyo. It shows how Japan has been a leader in technology for a long time.
This ultramodern, purpose-built building was made by Japan's Science and Technology Agency. It has a lot of hands-on, interactive exhibits about earthquakes, weather, renewable energy, and robots. A robotics exhibition and a number of displays about modern transportation, like a great model of a Maglev train, are among the most interesting things to see.
The Edo-Tokyo Museum is also worth seeing. The museum was finished in 1993, and its displays talk about the past, present, and future of the area. A replica bridge that leads to a copy of a house in the old city of Edo is especially interesting.
The wonderful National Museum of Nature and Science (Kokuritsu Kagaku Hakubutsukan) is in Tokyo's Ueno Park. It opened in 1871 and is one of the oldest museums in the country.
Now that it has been completely remodeled and updated, the museum is known as one of the busiest and largest in the country. It has a huge collection of about 250,000 items related to natural history and science.
There are many interesting interactive displays about space development, nuclear energy, and transportation. Each gives visitors a unique look at the latest scientific and technological advances. Some of the best things about the Japan Gallery (Nihonkan) are the many displays of prehistoric animals and the history of the Japanese people, such as their traditional customs and clothes. In the Global Gallery (Chikykan), there are many great displays of science and technology, such as robots and old cars.
The National Museum of Western Art (Kokuritsu Seiy Bijutsukan) is in Ueno Park, just a three-minute walk from Ueno Station. It was built in 1959 based on plans by Le Corbusier, a well-known Swiss architect.
A Japanese businessman and art collector named Kojiro Matsukata bought most of the pieces on trips to Europe at the beginning of the 20th century. Most of the pieces on display are by famous French artists.
Sculptures by the French artist Auguste Rodin are in the courtyard, and paintings by Paul Cézanne, Claude Monet, Edouard Manet, and Edgar Degas are among the most important pieces inside. The museum also has a great restaurant that looks out over the courtyard.
There are many great theatres in Tokyo, but none are as famous as the historic Kabuki-za Theater in the city's busy Ginza district, where famous traditional Kabuki performances are held.
Based on a highly-skilled, often burlesque, and often medieval form of theatre that includes song and dance, the theater's shows are popular with both tourists and people who speak Japanese.
The drama and comedy aren't too hard to follow because there are a lot of visuals and theatre in the show. The inside of the theatre, which is usually full of about 2,000 people, is always cozy and feels more like a big family gathering than a stage show. This is because people can bring their own food or buy snacks from the many restaurants around the auditorium.
The shows can go on for hours, and people can stay as long as they want (or as long as they can bear). And no one seems to mind how people come and go or how loudly they cheer or boo.
Tokyo is the busy capital of Japan. It has both ultramodern skyscrapers with crafts and old temples. You will definitely love the beauty of this city. Go to the most popular places, and also find unique things to do. Check out our list of things to do in Tokyo for an unforgettable experience.