A visit to the capital city of the Land of the Rising Sun is an amazing experience. The mechanical efficiency of the Japanese seamlessly blends with the rush of tradition, culture and colours. We’ve compiled a list of 9 must do experiences in Tokyo that will leave you in awe at the city’s unique culture and beauty.
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1. Visit The Tsujiki Market
The Tsujiki fish market is the largest wholesale market in the world for all things marine, with fruits and vegetables also on sale. Home to the world-famous Tsujiki tuna auctions, the market us renowned for the thousands of tonnes of fish handled there on a daily basis! The inner market houses the main auction base and the handling sections, while the outer market has hundreds of retail shops and restaurants where you can get and taste fresh fish from the ocean.
The market is a place of serious business, so visitors are only allowed to watch the tuna auction from a designated viewing dock. The auction starts at 5 am in the morning, and visitors are allowed in two batches of 60 members each. Free registration is done at the Fish Information Center building inside the market, on a first come first serve basis. Go a good hour or two before registration opens if you want to get a spot!
The auction comes to a close around 6 am, so you can take a tour of the market and purchase fresh fish, vegetables, authentic bowls and knives in the outer market. And a visit to the Tsujiki fish market is incomplete without a hearty sushi breakfast from one of the numerous restaurants available there.
- It gets extremely cold in the early hours, so wear jackets.
- Get there early. Booking a guide is a good option.
- It gets less crowded after 10 am, so you can visit then if you aren’t into waiting in the early hours.
- The sushi you get in most of the restaurants is really good, so you don’t actually need to queue up at the supposedly best ones.
2. Try The Vending Machines
Tokyo is chock full of vending machines selling a variety of things, from canned food to soup, from manga to bobble-head figurines, from umbrellas to cold beer! You get the idea. Vending machines are a major part of Japanese culture. You can find pretty much anything you want in the bright boxes lining Tokyo’s streets and alleys. While most have clear-cut options to choose from, there are also “mystery vending machines” that spew out surprise gifts. You can get anything from accessories for your hair, plush toys, handy torches to a Nintendo 3DS, depending on yoour luck.
3. Bar Hop at the Golden Gai
Located in Shinjuku, the Golden Gai or the Golden District is a bizarre collection of bars and pubs that is unlike anything you will experience in any other part of the world. Thronged by Tokyo’s salarymen and artisty types, the Golden Gai is Japan’s tiniest drinking den, with over 200 tiny bars packed in six alleys. Unmarred by the technological and industrial “advancements” of its surroundings, the Golden Gai stands as a reminder of old Tokyo’s feel and stubbornness.
Each bar has its own quirky theme and style, and generally seat only 5 to 6 people at one time. However, the unique feel and the conversation make for an experience like no other, making it one of the must do experiences in Tokyo. Most of the bars have regulars, and generally do not allow foreigners and newcomers without recommendations. Unless you are with a local, go for establishments that have signboards in English and menu boards outside.
Note: Check out this page to learn some basic Japanese words that will help you survive in Japan, and also to impress the locals!
4. Relive Your Childhood at the Ghibli Museum
Whether you are a fan of Hayao Miyazaki’s world-famous animated movies or not, a visit to the Ghibli museum at Mitaka near central Tokyo is a must if you’re travelling to the city. The museum houses a theater, a children’s play zone, exhibits related to Studio’s Ghibli’s movies and a beautiful rooftop garden, the setup transporting you to the movies of the award-winning director.
Relive the sense of wonder that you experienced while watching Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke and other gems from the beloved studio. Watch exclusive short films, learn animation techniques used by the studio and enjoy yourself at the in-house cafe and gift shop. Tickets must be purchased in advance, and will cost around 1000 yen, excluding the guided tour cost.
5. Go Shopping in Ginza
Since the 1900s, Ginza has been Japan’s high-end fashion hub. It is home to top of the line fashion boutiques, restaurants, departmental stores, art galleries, night clubs and cafes. Nearly every leading international fashion and cosmetic company, as well as upmarket Japanese brands, have flagship stores here.
And the best part? On weekends, the 1 km long main street through Ginza, the Chuo-Dori is closed to automobiles from 12:00 to 5:00 pm (till 6 pm from April through September), so that pedestrians can explore, enjoy and shop at the Ginza stores and take in the amazing sights.
Though the scenery is dominated by the behemoths of the fashion and cosmetic industries, a lot of other brands also dot Ginza. From toy companies to departmental stores, art galleries to Michelin-star awarded restaurants, Ginzza has a lot of things to offer. Rest assured that the opulence and the fashion will leave you with an experience like no other.
6. Visit the Imperial Palace
A mere ten minute walk from the Tokyo Station lies the magnificent Imperial Palace, located in the Chiyoda ward of Tokyo. Home to Japan’s Imperial Family, the palace was reconstructed after being destroyed in World War 2. The main palace gardens are open to the public throughout the year, with guided tours held at 10:00 am and 1 pm from Mondays to Saturdays. Book your tickets in advance online, via phone or post, or simply turn up a half hour before the tour starts to register.
Alternatively, from the Imperial Palace Plaza you can view the Nibujashi, the two bridges that are the entrance to the palace’s inner grounds. The public isn’t permitted into the inner grounds except on January 2nd for the new year’s greeting and December 23rd, the emperor’s birthday. Though there are other historical sites in Tokyo, a visit to the Imperial Palace gives you a glimpse of the power and magnificence of Japan’s Edo-era.
During spring, the cherry blossoms that bloom nearby will take your breath away, and you can cruise on the moat with boat rentals available.
7. Experience Shibuya Crossing
The Shibuya crossing is one of Tokyo’s and even Japan’s most iconic landmarks/experiences. Touted as the busiest intersection in the world, it has been the location for many feature films, including ‘Lost in Translation’ and ‘The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift’. Students, commuters, shoppers and the like generally thong the heavily neon-lit crossing. However, when the traffic lights turn red, people rush in from all directions to cross to the other side. A spectacle in itself, the crossing is a representation of modern Japan and how it is moving forward.
Though crossing the Shibuya intersection is an amazing experience, you can also watch the pandemonium from afar from the 2nd floor Starbucks across Shibuya station. Also explore the surrounding area, where you’ll find great malls and food, and other interesting cultural hotspots like the famous Hachiko Memorial Statue.
8. Relax at the Meiji Jingu Shrine
The Meiji shrine is the most popular and most visited shrine in Tokyo, with nearly 3 million visitors during the first three days of the new year! Located in Shibuya, the enormous shrine is surrounded by the Yoyogi Park, a dense forest covering around 170 acres and home to more than 100,000 tresses. Set amidst the high-fashion districts of Aoyoma and Harajuku and with Shibuya and Shinjuku a short distance away, the shrine offers a place of surreal tranquillity in the city’s busy setting.
The entrance to the shrine and the grounds is through a massive 40-foot high torii gate, with another located closer to the shrine itself. The complex houses the shrine, a treasure house and the inner gardens, other than the beautiful expanse of trees that are apt for peaceful walks.
On weekends, you can even get to see Japanese weddings and the subsequent processions take place. A must do experience if you want to feel the beauty and tranquillity of the shrine dedicated to the Meiji era’s beloved emperor.
9. Enjoy the Tokyo Skytree’s Views
The Tokyo Skytower is a television broadcasting station and the tallest structure in Japan, standing at a whopping 634m! The building has a shopping complex and an aquarium at its base. However, the most impressive parts of the tower are the two observation decks at 350m and 45om respectively. This makes the second deck the highest observation deck in Japan, and the sloping ramp in the second deck is the highest in the world.
The first observation deck, the Tembo Deck has three levels, with a cafe, a restaurant and amazing views of the scenery below. The Tembo Gallery is the second deck at 450m and has a sloping ramp and a conventional observation deck above it. You can make bookings in advance separately or along with tour packages, hotel reservations and the like.
Find out what you can do on a 7 day trip to Japan here!
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