By: Mike Argyle
1. Visit Meiji Jingu – This shrine dedicated to the late emperor Meiji was destroyed in World War II and rebuilt shortly after, with the only surviving structure being the largest wooden gate in the middle of the grounds. Directly off the Yamanote line, visit at least twice – once during a major festival to witness the crowds and the other on a normal day to get a sense of the tranquility of the shrine for the emperor responsible for Japan’s modernization.
Best time to visit: All year – New Years is FAR too crowded.
2. Observation Deck at the NS Building – The government buildings in Shinjuku, Tokyo offer the best vantage point to see the Tokyo cityscape at no cost.
Best time to visit: Winter/Early morning before smog arrives.
3. Climb Mount Takao – Located about an hour outside of Tokyo by train in the Tama region, Mount Takao is a small mountain that is still in Tokyo, but you would never know it by the lush forest landscape. With six routes to ascend to the 800m high summit and views of Mount Fuji on good days, Mount Takao is popular year round with hikers of all ages.
Best time to visit: Late November/Mid December for changing leaves.
4. Witness the Madness of Akihabara – The electronics heart of Tokyo is a sight to behold for gamers or for those seeking the weird side of Japan. Just off the Yamanote line, visit a maid café, venture into the multi-story video game stores, view impromptu street performances of people dressed as anime characters – all in a typical outing in Akihabara.
Best time to visit: Weekends during warm seasons.
5. Odaiba at Sunset – For the best view of the Tokyo skyline, hop aboard the Yurikamome line from Shimbashi and take in the view of the Rainbow Bridge as you ride towards this artificial island, now home to a shopping mall and other attractions. Take your picture in front of Tokyo’s Statue of Liberty and take in the view of the city as the sun sets dramatically on this stunning backdrop.
Best time to visit: Clear, warm days all year.
6. Visit Sensoji Temple in Asakusa – This is the busiest temple in Tokyo and a great place to visit for souvenirs. Getting here by train can be tricky, just off the Ginza subway line or Tobu line, but is well worth the trek.
Best time to visit: All year, but avoid at New Years.
7. Window Shopping in Harajuku and Omotesando – Right outside Meiji Jingu, Harajuku is the place to see youths dressed in ridiculous costumes and posing for all to take pictures of, in addition to being filled with shops ranging from the cute to the bizarre, including clothing stores for dogs. Walk further down the street and you will enter Omotesando, site of various upscale designer stores.
Best time to visit: All year, but particularly crowded on weekends.
8. Walk Around Shibuya – Home to the most famous and busiest crossing in Tokyo, Hachiko Crossing, Shibuya is the place to be immersed in the rush of the Tokyo commute and nightlife. Just off the Yamanote line, this part of Tokyo seems never to sleep as people go from work to izakayas, to clubs and to karaoke bars until the sun comes up. Featuring numerous fashion shops like the famous Shibuya 109, you can easily spend all night and day here – just be sure to visit the statue of Hachiko, the faithful dog and meeting place for all travelers in Tokyo.
Best time to visit: All year.
9. Day Trip to Kamakura – Although this is closer to Yokohama than Tokyo, you can make a great day trip of this from Shinjuku aboard the Shonan-Shinjuku line to get away from the rush of the city. See the beach, the second biggest Buddha statue in Japan and what remains of a temple swept away centuries ago by a tidal wave, Kamakura is a favourite of everyone who visits and warrants many trips.
Best time to visit: All year, but particularly beautiful (and crowded) during cherry blossom season in late March/April.
10. Walk Around the Imperial Palace Grounds – A relic of an older age, the Imperial Palace is home to the royal family of Japan. While you cannot actually get into the palace or the immediate grounds on any days but New Years and the Emperor’s birthday, the front gates of the grounds afford a fantastic photo opportunity of some classical Japanese architecture and landscape.
Best time to visit: Access to the inner grounds is only available to the public on the Emperor’s birthday (currently December 23rd) and January 2nd for New Years, and while it is busy, is definitely worth attending on those days if you happened to be in Tokyo.