Tokyo

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There’s so much to see and do in Tokyo that the choices can seem daunting, but here’s a selection of uniquely Tokyo sights and must-sees. Along the way, don’t forget to take time to stop and observe – you may find everyday customs just as interesting as the sights: people wearing surgical masks in public (they have colds and don’t want to infect others), moms who remove their kids’ shoes before they climb up on subway seats, and chimes at 5pm (to remind children that it’s time to go home). The very orderliness of the place is how everyone manages to get along in this crowded city.

Things to do in Tokyo

Akihabara

Legendary center for Japanese electronics: audio, visual, home and more. Find the latest and greatest at multi-story electronics department stores, or get your geek on buying components to create your own. Note: some products are programmed for use only in Japan, but many stores have export departments.

, akiba.or.jp/english/
Tags: shopping | things to do | walking district | electronics

Ameyoko

This narrow alley is the diametrical opposite of the hoity-toity designer boutiques of Ginza and Omote-Sando. Hawkers hawk and crowds crowd over reasonably priced clothing, knick-knacks, and foods sold in bulk.

Between Ueno and Okachimachi stations on the Yamanote Line,
Tags: budget | shopping | things to do | souvenirs | eclectic | walking district

Art Triangle Roppongi

Three mostly new must-see museums are within easy walking distance of each other: The Mori Art Museum in Roppongi Hills has edgy, contemporary works, the National Art Center Tokyo offers classics like Monet, and the Suntory Museum of Art typically exhibits traditional Japanese art.

The Mori Art Museum; The National Art Center Tokyo; The Suntory Museum of Art, Roppongi & Akasaka, www.roppongihills.com/en
Tags: editor pick | art | things to do | culture | museum

Asakusa

Amid the touristy souvenir stalls you’ll find shops (some centuries old) selling high-quality traditional products: knives to Noh masks to noren (shop curtains), plus festival products (drum, happi coats, and more) and kimonos. Along the way, sample bean-paste snacks and sembei (rice crackers).

Nakamise-dori,
Tags: shopping | things to do | souvenirs | crafts | walking district

Edo-Tokyo Museum

Learn the fascinating history of one of the world’s most complex cities. One side of the cavernous hall shows the customs, crafts and architecture of Edo (as the city was called until 1868); the other side gives the history of Tokyo since 1868.

1-4-1 Yokoami, 011-81-3-3626-9974, www.edo-tokyo-museum.or.jp  
Tags: family | things to do | culture | history | museum

Ginza

It’s easy to spend an afternoon or more perusing the department stores of this world-famous shopping district: for starters, Mitsukoshi, Mastuya and Wako are all neighbors. Most department stores feature art galleries, restaurant floors and elaborate food stalls in the basement.

Ginza Chuo-dori, www.ginza.jp/eng/index_e.html
Tags: luxury | shopping | expensive | things to do | designer | department store | walking district

Higashi Gyoen Garden

The East Garden of the Imperial Palace abounds with seasonal flowers (splendiferous during cherry blossom season). You’ll also get up-close-and-personal views of moats and giant hewn boulders, moved here from hundreds of miles away to form the ramparts of the former Edo Castle of the shogun. Closed Mondays and Fridays.

1-1 Chiyoda, Chiyoda-ku, 011-81-3-3213-2050, www.kunaicho.go.jp/e17/ed17-05.html
Tags: editor pick | things to do | history | gardens

Kabuki-za Theater

Main stage for one of the world’s great theatrical traditions. Kabuki’s reputation may be mysterious, but it all makes sense when you see the costumes and understand the stories. Be sure to get the English-language “earphone guide,” simultaneous translation with narration and explanations.

4-12-5 Ginza, 011-81-3-3541-3131, www.shochiku.co.jp/play/kabukiza  
Tags: theater | things to do | history | performing arts

Kappabashi

You know those good-enough-to-eat plastic food models you see in restaurant windows? Buy them here! The artistry is amazing: kids love the spaghetti, complete with fork suspended above the plate, and the sushi makes an excellent keychain.

Kappabashi-dori,
Tags: family | shopping | things to do | souvenirs | home | walking district

Kokugikan Sumo Stadium

Sumo tournaments take place here for two weeks each in January, May and September – not to be missed, even if just for an hour or two. At other times, there’s a tiny museum of sumo history, art and artifacts.

1-3-28 Yokoami, 011-81-3-3623-5111, www.sumo.or.jp  
Tags: things to do | history | museum | spectator sport

Manga District

Long Japan’s proving ground for the next big thing in electronics, the Akihabara neighborhood has also evolved into a center for manga (comic books) and anime (animation). You’ll find all of these in megastores and piled high along main streets and side streets. Expect lots of noise and the occasional teen dressed in cos-play (costume play) as their favorite anime character.

, www.akiba.or.jp/english/index.html
Tags: shopping | things to do | culture

Meiji Jingu Shrine

Forested parkland encircles Tokyo’s largest and most mystical Shinto shrine, dedicated to the memory of Emperor Meiji (1852-1912), who is credited with making Japan a modern nation. Try to catch a wedding procession.

Kamizono-cho, Yoyogi, 011- 81-3-3379-5511, www.meijijingu.or.jp
Tags: things to do | culture | architecture | history | free

Omote-Sando

Boutiques of major international designers line this wide boulevard near Harajuku Station. You may be able to find the same fashions elsewhere, but the buildings, many by Pritzker Prize winners, are unique and fascinating, particularly Dior, Tod’s, Prada and the astounding Omote-Sando Hills. On neighboring Takeshita-dori, teens and tweens buy fashions inspired by anime.

Omote-Sando,
Tags: shopping | expensive | editor pick | things to do | designer | walking district

Railway Museum

Take a 30-minute train ride north of Tokyo to get a feel for just how train-obsessed the Japanese people are. Dozens of train cars fill the space, from imperial carriages to Shinkansen bullet trains. Many of the exhibits are hands-on, including simulators (some require reservations).

3-47 Onari-cho, Omiya-ku, 011-81-48-651-0088, www.railway-museum.jp (Japanese only)
Tags: family | things to do | museum | train

Roppongi Hills

Part of the fun is getting lost in this swirling, multi-level architectural marvel (maps are available but not much help). We haven’t heard complaints, probably because the shops, restaurants and cafés are so alluring. Fashions here take their cues from both east and west, and restaurants do the same.

The Mori Art Museum; The National Art Center Tokyo; The Suntory Museum of Art, Roppongi & Akasaka, www.roppongihills.com/en
Tags: shopping | expensive | things to do | walking district

Senso-ji Temple

Centerpiece of Tokyo’s most storied old town district. The busy, blocks-long Nakamise-dori pedestrian street is lined with souvenir and snack stalls on the way to the Chinese-roofed Buddhist temple and nearby pagoda.

2-3-1 Asakusa, 011-81-3-3842-0181
Tags: editor pick | things to do | culture | history | free

Tokyo National Museum

Get an overview of Japanese art history in a matter of a couple hours. You’ve certainly been to larger museums with more items on display, but each work of art here – ceramics to statuary to woodblock prints – is a masterpiece. Afterwards, stroll Ueno Park with its other museums and shrines.

13-9 Ueno Koen, 011-81-3-3822-1111, www.tnm.jp
Tags: editor pick | art | things to do | culture | history | museum

Tsukiji Fish Market

The early morning energy of the world’s largest fish and seafood market will make you grateful for jet lag. Although the 5am fish auctions are closed to the public, there’s plenty to see among the wholesalers and distributors under a massive pavilion roof. Produce stalls just outside are Japanese Cuisine 101.

Shimbashi & Shiodome, www.tsukiji-market.or.jp
Tags: family | things to do | culinary | market

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