Japan, also called the Land of the Rising Sun, is a mix of ancient traditions coexisting with global innovation. Made up of 4 main islands in East Asia, the nation has diverse climates and landscapes – snowy mountains dominate the northern end, while to the south, you’ll find Nagano’s lakes, Kyoto’s temples, and the vibrant capital of Tokyo. Thanks to an extensive rail network, you can ride one of the world’s fastest bullet trains from the subtropical beaches in the south to the northernmost mountain ranges.
Japan’s well-preserved culture is something you can experience instead of just reading about it from a history book, from sumo wrestling matches and kabuki shows, to woodblock printing and tea ceremonies. Whether you’re planning an extravagant shopping trip to Tokyo or want to enjoy a day of visiting Shinto shrines in Kyoto, Japan is a country of vibrancy, depth and beauty.
Tokyo is Japan’s capital city and one of the most engaging and awe-inspiring metropolises in the world. Covering an area of approximately 2,250 square kilometres, the Tokyo Metropolis is a whole world in itself. The city is highly regarded for its safety and high quality of life. It also offers a remarkable blend of old and new – think ancient Shinto shrines not far from magnificent high-rise, neon-lit buildings.
Tokyo is atmospherically multi-faceted. Explore the ultra-futuristic district of Shinjuku and the fashionable shopping district of Shibuya for the most modern scenes, or find more traditional ambiances in Shitamashi where Old Tokyo vibes live on. Outdoorsy types can enjoy spectacular mountain ranges to the west of Tokyo, or enjoy the spacious green spaces like Yoyogi and Inokashira park.
A modern icon of Japan, Tokyo Skytree stands at 634 metres high, making it one of the tallest structures in the world. The base of the tower, Tokyo Skytree Town, has a shopping mall, an aquarium, an excellent range of restaurants, and souvenir outlets.
You can go up to Tokyo Skytree’s 2 observation decks for panoramic views of Tokyo and the Kanto region. The 350-metre-tall Tembo Deck has 3 floors with glass panels overlooking the city, while the 450-metre-tall Tembo Galleria features a steel-and-glass walkway that slopes upwards to the top. Even if you don’t go up to the viewpoint, you will no doubt see this modernist masterpiece while sightseeing around the city.
Location: 1 Chome-1-2 Oshiage, Sumida City, Tokyo 131-0045, Japan
Open: Daily from 8 am to 10 pm
The Imperial Palace is the residence of Japan’s Imperial Family and is located in the middle of Tokyo. Most of the palace grounds are closed to the public but you can visit the Imperial Palace East Gardens (Kokyo Higashi Gyoen), which is open to the public for free all year round.
Inside you will see beautiful Japanese-style gardens that are manicured to perfection and historical ruins such as walls and guardhouses from the Edo period. Also located on the same grounds is the Museum of Imperial Collections (Sannomaru Shozokan), which displays a collection of over 6,700 pieces belonging to Emperor Showa, including ancient brush paintings, arts and crafts. The East Gardens is a short walk from Otemachi Station.
Open: Tuesday–Thursday and Saturday–Sunday from 9 am to 4 pm (closes later in the summer months)
Phone: +81 (0)3-32131111
The Ginza Wako Building is a Neo-Renaissance style building with a clock tower dating back to the 19th century. The building is the landmark for the Ginza shopping district and was first founded in 1881 by Kintaro Hattori, a watch and jewellery specialist. Ginza Wako (or just Wako for short) is one of the relatively few buildings that survived World War II. Nowadays, Wako is one of the most well-known retailers in Japan and houses upscale foreign merchandise such as watches, jewellery, dishware and porcelain. The clock tower plays the famous Westminster Chimes.
Location: 4 Chome-5-11 Ginza, Chuo, Tokyo 104-8105, Japan
Open: Daily from 10.30 am to 7 pm
Phone: +81 (0)3-3562-2111
With 4 floors of toys and games, Hakuhinkan Toy Park is truly a paradise for every child as well as young-at-heart adults. The store was first opened in 1899, making it one of the oldest toy stores in Japan. Hakuhinkan features all sorts of toys, from computer games to board games, jigsaw puzzles, game arcades, magic tricks, wooden toys, Japanese dolls and traditional goods, music boxes, stuffed animals and joke gifts. Hakuhinkan also has a toy clinic, a duty-free counter and child-friendly restaurants. If you’re travelling by public transport, take the JR Yamanote line to Shimbashi.
Location: 8 Chome-8-11 Ginza, Chuo, Tokyo 104-0061, Japan
Open: Daily from 11 am to 8 pm
Phone: +81 3-3571-800
Traditional Japanese kabuki performances are one of those things that you either love or hate. People who love it say that just the austere music, bold costumes and all the colours on stage alone make kabuki theatre a must-see for everyone. It’s certainly a highly stylised performing art.
At Kabukiza Theatre in Ginza, kabuki performances are held throughout the year with the option of ‘translation headphones’ for foreign audiences. Typically, there are two shows per day, each lasting about 3 to 5 hours, but each show breaks up into a few acts, called maku. Visitors can get tickets for the whole show or just a single maku. Kabukiza Theatre is accessible at the Higashi-Ginza Subway Station stop. Exit 3 leads you out directly in front of the theatre.
Location: 4 Chome-12-15 Ginza, Chūō, Tokyo 104-0061, Japan
Phone: +81 (0) 3-35413131
Meiji Jingu is a Japanese Shinto shrine that was built in honour of Emperor Meiji (responsible for laying the foundations of modern-day Japan) and his wife, Empress Shoken. The shrine was built in 1920 and rebuilt after damage during World War II. Meiji Shrine is located in a beautiful forest covering about 175 acres and its many different types of trees were donated by people from all over Japan. The shrine plays a big part in many locals’ lives who come here regularly to mark important personal events, such as to bring their new-born baby for prayer and dedication or when reaching important ages in their lives – 25 or 42 for men, and 19 or 33 for women. The most colourful occasion occurring here must be the Shinto wedding ceremony as Meiji Shrine is one of the most popular shrines in Tokyo among couples who come to celebrate their important day. Meiji Shrine is open to the public for free.
Location: 1-1 Yoyogikamizonocho, Shibuya, Tokyo 151-8557, Japan
Open: Daily from 9 am to 6 pm
Nakamise is not just a typical shopping street in Tokyo; its history can be traced back several centuries. With a traditional Japanese atmosphere, souvenirs are sold along both sides of the 200-metre pedestrian street which is made up of close to 100 small shops. Items for sale here include traditional yukata dresses, Japanese masks, dolls, folding fans, T-Shirts and more. Must-try local snacks are for sale, such as Japanese senbei (rice crackers), ningyoyaki cakes (small cakes with sweet azuki bean filling), dango (sweet dumplings) and kaminari-okoshi (a traditional Japanese crunchy and colourful sweet snack). Nakamise Shopping Street is in the heart of Asakusa, near Sensoji Temple.
Location: POKKE 1F, 6-8-8 Ueno, Taito, Tokyo, 110-0005, Japan
Open: Daily from 10 am to 5 pm
The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, is located in Ueno Park. This museum is the finest collection of modern art in Japan, featuring many works of Japanese artists, from the Meiji period (1868–1912), through the 20th century, right up to the present. You’ll also find some celebrated works by foreign artists such as Paul Klee, Alexander Rodchenko, Wassily Kandinsky, Francis Bacon, Jean Dubuffet and Bertrand Lavier. Find this modern art museum close to Takebashi Subway Station. Entry costs around ¥500 but it’s free to enter on the first Sunday of the month.
Location: 3-1 Kitanomarukoen, Chiyoda, Tokyo 102-8322, Japan
Open: Tuesday–Thursday from 10 am to 5 pm. Friday–Sunday from 10 am to 8 pm (closed on Mondays)
Phone: +81 (0) 3-57778600
The National Museum of Nature and Science, Tokyo (formerly the Tokyo Science Museum) has over 10,000 exhibits to explore. Here, exhibitions are presented in sections like the Earth Pavilion and Japan Pavilion, which shows the origins of Japan since prehistoric times until the present day. Other numerous exhibits include the physical sciences, and hands-on exhibits for children to teach them the basics of science and technology.
Look out for the giant blue whale and steam engine on the grounds of the museum. They are particularly popular with children. Of all the museums inside Ueno Park, this one was the first to open. The entry fee costs from ¥500 with further charges for special exhibitions.
Location: 7-20 Uenokoen, Taito, Tokyo 110-8718, Japan
Open: Monday–Friday from 9 am to 5 pm. Saturday–Sunday from 9 am to 8 pm
Phone: +81 (0)3-57778600
Roppongi Hills is a mega complex that features residential apartments, extensive shopping, dining, art galleries, office space, TV studios, gardens and parks and many entertainment options such as movie theaters and museums. The highlight here is the Mori Tower and its observation deck, the Tokyo City View. The idea of the developer is to have a town within a town where people can live and work and enjoy an optimum lifestyle without having to travel. To reach Roppongi Hills, take the Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line or Toei Subway Oedo Line to Roppongi Station
Location: 6 Chome-11-1 Roppongi, Minato, Tokyo 106-6108, Japan
Phone: +81 (0)3-6406-6000
When in Asakusa, visit the popular Buddhist temple, Sensoji (Asakusa Kannon Temple), which is the oldest in Tokyo and one of the most impressive. Many tourists associate it with the large red lantern hanging at one of its gates with engraved characters saying ‘Kaminari-mon’ or ‘Thundergate’. It’s estimated that more than 30 million devotees flock here every year. The temple is dedicated to Guan Yin, the goddess of mercy.
Legend has it that Sensoji was built in 645 for the goddess of Kannon. The whole temple has been well maintained with regular renovations in spite of the fact that it has been damaged several times including in the great earthquake in 1923 and during World War II. In the courtyard is a tree that has grown out of the husk of a former tree hit and destroyed by a bomb during the war. Devotees see this as a symbol of the temple itself, regenerating and growing in the face of adversity. Another well-known structure, located behind Sensoji is a 5-tiered pagoda that was built in 1649.
Sensoji Temple is at the heart of many yearly Tokyo festivals, including Sanja Matsuri, Hozuki-ichi, Asakusa Samba Carnival and Tokyo Jidai Matsuri.
Location: 2 Chome-3-1 Asakusa, Taito, Tokyo 111-0032, Japan
Open: The temple grounds are always open. The main hall is open daily from 6.30 am to 5 pm (from 6 am April-September)
Phone: +81 (0)3 3842 0181
This charming little museum shows the daily life of Japanese people during the Edo period. Shitamachi Museum has English-speaking tour guides explaining traditional street scene replications, complete with a merchant’s house, shops and a tenement building, as well as a display of period toys on the second floor where you are allowed to try out many items. Visitors can have a close look at how a traditional living room, bedroom and kitchen looked like in the old days. Shitamachi Museum is located in southern section of Ueno Park, close to Shinobazu Pond.
Location: 2-1 Uenokoen, Taito, Tokyo 110-0007, Japan
Open: Tuesday–Sunday from 9.30 am to 4.30 pm (closed on Mondays)
Every spring, many people come to admire the beautiful light-pink cherry blossoms along both sides of the Sumida River. The strikingly vivid trees were planted by the eighth Tokugawa Shogun Yoshimune. The scenic spot attracts both tourist and local picnickers who sit and enjoy their meal under the falling leaves of the cherry blossom trees.
After the sun goes down, the park’s avenues are lit with beautiful lanterns which makes the night out even more enjoyable. Some people prefer to take a boat tour down the river, all the better to view the blossoms. The weather can be a little cool at night time, so it’s a good idea to bring a blanket if you plan to stay for a while. To reach Sumida Park, take the subway to Asakusa station.
Ryogoku Sumo Hall
Sumo wrestling is a popular traditional sport and has been part of Japanese culture since ancient times. It’s said that in the distant past people used sumo wrestling to entertain the Shinto gods. Visitors can enjoy traditional sumo wrestling tournaments in Tokyo at the Kokugikan Stadium in Ryogoku in the months of January, May and September. There are many fights in the course of 1 day and each fight lasts only a few seconds, or on rare occasions, for about a minute. Tickets for a sumo tournament vary wildly, but the cheapest seats start from around ¥4,000.
In the old days, all the wresting participants were Japanese nationals but things have changed. There are now quite a few elite wrestlers who are Mongolian, Bulgarian and even Hawaiian. And like many other sports, spectators can enjoy drinks and food and talking to friends while watching sumo. If you stay until the final match, it is considered good manners and very important from a cultural point of view to stay on until the ending ceremony is complete. It’s a short ceremony which is in fact quite interesting to witness. English-language commentary via audio headphones is available throughout the proceedings.
If you miss the chance to see sumo wrestling, make sure that you visit the sumo museum located next door to the stadium. The exhibitions will help you appreciate and understand more of the art of sumo wrestling. It displays many vintage objects of sumo-related items from the Edo period to the present. The museum is free to enter.
Location: 1-3-28 Yokoami, Sumida, Tokyo 130-0015, Japan
Sunshine City is a 4-building complex in Ikebukuro that features 2 large shopping malls, a theme park, and observation deck. There’s also an aquarium, a museum, a convention centre, and a theatre, as well as large offices.
It offers excellent shopping opportunities such as exclusive designer shops, ladies fashion, and household goods split between 2 department stores. In total, there’s over 200 different shops within Sunshine City. When it comes to dining, the choices are practically unlimited, from fast-food to European cuisine and many Japanese restaurants, with varying prices. Don’t miss the panoramic views from Sunshine 60 observation deck on the top floor.
Location: 3-1 Higashiikebukuro, Toshima, Tokyo 170-0013, Japan
Open: Daily from 9 am to 8 pm
Phone: +81 (0)3-3989-3331
The National Museum of Western Art (NMWA) was based on the Matsukata Collection of 370 works – many of which are impressionist paintings – and was previously under the care of the French government. The museum has expanded its collection since opening in 1959 by purchasing more works of art every year.
Their collection now features world-renowned artwork from the 18th-century through to early-20th century. The museum includes works by Ritzos, Van Cleve, Veronese, Rubens, Van Ruysdae,l Ribera, Delacroix, Courbet, Manet, Renoir, Monet and Van Gogh. Visitors will also find the famous sculptures, The Thinker and The Gate to Hell by Auguste Rodin in the museum’s garden. The National Museum of Western Art is the best Japanese museum devoted to western art.
Location: 7-7 Uenokoen, Taito, Tokyo 110-0007, Japan
Open: Tuesday–Sunday from 9.30 am to 5 pm (Open until 8 pm on Fridays)
Phone: +81 (0)3-38285131
Tokyo National Museum was founded in 1872 and is one of the most important museums in Japan. Made up of 5 exhibition buildings, the museum’s collections are quite impressive. It features items from the Jumon period and traditional Japan arts and crafts, such as samurai swords, armour and kimono dress, as well as art and archaeological findings from other Asian countries.
To better enjoy the exhibits, you should rent an audio guide (available in Japanese, English, Chinese, and Korean) or download the museum’s app, called Tohaku Navi. Tokyo National Museum is located in Ueno Park, close to several other excellent museums.
Location: 13-9 Uenokoen, Taito, Tokyo 110-8712, Japan
Open: Sunday and Tuesday–Thursday from 9.30 am to 5 pm, Friday–Saturday from 9.30 am to 9 pm (closed on Mondays)
Phone: +81 (0)3 5777 8600
Tokyo Tower is an icon of the city and a famous tourist landmark. The design was based on the Eiffel Tower (but measures 13 metres higher than its French mentor), and it was completed in 1958 when a large broadcasting tower was needed in the Kanto area. It’s still active today.
There are 2 observatories in the building – at 150 m and 250 m – and other facilities, including several souvenir shops, a games corner, restaurants and fast food outlets, an amusement park (with a good number of vintage toys among other things). For fans of jazz, R&B, and Bossa Nova, you can enjoy live music every Wednesday and Thursday at Club 333 on the first-floor main observatory. There’s no extra charge for the music, just pay the regular observatory fee. The Special Observatory at 250 metres may be closed or its operating hours changed during stormy weather.
Location: 4 Chome-2-8 Shibakoen, Minato, Tokyo 105-0011, Japan
Open: Viewpoints open daily from 9 am to 11 pm (times vary for other facilities)