4 day itinerary in Tokyo including the best places for photography, Harajuku, Shibuya and others
Today, Tokyo offers a seemingly unlimited choice of shopping, entertainment, culture and dining to its visitors. The city's history can be appreciated in districts such as Asakusa, and in many excellent museums, historic temples and gardens. Contrary to common perception, Tokyo also offers a number of attractive green spaces in the city center and within relatively short train rides at its outskirts.
The Scenery of Cybercity (Source: OiMax)
Check out the Ghibli Museum - it has some of the finest examples of Japan and is very interesting for someone who wants to know more about Japanese culture. The museum is closed on Tuesdays. You need to take a lot of effort to reach the museum so do make sure if you think it's worth it - you need to purchase tickets in advance via any of the JTB offices or the Lawson convenience stores (11-2 Osaki 1-chome, Tokyo | Tel.: 141-8643).
Since admissions are open only on specific times in the day, it is advisable to contact the JTB via their website linked above. The museum is located in the outskirts of the city and takes a 20 minute ride followed by another 5 min bus ride. This place pays homage to Japan's greatest anime creator, the legendary Hayao Miyazaki; the same guy who made the Oscar winning Spirited Away.
The museum is a fantastic flight of imagination. It has displays about Miyazaki's films, full replica of his studio, a play area, a beautiful rooftop garden, and even a theater which shows a 10 minute long footage on his work. Be warned though, the displays are only in Japanese.
Ghibli Museum (Source: michaelvito)
Just in case, there's another pretty good museum, along the same train line to Mitaka. The Suginami Animation Museum is a free complex (3-29-5 Kamiogi | Tel. 03/3396-1510 | train station: Ogikubo). It has English transcripts explaining the history of Japanese animation and a theater that shows both contemporary and old films. It is open from Tuesday to Sunday, 10am to 6pm.
After that, head back to the city and start your day from JR Sobu Subway Line to Ryogoku. Here is the Edo-Tokyo Museum - a very beautiful collection of Tokyo's ancient customs and lifestyle of its people.
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After that, hop back on the JR Sobu Line and get down after two stops at Akihabara. Here you will find yourself in the epicenter of Japanese electronic mayhem. The country's gadget wizardry finds itself expressed here at its best. Take your time checking out the 600 something stores and innumerable little stalls which make up Japan's largest electronics district.
Recently, there has been a remarkable increase in the number of shops specializing in manga and anime.
This is Akihabara (Source: Stéfan)
After you are done checking the blizzard out, get on the JR Yamanote Line to Harajuku (via Tokyo Station). A faster way would be the by the Sobu Line. However, you will need to change trains and get on the Yamanote line from the Yoyogi Station. Here is legendary Harajuku.
Harajuku is a Goth, anime, cosplay and Japanese fashion heaven. There are throngs of the young generation walking around, shopping or just plain hanging out, so you'd be sure to get some great shots of young Tokyo fashion and the youth culture. By far Tokyo's most energetic neighborhood, its sidewalks are chock-full of cafes, boutiques, costume and accessory stalls, street vendors and much more. Here, you must visit the Takeshita Dori, the best of the many Harajuku streets.
IMG_0803 (Source: beggs)
Miyashita or Yasaiya Mei (Omotesando Hills, 4-12-10 Jingumae) is a swanky shopping complex where you can find a much needed respite from the teenage crowd. There are many great restaurants here. Try out Miyashita (Tel. 03/5785-0707) which serves yet another lovely French and Japanese fusion cuisine. If you'd like to try something different this time, go for Yasaiya Mei (Tel. 03/5785-0606) - offers creative dishes made from seasonal vegetables.
Ukiyo-e Ota Memorial Museum of Art displays themed exhibits of ukiyo-e (meaning woodblock prints). Closed every Monday and from the 27th to the end of every month.
Post that, head over to the Meiji Jingu Shrine - by Japanese standards, it is a rather new shrine; it was built in 1920, in honour of Emperor and Empress Meiji. The royalties to whom the rest of the world owes a lot; they are the ones who opened up the nation to the rest of the world.
There is a dense forest in the middle of a modern city and walking under the shady tress is a must. These were once the private grounds of a feudal lord. While the entrance of the shrine is very elegant but simple on weekdays, on weekends the entrance becomes a popular place for teenagers dressed in bizarre costumes to hang out around.
P1050539 (Source: udono)
All these attractions are connected by the Harajuku station. After you have checked them out, take the JR Yamanote Line again from Harajuku, get down after one stop due north at Yoyogi Station. There, transfer on to the Oedo Line and get down at the Tochomae Station.
Here is the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office. While most walk by this office not looking twice, there is a gem missed easily. No other view compares to the one seen from the building's observatory 45 stories above - that of Shinjuku's skyscrapers and even Mount Fuji. Entry is free and viewing hours are daily from 9:30am to 10:30pm.
Tokyo Metropolitan Govt Office (Source: blueboy1478)
For dinner, if you are craving some good old western by now, check out the brilliant New York Grill (3-7-1-2 Nishi-Shinjuku | Tel.: 03/5322-1234). This was the set for the Hollywood film 'Lost in Translation'. If you have watched it, you will find the expansive views recalled at the 52nd floor (the Park Hyatt Hotel). A perk of dining there - a free shuttle ride from the Park back to the Shinjuku Station.
Note: Do not delay too much as the last departure is at 9:20pm. There are taxis however, and if you have to take one, ask for Kabuki-cho.
From the Shinjuku station, take a ride to Kabuki-cho. The place is known to be Japan's most popular nightlife district. There's a neon jungle heralding restaurants, dance clubs, bars, and so on. Kabuki-cho's narrow but brilliantly lit streets attract a large college crowd apart from the city's businessmen. The neighborhood keeps open till dawn.
Our aim is to cover the must-sees on the first day so that we have enough time to check out things based more on your specific interests. However, be warned that you need to start early and be quite disciplined as far as timings go.
A sight that is a must, especially if you go there early in the morning, is Japan's largest fish market, something that would interest you particularly. That will be followed by a great sushi breakfast. From there, we will take a trip to a leafy garden, hop on a cruise, visit a nice museum, try out some swanky shops, and then go for a great meal.
Start at the Tsukijijo or the Tsukiji subway.
First stop is the Tsukiji Fish Market (TÅkyÅ-to ChÅ«Å Oroshiuri ShijÅ). As said, you'll need an early start to see what this place is all about. You would love this place for the sheer experience of the fish vendors, the crowds and the early morning hustle and bustle of people. Perfect for photographs.
Come early dawn, fishing boats from all over the nearby water body and larger ships from beyond bring in tons of catch and immediately starts the "seafood auctions". Once the fishes are all sold, the winning bidders set up stalls and sell their products, which are a whooping 450 different kinds of seafood. The market is rumored to be closed on some but not all Sundays. It would be wise to ask a local about it.
Tsukiji? (Source: tokyofoodcast)
After that, it will be time for some breakfast. And what better way than to try out the sushi at a local eatery. For some of the freshest sushi options in the entire city, head over to tiny Sushi Dai (Tel.: 03/3547-6797) right on the market grounds.
Sushi... (Source: cnishiyama)
After you are done, you can choose to walk for about 10 minutes, or take a cab from the market, to the Hama Rikyu Garden (160-0021 Hygeia 9.10F Kabukicho 2-44-1, Shinjuku-ku | Tel:03-3232-3011). The garden provides for a great walking tour. It was made more than three centuries ago and today, it features a lovely traditional garden including the charming moon-viewing pavilions, teahouses, and many other other vestiges of the Edo-era. You could probably also observe a traditional tea ceremony here. The campus opens at 9am everyday.
Hama Rikyu (π) -æ±äº¬- (Source: super-amanda)
Within the grounds, is a cute pier where you can go for a sightseeing boat cruise which spans for about 40-minutes. The Sumida River boat cruise is a popular activity here. Not just for the tourists, but also among locals looking for a quiet start to the day. The boat ride gives a great way to observe the remnants of the Edo era as well the glitz of modern Tokyo.
Taking the ride is also a great way to reach Asakusa and the famous temple there that is worth a short visit. Ferries depart from Hama Rikyu at 10:35 and 11:15am, with more departures every half-hour or so.
Yacht on Sumida River, Tokyo (Source: Ian Muttoo)
Do visit the Asakusa neighborhood. It is one of Tokyo's oldest areas, with many narrow lanes and lovely traditional Japanese homes. It also has numerous shops which sell handmade crafts and souvenirs. At the very center of Asakusa is Nakamise Dori, a narrow but very pretty pedestrian walk which is lined on both its sides with tiny shops.
Gift Stand in Nakamise-Dori (Source: picdrops)
Walking down Nakamise Dori will lead you straight to the city's oldest temple, the Sensoji. It was founded in 628 A.D. as an ode to the Buddhist goddess of mercy. It was destroyed during the Second World War but was very lovingly rebuilt with generous donations from locals. It brings in well over 20 million visitors each year. Cosplay, to some moderate degree has touched this place too. There is a festive atmosphere all year round.
Time for lunch. The Waentei-Kikko (2-2-13 Asakusa | Tel.: 03/5828-8833) offers a typical Japanese way of mid-day eats - reasonably priced obento box lunches. Try reaching there between 12:15 and 1:30pm. You can catch the free performances of shamisen or other traditional instruments.
Pita Bento (Source: I Love Egg)
Post lunch, catch the Tokyo Shitamachi bus from the nearby Kaminarimon Dori (right in front of Nakamise Dori), and get down after two stops, at Ueno, or you can opt for the Ginza subway line; this way three stops to Ueno.
Here is the Tokyo National Museum (Ueno Park, Taito-ku | Tel.: 03/3822-1111) - Tokyo's most important museum. It is home to the country's largest collection of historic artefacts, military relics (those famed Japanese swords), old calligraphy remains, and much more.
When you are done exploring Japan's past, hop on to the Ginza Line from the Ueno Station, and get down at Ginza. The Ginza is by far, Japan's most sacred shopping mecca. Expect fantastic designer boutiques, art galleries, mammoth department stores and a flamboyant fashion statement. Do check out Matsuya on Chuo Dori.
Ginza (Source: preetamrai)
While there are many different types of restaurants in Ginza, that match every budget bracket possible, I would recommend Kihachi (2-2-6 Ginza | Tel. 03/3567-6281) for some brilliant and contemporary take on curious fusion of Japanese-French cuisine. A great place for dinner.
The Shinbashi Enbujo Theater (Ginza 6-18-2, Chuo-ku) sits about a 10 minute's walk from the Ginza. Catch some colourful Kabuki performances. With fluttering costumes, the performers reveal gripping plots mainly dealing around romance, loyalty, revenge, and similar classic Japanese themes. Note: performances end at 9pm.
TOKYO - Edo Tokyo museum - jeune actrice en cire (Source: chacrebleu)
On day three, go on a ramen hunt. Not just for the taste and the aromas, but for also to discover an amazing but very well guarded culture. Here's a blog post one of the members of the Mygola team had written recently on it. A snippet below (read full article here) -
Discovering Tokyo over Ramen (Source: The mygola blog)
If you haven't explored Shinjuku by now I highly recommend that you do - this area is a dream for photographers as it gives one an interesting glimpse into post-war Japan. Its narrow lanes, tiny restaurants and early evening (especially Yakitori street) is the best time to take some beautiful pictures. Outside the Shibuya station is a great place for people watching and you could even see some street bands.
Shinjuku Alley (Source: David McKelvey)
On your last day, you could relax a bit. Visit the Kawagoe Matsuri Kaikan, a festival museum where there are magnificent ornate floats, some of which reach up as high as three stories. They are reused in the city's festivals each year.
Matsuri Procession (Source: Matt Perreault)
Go on to visit the city's other lovely places that make for a nice time as well as give you more opportunities to observe the locals and indulge in your passion for photography. Sky View offers to let you shoot from its dizzying heights for 1800 Yen - however tripods are not allowed so do keep that in mind.
Ueno Park is where the city's youth and old gather to socialize, eat and drink - it is a sight to behold during April when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom. Also, if you'd like to buy some new lenses or any other photography-related gear, make sure you visit Yodobashi Camera in Shinjuku - it is massive and has about 6-8 floors selling camera equipment.
Yodobashi (Source: Rog01)
Here are some other places you must visit on your last day if you get the time -
The Shinto shrine in the Ningyocho neighborhood - a shrine right in the middle of a cozy town. The area has some very pretty traditional tea shops, stores selling tofu and handmade lacquered products stalls.
The Sanctuary of Shrine (Source: mrhayata)
Podo Marunouchi (B1F Shin-Tokyo Building, 3-3-1 Marunouchi | Tel.: (81-3) 5218-5551) - A very friendly, basement pub, one of a very few of hidden water holes of the city. Basically a low-key haunt for some amazing sake.
Pass the Baton (Marunouchi Brick Square, 2-6-1 Marunouchi | Tel.: (81-3) 6269-9555) - Recycled culture is the ideology of this brilliantly curated shop. You'll find curious wares like vintage horse tricycles.
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