When fellow travelers ask me, what’s your favorite country out of all the countries you’ve visited — and I’ve visited many — my answer is without hesitation — Japan!
Its people, culture, history, sights & scenes, and food make it a truly special place. I love Tokyo so much, I would absolutely live there despite the fact that it’s a mega city of 18 million — and I’m not usually a fan of big, crowded cities. Tokyo is such a great place, I had a hard time narrowing this down to only 9 — but you gotta make choices.
Here’s my countdown of the Top 9 Must See destinations in Tokyo, Japan. (All photography is my own)
9. Royal Palace/ Tokyo Station
Tokyo Station is a massive hub for trains, bullet trains, and buses that go to many major cities and destinations in Japan. It’s so easy to get lost in Tokyo Station if you don’t know what you’re doing, but for me, it was like experiencing a slice of the busy, fast paced life of Tokyo.
Looking towards Tokyo Station area from the Royal Palace’ garden
One of Tokyo’s fixtures are bicycle cops, who look decidedly less intimidating than their American counterparts.
Japan in general and especially Tokyo are known for a high stress work culture that demands insanely long work hours. So it was refreshing to see some leaving work relatively early. I found walking around Tokyo station business district uniquely entertaining.
Tokyo Station area is one of the main business districts of Tokyo
A lively major commercial and entertainment center in Tokyo that also happens to house the busiest railway station in the world.
When in Shinjuku, visiting Meiji shrine is a must. The shrine grounds is adjacent to Yoyogi park which offers scenic, tree-lined walking paths all within a short walk from Harajuku station.
Shinjuku is also a trendy shopping area with multiple malls designed by famous Japanese architects.
This mall in Shinjuku is designed by Tadao Ando
I love Manhattan, but wow, this is beautiful. One of Tokyo’s many downtowns, Tsukishima feels uniquely spacious.
Tsukishima meaning ‘moon island’ is actually a man-made island in Tokyo bay. Hence the many waterways, bridges and parks.
A stroll by one of the many meticulously manicured waterfronts of Tsukishima around sunset was a favorite of my Tokyo trip.
Tsukishima water-front with Tokyo Tower in the background
6. Shibuya Crossing
The constant, seemingly endless sea of people at Shibuya Crossing is a must Tokyo experience. No mater how short your visit to Tokyo is, make this a priority!
While visiting Tokyo, I stayed in Asakusa. It has an old Tokyo vibe complete with street food vendors, traditional craft shops; and is the perfect base for exploring this amazing city.
Senso-ji Shinto shrine is Tokyo’s oldest, and arguably most important temple — an absolute must see while in Tokyo. If you happen to be in Tokyo in May — don’t miss Sanja Matsuri, a massive Shinto festival in Asakusa that’s usually attended by 2 million spectators.
Asakusa is the site of Senso-ji — Tokyo’s oldest temple
Less than an hour by train south of Tokyo, is the sea-side town of Kamakura. Famous for its dozens if Buddhist temples, Kamakura was medieval Japan’s political center.
The avenue of the young prince is a 900 year old processional way from the beach to the main shrine — Hachiman-gu. Walking the 1.8 km cherry tree lined path under the toro gates was an awesome experience.
The most recognizable landmark in Kamakura is the Kotoku-in temple’s great Buddha, a monumental 42 foot-high bronze statue that dates back to 1252.
Kotoku-in Temple’s great Buddha in Kamakura
3. Mount Fuji
An icon of Japan, no trip to Tokyo is complete without paying a visit to the mighty Mount Fuji and its surrounding national parks.
About a two hour bus ride from Tokyo lies some awe-inspiring collection of forests, mountains and lakes that rival the best national parks out there.
I was there in May which meant supreme greenery and misty forests — but Mount Fuji itself was still closed. (It opens sometime in June each year, so plan accordingly if your goal is to climb it)
The lush forests and surprisingly empty parks made for a fantastic and serene hiking experience.
One of the many beautiful parks in Mount Fuji area
2. Ryogoku and Tsukiji Market (now Toyso Market)
Tsukiji - I was extremely lucky to experience Tsukiji fish market which was the largest wholesale fish market in the world. It is now closed as it has been replaced by Toysu market, 1.5 miles away.
Tokyo’s famous Tsukiji fish market is now closed
Ryogoku - It took standing in a long line at 7:30am in the rain & some luck to get tickets to the sold out sumo event at Ryogoku’s Kokugikan Arena — Tokyo’s historic Japanese wrestling center.
It was unforgettable! A truly special experience! I absolutely recommend attending a sumo event while in Japan if at all possible.
Sumo wrestlers in a ceremonial circle prior to starting their bouts
Incredibly beautiful, Fuji Five Lakes (Fujigoko) is a region at the base of Mount Fuji comprising Yamanaka, Kawaguchi, Saiko, Shoji, and Motosu lakes.
I stayed in the small, sleepy town of Fujikawaguchiko, about 70 miles from Tokyo. It’s a UNESCO cultural heritage site, making it a perfect base for exploring the five lakes area.
The best way to explore this gorgeous region is actually by bicycle — I rented one from my guesthouse and rode it around the scenic country roads from one lake to the next.
One traditional local fujigoko dish you have to try is Hoto noodles. This delicious bowl of udon noodles is so good that I tried it a few times at Hoto Fudou — a local chain specializing in this dish.
I had a blast exploring Tokyo and its surrounding regions and I hope this countdown helps you have as much fun as I did.