A fashionista, a techie, a foodie, an anime-lover, a samurai, geisha, and a couple of other random people walk into a bar and they all had a great time because that bar was in Tokyo. All jokes aside, this city is no joke. It has a little bit of everything for everyone.
With a wide assortment of great places to eat, shop, and experience both modern and traditional Japanese culture, it’s no wonder why Tokyo is the rightful capital of Japan and the most populated metropolitan area in the world. There’s just so much to do and experience here!
But before you get overwhelmed, I’ve come up with a list of my top 10 places to visit in Tokyo (in no particular order) for a sampling of all the different fun experiences this city has to offer, based on my personal experience.
1. Asakusa (浅草)
Home to both the Tokyo Skytree (the new symbol of the city), and its oldest, most popular temple, Senso-ji Temple (浅草寺 or the Asakusa Kannon Temple), here lies a perfect mix of modern and traditional sensibilities against a postcard-worthy backdrop. The temple itself has quite an interesting backstory. In 628, two brothers found a statue of Kannon, the goddess of mercy, in the Sumida River and despite how many times they returned it to the river, it always came back to them. The temple was built nearly 17 years later as a tribute to the goddess.
Begin your day with a trip to this 7th-century site where you are immediately greeted by the Nakamise Shopping Street, 250 meters of stalls selling local cuisine, snacks, handicrafts, and every type of souvenir imaginable. If you’re looking to buy haoris, yukatas, and kimonos (traditional Japanese garments), this is a great place to score some of the best deals. Haoris, in particular, do make awesome and very practical gifts! Continue this nostalgic shopping experience in The Asakusa Chikagai or the Asakusa Underground Street. It’s a literal time capsule of the Showa Period in the 1920s and has a lot of cheap places to eat in. Complete the throwback experience with a visit to Hanayashiki, a mini amusement park that’s over 150 years old. Enjoy old school attractions that take you back to simpler times. If you’re a professional chef, a home chef, or just like buying kitchenware, head to the Kappabashi Shopping Street (in between Asakusa and Ueno) and buy everything you need and the kitchen sink if you have the luggage space for it.
Asakusa is a very photogenic place and it gets even more picturesque during the Cherry Blossom Season (in the Sumida Park) and the Sanja Matsuri (三社祭; Three Shrine Festival) held in the Senso-ji Temple (Tokyo’s biggest and wildest religious festival). The latter is a 3-day event on the third weekend of May and celebrating with over a million other people is a one-of-a-kind experience, even if you aren’t a Buddhist. Another great feature of this area is that you get to appreciate it from different angles! Go sight SEA-ing in the Sumida River Cruise, which takes you on a scenic route to either Hamarikyu and its beautiful gardens or the Hinode Pier for a connecting ship ride to Odaiba. If you’re feeling more adventurous, you can also opt to go kayaking.
Go by air and have an elevated tour around Asakusa on a rickshaw that can fit up to three people at a time. Although your only around 3 feet above the ground, this jinrikisha or ‘man-powered vehicle’ is the coolest and most unique way to get around, in my opinion. Cap off your day in the Tokyo Skytree and enjoy the view of the city and beyond, 630 meters up in the Air.
A great tip for any tourist would be to head to their Tourist Information Center. This 8-story building with a modern design has a café, a viewing deck, and of course, all the information (in English, Chinese, and Korean) you need to make the most out of your visit. They have free wifi and a computer for public use, which can be very helpful.
2. Shibuya (渋谷)
Normally, crossing a busy intersection isn’t the most fun thing to do, in fact, it can be quite a nerve-wracking experience in an unfamiliar city. The sheer thought of crossing what is widely believed to be the world’s busiest intersection sounds more like a chore than anything else, but it’s anything but. The Shibuya Crossing or Scramble is a great place to take a photo of or in. Be in the eye of a tornado of people and immerse yourself in the organized chaos—more organized, less chaos. Actually, it isn’t at all as crazy as you think. Considering the number of people crossing it at a time, you could easily make it to the other end without bumping into a single person if you aren’t distracted or busy documenting your journey.
In many ways, Shibuya is Japanese shopping and dining in a nutshell. I mean, if you were pressed for time and had to do all your shopping in one area, this would be the place for you. It’s got a little of everything and can adjust to every budget. From the Scramble, you’ll see a tall, cylindrical, silver building labeled Shibuya 109. It’s 10 floors of over 120 boutiques selling all things cute and trendy.
Do note, though, that this place mainly sells girly stuff and its men’s counterpart is the recently-renovated ‘Magnet by Shibuya 109’ across the road. Personally, my first stop every time I’m in Shibuya would be Tokyu Hands. It has a floor dedicated to a certain interest like travel, arts & crafts, pet supplies, stationery, woodwork, leatherwork, home products, beauty products, etc. Although the layout can get a bit confusing if you’re trying to go through everything, it’s a great place to find unusual or highly-specific items like waterproofing spray-on protector for shoes or high-quality Japanese fabric scissors.
Don’t forget to like their Facebook page and take a screenshot for an additional 5% off your bill on top of the tax exemption. Loft is another multi-story shop that sells all sorts of stuff you never thought you needed. Although you might have a Muji store back home, this minimalist home goods store is still worth going to because you won’t get it cheaper anywhere else. In Shibuya, you’ll never run out of malls to explore, they’ve got the Hikarie, Seibu Department Store, Parco, Modi, and the newly-built Shibuya Stream to name a few. Of course, no shopping trip is complete without dropping by Don Quijote or Donki, for short. It’s basically a superstore that sells snacks, drinks, clothes, shoes, luggage, gag gifts, toys, home goods, and electronics. Donki is a great place to get lost in and get last-minute souvenirs because it stays open until 3 am.
Dining options are just as easy to find in Shibuya, starting off with Ichiran Ramen (一蘭) that needs no introduction. I suggest you avoid this place during peak hours, so you don’t wait in line for too long. Beef-lovers should check out Kobe Beef Teppanyaki HAKUSHU (神戸鉄板焼白秋) or Yakiniku Han no Daidokoro (韓の台所). I’ve personally tried the latter and usually order the chef’s special to get 2 slices of the best cuts of the day. You can always expect quality beef and quality service here. Look no further than Midori in Mark City for some amazing sushi. The long queue of people will lead you straight to this popular sushi-ya.
Just right next to Mark City is a street filled with ramen shops, street food stalls, and restaurants that are open until around midnight, and some places even later. If you’ve had a long day and are looking to eat in your hotel room, Tokyu Food Show is an underground, air-conditioned food hall with a wide variety of Japanese and International cuisine and its own supermarket. Don’t forget to drop by the beloved Hachiko statue right in front of the station to say hi to the world’s most loyal dog!
3. Harajuku (原宿)
When we think of Japanese fashion, two images often come to mind and that’s the traditional kimonos of geishas and samurais and the eye-catching ensembles of the Harajuku youth, both of which you can find here, a short walk from Shibuya.
Meiji Jingu Shrine (明治神宮; ‘Meiji Shrine) is a great place for a relaxing stroll and a momentary escape from the psychedelia of Takeshita Street. Dedicated to the first modern emperor of Japan, Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken, this vast temple with 100,000 trees, and Japan’s largest wooden torii gate is a rare oasis in such a densely-populated city. New Year’s Day would be the most popular time to visit for an enlightening and blessed way to kick off the year, but be warned that it can get quite crowded. If you’re lucky, there could be a traditional Shinto wedding taking place. Such a celebration of love and tradition is a pleasant occasion to witness and certainly brings in positive vibes. Even on a regular day, the temple grounds are still a great place to meditate, get a charm, make an offering, and write a wish on an ema (a small wooden board).
Needless to say, Harajuku is the hub of Japanese youth culture with a kawaii fashion scene rivaled only by its energetic atmosphere and has Takeshita Dori (Takeshita Street) as its epicenter. At 400 meters long, don’t underestimate this seemingly narrow street because one step into it would make you understand just how it came to be the birthplace of countless fashion trends. It’s an overwhelming experience, to say the least. Jam-packed with clothing stalls selling all things cute, whimsical, and trendy, it’s an equally inspiring place to people-watch and soak everything in.
They have a lot of themed cafés with the Kawaii Monster Café taking the cake, in terms of embodying the Harajuku spirit. Try out a sweet (or savory!) crepe, giant rainbow-colored cotton candy, or random food shaped as your favorite cartoon character. People who enjoy photographing their food would go crazy here with everything looking too cute to eat! The Calbee Plus store is a must-visit for every potato chip connoisseur (aka every human being alive) because of their special selection of chips with unconventional or regional flavors and their freshly-made chips that are prepared only upon ordering. Fancy stuff!
Even if this aesthetic isn’t your cup of tea, skipping out on Harajuku would be a big mistake because just when you thought it was a lot to take in, it has so much more to offer. Shop more subdued styles, vintage goods, and independent Japanese streetwear labels in the quieter, less-populated backstreets. Cat street is a personal favorite of mine and I never leave it empty-handed. Omotesandō is right next to it too if you’re up for some next-level luxury shopping.
4. Shinjuku (新宿区)
Over 2 million people course through the Shinjuku Station, making it the world’s busiest railway station. With so much going on in this business and entertainment hub, it really comes as no surprise. It’s safe to say that Shinjuku is Japan’s version of the city (or town) that never sleep because there’s literally always something happening here.
What sets it apart from other districts is its unparalleled nightlife. It really comes to life after sundown when the streets are bathed in neon lights and everyone’s ready to have a good time. Kabukicho is Tokyo’s largest red-light district and has everything you would associate with the darker, crazier side of Japan—love hotels, nightclubs, bars, and establishments that satisfy every ‘quirk’. Do be careful and don’t party too hard though because things can get a little shady with tourists being the main targets. We’re talking about spiked drinks and stolen credit cards. Don’t let this scare you off because with a little precaution, you’re bound to have a truly unforgettable night, in a good way! In Kabukicho, you will find the Golden Gai, with countless tiny bars that seat no more than 5 people. You’ll know which ones cater to tourists because they have English menus plastered outside. You’ll also find a place called Omoide Yokocho. This name literally translates to ‘memory lane’, but it is more commonly referred to as Piss Alley. I know its name can be off-putting, especially considering that it’s a dining area, but if you look past it, you’ll find that there are quite a number of cozy, Izakayas serving ramen, yakitori, sushi, and authentic Japanese pub grub.
Izakayas (居酒屋) are commonly known as small casual bars where people can drink while snacking on relatively cheap food, but Shinjuku offers less common alternatives to this otherwise straightforward Japanese staple. Here’s a list of some of the most popular themed Izakayas:
- Showa Izakaya Hakuri Tabai Hanbei (昭和居酒屋 薄利多賣半兵ヱ): Retro Showa Period (1901-1989) Izakaya filled with vintage memorabilia, nostalgic snacks, and free-flowing cabbage with miso sauce.
- Sengoku Buyuden (戦国武勇伝 新宿): Each room is based on a specific Shōgun (military ruler) or Daimyō (feudal lord) from the Sengoku (civil war) Period (1467-1590). It comes off as more authentic than caricature-ish, so it’s good for history buffs and regular folk alike.
- Kyomachi Koi Shigure: Step into a condensed replica of Kyoto, Japan’s former capital, where it’s always autumn. Complete with its own indoor river and bridge, this Izakaya is a great place for photos.
- Magic bar CUORE: Watching magic tricks is always entertaining and it’s even better when in a castle. Watch a professional magic performance and while you’re scratching your head trying to figure out how they did it, they give you other puzzles to confuse you even more. Fun times!
- The Lock-up Tokyo: You can’t blame the Japanese for being curious about something they most likely will never experience in their lifetimes and hopefully you won’t either.Feel like a real-life prisoner, complete with shocks and scares, but with much better food options of course.
- Zauo (釣船茶屋 ざうお 新宿店): Rent a fishing rod for 100 yen and catch your meal yourself in this boat-shaped Izakaya in the middle of an indoor fishing pond. You also get to decide how your seafood is cooked if you aren’t having it as sashimi.
- Ninja: Step into this fancy and innovative Izakaya to catch a glimpse of the Ninja life during the Edo period.
- Alice in Magical Land: Be transported into Lewis Carroll’s beloved classic of a similar name and treat yourself to some creative seasonal dishes.
- Koshitsu-Izakaya 6nen4kumi: When we were kids, all we wanted was to grow up, big mistake! Eat like a Japanese elementary student in this Izakaya built like a classroom. They have simple pop quizzes too, but it’s fun because you don’t have to show yours cores to mom!
You can party anywhere in the world, but I can assure you that you won’t find a place that comes close to The Robot Restaurant. This top-to-bottom, over-the-top, 10-billion-yen kaleidoscopic theater is a smorgasbord of sensory delight. With laser beams, flashing lights, booming music, performers clad in wild fluorescent costumes, and dancing robots, there’s really no place quite like it. By the way, everything’s family-friendly in here and open to people of all ages, since younger people would logically enjoy this place the most. I don’t think any written description can really give this place justice, so if you’re looking for a completely random and zany experience, you’ll just have to see it for yourself!
Shinjuku isn’t just about the nightlife. Visit it during the daytime for a real ‘night and day’ experience. To start off, it has 39 different Michelin-starred restaurants to satisfy all you picky eaters out there. It’s also got a Skyscraper District, its own Korea Town (Shin Okubo), a slew of discount electronic megastores (Bic Camera, Yodobashi Camera, Yamada Denki), and every major department store (Lumine 1 and 2, Isetan, Mylord, Takashimaya, Odakyu, Keio, and NEWoMan). It’s also a sneakerhead’s paradise with stores carrying rare and exclusive kicks.
Ueno (上野; upper field)
The Ueno district is best known for its eponymous park. Now, before you think it’s a simple walk in the park and skip to the next recommended place, read on and give it a chance because it just might surprise you. No, it definitely will surprise you. Ueno Park was originally part of one of the city’s wealthiest temples during the Edo Period, the Kanei-ji Temple, and was Japan’s first public park. With that being said, this park would be the perfect place to visit during the cherry blossom season because it has over a thousand cherry trees—yes, more than 1000 trees—in its central pathway. Additionally, it isn’t just a place to chill and relax because it has museums, but not one, not two, but four museums! This park houses the Tokyo National Museum (Japan’s oldest and largest museum), the National Museum of Western Art, the National Museum of Nature and Science, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum and still manages to have room for a major public concert hall, a number of Buddhist temples (one of which is the hexagonal Bentendo Temple built right in the middle of the Shinobazu Pond), and a zoo! It’s a cultural goldmine! There’s also an ongoing festival in the park on almost every weekend, so it’s pretty much got you covered on affordable food, as well.
The Ueno Zoo is Tokyo’s oldest and biggest zoo. It has over 3,000 animals like the local Yezo deer and Japanese squirrel, but most people are there for Ri Ri, Shin Shin, and their baby, Shan Shan, the well-loved celebrity pandas.
Not too far from the neighboring Okachimachi Station is the Ameya-Yokochō (アメヤ横丁; Ameya Alley) or the Ameyoko Market where you can buy everything from your run-of-the-mill Japanese souvenirs, clothes, clocks, and cheap luggage, to travel-ready Alaskan King Crab legs and 10,000-yen melons. This expanding commercial street started out as a black market and was either named from Ameya (飴屋; candy shop) for its throng of candy shops during the post-war sugar ration, or from ‘America’ because they used to sell surplus American military goods here. Nowadays, it’s pretty much turned into Don Quijote in street form and at a cheaper price. They’ve also got a bunch of arcades to test out your crane machine skills, which is always a lot of fun (and very frustrating). Vendors are known to passionately peddle their goods and between that and the arcades, expect an energetic and bustling atmosphere. It is a market, after all!
Chiyoda (千代田; field of a thousand generations)
‘A field of a thousand generations’ sounds like a majestic place where mighty gods coexist with regular men and that’s a pretty accurate description, considering that this is the political center of Japan. I mean, the Prime Minister lives here, the Supreme Court, the National Diet Building (not a wellness center, but a Parliament building), and 15 embassies are all here too. All kidding aside, Chiyoda gets its name from the Chiyoda Castle or the Imperial Castle.
It’s pure opulence from the get go. Tokyo Station is so architecturally grand and impressive that one look at it will make you forget that it’s a train station. Even if you don’t plan on getting aboard one of the 3,000 trains that go through it daily, you just have to enter it and stroll through its many shops, department stores, and restaurants. Characterized by its black walls, the Kurobei Yokocho (Black Fence Alley) is a great place to sample gourmet Japanese food and be one with the fanciness of this station.
A short walk from the Tokyo Station is the Marunouchi Brick Square, a little secluded European-style courtyard with bakeries and cafés that make you feel like royalty. The Marunouchi area offers a different type of glamour from the traditional elegance of Tokyo Station and has loads of high-end retailers, restaurants, and modern sculptures scattered around. Some of the most powerful feudal lords lived here during the Edo Period and you certainly still feel this aura of grandeur to this day. It’s especially picturesque during winter (late November to early February) along Naka-dori when the trees are illuminated by thousands of champagne-colored eco-friendly LED lights. If you’re there around the Christmas season, stalls also sell holiday-appropriate snacks and drinks to add to the festive vibe.
Not to be confused with the Imperial Castle destroyed in a fire in 1873, the Imperial Palace was built in its place in 1888. The palace is located here mainly because this was the center of what used to be Tokyo City. It still serves as the primary residences of the Imperial Family and so the inner grounds are only open to the public during the New Year’s Greeting (January 2) and Emperor Naruhito’s birthday, February 23. The East Garden, on the other hand, is accessible all year round. The original moats and some gates, walls, and guardhouses dating all the way back to the Edo Period are still there. One can only imagine the history that these surviving relics hold. Take note that the garden isn’t open on Mondays and Fridays!
Again, not to be confused with the Shin Marunouchi Building, which is also an upscale shopping center, the Marunouchi Building or the Maru-Biru (Maru Building), offers an elevated shopping and dining experience in both the literal and figurative sense. A cool fact about this building, the biggest one during the Showa Period, is that it survived the Great Kanto Earthquake with a Magnitude of 7.9. It’s a pretty amazing feat, considering that this was the deadliest natural disaster in Japan and all this was with technology from 1923. It’s got more affordable restaurants and cafés options, but the restaurants on the 35th and 36th have the best view of this rich district and are perfect settings for celebrating a (really) special occasion. If your prior Japanese escapades have led your money astray, there’s the second-best option of relaxing in their complimentary lounge on the 35 th floor… The view is quite limited, but free is free!
Akihabara (秋葉原; Autumn Leaf Field)
Akihabara has come a long way from its ‘autumn leaf field’ origins and was once dubbed the ‘Electronic Town’ before it became the otaku (passionate anime / manga / enthusiast) mecca for Japanese popular culture that it is today.
Japan has a very rich culture of animation that caters to people of all ages and interest and what’s great about this country is that you can have a (healthy) interest in anime as an adult and not be ostracized for it at all. Besides, anime and manga can’t be reduced to simple cartoons and comic books because they can be sophisticated art forms that are filled with moral or cultural significance. Now that you’re (hopefully) sold on the subculture or at least curious of what all the fuss is about, here are a bunch of places you can try out, depending on what tickles your fancy.
Shopping for your official merchandise of your favorite manga or anime won’t be a problem here at all. Let’s begin with Radio Kaikan, which has become a beloved icon of the district. Techies, Otakus, and collectors unite in this 10-story building that sells electronics, figurines, toys, trading cards, and miscellaneous anime goods. As its name suggests, Gamers carries a lot of video games, but also carries CDs, films, magazines and character goods as well. Old-fashioned gamers, on the other hand, should make a beeline for Super Potato. They’ve got practically every single gaming console that’s ever been manufactured, along with matching retro games and accessories to help you relive some of the happiest moments from your childhood or live out the good old days of simpler games with simpler mechanics (and graphics). Tsukumo Robot Kingdom kind of fuses the electronics and manga / anime subcultures with each other in the form of robotics. Feel like a genius inventor and create your own robot or buy a ready-made one that you can play with immediately. It’s all in your hands.
AKIBA CULTURES ZONE is another place to satisfy your otaku needs. They sell cosplay goods (ACOS) among other otaku essentials. They’ve also got a theatre that features up-and-coming idols and musical acts called AKIBA CULTURE Gekijo. If you’ve set your sights on an ever-elusive piece of merchandise, end your search in Mandarake, the largest manga and anime store in the world where you can find vintage items that you most probably can’t find anywhere else. Radio Center is said to be the birthplace of the whole Akihabara otaku culture and is credited to have coined the term itself. No otaku can skip on it and it’s definitely worth the visit for anybody just for its contribution to Japanese popular culture.
Themed cafés are one of the most distinctive attractions in the otaku subculture and you don’t really have to be a fan to appreciate the effort and commitment that goes into operating these truly fantastic places. Maid cafés are probably the most recognized themed cafés. Cute staff dressed as French maids serve food, play simple games with you, and make a short performance. It’s out-of-the-box wholesome fun that can be enjoyed by both men and women. The Gundam and AKB48 cafés are other popular options if you’re more into the anime series or the Japanese idol girl group with 48 members (AKB48).
Gaming is a huge part of the subculture and is in no way left out here. Enter the Club SEGA arcade buildings. Yes, 4 buildings of pure gaming bliss. The recently-renovated (2012) Building no. 1 has crane machines and arcade games (shooting, combat, and sports-related). Building no. 2, with diagonal orange stripes, offers exclusive prizes and staff dressed in very detailed and accurate cosplays for the more hardcore otakus. Building no. 3 is best known for its VR machines on the 6th floor and the wide assortment of plushies you can win from their crane machines. Building no. 4, a three-minute walk from Akihabara Station, is a mixture of classics and novelties… it’s got crane machines, arcade games, and VR (virtual reality) games. TAITO’s Hey, conveniently located next door, is filled with well-loved retro arcade games. Tokyo Leisure Land caters to the more musically-inclined, or those curious to try out an instrument because most of their games involve musical instruments.
Although it is more known for anime and manga nowadays, Akihabara is still the ‘Electric Town’ and is still a great place to shop for all sorts of electronics from the latest gadgets and secondhand pieces to hard-to-find spare parts. Akihabara was initially known for having numerous small electronics shops, but it has also become home to larger chain stores such as Sofmap, Laox, Akky, LABI (Yamada Deki), and Yodobashi Camera (the biggest megastore in all of Akihabara). When shopping for electronics, make sure that the Japanese 110V voltage is compatible with your country and if it doesn’t, inquire if they have alternatives with international voltage. Don’t forget to check if you can get a tax exemption too!
In true Akihabara fashion, even a visit to the shrine can have something to do with anime. Kanda Myojin Shrine (神田明神) is one of the country’s most important shrines and its main hall (built in 1616) withstood The Great Kanto Earthquake. And if it wasn’t cool enough, it was also featured in a popular anime, ‘Love Live!’, so fans of the series make sure to drop by. Tokyo Daijingu Shrine (東京大神宮), on the other hand, is more popular among women, as it is believed to bring fortune in the love department, particularly in marriage and love knots. It’s a good place to catch a wedding ceremony, which is always a beautiful occasion to witness. Itomi Inari Shrine (飯富稲荷神社) is also located here and enshrines the god of food, clothing, and shelter.
Asakusabashi (浅草橋; Asakusa Bridge), not to be confused with the aforementioned Asakusa district, is a short walk from Akihabara and a must-visit for all types of crafters. This place is lined with hobby shops selling supplies for sewing, crafting, leatherworking, and everything you could possibly need to start an Etsy empire. Historically, they were known to specialize in Hinaningyou 雛人形 and Gogatsuningyou 五月人形, traditional Japanese dolls given during the developmental milestones of little boys and girls. These beautifully-crafted dolls make wonderful gifts or display pieces at home.
Ginza (銀座; ’silver guild-mint’)
Fun Fact: A square meter of real estate in Ginza will run you around 10 million yen and knowing that some cafés get away with selling 1,000-yen coffee, you’re probably thinking that you’ll need your own money-making machine to survive in this place. Well, Ginza did serve as a silver-coin mint during the Edo Period, so that sort of explains things… I guess. Honestly, I visit Ginza mainly for Uniqlo’s flagship store. It’s 12 floors of high-quality, affordable clothing that’s too good to be called fast fashion, even if it is. Here, you can find both classic minimalist options and more unique, statement pieces from designer collaborations. Categories like Outerwear, Innerwear, and their UT T-shirts are organized per floor, so you don’t get too overwhelmed. They have a wide variety of Heattech thermal wear, which I stock up for winter and I somehow always end up buying a pack of socks every time.
Itoya is arguably the most legendary stationery store, if there ever was one. It has papers, pens, school supplies, office supplies, and everything for the firm believer in the remarkable beauty of hand-written notes. Like-minded artists should also go see the Gekkoso Art Supply Store. This unassuming shop that has been around since 1917 sells award-winning paint. Apparently, there is a world championship of this sort and their Cobalt Violet Pink (aptly named Gekkoso Pink) is the star of the show. Continue shopping the hunt for absolutely nothing in particular at Marrionner Gate’s Building no. 1’s 5-floor Tokyu Hands store.
Now that you’ve warmed up your wallet and your inner voice of reason with some ‘humble purchases’ from the above stores, it’s time to go big or go home.
The Matsuya Department Store carries a lot of high-end designer brands, like the succeeding department stores, but its food hall, situated on the 2 basement floors, makes it worth a visit. Yes, it does have outrageously-priced produce, like the infamous melons, but the Japanese have their reasons for placing such high value on what looks like regular fruit to us, but that’s for another article. They’ve got sweets, snacks, (regularly-priced) fresh produce, and immaculately-packaged food from every major cuisine at fairly reasonable prices. While there aren’t any seating areas available in the food hall itself, you can head to the rooftop to enjoy your meal with fresh air and a fantastic view on the side.
Founded in 1673, Mitsukoshi is Japan’s oldest surviving department store chain, you won’t have any trouble getting to it too, as the Ginza Line Exit directly leads to it. Though it can get quite crowded here, I think that says a lot about its popularity. You can find a lot of quality Japanese handicrafts and souvenirs for that extra (extra) special person in your life. Their food hall is also amazing and a lot of people rave about their pastries and sweets.
On the other end of the age spectrum, Tokyu Plaza opened in 2016 and its modern, intricate cutting-edge design draws inspiration from Edo Kiriko cut glass. It has a spectacular Lotte Duty-free store designed to look like a really chic airport departure lounge. Its main highlight, though would have to be its rooftop Kiriko Terrace, which is split into a green, organic ‘earth’ side with a majestic giant cherry tree and a sleek, white, ‘water’ side with an indoor pool stretching across the entire area. Unfortunately, you can’t swim or dip your feet into it, but the tables and chairs in both lounging areas are free for everyone to use. This is the place for you if you want to shop in peace and cap off your day with a great 360-degree view of Ginza.
Kabuki (歌舞伎) is a traditional form of Japanese drama with song, dance, and mime performances by an all-male cast in characteristic, elaborate makeup and the Kabukiza Theatre is one of the best places to see it. You can opt to get a translator if you wish to understand and fully-appreciate the narrative, but I think that listening to music and watching the performance in itself would be one of the most authentically Japanese cultural experiences a tourist could have, even without understanding a word.
Okay, remember what I said about the estimated cost of a square meter of land in Ginza? You might need to sit down before reading any further.
The Ginza Six or G Six shopping mall has a floor area of a whopping 148,700 square meters; I don’t even want to do the math, I mean, if that didn’t give you goosebumps, then you’re probably made of stone. I must admit that it’s designed on a whole other level, and replicates the look of old Tokyo and Kyoto alleyways, except in a really posh and modern way. Needless to say, this place is massive and prepare to shell out equally massive stacks of cash if you’re actually planning to do some shopping. The Tsutaya bookstore on the top floor is nothing short of breath-taking with its wide ceiling windows, art gallery, and exhibition space. It also has a full-scale Noh theatre (classical Japanese musical drama which involves the use of masks), complete with a traditional stage made from cypress wood. This is an unusual sight in Ginza and speaking of unusual things in Ginza, you can actually score a deal during their Happy Hour! If there are any vacant seats during their third performance of the day, a ticket will only cost you 3,000 yen and 1,500 yen if you’re a student. That’s definitely the best deal you’re going to get in the entire mall, and possibly in all of Ginza. All jokes aside, first-class price points call for first-class service and if you have a six-figure (US dollar) budget, then a six-star shopping experience most certainly awaits you.
Ginza Six is a tough act to follow, but there’s no better way to close this list of luxury shopping destinations with the timeless and elegant Wako Ginza. This Neo-Renaissance architectural masterpiece was not only built impeccably, but it was also built to last. Constructed in 1932 and having withstood the destruction of WWII, it stands today as a true Tokyo landmark. Befitting the building’s history and location, Wako has everything you’d expect from a classic high-end department store without any gimmicks. Shop luxury watches, apparel, jewelry, handbags, crystal, and porcelain from both local and foreign brands and then some. Their Tea Salon serves exquisite chocolate, pastries, and desserts. Their omurice does not disappoint, if it’s a substantial meal you’re after. The constant crowd in this luxury café speaks for itself and you’re served all these high-caliber offerings by the most accommodating waiting staff.
All that shopping is bound to leave you famished and here’s a list of places to recharge and Refuel:
- Sukiyabashi Jiro: Located in the Ginza Station, this 10-seater, 3-Michelin Star, sushi bar is setting of the documentary, Jiro Dreams of Sushi. Need I say more?
- Umegaoka Sushi no Midori: This sushi bar serves fresh sushi that’s undergone rigorous safety inspections for the very reasonable price of 1,600 yen (exclusive of tax).
- Kyubei: A well-established high-end sushi bar frequented by the Prime Minister himself.
- Café de L’Ambre: Serving delicious coffee since 1948, this coffeehouse is a Ginza staple.
- KIMURAYA: They invented Anpan (bread with red bean paste filling) and have been making it for over 140 years.
- Mugi to Olive: They’ve got the best Shoyu Ramen.
- Gado-shita: The Yurakucho ‘Izakaya district’ beneath the elevated tracks of the JR Yamanote Railway Line is filled with affordable dining options apart from Izakayas (like little restaurants serving German, French, and Italian cuisine). It’s perfect for a late-night culinary / drinking adventure.
- Tsukiji Outer Market: Sample the freshest, most delicious seafood from the hundred food stalls that line the legendary Tsukiji Outer Market not too far from Ginza.
Odaiba (お台場; ‘battery’)
Is this place some sort of power plant or a hub for electronics factories, perhaps? Don’t let its name give you the wrong impression because the battery it’s referring to would be ‘fortified emplacement for artillery (in this case, cannons)’. Somehow sounds cooler, right? It’s a man-made island on reclaimed land that started out as mini forts to protect Tokyo from marine attacks during the Edo Period.
Now that we’ve got the technical stuff out of the way, I don’t think I’ve mentioned an onsen (a resort developed around a hot spring) on this list yet. Make your way to the Oedo-onsen Monogatari and dip your toes into the world of traditional onsens. This place even has its own themed mall called Edo Town that looks pretty much like it was plucked out of that era. You can do lots of cool things here like having your fortune read or try your hand at throwing ninja stars. Spend a relaxing day in this spa / wellness center / hot spring paradise in a rented yukata and you’ll probably want to spend the night there, which you can actually do! Soothe your aching muscles with hot spring water from 1,400 meters underground and be one with nature in Tokyo’s largest Japanese garden at 2,300 square meters. Foot spas and rock salt saunas are also available too! Just talking about it makes me want to go back right now. Be warned that they are quite strict about tattoos and you won’t be allowed in if you have one regardless if you’re a tourist, gaijin, or citizen.
Feeling recharged after that imagining that relaxing trip to the Oedo-onsen? Well, get ready to use up a lot of that energy in DECKS Tokyo Beach. Well, it isn’t really a beach, but more of a shopping center. It’s got places to dine and shop and a lot of interesting attractions like the Tokyo JOYPOLIS (one of Tokyo’s largest indoor amusement park by SEGA), the Legoland Discovery Center, Madam Tussaud’s Wax Museum, the Tokyo Trick Art Museum, and the Odaiba Takoyaki Museum. I just realized that all the museums they have here don’t really conform to our usual notion of what museums should be.
In this day and age, we tend to take a lot of simple pleasures for granted. Take the Palette Town Ferris Wheel (大観覧車; Daikanransha), for example. Most people would shrug the thought of riding one off as boring, but the view from this 115-meter tall structure will remind you never to overlook a Ferris Wheel. I mean, you simply can’t overlook this behemoth that’s lit up in a rainbow of colors and that vary depending on the season. If you aren’t too afraid of heights, opt for one of its four fully see-through gondolas and for an even better view. Speaking of rainbow lights and how mesmerizing they are, Odaiba also has the Rainbow Bridge, a suspension bridge that connects it to the rest of Tokyo and serves as one of its iconic symbols. It’s a technicolored illuminated work of art at night and the view is enhanced even further by the rainbow reflections on the surface of Tokyo Bay. It’s nice to appreciate it from a distance, but if you’re up for a 30-minute walk, cross the pedestrian-friendly area of the bridge and experience the lights in their full glory.
Ikebukuro (池袋; ‘pond bag or wetlands’)
To be honest, shopping malls and department stores are not difficult to come by in Tokyo and the accessibility of such places are a great convenience, especially for tourists. But if you’re a hardcore shopper looking for the Royal Rumble of the country’s heavyweights, then Ikebukuro is the place for you. The feasibility of a single person to even slightly browse through every single department store within a single day is highly improbable, mainly because you’re more than likely to run out of cash before you get through them all. The Tobu and Seibu Department Stores are the biggest of the bunch and are both owned by companies that operate their own railway lines. Coincidence? I think not. The Marui Department Store mainly focuses on apparel and accessories for both men and women, but they also carry home goods. By the way, if you’re planning a visit, don’t look for a sign that says ‘Marui’. It’s the building with a ‘0101’ sign. Of course, you can also find the two largest retailers of discount electronic goods here. Bic Camera is the more well-established old-timer and they have their flagship store here. Yamada Denki, the rising star, has also opened shop in this area, to challenge Bic Camera. In case you were wondering, they also have the Lumine Shopping Mall, Don Quijote, Tokyu Hands, and The Disney Store here. Is it just me or are you also beginning to think that the only losses that will happen here are going to be from our bank accounts?
Sunshine City somehow manages to stand out from the rest and offers a unique shopping experience that you won’t find anywhere else in Japan. With its own indoor theme park with carnival-style games (NAMJATOWN by NAMCO), a shopping mall, an ‘oasis in the sky’ aquarium on a rooftop with penguins and seals, a state-of-the-art Konica Minolta Planetarium, a hotel, cat cafés, and a skyscraper—it stays true to its label and is really a city in itself. Its skyscraper, the Sunshine 60, was actually the tallest building in Asia from 1978 – 1985. Check out the Sky Circus for a psychedelic aerial view of the city with colorful lights, art installations, mirrored rooms, and even a VR (Virtual Reality) ride. They don’t call it a Sky Circus for nothing. Pokémon fans will also be happy to know that it has a Pokémon Center, the biggest one in all of Tokyo! Prepare to throw your money at them like a Pokéball!
If the shopping overload is starting to get to you and you need a place to clear your head from all the impulse purchases you’ve made, head on over to Mejiro Station. Ever since the Edo Period, it’s been a place of residence for Japanese nobility and high officials. The prestigious Gakushuin University (where some members of the Imperial Family studied during the Meiji Period) can also be found here, among other great colleges. Before you think it’s boring and stuffy, let me tell you that it’s a great place to shop, eat, and even sing a little karaoke, all at a University student’s budget! The Mejiro Garden is a lush hideaway with its own mini waterfall and floating pavilion. Its wide variety of plants and trees makes it beautiful in every season.
Congratulations on making it through this rather detailed list! I really hope that at least some of my recommendations appealed to you and that you end up enjoying the places as much as I did!