1. Tokyo Imperial Palace
The former location of Edo Castle, Tokyo’s Imperial Palace remains the official residence of the Emperor of Japan. Power was transferred to the Emperor when the Tokugawa Shogunate ended in 1867. He moved from Kyoto (then the capital) to Edo, which is the place now known as Tokyo (meaning the ‘Eastern Capital’) and the city has been the capital of Japan ever since. A lot of the castle was damaged during the Second World War but there are still great views of a watchtower dating back to the seventeenth century. Most of the palace is closed to the public but there is a public park in the area around Fujimi-yagura – known as the Higashi Gyoen or East Gardens, in English. If you want to see how the other half live, you can book an official tour at least one month in advance. The tours are in Japanese but there are English audio guides available. Opening times: East Gardens: 1 March > 14 April and 1 September > 31 October – 9am to 4.30pm; 15 April > 31 August – 9am to 5pm; 1 November > 28 February – 9am to 4pm. Closed Mon & Fri year-round, and from 28 December > 3 January. Location: Chiyoda district. The palace has five gates and the easiest to get in is the Otemachi gate near the Otemachi subway station. Price: Free
2. People watch with cosplayers on the Jingu-bashi Bridge
This bridge, just near the Yoyogi Park in Harajuku, is where you need to be if you want to see the ‘cosplay’ phenomenon where kids (and some adults) dress as their favorite characters. It tends to be busiest on a weekend, especially on Sundays, and most will be happy to pose for a photo but it’s polite to ask before taking one. The park itself attracts rockabilly dancers with their 1950s hairstyles and leather jackets, along with teens showing off the latest Harajuku trends.
3. Tokyo Skytree and Tokyo Tower
The Tokyo Skytree dominates the city’s skyline and is the second tallest structure in the world after Dubai’s Burj Khalifa. If you like heights, grab a cup of tea or coffee at the Skytree cafe – a whopping 350 meters in the air! If you’re feeling extra brave, step onto the truly terrifying glass floor section of the cafe. You need to pay to go up the Skytree and it’s a little way out of town but at 634 meters, it’s worth the journey. If you weren’t too fussed about the height, visit the observation decks of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in the center of town for free – the compromise is they’re ‘only’ 202 meters high. The Tokyo Tower, a 333 meter observation and communications tower, was the tallest structure in all of Japan until the Tokyo Skytree stole the crown in 2010. It’s a good alternative to the Tokyo Skytree though, and the main observatory is 150m high. Opening times: From 8am to 9pm daily (Tokyo Skytree). From 9am to 11pm daily (Tokyo Tower) Location: 1 Chome-1-2 Oshiage, Sumida (Tokyo Skytree). 4 Chome-2-8 Shibakōen, Minato-ku (Tokyo Tower) Price: Adults ¥2060 (Dh69), Children 12 – 17yrs ¥1540 (Dh52), 6 – 11 ¥930 (Dh31) to get to the Tembo Deck at 350m. Pay extra for the Tembo Galleria at 450m (Tokyo Skytree). Adults ¥900 (Dh30), Children ¥500 (Dh17) and Children under 4 ¥400 (Dh14) (Tokyo Tower)
4. Have a robot train deliver your sushi
The Japanese have taken the conveyor belt sushi (called kaiten-zushi) to another level. The conveyor belt concept was introduced in 1958 and the kaiten-zushi restaurants – especially Genki Sushi in Shibuya – have been improving the technology every since. Now you can order your food from a touchscreen and the kitchen will shoot it out at you on a little robot train. Amazing, and very cheap! Win win.
5. Set your alarm for the Tsukuji fish market
The Tsukuji fish market is probably the most famous in the world, not least because of the documentary movie Jiro Dreams of Sushi and certainly is one of the top things to do in Tokyo. The tuna auction is what attracts the spectators and is one of the most unusual Tokyo attractions. You need to get there early; it starts at 5am and only around 60 people get in at a time. People start queuing from around 4am to avoid being refused entry when the auction room is full.
6. Hit the sky bars
The Sky Bar on the 45th floor of the Keio Plaza Hotel Tokyo in Shinjuku is renowned for its eclectic drinks menu. Or if you’re a movie buff, follow in the footsteps of Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray and visit the New York Bar at the Park Hyatt Hotel, as seen in Lost in Translation. Neither are cheap Tokyo attractions, but they’re certainly stylish.
If you want to experience the wackiest of Tokyo’s electronic shops, toy shops and arcades, Akihabara is the place to do it. Most of the stores are at least five storeys high and have everything from the well-known games and toys to the truly weird stuff. It’s fun to visit any time of day but at night all the billboards light up and it comes to life.
8. Yasukni Shrine
This Yasukuni Shrine is something of a controversial Tokyo attraction because it honors the Japanese war dead, including its war criminals. The Yushukan Museum is even more contentious because it features a somewhat revisionist version of Second World War history that points the finger at the USA for being the aggressor. Opening times: The shrine is open daily from 6am to 6pm (closes at 5pm from November to February), and the museum is open from 9am to 4.30pm Location: 3 Chome-1-1 Kudankita, Chiyoda Price: The shrine is free. Museum entry costs ¥800 (Dh27)
![The Yasukuni Shrine honors the Japanese war dead](https://content.skyscnr.com/509c259b0b2fd116938c35f7cba9ae4d/yasukuni-shrine-tokyo.jpg "Yasukuni Shrine")
This is probably the most striking of Tokyo shrines out of the hundreds of temples and shrines in and around the city. It dates back to 645 AD but has been rebuilt a number of times. The Kaminarimon (meaning Thunder Gate) at the shrine entrance, and its huge paper lanterns, is probably one of the most iconic images of Tokyo. Opening times: Every day from 6am to 5pm (6.30am opening October to March) Location: Asakusa (the Asakusa Station is a few minutes’ walk) Price: Entry is free
10. Brave the Shibuya street crossing
Even with traffic lights, crossing the famous Shibuya junction – the busiest crossing in the world – is a challenge. In rush hour, more than 2,500 people cross the junction in five different directions EVERY HOUR, so you have to be careful where you step. If you want an aerial view, hop into Starbucks on the corner and wrestle for a table on the upper floor. Keep an eye out for the statue of Hachiko on the far corner; the faithful canine used to greet his owner at the Shibuya train station every day as he returned from work. Even after his owner died suddenly in 1925, Hachiko kept up the routine and walked to the station every day for a further nine years.
11. Face off with a giant robot at Odaiba Island
It’s not strictly a robot, and fans of the Gundam franchise that created these ‘mobile suits’ actually get annoyed when you refer to the suits as robots. The 18 meter high 1:1 scale reconstruction moves and lights up (so it’s very robot-esque) and stands outside the Gundam Front Tokyo, a massive exhibition celebrating everything Gundam. The franchise began with an anime in 1979 and is often described as Japan’s own Star Wars, demonstrating its popularity. You might not understand everything in the exhibition but a visit to Odaiba Island is still worth it to see the ‘robot’! Get the show times here.
12. Eat an okonomiyaka pancake
Forget sushi and teriyaki, okonomiyaka is fast becoming Japan’s greatest dish! It’s a sort of layered omelette with cabbage and other fillings such as prawns or pork, cooked in front of you on a large hotplate with expert skill. Delicious!
13. Go shopping in Ginza
If you want to go shopping in Tokyo, head to the Ginza neighborhood. Your first stop should be Ginza Mitsukoshi, which has been serving the people of Tokyo for more than 80 years. There’s five floors of womenswear, one floor of mens, toys, childrenswear and household goods. Don’t leave without visiting the tax-exemption counter! Other popular shops in Ginza include Ginza Wako (with a large distinctive clock tower on its roof) and Printemps Ginza (which has an impressive area dedicated just to deserts!).
14. Roppongi Hills
The Roppongi Hills multi-tower complex is large enough to put some of Dubai’s skyscrapers in the shade! It has enough going on to keep visitors busy for a full day; the Mori Museum and Art Gallery which showcases loans from European collections as well as the crème de la crème of Japanese photography, design, video, fashion and architecture. Many floors above is the skydeck and observatory which has views of Tokyo Tower and Mount Fuji in the distance. The building is also home to a cinema, hotel, shops and restaurants. Opening times and costs: Vary according to the attraction. Visit the website for more details. Location: 6 Chome-11-1 Roppongi
15. Rainbow Bridge
This (upside down) rainbow-shaped bridge is part of daily commuter life for thousands of Tokyo workers who travel across it every day. If you walk across the bridge at night, when it’s lit up, you’ll be rewarded with a panorama view of the Tokyo skyline and harbour.
Where to stay in Tokyo?
You’re almost spoilt for choice with the variety of Tokyo hotels.
As well as having the Skybar, five-star Keio Plaza Hotel Tokyo is fun if you want a Japanese style stay. Soak up everything from the karaoke lounges to the Hello Kitty themed hotel suite! Rooms cost from Dh856 for a double.
If you want to save your dirhams for the Ginza shopping or the Akihabara arcades, the Hotel Rose Garden Shinjuku might suit you better. It’s a friendly hotel with a cute terrace in the garden. It’s also well-connected to Tokyo’s metro (Nishi-Shinjuku). Rooms cost from Dh394.
If you’re really traveling on a budget, opt for the Bunka Hostel in the Asakusa neighborhood, with dorm rooms and private rooms from Dh90.
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*Published April 2017. Any prices are lowest estimated prices only at the time of publication and are subject to change and/or availability.