Tokyo is an always thriving city that offers visitors two diametrically opposed glimpses into the ever-fascinating country of Japan: the super high-tech and seemingly sleepless world that Japan is so often associated with, and the country’s traditional and feudalistic past.
It’s no wonder that CNBC recently reported that Tokyo is currently the top tourist destination in all of Asia. The following nine reasons explain why we couldn’t agree more.
Tsukiji Fish Market
Whether you’re a seafood lover or a fan of enormous public markets, you’re unlikely to find a more unusually satisfying experience than an early morning stroll through Tokyo’s world-famous Tsukiji Fish Market. Visitors to this open air market can spot chefs from some of the city’s top restaurants bargaining for literally every type of fish and seafood imaginable, all of it straight from the docks and incredibly fresh. Tsukiji is an enormous place and the scene here is manic, but it shouldn’t be missed. Tours are available, and tiny food stalls selling sushi and noodles are located on the market’s perimeter.
The very competitive and full-contact wrestling sport known as sumo originated in Japan as far back as the 1600s. And while the loincloth-wearing wrestlers may look silly to Western observers, in Japan, the most successful sumo competitors are actually treated as rock star-style celebrities. That’s one reason sumo matches remain a top draw for visitors and locals alike. And while tickets certainly aren’t cheap, the experience of taking in a match is absolutely worth the cost. We’d even go so far as to say that no trip to Tokyo is complete without viewing a genuine sumo contest at least once.
In this densely populated city, space is at a premium, which is why a stroll through Yoyogi Park has long been a top draw in Tokyo. It’s located right next to both Harajuku Station and Meiji Shrine in the city’s must-visit Shibuya district, which is another reason it tends to draw so many visitors who are looking for a quick respite from Tokyo’s nonstop electric energy. Set amidst the cherry blossoms, Yoyogi also makes for great people-watching: It’s a daily destination for joggers, cyclists, Tai Chi and yoga practitioners, and nearly every type of musician and street performer you could possibly imagine. In fact, you might say it’s the city’s most relaxing entertainment destination.
This is far and away Tokyo’s most famous Shinto temple. It’s a wonderfully serene place with a peaceful, old world Japanese vibe. Be sure to stop at the shrine’s cleansing station, where visitors can dip into a communal water tank and purify their hands and mouth before offering up a prayer. The donated barrels of sake here, which are stacked on top each other along the length of a single wall, are one of Meiji’s most photographed sights. And don’t forget to visit the prayer wall, where you can write wishes on small pieces of paper before affixing them to the wall for the gods to read.
Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden
Originally a residence of the Naitō family in the Edo period, Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden is essentially the antithesis of Yoyogi Park’s ostentation and always-on energy. Indeed, Shinjuku Gyoen is traditional Japan at its best: With an impressive collection of finely groomed gardens and cherry blossom trees, it’s long been a favorite with locals looking for a genuinely meditative preserve in which to enjoy an afternoon picnic, or simply to relax. Along with a traditional Japanese garden, you’ll find a French formal garden and an English landscape here.
Roppongi Hill Mori Tower
Currently the fifth-tallest building in Tokyo (Tokyo Skytree is the city’s tallest), Mori Tower offers a fantastic opportunity to take in the entirely of the city on its 52nd floor, at an attraction known as Tokyo City View. Climb two floors higher, to the 54th floor, and you’ll find an open-air roof deck. Don’t forget your camera, as the views from the top are some of the most stunning you’re likely to ever see. The tower is also home to the Mori Arts Center, which is spread out over six floors – it includes the renowned Mori Art Museum. Fun fact: The Pokémon Company’s corporate headquarters are located on the tower’s 18th floor, and Google Japan’s offices are here, too.
If the Shibuya district is one of the trendiest and busiest areas in all of Tokyo, then the famous four-way intersection known as Shibuya Crossing is certainly one of the neighborhood’s most famous and unusual sights. When the intersection’s traffic lights all turn red at the same time, the Crossing fills up almost instantaneously with a mix of shoppers, students and commuters rushing in all directions at once. You may even recognize the intersection from its many appearances on the silver screen; it was most recently featured in “Lost in Translation.” Put simply, this is modern Tokyo in all its chaotic glory.
Eating out in Japan can be unbearably expensive, so consider doing as many of the locals do when it’s time for dinner or an evening drink: Head to trendy Ebisu, a neighborhood in the Shibuyu district, and enjoy meals at street vendor stations, stand-up outdoor cafes, and intimate restaurants. In Ebisu, you’ll have a chance to sample authentic Japanese cuisine while rubbing elbows with Tokyo’s hip young creatives.
Shoppers take note: Daimaru is one of the grandest department stores in all of Tokyo. Nearly every trendy boutique fashion label can be spotted here, along with an impressive selection of traditional Japanese garb. Of particular note is the 10th floor, where Japanese women come to be professionally fitted for traditional kimonos and accompanying accessories.
A week or two spent in Tokyo will be one of the most unexpected and eye-opening experiences you’ll ever have. And SkyStub’s round-trip airfare from New York City (JFK) to Tokyo (Narita) starts at just $950. Don’t wait: compare our fares today!