As many of my coworkers are getting ready to head off to Japan for an upcoming trip, they have been asking me a lot of questions about things to do and see (mostly since i’m not going on the trip). It made me think a lot about what I would think would be some great things for people to see on their first trip. Tokyo is a massive city and can be very intimidating to a first time visitor. I recall my first try there and I was in awe of the size and the amount of people and unsure of even how to know what I wanted to do. You will not see everything in the city on your first trip, especially if you have limited time, but there are many great highlights to check out with the time you have. So without further ado here are five great sights for first time visitors to Tokyo.
If you want to see a bit of old tokyo and some great temples, head to Asakusa, and especially make your way to the Sensoji Temple (Asakusa Kannon Temple). One of the largest and most well known temples in Tokyo. Legend says the temple was founded in the 7th century by two fisherman brothers who fished a statue of kannon from the nearby Sumida River. The temple complex is quite large and beautiful and although you cannot see the actual kannon statue it’s still beautiful to see and wander around. Best times to get there is during one of the several festivals that happen through the year. I was privileged one trip to get there during the Sanja Matsuri which is one of the largest festivals held here where large shrines are paraded through the streets of Asakusa and into the temple. Between the two large gates is a shopping area where you can pick up an assortment of Japanese souvenirs and snacks.
How to get here
Easily reached by the Ginza line (end of line) or the Asakusa Line. Several exits from the station will get you to the temple, its pretty easy to access it from there. Alternatively you can take a boat up the nearby Sumida River passing under many bridges along the way.
Shibuya – Hachiko Crossing
In many ways one what many foreigners think of when they picture tokyo. Crowded, active, and just pulsing with energy, Shibuya has a youthful vibe, nice restaurants, and an interesting place to people watch. Particularly of interest would be to take a look at the Hachiko Crossing outside of the Shibuya train station. This giant crossing is known as one of, if not the busiest intersection in the world. Every few minutes when the lights change hundreds of people swap sides on the several streets that intersect at this spot. Also of interest here is the statue of Hachiko, the crossing’s namesake. Hachiko was a dog who waited for his owner here ever day after work and even continued to wait after his owner’s passing.
How to get here
Many different routes end or begin at Shibuya Station, it is one of the largest train stations in Tokyo. The Ginza or Hanzomon lines will get you here by Tokyo Metro (end of the line), or take the JR Yamanote line. There are many other routes too if coming from outside of central tokyo, just follow your map for your best way in.
Tsukiji Fish Market
You are on an island and seafood is a huge diet of the population and Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo is the largest in the Land or actually the largest in the world. Anything that swims and can be eaten can probably be found among the stalls in this area. Get here early, and I mean really early, at lest 6am, 5am would be better. Take the first train of the morning or if you want to get here early take a taxi or walk. You want to try to catch some of the Tuna Auction and its closed up by about 630am. The tuna auction was closed a while back because of tourists not respecting the area but they have recently reopened it again. Catch it while you can, who knows when it will close down. The market is closed on Sundays, National Holidays, and as my coworkers found out 2 random Wednesdays a month. One of the best things to do after wandering around the market is catch some breakfast sushi at one of the little restaurants around the market. Get here as they are opening and you will have the freshest sushi in the world. Prices can be a bit expensive for someone on a budget (they are usually set menus of chef’s choice) but well the experience.
How to get there
If you go by Metro, take the Oedo Line to the Tsukijishijo station. When you leave the station its about a block up on the right down what looks like an alley. I missed it my first time, don’t do that yourself. Be careful as you walk around the outside of the market. There are lots of little trucks zipping by and you don’t want to get run over!
One of the largest and most famous temples in Tokyo, the Meiji shrine is dedicated to the enshrined spirits of the emperor meiji and his wife. The Japanese believe that spirits of the dead can be enshrined in the temples (which is why praying at the Yasakuni Shrine by Japanese Prime Ministers causes such an uproar), and the Japanese Diet authorized the construction of the temple following the Emperor’s death. The Meiji Restoration is big milestone in Japanese History, when the Emperor was finally restored to power following all the years of the Shogun. Prior to this Japan had been for 250 years under the control of the Tokugawa Shogunate. The temple itself does not take long to walk around, but the winding approach is nice and you can see one the largest torii gate in Japan. There is a separate garden that can be visited from an additional price. If you have extra time be sure to check out nearby Yoyogi park and Harajuku, particularly if you are here on a Sunday Afternoon for some great people watching.
How to get there
Easily in walking distance of Omotesando or Shibuya. Located close to Yoyogi park and Harajuku. It’s also easily reached by the Metro at the Meiji-jingumae station on the Chiyoda Line. On the JR you can reach it by the Yamanote line exiting at Harajuku station.
It is Tokyo’s first public park and one of my favorite places in the city to go. Ueno park is a large park in central tokyo with several temples, museums, a zoo, a small kiddy amusement park, and a large pond. It is also a great place to wander around and see the cherry blossoms during the right reason, or just sit and people watch. The Japanese National Museum is located here on one of the park and houses a large collection of Japanese antiques. Several other museums are located in and around the park as well. Also of interest is the Toshogu Shrine which is dedicated to the great Japanese Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu. The Ueno Zoo is nice too, however though there are better uses of your time for your trip to Japan, but its nice to take kids there if you want something to do. There are lots of little shrines and statues peppered through out the park that are worth taking a look or photographing.
How to get there
By Tokyo Metro take the Ginza line or Hibiya line to Ueno Station. Also reached by the JR Yamanote line. The park is located next to the station.