Tokyo has so much to offer and it is such a huge city that I found it intimidating. I got all confused at Tokyo station and took the superfast train going to the airport instead of the slow train that was supposed to stop at my station. I will keep that story for another time, but the lesson I learnt is that Tokyo is huge and it’s easy to get lost(not that I got lost, I was on my own anyway, but, I did get very confused). In this post I will list the things I did while I was in Tokyo. I spent a total of four days in Tokyo, of which only two were spent exploring the city. I took a day trip to Nikko and a day trip to Kawaguchiko from Tokyo on the remaining two days.
Sightseeing in Tokyo
Somehow, I missed out on some of the most obvious places, I still managed to visit some beautiful places which are listed below.
Most places in Tokyo and I think in Japan in general are closed on Monday.
1. Meiji Jingu or Meiji shrine
No entrance fee
Get down at Ometasando exit of he Harajuku station and walk through a beautiful avenue lined by zelkova trees to reach the Meiji shrine. It is dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji, who brought the Meiji reformation, and his wife Empress Shoken. The traditional structures built in wood and copper, surrounded by trees make for a peaceful ambience. People come to pay their respects here.
2.Meiji Jingu Inner garden
Entrance fee: ¥ 500
This garden was initially a part of residence of Kiyomasa Kato, a powerful political and military figure in Japanese history. During the Meiji period, the gardens were taken over by the Japanese government. It is a calm, peaceful and relaxing place. The garden looks beautiful during the spring, summer and fall months. In the month of June, irises are said to be in full bloom, however as I went there in October, neither had the leaves changed colors nor were there any flowers in bloom.
There is a quaint tea house, elegant without being overly furnished, a characteristic of Japanese aesthetics, a fish pond with many fishes in it and Kiyomasa well, a small well that is said to bring good vibes and peace to the visitors. There are many benches along the way and provides a restful environment to those looking to escape the hectic city life.
3. Shibuya crossing
It is the busiest crossing in the world and 2500 people are said to cross at the same time, when the traffic stops. You can see it from first floor of the mall built on the same side as Shibuya station Hachikō exit.
While you are there, don’t miss the statue of Hachikō, the faithful Akita dog who met Professor Ueno everyday when he returned from work at Shibuya station, even after he passed away.
If you are on a budget, you can grab a bite at Genki sushi, a reasonably priced, conveyor-belt sushi restaurant. Vegetarian options are available.
4. Yoyogi Park
No entrance fee
Located close to the Meiji shrine, Yoyogi park is spread over a large area. You can sit here and relax, or exercise as the locals do. You might even see a couple of rabbits on leash.
5. Shinjuku Gyoen National park
Entrance fee: ¥ 500, closed on Mondays
The Shinjuku Gyoen National garden has a formal French garden, a landscape English garden and a traditional Japanese garden with a tea house. It has woods and several ponds as well. You can easily spend a couple of hours here, or lesser if you are in a rush.
6. Tokyo National museum
Entrance fee: ¥ 620, closed on Mondays
Located inside the Ueno park in Taito, it is one of the biggest art museums in the world with special emphasis on Japanese arts. There are four or five different sections housed in four different buildings. Artifacts from China, Korea and India were also on display. I spent about 3 hours there, however, they were not enough, even though one exhibit was closed to the public that day. Therefore, I rushed through one off the exhibits and left out almost an entire exhibit in one of the buildings because it was already time for museum to close. There were old tapestries, paintings, traditional costumes from previous eras and weapons in addition to all the other artifacts.
7. Sensō-ji temple
Located in Asakusa, this temple is the oldest temple in Tokyo and is very significant. It attracts millions of visitors every year. It is dedicated to Avlokiteshwara, Bodhisattva of compassion and is associated with Tendai sect of Buddhism. A number of small shops selling souvenirs and street food line the street leading to the temple.
There is a five storied pagoda outside the temple. The temple also houses some artifacts and you can easily spend half a day here. The temple was destroyed during the WW II, however, it was rebuilt after that as a symbol of rebirth and peace for the Japanese people.
I missed out on some of the most obvious sites, such as the Imperial palace, Koishikawa-Kōrakuen, a beautiful Japanese garden and view of Tokyo from top of Metropolitan government building(free) and Tokyo Skytree tower due to lack of time. You should add them on your list of must-visit places.
How to reach Tokyo
I took the Platt Kodama(comparatively slower and cheaper shinkansen) from Kyoto station to Tokyo. I travelled by subway in Tokyo. You can know more about transportation in Japan and JR pass, through my post a guide to transportation in Japan.
Transportation in Tokyo
Multiple companies operate subway lines in Tokyo and I found navigating in Tokyo very confusing. I walked wherever I could because I like walking, but mainly to avoid the complicated subway system. I will try to explain whatever I managed to decipher in the two days that I spent in the city.
The subway has many lines operated by different companies. To get around all major locations, Toie and Tokyo lines should suffice. You can read more about it on this Japan guide.
I purchased a 600 yen Tokyo subway pass but this will not allow you on Toie line which connects some major metro stations. I recommend purchasing a combined 900 yen one day pass instead so that you can smoothly travel by both Tokyo and Toie lines.
You can purchase a JR ticket only if you need to travel on that line. One day passes are not available at all metro stations so purchase multiple one-day passes depending on the number of days of your stay. Some travelers bought the IC card which works in most major cities.
I booked a hostel in Asakusa through booking.com, however, as I booked just a day earlier, there were fewer options that fit my budget. The place I found was alright, however, I could have found a better place had I booked earlier. Chances are that there would be at least one subway station close to where ever you stay in Tokyo. Shibuya and Shinjuku districts are centrally located so you can book a place there to save on transportation.