Past, present and future are only subway stops apart in Tokyo, where you can stroll past Buddhist temples in Asakusa and the imperial palace in Marunuchi, recall geisha days in Roppongi bars and hostess clubs, see the latest in startups and street fashion in Shibuya, and glimpse ahead of the curve with gadgets and underground anime in the Electric Town of Akihabara.
Getting Around Tokyo
The best way to get around Tokyo is by subway or train. The system is incredibly efficient. The only downside to the subway and train system is that it shuts down nightly between midnight and 1 a.m. and doesn't start again until 5 or 6 a.m. Be careful when staying out late as Japan's subways and trains are known to stop half-way through their routes, leaving travelers stranded and facing an expensive cab ride. Check to see if you qualify for a Japan Rail Pass ( before you depart for Japan. There are two classes: "Green" and "Ordinary" (Green indicates a first-class experience). Passes can be purchased for 7, 14, and 21 days.
Nearby Airports
  • Narita International Airport-NRT
  • Haneda International Airport-HND
Airport Taxis
  • $200 from Narita International Airport
  • $30 from Haneda International Airport
Things to Do and See in Tokyo
Japan's answer to Park Avenue, Ginza is the country's most upscale shopping district, with flagship stores for Chanel, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and Tiffany. Ginza is best enjoyed on weekends when the district's main street is converted into a pedestrian mall and street entertainers perform. Ginza is close to the Tsukiji district, home to the world's largest seafood auction, where visitors can watch restaurateurs competing to score the best fish.
Outsiders might view Hibiya as a sleepy, leafy district, but this is power central. Located immediately west of Ginza, Hibiya is the seat of Japan's federal government. Footsteps from the sprawling Hibiya Park is Japan's Diet Building, where the nation's House of Representatives and House of Councilors convene. The park itself hosts festivals and other cultural activities almost weekly. West of the Diet are many of the nation's ministries and other government facilities, along with the prime minister's residence. The Imperial Palace and a section of its moat is located immediately north of the Hibiya district, though most will access the gardens of the Palace through the Marunuchi district to the northwest.
Dubbed Electric Town, Akihabara is world-renowned as Japan's hub for electronics. From ultra-sleek computers to flashy personal electronics not found anywhere else, the district is home to hundreds of stores. Computer superchain Sofmap has nearly a dozen stores here in less than a square mile, each offering a different product genre, with some employees that are conversant in English. Laox is the neighborhood's most prominent duty-free store, featuring the latest cameras, home entertainment gear, and appliances. For anime fans, Akihabara sells underground comics in underground stores, and costumed characters patrol the streets on weekends.
Shibuya is one of Tokyo's younger and trendier districts. Known for launching domestic and international fashion trends, Shibuya is frequented by students and fashionistas in their early 20s and 30s. In more recent years, a number of new media startups and gaming ventures have launched or relocated to the area, earning it the moniker "Bit Valley." Outside of the district's main train station, Shibuya crossing is a major intersection that serves as a street fashion hub and offers a 360-degree view of the district's most prominent landmarks. Heavily trafficked Hachiko crossing is named after a wistful story about a dog that waited years at the station for his late master to return.
Omotesando is Tokyo's version of Paris' Champs-Élysées shopping district. Omotesando Hills provides access to over 50 of the world's most famous fashion brands, more than a dozen restaurants and cafes, and even a Ben & Jerry (expect an hour-long wait). Further down the street are the opulent storefronts of Dior, Louis Vuitton, and Prada. Smack in the middle of Omotesando, the Oriental Bazaar sells some of the highest-quality furniture and souvenirs available in Japan under one roof, albeit with a price. Visit Omotesando on Sundays for some of the city's most entertaining people-watching, with anime fans strolling around dressed in characters. Next to sprawling Yoyogi Park, enjoy a moment of reflection at Meiji Jingu Shinto shrine.
This is Japan's most significant business district and home of the Imperial Palace. General Douglas MacArthur commanded his occupation troops from a district office that still exists today. But in more recent history, Marunuchi has become the epicenter of the nation's economy, with more than 25 percent of Japan's GDP coming from the few square miles of this district. Japan's top brands are sold along Naka-dori, Marunuchi's cobblestone main street. From November to February, streets in the area are decorated with nearly 1 million festive lights.
Originally a series of islands that were turned into fortresses, the islands have since been consolidated into one expansive tourist destination. Even though the district is a short distance from city center, accessing Odaiba can be a challenge. A taxi to the area can be costly, but the trip across the Rainbow Bridge provides visitors with one of the most picturesque views of the area. Alongside shopping mega-malls, Odaiba offers a 400-foot tall Ferris wheel, a 24-hour arcade center called Tokyo Leisure Land, the Toyota Megaweb exhibition hall and international exhibition center Tokyo Big Sight. Odaiba even sports its very own Statue of Liberty replica, perfectly bookended between several of the area's most popular shopping centers.
Two major shopping and business developments have sprung up in Roppongi Hills and Tokyo Midtownâ but Roppongi remains best known as the city's adult playground. Roppongi has over 100 restaurants, bars and nightclubs, plus a smattering of discreet hostess clubs and not-so-subtle red-light venues. The district's entertainment reputation has at times been marred by the drugs and violence that occasionally plague the area. But most visitors will have no concern as they drink and dance right through the early morning hours.
Although this former entertainment district was devastated during World War II, Asakusa remains one of the few neighborhoods in the city that is truly representative of yesteryear Tokyo. Sensoji is Tokyo's highest-profile Buddhist temple, and a year-round attraction for foreign and domestic visitors. The miniature streets that lead to the temple are thronged with kiosks selling Japanese trinkets, just as they've done for centuries. Just a short walk from Asakusa is the Kappabashi kitchen district. Here both beginner and Michelin-star chefs mingle among the stores in search of top-quality restaurant supplies, including incredibly realistic plastic sushi displays. Buy some of the world's finest hand-crafted chef's knives here.
Home to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, this enormous uptown business district also houses the headquarters of Japan's most prominent businesses. The rest of the city has relatively few skyscrapers due to seismic concerns, but this district has the largest concentration of tall buildings in Japan. At its center is Shinjuku Station, the country's largest and busiest railway port, with more than 3.5 million people transiting the station each day. Department stores, restaurants and nightlife are scattered throughout the area. Japan's busiest red light district, Kabukicho, is located just northeast of Shinjuku station.