What To See in Tokyo
Tsukiji Fish Market
Also called ‘Tokyo Fish Market’, Tsukiji is one of the must-sees in Tokyo. Why? It is considered to be one of the biggest seafood markets in the world. The scene you will see here is nothing short of fascinating. The next thing I am going to tell you is important. Tsukiji Fish Market has two sections. The first section is the Outer Market, which is a street that is peppered with stalls and open-air mini-restaurants. This part is busy and has crazy energy. Expect a big crowd including locals. If you are a foodie, this is a great place to try out fresh sushi and sashimi, which Japan cuisine is famous for. These seafood delights will not cost as nearly as much as the ones that are sold in restaurants. The row of sushi restaurants in the Outer Market is called Uogashi-yokocho.
The second part, which comprises the interior section is the wholesale market. This is where fishermen deposit their catch, have it packaged in huge boxes to be shipped to restaurants and retailers all over the city and beyond.
The Wholesale Market is no doubt the most fascinating section because of just how busy and chaotic the place is. If you are keen to visit this area, there are a few things you have to remember:
- This is a functional wholesale market, and they mean business! There are many (and I mean many) forklifts running around delivering packages to who knows where.
- They don’t appreciate tourists getting in the way because although it is a massive market, the space to move around is tight.
- The floor is slippery so wear comfortable walking shoes without heels.
- It is not a place for big groups walking around.
- The wholesale market section is also the place where they have tuna auctions. The Bluefin tuna is the main fish being auctioned. The bidding starts at 5 am.
Tsukiji Fish Market is closed every Sunday, most Wednesdays and during public holidays. The Wholesale Area is only open to the public after 9 am. Generally, tourists are not allowed to visit after that. However, I have read that they allow around 150 visitors to watch the tuna auction. If you want a spot, you need to be at the Fish Information Center, located in the Kachidoki-mon section. You need to register there as early as 4:00 am as the auction starts at around 5:25 am. Don’t underestimate the popularity of this market. I heard the queue for registration can be long especially on Saturday morning when more tourists are out.
How to Get to Tsukiji Fish Market
Step 1. Go to a train station and take the Oedo Line
Step 2. Get off at Tsukijishiijo Station, and exit at A1 or A2
Step 3. Just follow the crowd and you will soon reach the Outer Market area.
The Imperial Palace
The Imperial Palace is an important landmark that marks the heart of the city center. This is the residence of the Japanese emperor. The Tokugawa shogunate’s castle was the first one to occupy the palace grounds. But all that remains of this castle are its walls and the moat. A second castle was built around 1968. Although it was built during the 20th century, it still follows traditional Japanese architecture. The Palace is closed to the public, except for two days – the 2nd of January and the Emperor’s birthday, which is December 23rd.
It is possible to have a tour around the palace grounds but you have to reserve well in advance. You can’t just show up and act like royalty I guess! (more information about the tour).
But there is one section of the Imperial Palace ground where you can go, and that is the Imperial Palace East Garden.
The Imperial Palace East Garden is closed every Monday and Friday. It opens at 9 am on other days. It closes at around 4:30 to 5 pm, depending on the time of the year.
Even though we did not get the much-coveted tour, it is still worthwhile walking around the Imperial Palace East Garden. The landscape is pretty and the castle bridges are quite picture perfect. There is also a park outside the palace that is lined with cherry blossoms. They are a sight to see if you visit during the cherry blossom months (April to July)
How to Get to Tokyo Imperial Palace
Access Tokyo Imperial Palace through its East Garden.
Step 1. Take the Marunouchi Line
Step 2. Get off at Otermachi Station, and exit at C10
Step 3. Look for the Ote-mon entrance, which gives access to the Imperial Palace East Garden
To the east of the Imperial Palace lies the ‘Wall Street of Tokyo’ business district called Marunouchi. The iconic Tokyo Station is a must see if you are already in the area. It is more than a century old, and it features red bricks. The station was partially destroyed during World War 2, but it is restored to its former look.
Okay, admittedly my travel companion is a sucker for views, so naturally we ended up on the top of the Tokyo Tower. Tokyo Tower boasts great views of the city but the tower design itself is not as impressive. It is the Asian version of the Eiffel Tower. In fact, it is supposedly 13 meters higher than its French counterpart. Built after World War 2, Tokyo Tower has become a symbol for rebirth to Japanese. There is nothing much around the tower, so when you visit, it means that you have every intention to go to the top.
The Observation Deck is 150 meters up.
The Special Deck is 250 meters up.
Naturally, they have different entrance fees for both platforms.
How to Reach Tokyo Tower
1. Look for the Oedo Line
2. Get off at Akabanebashi Station, and go to the Akabanebashi exit
3. From the Akabanebashi exit, you need to walk about 10 minutes to the hill, where the tower stands.
Something to Consider: Looking for another panoramic view of Tokyo? You may want to head out to the newer Tokyo Sky Tree.
It is easily my favorite spot in Tokyo. The pedestrian scene and energy in Shibuya is unmatched. Shibuya is a neighborhood where the funky, the cool and night owls converge. It is packed with restaurants, shops and all sorts of commercial spaces.
But the district’s true popularity has everything to do with its pedestrian crossing, which is dubbed to be the busiest in the world. This famous crossing is located just in front of the Shibuya train station. During our visit, we did what many guidebooks recommend – go to Starbucks on the 1st and 2nd floor of the QFront Building, and watch the pedestrian action from afar. The problem is everybody is thinking the same thing. Expect Starbucks to be packed! But if you really want a good view, a great deal of patience is needed. I suggest reaching the building in the late afternoon, and getting ready to stand and wait patiently for one person occupying a small spot to leave. Of course, you don’t have to do the whole Starbucks thing, just cross the intersection and it will be quite the experience!
How to Get to Shibuya:
1. Take the JR Yamanote Line
2. Get off at either Shibuya Station or Harajuku Station
Growing up watching different Anime shows, there was no way I wouldn’t see Akihabara! Akihabara is cool, not only because of its Japanese cartoon-inspired look but also because of the distinct personalities that you will see amongst its streets. What many people also don’t know is that Akihabara is pretty much the electronic capital of Tokyo, so if you plan to shop for gadgets, this is the place to go!
How to get to Akihabara
1. The best to get here is by taking the train. The following lines all go to Akihabara area: Hibiya Subway Line, JR Yamanote Line, JR Keigin-Tohoku Line and JR Sobu Line.
2. Get off the at Akihabara Station.
Shinjuku is a representation of what Tokyo’s nightlife is all about. It is bright, hip and crazy. Shinjuku has so many restaurants, bars and karaoke spots that it can be confusing to choose your spot. We just did a walk-through in this neighborhood, because we did not have a lot of time. Personally, the nightlife scene in Shinjuku is similar to Shibuya, but I suspect that Shinjuku is the kind of place where locals love to hang out. But if I only had one night of fun in Tokyo, I would choose Shibuya.
How to get to Shinjuku:
1. From Tokyo Station, you take the orange express train on the JR Chuo Line to Shinjuku Station.
2. Shinjuku Station is also served by many different railway lines. One of them is the JR Yamanote Line.
Other Wonderful Tokyo Sites
I am not much of a museum person, but if you are, one place you have to go is the Tokyo National Museum. There are many interesting museums all over the city, just choose the ones you like. I also heard about the sumo wrestling matches being held at Ryogoku Kokugikan. That should be interesting to watch. But the ticket prices for sumo wrestling can be pricey. If you have the budget, go!