Let’s face it: Some things residents of Tokyo love about the city are going to be different than what moves visitors. We’ve collected some of the best things for international visitors to do in Tokyo. It’s a varied assortment of the modern and old, the bustling and the peaceful. Yes, there’s peaceful in Tokyo, and of course so much more too. Read on and explore all the fantastic ways to crush your FOMA. In a city with tens of millions of stories, you’re going to make your own very special one.

One of the greatest things about Tokyo is how easy it is to get around. Including JR Pass days for your time in Tokyo is usually not the best plan since often the subway is the best choice. Also be aware there are two different subway companies in Tokyo, so getting a day pass to one or the other may not be all that economical either.

Sensoji and Kaminari-mon should not be missed by international visitors in Tokyo

Kaminari-mon in Asakusa
Kaminari-mon forms an imposing gateway to Sensoji.

One of the most popular and also best things for international visitors to do in Tokyo is undoubtedly Sensoji (temple). Just nearby is Kaminari-mon (gate). Kaminari-mon literally means “thunder gate,” and beyond it lies Nakamise-dori shopping street. A 250m stroll down Nakamise brings you to the main event, Sensoji temple.

Kaminari-mon was first erected in this location is the 1630s. This may seems like a long time ago, but it really isn’t – relatively. Sensoji temple had already been that 250m away for about a thousand years. As happens all too often with wooden structure, the original gate long ago burned down. The current gate dates back only to 1960.

After passing through the gate, with the gods of wind and thunder to your left and right, a new scene opens up. Browse the various crafts, souvenirs, and snacks that line Nakamise-dori shopping street in front of you. Then, once you arrive at Sensoji temple, climb the steps and peer inside for a glimpse at the heart of this holy place. It is believed that Sensoji is the oldest Buddhist temple in Tokyo. History buffs should delve deeper, but for most visitors it is the atmosphere and buildings alone that make the visit worthwhile.

Kaminari-mon is conveniently located at Asakusa Station (subway only), a mere five minutes or so from the Ueno area, where our next recommended spot can be found. Incidentally, the Ginza line subway connection between Asakusa and Ueno is the oldest stretch of subway in all of Asia. When it began service in 1927, Shinjuku and Shibuya were nothing more than future dreams. It was this riverside and adjacent part of Tokyo where the buzz could be found. Check out our old town Tokyo tour to learn how a private guide can make this an even more special experience for you.

Okachimachi for old style markets and a vibrant time warp

Ameyoko shopping street in Okachimachi
Okachimachi features an entrancing historic marketplace with food, clothing, and more.

Ameyoko is the name of the most vibrant shopping street, but most folks refer to this area simply as “Okachimachi”. Here you’ll find fresh seafood, and fresh style too. OK, maybe not so fresh on the styles. Interesting styles! There’s also a host of restaurants, but it’s really all about the vibe.

Okachimachi a great thing for international visitors to do in Tokyo. Look deeper off the beaten path for the best deals. Also check out some random sights like a temple above a discount supermarket. Or a shawarma place across the street from a traditional tea seller. And while you’re in the ‘hood, do of course check out Ueno Park. For serious art buffs, the nearby Tokyo National Museum is an absolute must see as well.

Meiji Jingu offers nature and solitude in the heart of it all

meiji jingu
Surrounded by a forest, this is a shrine like no other in central Tokyo.

A little primer for the uninitiated might be in order for some readers here. Shrines (“jingu”) in Japan are places of worship for the Shinto religion. Buddhists have temples (“tera”/”-ji”). With that in mind, just by the name you’ll now know which spot is which religion. Meiji Jingu is one the most recent big deal shrines in Japan. It was built to commemorate the passing of the Meiji Era emperor, who died in 1912. Even thought the shrine was completed in 1920, it quite intentionally doesn’t look very period-specific.

Meiji Jingu’s building are surely considered by some to be minimalist. But the gods (many of the 8 million of them) lie in the details, quite literally. Take your time exploring all the nooks and crannies of this gorgeous shrine complex. Also be sure to take time to enjoy the surrounding forest. Just outside of the forest, on the other side of the JR train line, is the utter youth and fashionista madness of Harajuku and Omote-Sando. It makes for a lovely juxtaposition to explore town and alter.

Why pay when you can enjoy a free view from up high?

Tokyo gov't building
Both of the “Tocho” towers have observation decks with amazing views.

“Tocho” (the Tokyo Metropolitan Government offices) has on the top floors a lovely perk for the people: free observatories! Here from high above, you can gaze east towards Shinjuku and to places way beyond that. If the air is clear, you’ll even see Tokyo Sky Tree clear across the city. Sure the Sky Tree might be (much) taller, but Tocho is free and a short walk from Shinjuku Station. Don’t miss it.

On some days both observatories are open, but sometimes just one of them is. No matter, they both have fantastic views. You can even enjoy a drink or a snack up top at their café. And since the view is free, you may want to come once during the day and once again at night!

We’ve just grazed the surface

It’s a giant understatement to say there’s lots to do in Tokyo, but do consider our recommendations as a solid start. Much of what amazes international visitors to Tokyo is the hustle and bustle. For that, you need not a specific attraction. Instead, just get your roam on the areas we’ve talked above above. Unmentioned was Shibuya, which is arguably in the top 3 for people watching. Since Tokyo’s such a safe city, you should feel free to just go where your day takes you. You really can’t go wrong.

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