The Japanese capital is known for its fast-paced ultra-modern centre, where lights shine in a dazzling array and commuters pour across road junctions en masse at almost all times of day and night. But Tokyo has also managed to maintain a surprising amount of tradition, while its sheer size means there are always secrets to be uncovered whatever your interests. So, what are the unmissable attractions in this city of more than 9 million? In short, what is Tokyo famous for? We take a look…
1. Shibuya Crossing
It may be a road crossing, but that at Shibuya isn’t any simple road crossing! This frequently photographed corner of the Japanese capital is often used as a representation of modern Japan, and certainly answered the question ‘what is Tokyo famous for’. Close to some of the busiest railway stations on the planet (only for the brave during rush hour!), and a known spot for enjoying nightlife, pedestrians stream across the black and white stripes in huge numbers – perhaps best witnessed not from ground level but the upper floors of one of the cafes that overlook it.
2. Cherry Blossom
Though its season is relatively short, the blossoming of the cherry tree flowers each spring, or sakura, is an important part of Tokyo culture and attracts visitors from far and wide as a result. As part of the cherry blossom festivals, friends and families take part in hanami parties, where they settle down in the shade of the trees for a celebratory picnic. One of the best places in the city to view all the activity is Sumida Park, which has more than 600 of the trees lining the way between Azumabashi and Sakurabashi bridges.
3. Tsukiji Fish Market
Seafood has been a major part of the Japanese diet for centuries and undoubtedly what Tokyo is famous for – whether that be dried fish eaten as snacks like potato chips, the elegant plates that leave the kitchen of sushi restaurants, or the hotpot-style dishes that are also popular. One way of delving into this world is by paying a visit to Tsukiji Fish Market, believed to be the largest in the world. While it’s at its busiest in the early hours, visitors are welcome on official tours later in the morning, and take in the famous tuna fish auctions as well as the almost endless string of seafood stalls.
A district located within the Shibuya area of Tokyo, Harajuku is what Tokyo is famous for when it comes to youth culture. It’s here that you’ll find teenagers interested in the city’s sub-cultures gathering, with the streets packed with stores selling everything Tokyo’s Lolita girls, goths, and punk rockers need to complete their look. The weekend is when the area has the best ambience, with local kids going to huge efforts to dress in their particular style, and enjoy their time off in Kawaii monster cafe.
5. Meji Shrine
Not that far away from Harajuku but entirely contrasting in atmosphere, the Meji Shrine is an important religious structure dedicated to the Emperor Meji, who died in 1912 (when emperors were still considered living gods by the Shinto faithful). The humble structure, with the traditional aspects of Japanese architecture, such as curving roofs and open external verandas, has a wonderful forest setting comprising 100,000 trees donated by the regions of Japan during the shrine’s construction. The shrine is also a popular destination for Shinto weddings, while the new museum displays a number of artefacts that belonged to the emperor and his wife.
Ask anyone what Tokyo is famous for and one of the answers you’ll probably get back is advertising signage, and that’s certainly true in the city’s Akihabara district. This commercial hub is best known as a place for electronics, with both large department stores and tiny independent specialist shops. If you’re considering an upgrade, many offer visitors tax free shopping on international models. In recent years the area has also become something of a centre for manga and anime culture, drawing in fans of this artform, and the activities that run alongside it, such as video game arcades and collectibles stores. In all, Akihabara is a fascinating insight into Japan’s modern culture.
7. Sensoji Temple
Located in Tokyo’s Asakusa district, the Sensoji temple is one of the largest Buddhist temples in Tokyo, and attracts somewhere in the region of 30 million visitors every year. Displaying the incredible intricate detail of the nation’s architecture, legend has it that the temple was completed in 645 AD, making it an astonishing 1400 years old, and Tokyo’s oldest. It’s reached by a street lined on either side by stalls that connect the two entrance gates, and beyond that you are able to take in this ancient edifice in all its glory.
8. The Imperial Palace
The pristine environs of the Imperial Palace can be found in Marunouchi district, and sits within immaculately-kept gardens created in the 1600s. Though the main residence of the emperor and his family, visitors are able to explore many of the palace’s most famous features on guided tours that take in the East Gardens, Inner Gate, and Nijubashi Bridge. However, to reach the site’s innermost areas you’ll need to visit on either January 2 or the emperor’s birthday on February 23.
9. Ueno Park
The capital’s largest green space at 212 acres in area, Ueno Park is a wonderful place in which to relax away from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo’s commercial streets. Situated on the western side of Uena railway station, it not only includes a series of scenic paths from which you can admire Japan’s natural beauty, but also a number of important museums, shrines, and the country’s oldest zoo, home to pandas from China and one of the largest aquariums on the continent. If you only visit one of the park’s museums, make sure it’s the National Museum, which displays a huge variety of exhibits from Japan’s long and illustrious past.
10. Tokyo Skytree
We wrap up our discussion of what Tokyo is famous for by mentioning Tokyo Skytree. The tallest tower in Japan at 634 metres high, it dwarfs its neighbouring towers in the Sumida district. Completed in 2012 and functioning primarily as a communications tower, it boasts not one but two impressive observation decks, at 350 and 450 metres, from which to admire and wonder at all Tokyo laid out before you.
Final thoughts on what Tokyo is famous for
We’ve put together this list of what Tokyo is famous for so you don’t have to waste anytime worry that you are missing out, and can instead discover all that this incredible megacity can offer!