Tokyo is fun, exciting, interesting and easy. And it’s waiting for you to explore it. The city has many areas, each with its own character. You can view attractions, shop, dine, party or simply people watch. Here are our favorite places we’ve visited over the years.
And read more about our travels in Japan!
Shibuya is best known for Shibuya Crossing, which is the world’s busiest pedestrian crossing. It has plenty of restaurants, bars and shops, but many people go to Starbucks and watch masses of people cross the busy street. It’s mesmerizing. We brought guests to the Shibuya Crossing in the day and the night. At night the lights are amazing. Gigantic screens show videos, ads, and art work.
Shibuya is also a great place for dining and drinks. Most people don’t know the area, so they stay close to the major intersection. But if you look off the beaten path, you’ll find some gems.
At night hungry and thirsty locals mingle with tourists.
Minato is the ku (district) where Roppongi is located. There are many apartments, businesses, shops and restaurants. We lived in Minato-ku like it very much.
Roppongi is where the Tokyo night life is in high-gear, especially for expats. The United States embassy is not far away, and the restaurants, clubs and bars are plentiful. We liked the area, and it was walking distance from our apartment in Azabujuban. When people talk about Roppongi, it used to only mean bars and nightlife. Many people arrive in Roppongi to party only to realize that the trains and metro shut down shortly after midnight and don’t start again until after four o’clock in the morning. Taxis raise their prices during the period trains aren’t running. Madeline and I have been to many bars and restaurants here. But as we’ve gotten older, we don’t stay up all night like some younger folk. Remember to look up as you walk. The restaurant or bar you might be looking could be on the fourth floor or higher!
Roppongi Hills is in Roppongi but away from the nightclub area. It’s home to both the Grand Hyatt Tokyo and the Mori Tower complex. We used to live in Azabujuban, just a short walk to Roppongi Hills. When we go back to the area, we’ve stayed at the Grand Hyatt next to Mori Tower.
The Grand Hyatt Tokyo is a terrific spot to stay. It has 10 restaurants and bars, and all of them are good. We really enjoy The French Kitchen. The hotel has one of the best Grand Club lounges we’ve seen. Mr. Kitan is the manager of the lounge and is simply delightful. He’s helped us with many things. The Grand Hyatt Tokyo provides peerless service.
We’ve reviewed the Grand Hyatt Tokyo in our Tokyo: Staying There post.
Mori Tower is next to the Grand Hyatt Tokyo and is worth a visit. It has a movie complex, the Mori Art Museum and plenty of restaurants and shops. It also includes Tokyo City View, which is a combination observation deck, exhibit space and astronomy club. Only in Tokyo! Weekends you’ll see outdoor music and entertainment. During the winter holiday season, tiny blue lights light up the entire area, making a beautifully festive experience.
Azabujuban is the high-priced real estate district but is close to Roppongi. It attracts expats because there is plenty of English spoken. We lived in this area at the Oakwood Residence, which is a group of furnished apartments in the district’s heart. You quickly can walk to Roppongi Hills or Roppongi Crossing.
The Oakwood has 83 apartments; the minimum stay is 30 days. It’s a residence and not intended for short visits. The staff is terrific and really take care of you. Rooms are cleaned and linens are replaced twice a week. Each apartment has a dishwasher, a washer and dryer and high-speed internet.
From the Oakwood we walked to the local expat grocery store: Nissin World Delicatessen. Here we found Western foods along with Japanese choices. We could cook meals at home because they had the ingredients we needed to make our favorite meals.
Madeline and I easily walked to Tokyo Tower from the Oakwood. Tokyo Tower serves as a geographic landmark and has an observation deck for great views of the city. We’ve taken many guests to this attraction. It is especially beautifully when it’s lit up at night.
Ginza is known for shopping: all the famous high-end stores are here, as well as several Japanese department stores. On Sundays, only pedestrians can walk the main street, allowing time to browse safely. At night, it’s lit up like a Christmas tree. There are plenty of restaurants and bars in this area, off the main shopping street.
Ginza was built on the site of a former mint, from which it takes its name. The gold mint, or Kinza, formerly occupied the site of the present-day Bank of Japan building. If you intend to shop in the high-end stores when you visit Ginza, bring your credit card or lots of yen. But you can go into the basement of many of the department stores and get some tasty food.
I worked in Chuo and got to know the restaurants quite well. It’s a business district with plenty of places within walking distance of metro stops. Ginza is a district within Chuo-ku.
Kyobashi and Nihonbashi wards combined to create Chuo in 1947. Chuo translates as central ward in English. Historically it’s the commercial center of Tokyo, although Shinjuku challenges it for that honor today.
Omotesando reminds me of a Paris shopping and dining area. The main street is wide and trees line the boulevard reminiscent of the Champs-Élysées. Like Ginza, Omotesando has many high-end stores, including Dior, Louis Vuitton and Tod’s.
We like Ometesando because it has the Oriental Bazaar. Look here for souvenirs for yourself and family and friends.
Omotesando is near Harajuku, the fashion place for young Japanese. It’s an odd juxtaposition with Gucci on the avenue, and just down the street a store selling costumes of anime and meme for teens. It all works, and you’ll enjoy the diversity.
Odaiba is an artificial island in Tokyo Bay with plenty of leisure activities and entertainment. It also has a very nice view of Tokyo. There is the famous Rainbow Bridge, which connects the island and is lit up at night. We typically take the monorail to the island, but there is a ferry service that goes along the Sumida River that is enjoyable as well. You also can take a taxi.
The island has the MORI Building DIGITAL ART MUSEUM: teamLab Borderless, which exhibits digital art. It also has restaurants, shopping malls and an array of entertainment options. Unlike Shibuya or Ginza, Odaiba has paths along the shoreline and feels like a nature park with many entertainment options. It even has its own onsens (Japanese baths) at Oedo Onsen Monogatari, which has a wide range of options housed in traditional Japanese-style buildings.
AquaCity, DiverCity and VenusFort are the shopping areas. There are a couple of indoor amusement parks here: Tokyo Joypolis and Legoland Discovery Center Tokyo. I like Miraikan – The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation. It has a lot of advanced technology on display.
Akihabara is electronics heaven for all you geeks. Japan is known for having new, advanced technology long before we hear about it in the West. Japanese have been paying for things with their kaitai (mobile phone) forever. Osaifu-Keitai means wallet mobile. The technology has been in use in Japan since 2004 and is the de facto standard mobile payment system in Japan. Osaifu-Keitai services include electronic money, identity card, loyalty card, fare collection of public transits (including railways, buses, and airplanes), or credit card. The West is just starting to introduce this type of technology.
Technology introductions in Japan occur all the time. Akihabara is the place to find out what’s new. You can get just about any kind of electronics here. There are big shops like Laox, but you can also go into the alleys and side streets and find vendors that specialize in electronics of every kind. If you want electronic parts, they have those, too. This is the place for cameras, computers, DVD players and everything in between.
Asakusa is most famous for Sensoji Temple. It’s also a gateway to the restaurant-supply shopping district. After you pass through or around the main gates, there are vendors selling every kind of souvenir and food. This is a popular tourist attraction because of the photo opportunities and the souvenirs. But there is a lot of history to soak up here.
Harajuku is the hip place to be for teenagers. You’ll see lots of young people in costume, mostly on a weekend when they are not in school.
Ebisu is an interesting place. We usually take the Yamanote line to get here. Ebisu is known for shopping and restaurants and the beer brand that bears its name. This trendy area also is known for Yebisu Garden Place, a stylish complex for high-end shopping and dining.
I’ve never learned why some things are Yebisu and others are Ebisu. For example, there is the Museum of Yebisu Beer, which offers tours and tastings. Nearby, Ebisu Yokocho food alley has plenty of food and drink options.
Yoyogi is most well-known for its famous park and the main tourist attraction: Meiji Shrine.
It’s a quiet neighborhood with a massive park. Between the more bustling districts of Shinjuku and Shibuya, Yoyogi calms the mind and rejuvenates the spirit.
Ueno provides food stalls and shopping. But it’s also known for Ueno Park. You can easily to both in a day.
You must go to Ueno Park during cherry blossom time. The park’s more than 8,800 cherry trees, or sakura, bloom every spring. It’s spectacular! The Japanese flower viewing activity is called hanami and draws enormous crowds to Ueno Park. People come with tarps, food and drink. They get together and enjoy the cherry blossom period. There is plenty of drinking and laughing all day and night.
We’ve visited Ueno during sakura and nonsakura times. Ueno Park is beautiful in every season, and people stroll through it on the weekends. During the weekdays, it’s less crowded.
Nakameguro also is known for sakura, which line the Meguro River. The river canal has high stone walls with walking paths on either side. During hanami this place is packed and there are street vendors everywhere, so there’s no shortage of food as you stroll through the area and soak up the spirit of sakura.
Nagatacho is adjacent to Kasumigaseki and home to more government buildings. It’s also very near the Imperial Palace. Many people visit the Hie Shrine.
The people of Tokyo hold in high reverence the Hie Shrine. Hie’s deity has long been the city’s protector. There is a celebration in June called the Sanno Matsuri, one of Tokyo’s three great festivals.
Like Shinjuku, Shinagawa is a busy business district. It has a few places you’ll want to visit. The Hara Museum is a gallery with plenty of contemporary art. Also check out the Maxell Aqua Park Shinagawa. They house sea lions, penguins and fur seals. And they put on a great dolphin show.
There’s also an annual festival. The Shinagawa Shukuba Matsuri celebrates Shinagawa’s history as the first rest stop on the Tokaido. During the Edo period, the Tokaido was Japan’s main east-west route linking Tokyo with Kyoto.
What’s fun for tourists is the locals dress as geisha. This is a fun excuse for the locals to put on fancy dress and pretend to be samurai, geisha, courtesans and other historical characters.
Akasaka-Mitsuke is a gateway district between the newer business area of Akasaka and the older area of Mitsuke. There are plenty of nice restaurants in this area. Akasaka-Mitsuke might be confused with Akasaka for the tourist. Akasaka is closer to Roppongi, whereas Akasaka-Mitsuke is quieter and more in the inner city. Madeline and I looked at apartments in this area and found that it had a nice combination of upscale and affordable restaurants and bars.
We also go to BicCamera, which is a large camera store with other electronics. Get there via the subway at the Akasaka-Mitsuke station by taking exit #10.
Meguro isn’t as trendy as Nakameguro. They both are named for the Meguro River. Meguro is a very nice neighborhood.
Shiodome has plenty of skyscrapers, too. A government redevelopment plan reclaimed land from a railyard and made Shiodome into a business district. It is the main area of Shinbashi, a central district of Tokyo not far from Ginza.
Hibiya is an old neighborhood beside the Imperial Palace. It has a large old park and is where you can find the famous Imperial Hotel.
Hiroo is a peaceful residential area between Shibuya and Roppongi. We lived in an “American-size” apartment and shopped at National Grocery. Lots of expats live in the area.
One of our favorite hidden gems is Les Grande Arbres and Fleur Universelle. Hidden behind a handsome old tree—complete with treehouse—you’ll see the sign for the Fleur Universelle flower shop.
Fleur Universelle dedicates the first two floors to flowers. But if you go upstairs, you’ll find Les Grands Arbres (The Big Trees). It’s a small wood-decked cafe serving focaccia sandwiches, deli salads and drinks. There’s also a rooftop terrace. And like many places in Tokyo, you can bring your dog!
Tsukiji was the location of Tokyo’s famous fish market, the largest in the world. It provided space for wholesalers (inner market) and retail, kitchen and cooking supplies and restaurants (outer market).
The inner market has now moved to Toyosu Market, but the Tsukiji Outer Market remains open to visitors. In its day, it was an enormous area: more than 40 football fields in area with 60,000 people working every day.
Nakano has the densest population of Tokyo. Some people come for the Nakano Sun Mall. This is a typical shotengai, or shopping street. The Nakano Sun Mall is a 700-foot-long, covered street with a wide variety of shops, including restaurants, cafes, jewelry and watch shops, fashion boutiques, book stores.
Nakano Broadway is a shopping complex famous for stores selling anime items, costumes, manga items and other collectibles. The shopping complex is a short walk from Nakano Station, which is five-minute train ride from Shinjuku via the JR Chuo Line.
These are just the highlights of places you might want to visit in Tokyo. If you only have a short time in the city, you’ll carefully have to choose based on what you want. We were lucky in that we lived in Tokyo for more than three years during three separate stints. We’ve always felt accepted in Tokyo and wanted to show our respect for the customs and practices as a guest of the great city.
Tokyo is hosting the 2020 Summer Olympic Games, and their welcome mat will be out and the people’s arms wide open to visitors. You will not regret time spent in Tokyo.
Shinjuku is the business district and home to one of the busiest train stations in the world. More than four million people travel through this station most every day. This is also the location of two Hyatt hotels where we have stayed on short visits.
Park Hyatt Tokyo
The Park Hyatt Tokyo is probably most famous to Americans from its appearance in Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson (who was only 18 at the time).
The Park Hyatt Tokyo epitomizes excellence of service. We really enjoyed staying there—mostly because it is so iconic. The hotel occupies the top 14 floors of a 52-story tower. It has magnificent views of Mt. Fuji and the Tokyo skyline. We could see Tokyo Tower at night. They have an Olympic-size pool with floor-to-ceiling views of the city. The New York Grill is the restaurant where you’d see Bill Murray nursing his drink in Lost in Translation. Despite what the movie shows, the bar is not open all night. The restaurant is expensive but considering the view and the exquisite setting and food choices, it is understandable.
Hyatt Regency Tokyo
The Hyatt Regency Tokyo is very close to the Park Hyatt and is elegant in its own right. They offer a complimentary shuttle bus to and from Shinjuku Station, although it’s only a nine-minute walk. There also is a nearby metro station that’s convenient. The hotel offers five restaurants for all styles of food. They have a Regency Club floor, with breakfast and evening hors d’oeuvres with cocktails and wine. We’ve enjoyed staying there—it’s far less expensive than the Park Hyatt but a much different experience.
We’ve reviewed the Hyatt Regency Tokyo in our Tokyo: Staying There post.
You’ll see many government buildings in the Shinjuku area. It is also home to the largest train and metro complex in Tokyo: Shinjuku Station. Not only can you find the JR train or subway of your choosing, there is a huge complex of shops, dining and bars. You could spend a day at the station and still not see it all. When you venture out of the station at night, you’ll think you’ve landed in Las Vegas or Times Square. The picture here shows Godzilla peering over the top of a building. He’s not there today but you never know when he’s coming back.