Taken as a whole, Tokyo seems formidable and unconquerable. It’s best, therefore, to think of it as nothing more than a series of villages scrunched together, much like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Holding the pieces together, so to speak, is the Yamanote Line, a commuter train loop around central Tokyo that passes through such important stations as Yurakucho, Tokyo, Akihabara, Ueno, Ikebukuro, Shinjuku, Harajuku, Shibuya, and Shinagawa.
Marunouchi — Bounded by the Imperial Palace to the west and Tokyo Station (used by about 500,000 people daily) to the east, Marunouchi is one of Tokyo’s oldest business districts. On the site of the Imperial Palace is where the Tokugawa shogun built his magnificent castle and the center of old Edo; many samurai had mansions here. Remnants of the castle can be seen in the wonderful East Garden, open free to the public. Marunouchi has undergone a massive revival since the turn of this century. It’s home to the Tourist Information Center, office buildings, swanky hotels, and wide avenues like the fashionable, tree-lined Marunouchi Naka Dori, with international boutiques from Armani to Tiffany and famous for its winter illuminations.
Ginza — Across the train tracks and to the south of Marunouchi is the Ginza, the swankiest and most expensive shopping area in all Japan. When the country opened to foreign trade in the 1860s, after 2 centuries of self-imposed seclusion, it was here that Western imports and adopted Western architecture were first displayed. Today, it’s where you’ll find the Kabukiza Theatre, department stores, international name-brand boutiques, exclusive restaurants, hotels, art galleries, and drinking establishments.
Tsukiji — Located only two subway stops from Ginza, Tsukiji was born from reclaimed land during the Tokugawa shogunate; its name, in fact, means “reclaimed land.” From 1935 to 2018, it was home to the famous Tsukiji Fish Market, one of the largest wholesale fish markets in the world, which in 2018 moved 2.5km (11/2 miles) away to larger quarters in Toyosu, thus freeing up valuable Tsukiji land for the 2020 Olympics. Near Tsukiji is Hama Rikyu Garden, one of Tokyo’s most famous gardens.
Akihabara — Two stops north of Tokyo Station on the Yamanote Line, Akihabara has long been Japan’s foremost shopping destination for electronics and electrical appliances, with hundreds of shops offering a look at the latest in gadgets, including Yodobashi Camera, Japan’s largest appliance store. More recently, Akihabara has also become a mecca for otaku (geek) culture, home of anime and manga stores and maid cafes. This is a fascinating area for a stroll, even if you don’t buy anything.
Asakusa — Northeast of central Tokyo, Asakusa and areas to its north served as the pleasure quarters for old Edo. Today it’s known throughout Japan as the site of the famous Sensoji Temple, one of Tokyo’s top and oldest attractions. It also has a wealth of tiny shops selling traditional Japanese crafts. When Tokyoites talk about old shitamachi (downtown), they are referring to the traditional homes and tiny narrow streets of the Asakusa and Ueno areas. Every visitor should spend at least half a day here. On the corner of Kaminarimon Dori and Asakusa Dori (across from the entry gate to Sensoji Temple) is the Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center, open daily 9am to 8pm, where you can get a map of the area and take in views of the temple from the 8th-floor observation floor with a small coffee kiosk. On Saturdays and Sundays, volunteers give free 1-hour tours of Asakusa, departing here at 10:30am and 1:15pm.
Ueno — Located just west of Asakusa, on the northern edge of the JR Yamanote Line loop, Ueno is also part of the city’s old downtown. Ueno boasts Ueno Park, a huge green space comprising a zoo and several acclaimed museums, including the Tokyo National Museum, which houses the largest collection of Japanese art and antiquities in the world. Under the train tracks of the JR Yamanote Line loop is the spirited Ameya Yokocho, a thriving market for food, clothing, and accessories. Ueno is a hugely popular family destination, making this a priority for those traveling with kids. Among family must-sees are the National Museum of Nature and Science, Shitamachi Museum, and Ueno Park.
Shinjuku — Originating as a post town in 1698 to serve the needs of feudal lords and their retainers traveling between Edo and the provinces, Shinjuku was hardly touched by the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake, making it an attractive alternative for businesses wishing to relocate following the destruction. Today dozens of skyscrapers, including several hotels, dot the Shinjuku skyline, and with the 1991 opening of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office (TMG; with a great free observation floor), Shinjuku’s transformation into the capital’s upstart business district was complete. Separating eastern and western Shinjuku is Shinjuku Station, the nation’s busiest commuter station, located on the western end of the Yamanote Line loop. Shinjuku is also known for its nightlife, especially in Kabuki-cho, one of Japan’s most famous—and naughtiest—amusement centers; and in Shinjuku 2–chome, Tokyo’s premier gay nightlife district. An oasis in the middle of Shinjuku madness is Shinjuku Gyoen Park, with a tranquil Japanese garden at its center.
Harajuku — The mecca of Tokyo’s younger generation, Harajuku swarms throughout the week with teens in search of fashion and fun. Takeshita Dori is a narrow pedestrian lane packed elbow to elbow with young people looking for the latest in inexpensive clothing; at its center is the ¥100 discount shop Daiso. Harajuku is also home to one of Japan’s major attractions, the Meiji Jingu Shrine, built in 1920 to deify Emperor and Empress Meiji; Yoyogi Park, with its expansive grounds; and the small but delightful Ukiyo-e Ota Memorial Museum of Art, with its woodblock prints. Another draw is the Oriental Bazaar, Tokyo’s best shop for souvenir hunting. Linking Harajuku with Aoyama (below) is Omotesando Dori, a fashionable tree-lined avenue flanked by trendy shops, restaurants, and sidewalk cafes, making it a premier promenade for people-watching. The upscale Omotesando Hills shopping center on Omotesando Dori stretches from Harajuku to Aoyama.
Aoyama — While Harajuku is for Tokyo’s teenyboppers, nearby chic Aoyama is its playground for trendsetting yuppies, boasting sophisticated restaurants, pricey boutiques, and more cutting-edge designer-fashion outlets than anywhere else in the city. It’s located on the eastern end of Omotesando Dori (and an easy walk from Harajuku), centered on Aoyama Dori. Its cultural highlight is the Nezu Museum, devoted to items related to the tea ceremony, Chinese bronzes, and more. The Japan Traditional Crafts Aoyama Square sells beautifully crafted items made by artisans from around Japan.
Shibuya — Located on the southwestern edge of the Yamanote Line loop, Shibuya serves as a vibrant nightlife and shopping area for the young. More subdued than Shinjuku, more down-to-earth than Harajuku, and less cosmopolitan than Roppongi, it’s home to more than a dozen department stores specializing in everything from designer clothing to housewares. Hikarie is a 34-story complex with shops, restaurants, and a gallery for artists and artisans from around Japan. Don’t miss the light change at Shibuya Scramble, reportedly Japan’s busiest intersection, with its hordes of pedestrians, neon, and five video billboards that have earned it the nickname “Times Square of Tokyo” (and a spot in the movie Lost in Translation).
Roppongi — Tokyo’s best-known nightlife district for young Japanese and foreigners, Roppongi has more bars and nightclubs than any other district outside Shinjuku, as well as a multitude of restaurants serving international cuisines. It’s anchored by two sprawling developments: the eye-popping, 11-hectare (28-acre) Roppongi Hills, Tokyo’s largest urban development, housing 230 shops and restaurants, a first-class hotel, a garden, apartments, offices, a cinema complex, and Tokyo’s highest art museum, on the 53rd floor of Mori Tower; and the smaller Tokyo Midtown, which boasts Tokyo’s tallest building, a luxury hotel, medical center, 130 restaurants and fashion boutiques, apartments, offices, a garden, and the Suntory Museum of Art. Also in Roppongi is the National Art Center, Tokyo, focusing on changing exhibitions of modern and contemporary art.
Odaiba — Tokyo’s newest district was constructed from reclaimed land in Tokyo Bay. Connected to the mainland by the Rainbow Bridge (famous for its chameleon colors after nightfall), the Yurikamome Line monorail, the Rinkai Line, and a vehicular harbor tunnel, it’s home to hotels, Japan’s largest convention space, shopping and amusement complexes, museums, the Ooedo-Onsen Monogatari hot-spring baths, and Megaweb, a car amusement and exhibition center sponsored by Toyota. It’s also one of Tokyo’s hottest date spots and offers great views of Tokyo’s skyline.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.