Jointly operated by Japan Post and the University of Tokyo, this multifaceted museum opened in 2013 inside the Kitte complex right by Tokyo Station but remains a niche spot despite its superb location. That’s a real shame: the Intermediatheque is one of the city’s rare free museums and displays the academic achievements of Japan’s most celebrated educational institution, along with an extensive – and occasionally creepy – collection of zoological specimens. There’s some explanatory text in English, most of it quite informative.
It’s a mystery why so many guidebooks implore tourists to visit Ueno Park during their stay in Tokyo. The sprawling site enjoys historical significance – it was one of the capital’s first official parks, established way back in 1873 – but you’ll find more attractive spots of urban greenery elsewhere. That said, it is worth visiting for the museums that are housed within the park (including the National Museum of Nature and Science, and Tokyo National Museum) and for Ueno Zoo, Japan’s oldest.
Ueno Park is the sweetest gem tucked inside Tokyo. Low key, a lovely shrine, water lily laden vast pond and tons of nooks to sit and think. That’s just what I did.
Met Art Museum
Founded back in 1926, this museum is Japan’s very first public art museum. It features a variety of special exhibitions, thematic showcases and art masterpieces from around the world. Not only worth the visit for the art, visitors are welcome to drop by to enjoy the museum’s restaurant, café and museum shop where you can pick up great souvenirs. The building is designed by renowned Japanese architect Kunio Maekawa, and is an absolute highlight for those who appreciate design.
This museum presents the living environment of ordinary Tokyoites between the pivotal Meiji restoration of 1868 and the Great Earthquake of 1923. It’s a small counterpart to the large-scale Edo-Tokyo Museum in Ryogoku. Take off your shoes and step into re-creations of a merchant’s shop, a coppersmith’s workshop and a sweet shop. Everything has a hands-on intimacy: open up a drawer and you’ll find a sewing kit or a children’s colouring book. Upstairs are traditional toys that even today’s kids still delight in.
National Museum of Modern Art
This is an alternative-history MoMA, one consisting mostly of Japanese art from the turn of the 20th century onwards. Noteworthy features of the permanent collection are portraits by early Japanese modernist Ryusei Kishida and wartime paintings. The 1969 building, designed by Yoshiro Taniguchi (father of architect Yoshio Taniguchi) was renovated in 2001. Its location next to the moat and walls of the Imperial Palace makes it a prime stop for viewing springtime cherry blossoms and autumn foliage. Nearby is the Crafts Gallery, an impressive 1910 European-style brick building, once the base for the legions of guards who patrolled the Imperial Palace.
A walk around the legendary Tsukiji Fish Market may leave you feeling a little sour, knowing that 80 years of history will come to an end when the market is relocated to Koto Ward in November. Or maybe it’s just the pungent smell of fish. In any case, we suggest you head to Tsukiji at 9am, which is when the Inner Market opens to the public. You may have heard about the 5am tuna auction, but unless you’re a Japanese fishmonger and your livelihood depends on it, there’s no good reason to get up before the crack of dawn and queue for hours to watch men shout over dead fish.
1 min walk from A2 exit of Hamacho
If you weren’t able to get your hands on some tickets at the Kokugikan, don’t worry. Head over to the Arashio-beya sumo stable in Nihonbashi and watch the giants in action during their asageiko (morning practice) for free. Through large street side windows, you can observe the battling, grappling wrestlers daily from around 7.30am to 10am. Afterwards they come out to greet their fans and you’ll have the chance to take a picture with your favourite wrestler.
This tranquil garden, once a hunting ground for the Tokugawa shogunate, now cowers in the shadow of the Shiodome development. The garden’s main appeal lies in the abundance of water in and around it and the fact that it feels deceptively spacious, thanks to beautiful landscaping. Situated on an island, it is surrounded by an ancient walled moat with only one entrance, over the Minamimon Bridge (it’s also possible to reach Hamarikyu by boat from Asakusa). The focal points are the huge pond, which contains two islands (one with a teahouse) connected to the shore by charming wooden bridges, and a photogenic 300-year-old pine tree.
A municipal park located in the heart of Tokyo, not far from Kasumigaseki and the Imperial Palace Gardens, Hibiya Park houses a range of facilities, including Hibiya Public Hall, Hibiya Library and both small and large open-air concert halls. The park is also home to the Hibiya Park Gardening Show, which takes place every October, and its flowerbeds contain a variety of species, meaning there’s something blooming all year round. Around the perimeter of the park, you’ll find the Imperial Palace Gardens, as well as the Imperial Hotel and various ministry and government offices.
Roppongi Hills is one of the best examples of a city within the city. Opened in 2003 in the heart of Tokyo’s Roppongi district, the building complex features offices, apartments, shops, restaurants, a hotel, art museum, observation deck and more. The office floors are home to leading companies from the IT and financial sectors, and Roppongi Hills has become a symbol of the Japanese IT industry.
At the center of Roppongi Hills stands the 238 meter Mori Tower, one of the tallest buildings in the city. While most of the building is occupied by office space, the first few floors have restaurants and shops and the top few floors house an observation deck and modern art museum that are open to the public.
The Tokyo City View observation deck is one of Tokyo’s best. When the weather permits, views can also be enjoyed from an open-air deck on the rooftop. Also located on Mori Tower’s top floors is the Mori Art Museum, a modern art museum with a focus on new artistic ideas from all over the world.
Other areas of interest in Roppongi Hills include the Mori Garden just behind the tower and the Grand Hyatt luxury hotel. Numerous shopping and dining options can be found all across the complex, and there is also a large Toho Cinemas movie theater that plays both Japanese and international movies. The headquarters of TV Asahi are also located on the grounds.
Occupying a prime slab of Harajuku real estate, this ambitious development houses fashion shops like American Eagle Outfitters and The Shel’tter Tokyo in a complex crowned with a verdant public park – and a spectacular wall-of-mirrors entrance. Go up the stairs to the Starbucks on the rooftop for views of Mount Fuji.
Try your best to catch a coach up to Mount Fuji even if it’s for a day trip. I would suggest checking in with an Information Centre once your arrive in Tokyo and see which reputable tours they would recommend. I grabbed a coach from Shinkjuku train station and got to Mount Fuji in just over an hour. The coach was around $30 CAD and well worth every penny.
Albeit weird and perhaps not the friend of your local PETA chapter – an owl café is a must see when in Tokyo. You can check out dog, cat and a variety of other cafes whilst in Japan – I personally liked the owl café. The owl café I visited also had hedgehogs you could handle. For $15 CAD you can stay as long as you want, take photos and just take in the whole experience. I liked the owl café in Ikebukuro.