Originally a small fishing village called Edo, Tokyo today is a metropolis of more than 13 million people, and one of the world's great financial powers.
But Tokyo is also a city of contrasts that will delight all visitors: traditionalist can participate in formal, stylized tea ceremonies, and visit ancient shrines and temples built centuries ago, while younger travelers will enjoy pop-culture tours focusing on Japan's unique anime art.
If you have the pleasure of visiting Tokyo for longer than a week, you'll easily realize you'll want to prolong the trip. Everywhere you go, you meet people from different countries who visited the city and just decided to stay indefinitely. Tokyo has a certain charm that is unbeatable, let alone it is a thriving city with everything imaginable at your fingertips (if you dare learn to read a few words in Katakana and Hiragana, that is!).
Tokyo is enchanting. A world of natural beauty surrounds the city: mountains, rivers, hiking trails and more. And for indoor enthusiasts, Tokyo is considered one of the premier shopping venues in the world. As they say, there's something in Tokyo for everyone.
Attractions in Tokyo
There are far too many great attractions in Tokyo to list here; please consult the visitors' sites below for more ideas.
Yushima Tenman-gū Shrine - Originally built in 458 AD, this Shinto shrine was later expanded and rebuilt in the 15th and 16th centuries; today, students come to this ancient center of learning to make offerings here for success in their studies, and the grounds are justly famous for its beautiful plum trees and winter blossoms.
Imperial Palace - Surrounded by moats and massive stone walls, the palace is located on the site that was once the seat of power for the shogun who ruled Japan; today it is the residence of the Japanese royal family. Visitors can tour some of the grounds and gardens.
Asakusa and the Sensō-ji Temple - As the city's most famous shrines, this awe-inspiring temple was completed in AD 645, making it Tokyo's oldest temple. Walk through the Kaminarimon (Thunder Gate), the outer of its two large entrance gates that has a beautiful red lantern and two statues - one of Fūjin on the right and one of Raijin on the left. You'll then enjoy a long set of shops along Nakamise, which stand between the outer gate and the temple's second gate. If it's the summer, you'll most definitely want to get a folding fan!
Shopping, Restaurants, and Nightlife in Tokyo
Dining: Feast on Japanese favorites that have become popular around the world including sushi, sashimi, tempura and kabayaki, but you'll also find French and South American dishes here, plus the increasingly popular Italian cuisine (yes, they have pizza, but don't be surprised if it comes with shaved fish on top!). Don't miss the traditional yakitori (skewered and barbecued chicken).
Fun fact: Did you know that the Japanese don't typically eat sushi on a daily basis? Worry not; you will still find sushi shops of all kinds all over the city, like in the famous Tsukiji fish market, known for having the freshest fish in the world (go to the fish market at 4 am for truly the freshest fish). In a hurry? Stop by one of the many convenience stores and grab a bite!
You'll come to find that Tokyoites love foods like rice bowls, fried chicken, hot pot dishes (like the potato stew Imo Nabe), and of course, noodles (ramen, udon, soba, and others).
Shopping: Japan has produced more than its share of world-renowned fashion designers; look for their clothing in boutiques and department stores along with other luxury goods.
Harajuku is a district in Shibuya, which has become famous for its shops at Takeshita Dori (Takeshita Street), extreme teenage Harajuku culture and fashion styles. One department store stop for most shopaholics in Shibuya is the famous Shibuya 109. Just trust us on this one! Close by is the Shinjuku prefecture, where you can get overwhelmed by endless shopping options.
Ginza is the spot for high-end boutique shopping. Stroll the Chuo-Dori (Central Avenue) in this spectacular shopping district featuring luxury department stores and electronics under a glitter of neon; but Ginza is also home to traditional Japanese theaters, eclectic food stalls, antiques and much more. If you're there, stop by the Mitsukoshi Department Store.
Want a Kimono? Travel to Asakusa for one at Kochou, at an affordable price. For anything related to electronics, go to the Akihabara prefecture. Also, check out the increasingly popular 100 yen chain stores (the equivalent of about $1.20). For "last minute" shopping needs, most convenience stores are open 24/7.
Nightlife: Japan never sleeps, and you can experience nightlife at its best in Roppongi, Tokyo's bar, clubs, and entertainment district. Whether you enjoy a traditional Karaoke bar like Shidax or Lovenet, hang out at a lounge-like Janome, Toranomon Koffee or SuperDeluxe, dine out, or just enjoy the view at Keyakizaka Dori, Roppongi won't disappoint. Before the night begins in Roppongi Hills, walk around Tokyo Midtown.
Visit the U.S. State Department's "country specific information" section for Japan, where you'll find embassy contacts in Tokyo as well as visa/passport requirements, and guidance for tourists on everything from getting around to staying safe. Check out Travel.State.Gov.
Flights to Tokyo
Flying into Tokyo is easy, and the same holds true for finding cheap flights to Tokyo, especially if you use FareCompare's search site and compare multiple airlines and online travel agency sites.
Narita International Airport (NRT): One of the busiest airports in the world, Narita serves as a hub for Japan Airlines and Delta, and is served by numerous U.S. airlines and carriers worldwide.
More Information on Tokyo
Each of these Tokyo visitor guides has long lists of things to do and see; look for special offers and deals here, too.
Tokyo Tourism - The official tourism guide lists top attractions including walking tours, plus lists of popular dining and shopping spots as well as a "Tokyo basics" guide for visitors.
I Go U Go Tokyo - Includes travelers' reviews of sight-seeing "musts", hotels and more, plus specials and discounts.