The National Art Center, Tokyo has no permanent collection. Instead it makes ample use of its 14,000 square meters of space with an ever-changing array of special exhibitions. Designed by the late Kisho Kurokawa, it is one of the country’s largest exhibition venues.
Seven National Treasures and 87 Important Cultural Properties are among this private museum’s collection of more than 7,400 works of pre-modern Japanese and East Asian art. The Japanese strolling garden, with its teahouse, flowing waters, stone lanterns, and stands of bamboo and maple trees, is a delight in any season. In this urban oasis you will find a modern café enclosed by glass for enjoying the views.
Those interested in contemporary design should not miss a visit to 21_21 Design Sight, situated in the garden of Tokyo Midtown and the brainchild of architect Tadao Ando and fashion designer Issey Miyake. Devoted to the theme of “everyday living,” its exhibits, talks and workshops bring together the perspectives of designers, engineers, craftspeople, and visitors in the spirit of discovery and creativity.
This public gallery in Ueno Park specializes in art from the Western tradition. Highlights of its permanent collection include pre-18th-century paintings by Ritzos, Van Cleve, Veronese, Rubens, Van Ruysdael, and Ribera; 19th- to early 20th-century French paintings by Delacroix, Courbet, Manet, Renoir, Monet, Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Moreau; and more recent works by Marquet, Picasso, Soutin, Ernst, Miro, Dubuffet and Pollock. Designed by Le Corbusier, the main building is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Literally “the art of singing and dancing,” Kabuki is a traditional Japanese stage art known for its highly stylized drama, the ornate costumery and elaborate makeup worn by key performers, and the “hanamichi” footbridge that brings the action on stage right into the audience. UNESCO recognizes this fascinating performance art as an Intangible Heritage possessing outstanding universal value. Located in Ginza, the theater itself was rebuilt in 2013.
A journey through the 400-year history of Japan’s capital is showcased in the permanent gallery, while special exhibitions scheduled five to six times a year include lectures, workshops and other events that explore different facets of Tokyo’s history and culture over the centuries.
Located on the former site of Edo Castle, the stronghold of the Tokugawa shogunate, the Imperial Palace today is an oasis of green in the heart of Tokyo. The original gates, walls and moats of the castle, as well as exhibitions of artworks held by the Imperial household, can be viewed. The Imperial Palace East Gardens offer many idyllic spots including a small waterfall and pond.
Surrounded by vast woods just steps away from Harajuku Station, Meiji Shrine is a serene and sacred place for quiet respite in the metropolis. Walking paths wind through the forested site. In addition to the shrine buildings, visitors can enjoy the inner garden famous for its June irises as well as the Treasure Museum, where items related to Emperor Meiji (1852–1912) and Empress Shoken (1869–1912) are exhibited.
One of the largest fish markets in the world, and famous for its tuna auction. While the inner market with its renowned tuna auction will move to a new location in Toyosu in October 2018, the lively outer market with more than 1,000 specialty shops selling fish, seaweed, dried beans, vegetables, Japanese kitchen utensils and more will remain in Tsukiji.
Modeled after the Eiffel Tower, this iconic structure is a 333-meter-high legacy of Japan’s economic rebirth in the late 1950s. The main observatory is 150 meters above ground, while the top deck at 250 meters affords an unforgettable view of Tokyo and sometimes, Mount Fuji. Eateries, shops, and an animation theme park are among the attractions found in the lower-floor “Foot Town” area.
The primary television and radio broadcast tower for the Kanto region, this soaring structure in Sumida ward is the world’s tallest stand-alone tower at 634 meters. The annexed Solamachi complex is a vast stretch of shopping, dining and entertainment opportunities, with both traditional and pop-culture goods on sale.
During the Edo period what is now Hama-Rikyu Gardens was maintained by the Tokugawa shogunate as a falconry site. Located near the Tsukiji fish market, the grounds are lovely to stroll. From them you can travel by ferry along the Sumida River all the way to Asakusa.
Midtown Garden and Hinokicho Park together form a greenbelt that amounts to 40 percent of the Tokyo Midtown site. Richly planted with cherry, camphor and other trees, it’s a welcome swathe of nature in Roppongi, and an ideal spot for cherry-blossom viewing each spring. Wireless LAN access points are installed in the area as well.
Work, life, and play converge in the stunning Tokyo Midtown complex. The Ritz-Carlton, Tokyo is located in the centerpiece Midtown Tower, the tallest building in the capital. Also on-site are serviced residences, a medical center, the Suntory Museum of Art, the Fujifilm Square showroom, 21_21 Design Sight, and many upscale shops and restaurants in the Galleria mall.
The adjacent Aoyama and Omotesando districts unite art, architecture, and high fashion and are fun to stroll and window-shop. Aoyama’s backstreets are home to small boutiques and acclaimed dining spots while the wide tree-lined boulevard of Omotesando—Tokyo’s answer to the Champs Élysées—invites with the flagship stores of major fashion brands. Also here are sanctuaries of seasonal color, such as Aoyama Cemetery and the forested Meiji Shrine.
Midway between Shibuya and Shinjuku, Harajuku is a vibrant neighborhood with many faces—the lush green of Yoyogi Park and the woods surrounding the Meiji Shrine complex coexist with the retail chaos of Takeshita-dori and other narrow streets lined with trendy shops and eateries, especially those catering to tweens and teens. Harajuku is also a center of all things “kawaii”—the culture of cuteness manifest in cuddly characters and J-Pop.
Named for the silver mint that stood here in the seventeenth century, elegant Ginza is steeped in history and yet evolves with the times, thanks to its position as a center of high fashion. Its main boulevard houses some of Tokyo’s original department stores, where peerless service matches the products on offer. Ginza’s backstreets are adventures in boutique shopping and tiny yet exquisite bistros. Ever up-to-date, it’s a district that offers both cultured modernity and old-Tokyo charm.
Shinjuku boasts the world’s busiest train station, a city unto itself. Take the South exit for cinemas and stylish malls and department stores like NeWoman, Takashimaya, Tokyu Hands and Kinokuniya books. The East exit leads to more cinemas, the fashionable Isetan department store, and Sekaido, an emporium for stationery and art supplies, while the West exit heads toward the high-rise district and two popular observation decks atop the Tokyo Metropolitan Government buildings.
Famous as Tokyo’s “Electric Town” retail site for appliances and gadgetry, Akihabara is also a center of anime subculture. Visit the Radio Kaikan Building or Animate shopping mall to explore anime freak culture, and take a coffee break at a Maid Café where costume-clad waitresses will serve you.
Shibuya’s iconic “scramble” intersection continues to feature on the pages of global fashion and travel magazines, and for good reason. Chaotic yet miraculously organized, the crossing has become a symbol of Tokyo’s dynamism and Shibuya’s own trend-setting power in youthful fashion and arts. Here you can mix with the crowds as they diverge into the many streets and alleyways to shop and hang out in hip cafés, bars, and restaurants.
Visitors come from all over Japan and the world to visit Senso-ji temple and its famous Nakamise promenade, but Asakusa also has many stand-alone shops that have been in business for hundreds of years. Running parallel to Nakamise, Orange-dori street has a good collection of craft stores and retro cafés. Look out for Edo-kiriko cut glass, kimonos and ceramics. To the east of the temple complex, the Kappabashi district is famous for kitchenware.
Dotted with temples and shrines, this area is fun to stroll and view the old wooden structures, some standing for more than a century. The Japanese way of life from days long past is still evident here, visible in residential alleyways and shopping streets where local residents still mingle today.
Established in 1882, the 14.3-hectare Ueno Zoo is home to more than 3,000 animals from 400 species. This oldest of Japan’s zoos plays an essential role in wildlife and endangered species conservation and public education. In its Tiger Forest and Gorilla Woods sections, only a glass window separates visitors from these amazing creatures.
This contemporary aquarium occupies two levels of the Tokyo Skytree Solamachi complex. Visitors can enjoy close-up views of penguins and fur seals in one of the country’s largest indoor open tanks, and friendly aquarium keepers provide attentive explanations. One of its many zones features marine life native to Tokyo Bay and the Ogasawara Islands, the latter a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Filled with interactive exhibits and suitable for young children, this fun house is all about the ninja—Japan’s legendary masters of secrecy and espionage. You can search for secrets, experience hands-on swordplay, and practice throwing shuriken stars. Located in Kabukicho near Shinjuku, within walking distance of the Robot Restaurant and Samurai Museum.
Take a sword or calligraphy lesson at this venue in Kabukicho, where you can gain insight into the honor-bound system of vassals and warriors who shaped Japanese history. Samurai vassals served government officials and were dispatched from the capital to the rural communities. They later became warriors specialized in martial arts and influential in politics and governance.
A great option for a rainy day, this indoor amusement park at Odaiba Decks in the waterfront district is packed with rides and virtual-reality attractions based on videogames developed by the Sega enterprise.
This hop-on, hop-off service offers unlimited rides on open-top double-decker buses that tour three courses: Asakusa/Tokyo Skytree, Odaiba, and Roppongi/Tokyo Tower, covering some of the most recommended sights in the capital. The buses generally run once every hour, and all passenger seats are located on the top deck.
Fifteen exciting days of action await sumo aficionados in Tokyo when the Grand Tournament is staged at the Ryogoku Kokugikan each January, May and September, from the second Sunday of the month. The opening and closing days and the middle weekend tend to sell out quickly, but tickets for weekday bouts are easier to obtain. The top-ranked wrestlers enter the ring around 4 p.m., so you can combine your outing with a few hours at the excellent Edo-Tokyo Museum nearby.