Tokyo, or officially Tokyo Metropolis, is the capital of Japan and one of the most popular destinations in the world — you’ve either visited it or are longing to visit it.
And why not? There’s so much to love in this city.
Tokyo is known for iconic landmarks like the Tokyo Skytree and Shibuya Crossing. It’s famous for its sakura tree-lined streets, shrines and temples, its otaku culture and wonderful cuisine, and its world-class transport system. It’s a quirky city that combines millennia-old traditions with futuristic technology.
But those are just some of the things Tokyo is known for. This list will reveal so much more, you’ll want to book a flight by the end of it!
Tokyo is known for its vibrant neighborhoods and landmarks
1. Tokyo Skytree
Towering at 2,080 feet, it’s hard to miss the Tokyo Skytree, the tallest structure in Japan and the tallest tower in the world. Completed in 2012, this imposing communications and observation tower is the primary TV and radio broadcast site for the Kanto region.
Thanks to its two cylindrical observatories, the Skytree offers one of the best panoramic views of the city. One observatory even has a glass-covered skywalk that gives visitors a direct view of the streets below!
2. Shibuya Crossing
Tokyo is known for Shibuya Crossing, a popular scramble intersection just outside Shibuya Station. With as many as 3,000 people crossing every time the signal changes, this is the world’s busiest pedestrian crossing.
Why so busy, you ask? Well, for one, the area is home to eclectic shopping outlets, restaurants, cafés, as well as offices. But the main reason for its foot traffic is its proximity to one of Tokyo’s busiest rail stations, Shibuya Station, which handles over 2 million passengers per day.
Oh, and the famous Hachiko statue is also located between the station and the intersection. This spot is a favorite meeting place and is almost always crowded with locals and tourists.
3. Imperial Palace
Did you know that Japan is the only country in the world that still has an emperor? The Imperial Family of Japan is the oldest in the world and they reside in Tokyo.
For a piece of ancient history, a visit to the Tokyo Imperial Palace (Kokyo) is a must. It contains the living quarters of the Emperor and the main palace where ceremonies and receptions take place. Some residences of the Imperial Family are also here, as well as museums and administrative offices.
The Imperial Palace stands on the site of the old Edo Castle, which became the official residence of the Emperor in 1868. Fires, earthquakes, and World War II destroyed most of the structures. It was only in the late 1960s that the reconstruction of the present-day Imperial Palace was completed.
4. Ueno Park
Tokyo is known for being an uber-modern city but it also has several pockets of nature for those who just want to pause and escape the hustle and bustle.
There are many parks in the city but none as popular as Ueno Park. Visited by over 10 million people a year, it is Japan’s most popular park.
Tokyo’s green oasis is one of the country’s first public parks. Aside from the sprawling grounds, it features museums, a zoo, historical monuments, and temples. But perhaps, it is most known as a site for hanami or cherry blossom viewing.
Best known for Japanese youth culture, extreme fashion, and cosplay, Shibuya’s Harajuku district is a jumble of independent boutiques, high-end luxury shops, cafés, museums, and department stores dedicated to costumes.
Tokyo is known for kawaii culture and it is most visible in Harajuku. At any given time, you’d see gothic Lolitas, women decked out in Decora Kei, and real-life anime characters. ‘Cute’ photo spots are also scattered everywhere.
Tokyo is known for its shopping districts, with the most popular being Ginza. The site of a silver coin mint back in the Edo period, Ginza is an upscale shopping district and is one of the most expensive and most luxurious city districts in the world.
Homegrown designers, exclusive shops, palatial stores, and flagship stores of international stores find their homes in Ginza. It is one of the busiest shopping areas in Japan every day of the week. Come weekends, it becomes a large pedestrian zone when the central Chuo Dori street is closed to vehicles.
7. Cutting-edge museums
Tokyo is famous for its rich heritage, culture, and arts. Not surprisingly, you’ll find several museums in the city. I’m not talking about old and dusty museums though.
Tokyo’s museums, even the ones that showcase artifacts and ancient national treasures, are housed in modern, expertly-designed facilities. Here are some of the best:
- Tokyo National Museum – The oldest national museum and largest art museum in Japan. Houses the world’s most complete collection of Japanese art.
- Yayoi Kusama Museum – an avant-garde space dedicated to contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama
- National Museum of Nature and Science – houses a vast collection of some 250,000 materials related to anthropological history, biodiversity, technology, and science.
- Edo-Tokyo Museum – showcases a recreation of Tokyo’s rich past, present, and future
- Ghibli Museum – a small but meaningful museum dedicated to Studio Ghibli, Japan’s most beloved animation studio
8. Themed cafés and restaurants
The funky city of Tokyo is known for themed cafés and restaurants, even though the trend didn’t actually originate in Japan.
Among the popular themed cafés are “maid cafés” where waitresses dress up in cute maid outfits and act as servants to customers a.k.a. “masters” and “princesses”.
“Cat cafés” are also common. As you’ve probably guessed, these are coffee shops or restaurants where you can eat, drink, and play with furry felines.
Nihonbashi’s Dawn Avatar Robot Café is also worth checking out. It features humanoid robots waiting on customers and serving food and drinks.
If you worry that robots are out to replace humans, fret not. These robots are actually operated remotely by people who can’t leave the house for long periods due to physical disabilities, childcare, or other reasons.
9. Shrines and temples
Shintoism and Buddhism are important parts of Japan’s history. So, it’s no wonder that Tokyo is known for Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples as much as other cities in the country.
There are thousands of shrines and temples in the capital but the most popular are Meiji Shrine and Senso-ji Temple.
Meiji Shrine was constructed in 1912 to honor the souls of Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shoken. A forest of over 100,000 trees surrounds the shrine, making it a breathtaking sight.
Senso-ji Temple, on the other hand, is Tokyo’s oldest Buddhist temple and one of the most visited spiritual sites in the world. Founded in 628, Senso-ji features a big, bold red gate, imposing temple buildings, and a five-story pagoda.
10. Kabuki-za Theater
A city of contrasts, Tokyo is known for combining tradition with modernity. The city is home to beautiful theaters, many of which feature traditional performances.
One of the most well-known theaters is Kabuki-za Theater in Ginza. This magnificent structure is the only theater in the world that’s dedicated to kabuki, a classical form of Japanese performing art. The all-male theater form includes singing, dancing, acting, and elaborate make-up and costumes.
Watching a kabuki performance is like stepping into another strange and fascinating facet of Japanese culture. The performances can last for hours and people are free to stay for however long they want or leave whenever they wish.
Don’t be startled if you hear shouts and cheers from the audience — this is a way of encouraging actors and also liven up the crowd.
11. Akihabara Electric Town
Tokyo is known for being the epicenter of anime, manga, and electronics. In the Chiyoda ward of Tokyo, you’ll find Akihabara, nicknamed Akihabara Electric Town for being a major shopping center for electronic goods.
Akihabara hosts a wealth of shops selling video games, manga, anime-related goods, computers, and other electronic gadgets. The district is also dotted with internet cafés, maid cafés, and lots of dining options.
12. Cherry blossoms
This one’s technically not a landmark but Japan’s national flower attracts as many visitors (or maybe even more) as its other tourist attractions do.
Tokyo is an amazing city to visit in spring. In late March or early April, sakura blossoms transform the city into a pink oasis. Locals and tourists alike enjoy hanami, the practice of viewing flowers. People often bring mats and enjoy picnics at city parks.
In Tokyo, the best spots for hanami include Ueno Park, Shinjuku Gyeon, Yoyogi Park, Meguro River, and Sumida Park.
Tokyo is known for breaking world records
13. Most populous metropolis in the world
With more than 38 million residents in the Greater Tokyo Area, Tokyo is famous for being the largest metropolitan on the globe.
There are over 6,000 people per square kilometer of Tokyo. The city’s population is so dense that about 30% of the total Japanese population resides here! And despite Japan experiencing population decline, it is expected that Tokyo will remain crowded in the years to come.
14. Largest fish market in the world
Tokyo is known for being home to the largest fish and seafood market in the world. Opened in 1935, the Tsukiji Market was also one of the largest wholesale supermarkets of any kind.
However, in October 2018, Tsukuji was closed and operations moved to Toyosu Market, also in Tokyo. Toyosu, almost twice the size of Tsukiji and with more modern facilities, now holds the record for being the world’s largest fish market.
Besides indulging in fresh seafood at restaurants within the market, visitors also have the chance to observe the market auction.
15. World’s busiest train station
Tokyo is known for the world’s busiest railway station, Shinjuku Station. It’s easy to be taken aback by the number of people rushing about here — an average of 3.6 million people use the station every day!
Shinjuku is served by five railway systems, namely JR East, Keio Corporation, Odakyo Electric Railway, Toei Subway, and Tokyo Metro. The station connects central Tokyo and its western suburbs.
Tokyo is known for its world-famous cuisine
16. Michelin-starred restaurants
Foodies will hardly go hungry in Tokyo.
Home to over 60,000 restaurants, it is no surprise that Tokyo is also one of the cities that have gained the highly coveted Michelin stars. But did you know that Tokyo actually holds the record for having the most Michelin-starred restaurants?
Japan ranks highest in the list of countries with the most number of Michelin-starred restaurants, thanks to Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka. Tokyo reigns supreme though, with over 200 total stars. By comparison, its closest rival, Paris, has over 100 stars.
17. The birthplace of nigiri-zushi
If you love sushi as much as I do, you’ll love Tokyo. Not only is the city home to restaurants serving this unforgettable dish, but it’s also the birthplace of the most popular sushi type, nigiri-zushi.
Nigiri or hand-pressed sushi is Japan’s traditional sushi. Sliced fish (raw, slightly cooked, or marinated in salt, soy sauce, or vinegar) is placed directly on top of vinegared rice. Then, it’s hand-molded and squeezed together.
This style of sushi, invented by Hanaya Yohei, originated from what was called Edomae-zushi. Edomae, which means ‘in front of Edo’, referred to fish caught in front of the Edo Castle or in Tokyo Bay.
18. Soba and other local delights
When Japanese cuisine is mentioned, most of us think of sushi and ramen. But did you know that in ancient Tokyo, ramen wasn’t the popular noodle?
Soba is, in fact, the popular “fast food” and Tokyo’s local specialty back in the mid-Edo period. Two parts flour and eight parts buckwheat, soba was an Edo staple and was sold by traveling noodle vendors. To this day, it’s still very much a part of Tokyo’s food culture.
Other local dishes in Tokyo include monjayaki (similar to okonomiyaki but with different liquid ingredients), shoyu ramen, tempura, unagi (grilled freshwater eel), and yakitori (chicken skewers).
19. Vending machines
Japan boasts over 4.2 million vending machines, the majority of which are selling every beverage under the sun and many dispensing snacks. It’s the same in Tokyo, where there’s a vending machine roughly every 12 meters.
If you ever find yourself hungry in Tokyo, you’re spoiled for options. From restaurants on every block to konbini (convenience stores) and the ubiquitous vending machines — the city has it all. There are even vending machines selling frozen goods!
Other things Tokyo is known for
20. Transport system
Japan’s transportation system is second to none and the capital is no exception. Despite the sprawling metropolis that it is, people get around quickly and easily, thanks to trains, subways, buses, and taxis.
Greater Tokyo has the world’s most extensive urban rail network, with over 100 lines, 40+ operators, and over 2,000 stations. It can be confusing for first-time visitors, with train maps looking like computer chip circuit boards. But these railway and subway trains are known to be efficient, punctual, and clean.
A network of buses, trams, as well as taxis also criss-cross the city to take you to places the trains can’t reach.
21. Walkable city
Despite its world-class transportation system, Tokyo is known for being an extremely pedestrian-friendly city. Its roads are built for pedestrians first, vehicles second.
Walking is a great way to discover more of Tokyo. Fortunately, the city (and most of Japan) has well-designed roads and rules in place to make walking an enjoyable activity. There are also Tenji blocks for the blind.
Tokyo also opens pedestrian-friendly streets known as 歩行者天国 (hokousha tengoku) or “pedestrian paradise”. These are once-a-week occurrences where streets and areas like Akihabara, Ginza, and Shinjuku are closed to cars and even bicycles.
22. 2020 Summer Olympics
For better or for worse, Tokyo will always be known as the host of the 2020 Summer Olympics. Or should we say 2021?
Tokyo 2020, which retained its name for marketing purposes, was held from July 23 to August 8, 2021, and it prompted a lot of firsts. Because of the global pandemic, it was postponed to 2021. This was the first time in Olympic history that a game was rescheduled, not canceled.
Thus, it was the first Olympic Games to be held in an odd-numbered year and the first time the games were largely held behind closed doors. Public spectators were not permitted due to the high number of cases.
This was also the first time that an Asian city held the Summer Games twice, with the first one being the 1964 Summer Olympics.
23. Vibrant nightlife
Tokyo is a city that remains alive at night. However, nightlife here doesn’t just mean hitting the clubs.
There are plenty of options for night owls in Tokyo. From nightclubs to karaoke to spotcha centers (indoor sports arcades) to luxe sento (communal bathhouses), Tokyo’s nightlife has lots to offer. The districts of Roppongi, Shibuya, and Shinjuku are the liveliest at night.
24. Introvert-friendly city
Despite having a large population, Tokyo is known for being one of the most introvert-friendly cities in the world.
The Japanese generally don’t strike up conversations with strangers. Yes, they’re polite and willing to help you, but unless you approach first, they’ll leave you alone.
Do you enjoy eating in silence? So do the Japanese. There are plenty of restaurants in Japan that offer counter seating, so you can eat solo while watching the chef prepare your meal. You’ll also find ramen restaurants in Tokyo such as Ichiran that cater to solo diners.
Oh, and let’s not forget the capsule hotels! This futuristic-looking type of accommodation is perfect for travelers looking for absolute privacy.
25. One of the safest cities in the world
Tokyo is famous for being one of the safest cities in the world, and Japan is one of the safest countries.
The high respect for other people and their belongings means if you leave your wallet or bag on a park bench or the subway, you’ll likely get it back fully intact. There is also a low crime rate, with more inconveniences happening (e.g., bike theft, umbrella theft) rather than real dangers.
Tokyo, and Japan as a whole, is so safe that young kids go to school unaccompanied. Just watch an episode of Old Enough on Netflix and you’ll see how Japan’s policies and infrastructure design make it a great place to develop a culture of independence at an early age.
And that’s a wrap! This list of things Tokyo is known for barely scratches the surface though. There are lots of other fascinating things waiting to be experienced in this beautiful city.