If you’ve read my previous articles about Shinjuku or Harajuku and Shibuya, you might have had the impression that Tokyo is nothing but a giant city with tall buildings, blinding lights and huge crowds everywhere. But that’s only part of the truth. There are so many various atmospheres in the different districts, making this city really fascinating to explore. Here’s a list of 6 alternative places you need to see. They are sometimes surprising, sometimes moving or sometimes just different, but one sure thing: a trip to Tokyo wouldn’t be complete without visiting them!
📷 For more pictures have a look at my gallery about Tokyo.
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1/ Statue of Liberty, Odaiba
No, this isn’t the Statue of Liberty of New York shot from a different angle; this picture was really taken in Tokyo! Located on the artificial island of Odaiba, across the harbour, this statue was offered by France in 1998 as a sign of friendship between the two countries. It was supposed to be only temporarily installed during the “French Year of Japan” but due to its popularity, a replica was erected in 2000 and is now part of a stunning panorama with the Rainbow Bridge and the skyline of Tokyo in the background.
If you turn around, you’ll stare at the astonishing building of Fuji TV: it’s impossible to miss it with its giant sphere levitating 100m above the ground! Part of the building is open to the public, including the sphere which is actually an observatory point. I haven’t visited it myself so if you had the chance of admiring the view from up there let me know in the comments how it was!
The best way to get to the island of Odaiba is to take the Yurikamome line. Get into one of these modern and completely automatic trains in the terminus station of Shimbashi and try to sit at the very first row: the trip to the station of Daiba (the closest to the Statue of Liberty) will almost feel like a ride on a roller coaster.
I already mentioned the district of Yanaka in my previous article about the best spots to admire the cherry blossoms in Tokyo. Located in the North of the city, you can access Yanaka either by foot from Ueno (an option that I highly recommend during the Sakura season as you’ll be walking through a gorgeous alley below a veritable ceiling of white cherry blossoms) or by train, from the Nippori station.
Very close to the station, don’t miss the Buddhist temple with its gorgeous statue of Buddha. Then take a stroll around the huge cemetery: a very calm and relaxing walk in a beautiful area, so far away from the traffic and the crowds of Tokyo.
Finally, have also a look at the streets and lanes of the rest of the district. It’s not the busiest place in the city but Yanaka is forgotten by most of the tourists and could be therefore considered as the “traditional Tokyo”. You’ll find plenty of temples and tiny restaurants on your way.
3/ Memorial for children, Zozoji temple
One of the things that I found the most remarkable about Tokyo was the constant contrast between old and new, modernity and tradition. An example of these contrasts can be found South of the city. Search for the Tokyo Tower, a red and white version of the Eiffel Tower located in the district of Minato. For the record, even if I thought that it looked quite smaller than the Eiffel Tower it’s actually slightly taller: 333m against 325m!
Very close to the Tokyo Tower, head to Zozoji, a beautiful Buddhist temple offering a good picture opportunity with the elegant silhouette of the tower in the background.
But what makes this temple so special and definitely worth a visit while you’re in Tokyo is its memorial for children. In the garden of the temple, you’ll see hundreds of little statues wearing hats, clothes or aprons, with a tiny windmill next to them. Quoting the sign at the entrance of the garden, these statues are “care guardian deities of children […] dedicated for the safe growth of children and grandchildren, as well as for the memorial service for still birth or miscarried children”. The hats and windmills are supposed to protect them and keep their heads warm. A very emotional and poignant place.
4/ Ryogoku, the sumo wrestlers’ district
I didn’t mention sumo wrestlers in my article listing some common clichés about Japan, but these athletes are extremely popular in the whole archipelago and are truly part of the Japanese culture. 6 main tournaments are held over the year, 3 of them in Tokyo in January, May and September, the 3 others being held in Osaka, Nagoya and Fukuoka. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any competition happening when I was in Tokyo, but I decided to go to Ryogoku anyway, the sumo wrestlers’ district, hoping to maybe bump into one of these giants. I was unlucky but I still found it very interesting to visit the Sumo Museum and compare the size of my hand to those of some famous athletes, almost twice as big as mine!
A quick rule of sumo wrestling: if you’re not familiar with this sport, the rule is pretty easy. The two wrestlers face each other in a circle called “dohyo”, with a diameter of 4.55m. The first wrestler to be ejected out of the ring or touching the ground with a part of his body other than his feet has lost.
5/ Tokyo International Forum
If you’re interested in architecture, a visit of the Tokyo International Forum is a must while you’re in the city. Close to the main train station, this huge building hosts a lot of various events like concerts or conferences – that’s also where the weightlifting competitions will take place during the 2020 Olympics. Even if nothing’s happening in the Forum during your stay in the Japanese capital, go have a look at that architectural masterpiece, completely made of steel and glass. Brilliant! It also provides good picture opportunities for photographers.
Finally, you’ll find a lot of food options in the area.
6/ Golden Gai
I also already mentioned this place in my article about the many faces of Shinjuku, but I wanted to include it to this list as well, as the few streets of this district seem to be coming from a different era. In the middle of the busiest part of Tokyo, close to the Metropolitan Government Building, Golden Gai is a remnant of the past, a place directly taken from a few centuries ago and brought straight to our time.
The 5 or 6 tiny lanes of this district are deserted during the day but completely crowded at night, when people squeeze themselves in the countless Lilliputian bars where not more than 4 or 5 guests can take place. It might take a while until you find a free seat… Don’t miss Golden Gai, a real-life time machine in the heart of Tokyo!
Do you know any other surprising places in Tokyo? If so don’t hesitate to share them in the comments!
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