If it’s your first few days in Tokyo, chances are you have a to-do list including the usual spots like Asakusa, Shibuya, Shinjuku, and Meiji Shrine. But how about if you’ve done all that before? If that’s the case, here are a few random ideas for some cool stuff to do or places to check out in Tokyo – things that perhaps wouldn’t make it onto any ‘must-see’ lists, but which show you another side to the city or are interesting in some way or other.
Walk over the Rainbow Bridge to Odaiba
It’s not the most pleasant walk you’ll ever do – the constant stream of traffic over the bridge includes plenty of fume-belching delivery trucks – but walking over the Rainbow Bridge is pretty cool, due to the views of the Tokyo waterfront, getting a close-up look at a great piece of engineering, and the buzz of being that high over the water with the wind blowing by.
On the far side of the bridge is the island of Odaiba, a patch of reclaimed land in Tokyo Bay which is home to various shopping malls, the Fuji TV Building, an artificial beach, a mini Statue of Liberty, and the famous Gundam statue.
Access to Odaiba is usually via the Rinkai Line or the Yurikamome Line; to cross the bridge on foot take the Yurikamome from Shimbashi (transferring from JR/Ginza/Asakusa lines) or Shiodome (Oedo Line) and get off at Shibaura-futo. From there take the east exit and walk south for 5 minutes to reach the bridge. You access the bridge by going up the elevator in the bridge tower – it’s marked on Google Maps as レインボーブリッジ遊歩道入口 (Rainbow Bridge walking route entrance). As noted above the bridge & views are great, the traffic less so – it’s a good idea to take a pollution mask with you! (you can get them from the convenience store)
Kowloon Walled City
Within a games arcade in Kawasaki City (just south of Tokyo proper) is this amazingly detailed reproduction of a section of Hong Kong’s infamous old Kowloon Walled City. For more detail and pictures, see here
It makes for an interesting half-day out in its own right, or can easily be visited en route to Yokohama.
Head out to Okutama
A small town in the mountains on the western edge of Tokyo, Okutama’s a popular hiking & outdoors area in summer. Although technically still in Tokyo, there are some sizeable mountains and some fairly serious hiking trails, with the summit of Mt Kumotori at 2017m being the highest point in Tokyo and a fairly strenuous workout.
For something more easygoing, the Okutama Old Road up to Lake Okutama is a nice hike.
As well as being good for hiking, Okutama also simply shows another side of Tokyo, a far cry from either the neon of Shinjuku or the old-time Shitemachi neighbourhoods, or any of the urban residential districts. Ageing, crumbling, and deeply conservative, it’s not somewhere I’d want to live, but it’s interesting to visit.
Manseibashi Station was once of similar grandeur to Tokyo Station, a Meiji-era building inspired by the grand architecture in Europe at the time; however, it was severely damaged in the bombing raids towards the end of WWII and was never put back into service afterwards.
The Chuo/Sobu line always continued to run over the top of the ruined station though, and a few years ago the old structure was renovated and reinvented as a shopping centre of boutique stores with a few cafés and a craft beer bar housed in the railway arches (the cafe through the back on the ground floor does some really good cakes!)
The old staircases are still there, still displaying damage from the war, and if you go up to the second floor you can sit and watch the Chuo and Sobu trains thundering past a few feet away.
It’s not worth going miles out of your way for, but it’s pretty cool and it’s right next to Akihabara (just over the Manseibashi bridge across the Kanda River) so it’s a good idea to check it out once you’re bored of Akiba’s flashing lights and maid cafe nonsense.
Specialist shopping areas
An interesting aspect to Tokyo is the way that certain neighbourhoods have become magnets for certain types of shops, with most of the city’s shops in those niches clustering together – and in a city the size of Tokyo, that’s a lot of niche shops!
Worth checking out are Kappabashi for kitchenware (and plastic sushi), Jimbocho for secondhand & specialist book shops and winter sports shops, and Nippori for traditional fabrics (e.g. patterned kimono silk). See here for more detail.
Visiting shrines & temples in Japan often feels more like visiting sightseeing attractions than religious sites. Not so at Yasukuni, where you’re on absolutely sacred and oh-so-controversial ground.
Founded by Emperor Meiji in 1869, Yasukuni is where the souls are enshrined of all Japanese who died in service of the emperor from Meiji onwards. This mostly constitutes millions of young men sent off to fight in WWII, who did so out of a sense of duty & honour – but it also includes the souls of that era’s leadership, many convicted war criminals, hence the controversy. The attached war museum (the Yushukan) also presents a particularly whitewashed view of the war e.g. a locomotive from the Thai-Burma Death Railway is displayed for posterity without any mention of the 100,000+ Asian labourers and Western POWs who were starved, beaten, and worked to death in its construction.
To this day, Yasukuni is a magnet for extreme right wing black van groups who parade around the grounds in WWII-era military uniforms, waving the flags of Japanese colonies which haven’t existed for 70 years and counting & staring out foreigners.
It’s beyond the scope of this post to go into greater detail here – see my post here, or this page for more on the controversies – but suffice to say that if you’re looking for something a little more edgy or controversial than the usual, a visit to Yasukuni and the Yushukan might fit the bill.
Any questions or comments? Give me a shout below and I’ll get back to you.
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Top photo credit: martinnemo, used under cc
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